Anime Corner: Tower of God Review

Blog Tower of God Review Title

The End of the Beginning!

What’s the Story?

What do you desire? For Rachel it’s to see the stars from the very top of the tower. For Bam it’s to follow Rachel wherever she goes. Of course they are not the only ones who seek to climb the tower, for it is promised that at the top everything will be yours. Be it knowledge or power, you can have it all and become a literal god if you so wish it. That’s a hard thing to resist, even for the many varied and quirky inhabitants of the tower. However the way up the tower is no easy path, there are many challenges and tests along the way, as well as countless dangers. Only the lucky and the formidable will survive, but Bam is willing to brave it all for Rachel. Of course there’s also the question of whether Rachel wants Bam along in the first place…

The Review

This is, without question, my favourite anime of the past season. I know the pickings were a little slim, mostly due to the pandemic shutting down the majority of shows, but I’m confident that I’d be saying the same thing even if those other shows had aired. Heck, if this show had come out in any of the past few seasons I’d be saying the exact same thing (though it would have some more stiff competition). Tower of God is exactly the kind of fantasy that I love, creatively unusual, grand in scope and packed to the brim with intriguing concepts. My brain is bubbling over with theories and questions, so much so that it’s in literal agony to know the answers and I both love and hate that feeling (is that weird?). Genuinely my brain is having a wrestling match with itself trying to decide between jumping straight into the webtoon to find out what happens next, or whether I torture myself and wait for season 2 (There had better be a season 2 otherwise someone’s getting a visit from a scary version of me!).

All I want to do is gush about this show, but at the same time I don’t want to over hype it too much. This is not the next One Piece, but it does have the potential to become it, or something like it at least (and for those that don’t know, I’m a massive One Piece fan so understand how big a compliment that is). I haven’t read the webtoon, yet, but I can already tell that this show has the making of a grand, sprawling epic that is meticulously planned. Having said that, these first thirteen episodes are very much the prologue to that epic and while thirteen episodes might be a bit much for a prologue it also feels necessary. I can see breadcrumbs being laid down, the foundations set for character development to come, all the while delivering an engaging and fun story to keep us entertained in the meantime. There’s very much the sense that we’re just scratching the surface here with the characters and the world, especially with the likes of Bam and Rachel.

Let’s talk about Bam and Rachel for a second. Admittedly I have no idea where their characters are actually headed in the grand scheme of things, but the ending of this first season (please be just the first, please!) does give a good indication of where they’re going, which is something I can’t wait to see. Again there’s that feeling of barely scratching the surface with these two, we know hardly anything about them. Bam himself is an enigma wrapped in a mystery, oh sure he comes across as the naïve, optimistic special one, but we have no idea where he comes from or what exactly makes him so special. I mean he doesn’t either, but there’s so much we just don’t know yet. The one constant he has is his devotion to Rachel, which is entirely understandable. She is literally the first person he ever met, the only person he ever knew before coming to the tower. Of course he imprints on her like a baby chick. He’s like someone who’s been locked in a dark room all his life and then someone finally opens the door. His dedication to Rachel is unhealthy and he needs to learn to develop his own wants and ideals outside of Rachel, something I can see in his future character arc.

Honestly though Rachel may be the most interesting character for me at the moment. Again we actually know very little about her, like where she comes from or what makes her so obsessed with climbing the tower. I mean, we know why she wants to climb the tower, the real reason, but what lead her to think that way? Why does she have this obsession and where exactly is it going to take her now that we’ve seen how far she’s willing to go for it? Honestly it’s questions like that that I’m desperate to know the answer to most of all. I might even climb an impossible, reality-warping tower packed full of monsters and horrendous tests to find out the answers. I don’t want it to sound like we don’t learn anything about Rachel, or Bam for that matter, we get a good sense of their characters as they are now and they’re entertaining as they are now, I’m just really intrigued by where they’ve already been and, more importantly, where they’re going next. I haven’t even gotten into all the other fun and interesting characters of this series, because we have so much more than just Bam and Rachel. All the character have great designs and their personalities just shine, from the ones you love to hate, Paracule, to those I will worship forever, Endorsi, and even my second favourite, Khun. I don’t have room to discuss them all here, so I’ll save that for another time.

I also haven’t even talked about the visuals and the sound yet either. I love this series’ use of colour, every scene pops on the screen, even the ones that are in a dark and dingy locale. There’s a real spectrum of bold colours used throughout, really setting the mood of each scene, and when that’s paired up with the great character designs, well, this show is a feast for the eyes. Throw on top from good action, compelling drama and a soundtrack I can best describe as epic and you’re literally hitting all the right notes for me. Again, I don’t want to overhype, but I can’t help up gush at the same time. There’s so much potential with this show and I can’t help but feel we’re all in for a wild ride, which I am more than looking forward to.

The Verdict

In the end (or should that be the beginning?), Tower of God is a series bursting with potential. Thirteen episodes in and it feels like we’ve only just taken the first step, which may put some people off, but for me it’s the promise of a great adventure to come. With a world brimming with fun, interesting characters, mysteries around every corner and a presentation that looks, and sounds, this good? How could I not be excited? A lot of people compared this series to the Hunters Exam arc from Hunter X Hunter when it first started airing and that comparison holds up for me, and knowing how good that show got, I can’t wait to see what Tower of God does. We’re just taken the first step, but the tower is before us and I, for one, am more than willing to climb it.

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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.

Anime Corner: Given Review

Blog Given Review Title

Oh just kiss already!

What’s the Story?

Uenoyama wants nothing more than to crash in his favourite napping spot, he’s become rather listless of late, losing interest in everything, including his music. All that changes though when he meets Mafuyu, a quiet young man sitting in his spot, clutching a guitar. Mafuyu doesn’t know anything about music or instruments, so he’s amazed when Uenoyama fixes the broken string of his guitar like it’s nothing and immediately begs Uenoyama to teach him how to play. Though initially reluctant, Uenoyama eventually caves and soon finds his passion for music returning, along with certain new feelings. But who does the guitar that Mafuyu always carries belongs to and will Uenoyama ever be able to work out his own feelings or will he just collapse into a puddle of awkward?

The Review

I don’t really watch a lot of BL (Boys’ Love for those that don’t know) series. Nothing against the genre, but it’s the same as any other romance for me, unless there’s a plot that grabs my attention I’m not all that interested. I prefer my romance as a subplot to some other genre or story, but this series is a prime example of why you shouldn’t let genre biases dictate what you watch, because this show is in the running for my favourite anime of last year. Admittedly what first drew me to the series was the music, because I always enjoy series about bands (despite how musically inept I am, or maybe because of it. A man can dream dammit!), but what I stayed for was the characters and the quiet charm of this series.

This series really knows how to just let a scene sit and breath. There’re so many scenes of a character just sitting there and thinking without any kind of narration and just a nice, gentle track playing in the background. All of which sounds really boring on paper, but this series knows how to sell it. The whole show is laced with feelings of melancholy and peace, intertwining and battling against one another as the characters struggle with their feelings and their trauma. Seriously, if you want to know how to use quiet in a scene, watch this series. The quiet also has the effect of amplifying the louder moments to perfection. I got chills when Mafuyu finally sang on stage, to be fair the whole series had been building up to that point and the final release was just something special. I was completely with the crowd in the series with their blown away expressions.

Speaking of Mafuyu, and the rest of the band. I have to admit that I’m in love with each and every one of them. This series is really at its best when it has all four bandmates on screen together, I love their odd little discussions and the way they bounce off of one another. I really just want to go get some barbeque with these guys and hang out for a few hours. Of course the characters are just as good individually, each one of them overflowing with personality and charm. I especially love Uenoyama’s many reactions throughout the series, the best Uenoyama is a frustrated Uenoyama! Also I like the way the relationship builds between Uenoyama and Mafuyu, starting off with neither of them noticing (well, Uenoyama doesn’t notice) before things finally kick into gear and it just leaves me with the warm fuzzies. I got sucked in hard into this romance.

Something else I really love about this series is that is manages to swerve a lot of romance clichés as it tells its story. Of course Uenoyama and Mafuyu’s relationship is full of stumbling blocks as the pair come to terms with their feelings, but that doesn’t mean the series has to fall back on the old tropes to add drama, in fact there are points were the series deliberately deflates the drama once its used it to rise the tension a bit.

(Next paragraph has a couple of minor spoilers, if you want to avoid them skip to the paragraph after it.)

Couple of examples, one, there’s a girl who crushing on Uenoyama, not that he’s noticed, but she’s obviously jealous of how close he is to Mafuyu and after hearing about Mafuyu’s past relationship she decides to tell Uenoyama. Now I was spitting feathers at this point (even though I’ve never understood that expression), but immediately afterwards the girl realises what a world class word for a female dog she’s being and instantly rolls it back. Good. Example two, Uenoyama realises that Mafuyu loves him back and he’s overjoyed, until he remembers a conversation from six months ago about how relationships between bandmates never end well. Does this mean he pretends to hide his feeling for Mafuyu? Do they try to date in secret from their bandmates? No, they go round to their houses and talk to them! What’s this? Conversation and communication in a love story? What fresh spore of madness is this?!

This series doesn’t need to be big or loud to get its point across. It doesn’t need melodrama or the angst dial turned up to eleven, it can get by perfectly well with a few quiet moments and some contemplative scenes, saving the real feels for when they’ll have the biggest impact. In the right circumstances a whisper can be so much louder than a shout, and this series is the epitome of that.

The Verdict

All in all, Given is a fantastic series and one of my favourites of last year (which considering some of the shows we got last year, that’s quite the achievement). It’s smart, it’s funny, it’s sweet and, yes, it’s heartbreaking in a few places. This is a series that really knows how to use quiet and mood to their best effect, building up the feels for the moments when the show wants to hit you squarely in the heart. I really love all four main characters and, honestly, just want to spend more time with them. If you skipped this series then you missed out, so go correct that right now and watch this show!

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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.

Anime Corner: Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken! Review

Blog Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken Review Title

Animation is the power to create whole worlds and beyond.

What’s the Story?

Ever since she was little, Midori Asakusa has wanted to go on adventures. One rainy night she happened to come across an old anime and realised that she could make those adventures she was craving herself. Together with the money-minded Sayaka Kanamori and teen model turned character animator Tsubane Mizusaki, the three girls decide to form their own club and make anime! Unfortunately animation is not an easy business, between working inhumanly long hours, dealing with clients and other outside forces, and finding the right balance between practicality and artistic integrity, the girls have a lot to learn and overcome. Yet when they put their boundless imaginations together they can create marvels, so it shouldn’t be too tough, right?

The Review

Back when I did my first impressions of this show, I said that if I could ever have an anime as the outward representation of my soul, then it would be this one. Nine episodes later and it is still true, this show is such a love letter to animation and the creative process that I can’t help but adore it. There’re so many moments that ring true, especially with my own experiences, both as a writer and as a student of animation. When Asakusa and Mizusaki are goofing off and Kanamori has to put her foot down, literally, I’ve been in that position (I’ll hold my hand up and admit that I was one of the people goofing off, there’s just certain people that if you put me in a room with them, you’re going to bring out my more chaotic side). Heck, the Mizusaki focussed episode, where she’s studying how people move, had me flashing back to college and me and my friends walking up and down a corridor to watch one another for a class. What I’m trying to get at is that the people that made this anime know what they’re talking about and I can just feel the years of personal experience and anecdotes that have been poured into this series.

There’s a clear passion for the subject at hand and you feel that oozing through every frame. Whether it’s the way Asakusa sits up as that first anime inspires her, or the look of wonder on Mizusaki’s face as she watches her grandmother perform the simple act of throwing away some tea (honestly, I’ll try to mention Kanamori more, because she is an important part of this equation, but I’m not business minded and I just relate more to the other two). The animation, for the most part, takes on a very loose style, foregoing a lot of the clean, boldly defined lines of a lot of modern anime in favour of something altogether more fluid. These characters stretch and scramble their way across the screen and that just makes them feel all the more real without going into sakuga levels of detail. Also can I just say how much I love the design of the main characters? This is a show about high school girls putting together their own club and for once their not made overly cutesy or, I guess twee would be the appropriate word here. The girls are allowed to be just that, girls, in whatever shape they come in. It adds again to that realism, without necessitating a metric tonne of detail to be added to the characters.

Also if we’re talking about the animation, then of cause I have to mention the little imagination pieces, where the girls get carried off into whatever wild daydream they’re drifting off to this time (and can I just say how much I love the fact that it’s the characters themselves doing all the sound effects for these sequences, at least until they get their sound library anyway). In fact my only real disappointment with this series is that these daydream sequences get less and less as the series progresses, but then it makes sense. The girls are busy actually creating anime by that point, they don’t have as much time for daydreaming when you’ve got a deadline looming and Kanamori ready to come down on top of you. The daydream sequences are some of my favourite moments in the series, they look like they’ve come straight out of Asakusa’s sketchbook, which I realise is entirely the point.

I said I’d talk about Kanamori though and I guess it’s time for that. Look, I love Kanamori just as much as I do Asakusa and Mizusaki, the team wouldn’t be complete without her, I just personally identify more with the other two. If anyone has any experience running a creative company, or trying to wrangle creative-types into getting something done (good luck to you, it’s like trying to herd feral cats at times and I’m speaking as one such feral cat), I’m sure they’ll have endless sympathy for what Kanamori has to put up with and how she goes about getting things done. Having said all that, Kanamori is apart of some of my favourite scenes, practically whenever she’s squaring off against the student council or that scene in the last episode where she pulls an Uncle Buck and bursts down the door.

I don’t want to talk too much about the story itself, other than the specific examples I’ve already given. This is a series that should really be experienced, and everyone should experience it. If you’re in anyway interested in the creative process, be that anime or anything else, or you’re a creative person yourself then you definitely need to check this series out. There is so much passion and earnestness packed into the twelve episodes of this series that it just needs to be shared.

The Verdict

Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken! is a wonderful and heartfelt series. It’s packed with so much passion and experience that it’s a joy a watch and anyone who takes part in any kind of creative process, not just animation, will recognise something in this series. It’s characters feel so true and you can’t help but root for them as they take on the mammoth task of creating anime and the animation is a marvel of technique and style. If you only watch one anime this year, make it Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken!, you won’t regret it.

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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.  

 

Anime Corner: Ascendance of a Bookworm Review

Blog Ascendance of a Bookworm Review Title

Can I just say, as a fully confessed bibliophile, a world without books is the scariest thing I have ever heard of.

What’s the Story?

Motosu Urano loved books, so much so that she was confident she could deal with any situation as long as she had a book to hand. That’s a theory that is put to the test when she wakes up in a world were books are reserved for the rich and powerful, and she is currently inhabiting the body of a sickly peasant girl. With no other option available to her, Urano, now going by Myne, decides she will just have to make books of her own! Of course making books is no easy feat, especially in a medieval society where a lot of modern technology is a far off dream. Still, Myne is obsessed and with a little help from her friends and family she might just make it, after a lot trial and error.

The Review

I love fantasy. For anyone that knows me that’s about as redundant a statement as I can make. I quite literally spend my days sitting around thinking up new worlds and characters, even as I work on something else there’s a section of my brain busy building (I know no one from my workplace is going to read this, but it would probably explain all those moments where I suddenly stop and stare out the window for a few minutes). Why am I telling you this instead of getting on with reviewing the series at hand? Well, because there is nothing I love more, outside of the actual characters in a work, than a fully developed world I can immerse myself in, and that’s exactly what Ascendance of a Bookworm gives me. I’ve had my ups and downs with Isekai, but this is absolutely the best Isekai that I have seen in years, and part of that is down to the world.

Now it’s not as if Bookworm’s world is some never-before-seen marvel, it’s basically your typical medieval society with little bits of magic sprinkled throughout. What makes this world so special though is how it’s built, we’re introduced to things one piece at a time, watching as the place is carefully built around us until its ready to reveal a little bit more and move onto to the next stage. There’s just so much thought put into this world, from the written language, to the economic structure and even some of the strange flora that can be found around the place. Each is a tiny puzzle piece that fits together to make a greater whole. Maybe there’s nothing here that will reinvent the fantasy genre, but the craftsmanship and level of detail put into this world just makes me want to give a standing ovation to the original author as well as all the team that worked on this show.

A story needs more than a rich world though, what about the characters? Well, that brings me to Myne (and I’ve chosen to spell her name that way because that’s how it’s spelt in the translation of the novel on Amazon, as well as on the wiki. Crunchyroll’s subtitles say ‘Main’, but it’s pronounced Myne by the actors, so I’m going with that). Now, I can see why Myne may be a bit hard for some people to get along with at the beginning of the series. She’s often bratty and frustrated with the lack of resources around her. Add on her book obsession, which often leaves her so blinkered she outright ignores the needs and wants of those around her, including her new found family, and, yeah, Myne can be a bit hard to love at times.

That being said, I do love Myne. I excuse her more bratty moments because I see it as part of her arc for this first season. Myne’s arc, much like everything in this series, is slow and methodical, it takes some trial and error, but she does eventually start to make progress. Myne needs to recognise that she can’t just go out and do whatever she wants, she needs to rely on others to get things done and, in turn, give something back in return. Of course it helps that Myne is surrounded by such an excellent cast of kind and caring people, everyone from her doting father to the merchant’s guild help Myne not only to make progress towards her goal, but also to become a better person. By the end of the season she cares deeply for her new friends and family, even as much as she does about books, and it’s the forming of these bonds that leads to some of the best and most emotional moments in the series.

There’s one other thing that I need to talk about with this series. As much as the world and characters make this series, there’s one other element that truly helps this show to ascend. It’s an isekai that actually makes use of that fact. As I said before, I’ve had my ups and downs with this genre over the years and my most common gripe is that the whole reincarnation of the main character often becomes a footnote, forgotten and irrelevant after a couple of episodes. That isn’t the case here though, Myne’s memories of her past life are the reason for her obsession with books, not only that, but her Japanese mannerism often cause social confusion and she obviously has a wealth of knowledge and understanding that is beyond her years, which often gets her into trouble. Her reincarnation is apart of her character and it even leads to some of my favourite moments as one character in particular pieces together there’s something really odd about Myne. It takes an idea and explores it to its full effect, that’s why I love this series.

The Verdict

Ascendance of a Bookworm is a wonderful series. If you’re after big action or a breakneck pace then this isn’t the show for you, but, if you like your fantasy worlds to be immersive and well thought out then this is definitely a place you need to visit. Its characters are all sweet and charming to the nth degree, even if the lead takes some time to work out her issues. The world is so well put together and this is hands down the best isekai I’ve seen in years. I cannot wait for the second season of this show. If you love fantasy, if you love isekai, check this series 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.  

Anime Corner: The Promised Neverland Review

Blog Promised Neverland Review Title

The Great Escape!

What’s the Story?

Emma, Norman and Ray live an idyllic life, yes they’re orphans, but they’re looked after by the perfect mum. They’re warm and safe and well fed, with plenty of siblings to play with and to love and be loved by. All in all, their house is one big happy family, except for those that leave. When a child leaves their house and goes down to the gate, they’re never heard from again, no letters, no visits, nothing. So when the next child is sent and Emma and Norman realise she’s left something behind, they hurry after her before she’s gone for good. However when they reach the gate they learn the truth about their little world and suddenly those idyllic lives are gone forever.

The Review

Go watch this series. I’m serious, stop reading this, open a new tab on your browser of choice and start watching this show if you haven’t already (I realise that may only be a small number of people considering I’m at least a season behind with getting these reviews out and this was one of the best anime of its particular season). If you want a summary review though, it’s a fantastic show, it’s smart, it’s gorgeously animated, the characters are equal parts adorable and badass and it has an amazing soundtrack and plot. If you have yet to check out this series then do so, immediately, it has my full recommendation (for whatever that’s worth). I’m hesitant to say any more than that because, in my opinion, going in blind is the best way to watch this series (I didn’t and I’ve paid the price, mostly ‘cause I was an idiot and the couple of chapters I’ve read of the manga I read out of order, because poor impulse control is a defining quality of mine).

This is a series that is built on its twists and plot development, I’ve heard people class this series as a horror and while it certainly has horror-elements, for me, this is a mystery series. Unlike a lot of mystery series though, the overhanging question that makes up the mystery is less of a ‘why is this happening’ and more of a ‘how do we get out of this’. We learn relatively little about the world outside of the series’ location, we catch glimpses and can infer certain things, but we never get a good look at anything beyond the confines of the House (I suppose that’ll be season 2’s job). Instead our main characters have a general idea of what’s going on and instead the question becomes what do they do about it.

This series is a puzzle box, with Emma, Norman and Ray coming up with plans and strategies to reach their goal, while all the time those that oppose them seem to be ten steps ahead. They just manage to figure one thing out, and we cheer, and then it’s revealed that there’s a new problem that completely negates any advancement they just made. One step forward, two steps back, as the saying goes and while that can be incredibly frustrating, it’s also part of how this series gets you. I’d get frustrated, but then I’d be on to the next puzzle piece, working out how to get in that next step, thinking this time, this time, I’ll get it, only for the rug to be pulled out from under me and bring everything crashing down. It makes the characters so endearing as the watch the odds get stacked higher and higher against them and you wouldn’t really hold it against them if they just gave up, but they push through it and try harder and harder and until… well, that would be spoilers and you’ve got to go in blind, remember?

Of course the plot and the mystery aren’t the only great things about this series. I’ve mentioned the gorgeous animation and, truly, this series is a joy to just look at, the rich colours and how it uses shadows and light, I could take a screenshot of any single moment in this show and it would be perfect to hang on my wall. Not to mention that the direction is top notch, finding some really clever angles and there is an astounding amount of visual story telling. This show knows when to let a shot linger, to build that tension, to make you wait for the reveal and make sure it really hits you. Not to mention that a lot of stuff is simply shown to you, trusting you to know what it’s saying without a line of dialogue. Not that this is a completely silent series. There is plenty of dialogue, heck I’d say the majority of scenes are just characters talking and yet the show knows how to make that engaging. There’s always a new bit of information or a revelation to hit you, its storytelling at it’s best.

One final thing to mention (since I’m refusing to go into spoilers on this), the soundtrack. Honestly I need more words for beautiful because I’ll use them all to describe the sound in this series, not only does it have a killer opening and ending track, but the music within the series itself is just bliss for my ears. My two favourite tracks have to be 63194 (Emma’s theme) and Isabella’s lullaby. Emma theme is just this grand, dark masterpiece that you wouldn’t think would fit such a bright and cheery girl, but when you think about it and you see the steel in her eyes, you know it’s the perfect music for her. As for the lullaby, well, watch the series to the end and you’ll know why that is perhaps one of the most beautiful and tragic pieces of music I have ever heard. Also this series has a fantastic villain, just saying.

The Verdict

The Promised Neverland is a puzzle box mystery, with the characters fighting with everything they have to overcome ever-mounding odds against them. It doesn’t feel like I’ve seen an anime this well put together in a long time (not until this current summer season came along anyway), from the animation to the writing and the directing and even the music, everything just perfectly slots together to tell this tragic, yet hopeful series about overcoming all the odds. I am really looking forward to season 2. Watch this series, I know I’m going to give it a couple of dozen more watches.

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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.

Anime Corner: Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai Review

Blog Rascal Doesnt Dream Review Title

A wild bunny girl has appeared!

What’s the Story?

The strangest things always happen to teenagers (especially in Japan). Body swaps, time loops, doppelgangers, they get the lot and Sakuta has had more than his fair share of weird in his life. From the mysterious scars that appeared on his chest to his little sister having cuts appear all over her body when she was being bullied and that isn’t even the start of it. Sakuta is about to find out just how weird adolescence can be and it all begins when he runs into a young woman dressed as a bunny girl in the local library.

The Review

I think, for me at least, this was the surprise hit of 2018 (and I might have considered it the best anime of the year if A Place Further Than the Universe didn’t exist). Also I do have to give a shout out to Karandi over at 100 Word Anime, because this show was not on my radar in the slightest and it was only after reading her review of the first episode that I decided to give this one a go and I am so grateful for that. This show is not what you expect in any shape or form, I mean I know the first thought that went through my head was ‘Oh boy, this is going to be another forced fanservice-ladden harem nonsense and I don’t have the patience for that in any shape or form’. I mean look at the title and the promotional image on Crunchyroll has Mai dressed up in the titular Bunny Girl outfit, what was I supposed to expect?

But I didn’t get that, no, instead I got a show that was smart, thoughtful, incredibly funny and sweet and a little heart-wrenching at times (scratch that, a lot heart-wrenching). If I look at all the elements of this show on paper it shouldn’t have worked (not for me at least), the recipe was there for pure Infallible Fish repellent and yet the show zigs everywhere I thought it was going zag. It turns character archetypes that have been so overplayed they’re the foundations of the genre and manages to spin them into such fresh and interesting people. Seriously the show could just be two of these characters sat in a room talking for a half hour and I’d be glued to my screen. There’s something about the dialogue in this series, it’s not realistic in any way, everyone speaks in this long-winded, philosophical way that only turns up in anime, but its packed full of so much sardonic wit and quick-fire timing that I don’t care. I could listen to these people all day long; Sakuta and Mai especially have the art of deadpan humour down.

Speaking of the happy couple I don’t normally get involved in these things (ah who am I kidding I’m a shipper ‘til I die) but Sakuta and Mai definitely win the award for best couple of 2018, if not the whole decade and I will fight anyone who says otherwise. What I love the most about their relationship though is that we actually get to see it play out. So many series with romances in, whether it’s an actual romance anime or just a subplot within the story, have it be about the build up to the joyous moment when they confess their love for the world to see, kiss and the credits role. That’s all we see (unless there’s a sequel where the couple will inevitably break up or one gets killed off). Here though Sakuta and Mai get together after the first few episodes (which could play as it’s own little mini movie) and we then see what happens after that. We see them deal with Mai’s work commitments, trying to fit the budding romance around that as well as the weirdness of whatever ‘Adolescence Syndrome’ they’re dealing with for that arc, and all of it builds to further strengthen (and sometimes test) they’re relationship.

I’m so glad this didn’t turn into a harem series, yes after Sakuta helps Mai through her particular problem there are a series of other girls who he has to help out, but they’re all firmly friend-zoned (well I suppose Kaede is sister-zoned). Sure one or two of them may develop feelings for Sakuta, but he sticks to his guns and never once wavers from his adoration of Mai (which, scratch anime, is rare of any male protagonist across any fiction). That’s not to say I don’t like the other girls, all of them are really likeable and their problems are interesting, I also like that they stick around even after their arcs are done, feeling like natural additions to Sakuta’s life even though they don’t have a problem any more.

That brings me to Shoko, and the only slight downside of this series. Shoko is the only mystery left unsolved by the end of the series and she’s been a fairly consistent presence throughout. She keeps being mentioned and makes a couple of appearances, there’s plenty of stuff being set up for her but it never goes anywhere. It’s the only damp squib in the last episode which has some great moments with both Mai and Kaede and I can’t help but feel it would have hit the emotional highs it was aiming for if this particular plot point wasn’t left dangling. Then again that is only if you count the series as the end, from what I’ve heard there is meant to be a movie based on this series coming out at some point (Rascal Does Not Dream of a Dreaming Girl) and hopefully that will follow on and resolve the Shoko plot. I certainly won’t turn my nose up at more of this series.

The Verdict

In the end, Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai (my gods that title is unworthy of this show) is a witty, intelligent and heart-warming show that never does quite what you’re expecting. Its focus is very much on its characters and it explores each and every one of them with a skill and precision I haven’t seen in a long while. I could seriously just listen to the characters bantering back and forth all day long and the central romance of the series is one of the very best of 2018, if not the decade. If you haven’t seen this series than you really need to. Now, how long until that movie comes 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.  

Anime Corner: Golden Kamuy (Season 1 + 2) Review

Blog Golden Kamuy Review Title

Hinna! Hinna!

What’s the Story?

Having recently returned from the Russo-Japanese war, the “Immortal” Sugimoto has taken to panning for gold, all in the hopes of finding enough money to fulfil a dead comrade’s last wish. What he finds though is a strange rumour about a bunch of escaped convicts, each with a tattoo that when put together will lead to a great deal of wealth. Befriending the young Ainu, Asirpa, Sugimoto and Asirpa set out to track down the convicts and recover the lost gold. However they’re not the only ones after the treasure as several groups, each with their own agenda, are out to take the gold for themselves. Things are about to get bloody, and weird.

The Review

Welcome, ladies and gentleman, to the show that has it all! Comedy, drama, bloody battles, more crazy people than we know what to do with, oh, and this is also a cooking show. On paper this show makes no sense, at least to me. There are so many genres and colliding story elements in this series that it should collapse under the weight of them all and yet somehow it manages to mix them perfectly together. This show is equal parts historical fiction, treasure hunt, cooking show, cultural exploration, military fiction, comedy, mystery and adventure. One minute we’re witnessing the fashion show of a psychopath who likes to make odd outfits out of people’s skin, the next we’re sitting down and talking about how to prepare Ainu delicacies. One of these elements should be jarring sat next to the other, at the very least it should throw the pacing of the episode off and yet in this series they fits so perfectly together. Of course we’re going to talk about fishing methods shortly after meeting a serial killer who gets aroused by the act of killing (while also finding a way to make said serial killer equal parts uncomfortable and hilarious).

The magic of this show is how it blends everything together, nothing ever outstays its welcome and just as one element of the story is starting to wear a bit thin it’ll switch track to another one. There’s always something going on, always something to have your attention and keep pulling you forward. So you have to watch that next episode. It’s an incredibly engrossing story filled with all sorts of interesting characters. Every character feels like they’re got a fully fleshed out past, each with their own desires and motivations behind whatever it is they’re doing. Any one of the characters could lead a series by themselves, but part of the joy of this series is seeing all these fully realised characters interact with one another.

That brings me to one of the few flaws with this series, the sheer amount of characters. Maybe its just a symptom of watching this show weekly, or possibly the fact that I need to rewatch season one at the time of writing this review, but there are a lot of characters and a lot of plot. There were times I felt like I needed a notepad just to jot down a couple of names and basic motivation just to remember it all. Everyone has an agenda and most of the people are connected to one another in one way or another. It’s not exactly hard to follow, but I found myself forgetting certain characters and then having to remind myself who people where talking about (not helped by the fact that I am utterly terrible at remembering names. I am so grateful the Internet exists when it comes to writing up these review just so I can remember character’s names).

As for all the other elements of the series I really do enjoy them. The period this show is set in is one that I don’t know all that much about so it’s been great exploring that and learning about the Ainu culture as well. That was another thing I knew very little about going into this series and while I have no idea how accurate this information is, from what I’ve heard it’s all pretty spot on. I get the feeling this show has a great deal of respect for the Ainu, from the way it talks about their traditions and beliefs in a educational yet engaging way. Then on the other side of things we have the convicts, and while I have no idea if they’re based on anyone I sure hope not because these people are crazy with a capital C. Each one of them is unique and memorable (even if their names escape me). Every time you think they’ve revealed the most depraved soul that they can, they ship in someone else who’s even madder. Admittedly it helps that all these criminals are funny as all hell, they’re all living in their own private fantasy worlds and it’s a testament to how this show handles its comedy that it can make you feel anything other than revulsion for these people.

Oh, right, on a last note I should probably mention the terrible CGI bears, and yeah, there’s no excusing that. The CGI in this series goes beyond bad to a whole other dimension, but the rest of the animation is spot on. I especially love the characters designs, there’s a lot more square shapes than you see a lot of modern anime and that helps this stand out even more.

The Verdict

In the end Golden Kamuy is a fantastic series that manages to blend what should be many disparate elements together into a cohesive and engaging whole. The series is populated by many, many interesting characters, each capable of carrying a series by themselves, but it’s the way they interact and clash that makes this such a compelling watch. Whether you’re looking for comedy, adventure, mystery or even a few handy survival and cooking tips this series has that for you. Here’s to Season 3!

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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.  

Anime Corner: Mob Psycho 100 (Season 2) Review

Mob Psycho 100 2 Blog Title

Educating Mob.

What’s the Story?

We’re back with Mob and the gang and ever since the defeat of the local Claw faction things have been pretty normal for the world’s most powerful psychic and his con-man master (you know if you count dealing with urban legends and exorcising vindictive spirits as normal). Then again, daily life is often a struggle for our favourite socially awkward psychic, but that may be about to change. Mob has some tough lessons to learn, but he is learning them and just in time as the head of Claw has arrived in town. Can someone say ‘Boss Fight’?

The Review

Back when I watched the first season of Mob Psycho 100 I adored it (check out my review HERE), from the stunning animation (that is still a master class in mixing styles, artistic express and frenetic action that anyone even remotely interested in animation should check out), to the on point comedy and the host of eclectic and loveable characters. I wasn’t alone in that assessment either and while I labeled the series as an unmissable anime I feel like I need a whole new category for this second season. It takes the groundwork laid out by the first season and builds atop it a shining monument that has had me crying, gasping and cheering week after week for this past season. In my own personal head list, Mob Psycho 100 was on my top 20 favourite anime, but season 2 skyrockets straight into my top 10 (and that should in no way be a hint that I’m going to be revisiting my old top 10 list at some point). Get ready for some gushing people.

Where Mob Psycho sells me the most is with its character arcs. If you’ve read my review of the first season you’ll know that Ritsu was the character I connected with most in that season, but this time it’s Mob himself that I’ve forged a bond with. Comparing Mob back in season one to the Mob we get at the end of this season is like night and day. He’s learning bit by bit from his experiences, even if some of those experiences are incredibly traumatic. You’ll notice we see a lot less of Mob’s emotional counter this time around because he isn’t so bent on repressing his feelings anymore. Instead he lets himself experience them, even when that’s incredibly hard for him to do and in the end Mob comes out the other side not only with a better understanding of himself, but those around him. Mob becomes a more assured, confident and emotionally healthy person, but more than that he’s still kind, heck he may be even kinder than ever before. The scene where the girl who’s been bullying him breaks down in tears had me balling my own eyes out (it’s a scene that, for me, only gets topped by the bridge scene with Reigen). Mob has gone from a character I like to one I admire. If I can be one tenth as empathetic and emotionally mature as he is by the season’s end, then I reckon I’ve done good in life.

Mob isn’t the only character to go up in my estimation though, let’s talk about Reigen. Now I loved Reigen before, but the little arc he gets in the middle of this season is precisely what he needed. For those that haven’t seen the series yet (and, seriously, what are you doing? Go watch it!) Reigen basically gets brought low, his con-man antics finally catch up with him and I can’t argue that he’s not a little deserving of it. He does manipulate and trick people, but the point is he often tricks people into doing stuff that’s good for them. Yes he’s lying, but he’s hardly ever malicious with it. Yes he pushes Mob too far, but after some self-reflection he recognises that and makes amends. This season, Reigen is less of the Master and more of a human, flawed and fallible as the rest of us, but like the majority of characters in this series, Mob has had a profound affect on him. Mob’s kindness has changed him and continues to make him better.

If season one was mostly about how being special, being unique, doesn’t make you better than anybody else, then season two is about bonds and empathy. Mob changes through his interactions with different people and people change because they interact with Mob. We see former villains fighting alongside one another to help save the city that at one point they were planning on taking over and Mob defeats the majority of his opponents, not by overpowering them, but by talking to them. Yeah, sometimes it’s a hard sell to get through to them, but he keeps trying and trying until his kindness gets through. Winning by kindness, I need that on a t-shirt.

You take that depth of character and story and lay it on top of what Mob Psycho was already extremely good at, i.e. jaw-dropping animation, fast-paced comedy and pulse-pounding action and you have a series that everyone should at least try. There are a plethora of important and heartfelt messages in this show that need to be spread. You are the protagonist of your own story, but people need people and, though it’s hard, we have to find the balance for that as Mob is doing, but most important of all, remember, be kind.

The Verdict

Mob Psyho 100 was brilliant; season 2 is a masterpiece. I realise I may be overhyping this, but I feel this story is important, from its message to its characters I want as many people as possible to see this series if they haven’t already. It’s got everything that the first season did so well and has improved upon on by ramping everything up from the action to the emotions to the character journeys. Mob has become one of my favourite characters in all of anime and one that I greatly admire. Do yourself a favour and check this 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.  

Anime Corner: Digimon Tamers Review

Blog Digimon Tamers Review Title

What happens when you let the guy who wrote Serial Experiments Lain write for Digimon?

What’s the Story?

Takato is a huge fan of Digimon, he loves the TV show and playing the card game with his friends. He spends his days dreaming about what it would be like to actually have his own Digimon, even going so far as to design his partner. One day he finds a mysterious blue card in amongst his trading cards and after swiping it through his card reader finds that the Digimon he created, Guilmon, has come to life in the real world. However he’s about to find out that being a Digimon Tamer isn’t so easy, between differing views with his fellow tamers, a never ending hoard of Digimon causing havoc in our world and a secret government organisation, life is about to get very complicated for the newest Tamer. And that’s only the start, bring the tissues people, you’ll need them.

The Review

And we’re finally here, my favourite series of Digimon (and the last one I watched as a kid). Don’t get me wrong Adventure will always hold a special place in my heart and I will always adore it, but for me this is the series where Digimon hit its peak. Everything came together, the storytelling and character development reached another level, the villains are a whole new plane of creepy and threatening and my god the trauma this series inflicts on its characters. This series basically takes all the bits I loved about Adventure, the sense of fun, the surreal Digital World, the unfolding sense of mystery and that spirit of, well, adventure and ties it to a dark sci-fi thriller. I love it! Also there’s no tonally inappropriate insert songs and bad puns to deflate the tension (though there’s plenty of bad jokes, but I kind of love those too. A lot of the comments from the teachers and other adults that have obviously been added for the dub are kind of hilarious, if silly).

There are several themes to this season, but personally I think one of the most important is that of consequences. Every act in this series has a consequence, whether that’s a good or a bad thing tends to be up to the character and what they can make of it. For example Takato wishes for a Digimon all this own and like most boys his age he makes it big and powerful, which tends to make Guilmon hard to hide. Also there’s the fact that Guilmon is like a wilful puppy in the beginning and can’t help but get himself into trouble. Now in any other show this would lead to wacky ‘hide the pet from the parent’ style hijinks, but not this series. No we see Takato panic and nearly break down when he worries over what will happen to Guilmon. We get another example later on when Guilmon first digivolves and we spend an entire episode trying to get him to de-digivolve so that they can hide him again. This is something that has never cropped up in a series before (or since to my knowledge), usually whoever’s digivolved for the episode reverts back to their rookie form for narrative convenience by the time the end credits roll, but not here.

This series also likes to explore the question of what if Digimon actually were real. What would it be like to actually own a monster that could take out a tank if it wanted to, which for a kid like me was a brilliant concept (I mean I am so Takato in this scenario, if I dug through some of the boxes at the bottom of my wardrobe I’m sure I’d find my own Digimon designs, as well as Pokemon and Yugioh and the little comic strips I used to do). It adds to the maturity and of the characters as this time have a whole heap of new problems to deal with other than just the usual monster-of-the-week. I also like that the characters all have their own differing moral philosophy, Takato is very much about how awesome it is to have a Digimon and can sometimes get carried away with that, while at the same time not wanting to actually hurt anyone. Rika sees Digimon as just data and is only concerned with being the very best (at first, I’ll come back to this point). Henry on the other hand is a pacifist at heart, he’s seen his partner get hurt in the past and is determined that he will never fight again, but eventually learns that there are times when you have to.

I like the differing perspectives of the cast and how they clash and this even applies to the villains as well. It’s mentioned several times in the show (and yet another sign how the Digimon franchise, and this season in particular, refuses to talk down to its audience), that good and evil are a matter of perspective. Many of the early series villains turn out to be allies later down the line and that is mostly down to changing perspective. Outside of the very last villain of the series it could be argued that none of the early villains are truly evil. Oh none of them are all that nice by any stretch and they definitely do some evil things, but most of that is down to their own prejudices. Yamaki believes that Digimon are abominations and should be wiped from our world, while the Sovereign and the Devas believe that humans are a danger to them and need to be eradicated. Neither are good, but as their viewpoints are proved wrong again and again until eventually they change and provide some invaluable help in defeating the ‘True Enemy’ (the D-Reaper by the way wins the award for creepiest Digimon baddie of all time, especially the Jeri D-Reaper clone. I still have nightmares about that thing).

The only possible complaint I have about this season is that it’s a little slow to start. The series isn’t much concerned with its monster-of-the-week format at the start, especially as it’s having so much fun exploring its concept of ‘what if Digimon were real’. It makes a lot of the first half of the series feel a bit like a slice of life series with occasional monster fights. However where that works in this series’ favour is that it gives us time to actually explore our cast and we get a pretty solid dig into both the Tamers and their Digimon partners (who are more than just compliments/contrasts to their partners and actually have fully formed personalities of their own). The characters, especially the main three develop so much across the series. Rika goes from being closed off and always up for a fight to someone who’s heart is open to everyone and is eager to give up fighting for good. Henry goes from someone who’s controlled and restrained, always carrying the weight of the world and will blame himself for every little thing that goes wrong to someone who’s more willing to accept help from others and knows when he has to fight. Takato goes from a hapless newbie, always worrying and doubting himself to a gallant knight, driven and capable and who will never give up.

Though if we’re talking about arcs, then Impmon’s arc has to be the greatest arc in all of Digimon (and I will fight anyone who says otherwise). He goes from annoying mischief maker and angry tsundere to a power mad psycho and murderer all the way back round to tragic hero begging for forgiveness. Seriously that scene where he begs Jeri to let him save her is just heartbreaking (that may just be my favourite scene in all of Digimon, which probably says something about me). And don’t even get me started on Jeri, what this show puts that poor girl through is nothing short of horrific. Then again so much of the Jeri/D-Reaper part of this season is straight out of a horror anime and credit were credit is due the English dub of this manages to put such a lot of that a cross without being cut or censored in any way (well, not any way that I’d expect from the time this was made).

I still find it amazing that for a season that starts off so happy and joyful, despite its occasional stab at the feels, turns into such an apocalyptic and dark series. The final arc feels like one long gruelling battle, there’s such a sense of dread and just how outmatched our heroes are. A lot of this backed up by the fact that in this series we know that there is actual death, yeah there’s no return to a digiegg and get reborn here, you die you stay dead and we get to see it on screen (poor Leomon). Of course that just makes it all the more epic and joyful when the Tamers finally do win, though even that comes with a bittersweet twist of the knife. At least the series ends on a hopeful note.

The Verdict

I could talk about this series all day and probably a few more besides, but I’ll leave it here for now. Digimon Tamers is my favourite Digimon series, for me every element just clicks into place perfectly. From the deeper character arcs to a story that builds and builds to a dramatic finale and isn’t afraid to throw in tougher and more complex subjects than you’d expect of a show aimed at selling toys to kids. It’s has just the right balance of hope, joy and emotional trauma. I still get sucked into it watching it now and it gets me in the feels every time. If you’re going to watch only one Digimon series, watch this one.

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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.  

 

Anime Corner: Planet With Review

Blog Planet With Review Title

“I won’t forget the happiness I had, but I will forget the hate.”

What’s the Story?

Soya lives a peaceful high school life, despite the fact that he has no memory of his past. Then one day a strange structure (and boy is it strange) begins floating its way towards the city. Seven superheroes arrive to defend humanity, but then Soya remembers everything, including his brother and the dragon that destroyed his world. Now with the help of gothic lolita Ginko and the giant two-legged cat Sensei (really the cat should have been a give away that not all was normal for Soya), Soya sets out to get his revenge and defeat the superheroes that are the planet’s only hope. Be prepared for a three-way battle for the fate of the human race, will they choose death and destruction, to be sealed away forever or could they possibly choose…love.

The Review

I originally went into this series blind and maybe that’s the best way to approach it. It’s not that knowing the plot will ruin this for you, but this show is like a magic sleight of hand trick that keeps getting more and more elaborate without ever crossing into convoluted. I’ll admit my initial draw to this series was just how weird it is. You’ve got a giant cat that goes around on two legs, continually trying to peek up the skirts of his anime figures, and don’t even get me started on the Nebula Weapons (seriously can we check on the guy who designed all of them, I think we may need to confiscate whatever he’s been smoking). Yet, the more I watched this show the more I got drawn in and the more I fell in love. (I mean I was on the verge of tears watching a show that involves a spaceship shaped like a giant dog! What is going on here?).

Planet With, when you boil it down, is a show with something to say and while said message may become more and more obvious as the series goes on, that doesn’t stop it being any less important. Planet With is a show about love, about seeing things from different perspectives and even forgiving those that have wronged you in the past. The show even throws in a line in the final episode where it point blank tells you that it doesn’t mind if you don’t agree with it, just try to see things from someone else’s point of view. I feel that kind of message is so important, and especially relevant nowadays.

What I find most surprisingly is how it manages to weave this message into every aspect of the plot without screaming it at you from a soapbox. The plot of this series is so laser focussed and constantly moving, the first few episodes do have a slightly episodic feel to them, but that quickly changes and the show just keeps growing and growing without ever losing focus. I’m surprised by just how much world building, background and plot that this show manages to fit in without any aspect of it ever feeling rushed. Everything is perfectly balanced and paced to give you the prefect ride towards that finish and every episode is packed full of action, humour and charm.

Actually there is something that I wanted to bring up about the action in this series. I know this is an original work, but there’s something about it that just feels so old school, in a good way. I can’t work out whether it’s the pacing or the soundtrack (which is awesome), but so many of the fights have this old school feeling that I can’t quite put into words. They feel epic to a level that I haven’t felt in a while. Maybe it’s just that I’m invested in all of the characters, and I do mean all. There are no real villains in this show, oh there are opposing forces for certain, but as we get to know each group in this conflict we learn that all of them have their reasons for what they’re doing (something that I always love in a story).

With the main characters I suppose its best to start with Soya, seeing as he’s the main character. Like a lot of the characters and some of the plot itself, he’s a bit of a slow burn. Oh he’s likeable enough as a protagonist at the start and it’s fun to see him interact with the people around him, and how unfazed he is by being taken care of by a giant cat (no, I’m not dropping that). Yet as the show continues and we learn more about him, we get to see him grow and develop into a fine young man and one that I can easily root for in any conflict. Even characters that at first you assume are just there to be funny little side characters turn out to have a surprising amount of depth. Ginko is a treasure trove of hidden depth and the moment when she told Soya that she sees him as her little brother was seriously one of the most heart-warming moments I’ve seen in years. Even Sensei (the giant cat), has a lot more to him than you first realise and I was surprised how much of this story was actually about him. That’s something this series continually did, surprise me and is the reason this has been one of my favourite series of past couple of years..

The Verdict

Planet With is a surprisingly deep and enjoyable series that more people should be talking about. It is perfectly paced with a story that continually surprises and characters that are all loveable. The action is epic and the animation bright and colourful (it even manages to integrate its 3D animation in a good way). I know there has been a wealth of great shows of late, but if I can convince anyone to add this to their ‘Must Watch’ list then I shall consider my job done. This series is more than worth it.

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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.