Anime Corner: 86 Review

War, what is it good for?

What’s the Story?

Called ‘Juggernauts’, these unmanned combat drones are the main fighting force of the Republic of San Magnolia in their constant battle against the ‘Legion’. Of course this is a lie. The Juggernauts aren’t unmanned, they’re piloted by people, specifically people that the Republic have deemed not to be ‘human’, at least by their standards. Anyone who doesn’t fit the ‘ideals’ of the Republic, i.e. blue hair and blue eyes, is marked as an Eighty-sixer and forced to fight in this hopeless war. One such fighter is Shin, captain of the Spearhead Squadron, a veteran squad with an impressive survival rate. Unfortunately the Eighty-sixers can only survive for so long and Shin is convinced that something big is coming. Can his new Handler, Lena, offer any kind of help? Or is she only able to listen as other people fight and die for her? And even if Shin and co do survive this current battlefield, what waits for them on the other side?

The Review:

I don’t like to use the word perfect, for me there’s really no such thing and that’s okay. As long as we all try to be the best that we can be then that’s more than enough. All that being said, I can’t think of a single thing that I’d change about this series so maybe it’s okay to call this perfect? From the compelling story-telling, the engaging cast of characters and, my god, that animation at times, I just devoured this whole series and I loved every second of it. I didn’t even mind waiting months on end for the final two episodes because if that’s what they needed to get everything just right, then I’ll take it. Just promise me there’ll be a season 2, please. Pretty please.

True, a lot of the elements of this story have been used in other series, the cast of teenagers forced to fight for their lives on a bloody battlefield, the A.I. run amok, even the psychic powers and deeply racist nation victimising a whole group of people for no reason. Think Gundam meets Attack on Titan and you should have some idea of what I’m getting at. Still, you don’t need original elements to be truly great, you just need to make the best use of what you’ve got and that’s exactly what this show does. It understands each and every piece it’s playing with and it knows how to ring every last ounce of drama and emotion out of them.

Let’s talk about the characters for a minute. Our leads are Lena and Shin, they’re two characters that could so easily go wrong in hands that don’t know what they’re doing and yet this series pulls them off with ease. Lena is our naive, privileged viewpoint for the first cour of this series. She has a good heart and she means well, but she doesn’t truly understand the plight of the people she’s trying to help. Now this type of character could very easily come off as condescending or idiotic, but the show walks a brilliant tightrope keeping Lena sympathetic while also not letting her off the hook. We see her exposed to the true horror of what’s going on and transform from a naive young girl to a battle-hardened young woman. It’s a master stroke of character development without ever getting too preachy.

That brings me to Shin. At first he appears to be the archetypal brooding silent type that you find in so many mecha/war anime. What makes him work in this though is that we get to see the occasional crack in his facade, the odd smile or witty comeback and before long we’re exposed to the real trauma that made him the way he is. Then in the second cour he takes over the lead character role in its entirety and that’s where his character becomes really interesting to me. That’s where we really get to dig into Shin and ask the bigger questions. What’s really driving him? Where is he headed by the end of this? Why does he keep going on? I’ll warn you now it gets pretty intense as Shin loses himself and then finds his way back and I was on the edge of my seat throughout.

Those two characters alone would make this series something special and have me singing it’s praises all day long, but when you throw in the animation, music, direction and the rest of the cast, well, then you’re on to something truly fantastic. This show is shockingly well put together, I don’t know what the source material is like, but you can tell that everyone who worked on this series came into it with a clear plan. There’s not a foot put wrong, every plot thread, every character, every shot, is crafted to get the maximum reaction out of you, but without feeling like it’s manipulating you. I realise I’m probably hyping this show up way too much, but I’m just astounded by how well constructed this series is. If you’re interested in how to tell a compelling story then you need to study this show, heck, if you’re just after a supremely solid sci-fi series then you need to check this out. Well? What are you waiting for?!

The Verdict:

All in all, 86 is an extremely well put together sci-fi series. It makes the best use of what it has, from compelling character arcs, a solid premise, great animation and direction, what more could you really ask for? True it’s not working with the most original components, but when a show is this good it doesn’t really need them. I was riveted to my seat each and every week and I couldn’t wait for each new episode. I can’t praise this show enough and if you haven’t already check it out then you need to, 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: The Aquatope on White Sand Review

So long and thanks for all the fish!

What’s the Story?

Fuuka Miyazawa is an idol, or at least she used to be. She’s recently lost her job and, unable to go home and face her family, she finds herself in Okinawa at a little out-of-the-way aquarium called Gama Gama. There she meets Kukuru Misakino, the director of the aquarium, and the two strike up a pretty fast friendship. It turns out that Gama Gama is in a bit of trouble and unless someone comes up with something fast the aquarium is due to be closed down at the end of the summer! Determined to help out her new friend Fuuka is ready to give it her all and lend a hand, but some problems are too big to surmount. Life, as both Fuuka and Kukuru are about to learn, doesn’t always turn out the way you planned, or hoped.

The Review:

This show surprised me in the best possible way. I don’t know if other writers have this problem, but when you obsess over stories as much as I do you can’t help but see the different patterns that people use. I mean it’s a common argument that there are really just seven basic plots out there, the hero’s quest, rags to riches, the tragedy and so on. So when I see a plotline with familiar beats, which is often, I can’t help but make an educated guess at the ending and a fair amount of the time I’m right. Of course there’s nothing wrong with that, it’s the finer details that make a show interesting and fun, but sometimes you get a show that swerves your expectations. That’s this show. It took me completely by surprise and ended up reaching a deeply personal place for me. Get ready for a gushing because this is one of my favourite series to come out of 2021 and, yes, I know that puts it in the same league as Megalobox 2 and Oddtaxi, but that’s honestly where I feel it belongs.

Now, I don’t want to make it sound like the twist is the only good thing about this series, because there’s honestly a lot of good stuff here. It’s a very good looking show with some fun characters that have to deal with a situation-of-the-week and just a dash of one personal crisis or another. It’s very engaging and more than once I found myself tearing up or desperately wanting to give the characters a hug, but I knew it was all going to turn out okay in the end. I’m not sure if this is a part of P.A. Works’ ‘Working’ series, but it definitely feels in the same vein. A show about young women struggling with the trials and tribulations of working life, that’s exactly what this series is. (If you want to read more detailed thoughts on the Working series check out my reviews of Hanasaku Iroha, Shirobako and Sakura Quest).

That’s when we reach the midpoint of this series and suddenly everything swerves into a level of depth and maturity that I wasn’t expecting. Here’s the truth about work, like life, it doesn’t always work out the way you planned and that’s okay. A little bit of personal history, when I left school I wanted to be animator. I studied animation, among other things, at University, but I have yet to find any job in an animations studio. So far I’ve worked at a petrol station, in a call centre and at the time of writing this I’ve just left a job as a data analyst. It’s not the career I imagined as a kid, but I can deal with that. Despite what Hollywood tries to tell us dreams don’t always come true, sometimes you have to find a different dream. Mine is writing, hence this blog.

In case you can’t tell, this show has resonated with me on a deeply personal level. Watching both Fuuka and Kukuru coming to terms with their dreams failing and picking themselves up again has been a special pleasure. I can relate so hard to them doing jobs they’ve never imagined themselves doing, or just doing a job they hate (I am never working in a call centre again). This show just feels so real and visceral at times. Add on a bunch of fantastic single episodes looking at touching issues for the rest of the cast and I have nothing but praise for this series. My personal favourite episode has to be the one about the baby penguin taking its first dive into the pool, it just encapsulates what’s so great about this show. I know not a lot of people where talking about this show when it was airing and we need to change that, if you haven’t checked this show out then get on to it right now!

The Verdict:

In the end, The Aquatope on White Sand, is a series that surprises in all the best possible ways. It has a great look, charming and relatable characters and a lot of heart, but it’s the maturity with which it approaches it’s subject matter that makes this show shine. Yes, sometimes things don’t go the way you want and we can’t get that Hollywood ending, but maybe the place we do end up in is a place that’s just right for us. I can’t sing the praises of this show enough and you should all just stop reading this and go watch it right now. What are you waiting for? Dive right in!

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: Hilda and the Mountain King

Hilda and the Epic Conclusion!

What’s the Story?

Hilda’s always been wild-at-heart and thanks to that she’s gone on all manner of adventures, even after moving to Trolberg. Whether it’s dealing with Tide Mice, sorting out contracts with the organisation-obsessed elves or befriending the local Nisse, there’s always something new to explore and learn about. However, after a harrowing journey through the home of the trolls with her mum, Hilda was all set for a bit of peace and quiet for once. Unfortunately there’s no telling when an adventure will call and the next morning Hilda wakes up to find herself turned into a troll! Meanwhile Hilda’s mum has woken up to find her daughter replaced by a troll baby! Can Hilda use her wits and courage to find her way home and turn herself back into a human? Or perhaps there are even more pressing matters, why exactly are the trolls gathering outside Trolberg? And what does the Mountain King have planned for the humans behind the city’s walls?

The Review:

And here we are folks, the end of Hilda. At least, at the time of writing this, that’s what this looks to be. The Mountain King is the latest Hilda book to be published and as far as I know Netflix hasn’t announced a third season. I’ll admit this film leaves me feeling very bittersweet. On the one hand it’s great that we’ve got to the end of the story with such a wonderful adaptation that is both word for word what’s in the book, but also isn’t afraid to add new stuff. On the other hand though, this is the end and I’m not sure I’m ready for all this to be over. I fell in love with Hilda back in the first season (you can read my review of season 1 HERE and season 2 HERE). The show is so cozy and charming it’s been like a comfort blanket at times, just wrapping me up and letting me disappear into this pastel-coloured world where magic and adventure are around every corner.

If you haven’t seen the series but are thinking about watching this film then I’d really suggest you watch the series first. This film is a direct continuation, following on from the cliffhanger season 2 left us on. Also, that cozy atmosphere that I was talking about, don’t expect as much of that in this film. There are plenty of moments of levity and wonder, with some fun bits of exploration and additions to the lore, but this is the story of Hilda and her mum’s frantic attempts to get back to one another. I can’t really call that cozy and there are some hard moments, especially with Hilda’s mum where you can see her breaking down under the stress. It all adds to the epic feeling of the film and just a gentle reminder that this story is bigger than any the series has ever tried to tell. The whole town is literally on the line this time.

If I did have one criticism to make about this film, it’s that, as someone who’s read the books, it’s hard not to see all the additional scenes as filler. As I said in the opening paragraph a lot of this film is a word-for-word adaptation, they pretty much took the book and animated it. However there is a big difference between the books and the TV series, mostly in the fact that the series has a lot more characters that it’s introduced. As such the film needs to find something for those people to do so they get little subplots that thread through the story. They’re entertaining scenes certainly and it’s great to see what everyone is up to, but I also can’t escape the fact that they don’t really accomplish anything. Minor spoiler ahead, skip to the next paragraph if you want to avoid it, there’s a moment where Frida and David turn up to help Hilda’s mum, only for her to drop them back home the literal next scene. It’s like the film going ‘I know you want to be apart of this but that’s not the plot, bye!’

Moving back to positives though, let’s talk about subtext. The plot, as I mentioned, is about Hilda and her mum finding one another again, but on a deeper level the story is about something else. The core message of the Mountain King is to not judge by appearances and to try to communicate and understand one another, even when we’re scared. Especially when we’re scared. Trolls have always been a menacing presence in the series, even if Hilda and her friends have learnt not all trolls are bad, it’s still their first instinct to run from one. This isn’t helped by the fact that so little is known about trolls and why they do what they do. Throw in the Safety Patrol driving everyone into a paranoid frenzy and you’ve got a recipe for disaster. It feels like a very appropriate topic for the times as you see the townsfolk giving into misinformation and their own worst instincts. It’s a subject handled with a great deal of care and the film isn’t naive about it either, even by the ending it admits that not everything has been magically resolved, but it’s a start.

The Verdict:

In the end, Hilda and the Mountain King is the finale the series deserved. Everything that I love about the series is still here, the beautiful animation, great music and all the characters I’ve come to know and love. Yes, things are a bit more tense and serious, but the film never loses that sense of fun and wonder that I enjoy so much in this series. Add on some smartly written subtext and you’ve got a nearly perfect package. In fact my only real criticism is that some of the supporting characters feel unable to contribute to the story. That’s a nitpick though and I couldn’t be happier that we got to bring things to their proper conclusion. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to binge the series from the beginning.

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: DuckTales (2017) Review

Life is like a hurricane, here in Duckburg,

Race cares, lasers, aeroplanes, it’s a duck-blur!

Might solve a mystery or rewrite history!

DuckTales! Woo-oo!

What’s the Story?

When their Uncle Donald drops Huey, Dewey and Louie off at the home of the richest duck in the world, Scrooge McDuck, they have no idea how their lives are about to change. Whether its battling the wicked sorceress Magica De Spell, saving the world from an invasion of moon people or even taking on the schemes of the villainous F.O.W.L. organisation, there’s danger around every corner, but also a real adventure! Together the McDuck family are going to cross the globe, tracking down mystical treasures and uncovering lost secrets, even a few related directly to their family. What did happen to Huey, Dewey and Louie’s mother? Who are Webby’s parents? And, most importantly of all, why does Scrooge hate Santa Claus so much? All the answers and more are waiting for you, so grab on and let’s Dewey this!

The Review:

The Disney train has rolled once more into this blog and, honestly, I couldn’t be happier. Disney has really been on their A-game with their cartoons in recent years. Gravity Falls and Tangles the Series are two of my favourite cartoons ever (almost reaching the same league that I put Batman the animated series in, almost). Owl House (you can read my review of season 1 HERE) and Amphibia (season 1 review HERE) are both doing great things, though the news about the former ending so soon is a disappointment. We’re not here to talk about any of them though. No, we’re here to discuss what is, in my opinion, Disney’s absolute best cartoon they’ve produced so far.

I want you to understand just how strong that praise is coming from me and for that you need context. I can remember watching a couple of episodes of the original DuckTales cartoon when I was a kid, but I was never particularly beholden to the series. Disney movies had me glued to the screen, but when it came to cartoons? I was more of a Warner Bros guy. I have no nostalgia for DuckTales, Huey, Dewey and Louie were non-existent characters and Scrooge was fairly one note as far as I was concerned.

Now? Now I want to hug them and cherish them and go on crazy adventures with all of them. This show has worked it’s magic on me and across it’s three seasons it’s made we fall deeply, passionately in love with each and every one of it’s characters, and this show has a lot of characters! Whether it’s cheering at the reinvention of Darkwing Duck, my heart bursting at the reunion of the boys with their mum, Della, or even just watching the boys and Webby bonding, I have nothing but love for this show and I don’t know what I’m going to do with myself now it’s all over.

I mentioned reinvention and, really, that’s what this show is best at. Just take our primary characters for starters, Huey, Dewey and Louie, for the first time that I’m aware of, all have distinct and fun personalities. Dewey is the overly-eager young daredevil, always rushing into trouble with a desperate need for attention and approval. Huey is the nervous boy scout, always looking for the solution, planning forty steps ahead and panicking when things don’t go according to plan. Louie is our little conman, always able to talk his way out of situations, even if he’s as lazy and greedy as they come. Then there’s Webby who’s gone from the ‘girl’ to an awkward adventure-seeker, who spent much of her early life in isolation but makes up for it by being an absolute badass!

Then there’s that extensive cast that I mentioned and, while I may not have watched that many Disney cartoons in my youth I can recognise a cameo and a deep cut when I see one. From Rescue Rangers to TaleSpin, if there’s a Disney cartoon out there it’s got a mention in here somewhere (honestly I was expecting Gummy Bears and Gargoyles to get a mention by the end) and all the characters get smart and fun updates for the present day. I love this show’s version of Darkwing Duck and the journey that the character goes on across the seasons (from a cameo on a TV screen to a fully-fleshed out character with a new backstory!). You can feel the passion and the attention to detail that the creators of this show have poured into it.

Of course it’s not just classic characters getting a revamp, we actually have a fair few brand new characters that are added into the mythos, and all of them fit perfectly! This biggest and most important is one I’ve already mentioned, Huey, Dewey and Louie’s mum, and Donald’s sister, Della Duck! Yes, I’m as surprised as you are, a mother character in a Disney property who isn’t dead or magically vanished off screen before the first act begins! (Admittedly she is missing for the first season as the over-arching plot is about finding out what happened to her, but she makes her way back in season 2 and from then on she’s a part of the main cast!).

Della is a perfect example of what this show does so well, adding to the wider mythos of the show while also being her own unique character and smart and funny and just brilliant in every way. I could go on and on about this show, I haven’t even gotten into how this show perfectly balances episodic adventures and an over-arching plot, or some of the impressive blending of 2D and 3D animation, but this review is long enough already. Just watch this show guys, you won’t regret it.

The Verdict:

In the end, DuckTales (2017), is the best Disney cartoon to date as far as I’m concerned (sorry Gravity Falls and Tangled). It’s a beautifully crafted show with smart, funny writing, engaging characters and some really top-notch animated sequences. All the while it also pays homage to a legitimate classic (even if I don’t particularly care about it) while still going in its own direction and being additive rather than reductive. If you want to know how to reboot a franchise, heck if you just want to know how to write a stellar cartoon, then you need to check this show out. So what are you waiting for? Grab on to some DuckTales! Woo-oo!

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: ODDTAXI Review

Where to?

What’s the Story?

Odokawa is a taxi driver who lives a pretty mundane life. He has no family and his only real friends are his doctor and an old classmate from high school. He very much lives for his work, ferrying the somewhat-odd patrons of his taxi around town to wherever it is they want to go. From a college student obsessed with online fame to a struggling comedy duo and even an idol group with some shady connections, there’s all sorts of people he gets to meet. Odokawa’s mundane life isn’t going to last though, as he soon finds himself tangled up further and further in a story of murder, blackmail and warring gangsters. Our innocent walrus is in for one heck of a ride. Let’s hope he survives the journey.

The Review:

Writing is hard guys. It feels self-aggrandising to say it, but it’s true. There’s always the misconception out there that writing a story is easy, that all you need to do is sit down with your laptop and this great master work will come flooding out of you. Well, as a writer I’m here to tell you that’s not how it works. Writing takes time and effort, you’re constantly thinking about the minutia of your world, building the story and characters piece by piece. And that’s before you even try to put it all together, heck that’s before you even know whether what you’re doing is any good or not. The reason I’m going off on this little ramble is because, all hyperbole aside, Oddtaxi has one of the best constructed stories I’ve come across in years and I want everyone to appreciate that.

Oddtaxi’s story structure is, in a word, beautiful and I’m in awe of it. What started off as this funny little show about animal characters getting into comedy skits in the back of a taxi, morphed before my eyes into a tense and complex crime drama! There’s so many different plot threads, so many characters you’d be forgiven for thinking that there’s no possible way to pull them all together, I certainly did. Yet, somehow, this show manages it. Every character has a purpose, every line, every bit of imagery it all circles around and weaves together into this incredible whole.

The series starts off with a couple of mysteries to hook you in, like a missing girl and Odokawa talking to someone in his closet. While they just sit there and stew, the show spends its time developing its characters and building the connections between them. Before you even realise it suddenly we’re dealing with gangsters, corrupt police and a maniac running around with a gun. It’s like a magician’s trick, distracting you with a funny interaction or one plot thread, before revealing this other part of the story that you hadn’t even noticed yet. Add on the expert way in which this series lays out breadcrumbs for its various mysteries before revealing the answers with perfect timing and this series is something to behold. Seriously the scripts for this show should be dissected in script-writing classes.

Okay, so the story for this series is pretty much perfect as far as I’m concerned, but what about everything else? Animation-wise the series is fairly basic and really that’s all it needs to be. The anthropomorphized animals all look cute and have their own distinct looks, there’s nothing overly flashy here and considering the amount of care and thought that’s clearly gone into this series, I can’t help but feel that’s intentional. The stripped back nature of the visual really highlight the story and helps you to keep your focus where the story wants it to be. Plus who doesn’t want to look at a walrus driving a taxi, that’s just a cute image.

I want to go on praising this series forever and ever, because it deserves nothing less, but I should really be wrapping this review up. On a final note, I’ll give a word of praise to the characters. As great as the story is and no matter how much the visuals support that, this show would be nothing without it’s wonderful cast. I’ve well and truly fallen for Odokawa’s charms and I want to do nothing more than take a ride in his taxi and have a conversation with him. Every character gets their own little arc and while some are explored more than others, everyone gets a little bit of the spotlight and some time to shine.

The Verdict:

In the end, Oddtaxi is a master class in story-telling. From the hook of the initial mysteries to the moment when all the many, many plot threads get woven together, this series will grab you and not let go. It’s like staring into a pond and slowly realising just how deep it goes. The attention-to-detail and level of craftsmanship to this series just makes me want to applaud non-stop. Every character has a purpose, every plot is relevant and it all comes together in a satisfying package. What more could you really ask for? If you haven’t already checked this series out then you’ve done yourself a disservice. Check this out 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: Megalobox 2: Nomad Review

Hasta ver la luz.

What’s the Story?

Megalobox, the advanced form of boxing were competitors wear metal frames known as ‘Gear’ to face one another in the ring. When the first ever Megalonia tournament was held, a man, a legend, took to the stage, taking on all comers without any Gear at all and thus the name ‘Gearless’ Joe was etched into history. Even legends must end though and several years later Joe is a shadow of his former self. Using drink and dodgy painkillers to push down the agony he feels, he spends his nights fighting in underground matches. He has nothing and no one, but how did the former champion get this way? What’s more can he possibly face up to his past and make amends to those he wronged? A chance encounter with a fellow boxer might just show him the way. It’s a lonely road, but we all get lost from time to time.

The Review:

I adored the original series of Megalobox (you can check out my review HERE, but honestly just go watch it, you won’t regret it). It’s an incredible show, full of pulse-pounding drama, fantastic music and stylish animation that I just wanted more and more of. So you can imagine how excited I was when this sequel was announced. Still, sequels can be a tough beast to conquer, does Megalobox 2 hold up to the original? Are you kidding me?! It’s even better! This show is absolutely fantastic, if I had a review score higher than ‘Unmissable’ I’d be giving it to this show. Of course all of that is dependent on what you’re expecting to get out of Megalobox 2, if you’re after another tournament arc or even crazier boxing matches, well, then you’re probably going to be disappointed.

The focus for megalobox 2 is set firmly on the characters above everything else. Now the characters in the original series were hardly the most deep or defined, heck we never really learnt anything substantial about Joe or where he comes from. What we did get was enough to understand who he is and why he fights, enough to cheer him on and be overjoyed when we reach his eventual victory. The same can be applied to all the other characters, they each had their own problems and arcs that we explored through each of Joe’s matches. Megalobox 2 however takes a different approach, starting with a time skip. Now don’t worry, I’m sure anyone who saw Promised Neverland 2 is having terrible flashbacks at the mention of a time skip, like I did, but this is how they should be used. The characters have some history to contend with now and though we don’t learn what happened straight away, it’s enough to see them dealing with the ghosts of their regret and guilt.

There’s a very melancholy feeling to Megalobox 2, especially during its first half. Joe is dealing with, or rather refusing to deal with, whatever happened to him and the first arc, as it were, deals with a community of immigrants who just want to have some place to call their own. It’s a harsh world, the world of megalobox, and it’s often shown that people have to fight for every scrap they can get a hold of. This was also the case in the original series, but it’s amplified here and put more under the microscope. Yet, for all the rough edges and struggle, there’s a burgeoning sense of hope that begins to emerge from the series. A parable about a dying man and humming bird is repeated several times in the second half (I’ve no idea whether it’s been made up for this series or if it’s based on a real story, either way it’s good and used well throughout). To me it gives the message that, even if you think you’ve lost everything, there’s still things worth carrying on for and it’s heart-warming to see Joe and a few other characters come to realise that.

That brings me to the music and, again, it’s another winner. There’s a strong Spanish influence to the music, and a lot of the show really, given that all the episode titles are in Spanish. There’s a lot of melancholy tracks to squeeze your heart and carry you way on, as befits the mood of the series, but when it needs to get you pumped up and excited it knows just what to hit you with. I wish I understood more about music so that I could properly explain what makes its so, so good, but I could listen to the soundtracks for both series for the rest of my life and never be happier.

Finally, let’s talk about the animation. It’s still completely top notch, the line work is a little cleaner, but the great character designs and aesthetic remain intact. As I’ve mentioned there isn’t all that much action so the animation doesn’t get as many chances to show off, but there are a plethora of examples of great directing and visual story-telling. That said, when there finally is a match and the animation gets to flex a little, it really flexes. I just want to chef’s kiss this anime until my lips fall off. Go watch it guys, right now!

The Verdict:

In the end, Megalobox 2: Nomad is one of those rare instances where the sequel outmatches the original. The music, animation and directing are as fantastic as they were in the original, but with more of a focus on the characters and their emotional journeys the drama gets turned up to eleven. This is a more melancholy series and there’s less matches if that’s what you were looking for, but the continual gut punches of the story more than make up for that. We even manage to end things on a much more hopeful note and I couldn’t be happier with this series. I would love another series, but if this is where this story ends then I am more than content. 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: Vivy – Fluorite Eye’s Song Review

A Song from the Heart.

What’s the Story?

In the future, A.I. have become an intrinsic part of everyday life. From the many varied humanoid androids who take on all manner of jobs throughout human industry, to the Archive that monitors and records everything, they are everywhere. For a century the world has been at peace and content with this state of being. Then, one day, that all changes. Suddenly the A.I. begin singing and turn on the humans, killing them indiscriminatingly. To try and prevent this from ever happening a specially designed A.I., Matsumoto, is sent back in time a hundred years to alter key moments in history. Of course Matsumoto can’t accomplish this alone and he enlists the help of another A.I., a singer named Vivy. But what can she do to help when she’s struggling to understand her own mission? What does it really mean to make everyone happy with your singing?

The Review:

This series is fantastic. I’m cutting straight to the chase on this one because I am very aware that this post is about to become a full-on gushfest and I thought I should give you all fair warning. Sorry those of you who were hoping for a reasonable, well thought out dissection of the show, but that’s not happening here (then again I don’t know if I’d ever call any of my reviews well thought out, they’re all written stream of consciousness style. I’m getting sidetracked.) There are many aspects of this series that I want to discuss, from the stunning visuals to the blistering action sequences and engaging plot, but there’s one thing that makes me want to stand on the rooftops and sing out my love for this show more than anything else. As corny as it may sound, it’s the heart of this show that’s captivated me.

One of the strongest aspects of Sci-fi for me, is it’s ability to examine the human condition from a different perspective and drill down into the core of what makes people, well, people. Vivy’s struggle in this series, her central one at least, is figuring out what ‘pouring your heart into something’ means and we see her stumble and fumble her way to an answer by the final episode. Despite the fact that Vivy is made out of all sorts of plastics, metals and computer programs, she is one of the most human characters I’ve seen in a while. You feel the effect that each and every one of her missions has upon her, whether that’s for good or ill, and watch as she processes and learns from it. This series is a century’s worth of character development compressed into thirteen episodes and it is brilliant, really anyone who’s interested in writing good character progression should check this series out.

Okay, putting Vivy herself aside for a moment (though if that’s all this series had I’d probably still be gushing about it), what else does this series have to offer? Well there’s the amazing visuals for one. Every frame of this series looks great, from the character designs to the general aesthetic. I particularly like the slight plastic sheen that’s given to all of the A.I. characters so you can always tell who’s human and who’s not. The fight sequences are also fantastic, well choreographed and full of energy and impact. Admittedly some of the action can get a bit too frantic and so the visuals get a little messy sometimes, but even then I feel like that’s on purpose as it as adds to the tension and kinetic power of the scenes. Throw in some good songs and an innate understanding of what visuals to pair with a particular musical sequence and we’re really on to a winner.

That brings me, finally, to the plot of this series and probably the area I could pick the most holes in if I wanted to. Time travel stories are hard, this is an established fact in writing. The minute you start bending the hard rules of causality for your narrative is the moment you’re asking for problems. It immediately opens the door to questions like ‘if they can go back in time why don’t they do it over and over again until they get it right?’. They hang over a series like this and the moment you start picking the whole thing falls apart. I’m not saying you can’t do that with this series, you absolutely can if you’re of a mind to, but the series is very good about providing answers to any question that’s likely to pop into your head.

Why does Matsumoto recruit Vivy into his mission when her own mission has her as a singer not a fighter? What if Vivy wants to change something that isn’t to do with saving the future? Plus a myriad of other questions, the series gives you an answer either just as the question comes up or shortly after. It doesn’t plug every single logical hole, but it’s enough to satisfy and on the surface level everything makes sense and works out. Also I love some of the way the time travel events have been plotted out, so you can see the ramification that earlier missions have had on later events. There has been a lot of thought that has gone into this series, but it’s the feels where this show shines the brightest.

The Verdict:

In the end, Vivy – Fluorite Eye’s Song is a fantastic series and one that I will recommend with every single beat of my heart. It’s story is well thought out and engaging, it looks great with some blistering action sequences and, most importantly of all, the characters are the heart of the series. Vivy’s journey, trying to find the answer to her mission and reconciling all of her myriad experiences and trials is a joy to watch. I’ve fallen hard for this series and I regret nothing. Check this out as soon as you possibly can!

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: Golden Kamuy Season 3 Review

Hinna! Hinna! Hinna! Hinna!

What’s the Story?

On the trail of Asirpa, Sugimoto and the members of the 7th Division head to Karafuto, north of Japan. There they’ll have to battle the bitter cold, bare-chested Russians and one vicious wolverine. That’s before they even catch up with Asirpa and have to deal with her uncle and everyone else who is trying to unlock the secret of the lost gold. Will the key to the puzzle finally be found? Will Asirpa learn more of who her father really was? Sugimoto doesn’t care, he only wants to get Asirpa back and he’ll take on all challengers to do it. He doesn’t have to worry, he is the Immortal Sugimoto after all!

The Review

Golden Kamuy is back and it’s better than ever! Okay, I’m going to try to reign the hype train in on this one, but you should know that I love this show and having just finished the final episode of the third season I may just love it more than I ever have before. If you want to check out my review of the first two seasons then click HERE, but the summarised version is that, as I’ve already said, I love this show. It’s such a perfect mix of, well, everything. Comedy, action, suspense, drama, it’s even a compelling historical piece and cooking show to boot and it balances all of these aspects perfectly. One minute your in the middle of a heart-stopping showdown between two equally ruthless snipers, the next your laughing your head off at one of the countless dick jokes that the series has to offer.

This third season picks up right where the second left off, with Asirpa travelling with her uncle and Sugimoto doing his best to follow and eventually catch up with her. For me this season improves things in one important area, and that’s the number of important characters directly involved in events. My only real gripe about the first two seasons, outside of the CGI bears which thankfully don’t make an appearance here, is that this show has a massive cast. Don’t get me wrong I love each and every one of these lunatics, but sometimes it’s hard to keep track of everyone. Each character has their own rich back story and goals and it’s a lot to keep in my head (then again that’s only really a problem while watching it weekly, I imagine binging this show will easily solve this problem).

This season though is much simpler, we have two groups with two succinct goals. Asirpa’s group is out to learn more about her dad in the hopes of uncovering the secret to cracking the code to the gold, while Sugimoto’s group obviously wants to get Asirpa back. We do get development on a lot of character’s back stories and plenty of new characters added to the mix, but this streamlined narrative was so much easy easier to keep in my head. Also, as I mentioned there are no terrible CGI bears so the visuals were a vast improvement on the whole.

The action is also top notch this season, the previously mentioned sniper battle being a particular highlight, though I also enjoyed the bare-knuckled, bare-chested fight against the Russians. Some of the fights do get really brutal though, not that there weren’t brutal fights in the last two seasons, but some of the confrontations this time around were particularly wince-inducing. I don’t know how some of these people are still alive, but I’m so glad that they are. We also get a lot of new locations this season as the groups move towards and eventually through Russia, giving us access to a lot of new cultures and settings to explore. Add on some solid comedy moments and you’ve got the triumvirate of good entertainment, action, comedy and education!

I don’t really know what else to say, I love this series and this season gave me everything that I wanted. It’s so good to see Asirpa and Sugimoto back together again and, while I did complain about the large cast, I have missed a lot of them and I’ll be glad to see them again. Bring on season 4!

The Verdict

Golden Kamuy season 3 is another sterling season in a stellar series. If you haven’t already checked out this show out then I urge you to, right now. Make sure to start at season one otherwise you’ll really get lost and, please, look past the CGI bear this show has so much to offer beyond that. I love this show, as I’ve already said a thousand times. I love these characters and learning more about them and the world they live in and I can’t wait to learn even more. Good food, good company and plenty of action and intrigue, what more could you ask for from a series?

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: Hilda Season 2 Review

Hilda and the Expanding World!

What’s the Story?

By now Hilda has gotten used to living in the walled city of Trolberg. She may still miss living out in the wild sometimes, but with her friends by her side she’s discovered that there’s more than enough adventures to be found within the walls. From krakens to immortal Vikings, the hidden library of the witches to the return of the Tide Mice, what more could a wild-at-heart girl ask for? Of course not everything is sunny in Trolberg, Hilda is keeping these little adventures a secret from her mum and that’s causing some tension at home. Then there’s the efforts of the Safety Patrol that generally do more harm than good around the city. Also, is it me, or are those trolls getting closer to the walls?

The Review

Hilda’s back! I really loved the first season of this cosy, utterly charming little show, as anyone who read my review of it will be able to tell you (you can read it for yourselves HERE). So, how does the second season stack up? Well, it’s more of the same and that’s exactly what I wanted! This series is like settling down with a warm cup of tea after coming in from a wintry day, possibly with a cucumber sandwich or two. It’s effortlessly captivating, from the superb visuals and animation to the heart-warming characters and inventive situations and creature designs. I could spend the rest of the my days running around the streets of Trolberg, going on adventures with Hilda and the gang, but before I turn this into another non-stop gush let’s talk about what this series does different to the first.

In my review of the first season I talked about how the story kept evolving, and that is true of this second season too, more so in fact. For starters a lot of the elements and characters of the first season return and are further explored and developed. Want to know what happened to those Tide Mice? Want to see more of the witch librarian and see more how magic works in this world? That’s all here and more. It really makes the world of the series feel like a living breathing place, actions have consequences and one adventure will have a knock-on effect on another down the line. It’s also nice that Frida and David get to meet characters that they didn’t run into last season, but the rest of the cast did.

That brings me to the biggest development this season, and the closest this series has gotten to an over-arching plot, Ahlberg. New head of the Safety Patrol, he’s keen to be seen as the hero of the town and his vanity and various schemes often cause problems throughout the season. From antagonising the local wildlife to interfering with forces that only make things worse, it’s almost as if Hilda has a recurring antagonist at last. I say almost because the majority of the time Ahlberg is treated as a joke and dismissed, a fearful idiot who just doesn’t know what he’s doing and never gets any real comeuppance. For those looking for his comeuppance I’m afraid you’ll have to wait a little longer. There’s no real resolution to the problems he’s causing by the season’s end and, since the Mountain King story hasn’t been adapted yet, I’m assuming all that’s going into season 3. (Having read the Mountain King comic though I can’t wait to see it animated!) The most we get for now is the deputy starting to see Ahlberg for the egomaniac he really is.

Ahlberg isn’t the only problem for Hilda this season though, there’s the continual rising tension between her and her mother. It’s typical kids show stuff really, kid goes out on these wild, fantastical adventures and doesn’t tell their parents what they’ve been up to, leading to arguments when they’re finally caught out. Where Hilda is different though it that it goes to great lengths to show both sides of the argument. Hilda’s mum is genuinely worried about Hilda, after all she knows about some of the stuff that’s out there and she knows how headstrong Hilda can be. Hilda on the other hand just wants to roam and enjoy herself, and in her head she’s not telling her mum about this stuff because she doesn’t want her to worry. Of course she doesn’t realise that by not telling her stuff she’s actually making her mum worry more. You can feel the love between these two and the moments where they get to show that, as well as going on little adventures together, are just magical.

There are also quiet a few tearjerker moments in this season, for me personally the ones that really got me where the time travel episode and the Twig episode. The Twig episode I was expecting to get to me and it did, but the time travel one managed to get me to care more about a couple of ancillary characters in twenty minutes than some shows have managed in twenty episodes.

On a final note, I can’t end this review without once more mentioning how good this show looks. The character designs are just perfect, simple and yet endlessly-endearing and really creative when it comes to the various creatures that pop up throughout the series. I really love the use of colour in this show’s visuals, especially when paired up with the changes in lighting or when anything is glowing. There’s a warmth that just oozes off of the screen and pretty much every episode has at least a dozen frames that I want to decorate my walls with. As I said in my previous review, this show is just beautiful in multiple senses of the word.

The Verdict

If you enjoyed the first season of Hilda, then you’re definitely going to enjoy this one too. It’s more of the same, but what else could you really ask for from this show? It’s sweet, it’s heart-warming and oh so very close to being perfect. The animation, character decision and sound design are all top notch and the world and characters continue to evolve in natural ways. Fair warning, the series does end on a cliffhanger and there’s clearly more to come so we’ve all got to await that elusive season 3, which I’m more than happy to wait for. The best things are worth the wait.

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

Infallible Fish Reviews: Doctor Who: The Power of the Daleks

“Life depends on change and renewal.”

What’s the Story?

Having bested the Cybermen and saved the Earth yet again, the Doctor finds his body wearing a bit thin and it’s time for a change. Regenerating into a new, younger form, the Doctor is quite literally a new man, but while his companions Ben and Polly struggle to come to terms with that fact, on the planet Vulcan a strange capsule has been found in the mercury swamps. While tensions rise amongst the colonists and plots for power are put into motion, the Daleks bide their time. They may be weak now, having to play at servants, but before long the colonists will be facing the true power of the Daleks!

The Review:

First broadcast on November 1966, this is probably one of the most important episodes in the show’s long, long history. This is the very first regeneration story for Doctor Who, the changing of the guard from William Hartnell to Patrick Troughton, setting the precedent that would allow the show to replace its lead actor for decades to come. If this had failed then the show would have most likely ended in the 60s. Thankfully that’s not the case and outside of its historic significance, this also happens to be one of the best Dalek stories put to screen. It breaks my heart that the chances of ever finding the original episodes is remote at best, but that’s what these animated episodes are for, to give us a way to experience this story in as close to all its glory as we can get. I’ll warn you all now this is going to be a heavily biased, heavily gushing review so be prepared.  

First though, let’s talk about the structure of classic Doctor Who, this is one story, but it’s comprised of six episodes, each roughly 30 minutes long. I suppose nowadays with more serialised shows its less of a shock to the system than it used to be, but it can take a moment to become accustomed to the style of Classic Who for all those who are interested. Just bare that in mind if you’re planning on using this as your first step into classic Doctor Who. It’s not as pacey as modern stuff, which does give more time to explore a location and characters, which I greatly enjoy.

On that note, let’s start with my one and only real gripe with this production, the animation, specifically the humanoid character animation. Look, I know this project was rushed out by the BBC for one reason or another. In a way it’s very in keeping with the production of classic Doctor Who, done on a meagre budget with extreme time constraints. On the other hand though, these episodes have been missing for more than 50 years, what exactly is the rush to have them produced now? Why not give the animators the time to make this look as good as it possibly can? It’s not as if the animation is terrible, there are some nice movements, but more often than not the humanoid characters move really awkwardly and there’s no nuance whatsoever. Take the scene where the Doctor is supposed to be studying Bragen’s expressions, he’s meant to be subtly watching him, but the animation has the characters stood right on top of one another with the Doctor being as obvious as possible. He might as well be wearing a flashing neon sign that says ‘I’m watching you’. Thankfully this improves with later releases, but I’ll get to that next week.

The animation is much more successful when it comes to the Daleks, they move and look exactly like classic Daleks, rolling around with all the menace the metal pepper pots can bring to bear. There are also a number of shots that the original production would have struggled with, like when the camera pulls back to reveal a room filled with newly built Daleks, or their gruesome production line. The original production had only a handful of Dalek props to hand so, yeah, this time a point goes to the animation for making those scenes as good as they are.

But let’s talk about the real strength of these episodes, the story. David Whitaker knows how to write Classic Who, he’s one of my favourite writers of the era because he knows how to write interesting characters. This may be a Dalek story, but it’s also a story of the people on Vulcan (no, not that one). Whether it’s Lesterson tinkering away with the capsule in his lab and not caring about much else, Bragen plotting to take power by any means necessary or the governor who has no idea about the death and destruction that’s about to befall his colony. All these people have their own motives and plans and they all think they can use the Daleks for their own ends, not realising the danger.

Personal opinion time, for me, the Daleks are at their best when they’re on the back foot. Seeing an army of murder-crazy killing machines is terrifying in its own right, but its the creeping dread of this story that makes them genuinely scary here. If you’re a Who fan you know what the Daleks are capable of, so to see all these people squabbling over petty things while the Daleks are getting stronger and stronger. It puts you in the same position as the Doctor, screaming at everyone to just listen and understand how much danger they’re in. The colonists are so convinced that they’re differences are worth fighting for, that they can use the Daleks to achieve their ends, but how does that all end? With slow panning shots of dead bodies filling the corridors. To the Daleks the differences don’t matter, we’re not Daleks and that’s all the reason they need to kill us. When a Dalek asks Bragen why humans kill other humans it’s chilling because, in truth, a Dalek would never kill another Dalek.

I suppose I should put some words towards talking about the Doctor in this review of Doctor Who. I love Patrick Troughton and he gives a fantastic performance here, but while this is a regeneration story, it’s not a story about regeneration. The first episode is really where the Doctor gets the most focus through his interactions with Ben and Polly and their trying to come to terms with his change. Regeneration is given a simple and effective explanation, with enough vagueness to it so it can be expanded on later. The rest of the time is just the Doctor acting strange while his new personality settles in, though there’s also the suggestion that the Doctor is doing a lot of this to only appear the fool (Sylvester McCoy isn’t the only chess master persona). Of course he’s there to stop the Daleks and prophecies the deaths to come, but really this is a story of Vulcan and the Daleks.

The Verdict:

The Power of the Daleks is a seminal story in Doctor Who’s history, the beginning of the second Doctor’s adventures, the very first regeneration and a terrific Dalek story to boot. For any Classic Who fan this is a must see and I’d recommend it to anyone else as well, though it might be an idea to watch a few other stories first, just to become acclimatised to the style. The animation of the humanoid characters is the one weak point in the production, but the soundscape, the writing and the Daleks themselves more than make up for that.

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.