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.

First Impressions Summer 2021 Part 1

And the hallowed time is upon us once more, a new season of anime is here! The sun is blazing and, at the time of writing this, I’m melting into a puddle of my own sweat thanks to a heatwave that’s hitting the UK (Curse you my eternal enemy, the sun!) Thankfully there’s a whole bunch of new anime to keep me distracted, or at least there should be. The summer season is here, but apparently the entire release schedule is out of whack because only half the shows have actually started airing. So, for the first time since I started doing these first impression posts there’s going to be a gap between parts 1 and 2. Obviously you’re reading part 1 now, but part 2 won’t come out until all the other anime I plan on watching hits three aired episodes at least, whenever that will be. Enough preamble, let’s get on to the actual shows!

Peach Boy Riverside

Okay, so like there’s this girl, Sally, whose on a journey to find this person she once knew like. She also has this thing right, where like when she meets ogres, ‘cause ogres are a total thing in this world and they have magic powers that can wipe out whole towns. Anyway, when Sally meets an ogre this peach thing starts glowing in her eye and she gets a proper mad on for killing said ogre, all total gleeful like. She meets this demihuman rabbit who’s super cute and pretty badass in her own right and they travel with this knight and an ogre who had her horn chopped off, by the same person Sally is looking for! It’s mad.

I apologise for the quality of the above summary, I think I might have burst a few brain cells trying to wrap my head around whatever it is this show is trying to do. Admittedly I have a fairly vague understanding of the folklore this show is based on and I’m trying to work out how much of a detriment that is. The problem is this show, up to episode three at least, just point blank refuses to explain it’s character’s back stories. I have no idea who Sally is, why she’s on this journey, what the deal with her eye is or what her connection to Mikoto is. At most I know that ogres are a thing, Mikoto wants to kill them all, for some reason, Sally doesn’t and demihumans are discriminated against. Also Frau is best girl of the season, fight me. I could just watch her munching carrots and kicking ogres all day. Unfortunately that’s not the majority of this show and I care so little about everything else that’s going on that I’m not sticking around. I’m out on this one.

Scarlet Nexus

One day grotesque organisms known as Others began to fall from the sky and started eating people. To defend against this bizarre enemy, the Other Suppression Force was formed, enlisting soldiers with a wide variety of psychic powers to fight back. Yuito doesn’t have much psychic potential, but he’s been determined to enlist ever since the day a mysterious woman saved him. Is everything quite what it seems though? Just what are the Others and were do they come from? The wheels of fate are turning as Yuito meets Kasane, a girl who’s been having strange dreams of late.

I’ll be honest, I didn’t go into this series with the highest of hopes. I mean it’s a game adaptation for one and those hardly have the best of reputation, but I thought I’d give this a chance and it’s…okay. There’s nothing really wrong with this show, but there’s nothing really spectacular either. It’s a generic science-fantasy. Strange monsters are attacking the human population and it’s up to a bunch of teens with superpowers to turn the tide! Throw in a conspiracy behind the scenes and just the general sense that not everything is as it seems and you have yourself a story that’s been told a dozen times before. Not that that’s too bad a thing, the story is decently told and the animation is suitable for its purposes. If I did have any praise for this series it’s that things appear to be moving at a fairly quick pace. If you’re after a bit of sci-fi action then I’m sure this series will suit a lot of people just fine, but there’s not enough here to keep me interested.

The Case Study of Vanitas

It’s the 19th century and, for the most part, vampires and humans live in peace. Of course sometimes that peace is broken, mostly when a vampire’s true name is corrupted and they’re transformed into a mindless beasts with an insatiable hunger. There is no cure for those who find themselves the bearer of 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 young vampire Noe 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.

Now this is more like it. From episode one this show got my attention, I mean it’s from studio Bones so I knew at the very least it was going to look great. Throw in a couple of fun and intriguing leads and a vaguely steampunk setting and I’m all yours. I really love the dynamic between Vanitas and Noe, they’ve got a few more layers than I was expecting and I adore how they both play the straight man for one another. They can both sell a serious moment, but they can also both be utter goofballs, Vanitas getting high off his own ego and Noe staring at everything around him with starry-eyed naivety. I was also surprised by how twisted Vanitas can be, it’s played off as a bit of a joke in the first three episodes, but he’s a lot more amoral than I was expecting. I’m really excited to see where this one is going and if nothing else it’ll look good while it does it, which is enough to keep me around.

Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid S

Miss Kobayashi used to be your average office worker, often over-worked and just a little bit lonely, until one drunken night when she missed her stop on the train. That was when she met Tohru, a dragon, who was just as lonely as she was. A few more drinks later and suddenly Tohru had a live-in maid, who was actually dragon, and it didn’t stop there. More and more dragons turned up in the human world to settle down. Some came to live with her, while others found their own human partners. Now Miss Kobayashi’s life is a bit stranger and a lot more chaotic, but she wouldn’t have it any other way. Now, another dragon is about to turn up and if life was chaotic before, well, just wait ‘til you see what happens next.

The arson attack on Kyoto Animation 2 years ago was a true tragedy. I’ve never been able to find the words to properly talk about it, but it gives me immense pleasure to see the studio back, not only in fighting form, but at the top of their game. I loved the first season of Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid and so far this sequel hasn’t disappointed. It’s got the quirky humour, the heart and the blistering animation sequences when the show wants to pull out all the stops (which it does often in the first two episodes). I will admit that the story across the first two episodes is a bit hornier than I’m used to with this series, mostly thanks to the introduction of our new dragon and her…overzealous proportions shall we say? That and the thing that happens to Kobayashi at the end of episode one, but that’s quickly resolved. By episode three things are back to the typical slice-of-life hijinks if you’re worried about the show becoming too fanservicey, not that there’s anything wrong with that, it’s just a little hard to ignore. I’m just glad to finally have these characters back in my life and I’ll spend as much time with them as I can.

The Aquatope on White Sand

Fuuka Miyazawa just lost her job as an idol, a dream she’d held on to for a very long time but in the end she gave up her chance to someone else. Feeling lost and in no way ready to face her family back home, she takes a different flight on a whim and ends up at an aquarium of all places. There she meets Kukuru Misakino, a high schooler and the temporary director of the aquarium. The aquarium holds a lot of special memories for Kukuru and she’s determined to keep it going, even with the ever-looming possibility that it might finally be closing down for good. Some might even say it’s her dream to keep the place going. Can Fuuka help her accomplish this and maybe reignite her own passions along the way? Something tells me its going to take more than the help of the local god to make things work out!

What’s this? A P.A. Works series about some young women working in the service industry? I feel like I’ve seen that somewhere before, oh yeah, the ‘Working’ series! For those that don’t know P.A. Works has this run of independent series that all share the common theme of following the exploits of working women. Those series are Hanasaku Iroha, Shirobako, Sakura Quest and now I guess this series. I have no idea if this series is an official part of the ‘Working’ line, but it’s definitely giving me that same vibe, which is a good thing considering how much I enjoyed those previous series. Our two leading ladies are very likeable and I’m already rooting for them to succeed. The series itself is a fairly quiet slice of life with the occasional drama brought on by the trails of working in an aquarium, so far we’ve had a feeding mishap and an unexpected birth to deal with. All that being said, I do get the feeling that this show is going to break my heart at some point down the line. I can’t quite put my finger on why I think that, it’s just this premonition I keep getting. For now I’m having fun and I can’t wait to dive into more!

We’ll leave it there for this week. This is usually the part were I’d talk about what impressions are coming next week, but seeing as I don’t yet know when Part 2 is going to be published let’s go with this. At some undetermined point in the future, we’ve got a dead detective, a pirate princess and Lord of the Flies anime style! Next week, a regular review. I’m thinking something a little… criminal, does anyone have a 500 yen coin they could lend me?

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

Anime Corner: Horimiya Review

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

What’s the Story?

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

The Review

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

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

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

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

The Verdict

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

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

The Infallible Fish Reviews: Batman: The Long Halloween Part One

I believe in Gotham City.

What’s the Story?

Gotham is a city as broken and corrupt as they come. Carmine ‘The Roman’ Falcone is the indisputable and untouchable boss of crime, with a stranglehold on everything from the Mayor’s office to the justice system, but that’s all about to change. Three men are working to bring him down. Captain James Gordon, one of the few honest cops in Gotham. New District Attorney Harvey Dent, a man stood at a precipice even if he doesn’t see it yet. Batman, the dark knight who has sworn an oath to save his beloved city. Of course nothing in Gotham is ever simple and the war on crime is complicated by a string of bizarre murders. Members of the Falcone family are being murdered each and every holiday, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas one after the other. Gotham is changing, an empire is falling and everyone is a suspect. It’s time to learn to be a detective, Batman.

The Review:

The Long Halloween is probably one of my favourite Batman comics and, by extension, one of my favourite comics in existence. It’s not perfect, but Jeph Loeb’s noir-soaked world and Tim Sale’s amazing art are what I think of when I think of Batman (alongside everything from Batman The Animated Series of course). For me, it’s not just a story about the early days of Batman and the fall of Harvey Dent (sorry, spoilers for any non-Batman fans), but it’s about the transition of Gotham. We watch as the city moves away from the more traditional organised crime to being a place plagued by costumed and theatrical crime. I’d recommend it whether you’re a Batman fan or not.

With all that being said, I’ve been waiting for an adaptation of this story for a long time. We’ve had pieces here and there, Nolan’s Batman trilogy took a heavy influence from this comic (I’m pretty sure everyone who’s seen The Dark Knight will recognise the scene with the huge pile of money and, yes, that comes from Long Halloween). But this is it. Finally. The full adaptation of The Long Halloween to the screen, or the first part at least with the second due for release shortly. So, how was it? Honestly I have mixed feelings.

There are parts of this movie that I love. I’m still very much enjoying the new animation style that the DC Universe animated movies have adopted (see my review of Justice Society: World War II HERE, to read more about that). The action scenes are fast and fluid, though I did notice a couple of the more quieter scenes looking a bit stiff and awkward. I’m assuming this is down to the rushed release schedule for these films, which is a shame. If any story deserves the time and money to get it right, it’s a work as seminal as The Long Halloween. That brings me to the voice cast, who are all fantastic. Jensen Ackles is perfect for Batman and my only hope is that he gets more to do in Part 2, which brings me to Naya Rivera who unfortunately passed away last year. I’m using the same word again, but she is perfect as Catwoman and it’s a tragedy that we’ve lost her.  

Moving on the plot and, again, I feel like I’m stuck in a positive/negative sandwich. Adaptation-wise it’s very faithful, there are some cosmetic changes but on the whole a lot of effort is put into maintaining the core of the story. Scenes are extended from the comic, we get a bit more action, characters talk more about what they’re feeling and where they’re at. There is a really adorable scene with a young Barbara Gordon that both melted and then broke my heart. The problem is that a lot of this feels like filler. To a degree I can argue that it’s leaning into it’s noir roots and building atmosphere and tension, which it is, but I also can’t escape the fact that a few seconds shaved off of each scene would have really helped this movie (I think this is the first time I’ve wanted one of these animated movies to actually be shorter).

I think the core issue is that the majority of this film is set up, necessary set up, but we’re very much moving things into place and laying out breadcrumbs (sometimes with the subtly of a sledgehammer). I am a little worried for Part 2, this film covers the first 4 issues of the story, there’s 9 left to go. If the next film is rushed I am going to be sorely ticked off. What it all comes down to is that, honestly, I think this film is probably better off watched alongside Part 2 when that comes out at the end of July, I can’t give my full judgement until I’ve seen that. So, I’ll see you then.

The Verdict:

In the end, Batman: The Long Halloween Part 1 is the set up to something that could be truly great, or a disaster in the making. It’s hard to tell at the minute. It’s an incredibly faithful adaptation, taking it’s time to add depth and action in-between the scenes that were already there, unfortunately this does slow down the pacing of the film and it isn’t helped by some lacklustre animation in parts. The voice cast are superb though, breathing new life into this age-old characters and the story is still as great as it’s ever been. Honestly I’m reserving my final judgement until Part 2 is out, so come back when I review that film and we’ll see if this was worth 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: 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: Suppose a Kid from the Last Dungeon Boonies moved to a Starter Town? Review

Suppose everything was for Lloyd-kun?

What’s the Story?

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

The Review

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

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

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

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

The Verdict

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

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

Anime Corner: 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.

The Infallible Fish Reviews: Justice Society: World War II

We live in a society…a justice society.

What’s the Story?

Barry Allen, aka the Flash, is just trying to have a nice, normal picnic with his girlfriend in Metropolis, of course he’s a superhero and that doesn’t last long. One minute he’s teaming up with Superman and fighting Brainiac, the next he’s in World War 2, punching Nazis alongside heroes he’s never heard of. Those heroes would be Wonder Woman, the Flash (Jay Garrick), Hawkman, Black Canary and Hourman, the Justice Society of America, a secret team of super-powered beings sent by the US to combat the Nazis menace in Europe. Their current mission is to find someone who can decode a secret message that will tell them Hitler’s next big plan, while Barry tries to work out how he’s going to get home. Not everything is as it seems though and the Justice Society are in for a lot more than they bargained for. This is war after all and not everyone is going to make it out alive.

The Review:

And we’re back to the DC Universe animated movies! It feels like it’s been an age since I reviewed one of these films, even though I looked at Wonder Woman Bloodlines just last year (you can check out the review HERE). Part of that is down to my general lack of enthusiasm for these films lately. While I’ve enjoyed the majority of the ones I’ve seen, I have to admit that barring a few stand outs (like Death of Superman and Batman vs. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles), none of them really hold a candle to DC’s early output of animated films. That might just be changing though. The DC Universe animated movies have undergone a bit of a revamp, there’s a new animation style, a reboot of the universe and, going by this one, a level of care and attention that’s been missing from these films for a while now. Justice Society: World War II isn’t a film that’s going to change the world, and clearly someone was watching the first live action Wonder Woman movie before penning the script, but it’s a great, fun romp that shows a lot of promise for the future.

Before we get to that though, first let’s talk about that new animation style. I have to admit that when I first saw the trailers for this film it took me a while to get used to the new look. I’ve never watched Archer, but that’s exactly what this style reminds me of, the strong outlines combined with the characters designs really give this film a unique look (not counting the previous Superman movie which also uses this style, but I haven’t watched that film, yet). The film looks good throughout, though when it comes to the action sequences that ramps up to spectacular. The action, of which there is a lot, is fast, fluid and full of impact, leading to one heart-pumping sequence after another, especially towards the end of the movie when all the stops get pulled out. Black Canary gets some particularly gorgeous sequences showing off her powers.

Speaking of the characters, let’s talk about them. Part of what surprised me most about this film being released is that there’s some obscure heroes in this roster. The Justice Society isn’t a superhero team that’s made it’s way into popular consciousness yet, despite getting a couple of appearances on TV (They had a two-parter in Smallville and are a big part of the current Stargirl show). I mean, yeah, there’s Wonder Woman, Flash and Superman to draw people in, but, be honest, how many of you have actually heard of Hourman before?

The film does a good job of introducing all of its characters and giving them a few moments in the spotlight, even if it never goes that in depth with any of them. You might not understand the whole of Hawkman’s deal, but through the writing and the terrific voice acting you’ll get a sense of his personality and what he’s like. Which is all you need for this one film. It’s the little quiet moments I love the most, whether it’s Jay and Hourman acknowledging the fact that it’s usually them that has something go wrong with their powers, or Black Canary worrying about how our Flash (Barry) has no idea who they are when he’s meant to be from the future. It humanises all the characters and that makes me care when they dive into the next action sequence.

As for the story, it’s a fun action romp as I said. Most of it is an excuse to get to the next action sequence and, as I mentioned before, there’s a lot of parallels to the first live action Wonder Woman movie. Maybe it’s just me, but seeing Wonder Woman in a World War, jumping around a village while fighting German soldiers, some plot specific things later on and the fact that Stana Katic is clearly doing a Gal Gadot impression, it just rings a lot of bells for me. Putting that to one side though, there’s a lot of fun elements to this film and a fair few surprise appearances by characters I was not expecting to see (Fair warning, if you buy the physical DVD or Blu ray, don’t look at the back cover as that will give one of the surprises away).

There’s also a twist I didn’t see coming and, while I don’t think it was strictly necessary, it’s a fun wrinkle in the adventure. The last thing I’ll say is that, while this is a standalone film and you can easily watch it independent of anything else, there’s also a real sense of laying the groundwork for something here. I mean outside of planting the idea in Barry’s head about some sort of Justice Club for Superheroes, there’s a few plot points that could, and I think will, come back in a later films. It’s got me excited about these films again and if they want to take the approach of standalone films that gradually build towards something than I am all for it!

The Verdict:

In the end, Justice Society: World War II, is a great deal of fun. It’s not going to the change the world or break any moulds, but it’s an exhilarating thrill ride, with a fair number of surprising twists and spotlighting a few characters that could really use it. Plus you get to see Wonder Woman and the Flash punching Nazis and who doesn’t love stuff like that? There is a lot of action in this film, all of it great, but the film also takes the time to give us quieter moments between the characters to humanise them and let us get to know them. This could really be the start of something wonderful and I am all for it. If you haven’t checked this out then make sure you do!

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.