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.

Cartoon Corner: Tangled the Series/Rapunzel’s Tangled Adventure Review

Plus Est En Vous!

What’s the Story?

Freed from the tower and the clutches of her kidnapper/abusive parental figure, Mother Gothel, it looks like Rapunzel finally has her happily ever after. She’s reunited with her real parents, has the man that she loves, Eugene, in her life and the whole kingdom of Corona to welcome her home, what more could she possibly want? Whatever it is that’s missing it’s enough to convince her to take a late-night trip out beyond the walls with her new handmaiden, Cassandra, to where the Sundrop Flower once grew. Now there are indestructible black rocks growing out of the ground where the Sundrop fell, and when Rapunzel touches one they suddenly begin to grow. That’s not the only effect though as the magic inside Rapunzel is reawakened, giving her back her incredibly long golden hair and brand new magical abilities. Adventure is calling for Rapunzel, it will take her to the Dark Kingdom and back, test her closest friendships and even see her facing a near-immortal evil from Corona’s past. Nobody said being a princess was easy…

The Review

I love Disney, always have always will. Doesn’t mean I won’t make fun of them or call out the machinations of our corporate overlords, but when the business suits get put away and the creators and talent working behind the scenes can just do their thing, Disney produces some of the best in the business. That brings me to Tangled the Series (also known as Rapunzel’s Tangled Adventure from the second season onwards). I’ve talked about this show a couple of times before on this blog, which you can check out HERE and HERE, and I am very much in love. Is it the greatest cartoon that Disney has ever produced? No, that’s a three-way death match between Gargoyles, Gravity Falls and the latest DuckTales cartoon (potentially the Owl House, but we’ll talk more about that next week). That being said, Tangled the Series genuinely inspires me as anyone who’s ever visited the Disney folder on my Deviantart account will probably be able to tell. (In fact, to save you the trip I’ve put some of my favourite pieces throughout this post!)

This show is proof that it doesn’t matter what your idea is, what matters is how you do it. I have no idea how this series got the initial green light. You want to make a series following on from Tangled? A film that pretty succinctly wrapped up its plot, has no dangling plot threads left over and even has a short to give us all the wedding scene we wanted. Also you want to set the series in-between the film and said short so we know for certain nothing is going to happen to any of the characters that appear in the short, because they have to be there. What are you supposed to do with that? If it was me I’d have thrown my hands up in defeat at the first script writing session, but luckily I wasn’t on staff for this series because they did have a plan. Not only that, they pulled out literally all the stops, bringing back Mandy Moore and Zachary Levi to voice their characters again and putting Alan frickin’ Menken on music. Tangled the Series is what happens when you take an idea and pour as much talent and passion into it as possible.

Let’s talk about the animation, which is another highlight of this series for me. I’ll admit it took me a few minutes to get used to it, but now I’m fully onboard. Disney’s been trying out this style in some of their shorts for several years now, it’s this weird mix of 2D and 3D where I’m not sure if it’s 3D models textured in such a way that they look 2D, or if it’s 2D characters somehow ported into a 3D space, or a mix of the two. Whatever it is it really works, even on a meagre TV budget. There are certainly some shots where you can tell that something is off, but then there are other times when the animation is free to dive into these big sweeping shots that just take your breath away. Add on the utterly gorgeous backgrounds and the storybook look to everything and it’s like you’ve stepped into a Mary Blair sketchbook. (FYI, Mary Blair was an artist/animator who worked for Disney back in the early days, think Sleeping Beauty and you’ll get the look I’m talking about. Also, check out her concept art because it’s all gorgeous). When I’m in love with a series’ art style I often say I want to take each frame of animation and hang them up on my wall, well, for this series I want to cover every wall of my house with frames from this show. I love it and, honestly, I’m praying that Disney will try this style with a big budget film some day.

What about the story though? It’s all well and good bringing in all these talented people and making everything look really, really pretty, but it’ll all fall flat without some substance behind it. Thankfully I love the story of this series as much as I do the artwork. What took me by surprise the most was the attention to character detail. Admittedly I was just expecting this series to be silly princess hijinks in the capital, which is how the series starts, but there’re little bits that show just how much the creators get these characters. Rapunzel’s reaction to returning to the tower for the first time, her dad waking up in the middle of the night, terrified that he’ll lose his daughter again and the things that fear makes him do… all of it is spot on.  Rapunzel is by far the most interesting Disney princess to me, she’s spent her whole life trapped in a tower, she knows nothing of the outside world and is probably the most child-like princess in the Disney canon. She’s never had to make difficult choices, she’s never had responsibility, but now she does and we follow her as she struggles along that journey. Honestly it’s been a joy to watch her grow up as she’s tackled everything from friends betraying her to ancient evils and shocking revelations about those around her.

That’s something else I have to give this series credit for. It effortlessly adds and expands on the mythos of the film, turning it from a fairy tale story about a flower with healing properties into a grand adventurous epic. I mean I never expected ancient wizards, goat-headed demons and alchemists’ robots to turn up in a Disney princess story, but somehow it all works. The only real complaint I have about the story is the amount of filler episodes it has. Tangled the Series works very much on the tent pole format, where there are several episodes in each season that progress the series’ arc and need to be seen, but all the ones in-between just tend to maintain the status quo and keep things chugging along. The tent pole episodes themselves are all fantastic, and I love them, but the filler are a bit more hit and miss. Don’t get me wrong, some of the filler episodes are my favourites in the series, but others are very much just padding. Fun padding, but also obviously padding. It’ll probably be less of a problem on a binge watch, but watching it week to week it can wear you out waiting for the story to get properly going again. It’s not a major problem though and I do enjoy if not outright adore 99.9% of this series.

On a final note, I can’t leave this review without mentioning the music of the series. As I mentioned earlier they got Alan Menken back and I am so glad that they did. The songs of this series, in my opinion, are actually better than the movie’s. Nothing against Tangled’s songs, I do have a great deal of fun with them, but nine times out of ten, the ones in this series pack so much more of a punch. From the sheer joy of songs like ‘Wind in My Hair’ and ‘The View from Up Here’, to the heartbreak of ‘Waiting in the Wings’, the Broadway power of ‘Nothing Left to Lose’ and the epicness of ‘Ready As I’ll Ever Be’. These songs are scattered throughout the series, mostly in tent pole episodes and the majority of them knock it out of the park, especially the villain songs (though personally I think of them as ‘antagonist songs’, but I can’t talk about that without spoilers so I won’t). Just go listen to them, you won’t be disappointed, though some songs may come with spoilers so be warned.

The Verdict

All in all, Tangled the Series/Rapunzel’s Tangled Adventure is a fantastic series and a true testament of what you can do when you put talent and passion into your idea. Combing a clear understanding of the characters with a dramatic storyline, expanding mythology, breath-taking art style and some toe-tapping songs, it’s been a joy to watch. I’m still sad that this series has ended now after three brilliant seasons, but I’m also incredibly grateful that I’ve gotten to go on this journey with these characters in the first place. It’s not perfect, but this is the series that cemented Rapunzel as my favourite Disney princess, potentially my favourite Disney character period. Check it out, maybe you’ll have had as much fun as I did.

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.

There’s one last stop for the Disney train this year as we take a look at one of Disney’s latest productions, Next Week…

Take a trip to the Boiling Isles!

Anime Corner: Steins;Gate Review

The microwave is a time machine. Well, it’s either that or the blue police box on the corner.

What’s the Story?

When an errant text message smashes its way through causality and alters the timeline, self-anointed mad scientist Rintaro Okabe comes to a startling realisation, he’s just invented the time machine! Of course science, and possibly the whims of Steins;Gate itself, demand that he further test this discovery, not realising that each message is sending him deeper into a labyrinth of his own despair. When the evil SERN finally make their move to claim Okabe’s work, he realises too late the mess he’s gotten himself into. Can Okabe and his fellow members of the Future Gadget Lab untangle this knot of time and revert the world back to its proper course? What’s more can they do it without sacrificing one of their members forever, or before Okabe truly goes mad?

The Review

Well, I’ve finally gone and done it. Steins;Gate is one of those anime that I’ve been meaning to watch for a very long time, but it’s only now as I sit confined in my own home that I’m actually getting around to watching it (I’m writing this post in early May of 2020 for context and since I have no clue when I’m actually going to post this review it does prove one thing, time travel is real! We just haven’t figured out how to go backwards yet). I’m sure we all have a series like this, one that you hear nothing but good things about and everyone recommends, so you put it on your list, but then there’s a thousand other shiny things that distract you and you end up never actually watching it. That’s me and Steins;Gate. Heck I actually bought the DVD set last year because I saw it cheap in a local shop and it’s spent the time since glaring at me from one of my shelves. Why am I telling you all this instead of getting to the actual review? Because I was scared guys. The more time passed the more I realised the expectations I was weighing on this series. Every person I’ve ever spoken to, every review I’ve ever read has praised this series to no end, and every time I think of that there’s this little voice in the back of my head reminding me that hype has killed things for me before. So, I’ve bitten the bullet, does Steins;Gate stand the test of time? Does it live up its reputation?

YES!!!!!!!!!!!

My God yes it does. I challenged Steins;Gate to impress me and it proceeded to grab me by the throat and drag down into a twisted labyrinth of maniacal highs and soul-crushing lows. Where do I even begin? How about the mechanics of the series? Now time travel series are notoriously hard to write, bending causality to your whim and then trying to put everything back together again in a way that makes sense and doesn’t fall into a pitfall of paradoxes and plot holes takes a chess master degree of planning. I’m going to have to watch this series again (multiple times in fact), but after a first viewing everything tracks and holds together as far as I can tell. I do love the way this series is constructed, like a beautiful puzzle within a puzzle within a puzzle and so on. The very first episode is a terrific example of this, giving us one side of the equation, before returning to it at the end of the series where we finally get the other side and the last pieces slot into place. My hat goes off for the amount of planning and forethought that went into this story.

Another aspect I love about this series is that it’s always moving, giving us one problem to solve and then once that one’s done we move on to the next and the next after that. There’s constant momentum in the series, changing the rules of the game and upping the stakes without ever feeling frustrating. Everything is the logical continuation and escalation of what came before, building off of previous instalments and prepping for the way ahead. It’s that puzzles within puzzles thing I mentioned earlier. It just sucks you in and won’t let go until you’ve seen how they’re going to resolve this. Also the methods of time travel are really interesting as well, sending text messages into the past, sending your memories into your past self (that last one isn’t that original to fans of X-Men, but it’s still a fantastic idea that I’m surprised more series don’t use). On a technical and intellectual level I can do nothing but admire this series, but there’s one more ingredient we need to make a truly stellar series that I can love, let’s talk about the characters.

I both do and don’t want to be Okarin. On the one hand it’s hard not to love the guy. Between his verbose use of language, the breadth of his imagination and just the sheer glee that he takes in life I often find myself feeling quite jealous (I mean when I talk about my plans for world domination and my secret ninja training I just get weird looks). On the other hand though, what he has to go through in this series is heartbreaking. There are several points throughout the series where his mad scientist alter ego cracks and we see the desperate man underneath, struggling to hold himself together in the face of one nightmare after another. I watched the English dub and J. Michael Tatum puts in a great performance, from maniacal laughter to soul-crushing screams, I couldn’t take my eyes off of the screen while he was talking. The other characters are all equally captivating, all with their own shades and faults that we discover across the series, and all with particularly great performance, I especially love Mayuri’s little speech at her grandmother’s graveside. I even love the romance in this series towards the end, it’s just stellar all round.

The Verdict

In the end Steins;Gate has garnered it’s reputation for a reason. It’s complex without getting complicated. The story itself is a marvellous construction, keeping the momentum going while at the same time shifting from one puzzle to the next and back again. The characters are all lovable with deeper shades than first appearances might indicate and they will have you both crying and cheering throughout. If you haven’t watched this series yet, or maybe it’s just been a while, then do yourself a favour and watch it now! Now if you’ll excuse me I’ve got to send a text message to my past self instructing him to watch this as soon as possible, I’m sure that can’t go wrong in anyway.

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: Hanasaku Iroha Blossoms for Tomorrow Review

Fest It Up!

What’s the Story?

When Ohana’s mother takes off with her iffy boyfriend to avoid paying his debts, Ohana is sent to live with her grandmother who owns an inn, Kissuiso. At first Ohana is convinced this is going to be a grand adventure, but five seconds after meeting her grandmother, that delusion is well and truly gone. Ohana’s grandmother is a harsh taskmaster and she expects Ohana to work if she’s going to stay with her. So Ohana becomes an attendant at the inn, and while the work is hard and often gruelling, Ohana starts to notice something. She actually enjoys it. Whether it’s giving the best experience to a customer, or finding out more about her new co-workers, there’s a special feeling from doing a job to the best of your ability. Of course Ohana is still a teenager, so awkward feelings, misunderstandings and a whole lot of drama are soon to follow.

The Review

Yes! I finally made it! Ever since I watched Sakura Quest I’ve been meaning to get around to this series and that time has finally arrived! For those that don’t know, this series forms a loose set with Sakura Quest and Shirobako as part of P.A. Works’ ‘Working’ series. There’s no actual connection between the series, each one has a completely different cast, location and it’s own themes and ideas that it wants to explore. The only real things connecting each series is that, one, the cast is largely female-centric, two, they’re done by P.A. Works and, three, they’re focussed on some sort of job. Shirobako was about working the anime industry (check out my review HERE), Sakura Quest was about working in tourism and revitalising a small town (check out my review HERE) and Hanasaku Iroha is obviously about working in an inn. They’re also about more than that, but I’ll get to that once I’m into the review proper. For now, if you want to check out each series, then I thoroughly recommend each of them, but if you’re wondering if there’s a particular order to watch them in or anything, don’t worry, pick what you want and watch that (Technically speaking, Hanasaku Iroha is the first show in the series and I’ve watched it last with no problems whatsoever).

Right, now that the set up’s out of the way, what is this series actually like? It’s really, really good. I’m often up front with my opinions in reviews and there is no way I’m holding that one in any longer, this is a really great series and I want to kick myself for waiting so long to watch it. It’s honestly amazing to think that this series is roughly eight and a half years old, because it holds up astonishing well. Maybe the animation isn’t as bright or flashy as some current anime, but in a lot of places this series is stunning to look at. From the streets of Tokyo to the sweeping vistas of a more rural Japan, this series just makes me want to step through my screen and end up at Kissuiso. Admittedly a lot of this is shown through panning shots and there isn’t a great deal of dynamic action, it’s a show about an inn, having everyone running about isn’t really the desired scenario. When it counts though, the characters are filled with all the energy and impact you could ask for.  

What makes this show though, is the characters. Each of them is just brimming with personality and while there are those who aren’t really the focus of the series, everyone gets their own little moment in the spotlight. Whether it’s the shy and nervous Nako, the bloody-minded and often infuriating, Minko, or even the resident erotica writer and his antics (I was worried said character was going to be really annoying, but after the first couple of episodes his role is toned down and he gets used for some effective comedy), everyone has their time to shine. I especially love that the majority of the characters get their own little arcs and develop across the series while still remaining the kind of tight-knit team I always enjoy in a series. Of course Ohana is our main character and she gets the bulk of the development. A lot of it is your typical coming-of-age stuff, with Ohana working out her feelings for a boy, finding out where she belongs and thinking about what she really wants to do with her life. What keeps this storyline fresh though is Ohana’s attitude.

Ohana has a habit of rushing in head-first into a situation, sometimes not even understanding why she’s doing something, just knowing that it’s the thing that needs to be done. She wants to ‘sparkle’, as she puts it, to find her thing and excel at it, something that she’s never really given much thought to while she’s been taking care of her disaster of her mother. That’s another thing I’ll give this series, it did actually manage to redeem Ohana’s mother by the end, somewhat, though I’m not going to let her off the hook entirely. It speaks to the depth of these characters, that every one has shades to them and as the series progresses we get to see more and more sides to them and learn what makes them tick. Even the central romance between Ohana and Ko is developed in a natural way, between the awkward conversations and the constant back and forth of them trying to work out their feeling while living miles and miles apart is kind of adorable and you can’t help but root for them (not as much as I rooted for Minchi to confession though, but that was purely so she could get her feelings out in the open and stop being such a nightmare to everyone. I seriously wanted to strangle that girl on several occasions, which just goes to show how much I got invested in this show and these characters).

On a last note, I suppose I should rank the ‘Working’. For me, personally, Shirobako comes out on top. Hanasaku Iroha is a better series on a technical level, but Shirobako just means more to me on a personal level with it giving an insight into the anime industry and the fact that I watched it at a time in my life when I really needed it. Hanasaku Iroha takes second place, but it’s only a whisker behind Shirobako and that leaves Sakura Quest in third place. All three series are really good though and I thoroughly recommend each of them.  

The Verdict

Hanasaku Iroha is a fantastic series following not only an energetic protagonist finding her way, but a whole host of eclectic and fascinating characters. There are some gorgeous backdrops to look at and a wealth of drama, whether that be in the workplace or in personal lives, to keep you glued to the screen. There’s a slight lull in the middle of the series, as the show takes time to explore some of the characters in a bit more detail, but I like these characters so much that I honestly don’t mind. This is twenty-six episodes of anime goodness and I’m now really sad that I’m done with the ‘Working’ series from P.A. Works. Then again, I can always watch the series all over again, so I might just do 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.

Anime Corner: Haikyu!! Season 1 Review

Blog Haikyuu Season 1 Review Title

Give it to me!!!

What’s the Story?

Shoyo Hinata has had a passion for Volleyball ever since he saw the ‘Tiny Giant’ playing on TV. Unfortunately for Hinata his middle school didn’t have a Volleyball team and the one time he gathered enough players to make up a team, he was utterly destroyed by the ‘King of the Court’, Tobio Kageyama. Now he’s in High School though, the same school that the ‘Tiny Giant’ played for, and he’s determined to not only get his revenge on Kageyama, but to become the team’s next Ace! Except Kageyama is also going to Hinata’s school, and he’s one of his new team mates?! Can Hinata get along with the ‘King of the Court’ and, more to the point, can the two of them working together help rid the team of it’s unfortunate nickname, the ‘Wingless Crows’. It’s time to take flight and soar!

The Review

Haikyuu is one of those recent classics, everything I’ve ever read or heard about the series has been nothing but praise and I admit that can be a little intimidating. Hype has killed plenty of things for me in the past and I know next to nothing about Volleyball (then again there aren’t many sports I do know a lot about). In the end though, when I finally did sit down to watch this show, maybe I got a little too cocky. My basic attitude pretty much boiled down to, “Alright Haikyuu, you’re so great, impress me.” Cut to a shot of Hinata’s super fast quick attack smashing me right in the face. Yeah. I admit defeat. Haikyuu is good. It’s great. It’s amazing! IT’S THE BEST SPORTS ANIME I HAVE EVER SEEN IN MY LIFE SO FAR!!! I have never watched a show that sucked me in as quickly as this series did. I’ve never come away from a show feeling so exhausted and yet energised at the same time, as if I’ve been the one playing Volleyball with all my heart and soul for the past few hours. I am but a puppet and Haikyuu firmly has hold of my strings. It’s so good!

I don’t even know where to start with this show, it gets every single element right. Great writing, fantastic characters, intense, pulse-pounding action, heartache, drama, memorable opponents and some top-notch animation backed up by an amazing soundtrack. Is this what it feels like to be a sports fan? To be stood in those stands, cheering ‘til your throat’s raw, willing your team on and on, to make that next step, get that next point and win! I feel enraptured and, if you ask me, that’s the one thing a sports anime should make me feel and Haikyuu emits that feeling so perfectly and effortlessly. Part of how it does this is through the characters. I love each and every member of our protagonist’s team, but more than that I love the opposing teams as well. Haikyuu has this tremendous ability to let you get to know a character in just a few short beats, but without it feeling like we’ve just glossed over anyone. Sure certain characters get way more focus than others, but you know what makes the majority of them tick. It’s thanks to this that the show can have an impressively large cast and no one feels like they’re fading into the background. It also means that we can get to know our team’s opponents so they don’t just become a generic obstacle to overcome.

Every team in this series has it’s own unique flavour and symbolic reference to go along with them, obviously our protagonist team are represented by crows, but we also gets cats and iron walls and I just know there’s going to be more and more in the seasons to come. It adds some visual flair to the series so that you’re not just watching twelve guys smacking a ball around for episodes on end. Not that the matches are in anyway dull to watch, there’s a real sense of power and speed to every moment. When someone lands a killer spike, or Hinata dashes from side of the court to the other, you feel it and, personally, I couldn’t help but feel my adrenaline spike every time it happened. Add on a soundtrack that lifts you up and all those loveable characters we’ve gotten to know so well and is it any wonder I was sucked so deep into this series? Each one element of this series fits in perfectly with the next and they build on top of one another to make this exhilarating series, kind of like a well-honed Volleyball team. I don’t know what else to say. I’m sure everything I’ve said here is news to no one and this show has four seasons out already, of which I’ve only watched the first. If you’re like me though, and held off on this series, for whatever reason,  do yourself a favour and start watching this.

The Verdict

In the end, Haikyuu is a perfect sports anime, and I say that as someone who doesn’t believe that perfect really exists, but damn this is as close as it’s possible to get. From loveable characters, to blistering action and a pace that won’t let up, is it any wonder that so many people praise this series? To some it up it’s thrilling, it makes you feel exactly as a sports should, energised by that sense of competition and adrenalin. There’s nothing else to really say, whether you like sports or not, whether you know anything about Volleyball or not (and this series also works as an excellent beginners guide to the sport), check this show out!

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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.