Anime Corner: Akudama Drive Review

Note to self: If you want the easy life, never try to return someone’s dropped change.

What’s the Story?

Many years ago a great civil war ravaged the country of Japan, leaving it fractured between two regions, Kansai and Kanto. Kanto is said to be a paradise where everyone gets exactly what they want thanks to their advanced technology. Kansai on the other hand is filled with those who would break the law, known as Akudama. When one ordinary citizen runs into an Akudama, she has no idea that her entire world is about to be turned upside down. She’s just been drafted into one of the greatest heists in history, one that will see her breaking into some of the most secure locations in Kansai and even exposing the truth behind Kanto itself. Nothing will be the same again, and all because of one cat and a 500 yen coin.  

The Review:

Some shows you just know you’re not meant to take seriously. Part way through episode one we have one character swinging around the city on their bike like they’re Spider-Man, so we at least know logic and physics don’t apply here. The ‘Rule of Cool’ is very much in effect with this series and that’s no bad thing. In fact, this series is an expert at doing what it does and what it does is being effortlessly cool and badass. Dynamic visuals, a killer soundtrack and cathartic characters arcs make this series a blast from start to finish and I am very much in love with it. It’s not all that deep and the characters very much stick to their archetypes, we don’t even learn their names beyond their roles, Swindler, Brawler, Doctor and so on.

Then again, does a series need to be deep to be great? Don’t get me wrong if every single series out there decided to just be all show and no substance, then I’d have something to complain about, but they’re not. There’s plenty of cerebral shows out there and as long as we treat our viewing habits like maintaining a healthy diet, then a little bit of junk food every now and again can’t do any harm (just as long as it’s not the only thing we eat). All that being said it’s not as if Akudama Drive has nothing to say for itself, it has some clear themes of self-determination, questions about the true nature of justice and how it’s the victors that write the rule books. None of which is all that original, but it’s something and it helps add a little bit of weight to character actions to give them the punch they need.

Let’s talk about the characters for a moment (and for once I don’t have to stop and quickly check character’s names, because I’m really bad with names guys). As I said we don’t learn their names beyond their job role and, outside of Courier, we never really get any kind of exploration of their pasts. A few of them explain their particular philosophies on life, but that’s all we get and, honestly, that’s as much as we need. The characters have enough personality and bombast to make up for any deficiencies they might have elsewhere and while their arcs are simplistic and predictable, they’re also incredibly cathartic. Every character gets exactly what they deserve, especially the Doctor who had me jumping up and down when she got her just deserts. There’s a line Swindler has towards the end of the series about screaming ‘Serves you right.’ into the face of the world and that’s exactly what this feels like. Whether it’s a tragic passing, a heroic last stand or a comeuppance that’s been a long time coming, this show makes sure that every ending feels right and there’s a lot of endings.

That’s one thing I should probably warn you about, this series has a heck of body count and gets really bloody in places. If you watch on Funimation’s site like I did the worst of it is covered by black bars, but this is not a series for the squeamish. One of the characters is called Cutthroat, so I guess it’s not too much of a surprise, still I’d avoid getting attached to too many people.

Let’s round this out by talking about the visuals for a bit. There are shows that look better and have more fluid animation, but when this show wants to put something dynamic and striking up on the screen it pulls out all the stops. We’re presented with a neon-soaked cyberpunk future, where holographic images and traditional Japanese-inspired architecture blend together. Throw in the numerous action set pieces, some crazy locales and even some blimps and you have a feast for the eyes. As I said, I love this series and while I realise it’s not going to have the same impact for everyone, I really don’t want this series to fade into the history books.

The Verdict:

Akudama Drive is a roller coaster thrill ride. It looks great and you’ll quickly find yourself cheering on the majority of the characters, even if it’s not all that deep or original. Everyone gets exactly what they deserve in this series, whether that’s good or bad, but there’s a cathartic punch to events that means you’ll most likely leave this series feeling satisfied even if you’re not as in love with it as I currently am. So let’s give this series what it deserves, for those that have seen it, let’s remember it fondly, and for those who haven’t yet, go check it 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: SK8 the Infinity Review

Sk8 is Gr8!

What’s the Story?

Reki loves skateboards, he loves making them and he loves competing in the top-secret, no-holds-barred downhill race known as ‘S’. Unfortunately while he’s got the spirit, he’s lacking in some of the skills. That’s when he meets new transfer student, Langa, a snowboarder since he was a little kid, he’s looking for something to give him the same thrill when there’s no snow around. Could skateboarding be the answer? With Reki’s enthusiasm and board building skills combined with Langa’s natural talent could this be the beginning of a beautiful friendship? Not if the mysterious Adam has anything to say about it, he’s got his eyes on Langa and is convinced he’s the only one who can be a match for me. Trouble is, he’s right.

The Review

I like enthusiastic people. Maybe I’m weird, but I find joy in other people’s enjoyment, even if I don’t particularly care about the subject they’re enjoying so much. Take skateboarding for example, I’m a child of the 90s so it’s ingrained in me that skaters are ‘cool’, but my experience with the sport is limited to about an hour’s play on one Tony Hawks game back in the day. I have more interest in a detailed history of the shoelace than I do skateboarding, which is to say absolutely none. Yet, here comes Reki, our adorable puppy dog of a protagonist whose sheer love of skateboarding is so infectious I can’t help but care. He’s invested, so I’m invested. Throw in a host of colourful characters and some physics-defying races and we’re in for a wild ride here folks.

Fun is the name of the game with this series, both narratively and meta-texturally. It’s a show about the joy of skateboarding and the rule of cool is very much in effect. Part of me wonders why this series didn’t come out in the 90s, because it fits that decade so much. If you’re after a gritty and realistic portrayal of what it’s like to be a skateboarder, well you’ll just have to look somewhere else. This is a show were physics are a mere suggestion and the rules aren’t just broken, they’re pulverised. One of the main antagonist’s popular moves is to pick up his skateboard, mid-race, and smack the other guy in the face with it. It’s that kinda show and if you’re willing to go along with it you’ll have as much fun as all the characters involved.

Each race featured in the series is thrilling and had me cheering along. Part of this comes from the fact that the series chooses to focus on a core group of skaters, each with their own distinct styles and ways of skating. One relies on technology, while another uses dirty tricks and yet another one uses their clear excess of muscles to pull off some crazy moves. It’s fun to see all these different personalities clash and bounce off of one another, though, for me, the two best boys of this series have to be our leads, Reki and Langa. I’ve already talked about how infectious Reki’s enthusiasm can be, but then there’s Langa whose quiet, innocent joy at discovering skateboarding for the first time is equally infectious. They make for a great pair and really bounce off of one another well. Reki’s experience and fanboy knowledge of skateboarding, coupled up with Langa’s air-headed naivety and natural skill really compliment and complete one another. There’s a reason their third-act split takes up several episodes of the series to resolve.

Let’s talk about that split though, because it’s probably the most interesting aspect of the plot of this series. Maybe I read too much shonen, but I’m used to the enthusiastic hero-type being completely OP in their chosen area, but that’s not the case here. Reki loves skateboarding, but he’s not the most gifted skater and the series makes it clear that no amount of guts and determination is going to make up for that gap in skill. Even when he takes on the series antagonist, Adam, it’s very clear that he stands no chance at all, and Adam wasn’t even going all out against him. This gap between desire and talent has a palpable effect on Reki and he starts to turn away from his friends, because he doesn’t feel like he can measure up against them. It’s a really meaty issue that I wish got explored in more series, and it’s really well handled here. Of course Reki finds his way back to skateboarding, but even then the series doesn’t backtrack. Reki has to find value in his own skating without measuring it against other people. Besides, as the series likes to reiterate towards the end, skateboarding is fun and it doesn’t need to be anything more than that.

The Verdict

In the end, SK8 the Infinity is a blast from beginning to end. It’s impossible not to get sucked in my the enthusiasm of these dopey guys who just like to pull an ollie, or whatever skateboarding jargon you want to thrown in. Fun and the rule of cool is the game as these colourful characters participate in physics-defying races and blatant rule breaking. There’s also a meaty exploration of the effects when a person’s desire doesn’t quite match up with their talent, which is well handled. If you’re looking for a fun time then I can’t recommend a series more than this, and anyone who says otherwise can run a Beef with me right now! Skateboarding is fun!

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: Jujutsu Kaisen Review

Boogie Woogie, the greatest power in anime.

What’s the Story?

Yuji Itadori used to be a normal high schooler. Then, one day, his friends came under attack by curses and everything changed. In order to save them Itadori swallowed a cursed finger and shared his body with a curse called Sukuna. This may have been a very bad decision. There are jujutsu sorcerers in this world, who protect it from curses and most of them believe Itadori should have been killed right then and there, but one offered him a choice instead. Now Itadori has a chance to do some good and train to become a jujutsu sorcerer himself. Of course those other sorcerers still want him dead and they’re not the only problem. There are curses out there that want to sway Sukuna to their cause, that being to completely dominated the human race. Can Itadori survive long enough to finish his training and is it possible for a curse to do some good?

The Review

I like shonen action series. I know that will come as a great shock to absolutely no one, but then again, maybe it will. I don’t really talk about them that much on this blog do I? I’ve never talked about my thoughts on Bleach, Naruto got mentioned all of once back in the early days and, while I covered some of the One Piece movies, I’ve made it pretty clear I take issue with a large chunk of the anime adaptation. My Hero Academia is probably the series with the most representation on here and even then I skipped covering the first three season because I didn’t have that much to add to the discourse. I used to have this rule on the blog that I’d cover the first season of a show and then only talk about the sequels if I thought I had something new to add, which I often didn’t (I have since rethought that idea as you may have noticed by the increased number of sequel reviews I’ve been writing lately). This is a first season so it automatically gets a pass to the review stage, but do I have anything new to add to the discussion? Let’s find out!

Jujutsu Kaisen is good. Round of applause. Thank you, thank you, I know you all come here for such startling insights. Being serious though, I do think this is a really good show. It doesn’t do anything really mould-breaking or inventive, but what it does do it does with an air of confidence and skill that you can’t help but admire it. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again now, it doesn’t matter what you do, it’s how you do it. You could have the most staggeringly original idea in the history of the universe, but if you don’t know how to tell that story no one is going to give it a second glance. However, if you take a tried and tested formula and you apply it correctly people are going to get on board. Throw in a really likeable cast, some good humour and top notch action and you’re really on to a winner. I have no doubt that this show will blow me away at some point, shonen series often get better and better over time, but for now this is just a really good show that does what it does and does it really well.

Let’s break things down a little further though, because Jujutsu Kaisen has some elements that really sell it. For one, there’s the animation. Mappa is very much a studio on the rise at the minute, with a number of high profile shows under their belt, in fact it’s a testament that this show has come out as continually gorgeous as it has while they’ve been working on those other shows. The fight sequences are jaw-droppingly good, fluid, kinetic and packing one heck of a punch, honestly they’re worth the price of admission alone. It’s just the kind of spectacle a series like this needs to capture an audience. This is also aided by the pacing, which really makes it feel like things are continually moving forward, without ever feeling like you’re missing out on anything. It’s pretty much the perfect speed for a series like this.

Of course this series isn’t just all spectacle, we’ve also got our loveable cast of characters. I’ll give Jujutsu Kaisen this, it’s already added in a large number of characters into it’s story and I love most of them, well expect for the ones that I’m clearly supposed to hate. Focussing in on just our main trio and, while they all fit comfortably into their archetypes, there’s enough charisma and depth to make each one feel like a fully fleshed-out person. I do have a major soft spot for Itadori, he may be the naive, good-down-to-his-toes, physical powerhouse protagonist, but I like that this series isn’t afraid to show him struggling. I mean emotionally, physically he can beat up most opponents good and proper, but sometimes the morally grey job of a sorcerer weighs on him and I like that that kind of struggle is acknowledged. Then there’s Nobara Kugisaki, my vote for best shonen female character of the century and I will fight anyone who tries to argue otherwise, and Megumi Fushiguro, the effortlessly cool rival character who I can’t help but cheer for. Overall a really solid set of leads.

The Verdict

In the end, Jujutsu Kaisen is a really solid show. It knows what it’s doing and it does it well. The spectacle of the animation and action is enough to catch your attention, but you’ll stay for the characters and the world its building up around them. I have no doubt that in some future season this series is going to blow my socks off, but for now it’s laid out a really rock-steady foundation and I can’t wait to see what gets built upon it. Plus Kugisaki is as awesome as she is scary and one of the best female shonen characters in a long while, and we need more of them. Also that first ED is amazing still.

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: Re:ZERO – Starting Life in Another World Season 2 Review

Let’s do this one more time!

What’s the Story?

Having brought down the White Whale and dismantled the schemes of the Sin Archbishop of Sloth, Subaru was finally riding high again. He even got a lap pillow from Emilia! Of course nothing good can last too long for our eternally-dying protagonist and tragedy strikes again when Rem is attacked and wiped from everyone’s memory except for Subaru. What’s more Subaru has already reached the next save point so he can’t use Return by Death to solve this. Adding to his problems, the villagers have yet to return from the Sanctuary and when he and Emilia arrive they learn that the only way to free everyone is to pass the trails of the late Witch of Greed. Can Subaru confront his past, overcome yet another of the Great Mabeasts and bring the machinations of Roswaal crashing down around him? This time he’s going to need something more than Return by Death to get out of this one!

The Review

Do you have one of those shows that you love, despite the inescapable feeling that there’s a lot of stuff you’re just not getting (think Christopher Nolan films or any season of Line of Duty). That’s me and Re:Zero, at least on a first watch through. You can check out my review of the first season HERE, but suffice to say that I had a blast with it. The journey of Subaru, from the psychological toll of his many deaths, to the very shattering of his ego and his eventual attempts to rebuild himself, was compelling and I ate up every moment of it. The second season is no less fascinating, packed full of so many reveals and bits of character back story and world-building lore, it’s too much to take in all at once and, yeah, that’s a problem. As much as I love this series, I do have to acknowledge it’s flaws and that’s a big one.

Re:Zero has always been a very talky series, with vast amounts of exposition and a really roundabout way of saying things. Often the mentality of this show is that a paragraph of too much detail is far better than a single concise sentence and, that’s just bad writing. Add on the fact that, at times, the lore and finer details of this world can really be impenetrable and the show is no way interested in holding your hand, and it’s a wonder I enjoy this series as much as I do. Watching this show week to week can be a nightmare at times. I’ve got to retain all the mountain of details I learned about in the week’s prior, plus comb through all the stuff from the current episode and make space in my brain for the week’s still to come. At times I’ve felt like Sisyphus continually pushing that boulder up a hill only for it constantly slip out of my grasp. I’d be tempted to recommend just bingeing this series all in one go, but I’m worried that would make your head explode, on the first watch at least. Re:Zero is really a series that needs to be watched multiple times to be fully enjoyed, and while I don’t have a problem with that I get why some people might and that’s perfectly fine.

All of that does make this series sound pretty bad, doesn’t it? It certainly makes it hard to recommend, but I still find myself enjoying each and every episode so why is that? The only thing I can really put it down to is the characters, while a lot of them may suffer from verbal diarrhoea, I’m still invested in them and their journeys. I want to know more about Subura and his past, to see what made him the way he is, I want to see what’s so terrible about Emilia’s history and Otto’s story has turned him into the surprise Best Boy of the year. You’ll find all of that in season 2 and each and every answer is worth it. It helps that while I may not always understand what some characters are saying, I can always at least understand them emotionally. I may not know why they care so much about something, but I get that they do care and when an epic moment hits, especially towards the end of the season, it truly feels epic. This series knows how to work the feels and make you care and, really, that’s it’s greatest strength.

I am still really looking forward to season 3, because while this season answers a great number of questions (even if I’ll get the detail on my second watch through), there’s still so much that we don’t know about this world. Plus, the most important thing of all, we need to get Rem back! She got side-lined in the first episode and she’s still in a coma by the final episode and we can’t have that! Here’s hoping getting that sorted is the first task of the next season, now that we’ve got Emilia’s past and Roswaal’s motivations sorted out.

The Verdict

In the end, Re:Zero – Starting Life in Another World can be a really hard series to recommend. It is overly wordy and the lore and plot can be impenetrable without multiple viewings, and yet I still get so much joy out of watching this show. I’m invested in these characters journeys and I care about what they care about, even if sometimes it takes a while for me to understand why. They have a world that is packed full of mysteries and intrigue and when something epic happens you can bet it’ll feel as epic as possible. I’m eager for a season 3, but I understand if people feel like it’s time to get off this ride. As for me, I’ll probably be buckled in until the finish.

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: Dorohedoro Review

Lost in chaos, well that’s certainly one way to describe this series.

What’s the Story?

Humans live in the Hole, a dismal cityscape warped by magic. The people do their best to eke out a living, but its hard when sorcerers keep popping over from their own dimension and using the humans to practise their magic on. Take Caiman for example, he has no idea who he is or where he comes from, but his biggest problem is probably the fact that some sorcerer turned his head into a lizard’s. Now, along with his best friend Nikaido, he’s made it his mission to hunt down the sorcerer that cast a spell on him and get his real face back! Of course there are a lot of sorcerers out there and plenty of other strange and macabre things both in the Hole and in the sorcerer’s own world. Still, if Caiman has to bite every sorcerer he meets and question them about what the man in his mouth said to them, well, that’s just what he’s going to do.

The Review

Sometimes I just have to marvel at anime. I mean there are many, many reasons why I’ve been watching it for the majority of my life now, but one of the main ones is the sheer breadth and creativity of its stories. Where else am I going to come across a show that opens with a man with a lizard head biting down some other dude’s head, only for another head to work its way up the lizard man’s throat and start talking. I’m pretty sure that’s how all this started, either that or someone slipped something really powerful into my drink when I wasn’t looking. All that’s to say is, this show is really weird and I kinda love it for that. I knew nothing about dorohedoro going into it, other than I remembered people talking about it online and it featured a man with a lizard head as one of the main characters. I’m still not entirely sure I understand all of it, but I feel like I’ve taken a walk through a very unusual creator’s brain.

It’s hard to know where to start with this series, not only is the world it presents to us mind-bendingly bizarre at times, but its also structured in a slightly odd way. The majority of the episodes are split up into smaller segments (though this isn’t always indicated, so part of this might just be down to some weird pacing), kind of like a Slice of Life series. What makes this an odd choice though is that this definitely isn’t a Slice of Life series, there’s a clear overarching plot and a drive towards answering a central mystery, all very much NOT like a Slice of Life. There are a few moments where we just follow the characters through their daily lives, but not enough for me to class this show in that genre.

For the most part this is fine. Each segment either further develops the world or gives us another piece towards solving that central mystery of who exactly is Caiman, but there are other moments where it creates some really odd pacing to events. Several episodes reach a point that feels like a natural conclusion and then it just keeps going into another little story. I can’t help but feel that a few more breaks in the story would resolve this issue, one clear example that springs to mind is the scene where Caiman is in the hospital after regrowing his head. The very next scene he’s popping into Nikaido’s shop like nothing happened, now through context clues and dialogue we can work out he just escaped the hospital, but a break between these two scenes would have really helped establish the passage of time (unless of course Caiman just teleported from the hospital to Nikaido’s shop, which I wasn’t aware was one of his powers).

Going back to that mystery element for a second, I do enjoy the way this series lays out the mystery of who Caiman is and slowly builds towards answering it. There may be many detours along the way (many, many detours), but it knows just when to return to that question and offer up another tantalising piece to the puzzle. If you’re hoping for a resolution though, I’ll warn you now, better get down on your knees and start praying for a season 2. Season 1 leaves us with a lot of important clues and I can make a strong educated guess as to who Caiman really is, but how that ties into everything else we know is another question all together. Hopefully there’s some source material for this series I can check out because I don’t think I’m going to be able to sleep until I know the final answer.

I feel like I’ve been nitpicking this series for the past couple of paragraphs, but I have really enjoyed watching this show. The characters are all quirky and likeable in their own ways, except for En who I’d very much like to punch. I do really like the fact that we get to see things from both the humans and the sorcerer’s points of views and that, while everyone may not be the nicest person, most of them have their reasons for what they do. The world is fascinating and beautifully constructed, it may make me tilt my head every other episode, but that just makes me want to find out more about how it works. If you don’t mind a walk on the weird side and aren’t averse to the sight of blood, or 3D character models, then definitely check this out! Wait, why are mushrooms suddenly growing out of me?! En!

The Verdict

In the end, Dorohedoro is a bizarre, and often bloody, walk through a macabre wonderland. Filled with a cast of quirky, yet endearing characters on both sides of its conflict and a world that is endlessly fascinating, it’s a joy to delve into. There are some pacing issues throughout the series and the central mystery is far from resolved, but these feel like minor quibbles when the rest is so good. Here’s hoping for a season 2! I’ll end with a simple question, what did the man in my mouth say to you?

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: Great Pretender Review

Oh yes, I’m the Great Pretender.

What’s the Story?

Makoto considers himself one of, if not the, best scam artists in Japan, but this big fish is about to realise how small his pond really is. When he tries to con what he believes is an ignorant tourist, Makoto soon finds himself whisked away overseas to Los Angeles in an attempt to deceive a drug-dealing movie producer. Laurent, the tourist, is an exceptional con artist and he and his gang spend their time coming up with elaborate cons to rob crooks and wrongdoers of their ill-gotten gains. Laurent thinks Makoto has some talent, but if he doesn’t keep his wits about him Makoto could soon find himself on the wrong end of a bullet and not everything is what it seems. Sometimes the greatest cons are the ones we tell ourselves.

The Review

I’m a sucker for a good heist story, and that’s exactly what the Great Pretender is. Alright, technically it’s four distinct heists (five if we’re counting the one in the flashback episodes), but I was genuinely surprised by how much from the earlier episodes actually returns for the finale. Heists generally have a fairly simple formula, even if we’re talking about conning people out of money as opposed to breaking into somewhere to just take it. First we gather the team, set out the rules and the end goal, then we execute the plan, usually with something going wrong partway through. At that point it’s a scramble to come up with a new plan on the fly, or maybe that was all part of the plan all along. If executed correctly, it’s a shockingly engaging and effective source of drama. It’s like a well performed magic trick or a good detective mystery, except instead of trying to work out who committed the crime, you’re trying to figure out how they’ll pull it off. Thankfully Great Pretender knows how to execute this formula to near-perfection and in different ways for each caper to keep things from getting stale.

Of course all of this is presented in a fictional world where con men and scammers are a little bit glamorous and cool, as opposed to reality where they’re very much the dregs of society. No, you don’t have to worry about rooting for any bad guys here, Laurent and his team are very much on the side of the angels, no matter what they claim themselves. Their targets are the worst of the worst, usually having earned their vast wealth through some ill-gotten means so why not go a bit ‘Robin Hood’ on them and give them a taste of their own medicine for once. There’s a cathartic element to a lot of the capers, and not all of that comes from just taking the bad guy’s money. All the heists, in one way or another, tie into the back stories of our loveable rogues and give us some deeper insight into how they ended up as they are. It adds weight to the action and there are some impressively, and emotionally, told stories thanks to that.

That brings me to our lead, Makoto, who while being a talented con artist really isn’t cut out for this life style. A lot of his reactions, and overreactions, to the predicaments he finds himself in are fun to watch, even more so as he does his best to scrap his way out of them. The more you learn about his back story though, the more sympathy you have for the guy, there’s a clear struggle between the kind of person he’s pretending to be and the one he truly is underneath it all. Yet you can always count on the guy to follow his morale compass when it gets right down to the wire and that’s what makes him so easy to root for. If I had one gripe, it’s about the amount of times he gets duped by Laurent and co. Every new heist the team have to drag him back into the conning game and by the end of the series it makes sense why they’re doing it, but I can’t help but feel sorry for him. Just leave him alone for a bit guys!

Lastly I’d be remiss in talking about this series without mentioning the sheer amount of style this show oozes. This show looks great, from the character designs to the wide variety of locales it takes place in. That was one thing that really impressed me with this series, just how global is. We go to Los Angeles, Singapore, London and so many more places and it really gives this series a sense of scale that I rarely see in anime outside of fantasy and sci-fi series. Add on the impressive use of colour and the dynamic action of the animation and you have an excellently put together series. Throw in a really good soundtrack with some great insert songs and you’ve got this show wrapped up in a neat little bow. There’s a reason everyone was talking about this show when it eventually got out of Netflix jail.

The Verdict

In the end, Great Pretender, is a flashy, stylish, globe-trotting adventure with fun characters and oodles of excitement. It knows just when to raise the stakes, when to give you a glimpse of its hands and, most importantly, when to pull the rug out from under you. I don’t think this is an anime that will ever change the world, but it’s a heck of a blast and expertly put together. It looks great, it sounds great and there’s a lot of heart under it’s confident grin. If you missed this series for whatever reason, check it 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: 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.