Anime Corner: Warlords of Sigrdrifa Review

Welcome to Tateyama Base!

What’s the Story?

When mysterious pillars suddenly appear all around the world, humanity finds itself on the brink of extinction. Conventional weapons are useless and it’s only through an act of god, namely the Norse god Odin, that the human race stands any chance. Odin has given power to a select few young female pilots, known as the Valkyries, giving them the ability to fight back against the pillars. For Claudia, the favourite ‘daughter’ of Odin, that power is as much a curse as it is salvation, seeing as everyone she flies with ends up dead. Now she’s being transferred to Japan, and while Tateyama Base is unlike any other she’s ever been stationed at before, she wonders how long it will be before her curse catches up with her. It might be sooner than she thinks, Ragnarok is coming and the last stand of humanity starts here!

The Review

Part of me wants to say that this show is better than it had any right to be, but that’s really only based on my own preconceptions. I mean I saw the thumbnail on Funimation’s site and thought it was just a Cute Girls Doing Military Things type of show, it’ll be a bit of fluff with the occasional plane zooming by, I told myself. How wrong I was. The girls are certainly cute and they do do military things, but there’s a surprising amount of depth and seriousness to proceedings. For one I was surprised by how little fanservice there is in this series, there are spots of it certainly, a couple of instances of impractical attire for piloting a plane, but not as much as I was expecting. There’s also the beach episode which honestly gets points for how absurd it gets, but it also loses points for dragging out the joke with the support pilots way too long (then again I got bored with their shtick a couple of episodes in and they’re the only real complaint I have about this series).

I first realised this show was doing something more than I’d originally expected when one of the backup pilots actually died, and the whole scene was handled with a surprising amount of gravitas. I mean, for starters, you don’t normally see a lot of death in cute and fluffy shows and maybe I’m just jaded but aren’t background characters usually cannon fodder in these types of shows? Yet this show somehow made me care about this character I’d never met before, everything from the music to the mood and the interactions were just perfect. You felt the impact on all the characters and it was a stark reminder that when this shows says it’s about fighting the end of humanity, it means it. This wasn’t the only death either, this series has a startlingly high body count and all of them are really well done and feel earned, to me at least.

Now I don’t want to give the impression that this series is all grim and gritty. It has its moments where the characters struggle and deal with the events of the series, but there are also plenty of moments where they just relax and have fun. The air base has a really carefree, fun atmosphere to it. Part of that comes from a couple of the character’s personalities as they’re just these really infectiously cheerful or oddball people and I enjoy the way they all interact. The main four girls all have great chemistry together and it’s a joy to watch their distinct personalities bounce off of one another. You feel the friendship that grows between them and they end up as this really tight knit group, supporting one another in their weaker moments and poking fun at one another when they need to. It makes some of the moments towards the end of the series really impactful.

That brings me to the show’s most interesting character, Odin. I’ve seen plenty of interpretations of the god from Norse mythology and, honestly, this is a really intriguing one, especially in anime. I mean I thought all those references to Norse myths was just window-dressing, as it often is in anime, but no, this show goes has something interesting to say. Don’t get me wrong, it’s in no way accurate to the mythology, but taken on its own it’s a really fun twist on the character. Odin is the all-knowing manipulator, rigging the dice and playing his games until he gets the result he wants. When you find out what he’s really been doing this whole time, and what’s motivating him, it makes so much sense for this version of him! I’m impressed the show used the mythology in that way, but I won’t say any more because you should really check it out for yourselves.

All that leaves to talk about is the action and on that front the show finally does as was I was expecting it to. There are some crazy designs for the enemies the girls fight, but nothing too far outside of the geometric shapes and bizarre creatures I’ve seen before in these types of shows. The actual fights are really good though, lots of fact-paced zooming around and aerial acrobatics. Obviously if you’re looking for realistic plane movement I’d suggest looking elsewhere, I’m no expert, but I don’t think any real plane is as fast or as manoeuvrable as these, which is kind of the point. They are magically enhanced planes after all. Still, the air battles are a lot of fun to watch, especially when more and more pilots join in the action and they’re going up against swarms of enemies.

The Verdict

All in all, Warlords of Sigrdrifa, is a lot of fun and a prime example of what can happen when you take your characters and story somewhat seriously. It has its goofier moments, but it also knows when to play things straight and to make sure that characters show the weight of what’s just happened. The characters are all delightful and you feel the bond between them, and the Norse mythology elements get used in a much more interesting way than I was expecting. That’s this show in a nutshell, surpassing my expectations and zooming off to new heights. If you missed this show for whatever reason then you’ve done yourself a disservice. Go back and watch it now!

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: Moriarty the Patriot Review

The Crime Consultant will see you now.

What’s the Story?

It’s the late 19th century and the British Empire is at the height of its power, though that power is not spread equally among its people. The nobility of the Upper Class hold all the sway and often look down upon the poor Working Class that make up the rest of the population. They think they can get away with anything, but a man walks through the thick London fog to show them otherwise. If you’re frustrated, if you’re a victim of those who call themselves your betters, why not seek out the Crime Consultant? With a mind as sharp as Sherlock Holmes and a dozen fiendish schemes to put into motion, William James Moriarty is here to cleanse the British Empire and bring the Upper Class down to their knees.

The Review

Every villain is the hero of their story, but how do you make sure that your audience roots for even the most morally dubious protagonist? Well, in the case of Moriarty the Patriot, you give him an even bigger evil to fight and, in Victorian England, what greater evil is there than the Upper Class? I kid, of course, this series takes a very skewed view of the ‘social elite’ depicting the majority of them as murdering lunatics able to get away with whatever they want. This isn’t a new depiction of people in power, looking at anime alone I could list a hundred series off the top of my head that have similar portrayals of nobility. It makes for some fairly one-note villains and a very black and white depiction of the time period.

The evils of the Upper Class in this series is just an excuse, a mechanic to make us root for Moriarty and his band of murderous allies. We all love an underdog and, generally, hate people who abuse their power so why wouldn’t we side with the person fighting to avenge the little guy, even if he’s resorting to murder to do it. The crimes are so outrageous and over the top that there’s this sense of catharsis when Moriarty finally dishes out the just deserts, and he looks so damn cool doing it. Now, I’ll never condone murder as the solution to, well, anything, but Moriarty is just so charming and charismatic it’s hard not to get pulled into his orbit. Of course it helps that this series just oozes style and atmosphere, making every frame of it a joy to watch. From the heavy shadows and smog-filled streets of London to the bright and sunny English countryside, every location and venue in this story looks great, even if it’s completely idealised. Add on some fantastic music to accompany the series and we’ve got ticks in pretty much every box.

Of course this being a Sherlock Holmes spin off, I also have to judge this series as a mystery and I think there too it also gains itself another tick in the box. Most of the cases presented in this first season (or first half of the season depending on how you look at it) are fairly simple, the majority of them having only a single episode to state their cases in, but they all work. Each case, or murder, is engagingly told and its fun to catch glimpses of all the different pieces before Moriarty, or another character I’ll get to in a minute, sits back and puts them all together for us. You get a real sense of Moriarty’s intelligence and his observational skills, there wasn’t often that I thought he was pulling an answer out of thin air. It’s more like watching a master craftsman slowly work on a piece, before stepping back to reveal the finished article. It’s just a shame he doesn’t have a proper match for his intellect until we get to that other character.

Speaking of which, what good is Moriarty without the perpetual thorn in his side, Sherlock Holmes? Part of me thinks some people are going to be upset by the change that comes over this series about halfway through, but personally it just gave me more reasons to watch this show. If all you’re after from this series is to see Moriarty murdering people then it’s probably best to stop at episode 7, because that’s where we introduce the illustrious Mr. Holmes and after that this show is his (it’s also where the cases move to two-parters which I greatly enjoyed). Now it’s not as if Moriarty disappears from the series, but the dynamic shifts with the introduction of Holmes and to me that’s really interesting. This series’ interpretation of their dynamic is with Moriarty as the grand puppet master, using Holmes to help him expose the crimes of all the rotten nobles he’s targeting. Not that this version of Holmes would mind all that much if he knew, he might argue against the method but he really just wants a puzzle to solve.

I do really like this version of Holmes, Watson and Mrs. Hudson. Honestly I wouldn’t mind a series with just them solving cases. There’s a great deal of chemistry between them all and Holmes himself is even more fun than Moriarty, for me at least. I’m interested to see where this story is going to go next in it’s second season, especially considering that ending tease. Are we going to get adaptations of classic stories, is Holmes going to stay at the forefront or will Moriarty step back up to centre stage for more than an episode? Time will tell, but either way I’m really looking forward to it.

The Verdict

In the end, Moriarty the Patriot is a fantastic series that I wholeheartedly recommend. From the expertly crafted tone to the atmospheric visuals and great music there’s a lot to love with this series, not least of which being it’s two leads, Moriarty and Holmes. If you’re after seeing the Sherlock story from a slightly different perspective, or maybe you just want to see a good story with a villain as the protagonist, then check this out. It’s elementary! (Oh come on, I had to say it at some point!)

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 Gymnastics Samurai Review

Who says old dogs can’t learn new tricks?!

What’s the Story?

Jotaro Aragaki was once the pinnacle of gymnastics in Japan. Now he’s older, fighting the physical strain of his training and facing retirement square in the face. Maybe it’s time though, the next generation of gymnasts are swiftly on the rise and they’re only pulling further ahead of anything he can do. With one chance encounter though, Jotaro decides he’s not done yet, far from it. With his adoring daughter, Rei, and their new live-in ninja, Leo, cheering him on how can he possibly fail? The road ahead may be difficult and it may take everything he’s got to walk down it, but there’s a reason they call him ‘Samurai’.

The Review

Some stories can only be told by a particular culture. Don’t get me wrong, anyone in the world can tell a story about an ageing sports personality taking one last shot at glory, but would they include ninjas and talking birds of mysterious origin? I think not! I need an ‘Only in Japan’ label for some of the anime I watch because only from Japan would you get a heart-warming drama about gymnastics that also features a runaway ballet dancer disguising himself as a ninja and everyone just going along with it. And, no, I’m not going to drop the ninja thing! The analytical part of my brain wants to argue that things like Leo disguising himself as a ninja is just a distraction, they’re superfluous to the plot outside of bringing in certain iconography. Yet every time it tries the rest of my brain just yells at it to shut up because Leo is cool and we won’t have a word said against him. Indeed.

I got sucked into this series hard. I know next to nothing about gymnastics and I’m not in any way, shape or form interested in it outside of how to apply it to fight scenes. This show made me care though. Watching Jotaro struggle to get back into fighting shape, seeing the realisation dawn on him as he finally gets what people have been trying to tell him for so long, I was rooting for him every step of the way.

You have to love Jotaro, even though at times he’s made me want to pull my hair out. He’s one of those loveable idiots who are just singularly focused, not because they don’t care about other things, but because they’ve found the thing that makes them truly happy and they just want to go out and do it. Yes, sometimes he misses social cues and it takes a while for things to filter through his thick skull but I can’t help but get wrapped up in his quiet enthusiasm. He doesn’t shout or scream or make a big show of what he’s doing, he just keeps doing what he likes until he’s satisfied and I find that admirable, though obviously he’d be nothing without his support structure.

It’s the characters that make this show so let’s talk about some of the others. We’ll start with Rei and she really is the most adorable daughter. She’s supportive, somewhat obsessed with ninjas, likes acting out roles from films and sometimes she can be a bit oblivious too. I like that she has her own quirks because it stops her being too saccharin and sweet. My favourite moment of hers might just be the episode where she learns to not to keep bottling things up and just blow her lid every once in a while, whether at her dunce of a father or her school friends. It was an important moment for her, also the moment when it finally clicks in her head that, yeah, she wants to be an actress when she grows up.

That brings me to Leo, ah Leo, how do I love thee, let me count the ways. Leo is a lot of fun from the moment he turns up. Yes it takes a moment to parse the fact that he’s claiming to be a ninja and everyone is just so accepting of that, so much so that he moves in with Jotaro without anyone really questioning it. Leo is a gentle soul though, always there to help out and you can kind of understand why this eclectic bunch of people would just let him be. It’d be tempting to wonder if Leo is some new form of the ‘mainc pixie girl’ trope (manic pixie boy? No, manic pixie ninja!) but Leo isn’t just there to help everyone else out of their funks, he’s got his own funk to get out of and by the end of the series it’s Jotaro’s turn to be the inspiration. Seeing the look of awe on Leo’s face as he watches Jotaro perform was worth all the build up.

In the end this is a series about an odd bunch of people helping one another out, in their own unique ways. Not that the show skimps on the sports side of the drama, it’s just that the focus is on Jotaro, his training and his eventual performance rather than any competition. We do get glimpses of other gymnasts and their performances, though the only one with any substantial screen time is the character that slots into the ‘rival’ role, even if Jotaro doesn’t see him that way. The only thing I’ll say about the performances themselves is that while a lot of them are really well animated, there are quite a few times when the characters are swapped out for 3D models and while, I get it, it is noticeable and that brings things down a notch for me.

The Verdict

All in all, the Gymnastics Samurai is a lot of fun. It features an eccentric but loveable cast, heartfelt drama and lots of spins and flips, what more could you ask for from a gymnastics drama? I’ve fallen for each and every one of these characters, but watching Jotaro build himself back up and prove that he’s still the samurai of the gymnastics world has been a special pleasure. This show isn’t going to change the world, but I thoroughly recommend it. Indeed.

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: Patlabor: The Movie Review

Police with mechs, do I really need to say anything else?

What’s the Story?

In the near future, of 1999, a new technology has revolutionised construction, the Labor. These mechanical giants allow for building on a scale previously unheard of, such as the Babylon project which hopes to reclaim land from Tokyo Bay for the ever crowded city. Of course with every new technology there are those that would use it for ill and so the police set up the Special Vehicle Section 2 who, with their Patlabors (Patrol Labors), fight these new cases of crime.

The suicide of a leading Labor programmer leads the officers of SVU division 2 into a potentially devastating case. Something is driving Labors crazy, setting them loose to rampage across the city, but what is the cause? What’s more with a typhoon due to hit Japan the potential for disaster is at an all time high. Is this all the mad revenge of a twisted man, or a final warning before things go too far?

The Review:

Patlabor is one of those franchises where I wish I could get hold of more of the content. As it stands I’ve managed to get my hands on the first two movies and the early days OVA series. I know there’s a TV series out there somewhere, but I’ve yet to track down a copy in the UK and this is an older series to begin with so my hopes have been steadily dwindling on that front. It’s kinda infuriating because Patlabor has such an amazingly simple concept, what if we had a mecha series where said mechs weren’t just weapons of war, but used as they potentially could be in real life (you know, if we had that kind of technology). The Labors of Patlabor are primarily used for construction, obviously the ones we follow are the ones used by the police and there are some military ones hanging around, but that’s not what the bulk of Labors were made for. There’s a depth and a realism to the world that this franchise creates that I just adore, not that the series is always serious, sometimes its just plain goofy and I love that side of it too (seriously check out the early days OVA series, the Godzilla parody is worth it alone, but there are some really great episodes in that series, especially the last three).

Enough talk about the franchise as a whole though, let’s get on to the subject of today’s review, the first movie. Honestly out of what I have seen of the Patlabor franchise this film is my favourite. It’s got an interesting plot, some gorgeously animated sequences and on the whole it’s just a lot of fun. My only real gripe with it is that it’s probably not the best place to start with Patlabor. I mean this film was the first thing I saw of the franchise, but I appreciate it a lot better after having watched the early days OVA series (which I’ll just plug again, go see it!). You see the film doesn’t really spend a lot of time introducing you to its characters or delving too deeply into who they all are. The characters are just there, doing what they do. Noah fusses over her Labor, which she calls Alphonse. Asuma takes the lead on the investigation, while also blowing his lid at several points and being a jerk to Noah on occasion. Ota is as gun crazy as ever. Then there’s Captain Goto, the puppet master, always one step ahead and manipulating everyone to do what he wants. Goto’s my favourite character.

The focus for this film is more on it’s plot and themes. It’s quite a ponderous film, but then it was directed by Mamoru Oshii, yes that one, so that should give you some idea of what you’re in for. There are several long, almost silent shots of Tokyo as well as scenes of characters quietly philosophising and yet the film never once lost my attention. Between some of the more gorgeous shots and animation sequences, as well as some fun character interactions, it’s hard not to be engaged with this film, but I also enjoy the ideas it’s playing around with. The central question of which is how much progress is too much? And in our rush to get the next new, shiny thing, are we leaving something important behind? You could apply that to this film itself, this is ‘old-school’ 80s cell animation after all. No matter where you stand on the debate between older anime and more modern productions, you have to admit that cell animation has a certain quality to it that is missing from anything since the 2000s. Not to rag on digital animation techniques, for me the majority of what we get today is better looking, but it’s also nice to take a break from the clean, bright colours and appreciate something a bit more textured every once in a while. Plus there’s all those great old school mechanical designs to look at.

Back to the film though, it’s not entirely all talk and philosophy. There’s plenty of great mecha-on-mecha action, but all of that action is grouped at either the start or the climax of the film. The rest is about the mystery of rampaging labors and police work. Asuma gets the lions’ share of things to do, which makes sense since he has a personal connection involved in this case and his job is supposed to be about strategy and directing the others so it makes sense for him to puzzle things out. Goto gets some great moments manipulating Asuma into working on the case in the first place and Noah gets a couple of moments, including a pretty badass one towards the end. Everyone else is pretty much relegated to the background unfortunately, but again characters aren’t really the focus here. The mystery itself is well-paced and always engaging, with the threat escalating as Division 2 realise the full scope of the problem. As I said, out of the OVA series and the two films I’ve seen, this is my favourite and one I keep coming back to. It’s also my favourite Mamoru Oshii work, you know just to get all the Ghost in the Shell fans angry at me.

The Verdict:

In the end, while I don’t think Patlabor: The Movie is the best gateway into this franchise, it’s certainly the best of the franchise (out of what I’ve seen). A smart, atmospheric mystery paired with fun characters, gorgeously designed mecha and some top notch animation. If you feel like taking a step back in time to watch an older anime film, then I thoroughly recommend this. Also if you want to check out some of Mamoru Oshii’s work before Ghost in the Shell or watch a mecha story where the protagonists aren’t sullen teenagers forced to fight in a war (not that those aren’t great in their own right) then check this out!

Also if you want some more mecha action, make sure to check out Mechanical Anime Reviews this month for Mecha March!

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: Given the Movie Review

He said it! He FINALLY said it!

What’s the Story?

It is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. That’s how the saying goes, but Akihiko isn’t so sure it’s true. He loved Ugetsu and then he lost him, but even after all this time he can’t seem to let go. Then there’s Haruki, so clearly in love with Akihiko and yet he can’t bring himself to say it, but there’s something there, right? Amidst all this tangle of feelings and unspoken truths, the guy’s band is starting to get some attention. They’ve made it through to the final stage of a competition and Mafuyu wants to write a new song. Can they get ready for the contest and have a new song ready in time, or will love be the spanner in the works? Mafuyu’s got something to say and just like before, he’s going to express it through music.

The Review

Given was one of my favourite anime of 2019, if not the whole decade (I really should have put together a list of my top 10 series from 2010-2020, ah well, maybe some other time). It’s a series that took me completely by surprise, normally I prefer my romance as a subplot to something else, but here it’s the main course and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I was completely won over by the charming characters, gentle atmosphere and the odd subversion of typical romantic cliches (if you want more details you can check out my review of the first season HERE). So, all that being said, how does the movie stack up? It’s very good. It doesn’t quite make it to the unmissable stamp like the series did, but it’s still an incredibly solid film and if you’ve seen the series then you should definitely be checking this out. My complaints are minor at best and down to personal taste more than anything else.

Let’s start with probably my biggest complaint, there’s a shocking lack of Mafuyu and Uenoyama in this film. They are there, they have a couple of scenes together, Mafuyu gets some scenes interacting with others and then he gets to sing at the end, that’s about it. This is not their film, which upsets me because those two are just adorable together and I love every minute that they’re on screen together. Fair is fair though, there are other characters in this series and they deserve some of the spotlight, so why not hand over the movie to them. If you’ve skipped the story section of this review, for whatever reason, this film belongs to Akihiko, Haruki and Ugetsu, picking up on the plot threads that were left dangling at the end of the series and exploring their tangled mess of a love triangle.

That disappointment at the lack of Mafuyu and Uenoyama aside, this is an engaging love story. You feel the frustration, hurt and longing that makes up all three of the lead characters, each of them struggling to either move on from or towards a relationship. There are some wonderfully awkward moments and gentle bits of humour that I love this series for, but there are also some really intense, emotionally-charged scenes. Honestly this is a lot more what I was expecting from a romance series, with characters unable to bring themselves to talk about their feelings openly and occasionally getting lost in misunderstandings. That’s probably what docks this movie another point as one of the aspects I loved so much about the series was when it subverted common romance tropes. Still, that doesn’t make the tropes bad and they’re certainly well done, I felt everything this movie wanted me to feel. I mean I was tearing up by the time those last couple of scenes were playing and I practically jumped out of my seat when Akihiko stumbled his way into his confession.

One last thing to talk about, if you’ve looking for a big blockbuster of a film, it’s probably best to look elsewhere. The series was a very gentle, low key affair and, some of the more intense scenes aside, the movie follows suit. If anything it feels like three or four episodes of the series crammed into an hour’s slot. If you’re after something explosive and ‘big budget’, well that’s just not the kind of story this is. For every time the dial gets turned up to eleven, it’s often followed by a more calming, sweet and funny scene, which is how I prefer this series. On the visual front the movie looks just slightly better than the series, which adds to that feeling that this is a few extra episodes bolted together, not that that’s a bad thing. Honestly I prefer this film that way, I will always be down for more episodes of this series in whatever form they choose to arrive and now the stage has been set for the story to continue in whatever direction it wants. Give me a season 2 already!

The Verdict

All in all, Given the movie is a great continuation of the series I loved so much. By the end we’ve tied up a few plot threads that had been left dangling, gotten to know some of the characters a lot better and set the stage for stories to come. The romance may be a bit more tropey that it was in the series and there’s a shocking lack of Mafuyu and Uenoyama for my liking, but it’s fair that other people get the spotlight for a while. It’s a sweet, engaging and often funny love story, which is what the Given series always excels at. If you haven’t seen the series, check that out first, if you have then what are you waiting for? Check this out if you haven’t already!

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.

Infallible Fish Reviews: Doctor Who: Fury from the Deep

“It’s a sonic screwdriver. Never fails.”

What’s the Story?

The TARDIS lands the Doctor, Jamie and Victoria off the coast of England, where the ESGO complex is drawing natural gas from under the North Sea via a huge network of pipes and off-shore rigs. However something is interfering with the gas flow and there’s a strange sound, pulsating like a heartbeat, inside the pipes. Something ancient has awoken in the sea and this time the Doctor may not be able to stop it, but perhaps Victoria can? Regardless, soon the TARDIS team will be facing the fury from the deep!

The Review:

Season 5 of the classic era is one of my personal favourites in the show’s long history. Not only does it feature a TARDIS team quite close to my heart, with Patrick Troughton’s mischievous Doctor paired up with the ever-loyal Jamie and the sweet Victoria, but it also happens to be the ‘Base Under Siege’ season. Now a ‘Base Under Siege’ is a story archetype found throughout Doctor Who and it’s fairly self explanatory, the Doctor and co find themselves in some sort of facility or structure, a base if you will, and it’s under siege from some invading force. The majority of Season 5 is made up of stories like this and while they can be a little formulaic , they can also be the best of Doctor Who. They’re perfect for that teatime terror the show is so good at, throwing the characters into a pressure cooker and turning up the tension and unease.

Fury from the Deep is one such story, and it’s married with another of Doctor Who’s favourite tricks, taking something innocuous and making it creepy. In this case simple seaweed and foam suddenly turns into a writhing monster that could doom the whole human race! (Have I mentioned how much I love this show enough yet?). This story also gets points for being the first time that the Doctor uses his signature tool, the Sonic Screwdriver, and he uses it to actually unscrew something!

Before we get into the story though, let’s talk about the animation. We get a change in art style with this release and I’m not the biggest fan. It might just be a case of taking some time to get used to it, there’s nothing really that bad about designs themselves but the arms really bug me. They’re too long and thin, in some shots they look alright, but in others they look really exaggerated and off putting. Add on to that a couple of awkward movements and some shots were characters are a little too still as they stand around and it feels like the quality’s regressed. I’ve no doubt that this being made during the pandemic has impacted it, so I’m willing to cut it some slack, but it’s still a little disappointing.  

That brings me to the story itself and while it sticks pretty closely to the formula of a base under siege, it’s well written with a good escalation of the tension and some nice bits of character and dialogue throughout. There are also some nice little inversions to keep things fresh. For example we’ve got Robson, the man in charge who trusts in his own practical experience, to point where he blatantly ignores anything else. I’m so used to seeing some by-the-book snob in charge who refuses to listen to anything practical that it’s nice to see it the other way around for once. It’s also nice that the story clearly shows that Robson does know what he’s doing under normal circumstances and he has the respect of his employees. The problem is that this is an entirely new situation and his blinkered, narrow-minded way of looking at things can’t bend enough to be able to cope. It’s little wonder that he starts ranting like a lunatic.

Let’s get to the TARDIS team though and out of all of Patrick Troughton’s run, his adventures with Jamie and Victoria have always been my favourite. Maybe it’s nostalgia talking, the very first black and white Doctor Who story I ever saw was Tomb of the Cybermen featuring these three, but I love their dynamic. The gentle way that the Doctor and Victoria interact, and the unspoken romantic tension between Victoria and Jamie, there’s a lot that can be gotten out of this team and Fury from the Deep does its best to show that. The best scenes in this release are the quieter moments with Victoria. She’s tired of the endless danger and adventure that the Doctor and Jamie get so much of a kick out of. You can tell it’s not an easy thing for Victoria to admit, she loves the Doctor and Jamie, but she wants something else and it’s a great performance by Deborah Watling.

All in all it’s a really well done companion exit, unlike the Faceless Ones where we only got a goodbye scene with Ben and Polly, here there are moments throughout the story where we see Victoria coming to the conclusion to leave. I genuinely wish more companion exits had been handled like this where they get more focus throughout the story rather than just at the end. Also bonus points for not just introducing some guy for her to settle down with as often happened to female companions in Classic Who, instead Victoria gets a place where she can have some peace with a welcoming couple. Extra special bonus points are also earned for taking the stereotype of the screaming female companion and using it against the monster. Victoria isn’t the most egregious example of the trope, but she can sometimes fall into it. By the time the last set of credits roll I’m sad to see Victoria go, but I’m glad she got such a good story to exit on.

The Verdict:

In the end, Fury from the Deep, is a classic episode for many reasons. Not only does it introduce the sonic screwdriver, but we see a companion depart and a showcase of one of the series’ core story archetypes, a base under siege. Dark corridors and creepy tendrils of seaweed evoke an eerie atmosphere and when matched with the quieter, more characterful moments it makes an effective story. This story has been missing from the archives for more than half a century and, while the animation may not stand up to other releases, I’m still overjoyed that these episodes are back for people to see at last. After all, that’s the whole point of these recreations.

I hope everyone is having a wonderful Christmas so far, thank you for taking the time to read this silly little review. Here’s to the New Year, may it be everything we need after the disaster that was 2020. Merry Christmas.

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.

Infallible Fish Reviews: Doctor Who: The Macra Terror

“There’s no such thing as Macra! Macra do not exist! There are no Macra!”

What’s the Story?

The Doctor and his companions, Ben, Polly and Jamie, land in the far future, at an Earth colony where everyone is as happy as can be, possibly a little too happy. Oh they have parades and the music is ever so cheery, making the colonists just that bit more willing to work under the watchful eyes of the Controller, but what exactly are they working towards? There are mines were they extract a deadly gas, but no one can seem to say what for, just that the colony depends on it. There are also rumours of strange, crab-like creatures roaming the colony at night, and as the Doctor and co are soon to find out, where the Macra roam, terror is sure to follow.

The Review:

The second fully animated Doctor Who reconstruction to be released and one that I utterly adore. The Power of the Daleks is by all merits a better story and I knew I was going to love it the moment I first read what it was about. The Macra Terror on the other hand is one I’ve always had very little interest in, I mean on paper it sounds incredibly goofy and I suppose it is, but there’s such a sinister tone to the execution that it makes the whole thing work. Without this release I never would have given this story the time of day and I can’t help feeling a little guilty about that.

Before we get into the story itself though, first I want to take the time to talk about something I skipped over in my last review, and that’s Patrick Troughton as the Doctor. Everyone has their own favourite incarnation of the Doctor, and mine is Patrick Troughton’s second Doctor. As I mentioned before I grew up with the likes of Jon Pertwee, Tom Baker and Sylvester McCoy, but to me Patrick Troughton is the quintessential Doctor. He’s a guileful trickster, playing the clown and the fool, but all the while you can see the cogs turning behind his eyes. He’ll prod and he’ll probe until he’s found his enemy’s weakness and then he’ll go right for it and this story is a perfect example of that. Asking questions, pointing out the flaws in logic and all the while manoeuvring to expose what’s really going on. It’s brilliant to watch and it’s just a shame that we don’t have the original footage because no one does a facial expression like Patrick Troughton.

Speaking of facial expressions, let’s talk about the animation. My one real complaint about Power of the Daleks was the humanoid character animation and thankfully this release is a huge improvement. The animation is so much more fluid and expressive, add on the fact that we can now see it in colour and the improved effects and lighting and this whole release is a treat for the eyes. I also get a kick out of the backgrounds which look like they’re straight out of a 60s comic strip. That brings me to the Macra themselves and, much like Power of the Daleks, the animation on the monster is the best of all. These huge, lumbering crabs are quite terrifying as they stomp their way towards our protagonists, though it does bring up an interesting question.

You see I’ve seen the original Macra props and they’re, well, pretty rubbish. A wheelie bin looks more realistic and menacing, but that’s not a restriction the animators had to stick to and they didn’t. The animated Macra are far better looking, which raises the question of should these reconstructions stick to the original as much as possible, or should they make improvements where they can? Honestly, when it comes to the Macra I’m all for it, even if Who purists want to sting me up for such a sentiment.

Let’s get on to the story itself though and that is where I think The Macra Terror shines brightest. On paper it’s incredibly goofy, a colony full of happy-go-lucky people, filled with jaunty music and forced smiles secretly being run by giant crab-monsters? That’s so 60s an idea I want to hug it. Yet its the sinister edge to everything that makes this so good. The cheery singing voices telling people to obey, the almost order-like way they’re told ‘it will be fun!’, the hypnosis machines, the correction facilities. Everyone looks so happy, but it makes your skin crawl with how wrong it is. We get to see all this play out on a personal level when one of the companions, Ben, becomes indoctrinated into the colony. Suddenly he’s turning in the Doctor and telling everyone to obey the rules, even when a Macra is stopping it’s way towards him he refuses to accept its existence because he’s been told they don’t exist. In fact it’s only Polly’s life being in danger that snaps him out of it, but as soon as the threat is over the conditioning kicks back in and he’s a loyal drone once more. Ben isn’t my favourite companion, but he’s not a bad one either and it’s genuinely heartbreaking to see him struggle against the mind control.

As for the Macra there isn’t much to them outside of their threatening appearance and the horrifying society they’ve put in place and yet I can’t really dislike them. What’s so wrong with great shadowy evil controlling society being something like a giant crab-monster? It’s goofy, but I love it. That and the mad hysteria that creeps into the Controllers voice when he goes on about there being no Macra.

The Verdict:

The Macra Terror is a joy from beginning to end, taking such a goofy concept and twisting it into a sinister nightmare. The Doctor is at his best, poking holes and beguiling the opposition as he gets closer and closer to the truth. Add on Ben’s own personal struggle as he falls victim to and then tries to fight against the colony’s mind control and you have a great story from Troughton’s era. The animation is much improved from the previous release and having the option to view it in colour is a real treat. I thoroughly recommend 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 Owl House Review

“This is clearly not the PG fantasy world I always dreamed about.”

What’s the Story?

Luz is a self-assured teen just bursting with imagination and creativity, unfortunately that often gets her into trouble. Her latest stunt, a book report involving live snakes, is about to get her sent to summer camp to learn to curb her wild behaviour, that is until a tiny owl steals one of her fantasy books! Giving chase, Luz finds herself transported to a strange, and often grotesque, world, the Boiling Isles! There she is taken in by rogue witch Eda and her adorable demonic partner, King. This may not be the kind of fantasy adventure that Luz has always dreamed about, but it could be just the one she needs. Who needs summer camp when you can instead become an apprentice witch!

The Review

One last stop on the Disney train for this year (they’ll be more next year. Sorry, not sorry. The last couple of weeks have really put me in the mood and there’s a couple of shows that I should have talked about before. So look forward to them!) Anyway, let’s talk about The Owl House. I have been dying to watch this series ever since I saw the promotional images for it last year, it’s first season has finally dropped on Disney+ (part of the reason I even signed up to that service) and it is pretty much everything I wanted. Now I’m not going to claim it’s the ‘Greatest Thing Eva!’, it’s only a first season after all and it’s still got plenty of potential it can grow into, but at the same time I had a lot of fun with this show. I’ll admit I’m a sucker for the current tend of fantasy cartoons with an often hinted at mystery in the background and The Owl House handles all of those elements really well. I like the Boiling Isles as a setting, the series has a great colour palette and I love the grotesque-without-being-gross designs of the locations and inhabitants. What’s really hooked me in though is the humour and the characters.

I knew this series and I were going to get along with the very first joke, in which we see a typical fantasy witch confronting a snake monster and declaring that she’s a ‘warrior of peace’. Then she screams ‘Now eat this sucka!’, turns her staff into a bazooka and just blasts the monster. ‘My only weakness! Dying!’ I could quote the jokes of this series all day long and never get tired of it. That’s not to say the series is wall-to-wall jokes, some of my favourite moments are actually some of the more quieter, characterful ones, like when Luz admits to Amity that she’s not a witch, but she’s training hard to be one (that scene breaks my heart every time).

Let’s talk about the series’ two best girls for a second (Yes I’m a Lumity shipper, what of it?). Luz is energetic and impetuous, which often gets her into trouble even though she has the best of intentions. The series is very obvious with it’s themes of Individuality VS. Conformity and Luz is right in the middle of that. She has her own way of seeing and doing things and the series is very much on her side when it comes to her expressing herself as she wants to, as the show says “Us weirdos have to stick together”. Yet, at the same time, it’s not completely dismissive about joining in with the group either. There are benefits to being in a group, not least surrounding yourself with like-minded people. Eda may gripe about the series’ coven system that locks you into one way of magic, but it’s pointed out a couple of times that Luz has to make up her own mind. Conforming without compromising your individuality, that’s a more nuanced lesson that I’m glad this show is putting forward. Plus Luz is an adorable dork that I just can’t help but root for, watching her learn magic in her own way is a joy across the season.

Now let’s talk about Amity, who may just be the most well-developed character in this series. When we first meet her it looks like she’s going to be the typical school bully character, picking on a fellow classmate for being weaker at magic than her. Yet with each episode she appears in we learn a little bit more about her, and why she’s the way she is. From her overbearing parents to her tormenting siblings, Amity strives for perfection and doesn’t believe she can show any weakness. Yet each time she comes in contact with Luz, her character grows, adapting to this strange new person in her life and pretty soon Amity has evolved from the bully into a potential love interest. (On a side note, check out the song ‘Little Miss Perfect’ on the Write Out Loud youtube channel, it perfectly sums up Amity and has been embraced by us Lumity shippers as our national anthem.) I’m really looking forward to where the show is going to go next with her character and what more we’ll learn about her history.

As for the rest of the characters, Eda, King and Hooty probably take my third, fourth and fifth favourite spots, in that order. They’re all really fun and the banter that they share always brings a smile to my face. Before I wrap this up though, there’s one last aspect of this show that I really want to talk about, the animation. Disney always has quality animation, even when it’s stuck with a TV budget, but there are some spectacular moments throughout this series. The duels between Eda and Lilith and Luz and Amity’s dance magic combo in the Grom night episode being my particular highlights. The animation just flows so beautifully I couldn’t help but be carried away by it.

The Verdict

The Owl House is a good show and a great starting point with a lot of potential going forward. The characters are all funny and likeable, each in their own adorkable way, and they continue to grow and change across the season. There’s a strong theme of Individually vs. Conformity, with a more nuanced answer than I was initially expecting. If you’re after a fun fantasy adventure and don’t mind some grotesque character designs and setting, then I’d definitely recommend this. I can’t wait to see what season 2 has in store for us!

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 the Abandoned Sacred Beasts Review

Meet me on the Battlefield.

What’s the Story?

The continent of Patria has long been divided by a brutal civil war. Split between North and South, the two sides have been evenly matched for the majority of the war, but when the South finally looks to have the advantage, the North comes to a desperate decision. Using a forbidden technology they give a selected few of their soldiers the ability to transform into mythical beasts. These soldiers quickly become known as the Incarnates and with their help, the North quickly turns the tide of the war. However their god-like power comes at a cost, the more they use their powers, the more likely they are to stay a beast and lose their minds completely. Now the war is over and the Incarnates are more feared than praised. Former captain of the Incarnates, Hank, has an oath to keep, to stop his former comrades before they completely lose themselves to their beastly nature, even if that means killing each and every one of them.

The Review

This series gave me something that I’d been missing, in fact I hadn’t realised how much I’d been missing it until I started watching this show, episodic story telling. I’m not quite sure when it happened, but somewhere in the 2000s we shifted away from monster/situation of the week stories and now the focus is more on serialised adventures. Don’t get me wrong, I love serialised stories, it’s a terrific way to build momentum in a story and make it feel like what your watching is truly important. Epic moments are only epic if they’ve had the right build up. That being said, I’m a child of the 90s and I miss watching a well paced twenty-odd minute show that can take me through all the highs and lows in one sitting and for the first half of this series that’s exactly what I got.

If you want to know how to pace an episode, watch this show because it’s a master class in how to tell an effective story in a short amount of time. In the span of a single episode we’re introduced to a new Incarnate, learn what their deal is, get invested in them and have to deal with the heartache of their tragic deaths all before the credits roll. The fantastic thing being that it managed to make me care about each and every Incarnate along the way, even knowing they were most likely going to die before the end, even knowing I’d never see them again, I still cared. If I had a hat I’d permanently take it off to these writers because that fact alone blew my mind.

Of course the series wasn’t content to just give me that though, no, it also throws in serialised story-telling as well (Oh what did I do to deserve you show!). There is an overarching plot lurking into the background of the first few episodes, with hints and whispers about a particular person that Hank, our brooding badass lead, has been looking for, but then we hit the halfway point and suddenly the whole show gets a shake up. Hank is lost and questioning himself. Schaal’s character arc gets the kick up the backside it needed and honestly it feels like we’ve slipped into season 2 the situation has changed that much (not that that’s a bad thing, the plot evolves in a natural and understandable way and I really appreciate that). Honestly I just love the structure of this series, the first half let’s us get to know the Incarnates and their situation, to emphasise with them as well as our leads. Then we get the big shake up and suddenly we’re plunged into something new where everything isn’t as certain as it was before and I need to find another hat to take off, because that is both a brave and a brilliant decision to make.

Okay, enough gushing over the story and how it’s told. What about the characters of this piece, the ones that actually stay alive, well, there’s a lot to love there as well. Hank is a very engaging lead, he ticks all the boxes for brooding, badass male and it’s very easy to sympathise with what he’s going through (also he gets some truly epic fights across the series, which also helps), but I think what I like most about this series is that he questions himself. I’ll avoid spoilers, but after the big shake up, Hank is left dejected and lost, questioning what he’s been doing and haunted by all the comrades he’s killed on his quest. It’s good that Hank’s resolve wavers, because honestly he’s in a terrible situation. Obviously what’s happening to the Incarnates is horrible, they’ve given up so much to protect the people and the country they love and it’s hard not to see their point of view when they return home to find all the people they protected suddenly afraid of them. On the other hand the Incarnates are slowly losing their minds and are killing people in the hundreds when they finally do lose it. There’s no cure, there’s no way to reason with them once they’ve crossed that mental line, all Hank can do is kill them and that is not and should not be an easy thing to do.

That brings to me to Schaal and, honestly, I’ve had problems with Schaal. Part of it is down to my own preconceptions, from the preview I saw and the opening, Schaal came across as this gun toting badass and we meet her, and she’s not. Schaal is the naïve and optimistic audience surrogate and while there are episodes where she’s perfect and embodies the audience’s feelings, there are others were she’s either a damsel in distress or comes across as whiny because she’s asking Hank why he’s doing what he does when we, the audience, already know why. The shake up at the halfway point was the best thing for Schaal because that put her on to the path to becoming the badass of the opening. Finally she felt like she had her own direction and while she’s still sweet and maybe a little naïve, she’s also got some steel in her and when it’s time for her to step up, she does.

The other characters are also a lot of fun and something else I need to give credit for is the soldiers. It’s just really refreshing to see a military force that isn’t just fodder for the bad guys and can put into play some really clever tactics when fighting against clearly overpowered opponents. Also the majority of the fights are really cool, this series has really great action all around, which is just another reason to watch it.

The Verdict

To the Abandoned Sacred Beasts is a fantastic show. Great pacing, emotional story telling, fun characters and impactful action, it’s really got it all. I love the way the series is structured, effortlessly switched from effective episodic stories to a serialised adventure with a clear journey for all the characters to go through. True with only twelve episodes the series struggles to come to a proper conclusion, the main villain escaping and Hank and Schaal left to continue their journey, but hopefully we’ll get a season 2 to fix that (Pleeeeeeeeeeeeease!). All in all I highly recommend this series, especially if you want to know how to do episodic story telling, something a few series could learn from. Now if you’ll excuse me I’m going to see if I can track down the manga.

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: Astra Lost in Space Review

To infinity and beyond! Aye, Yeah!

What’s the Story?

The year is 2063 and eight high school students and a kid are flown out to Planet Camp, where they’re expected to survive on their own for a few days. Unfortunately things don’t go according to plan as just as soon as the group land they’re attacked by a mysterious orb and transported into the depths of space. With only an ancient spaceship and a desperate plan, the kids must find their way home and uncover the truth behind the attack on them. However, with a variety of wild and dangerous planets between them and home and the possibility of a traitor onboard, do these kids stand any chance of survival?

The Review

Do you know what I love most about this series? It’s not the intricate and well thought out plot, it’s not the charming and funny characters, no, it’s the fact that it can pack so much into twelve episodes. Maybe I’ve become jaded over the years, but I’m just so used to only getting one cour of a series, it ending on a cliff-hanger and then I have to go track down the manga to find out what happens next. This series though? Whole package, twelve episodes of goodness (even if a couple of those episodes are double length) that tell a complete and satisfying story. I realise this may just be me being caught in the moment, because as I stop and think about it there are plenty of series that give a complete story, but a sci-fi adventure series? Typically these types of shows are the ones that make me go buy the manga afterwards (when we actually get sci-fi shows, the genre of choice does feel like its been fantasy for a good few years now). The moment I realised this series was going to give me the whole story, it just felt so special, partly because I really wanted the whole story.

Again this show packs so much into its runtime. We’ve got different planets each with their own ecosystems and particular quirks for us to explore, there’s the mystery surrounding who attacked the group and why, as well as some bigger mysteries about the world at large. Add on to that the need to get to know each and every member of the crew and that is a lot to get through. I won’t say there aren’t times were things feel rushed or a bit convenient for characters, but for the most part those are tiny bumps in an otherwise smooth road. There is no better description for this series than a roller coaster, it can go from intense drama, like the crew realising just how dangerous a planet is, or a shocking revelation, to comedy in the blink of an eye and it always works. It knows just when to raise the tension to draw you in and then when to release it with one of the cast being silly or deflating the egos of a crewmate.

Speaking of the crew of the Astra, I love all these guys. They each have their own quirks and back-stories that we get to know across the series. Nothing too deep, the series has way too much to get through to do any kind of in depth character explorations, but we learn enough to care, which is the important part. Honestly the thing that comes across most with these kids is the friendship between them. When they’re sat around just bantering and joking, it feels genuine and you can see how these kids keep their sanity through all the crazy things that they have to deal with. You want to see them happy, you want to see them get home, which just makes all the moments were they’re in dire peril all the more tense. If I had to single any particular character out, it’d be Kanata. I love the big doofus, he’s a good leader, he works well under pressure (even if sometimes he needs a nudge in the right direction), he’s strong and capable, but more than anything he knows how to keep the mood light and he will risk his life for one of his crew. They needed all of the crew to make it home, but without Kanata in charge they’d have all died in the depths of space. I’d want Kanata to be my captain.

Lastly I just want to praise how well thought out this series is. I mean planets alone are beautiful, from worlds were mushrooms rule to a planet half burning, half frozen, it’s the kind of imaginative sci-fi I adore. I could quite happily spend a whole series exploring just one of these beauties. Add on to that the mysteries that the crew have to deal with, like finding out why they were targeted, and this series just reaches another level. The plot is so intricately detailed that a lot of the reveals made me want to bang my head against a table because, of course that’s the reason behind it all, why didn’t I see it sooner! The clues were all there, but you get so wrapped up in the adventure and the danger that you don’t notice until the story wants you to, which is always the mark of a well-written story. In fact the only complaint I have is the ending, and while I love the conclusions for each characters and I’m glad for them, there’s also the part of me that feels like it was a bit convenient. Things shook out in just the right way that everyone gets their happy ending, it just stretches my disbelief a little too far (or maybe I just want another series about them after they’ve just got home and dealing with the immediate fallout).

The Verdict

All in all, Astra Lost in Space is a great ride from start to finish. It’s the kind of series I love, exploring imaginative and unique planets with a group of fun and charming characters. There’s plenty of drama and high stakes, but also a wealth of comedy, both sides equally balanced with one another. If you’re into sci-fi or just an intricately plotted story, then check this series 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.