Anime Corner: Back Arrow Review

My conviction is ‘I will watch all the anime!’

What’s the Story?

Lingalind is a world enclosed by the Wall. The Wall protects and nurtures the land. The Wall is God. That is until one day when a man falls from the sky and lands in an inconsequential little village in the middle of nowhere. The man calls himself Back Arrow and he makes the impossible claim that he comes from outside the Wall and he wants to return there. His journey will cause the very foundations of Lingalind to be turned on their head as alliances are forged and ancient truths are revealed. Can a man with no conviction of his own really stand up to God though? If he can’t, then the whole of Lingalind will face it’s ultimate destruction. Summon your Briheight and declare your conviction, this is going to be one heck of a fight.

The Review:

I don’t really know where to start with this series. It’s a good show and I enjoyed it from beginning to end, but I don’t feel like it’s made much of an impact on me. By the time you’re reading this the final episode will have aired at least a couple of months ago and, I’m fairly certain, I’ll have forgotten the vast majority of this show. I feel bad saying that. There’s a real nostalgic vibe to this series, whether it’s the character designs or the vibrant, almost plastic, colour scheme, it feels like a show that’s wandered straight out of the early 2000s. Maybe if I’d seen this show back then, in my early teens, it would stick better in my mind. There’s a lot that I typically love in these kind of series, flamboyant characters, a constant and quick sense of escalation and some truly ridiculous twists, there’s a lot to get me cheering. Yet, when the credits of the final episode rolled around my reaction was just a shrug of the shoulders and a ‘that was fun’, and I can’t help but feel this show was wanting more from me.

It’s taken me a while to pin down where I think the problems are, for me at least. Part of it is that I never fully engaged with the events of the series. This show is ridiculous and it makes that clear from the start. I mean the method of summoning each character’s mecha is through the sheer force of their own willpower, which clues you into the fact that a lot of resolutions are going to come down to people just wanting stuff really hard. There are some clever plans and twisting of established rules to win the day, but it never really escapes the feeling that there aren’t all that many consequences to actions.

True, several characters do die, but even then they find their back into the series at the moment they’re most needed, and if death can’t stop our heroes what exactly are the bad guys supposed to do? There’s this constant cycle of the heroes pulling off some trick at the last minute to overpower the enemy, only for the enemy to turn back around and prove their even more powerful than we ever imagined. Rinse and repeat. Add on the quick escalation and things soon get out of hand, the back and forth between the good guys and bad guys just going on and on without any real resolution until the very end.

That’s another problem this series has, some times it holds on to ideas for just a little too long. At the start of the series the villagers that initially find Back Arrow are very reticent to trust him, personified by the grouchy grandpa character. They’ll turn him over to the bad guys at the drop of a hat just for the promise of an easy life and I do get it. It’s made very clear that their village is struggling and unlikely to survive, so the promise of a new home with peace and security is very tempting. Also Back Arrow doesn’t really do much to endear himself to them, he’s only really concerned with his own goal of going back beyond the Wall and he doesn’t think about the consequences of his actions much. If this happened just the once I’d be perfectly fine with it, twice at a push, but it keeps happening throughout the first half of the series! It got to the point where I was really starting to hate the grandpa character because he was always the one complaining and suggesting to throw Arrow under the bus. This isn’t the only plot point that carries on like this though, there are a couple of others and while liked them initially they just went on for a bit too long.

I feel like I’ve been doing nothing but bash on this series and I don’t want to. As I said, I’ve enjoyed every episode of this series, even if I’ve not been as invested as I wanted to be, or how often I wanted to wring the grandpa’s neck. I like these characters, Arrow is a charming guy and he gets some much needed development later on to think more about those around him. The rest of the villagers are a lot of fun, as are Prax and the warriors of Rekka. Shu Bi has to be the best character though, the mad genius always with a plan or a scheme and generally ten steps ahead of anyone else. I like the mecha designs and just the whole aesthetic of the show. That’s actually where this series leaves me, I like it, but I don’t love it.

The Verdict:

In the end, Back Arrow is a fun show, but that’s as far as it gets for me. I’m sure there are people out there who will adore this series, and there’s a lot to love. The characters are generally fun and engaging, the mecha designs are great and while the world is ridiculous, it is well built. Where it struggles for me is the constant escalation and a lack of consequences really dent my investment in what’s going on. Add on a couple of repeated or stretched out plot points and some times it’s hard to engage with this show. It’s still worth a watch though and, if nothing else you’ll have some fun.

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

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

I believe in Harvey Dent.

What’s the Story?

Gotham City is changing. Carmine ‘The Roman’ Falcone’s family and illegal business operations have been devastated by a bizarre string of holiday-themed murders. While both the police and the Batman search for the killer, Carmine has been forced to new extremes to keep his grip on the city. He’s entered into dealings with the so-called ‘freaks’ of Gotham. Poison Ivy, Scarecrow and Mad Hatter each bring their own brand of insanity to the streets, but they won’t be the only ones. DA Harvey Dent is feeling the pressure, under suspicion for the Holiday killings and fighting a losing battle in the courts, the cracks are finally starting to show. What little justice there is in Gotham may, in the end, come at the other side of a coin flip, even if it costs everything…

The Review:

It’s time for judgement, and ironically (or appropriately depending on which way you look at it) I may need to flip a coin to reach a verdict here. If you want my thoughts on the first part of this adaptation, and the comic it’s adapting, then you can check out my review HERE, but let’s not beat around the bush and just jump straight into things (much like the film does). How does The Long Halloween Part 2 stand as a film in it’s own right? Honestly, it’s not good and it hurts me to say that. The voice cast is superb, perfect for each and every character, I’m quickly falling in love with this animation style and some of the character moments just shine with pure brilliance. The problem is, as great as all those elements are by themselves, when you try and fit them all together the film just doesn’t work. It’s an unwieldy beast of disjointed scenes and terrible pacing. If you do plan on watching this film, which I will still probably recommend, then please watch Part 1 and 2 together. It won’t fix all of the problems, but it might help.

Okay, let’s break this down a little bit because there is actually a lot I want to praise in this film, even if none of it is quite enough to save the whole thing. We’ll start with the voice cast who, again, the only word I have for them is perfect. In my Part One review I singled out Jensen Ackles and Naya Rivera, and while they’re still just as fantastic as they were in Part 1, this time I want to take my hat off to Josh Duhamel. His performance as Harvey Dent/Two-Face is outstanding, you really feel like he’s a man on the edge and then when he starts using his Two-Face voice, chills went down my spine. I also really love that little speech he gives at the end to Carmine about why he’s using his famous coin to decide what ‘justice’ is. It’s the character moments that make this film for me, there are some really great action sequences (like the Poison Ivy/Catwoman fight that starts the film off), but it’s the little conversations between people where this cast are firing on all cylinders.

Unfortunately, as great as the majority of the scenes are by themselves, it’s once you start stringing them one after the other that things come apart. In my previous review I mentioned that I was worried they were going to rush through elements of this story and that’s exactly what happened. The beginning of this film either blitzs through or just plain skips over several issues of the comic and, as sacrilegious as it feels to say, I think they should have just left it all out entirely. As much as I adore any time Poison Ivy gets on screen, or the brief Scarecrow nightmare sequence which is the best animated sequence in this film, they add little overall. There’s some minor plot beats that you need from their appearances, but I really think the time would have been better spent on showing Batman investigate the Holiday killings. Once we reach the halfway point it feels like this film forgets there’s even a serial killer on the loose, abandoning the little title cards it established for each killing in the last film and at the start of this one. There’s just too much stuff that it’s trying to do and it detracts from the moments that really needed the focus.

That brings me to the ending, and I need to talk about the comic one more time. I said in my previous review that The Long Halloween comic isn’t perfect, and it’s the ending where I feel it really falters. Honestly when I first read the comic it was the resolution to the big mystery that was my only disappointment with the story. Not with who the Holiday killer turned out to be, that made sense (and was a lot less convoluted than Hush’s mess of an ending), but I had to mull it over for a long time. The ending leaves a lot open to your interpretation and you have to really go back over things and work out the logistics on your own, the comic gives you no help in that regard, which I can argue both for and against. No, what bugs me is the lack of a cathartic ending, which I guess this is meant to be a grand tragedy and so it should be bitter sweet, but Batman never confronts the true Holiday killer. In this film though, that’s changed. Batman does indeed have a final conversation with the killer and, honestly, I’m not sure which is better. On the one hand, it makes things clearer and allows the killer to dig into their motives a little more, but it creates a giant plothole in that Batman just walks away from the killer with no real explanation as to why. Just a line would have done, there wasn’t enough evidence to convict them, he wanted to respect Harvey’s wishes, heck even a ‘I’ll be watching’ would have sufficed, but no.

The Verdict:

In the end, Batman: The Long Halloween Part 2 is a film that leaves me in two minds (again either ironically or appropriately depending on your point of view). It has some fantastic moments, a terrific voice cast that excels with every line delivered and a great look to it, but the parts are definitely stronger than the whole. All together this film feels disjointed, trying to give its attention to too many plot elements without putting its focus where it should be. It’s a shame as with the proper care and time I think this adaptation could have been one of the best in Batman’s history, but cutting it up as two movies probably wasn’t the way to go about it.

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

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

I believe in Gotham City.

What’s the Story?

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

The Review:

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

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

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

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

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

The Verdict:

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

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

Anime Corner: Our Last Crusade or the Rise of a New World Review

Okay, there’s coincidence and there’s being fate’s favourite ship! How do these two keep running into one another?!

What’s the Story?

For a hundred years the Empire and the Nebulis Sovereignty have been at war, one choosing to put its faith in advanced technology while the other makes use of powerful Astral Spirits. The reasons behind their long-held conflict has been lost to history and there is very little chance of any peaceful resolution, but perhaps that could be about to change. When master swordsman Iska is tasked with capturing one of the Sovereignty’s most powerful astral mages, the fearsome ‘Ice Calamity Witch’, it begins a series of encounters that could change the fate of the world forever. Could love be about to bloom on this bitter battlefield?

The Review

This show, and no I’m not going to type out that name again until I get to the verdict, is just okay. It’s not really bad, but it’s not good either. The characters are all fine and likeable enough, some of the designs are a bit overcomplicated, but they’re all fit for their purpose as specified by the plot. The action and story move at a steady pace, some of the actions scenes are actually quite engaging though it can be hard to keep track of what’s happening at times. The setting does have a lot of potential, I mean you’ve got two empires who’ve been fighting for a century and characters trying to find a resolution, while taking on opponents both from within and without. I’d say the story should write itself, but it clearly doesn’t.

What kills my interest in this series is the amount of coincidences and contrivances necessary to make it all work. I mean the central conceit of the story is that these two people wanting to find a peaceful resolution happen to meet and fall in love. Which, okay fair enough, plenty of stories rely on nonsense like that, I can suspend my disbelief and allow it. Where that suspension gets stretched to its absolute limit is when these two just keep running into one another! At first it was just funny, oh, they’ve bumped into one another, how cute. Oh, now they’re going to the same theatre and just happened to sit next to one another. Ha ha. Wait, now they’re going to a restaurant and they end up at the same one, sitting at the same table, ordering the same meal!

That’s only one example from one episode. In a later episode we have a problem where the Captain of Iska’s gets an Astral Spirit and they need to hide that fact when, by sheer coincidence, they’re sent on a mission that requires them to where patches that make it look like they have Astral Spirits! How can one group of people be so lucky? At this point they should invest in lottery tickets because there’s high odds they’ll win. And again, this is just two examples, there are dozens upon dozens more that I can choose from.

Maybe this is all a problem of adaptation. I know nothing about the light novel series this anime is based on (I’m assuming it’s based on a light novel series with a title like that), but this series is clearly split up into sections. I can see where one books ends and another begins and maybe if all these coincidences were separated by months in publication rather than appearing week after week. it wouldn’t bug me as much. Then again bug is the wrong word, because bug implies that these events in some way annoyed me. They didn’t, they did something worse, they took me right out of the story and stopped me believing in the fiction this story was trying to present.

At that point there was no real hope for this show, for me at least. It doesn’t matter how likeable your characters are, how many fast-paced sword fights or flashy magic attacks you throw at the screen, if I can’t believe in those characters or the world around them then what’s the point? It also doesn’t help that this story has clearly only gone through its prologue phase (the last story arc is literally called ‘Beginning’) with so many things set up for future stories. I don’t know how I would have adapted this series, but someone in the screen-writing department really needed to put more thought into that process. There’s a reason series don’t just move between mediums without even a single change.

The Verdict

In the end, Our Last Crusade or the Rise of a New World, is an okay show. I may have severe problems with the sheet amount of coincidence and contrivance packed into its plot, but it’s not a bad show. The characters are likeable enough, there’s potential in the world and some of the action is quite good, when you can make out what’s happening, but that doesn’t make up for it’s problems. It doesn’t sink the show either. This one sits squarely in the middle of the road, so if you want to check it out then feel free, but personally I think there’s much better shows you can be spending your time on.

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

Anime Corner: The God of High School Review

And they fight and they fight and they fight and they fight and they fight and they fight…

What’s the Story?

The ‘God of High School’, a special martial arts tournament to determine the strongest high schooler of all. The grand prize? Whatever the winner wishes for. Any and all fighting styles are allowed, even weapons if there’s something you want to use, all the organises ask is that the contestants give it their all. For Jin Mori, he doesn’t care about the prize or the rules, all he wants to do is fight some strong opponents, and boy is he. You see this tournament isn’t just about finding the ‘strongest high schooler’, the stage has been set for a literal battle of the Gods. With unimaginable powers and everyone fighting over their heart’s desires there’s only way to find out who’s got what it takes…fight!

The Review

Bust out the popcorn, turn up the volume and bask in the glory of one gorgeously animated fight scene after another. Seriously this anime has some amazing fight sequences that will have sakuga nerds drooling. Lighting fast, well choreographed and with a sense of impact that just comes through the screen, if you like your series packed with action then you’ll find a lot to love here. If, however, you prefer your series with deep character work or a compelling narrative, well then I’m afraid you’ll have to look elsewhere. The God of High School is a series with its foot stamped down firmly on the accelerator, to the detriment of every aspect of the show. What should be meaningful moments or emotional scenes fly by in a second, the pace stopping only long enough to deliver relevant plot information and get to the next fight scene.

I have no idea what the source material for this series is like, but I can’t help the feeling that the team behind this show had a certain end point in mind and they wanted to get there regardless of the consequences. So much happens in this series and every single second of it just feels completely meaningless. We’ve got literal Gods and legendary figures duking it out in the arena and outside of how flashy the fights are animated, I couldn’t care one single iota about what happens. How do you make such an exciting concept so boring, you know without being named Michael Bay? It doesn’t help that power ups and moments of character growth happen almost at random, bursting into a scene without any setup or explanation whatsoever. One minute we’re having a crazy wedding episode, the next we’re all dark and serious as someone is almost beaten to death (and that takes place in the same episode!)

The characters all feel like they’ve been spat out by some generic Shonen character generator. We’ve got our goofy, simpleton protagonist who only cares about fighting and filling his stomach. We’ve got the rival, the girl, even the irredeemable villain who just happens to have a tragic back story but then you remember he’s an actual monster and stop caring. I don’t even particularly care when said villain gets punched in the face, which is a crime against shonen battle series. I don’t even really believe in the friendship between the three main protagonists, the series tries to justify it but a lot of time it feels like they’re only together because the plot says so.

I have no doubt that there could be a really great, exciting story here, if only the story and characters were given enough time to actually establish themselves and let moments just breathe. As it is, the only real reason to watch this series if for the fight sequences and they are great, don’t mistake me on that, but that’s the only thing holding this series together. I feel like I’m being overly harsh, I’m not mad that I spent thirteen episodes with this series, it’s been fun in it’s way. It’s like junk food, on a technical level you know it’s not really all that good for you, but it feels nice in the moment and along as you don’t eat only junk food, what’s really the harm? That’s really this series, if you just want to indulge yourself, switch off your brain and enjoy. Just make sure you find something better for your brain afterwards.

The Verdict

In the end, The God of High School, is a popcorn thriller. It’s packed full of some blistering action sequences that are worth the price of admittance by themselves, but that’s all you’re paying for. Character and story take a back seat to action, with developments, both character-based and in the fights themselves, often coming out of nowhere with little set up. The character are little more than generic cardboard cutouts with barely any motivation outside of the fact that the plot says so. It’s worth watching for the fights, but don’t expect much more out of it.

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

Infallible Fish Reviews: Doctor Who: The Faceless Ones

“It’s a flying beastie!”

What’s the Story?

The Doctor and his friends, Ben, Polly and Jamie land at Gatwick airport, right in the middle of a runway! Immediately on the run from airport security, the gang soon find themselves stumbling into a sinister plot when Polly witnesses a man being murdered by a strange weapon. Something is happening at Chameleon Tours and it may just be connected to the recent rash of missing teenagers. As the Doctor tries to convince the Commandant of the seriousness of the threat he’s facing, he finds some of his friends suddenly don’t recognise him and there’s very few people he can trust. The Faceless Ones are here and it won’t be long before they get exactly what they want.

The Review:

I debated for a long time whether I was going to review this story or the animated recreation of Shada for this theme month. On the one hand I have this unwritten rule that this blog is purely for reviews of animated projects, tag posts and shameless plugging not withstanding. I don’t review live action stuff here and Shada does use live action footage as part of its reconstruction. On the other hand Shada is so much the better story, I mean it’s Douglas Adams writing Doctor Who , what more could you want from this world? Look, it’s not that The Faceless Ones is a bad story, all told it’s decidedly decent, it’s just overly long with a rushed, confusing ending. There is a small part of me that wonders if my real problem with this story is just that I seem to be the only one who doesn’t like it. Every review I’ve ever seen of this story is fairly positive, no one is shouting from the rooftops about it or anything, but people do seem to like it. That’s really why I’ve decided to review this story, I just need to get this stuff off my chest so bear with me.

Let’s start with some positives. The first few episodes of the story are surprisingly effective, the mystery of what exactly is happening with Chameleon Tours builds a great deal of tension. Also you’ve got to remember that stories set in the present day were a rare thing back in the early days of Doctor Who. Prior to this there was only the very first episode and The War Machines (where the Doctor took on Skynet 20 years before The Terminater came into being). Seeing alien body snatchers on the loose in a well-known public place would have been quiet the frightening story in the 60s. Unfortunately this plot has been done rather a lot since then and that does blunt it’s impact somewhat for a modern viewer.

Getting back to positives, let’s talk about the Doctor. The wandering Time Lord does get plenty of great moments throughout, whether it’s arguing with the close-minded Commandant, outwitting the Chameleons or just keeping ahead of the authorities, the Doctor is on top form. As for his companions, Jamie gets some highlight moments. Not only showing off the great performance chemistry that Frazer Hines and Patrick Troughton share, but also demonstrating that he can easily take charge when his character is left to his own devices. There’s a reason Jamie is one of the best companions in classic Who and these episodes are a good example of why. Jamie is forever loyal and brave, with his own kind of intelligence on clear display.

Unfortunately the same level of attention isn’t given to the Doctor’s other companions, Ben and Polly. What makes this doubly sad is the fact that this also happens to be their last story and they disappear halfway through only to turn back up for the final few minutes of the last episode. I know why it happened, the contract for Ben’s actor was coming to an end and the higher ups didn’t want to renew it (after all they’d been struggling with three companions in the TARDIS, a lesson I wish the current production would have paid attention to). Polly’s actress wanted to show solidarity and she left too. At least we got a goodbye scene filmed, which is more than some companions got when their contracts ran out midway through a story. Dodo famously left off screen in the aforementioned War Machines.

Let’s get to the real problems of this story though, it really shouldn’t be six episodes long, that’s just too much. The mystery of Chameleon Tours has some good build up in the first few episodes, but the tension it manages to build starts to wear thin as it drags and drags on. It doesn’t help that the number of locations in the story is limited, the amount of times someone decides to go back to the Chameleon Tours warehouse is extraordinary, every five seconds it feels like someone is suggesting they go back to it. Just look around and get what you need, stop going there and coming back over and over again! When we get to the later half and see the reveal of the Chameleon’s space station I should be excited, instead I’m too zoned out because I’m just so done with this story.

The final nail in the coffin comes with the conclusion of the story, so spoilers ahead. First we’ve got the explanation of why the Chameleons are doing this and, okay I’ve watched this story three times now and I still don’t understand it. There was some sort of explosion and this robbed them of their faces and all memories of who they were. So they steal the appearances and identities of young people. Err…okay so they now no longer look like mouldy cabbages, but how exactly does that solve their problem? They still have no idea who they were or what happened, stealing other people’s memories and faces doesn’t change that in anyway. In fact it creates a new problem in that their lives are in immediate danger the second someone interferes with their body-snatching equipment. Also they chose to hide their victims in the airport car park, did they really think no one was going to notice dozens of parked cars with bodies inside? Eventually someone is going to notice that and I remind you that if someone interferes with the equipment on the bodies they all die!

The Verdict:

In the end The Faceless Ones is a pretty frustrating story for me. It starts off well and the Doctor and Jamie get some good moments, but the story is overly long and the conclusion is not only rushed, it’s confusing. The animation is of the same quality as the previous The Macra Terror, if not slightly more refined and there’s the usual eerie soundscape that comes with classic Doctor Who. I won’t personally recommend this story, but there are plenty of people who do like and I can kind of see why so feel free to check it out. Maybe then someone can explain that ending to me.

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

Anime Corner: Midnights Occult Civil Servants Review

Because if anyone is going to make a deal with demons it’s going to be the Government! (Hey, my first ever political joke on the blog, I don’t know whether to be proud or ashamed).

What’s the Story?

When Miyako Arata joins the Shinjuku Ward Office, he’s expecting a run of the mill office job, but he really should have given the job description more than a passing glance because it turns out his new role is a lot more ‘supernatural’ than he was banking on. See Japan, and the world in general, has a large population of spirits and non-human beings called Anothers, each with their own ways and customs and its up to the various Ward Offices to keep these beings under control. A job that isn’t made any easier by the fact that no human can understand what an Another says, well, except for one. See Arata has a special ability, he’s inherited the ‘Ears of Sand’ from a distance ancestor and he can communicate with Anothers, an ability that will both help and hinder him in his new job.  

The Review

Midnight Occult Civil Servants is a series that really should have been tailor made for me, we’ve got a procedural series that has characters typically dealing with a case of the week and it explores different spirits and myths. Heck just the fact that this series pulls from mythology that I’d never expect an anime to, such as Aztec and Ukrainian, is a huge bonus. I do love it when I series doesn’t just rely on the same old supernatural beings all the time, werewolves, vampires and so on and you won’t find a single one of them here, well, not in the typical form anyway. I want to love this series, and don’t get me wrong I hugely enjoyed this series, but it never quite crossed the threshold into love. I think my main problem is that this series feels like it’s stuck between two versions of itself and it can’t quite decide what it wants to do. Then again it could just be that what the show wants to do is clashing with what I want it to do, that’s an option, but let’s break this down and see which it is.

For starters, this series is very low key, so if you’re expecting drama and action on a massive scale, then you’d better either lower your expectations or look elsewhere (this is a series about civil servants after all). A lot of the time the employees of the Ward Office are dealing with one spirit or another, trying to work out what their deal is before it all comes to some nicely tied up ending. There’s never any real sense of danger or tension as the Anothers hardly ever come across as threatening and the characters just spend a good chunk of time wandering around and talking. All of which sounds really boring, but it actually works for this series. As I said I like the variety of the Anothers in this show and I get a great deal of fun out of seeing the characters either working out how to deal with them or just interacting with them. And it’s not as if things never feel dangerous, whenever the series does a two-part story they always manage to end the middle cliff hanger on a moment where you think ‘Oh, this is actually getting serious now’.

The trouble is that a lot of the multi-part episodes tend to end unsatisfactorily. How events play out all makes sense and it builds off of what has already been set up, but a lot of the resolutions feel too easy. It never feels like there’s much of a lasting impact, even though there is, but things in the Ward Office quickly get back to normal as if nothing happened, which makes me ask what was the point of building up the tension in the first place. It’s not like this show doesn’t have the potential for drama, but it never quite plays it up as much as it should. Take the Anothers for example, a lot of Arata’s co-workers describe them as natural disasters and talk about how they can’t possibly be understood, yet every Another we meet acts in such a human way it’s hard to see how Arata is the only one able to work this all out? If the series really wanted us to buy into this view of Anothers then it really needed to play up the otherworldliness of them. There are a couple of times where it does manage it, but not all the time and that would have added so much weight to when Arata did butt heads with his co-workers, or when they warned him about being overly sympathetic with Anothers.

I feel like I’m being way too harsh on this series because, as I said, I really did enjoy it from beginning to end, I just can’t help thinking about what it could have been. In my opinion, this series needed to really go one of two ways to really make an impact. It either needed to keep things entirely low key, remove any tension around Anothers and just have the characters dealing with a new spirit of the week as they tried to solve cases based around them. Or, it needed to go full throttle with the drama, make the Anothers something completely unknowable to anyone but Arata, don’t just say it, show it, have the characters argue over situations and really make the threats something truly difficult to overcome (actually the first proper encounter with Kohaku is probably the best example of this as things get really tense towards the resolution with an army of zombies threatening multiple employees and Arata and the gang faced with a difficult choice). As it stands Midnight Occult Civil Servants is sat in the middle and while I enjoyed it, I’m not sure how long I’m going to remember it for.

The Verdict

Midnight Occult Civil Servants is an enjoyable series, but I don’t think it’s going to stick in the memory for long. The characters are all likeable and the mysteries and spirits involved are all interesting and pulled from sources I wasn’t expecting, but the show never really puts them to any great use. The low-key adventures are fun, but the series never manages to make complete use of the natural drama and tension on hand so that a lot of story resolutions feel unearned, though that’s too harsh a way of putting it. I do like the series and it’s worth a watch, even if only once. If you’re after meeting some more unique spirits and so on, then give this a chance.

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: Wise Man’s Grandchild Review

And you thought your protagonist was overpowered.

What’s the Story?

Tell me if you’ve heard this one before, a Japanese man is hit by a car (seriously, Japan, look at your traffic laws, you’re losing too many citizens to incidents like this!) and is reborn in another world! Found by the old and wise Merlin, this newborn hero is named Shin and raised in the ways of magic and combat. Unfortunately Merlin forgets to teach Shin anything about the outside world, or restraint for that matter, as such, when he turns 15, Shin had very little idea about what is waiting for him, or the fact that his adopted grandfather is a hero of the land! Heading out to see the world, Shin enrols in a magic school where hijinks will naturally ensue, but there are dark forces at work near the schools, humans who have become demons! Not that any of them will present a challenge to Shin, but it’s nice of them to try.

The Review:

Are you after tense battles, high-stakes drama and characters so deep and rich that you will weep with both envy and sympathy? Well then you’d better look elsewhere ‘cause you ain’t finding that here, not a chance. I kid, of course, actually, no I don’t, I’m completely serious with what I just said, but that’s not a bad thing. Wise Man’s Grandchild is in no way a series that you should take seriously, and the series itself knows that. Oh it has plenty of potential for drama and it raises several interesting question, but wait five seconds and the series will get bored with that and move on to all the characters just being cute and funny with one another, and the series works perfectly fine like that. It’s basically a slice of life for the super powered with occasional flashy light shows whenever a battle takes place.

I don’t want to rag on this series too much because, honestly, that would feel like I was kicking a puppy. This series is adorable. Shin is actually one of the better isekai protagonists I’ve seen in a while, he’s overpowered like you wouldn’t believe, but he’s so sweet and loveable and occasionally stupid. You could make a series just out of his reaction shots and people reacting to him and I’d happily watch that. I like the concept that Shin doesn’t know much about the outside world so he doesn’t quite realise when he’s said or done something completely outlandish and doesn’t quite get why everyone is so shocked. Another point in the win column with regards to Shin, and the series in genera,l is that this series never turns into a harem. Oh there’s certainly the potential for it at the start of the series, with Shin rescuing two girls and all the girls in his class, but Shin only has eyes for Sicily. It’s nice that we only get one romantic relationship to focus on and, yes, it actually does become a relationship, they talk about their feelings and everything! Another point for the win!

It’s little things like that that endear this show to me. Another is that I like how it’s continually brought up that Shin’s immense power and all the god-mode gear that he gears could completely destabilise the power structure of the world as it stands. Nothing is every really done about it, but it’s a nice excuse to explain away why this auto-healing gear isn’t handed out to everyone and we see how much tougher a demonoid becomes when he gets his hands on some of Shin’s gear towards the end of the series, I mean characters almost break a sweat fighting him! And that’s something else as well, Shin isn’t the only overpowered character in the series, sure he’s the most overpowered, but all of his classmates get taught by him and end up with god-level powers themselves compared to everyone else. I do like the fact that the powers get spread around a bit and that means that it doesn’t always have to be Shin leaping in to save the day, against an end boss, sure, but against regular demonoids, which are still meant to be a big threat, the class can handle it by themselves.

Let’s talk about our terrifying villains for a moment, I do wish the series spent more time with them (I believe there’s meant to be a season 2 so I can hold on to some hope for the future at least). Schtrom, our big bad of the series, has a compelling back story and it’s nice to see a villain who has a clear goal and sets out to achieve it, it’s just a shame that, one, we only learn this after he’s accomplished his goal and, two, it has nothing whatsoever to do with Shin. The series just starts to build up towards a bigger confrontation between Shin and Schtrom, especially now that our bad guy needs something to do, but that’s only in the last few episodes and if we don’t get that second season then this was all kind of pointless. The rest of the demonoids basically boil down to thugs who are too powerful for regular troops and it gives the class a chance to show off.

It does make me wonder why the series even needed villains, since they have so little point other than as a looming threat that we know with never actually be a threat. The series is far more interested in just having its cast of characters hang out and banter and those are by far the best moments of the series. Seriously, this should have just stuck to being a slice of life.

The Verdict:

In the end, Wise Man’s Granchild, is a harmless series. It’s fluff, but enjoyable fluff, fluff that seeks out to make your day as pleasant as possible. Yes it falls into the majority of the isekai tropes, but there are enough points where it swerves those tropes or presents an interesting enough idea that it endears itself to me. If you’re after action or drama then you’re better off looking elsewhere, but if you’re okay with watching a bunch of overpowered kids goof around and have fun with one another and their powers, then this is a perfectly fine watch.

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: Hitoribocchi no Marumaruseikatsu Review

Blog Hitoribocchi Review Title

Aru-Aru Beam!

What’s the Story?

Hitori Bocchi is an incredibly shy girl, so shy in fact that she struggles to talk to anyone but her very best firend. Unfortunately for Bocchi, her best friend won’t be attending the same middle school as her and, clearly worried, her friend makes a deal with her. Unless Boxxhi makes friends with every member of her class by graduation, she’ll never be friends with her again. Now, you may be thinking that this is an incredibly extreme measure to take, but you have yet to understand the true, crippling awkwardness of Bocchi, frankly I’m amazed she functions as a person, but we’ll save that for the review, speaking of which…

The Review

I really like this show, I’ll say that upfront. It’s a sugary ball of delight that never failed to brighten my day whenever I watched an episode, and yet, as I sit here and let my brain get all analytical I have to admit that the show was okay at best. The show is a cute and charming bit of fluff, it’s nice and while nice is a perfectly good word its never going to set the world on fire. There’s nothing really that new here, there is an army of school anime set around a group of friends being cute and getting up to various antics, but the comedy is never zany enough and only occasionally manages to blow out the cute-o-meter. Honestly a lot of what this show does has been done before and better in plenty of places, it doesn’t help that the show this has a ridiculous premise and a status quo that shall remain forever etched into the Rock of Eternity itself.

Let’s talk about that premise, and the utter stupidity of it. So, you have a friend, they’re socially awkward to the point that it’s a wonder they haven’t locked themselves in their house and barricaded the windows (I’ll get to Bocchi in a minute), and you’re concerned that your friend is going to struggle at a new school by herself. What do you do? Why of course you threaten to never be friends with her again unless she makes twenty-nine other friends within a three year time period! Because forcing someone to do something that makes them feel uncomfortable is the best way to solve a problem, naturally (speaking as someone who constantly feels socially awkward and has to make a conscious effort to talk to people sometimes, I will admit that there are times when someone needs to drag me out of my comfort zone for my own good, but it’s far better to know that I have the support of a good friend along the way. You don’t threaten your friends into doing things!). Anyway, this whole premise is utter nonsense and purely there to give Bocchi an arbitrary goal to reach by the end of the season, which she never will because the twelve episodes only cover her first year and she’s nowhere near her target by the end, as if that surprises anybody.

Let’s talk about Bocchi and, while she’s…fine, she also happens to be the least interesting character in the series. At first she’s pretty funny, her social awkwardness is stretched to completely unbelievable proportions, but she’s kind of adorable as she comes up with convoluted plans to make friends, ties herself in knots completely misunderstanding situations and just digging herself in deeper and deeper. The trouble is she’s pretty much a one-joke character and once she’s run through the various forms that her awkwardness takes all that’s left for her to do is just to go through the cycle again and again. There are moments were you think she’s made a small, incremental change, but then she faints as soon as she makes a new friend and you realise, no, Bocchi hasn’t changed at all, at least not in any significant way. The clearest example of this comes with the very last episode of the series, the series began with Bocchi trying to give her introduction to the class on the first day and instead throwing. The epilogue of the last episode has Bocchi on the first day of her second year as she’s about to give her introduction and what does she do? Yep, she throws up. Nothing really changes and that’s what holds back the comedy the most with this series.

Okay, I’ve been tearing into this series pretty deeply and all the while my heart has been quailing because I do genuinely enjoy this series. Despite all its problems, I have an incredible amount of fun watching this show and that comes almost entirely down to the characters, well, the characters besides Bocchi. If you can’t get into the characters of this series then there’s really no chance for you, but if you can, as I did, you’ll find such a warm, sweet and enchanting series. I love these people, from the lethargic Nako-chan who is often mistaken for some kind of thug (especially by the hopeless teacher), to the ever-unfortunate Aru or Sotoka who wants to be a ninja. They’re all odd in their own ways, but never completely off the wall and while they’re hardly very deep characters, they each have their sweeter moments and I just love the way they banter with one another. Seriously, Nako and Aru need their own show, I love those two together. Heck, the friends even make Bocchi more interesting as she’s often at her best when she’s getting involved with their antics rather than just going through her joke again.

The Verdict

In the end, Hitoribocchi no Marumaruseikatsu is a fun little show, but that does depend on whether you can invest yourself in the characters that fill this series. Without them the jokes and the bright visuals just aren’t enough to carry the show. It doesn’t help that our lead only has a few jokes to herself that she quickly runs into the ground and the central premise is nonsense of the highest order. If you can connect with these characters then maybe you’ll be like me and laugh and smile all the way to the end. Have an Extra-Special-Aru-Aru-Do-Your-Best Beam on the house!

fish stamp watchable

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: Listeners Review

Blog Listeners Review Title

Music Reference!

What’s the Story?

Young Echo lives in Liverchester, a town for the junked and forgotten, and he’s completely okay with that. He’s a nobody and doesn’t expect to ever get anything out of life, well, there is one thing that he’s dreamed about since he was a kid. Once, when he was little, he saw the legendary ‘Player’ Jimi Stonefree in his last performance, battling against the mysterious and terrifying Earless. If Echo could have one thing in his life he’d like to meet Jimi again and when he meets an amnesiac girl with a hole in her back, he might just get the chance. The girl is Mu, and she’s a ‘Player’ too, that hole in her back allowing her to pilot a mecha that Echo has spent his spare time repairing. Together Mu and Echo will travel across the countries, meeting other, strange, Players and battling against the Earless. Will they manage to track down Jimi and find out who Mu really is? Will they be able to uncover the origins of the Earless themselves? The answer is, as it always was, in the music.

The Review

Right. Review. Words. Sentences. Descriptions of my feelings towards the show outlined above. I can do this.

Words.

Okay, I’m just going to hold my hands up here, I’m struggling to write this review. It’s not like Listeners has any particularly difficult subject matter that I feel uncomfortable talking about, nor is it’s narrative all that complex. Music is good. Don’t judge people based on their differences. That pretty much sums it up. No, what makes Listeners so difficult for me to talk about is just that it’s…okay, at best. I don’t want to bash the show because I have genuinely enjoyed watching it week to week, but at the same time this is hardly a series that will set the world on fire. There’s nothing that the show does particularly wrong, the characters are fun, there’s some interesting designs both for the people and the mecha and the soundtrack is fit for purpose (though for a show that celebrates music so much I’m surprised this series doesn’t have a better OST). It’s just that I don’t think I’m going to remember much about this show in a month’s time, which feels really harsh.

As I said, I have enjoyed watching this show week after week, our protagonists, Echo and Mu, have a great chemistry, Mu being the more outgoing, go-getter type while Echo is more shy and awkward. It’s always fun to see them bounce off of one another, but it’s hardly a new twist on character archetypes, in fact they feel fairly stock as characters. Again I feel like I’m being mean when I don’t want to. I’ll reiterate, Echo and Mu are fun characters and I’ve enjoyed spending time with them, the show just doesn’t do anything that interesting with them. Well, there is an interesting development with Mu towards the end of the series that had a lot of potential, but once all the cards are on the table the show does exactly what you think it’s going to do with the set up. As for the other characters, they all fall into a similar trap. Some of them have great designs and there are a couple of interesting conversations towards the end of the series, but it never feels like we truly get to know these people. The only character I really connected with outside of Echo and Mu was Nir and I suspect that was only because she got a good couple of episodes dedicated to her.

Now that I think about, maybe this show tries to do too much with too little time. There are plenty of series that can fit a twelve episode run perfectly, but I don’t think Listeners is one of them, not with all the places it wants to visit and all the music references it wants to cram in. The series starts with a location-of-the-week format, each week Echo and Mu turning up in some new place themed around a particular artist or group, which is fine, but it is a lot to cram into one episode. Later on in the series they do settle into one location for a few episodes to build up the conflict for the finale, which is better though we don’t see that many sides of the place. I just don’t feel all that connected to this world. For all that we see of it I don’t particularly care about anyone or anything in it. I can’t escape the feeling that if the series just had another cour of episodes we could have spent more time exploring the world and building up the mystery of the Earless and who Mu really is. That way when we start getting to the actual answers I’d be invested in finding those things out. As it is my reaction was just kind of a shrug and an ‘Oh, okay’.

I don’t know, there’s plenty of other series that have had me truly invested in their worlds after twelve episodes, but there’s something that Listeners is missing to make it that finale stretch. I feel like I’m being harsh again. Maybe if the series pulled back on the music references a bit, it would make the world feel more real and a bit less like a nest of easter eggs for music fans. Don’t get me wrong the vast abundance of music references were fun, but I am fairly musically challenged (outside of my own eclectic taste) so while I could tell that something was being referenced, I didn’t always know what a lot of the time. I wish I could be more positive about this show, it was fun following Mu and Echo on their journey, but in the end the world and characters just don’t feel developed enough to be anything other than a bit of fluff.

The Verdict

All in all, Listeners is a fun series and that’s about it. If you’re after cool mecha action, deep world building and character development, well, I’m afraid you’ll have to move along. However, if you want to take part in a music-themed world tour and play a game of ‘Guess the Reference!’ each week, then this is a fine way to fill your time. This show won’t change the world, and while I do like the idea of a mecha series based around music, this show has neither the soundtrack nor the action to back that idea up. It’s fun and that’s about it. Check it out if you want, but I’m not sure I can recommend it, unfortunately.

fish stamp watchable

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.