Anime Corner: Orient Review

“It’s like the sword’s going inside me!” – Still one of my favourite out of context quotes from an anime.

What’s the Story?

150 years ago the demonic Kishin descended on humanity. Only powerful swordsmen known as Bushi stood against them, but even their skill wasn’t enough to vanquish these monsters. Now, while there are still roaming bands of Bushi who oppose the Kishin out there, the majority of humanity actually worships these demons. Bushi on the other hand are feared and despised, forced to walk around with their katanas chained to themselves. Despite this, Musashi and Kojiro have talked about forming their own Bushi band ever since they were kids, but as graduation day approaches it’s time for a decision. Despite all his big talk and bigger dreams, Musashi has never actually stood up for the Bushi in public. Meanwhile Kojiro is the known descendant of a Bushi and is ostracised by the community. How far will Musashi go to prove he really means what they’ve talked about all this time? And can an ordinary human really stand up to monsters like the Kishin?

The Review:

I’m always going to be more lenient with shonen series, even when they haven’t really earned that right from me. I can’t help it, I just really like this genre. Even when a shonen series isn’t particularly good I can sit and watch one for hours on end and not get bored. It’s popcorn entertainment for me and, let’s be honest here, I may have aged out of the target demographic a while back, but there’s always going to be a part of my brain that’s fifteen years old. So, how does the newest shonen stack up against the rest? Well, for that I need to talk a little about just how lenient I am with shonen series.

I take it you’ve all heard of the ‘three episode rule’, right? The unofficial length of time that most anime fans give to a series to see whether it’s actually for them or not? Well, most of the time I stick to that rule, but when it comes to shonen series I abide by the ‘six arc rule’, let’s be frank here, no shonen series gives you their very best in the opening couple of arcs. There’s background to lay out, characters to introduction and some series setting up to do before a shonen series can really show you what it’s made of. Don’t believe me? One Piece, my favourite shonen, makes you wait until you get to ‘Arlong Park’ before it starts giving you even a glimpse of how emotional and epic it’s going to be. My Hero Academia doesn’t start firing on all cylinders in my opinion until you get to the ‘U.A. Sports Festival’. Bleach – ‘Soul Society’. Naruto – ‘Chunin Exams’. I can go on and on like this all day, but you get the idea. Orient, with the twelve episodes that make up this first season, I feel is on the cusp of showing what it’s really made of.

I know my bias is showing entirely here, because with any other type of series I’d be complaining about this show spinning it’s wheels for far too long. It’s not that this is a bad series, it’s just not anything spectacular either. The animation is serviceable at best, the characters are mostly fine and, in truth, it was the rocking music score and the weird creature designs that kept me around through the first six or so episodes. Then you get to episode 7 and the third arc of this series and that’s where the potential started to show itself. We got introduced to an ominous antagonist with a unique ability, learnt a bunch about how this world works and even got a few tantalising mysteries for later. We also dug deep into what made our main protagonist tick. The main character with a tragic back story is nothing new for any series, but there’s something about this one that felt genuinely heartbreaking for me. Just seeing Musashi so broken and ground down into nothing. I started rooting for the guy there and then.

I can’t in good conscience recommend this series. In this day and age, with our overwhelming glut of entertainment options, asking someone to sit through twelve episodes on the promise that good things might come later feels like too much. That being said, when this series returns in the summer I’m probably going to check it out. I’m rooting for Musashi now and all the possible plot threads hinted at in the final episode was enough to get my attention. It could just be more wheel-spinning and lacklustre animation, but it could also be the start of a new favourite. We’ll see.

The Verdict:

In the end, Orient is a series with a lot of promise, even if that promise has only been hinted at so far. The animation is serviceable, but nothing spectacular. The characters are all fine, except for our main protagonist whose tragic back story is really heartbreaking, once the show finally decides to get to the point of exploring it. There is a lot of wheel-spinning in these first twelve episodes, but they’ve set up a really intriguing world that is ripe for exploration. With all the pieces now in place though this could become something truly great, or maybe it’ll just be more of the same in its next season. Whether you want to invest the time to find out is entirely up to you, I can’t really recommend it, but I’m going to be sticking around for the next season at least. See you then.

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: Irina: The Vampire Cosmonaut Review

One Small Step for Vampire-kind!

What’s the Story?

Following the end of a great war, the world’s two largest superpowers, the Federal Republic of Zirnitra in the east and the United Kingdom of Arnak in the west, turned their attention to space. Both competing to be the first to land a human on the moon, they each came up with their own methods and technology to get them there. In the Repiblic’s case they decided that not enough was known about the effect of space flight on the human body and so decided to send something human-like first. Enter Irina Luminesk, a vampire with a burning desire to reach the moon. It’s up to former astronaut candidate Lev to prepare her for the trails ahead, but facing fear and suspicion from all around them will Irina even survive the training? And if she does manage to make it into space, what comes after?

The Review:

What if vampires were involved in the space race? Now, you see, it’s these kind of out of the box ideas that I come to anime for and it makes a weird kind of sense when you think about it in the context of the world this series has created. In the real world all sorts of animals got sent into space to test whether it was survivable for humans, but what if there was another race that was very close to humans in physiology? I mean it’s absolutely horrible treatment for the vampires, reducing them to things and test subjects, but it’s not like governments across the world don’t already have a history of that kind of crap. Throw in that this series is set in a very blatant parallel to Russia and you have a recipe for a tense political thriller exploring human experimentation, social indoctrination and a host of other heavy subjects. Which is why it’s so strange that this series spends so much of it’s time trying to be a cozy little romantic comedy.

I still haven’t quite worked out how I feel about this series. I think I enjoyed it, but it’s that dissonance between the setting and what the plot is actually about that’s confusing me. On the one hand this is a genuinely sweet little romance. Irina starts off naturally wary and standoffish, but slowly the super earnest Lev manages to work his way past her walls and into her heart. Pretty soon they’re blushing at one another, going on dates by frozen lakes and Irina is getting drunk. It’s all really adorable and if the show was just about them falling in love and training together then I think this would be a fine series.

The problem is that this series isn’t just about that romance, it’s also got that magnificent setting. A setting that is just crying out with potential and it gets squandered almost in its entirety. Maybe this is just my expectations of what I want this series to be about crashing up against what it actually is, but there’s so much that can be done with this story and it just isn’t. There is frequent mention and showing of the blatant racism against Irina and other vampires. We get flashbacks to an attack on her village, we catch glimpses of vampires being treated as second class citizens by other countries, not to mention the authorities plotting to kill Irina the moment she’s no longer useful. Yet, for all the demonstrations of how bad this is, there’s never any meaningful commentary or exploration of the subject. The same applies to the criticism of the government in this series. There’s talk of purges and we see people disappear, but that’s as far as it gets.

Then of course we get to the ending and I’m going to have to talk spoilers here for a moment. If you want to watch this series completely blind then skip this paragraph and go straight to the verdict section, this is my spoiler warning for everything. We good? Okay. So in the last episode of course Lev breaks away from his prepared speech and starts telling everyone about Irina and letting the whole world know that the first cosmonaut was actually a vampire. Then Irina makes it up on the stage and starts giving a speech about herself and her dreams of making it to the moon with Lev someday. All that was perfectly fine and expected. Where I’m calling BS is that the crowd start off throwing bottles at Irina and calling her a monster only to suddenly have a change of heart and start applauding her. I wish racism was that easy to fix, but we’re still struggling with it in the present day and you expect me to believe a totalitarian Russia knock-off solved it in one afternoon? Nope, I don’t buy that for a second. I wish I could see this as a happy ending, but I can’t help but imagine all the multitude of ways that this country is going to screw over Lev and Irina in the coming years. It just leaves a sour taste in my mouth.

The Verdict:

In the end, Irina: The Vampire Cosmonaut is a good romance series spoiled by having a far more interesting setting than it knows what to do with. There’s a lot of potential in the world of this series, with some meaty topics to talk about but all of that gets glossed over in favour of cute interactions between our leads. It’s a disappointment to say the least, but if you’re only interested in the romance than you should make it through this just fine. As for me I’m taking the next rocket out of here.

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 Great Jahy Will Not Be Defeated! Review

The Great Jahy Will Not Wear Trousers!

What’s the Story?

In the Dark Realm, the Great Jahy was the right-hand woman to the demon king and the most feared creature around. She spent her days in the lap of luxury, acting out her every whim while her army of underlings heaped praise upon her. It was absolutely perfect, but all that changed when the magical girl attacked! Now the Dark Realm is gone and Jahy has been left to eke out a living in a crappy little apartment without a bathroom and working in the service industry of all things. Jahy won’t let that get her down though, she’s determined to get her best life back and restore the Dark Realm one way or another! Just who was that magical girl though? And what about the other demons in the Dark Realm, did any of them survive? Of course there’s the greatest question of all, will Jahy ever wear a pair of trousers?!

The Review:

I always dread reviewing comedies just a little bit. There’s nothing less funny than trying to explain what makes something funny, or unfunny as the case may be. It’s like dissecting a frog, you may have a better understanding about what makes it tick afterwards, but that frog is dead and gone. Now the purpose of this blog isn’t to be funny, but I do always hope that people have a good time reading it, and now that I think about it that analogy of dissecting frogs probably wasn’t all that fun for some people. Oops. This review might be in trouble because I’m already getting sidetracked. Where was I? Oh right, comedies. What makes reviewing comedies even harder is when you think they’re just…okay. They’re not gut-bustingly funny, but they’re not terrible either. They’re just in that sweet middle spot that is so hard to talk about.

Great Jahy (and that’s how I’m going to refer to the series until I get to the ‘Verdict’ section) is one such comedy for me. I can certainly see people finding it funny and really loving it, it’s competently made with good set up and pay off and plenty of gags throughout each episode. It even follows the good old British sitcom formula of having a narcissistic main character that we watch get their comeuppance throughout the series. I can see it all there wanting to make me laugh, and sometimes it did, but other times the most it could get out of me was a chuckle, if that.  

I keep going over this series in my head, looking for the exact point that’ll tell me why I didn’t enjoy this series more, but all I keep coming back to is that comedy is subjective. Jahy, the character not the show, has a lot of potential as a protagonist. She’s completely self-absorbed and her boasting and ego get her into one problem after another that she then has to scramble to get out of, if she even can. It’s a formula perfected by British sitcoms, the likes of Fawlty Towers springs to mind as a prime example. Sprinkle in a few moments to tug at the heartstrings and a couple of instances that make you think this time, finally, Jahy is going to learn her lesson and you’ve got a good recipe for comedy.

I also can’t really find any complaint with the rest of the cast either. True a lot of the jokes revolve around a single central facet of each character. Saurva has the worst luck imaginable and all of her plans end by blowing up in her face one way or another. The magical girl is so accident-prone she can be declared as a natural disaster without too much effort. Druj is so enamoured with Jahy that she will misinterpret anything Jahy says so that it fits into her particular world view. She’s also hyper competent without ever really meaning to or caring. Now this could quite easily become stale over twenty episodes, but there’s a large enough cast that it keeps things interesting. We also get different combinations of the supporting cast to add new spins to the same old jokes.

That brings me to the ongoing plot that is woven throughout the series, the mystery of the magical girl and her powers. It’s not exactly a nail-biting mystery, but I was surprised by how much progress it made throughout the show’s run. It even reached a kind of satisfactory conclusion by the twentieth episode and I only say ‘kind of’ because I didn’t find the end joke all that funny. Still, credit where credit is due the show knows just when to provide some answers and move the plot on to the next section of the mystery. Something a fair few mystery series could stand to learn to do.

The Verdict:

In the end, The Great Jahy Will Not Be Defeated! Is a fine comedy. As always humour is completely subjective so I’d recommend checking out the first couple of episodes to see if this hits your funny bone. It didn’t quite manage it with me, but not for lack of trying. The characters are all well constructed and rife with potential and there’s plenty of gags that hit their mark. It even manages to handle its ongoing plot in a satisfactory way, keeping everything moving forward without interrupting the setup and punchline of all the jokes. If you feel like helping to restore the Dark Realm then stop on by and offer your praise to the Great Jahy. For me I’m just going to offer a small congratulatory note and move 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: Godzilla Singular Point Review

You’re a robot made by humans, but

Jet Jaguar, Jet Jaguar,

You did it, Jet Jaguar

Go, go to protect peace

We are all surprised at the courage you show

Godzilla and Jaguar punch, punch, punch

Don’t cry, let’s do our best!

What’s the Story?

Investigating strange going on in an abandoned mansion, Yun Arikawa and Haberu Katou find themselves on the path to solving a decades-old puzzle and possibly saving the world. Of course they’ll need help from the likes of young researcher, Mei Kamino, and a host of other characters, including their own pet robot, Jet Jaguar! While Mei travels the globe in search of answers, Yun, Haberu and Jet Jaguar are forced to contend with the numerous kaiju that are appearing across Japan, and soon the world. One kaiju in particular is the real problem though, according to myth he’s the God of Destruction and if one scientist’s peak into the future is any indication that’s exactly what he is. Godzilla is coming and he is the catastrophe that will end the world.

The Review:

And so Kaiju-cember comes to a close with Godzilla Singular Point. At the time of writing this it’s the latest Godzilla anime project from Toho and what first caught my attention about this series was the trailer. I’ve mentioned before in this month that I’m fan of Showa era Godzilla so seeing Jet Jaguar after all these years really made my day (my VHS copy of Godzilla vs. Megalon is staring at me right now, calling out to be watched again). Throw is some quirky-looking anime characters and an animated Godzilla that actually looks like the Godzilla I know and love (even if the 3D animation isn’t the best) and my hopes were raised at last! So, did it manage it? Do I finally have a kaiju anime to gush about? Not exactly.

Don’t get me wrong, out of everything I’ve looked at this month this series is the closest I’ve gotten to finding something I can truly gush about, but there are still some serious issues here. Let’s start with the positives. Maybe I just want a kaiju series that appeals to my nostalgia, because all of my favourite moments in this show appeal directly to the long-term memory centres of my brain. Every time I heard a revamped classic theme or saw Jet Jaguar rolling into action against one of the smaller kaiju, I was suddenly a kid again staring up at my TV from the Living Room carpet. There’s nothing that’s a carbon copy of anything I remember from my childhood, they’re just old ideas presented in a new way and yet they still carry that weight of nostalgia. They’re also really fun action sequences and by far the times I was most engaged in what was happening, it’s classic monster movie stuff. Weak, frail humans struggling against the might of something primeval and almost entirely unstoppable, and yet still somehow making it through with their will and ingenuity. Also I want to applaud the choice of kaiju, avoiding any of the big names like Mothra or Ghidorah and instead going to lesser-used monsters like Anguirus and Kumonga.

Another area I have to praise this series for is the human characters. The non-kaiju characters are often the weakest part in a kaiju story for a lot of people, and yet they’re the characters we often spend the most amount of time with. We spend a lot of time with the humans in this series, some might say too much but I’ll come back to that in a minute, thankfully Singular Point makes the right choice of giving us interesting characters to follow. They may not be the most developed or depth-filled characters, but they’ve all got personality and foibles that make them at least fun to watch. Whether it’s Mei being a complete and utter klutz while at the same time always being the smartest person in the room, or Yun and Haberu’s overzealous geriatric boss, who’s an incredible engineer, I’d happily spend time with any of them.

That brings me to the negatives though and the first one is a dozy. This really should be called Jet Jaguar Singular Point, because the robot is the star of the show and the focus throughout. Godzilla does appear in the series, but we don’t really get a good look at him until about halfway through the series and even then he’s relegated to the background for the majority of this series’ runtime. Heck we don’t even get him in his final form until the last few episodes, and he’s little more than an obstacle that our human heroes and Jet Jaguar have to overcome. There’s no big showdown with him, every fight he has with other monsters and the military is over in a few minutes and the rest of the time he just stands there looking menacing. He’s the titular character for crying out loud, surely we can give him a bit more to do! Hopefully he’ll have a bigger roll in the second season that gets teased at the end.

There’s one last thing to talk about with this series and, honestly it’s this that put me off more than the series relegating Godzilla to a background character. I have no idea if the science presented in this series is in anyway accurate, if it is it’ll be some high-level quantum physics stuff, or if it’s just made up technobabble, either way it’s annoying. I typically don’t mind a series that wants to play around with some big ideas, in fact I encourage it, but you have to deliver it in the right way. Give me a good analogy or break the concept down into smaller ideas that I can wrap my head around. Don’t dumb it down, but present it in a way that doesn’t have my eyes glazing over and my brain switching off like a fuse has just blown. A good example of this is the scene on the plane with Mei, when she pierces a folded over rectangle of jelly with a toothpick to show how something interacting on a higher dimensional level can look to us. If more of the science was explained like this I’d have a lot more leeway for the series, but instead it chooses to give us these massive info-dumps, one after the other, all of which go over the top of my head and leave me disinterested for the majority of scenes, which I’m sure is not what the writers of this wanted.

The Verdict:

In the end, Godzilla Singular Point is a mixed bag (much like everything else I’ve reviewed this month). There are some definite highlights, the characters, both human and not, are all interesting and fun to be around. There’s a great sense of nostalgia to seeing the likes of Jet Jaguar and some of the lesser-used kaiju getting their time in the spotlight for the first time in a long while, but there are negatives too. Godzilla, out title character, is little more than a background decoration. Throw in the overbearing amount of big science/sci-fi ideas that are either poorly exampled or thrown at you with such speed that they’ll quickly overwhelm you and you get a disappointing final product. I did enjoy it, but I probably won’t watch it again unless that teased sequel comes rolling around. Maybe then they can find the right balance between big ideas and kaiju action.

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.

 

That’s it for this year, my thanks to everyone who’s liked, commented or even just viewed one of my posts in 2021. Here’s to the New Year, I hope it’s better for all of us and I’ll see you then for more anime reviews!

Anime Corner: Godzilla: City on the Edge of Battle Review

The Terror of Mechagodzilla…I guess.

What’s the Story?

After defeating Godzilla, Captain Haruo and the last remnants of humanity thought they’d finally secured themselves a future. That was when the one, true Godzilla rose from the ground and brought devastation down on the humans and their allies. Some survived, thanks to the help of a mysterious indigenous species, potentially humanity’s descendants, but what does that change? They may have defeated one Godzilla, but is there any real hope of taking down the true King of Monsters? During the last days of humanity’s time on Earth a project was under way to create a monster capable of taking down Godzilla, but the project was destroyed before it could be completed, or was it? Finding the remains of ‘Mechagodzilla’, humanity and its allies may have found its last hope, or is this just another nightmare?

The Review:

The more I think about this trilogy of Godzilla films, the more I come to realise that they’re really best watched one immediately after the other. I’m watching them only days apart as I write these reviews, but when I imagine having to wait months and months between each film, it’s little wonder they got such a negative reaction at their release. I know I’d have a lot more ire for this film if I’d spent all that time waiting to see this. Not that this film is terrible, in fact I think it’s an improvement over the first film in a lot of regards, even if I’ve just as much to pick apart, but there’s something I need to get out of the way first.

For all the times that it is mentioned in this film, Mechagodzilla never once appears. Yes, I know, the living metal city is technically Mechagodzilla, but I don’t care how many time the script says it or tries to justify it, that is not Mechagodzilla. When you say Mechagodzilla to me I get a very specific image in my mind, a giant mechanical dinosaur very much like a mechanical Godzilla (hence it’s name!). If that’s not what you’re going to give me in your movie then don’t try and sell it to me as that! I’m usually fine with re-imaginings or an author’s new interpretation on an old idea, but there comes a point where you change an idea so much it ceases to be that original idea. Then it’s just something entirely new with a familiar name slapped on it to make it more palatable and that irks me. If you’re going to come up with something new then just call it something new! Don’t trade on my nostalgia.

Okay, rant over. Putting my frustrations about Mechagodzilla to one side, I do think think this film is an improvement over ‘Planet of Monsters’, even if only slightly. The middle act of a story is often the hardest to get right, it’s the point where the story decompresses to give everyone, characters and audience alive, a chance to breath and mull things over. That’s really what helps this film, I said in my last review (HERE) that this trilogy should have been a series and this film just confirms that for me. Without the immediate drive of plotting to take down Godzilla, the characters are allowed a chance to explore the world around them and even develop in some cases. Haruo goes from a walking ball of pent up anger to a real leader, feeling the weigh of his responsibilities and the lives he’s lost, as well as beginning to question himself. The ending of the film is a very clear choice between the anger he’s carried around for so long, and his other obligations and feelings. If I cared about the character more this would probably be a dramatic highlight.

That’s the real problem this film faces. Even though it’s now developing some of its characters and spending more time to fill out the details of its world, everything is still fairly one note. Take our alien allies for instance. The Exif still have an air of mystery about them, but for the most part they’re just offering up vague religious speeches about the nature of species, monsters and pre-destination. I need something a bit more substantive before I can fully invest in them, though I still don’t trust Metphies.

Then there’s the Bilusaludo, who admittedly offer an interesting philosophy in opposition to the Exif and humans. Originally I thought they were just generic technologically-advanced warriors, but in this film we discover that they hold technology to such a high regard that they’re all for abandoning their weak bodies and becoming one with their machines. I applaud the film for having an alien species think so differently to the human counterparts, but the film never spends any time exploring this, heck we don’t even learn about it until just before the final battle of the film. Is it too much to ask to have two characters sit down and talk about this stuff, maybe explain how the Bilusaludo came to this viewpoint. Then again it falls into the typical sci-fi trap of giving an alien species one unique thing and only one unique things. There’s no dissenters among the Bilusaludo? No rival philosophy or opposing factions? Because we humans clearly only have one way of thinking about the nature of life, right? Again, I really do enjoy this world and the concepts its bringing into play, I just wish it devoted more time to exploring those concepts.

The Verdict:

In the end, Godzilla: City on the Edge of Battle is an improvement over Planet of the Monsters, even if it’s still yet to blow me away. There’s more time devoted to exploring this future Earth and the characters we were introduced to in the first film. There are some great ideas here and some impressive action, though I’m still not the biggest fan of the animation. Haruo grows from being just a walking ball of rage to a believable leader, and we do learn some more about our alien allies, but it’s not enough to make this film truly great. Here’s hoping the final film can stick the landing.

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: Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters Review

Persecution of the Masses.

What’s the Story?

One day creatures rose from beneath the surface of the Earth to terrorise humanity. Out of all of these only one inspired true dread and drove humanity to the very edge of extinction, the monster they came to call Godzilla. Even with the aide of two arriving alien species it wasn’t enough to halt Godzilla’s destructive path, forcing what was left of the human race to flee into space. Now, over two decades later, humanity once more faces a grave nightmare. Food rations are running out and with no potential habitable planets to claim as their own, they may just have to return to their abandoned former home. For Haruo this is perfect. He lost everything to Godzilla and blames the creature alone for humanity’s current pitiable state. He’s spent the past two years planning and might just have something that can bring down the King of Monsters, but when has killing Godzilla ever been easy?

The Review:

In 2017 I was excited to hear that we were getting an animated trilogy of Godzilla films. To me it just made sense, as much as I love the majority of the live-action films, regardless of whether it’s a guy in a rubber suit or not, I can’t help but imagine all that animation could accomplish for the giant atomic-breathed reptile. I mean I can’t be the only one who fondly remembers the cartoon series based on the 1998 film (the film itself has no right to call itself Godzilla in any shape or form, but the cartoon was good). Then the reviews started coming in and they were not good for this film or its sequels and, I know, take other people’s opinions with a pinch of salt. I should have watched the film and made up my own mind, but between the never-ending glut of seasonal shows to keep up with and everything else I try to do in my free time, this film just got pushed further and further down the list. Now though I’ve finally given myself the kick up the butt I needed and sat down and watched the film. So what did I think?

Honestly, I kinda enjoyed it. It’s flawed certainly and very obviously the start of a trilogy so the ending foregoes any sort of real conclusion and instead gives way to set up for the sequel, which can be annoying. I get what put so many people off about this film, but what fascinates me is the world it builds up around itself. I’m a sucker for sci-fi on my best day, so you give me spaceships, mecha and giant monsters and you pretty much have me sold from the start. I like the way it takes concepts we’ve seen in previous Godzilla films and meshes them together in a unique way. Take the alien allies for instances, there are plenty of Godzilla films where aliens show up claiming to be friends, only to then reveal ulterior motives and be swatted away once they try to take on Godzilla himself. This time the aliens are actually here to help, at least that’s how it appears for the majority of movie one, I have my doubts about one of them. They give Earth more advanced technology to combat Godzilla and then help built spaceships when it’s clear there’s no way to win. I could have watched an entire movie about that and been happy.

That’s not the film we got though and I admit I might just be more enamoured with the concepts the film is presenting than the actual meat of the story. Take humanity’s time in space, the talk of rations running out and the older generation volunteering for a desperate mission paint a really dark picture and I wish we got to explore that more, but it’s mostly glossed over. Even the talk about the council forcing those older members on to the mission is quickly brushed aside once we get back to Earth. Maybe this story would have been better served as a series, giving more room to develop these characters and the settings, paint a really vivid picture. As it is the film is mostly technical jargon and action scenes that, while the animation is fit for purpose, it doesn’t wow me (that being said I really don’t like the texture they put on Godzilla, it’s just not very pleasing to look at).

That brings me to what was probably the nail in the coffin for this film for a lot of people, and that’s the main character of Haruo. I get what they were trying to do with the character, his anger is perfectly understandable and seeing it focussed on Godzilla also makes a lot of sense. Heck, one of the main characters of King of the Monsters (my favourite of the recent Godzilla films) was passionately anti-Godzilla. The thing is though is that character went on an arc, Haruo doesn’t. This is the first third of a trilogy so I expect him to change at some point, but so far it’s just unpleasant to spend so much time with someone who’s just angry all the time. It’s not as if any of the other characters get any sort of development, they barely get introduced to us. Imagine Eren from Attack on Titan, but instead of constantly having his ideals challenged and his ego knocked down a peg, Haruo gets built up and he is the one true saviour of us all. I could put up with him for one film, but I have no idea what my reaction is going to be like for the sequel, I guess we’ll see.

The Verdict:

In the end, Godzilla: Planet of Monsters, is a film that is enjoyable but nothing more. It has a lot of flaws, some of them stemming from the fact that this is the start of a trilogy and there’s some missing resolution. Even putting that aside the film has some pretty glaring flaws, like the unpleasant main character, the lack of development for, well, anyone in the cast and a fairly straightforward story that ignores some meaty potential. There are some great ideas in this script and I wish they got more time to be explored, but I guess we’ll see how the sequels handle things now that the set ups out of the way.

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: So I’m a Spider, So What? Review

Is this a bad time to mention I suffer from Arachnophobia?

What’s the Story?

You know how it is, one day you’re just sitting in class doing your usual thing, then suddenly there’s this giant explosion and you wake up hatching out of an egg as a spider monster. How did this happen? Why did this happen? Well you’ve got way more important things to worry about at the minute, like not being eaten by all your horrifying brothers and sisters, or the multitude of monsters that inhabit the labyrinth you call home. Meanwhile, on the surface, the rest of your class have found themselves reborn in cushy human lives, though they may not remain so cushy for long. War is coming and, if the history of this strange land is to be believed, the world is dying too. Well, no one said life was going to be easy, did they?

The Review:

One of the hardest parts of writing, for me at least, is finding the right place to start. Whether it’s a review or a story, pinpointing the perfect opening that sets the tone for what’s to come is a torment worthy of Sisyphus and I hardly ever feel like I get it right. Of course that task is made ten times harder when I just don’t know how I feel about a series, even after watching twenty-four episodes. That brings me neatly to So I’m a Spider, So What?, because, honestly, this series mystifies me. There are elements of this show that fascinate me, and the reason I stuck with it to the end, but then there are others that had me grinding my teeth down to their gums. If you told me you loved this series I’d believe you, and yet at the same time, if you said you hated it with all your soul, I’d completely understand. This show is such a peculiar mix of frustrating decisions and bad presentation mixed with a genuinely depth-filled and well thought out world that it boggles my mind.

Let’s start off by talking about the bad first and that brings me to the so-called ‘animation’. I’ve no idea what happened behind the scenes in the production of this series, but looking at the end result I can only imagine it was a nightmare. That’s not to say this is the worst animation I’ve ever seen, no that honour still goes to Ex-Arm, but there are moments when this show comes close. Terrible framing of shots, awkward movements and characters swapping between 2D and 3D models seemingly at random at times. It’s not good, and yet there are moments, brief as some of them are when this show actually looks decent. I’m assuming a fair chunk of the budget got poured into the spider battles and the early episodes because that’s really when this series looks its best, you know when there’s not a mountain of text clogging up the visuals.

Okay, let’s talk about our spidery protagonist for a minute. I get the impression from Crunchyroll’s comment sections that this is the aspect of the series that people love the most, but I’m sorry you can count me in the exact opposite camp. I mean the whole split narrative of the series is a problem to begin with, one half following the spider, the other following the rest of the reincarnations. On paper it’s a fine idea and I like the way it’s constructed and all fits together, but the tonal whiplash it creates is something else. One minute we’re listening to the zany fantasies and delusions of our main protagonist, the next we’re dealing with fantasy politics and legitimate drama on the surface. I will admit that the spider section would be so much harder to get through without the protagonist’s sheer strength of personality and gags, heck by the end of the series I was actually enjoying her shtick. My main problem comes down to personal taste. I’m not much of a gamer any more and even when I was grinding levels and reading through stats where my least favourite part of any game, and that’s exactly what the spider sections of the anime are about. Some of the fights she gets in are cool, but I’d much rather be spending time with the human characters.

Enough of the complain train though, let’s get on to what kept me watching this series to the end, the world! The construction of this series just fascinates me, not only running two separate plot lines, but setting them at different points in time and still having everything fit together and make sense? That’s skill right there. Plus this is an isekai where the fact that our protagonists have memories of their prior lives is actually important and a central part of the plot! I never thought I’d see the day. True, there are a lot of standard fantasy tropes in the human sections of the plot, and no one has as much personality as the spider, but I was captivated by watching how everyone reacted to their situation and the political manoeuvring of the factions that was going on in the background. Of course the biggest lure for me was the continual teases about what’s going on, with little tid bits of information laid out like breadcrumbs that I happily followed all the way to the end. Unfortunately the series ends before we get the full history of this world and what’s actually going on, but I’ve seen enough to have a pretty good idea. If only the present-day plot line didn’t end on such a massive cliffhanger!

The Verdict:

In the end, So I’m a Spider, So What? Is the definition of a mixed bag. There’s plenty to love and plenty to hate throughout the series. The animation is decent at best, but more frequently it’s just plain bad and the way the narrative is split between the main protagonist and everyone else is likely to give you a severe case of tonal whiplash. On the more positive side, the protagonist has a lot of personality and some of her antics can be a necessary breath of fresh air, especially in the later half of the series. A wealth of thought and planning has gone into the world and the way the plot has been constructed, which as a writer I can’t help but admire. I’d say the series is worth a shot, but I don’t think I can really recommend it with how all over the place it is.

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: 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.