Anime Corner: Princess Connect! Re: Dive Season 2 Review

Food for the Soul!

What’s the Story?

Yuuki, a young man whose memories are fragmented. Kokkoro, a shy and compassionate young elf. Karyl, a cat-earred sorceress with split loyalties. Then there’s Pecorine, an energetic swordswoman with an ample appetite and boundless optimism. Together they are the Gourmet Guild and they make it their mission to travel around the land of Astraea, discovering new foods and ingredients to share. Whether they’re exploring an ocean of flying fish, helping some friends put on a concert or dealing with a prankster pixie, every day is a new dish for this guild! The good times can’t last forever though and the looming shadows are spreading across the land. There is an imposter on the throne and the mysteries of this world look set to finally reveal themselves. Will it all end in disaster, or can the Gourmet Guild win through in the end? There’s only one way to find out!

The Review:

I’m going to have to rewrite my ‘Top 10 Favourite Anime’ list, again! That should give all of you dear readers an idea about how this review is going to go, so get out your ponchos and prepare to enter the gushing zone! Back in my review of season one (which you can check out HERE), I talked about how surprised I was by this series. I still don’t fully understand it, how can such a silly, goofy show with a mountain of characters and hardly any plot to speak of be so amazing? It was so sweet, endlessly charming and had some absolutely jaw-dropping animation. I loved it from beginning to end. So, when I tell you that this season blows the first out of the water I want you to understand the magnitude of what I’m saying. Every bar I set for this show it surpassed with ease and only got better and better. If the first season surprised me with how well it all came together, this second season shocked me by turning a goofy adventure show into one of the most epic epic fantasy stories I’ve come across in years.

How does it accomplish such a feat? Well, for starters, it has an actual plot. I feel like I’m being mean to the first season, which I still think is fantastic for the record, but it was doing a lot of the necessary dirty work for this second season. Season one was all about getting us invested in the characters and the world of Princess Connect. There were a few breadcrumbs and mysteries set in place, but there were still so many question left unanswered that by the end it felt like we were just getting started. Season two takes those threads and runs with them, full throttle. There are still a handful of goofy adventures throughout and even more quirky characters to meet, but the focus is very much set on resolving the conflicted established at the end of season one.

I’ll admit, as I sit here trying to analyse the series as a whole, I’m in two minds. On the one hand, the cold logical side of brain is telling me that we still don’t have clear answers to a lot of things. Some of the answers are really just my own inferences about what has been going on and the villain’s motives are still quite murky to me (maybe I need to play the game to get the full detail, but if I do that’s just bad story-telling). On the other hand, the rest of my brain is just screaming ‘Who cares!’. Look at how amazing the animation is, how cathartic all the many fights in the finale are, and look at Pecorine, so strong and radiant as she stands up to despair and offers to sit down to a meal with it. Pecorine is one my favourite anime characters from now until the end of eternity itself, I love her. I suppose the details don’t matter all that much, we know all we need to know for everything to make sense and even if it doesn’t it just feels right. This series has a big beating heart and that’s on full display.

I’ve talked about the animation several times and I just want to talk about it one final time, because it deserves it. On paper, this show shouldn’t have as big of an animation budget as it clearly does, but I so glad someone poured all their money into this! Again I just have that finale flashing through my head with gorgeous scene after scene, from the big flashy attacks that shake the screen, to the quiet, smaller images like Pecorine crying her eyes out with joy. I just want to watch this show again and again and I can’t really think of a better recommendation. My hat goes off to everyone involved with this series!

The Verdict:

In the end, Princess Connect! Re: Dive Season 2 is, amazingly, even better than the first! Whereas the first season was one wacky adventure after another, the second takes all those building blocks and characters and crafts them into something truly epic. There are twists, reveals, heartbreak and soaring triumph aplenty, but the show never loses sight of that sweet, charming core that it established in the first season. It’s the characters that make this show and, after these two seasons, I would die for each and every one of them. The animation is astounding, the characters are delightful and I just don’t have the words to do justice to this fantastic series. If you haven’t checked this show out then you’re seriously doing yourself a disservice and you need to correct that right now! Get to 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.

Anime Corner: My Dress-Up Darling Review

I wuv wuv wuv this show!

What’s the Story?

Wakana Gojo is a high schooler with a passion, he wants to becomes a kashirashi – a master craftsman who makes traditional hina dolls. It’s a unique passion and not one a lot of people share, that’s why Wakana has a tendency to keep to himself. This means he doesn’t have any real friends at school and he’s super awkward in social situations. Honestly, it feels like the popular kids, such as Marin Kitagawa, live in a completely different world. Then, one day, Marin happens to find out about Gojo’s passion and reveals that she has one of her own, cosplay! All she wants is to become a character she adores from a raunchy game, she just doesn’t have the skills to make the dress. Gojo does though. So opens up a whole new world for Gojo, filled with magical girls, cute succubi and the glorious underboob! Marin has a lot of characters she wants to cosplay as and, who knows, Gojo might just learn a thing or two. And, what’s this? Could that be love in the air?

The Review:

How necessary is it for a character to be relatable? Honestly, not very. Speaking as a devout lover of sci-fi and fantasy I don’t need to be able to relate to something in order to be invested in it. Your story can be about dragons, spaceships, transdimensional techno-gods or even fruit flies, it doesn’t matter. My suspension of disbelief can encompass all of that and I don’t particularly have to see myself in any of them to care about what happens to them. That being said, while being relatable isn’t necessary, it does have some serious advantages. Speaking personally, characters make a story for me and if you can find some characteristic that I can empathise with then you’ve just greatly increased the chances of me investing in your story. If you can create a character that resonates with me on either an emotional or a personal experience level, well, then I’ll follow your character until the day I die. Why am I bringing this up? Because My Dress-Up Darling has two of the most relatable characters I have yet to come across in any story.

Now, on paper, both Gojo and Marin are not only worlds apart from one another, but from me as well. Gojo is a socially awkward high school student obsessed with becoming a master hina doll maker (I didn’t even know what a hina doll was before I started watching this show). Marin on the other hand is the popular girl, super friendly and energetic she will do whatever pops into her head and pay no mind to the consequences until they’re right on top of her. There are some aspects I can emphasise with in both characters, but it’s in how they treat their passions that I can see a reflection of myself.

At the start of the series Gojo is very nervous about sharing his passion. He has a bit of childhood trauma around a friend telling him hina dolls are for girls and that puts him off telling anyone else. I can relate to that, as I’m sure a lot of anime fans can. I’m sure we’ve all been in that phase were you don’t want to be judged for what you like and the easiest solution was to just not to talk about what you find interesting. That was me in secondary school, and college for a bit. Marin on the other hand is just so exuberant about what she loves, she’ll tell anyone and she doesn’t care. You ask her what a series is about and you’d better strap yourself in for an hour-long lecture about every detail of the plot and characters. Yeah, I’m definitely that kind of anime fan nowadays, as I’m sure many of friends will wearily admit. I get both of these characters and, as such, I will happily sit and watch them do anything. Whether it’s shopping for fabrics, having a home date bingeing some old school anime or sitting on a beach talking, I will stay with these characters until I die.

Of course what raises this series up even more levels is the fact that this show has so much more than just a couple of relatable leads. While I see bits of myself in both Gojo and Marin, I also think they’re two stellar characters. Their chemistry is off the charts, whether it’s all of Gojo’s hilarious reactions to Marin’s exuberant antics or just the many internal meltdowns Marin has over how much she loves Gojo. I don’t really consider myself a shipper, but I ship these two so hard I want to be invited to their wedding and, yes, I do picture them getting married (one day, when they’re older). Throw in a bunch of other smartly written and fun characters and we’re in A* territory here.

Lastly I can’t end this review without mentioning the animation because, my god, this show is gorgeous. It looks great throughout, from the lighting to the scene composition, but what blows my mind is all the little details. When Gojo is studying the magical girl anime, the little clips they show look exactly like a late 90s/early 2000s magical girl. It’s uncanny, I’d swear this was a real show if I didn’t know any better. The same with the horror film in the last episode, the style completely changes for the clips and it’s unbelievable how good it looks. Then there’s all the little movements and bodily reactions that they throw into the animation. Seriously the scene in the love hotel was damn near electric I could feel the tension through my laptop screen. A standing ovation for all of the animators that worked on this series.

The Verdict:

In the end, My Dress-Up Darling completely blew all of my expectations out of the water. With that title and an ecchi tag I was seriously avoiding this series until I heard other people talking about it and I’m so glad that I eventually watched this. At its core this is a sweet little romance about a boy and girl who find a common passion. The leads are two of the most relatable characters I’ve come across in any series and their chemistry is electric. Throw in some top notch animation that really pays attention to the details and you’ve got an unmissable anime to my eyes. So what are you waiting for? Check this out!

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

Anime Corner: Penguin Highway Review

One by One the Penguins Steal my Sanity

What’s the Story?

Aoyama is a boy in the 4th grade. He’s a bit of a precocious sort, very logical in his thinking and with a passion for scientific study. He’s friends with ‘The Lady’, a young woman who works at the local dentist’s office who is rather mysterious. One day, a group of penguins appear in a field with no one having any clue where they came from, or where they went. Aoyama decides to investigate this and soon comes across other strange occurrences, such as a giant floating ball of water and strange creatures in the forest. What is the link between them? Could it be ‘The Lady’? Aoyama will have to travel along the Penguin Highway to find the answer, and maybe even save his town!

The Review

Okay, I’m pulling out the ‘Only in Anime’ label again. Because, really, only in anime could you find a film that is so equal parts casual slice-of-life and bizarre fantasy all at once. One minute you’re watching the ordinary school days of a bunch of middle schoolers enjoying their youth and investigating the world around them, the next the whole town’s turned inside out and characters are flying around on the back of a stream of penguins. I have to give the film credit for the brazen way it just throws you into its particular brand of insanity without any real warning. One minute a kid is being tormented by stereotypical school bullies, the next a woman is throwing a can into the air and it turns into a penguin. Does this cause shrieks of alarm? Disbelief? Maybe a rationalisation that they’re hallucinating? Nope. The characters just stare for a brief moment, then nod and jump straight to figuring out how they’re going to investigate this strange phenomenon the world has thrown at them. I kinda love it.

There’s a real sense of child-like wonder to this story, even if our main character is constantly trying to act like a grown up and thinking about how great he’ll be when he’s an adult, also boobs. He thinks about boobs a lot (about thirty minutes a day, which considering the male average is actually a fairly small amount. Sorry, I think I’ve gotten off track here). The world of Penguin Highway is full of mysteries and wonders, but there’s a real sense that if you apply the scientific method hard enough you’ll figure it all out in the end. Even if I don’t quite buy the explanation that this film comes up with for all its mysterious goings on, I do like that idea and it fits the characters of the film. Plus I’m always down for having science and fantasy sitting side by side.

Let’s talk about our characters for a moment, starting with our lead Aoyama. Honestly he had a very fine line to walk, boy genius characters are really hard to get right (most of the time they end up annoying the audience to the point where they’re inflicting even more gruesome deaths on them than the ones they already got in the show. Sorry Adric. If you want some homework do some research into the Doctor Who episode ‘Earthshock’ and see if you can find the claymation additional ending to the story). I mean Aoyama isn’t exactly a genius, but he does start the film telling you how smart he is, which is a very bad sign and then he spends the rest of the film with a very Mr. Spock personality, approaching everything in a very logical fashion. What saves him though is that he has a lot of personality and charm. I think the moment that won me over was when he decided to get back at the aforementioned school bully by telling him he was about to get all his teeth pulled out at the dentist. It showed that he’s not emotionless and a little childish, if in his own unique way. Plus it was kinda funny.

The other characters also share in this sense of fun and charm, honestly I wouldn’t have minded if the whole film was just following Aoyama around in his day-to day life. That montage where Aoyama and his friends just try out different experiments with ‘The Ocean’ and he dreams about winning the Noble Prize where just really heart-warming. Speaking of the ‘The Ocean’, that brings me to ‘The Lady’. Honestly I’m not sure if she veers a little too much into the ‘Manic Pixie Dream Girl’ trope for my liking. She’s a lot fun to be around, don’t get me wrong, and it’s not as if she’s there to get Aoyama out of some sort of funk or anything. He starts the film as a perfectly ordinary, happy kid, and ends the film in the same way. She’s really just a mystery for Aoyama to solve and I guess I’m just not sure how I feel about that.

From a visual standpoint the film is really, really pretty. I like the character designs and everything is really bright and colourful without getting too outrageous. There isn’t all that much action, a good portion of the film’s time is spent just letting the characters be and enjoying the ordinary world. When it has to pull out all the stops for a bit of weirdness or a flashy transformation it can and will, but it’s the small moments that matter most, the character reactions and the striking visuals and the film puts all of its effort and attention into them. Plus you get to see hundreds of penguins waddling about the place and who doesn’t want to see that? Penguins are great.

The Verdict

In the end, Penguin Highway, is a film that is really confident in itself. It presents both the fantastical and the ordinary with an equal sense of wonder and approaches everything in a very matter-of-fact way, much like its main character. It’s a lot of fun, with charming characters and striking visuals, but if you’re after a story that moves at a mile a minute then you’ll have to look elsewhere. This film very much moves at its own pace. But hey, it’s got penguins and those are worth the price of admission alone so check this film 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: The Case Study of Vanitas Review

Just Kiss Already!

What’s the Story?

It’s the 19th century and, for the most part, vampires and humans have found an uneasy peace between themselves. Of course there are those who would break that peace, like whoever’s stealing vampires’ true names, turning them into mindless beasts with an insatiable hunger. There is no cure for those who find themselves the bearer of such a curse, or at least that’s how the story goes. There is in fact one human doctor who claims he can cure any curse-bearer and he goes by the name Vanitas, a name that holds much fear for the vampires. When Noe, a vampire, travels to Paris in search of the Book of Vanitas, he has no idea the mad genius he is about to meet, or how his life will change because of it. Facing political intrigue, hidden sects of the church and their own tortured pasts, how long can Noe and Vanitas get along before one of them ends up killing the other?

The Review:

Some series literally have everything in their favour from the offset. When I’m looking for anime to watch it’s always the synopsis that I go to first so see if it piques my interest, but I’ll admit there are a few production names that immediately get my attention. Studio Bones is one such name, they’ve animated what feels like several hundred fantastic shows in their time (and I’ll just point out that Fullmetal Alchemist (2003) is still my personal favourite anime and that was made by Bones. You can check out the full list of my favourite anime HERE). Then there’s THE Yuki Kajiura, and I can’t think of a single song she’s produced that I don’t enjoy listening to (also going back to my favourite anime, she was behind the music for both Madoka Magica and Fate/Zero, my second and third favourite anime respectively). So, yes, I was extremely interested in this show when I first came across it and, if nothing else, I knew it was going to look and sound fantastic. That only left the story and characters, and if the show could nail them then, well, there’s really nothing this show could do wrong. So, how were they?

Utterly fantastic. If you haven’t guessed by now, this is going to be one of my gushing reviews, so ponchos at the ready everyone! I had an absolute blast with this series, from beginning to end. Everything from the setting to the characters to the sheer melodrama of some of the interactions, I want to give it all a chef’s kiss. And while I don’t think this series will have the same impact with everyone, it appealed to me in so many different ways that, like being caught in the hypnotic gaze of a vampire, I was just entranced from the very first episode. I just want to get lost in this world, 1800s Paris looks so sumptuous from the fashion to the architecture, with some dashes of gothic horror and a steampunk aesthetic thrown in to really hook me. There’s all the different factions, political scheming and rich lore that makes up this world and I just…I’m just trying not to squee too much as I think about it all. Some series you just want to move right into and live there forever, that’s me and this series, even if I’m pretty sure I’d be dead within the week it would still be worth it.

That brings me to the characters, who I love as much as I do the setting if that’s even possible. Watching Noe and Vanitas bicker like an old married couple never failed to bring a smile to my face. Noe is such a himbo, but he’s so pure-hearted that you can’t help but just want to hug him. Vanitas on the other hand is a lot more abrasive and unpredictable, which is fun in it’s own way, but it’s when he’s flustered and trying to hide his feelings that he’s at his funniest. The chemistry between the two is top notch and I never want to stop watching them interact. Then there’s other goofballs like Jeanne and Roland, who when we first meet them are presented as these dangerous badasses, only to learn later on that they’re these sweet cinnamon rolls and, again, the interactions with the rest of the cast is just fantastic. Not that everything is all smiles and giggles, a lot of the characters come with their own trauma and tragic back stories and the series makes sure to wring as much emotion out of each reveal as possible. I’ll also mention that this series comes with a lot of different ships, obviously Noe and Vanitas are the main ship, but after the second half of this first season I was really shipping Jeanne and Vanitas, they’re just…they’re just perfect for one another. Watch the series to find out why!

The Verdict:

In the end, The Case Study of Vanitas is perfect for me. Animation provided by Bones, music by Yuki Kajiura, a sumptuous and detailed world with a cast of loveable goofballs. There isn’t a foot this show puts wrong, for me at least I will admit this show probably isn’t for everyone, but it’s definitely for me. This show had me laughing, crying and gripping the edge of my seat with anticipation and, really, I can’t ask for anything more from a series. I’ve fallen in love not just with Noe and Vantias, but this version of Paris and the world beyond. What are you waiting for? Check this out!

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

Anime Corner: Otherside Picnic Review

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

What’s the Story?

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

The Review

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

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

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

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

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

The Verdict 

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

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

Anime Corner: Sabikui Bisco Review

Well, Somebody Certainly Has a Taste for Mushrooms.

What’s the Story?

After an apocalyptic event, Japan has become a wasteland. The majority of it’s populace are infected with a strange disease that makes it appear as if rust is covering their skin. One doctor, Milo, is desperately searching for a cure for his infected sister. He’ll use any and every ingredient he can get his hands on, including illegal substances like mushrooms. That’s when wanted criminal, Akaboshi Bisco, enters the town, causing giant mushrooms to sprout wherever he fires his arrows. The last thing Milo is expecting is for said criminal to turn up at his clinic with someone who needs saving. Even less expected, is that once the chaos of their initial meeting is over, Milo finds himself travelling with Bisco, learning the ropes of what it means to be a Mushroom Keeper and on the hunt for the legendary Rust Eater mushroom.

The Review:

I’ve talked about this quite a few times before, but for anyone new here one of the reasons I love anime as much as I do is just how bizarre it can be. I adore the wealth of different ideas that I’ve never come across anywhere else. Every time I think, ‘that’s it, nothing can surprise me now’, here comes anime to blow my mind. Take this series as a case in point. You’ve got a main character who fires arrows and wherever they hit a giant mushroom grows. There’s also a disease that makes it look like people are slowly rusting themselves to death. Animals like hippos, giant geckos and huge snails take the place of everyday vehicles, though how a snail gets inside a plane and makes it fly I have no idea. Clearly somebody, somewhere, was smoking something and, while I want to stay well away from whatever it was, I’m grateful for all those brain cells they sacrificed to make this (Remember kids, don’t do drugs. Unless they make you creative in which case go right ahead! Wait…that feels like a bad message to give out).

I don’t even know where to start with this series. I will admit the first couple of episodes are a little hard to get through. Apart from the bizarre aspects that make up this world, the first episode is told mostly out of order. Subsequent episodes are told in a progressively more linear fashion and, after the initial arc, the series is almost entirely straight-forward storytelling. I don’t really understand the logic behind this choice, as it really just makes it harder to get a handle on what’s going on at the start, which is something you really want to avoid in story-telling. If, however, you can get through that initial arc then you’re in for a wild, and enjoyable, ride. Sabikui Bisco is a series that likes to put the pedal to the metal and never let up, unless it really has to. It’s a bombastic roller coaster filled with big action, crazy set pieces and a moustache-twirling villain that you just love to see smacked in the face.

A lot the characters are fairly stock, the titular Bisco is the gruff, shouty type with a heart of gold. Milo is a lot more gentler and innocent, and a good counter-balance to Bisco in a lot of ways. Neither of them is the deepest characterisation, but they make up for that by being endlessly badass. Bisco is just a force of nature and, once Milo gets over his learning curve he too has some truly epic moments. The build up to the final episode sees Milo, bloodied and battered, facing down a giant death machine and he doesn’t flinch for a second. I was punching the air so hard I nearly pulled a muscle, It’s just that kind of show. The animation isn’t all that special, it’s good and does everything it needs to, but it’s hardly knocking the doors down. Yet, when the animation is mixed with the dialogue, characters and that rocking soundtrack it just all hits another level. Pumped I believe is the appropriate word for what this series makes me feel.

Lastly, on a world-building front, I was surprised by how much this series managed to cover in just twelve episodes. We go on a long journey, have some epic twists and build up a lot of lore all in a short span of time and, amazingly, none of it feels rushed. Every moment feels like the natural next point from where we’ve just been, while at the same being a completely different place to where I imagined this series going. There is a lot of very good story-telling going on here and I take my hat off to the writers, even if I still want to question them over those first couple of episodes.

The Verdict:

In the end, Sabikui Bisco is a wild ride. The series gets off to a bit of a rocky start with some strange story-telling choices, but if you can get past that there’s a lot of gold waiting for you. This is a colourful and bombastic series, filled with badass characters, crazy ideas and plot twists aplenty. There’s a lot of story and world-building packed into this series without it every feeling like things are being rushed. Everything just gets the right amount of time it needs to make the impression it needs and then we move on. Throw in a rocking soundtrack and this series is a lot of fun. So, if you’re in the mood for something a bit out there, grab your bow and come join in the adventure! Mushrooms are optional of course.

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: Slow Loop Review

Hooked on a feeling!

What’s the Story?

Hiyori has always been the quiet type, even more so since her father passed away. Now her mother is about to remarry and Hiyori can’t think of what to do except go out and fish, just like her and her dad used to do all the time. That’s when she meets Koharu, an energetic girl with boundless optimism and very little common sense. By a strange coincidence Koharu’s father is also just about to remarry, except that’s not a coincidence at all. Yep, Hiyori and Koharu are about to become sisters! Can Koharu work her magic and help bring Hiyori out of her shell? Only if Hiyori can get Koharu hooked on the joys of fishing and show her all the ropes (or should that be lines?)! Together they might just be exactly what one another was needing, filling in the gaps of each other’s grief with happy memories and new bonds.

The Review:

I feel like ‘Cute Girls Do Cute Things’ shows get a bad rap. I have no concrete proof for that, there’s always at least a couple of them each season so there’s definitely a fanbase (of which I count myself as a member). But, it doesn’t take much for my brain to come up with all the arguments against CGDCT shows. There’s no stakes or drama. There’s hardly any story to speak of and character development is minimal at best. Even the characters can be pretty archetypal, usually with an energetic optimist, a shy quiet one and a smart one mixed into the main cast somewhere. All of this holds true for a lot of the CGDCT shows I’ve seen, but that’s also kind of the point of them. I don’t know about other fans, but for me these series are my twenty plus minutes of chill out each week. It’s a little breather where I don’t have to worry about world-ending threats, heart-breaking drama or what the cliffhanger is going to be, it’s just a bit of sugary fun. And, in my opinion, Slow Loop might just be one of my favourite CGDCT shows I’ve seen so far.

What makes Slow Loop special for me, is that while it holds to a lot of the staples of the genre, it also has this emotional edge that wormed its way into my heart and really got me invested in these girls. I talked in the ‘What’s the Story?’ section about how Hiyori has recently lost her father, and I’ll add to that that Koharu’s mother has passed away as well. Now there’s certainly a really good drama there, two girls both mourning a lost parent and working out how to be a family, but this is a CGDCT show so that means no drama. As such Hiyori and Koharu get along pretty much from the start and everyone is very understanding and comforting to one another. I’d half expected the dead parents never to be mentioned again past the first episode, but Slow Loop is better than that. It saves those mentions for the moments when it can really hit you in the feels.

Throughout the show there’s these quiet moments where the series just takes a breath and Hiyori will wistfully talk about her father, or Koharu will think of her mother. It’s also pretty clear that these girls are still dealing with the emotional scars of what they’ve been through. Koharu in particular has some self-worth issues about not being a burden to others that come to light later on. It’s not just the girls either, at one point there’s a conversation about how Hiyori’s mother was struggling and we have a whole cast of side characters, some of whom have their own little emotional breakthrough across the series. Again, I don’t want to oversell this, there is no drama and no stakes whatsoever in this series, but these moments feel so honest and heartfelt that I can’t help but root for all of these girls.

Throw in the fact that this series is just really good at being a CGDCT show and you’re on to a winner here. Our cast may be made up of a set of familiar archetypes, but they all have terrific chemistry and they all sell their roles flawlessly. The animation is pretty standard and simple, but there are some really lovely bits of scenery put on display, I could almost feel the chill of some of those early mornings. That brings me to the fishing aspects of the show and it finds a good balance between showing, what I’m presuming are, the joys of fishing and handing out informative facts. Honestly, depending on your thoughts about whether fishing counts as a sporting activity or not, this count qualify for the Sports! Genre (though there’s no real competition, just certain characters’ drive to catch fish).

The Verdict:

In the end, Slow Loop is a great example of the ‘Cute Girls Do Cute Things’ genre done right. It ticks all the boxes of the genre, no drama and stakes, archetypal characters and just generally being a warm ball of fuzz to sink into (which, again, if that’s what you’re looking for, like me, this is perfect). Yet, at the same time, it manages to dig a little deeper into its characters than you expect. While there’s no drama to really speak of, that doesn’t mean its characters can’t have open and frank conversations and its those moments that really got me invested in this series. There’s also plenty of fishing and fishing facts for those that care that, but for me it’s the characters that made this show. Now if you’ll excuse me there’s a couple of fictional characters I want to go hug right 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: Sasaki and Miyano Review

Let’s Only Think About Love!

What’s the Story?

Miyano is a fan of the Boys’ Love genre, so much so that he’s always fantasying about the other boys in his all-boys school getting together as couples. That’s when he meets Sasaki, a tall and laid back senior with a bit of a reputation for getting into trouble. Sasaki says he wants to get to know Miyano better and before he knows it Sasaki is always hanging around and borrowing manga from his collection. With all of his fantasying could Miyano finally have found himself in a real-life Boys’ Love romance? But how does he really feel about Sasaki? He’s never been attracted to another boy before and he was interested in a girl in middle school. But that doesn’t explain the flutter in his heart when Sasaki is around.

The Review:

Well, I definitely appear to have a type when it comes to the Boys’ Love genre. Mostly it comes down to how much I enjoyed Given (check out my review HERE). So, when I saw another series with a black-haired and a red-haired protagonist couple I was sold immediately. How does the show stack up? It’s…okay. I’ll admit I’m not much of a romance fan, or at least I’m not all that interested when a series is just purely focussed on romance. I prefer my romance mixed in with other genres, but as a standard romance goes this works perfectly well. It’s sweet. Sasaki and Miyano make a cute couple, they have clear chemistry and common interests and are supportive of one another. Sasaki can be a little possessive and overprotective, but what I like about the big lug is that he recognises that about himself and he constantly catches himself to make sure he doesn’t cross a line. He’s also endlessly patient with Miyano who isn’t even sure if he likes other boys in that way. Basically Sasaki is my favourite character in this series, but let’s talk about the rest of the show.

If you’re not a romance fan, or interested in the main couple as I was, then I can easily imagine this series being frustrating for a lot of people. It’s definitely a slow burn, there’s a lot of agonising over feelings and what things mean, especially on Miyano’s part, but no real action until the final episode. Honestly there are very little real obstacles to Miyano and Sasaki’s relationship, everyone is very supportive and accepting of the two. There are couple of brief discussions about some of the issues a same sex couple might face, but no real examples that the main pair have to deal with personally. It’s just a very sweet, wholesome and laid back experience, with a couple of funny characters and a lot of cuteness.

Miyano is definitely the main obstacle to this relationship. He’s an overthinker and questions himself endlessly about what he’s feeling. In any other romance I’d be pulling my hair out over stuff like that, and it’s generally the reason I don’t watch a lot of pure romance series. Here though I’m okay with it because this is the first time that Miyano has found himself attracted to someone of the same sex. That is a big deal and requires a lot of questioning and self-examination, which I think this series handles really well. There’s a clear and natural progression of Miyano coming to understand his feelings and I appreciate the effort put into that. On the whole it feels like a lot of thought and care was put into this series, even if they could have squeezed a heck of a lot more drama out of this situation.

On the animation front, there’s nothing really all that special about this series, but there’s nothing bad either. The animation just does exactly what it needs to do to convey each scene. As I’ve said this is a fairly wholesome and laidback series so there’s lots of long pauses and panning shots just to add to the mood of the piece. There’s no real action so the animators never really get a chance to properly flex, outside of sticking more and more sparkly bits into scenes (which I take it are a staple of the genre). There are some good reaction shots and well-timed gags. I don’t really know what else to say about this series. It’s not overly flashy, but then it’s not trying to be. It’s just a quiet, sweet little romance between two guys.

The Verdict:

In the end, Sasaki and Miyano is a sweet little romance. If that’s what you’re looking for then this will be perfect for you. Likewise if you get yourself invested in the main characters relationship you’ll have some fun here. If, however, you’re not in either of those camps then I feel like there isn’t much this show has to offer. It’s a slow burn with the bulk of the series dedicated to Miyano coming to terms with how he feels about Sasaki. There’s no drama or action outside of that self-examination and all of the supporting cast are just, well, supportive, with no real obstacles in the way. If you’re after something a bit spicier or with a bit of flash then you’re best off looking elsewhere. For me this was a bit of fun, I’m not sure how well I’ll remember in a few months time, but I had a good time while watching it and a show doesn’t really need to do more than that. See you next time!

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: Orient Review

“It’s like the sword’s going inside me!” – Still one of my favourite out of context quotes from an anime.

What’s the Story?

150 years ago the demonic Kishin descended on humanity. Only powerful swordsmen known as Bushi stood against them, but even their skill wasn’t enough to vanquish these monsters. Now, while there are still roaming bands of Bushi who oppose the Kishin out there, the majority of humanity actually worships these demons. Bushi on the other hand are feared and despised, forced to walk around with their katanas chained to themselves. Despite this, Musashi and Kojiro have talked about forming their own Bushi band ever since they were kids, but as graduation day approaches it’s time for a decision. Despite all his big talk and bigger dreams, Musashi has never actually stood up for the Bushi in public. Meanwhile Kojiro is the known descendant of a Bushi and is ostracised by the community. How far will Musashi go to prove he really means what they’ve talked about all this time? And can an ordinary human really stand up to monsters like the Kishin?

The Review:

I’m always going to be more lenient with shonen series, even when they haven’t really earned that right from me. I can’t help it, I just really like this genre. Even when a shonen series isn’t particularly good I can sit and watch one for hours on end and not get bored. It’s popcorn entertainment for me and, let’s be honest here, I may have aged out of the target demographic a while back, but there’s always going to be a part of my brain that’s fifteen years old. So, how does the newest shonen stack up against the rest? Well, for that I need to talk a little about just how lenient I am with shonen series.

I take it you’ve all heard of the ‘three episode rule’, right? The unofficial length of time that most anime fans give to a series to see whether it’s actually for them or not? Well, most of the time I stick to that rule, but when it comes to shonen series I abide by the ‘six arc rule’, let’s be frank here, no shonen series gives you their very best in the opening couple of arcs. There’s background to lay out, characters to introduction and some series setting up to do before a shonen series can really show you what it’s made of. Don’t believe me? One Piece, my favourite shonen, makes you wait until you get to ‘Arlong Park’ before it starts giving you even a glimpse of how emotional and epic it’s going to be. My Hero Academia doesn’t start firing on all cylinders in my opinion until you get to the ‘U.A. Sports Festival’. Bleach – ‘Soul Society’. Naruto – ‘Chunin Exams’. I can go on and on like this all day, but you get the idea. Orient, with the twelve episodes that make up this first season, I feel is on the cusp of showing what it’s really made of.

I know my bias is showing entirely here, because with any other type of series I’d be complaining about this show spinning it’s wheels for far too long. It’s not that this is a bad series, it’s just not anything spectacular either. The animation is serviceable at best, the characters are mostly fine and, in truth, it was the rocking music score and the weird creature designs that kept me around through the first six or so episodes. Then you get to episode 7 and the third arc of this series and that’s where the potential started to show itself. We got introduced to an ominous antagonist with a unique ability, learnt a bunch about how this world works and even got a few tantalising mysteries for later. We also dug deep into what made our main protagonist tick. The main character with a tragic back story is nothing new for any series, but there’s something about this one that felt genuinely heartbreaking for me. Just seeing Musashi so broken and ground down into nothing. I started rooting for the guy there and then.

I can’t in good conscience recommend this series. In this day and age, with our overwhelming glut of entertainment options, asking someone to sit through twelve episodes on the promise that good things might come later feels like too much. That being said, when this series returns in the summer I’m probably going to check it out. I’m rooting for Musashi now and all the possible plot threads hinted at in the final episode was enough to get my attention. It could just be more wheel-spinning and lacklustre animation, but it could also be the start of a new favourite. We’ll see.

The Verdict:

In the end, Orient is a series with a lot of promise, even if that promise has only been hinted at so far. The animation is serviceable, but nothing spectacular. The characters are all fine, except for our main protagonist whose tragic back story is really heartbreaking, once the show finally decides to get to the point of exploring it. There is a lot of wheel-spinning in these first twelve episodes, but they’ve set up a really intriguing world that is ripe for exploration. With all the pieces now in place though this could become something truly great, or maybe it’ll just be more of the same in its next season. Whether you want to invest the time to find out is entirely up to you, I can’t really recommend it, but I’m going to be sticking around for the next season at least. See you then.

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

Cartoon Corner: The Cuphead Show! Season 1 Review

Do not mess with a Cuphead, ‘nuff said!

What’s the Story?

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

The Review:

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

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

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

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

The Verdict:

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

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