Anime Corner: Active Raid Review

Blog Active Raid Review Title

Go Go Active Raid! Wait a minute, this isn’t Power Rangers! (That would actually be a massive improvement.)

What’s the Story?

In the near future crimes are escalating thanks to the misuse of recently developed exoskeletons known as Willwear. In response to this police forces around the world have started using their own armoured suits to defend the public and serve justice. Our series follows Unit 8 who have a bit of a bad reputation for being reckless and destructive, and Assistant Inspector Asami Kazari is sent in to either save or shut down the unit. Can she get this bunch of goofballs and idiots into line before the master plan of a mysterious hacker puts all of Japan in jeopardy? Probably not, but let’s give it a go.

The Review

Active Raid is kind of a hard anime to review. It’s decidedly average in pretty much every way, it’s not bad, but it never rises to greatness either, most of the time it just coasts along as a fairly light-hearted and fun series without much of a care in the world. That’s fine and all, but it doesn’t really leave me with much to talk about. Well, let’s give it a go anyway.

I think the main problem that holds this series back is its lack of focus. From the ‘What’s the Story?’ section and the first episode itself you’d be forgiven for assuming that this is the story of the uptight, career-driven Asami coming in to sort out these oddball cops, but eventually coming to appreciate them and defend them against the mean old bureaucrats that want to shut them down. That does happen, but with more of a whimper than a bang. I know that story line is riddled with clichés, but I think I’d prefer that to the way it just kind slips under the radar in the series. Asami is pretty much forgotten after the first couple of episodes, she’s still there in the background but she doesn’t do much even when she actually puts on her armour to fight. It’s not until the end when the anime has to go through the whole ‘We’re shutting Unit 8 down!’ plot that it remembers Asami and even then she doesn’t put up much of a fight. Asami never gets a moment to shine or show how much she’s truly changed, heck she doesn’t even feel like a threat to Unit 8 while she’s spying on them.

This entire series is strangely lacking in tension and drama. You’ve got a mysterious group of hackers orchestrating random Willwear crimes in the build-up to some master plan, but more often than not they’re just there to set up the villain-of-the-week that Unit 8 will be fighting. You’ve got the press and the higher ups slamming Unit 8, you’ve got Asami spying on them/trying to straighten them out, you even have the military making their own exoskeletons, yet not one second of this feels threatening. There’s no sense of danger as our heroes come closer and closer to being disbanded, their no sense of joy as they overcome all the odds to prove their worth. Instead we just have the character goofing around and accidentally blowing stuff up.

I get that this series wants to be light hearted, but you can be a fun adventure series and still do dramatic storylines, the two aren’t mutually exclusive. It’s not easy, sure, but it can be done it’s just a matter of finding the right balance. The light hearted side of this anime isn’t all that great either. There are a few funny lines and ideas, but nothing that consistently hilarious, so this side of the anime doesn’t exactly grab me either.

Even on the character front the anime struggles to drag an emotion out of me. The characters all have unique designs that look pretty cool, there’s nothing mind-blowing, but not bad. They have decent personalities; they each have a quirk without feeling like that’s the beginning and end of their characters and I guess they’re all pretty likeable. I say guess because truth be told, I don’t really care about a single one of them. The story gives me no reason to believe that any of these people are in danger and the character’s themselves don’t offer up anything interesting about themselves that would make me invest in them. The anime does try, most of its villain-of-the-week episodes tie into the back stories of one of the characters in one way or another. I do get the feeling this damaged the anime more than helped it though. If they’d spent less time on these one off stories and more on building up the actual threat I might have cared.

On the animation side of things Active Raid continues the trend of being average. It does what it has to, it’s colourful without being garish and the characters move well enough when they have to. The CGI is fairly nice, I mean the armoured suits do stand out a fair bit, and you’re always aware that it’s a different animation type than all the backgrounds, but I’ve seen far worse. They move well enough and the assemble scenes for each armour is well done. The armours themselves are probably the best bit of the anime. Each one has a unique look and the bad guy’s armour have some interesting if strange special abilities.

The Verdict

In the end, Active Raid is just a little too light-hearted for its own good. It lacks any real sense of threat for our heroes and thus it’s a little bit lacklustre when they overcome the obstacles in their way. Unfortunately the characters aren’t interesting enough or the jokes funny enough to make up for this. There are some interesting armour designs though and a couple of cool ideas floating around, but all in all it’s not enough to save this anime. There’s nothing really bad though, so if you’re inclined to watch it give it a couple of episodes, but I don’t think I’m going to be recommending this anyone anytime soon.

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 (most of the time).

Anime Corner: Nurse Witch Komugi-chan R Review!

Blog Komugi R Review Title

Let’s Komugication!

What’s the Story?

Activate the standardised Magical Girl Anime plot generator! Main character: Komugi, a fourteen year old girl. Quirks: Clumsy yet always energetic! Does she meet some kind of magical talking animal: Of course! What must she collect/fight: cards that turn into monsters. Rivals: Kind of, we have the Magical Maid and the Magical Sister. Ok, what else is there? Transformation sequences, hijinks and maybe a song during the big fight sequences. Check, check and check. Well I think we’ve got all the ingredients here. Wait; something extra’s gotten into the machine!

The Review

Ok, I’ve gone on about Magical Girl anime before. Thanks to Cardcaptor Sakura and Sailor Moon the genre will always have a place in my nostalgia-encrusted heart, but outside of Madoka Magica there hasn’t been one that’s really captured my heart since. I’ve tried to watch a few, but I either end up getting bored or just feeling too old for it. I started to think that perhaps it was time to give up on the genre, to leave it to my nostalgia and move on; then I started watching this anime. Don’t get me wrong this is hardly the greatest anime in existence, if I was being completely critical I think I’d struggle to call it truly good, maybe nice, nice would be a good descriptor. It doesn’t redefine its genre or bring that much new to the table, yet every single episode of this anime leaves me with a warm and fuzzy feeling. The best way I can think of to describe this anime is as joy personified.

Now, as may be apparent from the ‘What’s the Story?’ section above, the bare bones plot of this anime is actually pretty standard for a Magical Girl anime. Komugi is an energetic, if a little weird, 14 year old girl who works as an idol in her spare time. Then she happens across a talking, floating rabbit who conscripts Komugi into becoming the Magical Nurse and collecting these strange cards that turn random objects into monster (and boy are some of the monsters random).

This is where the anime’s sense of humour starts to shine through, it manages to balance playing most of the story beats fairly straight while also making fun of them at the same time. Every attack has a ridiculous name, each transformation is accompanied by a high speed explanation of exactly what is going on with a nice little reminder that the transformation only takes 0.20 seconds in real time, and there’s the little comments about strange some of this stuff is. None of this is laugh out loud funny and it’s hardly pointing out stuff that hasn’t been pointed out a hundred times before, but it still make me smile.

When it all comes down to it though, neither the Magical Girl element or the parody elements matter all that much in the end because the heart of this series lies somewhere else, in the characters. Now technically a Magical Girl anime should be about Magical Girls, but most of the time that stuff just feels like an excuse to let the writers and animators get weird and have a quick-little fight sequence at the end of the episode. You could strip the Magical Girl stuff out of this anime and it would still be as good.

What caught my attention with this anime and kept me coming back week after week was the characters and the trials of their personal lives. Now the characters are hardly ground-breaking, Komugi’s the energetic idiot always oversleeping, falling over and eating weird stuff. Kokona is the perfect student, always working hard and being nice to everyone. Tsukasa is the tomboy and older sister to everyone around her. They have enough charm and warmth to them though that you just can’t help rooting for them.

Now this anime is hardly the height of dramatic story-telling, but I couldn’t help but cheer as each of our main characters worked to overcome their own personal struggles. For Komugi it’s dealing with the fact that she’s still swimming around the bottom of the barrel of the idol world. Most of her concerts are small scale affairs outside drug stores and her roles on TV are mainly as corpses, and it’s not through lack of trying that she’s yet to have her big breakthrough. She gives everything a 100%, she just has a tendency to mess things up and even when everything goes her way it never quite works out the way she wants. Slowly but surely though we see Komugi get more and more exposure, and while she’s still not as big a star as Kokona and Tsukasa, she’s definitely on her way.

Kokona is probably the character to get the least development, which are a shame because there’s a fair bit to be explored. We’ve got the rather dark dominatrix side that takes over our sweet Kokona when she becomes the Magical Maid, which hints at a fair bit of repression on her part. There’s her parents telling her that if she’s going to be something then she has to be the best which gets swept under the rug about halfway through the series. There’s also a plot where she tries to find a gimmick for herself because she’s afraid of becoming overlooked (funny how that’s kind of true for her character), but in the end figuring out that her ‘thing’ is to just be herself and keep working hard.

Finally we come to Tsukasa, who absorbs pretty much most of the spotlight due to just how tragic her story is. Tsukasa’s idol persona is that of a tomboy, which is at odds with her real personality of a girly girl who loves stuffed animals and sweets. Tsukasa can’t let her real self show though, because she’s afraid it will upset her fans and this gets in the way of her admitting her feelings for the boy she works with, Yuto. I felt really sorry for Tsukasa as she struggled between her personal and professional selves, and it was both funny and heart-warming as she eventually let Komugi and Kokona into her private life.

The Verdict

In the end Nurse Witch Komugi R is hardly a great anime, the Magical Girl aspects of the story feel like an afterthought and the parody stuff is fun but never quite makes it to hilarious. The animation is standard, though the fluidity of the 3D during the idol dances sequences is impressive. This anime does feel special to me though. I’ve grown to love these characters as they tackle the trials of being an idol in their unique ways. I enjoyed watching their journey and every episode left me smiling. Like I said at the beginning, this anime is joy personified.

fish stamp good

Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday. 

Anime Corner: Myriad Colours Phantom World Review

Blog Phantom World Review Title

Because four random words make a title, apparently

What’s the Story?

In the not too distant future a lab accident ends up changing the brain chemistry of every person on the planet (somebody’s definitely fired). Now humans can perceive creatures known as phantoms, which for some reason take the form of fairy tales and urban legends. Most of the phantoms are harmless and people have gotten used to their existence, however there are a small number of phantoms that can cause trouble. This calls for a team of specially trained adults with years of combat experience and the right mental fortitude…Ha ha ha ha, sorry…sorry I really couldn’t keep that up. No of course we get a bunch of kids to deal with them after school.

The Review

I know this is probably a bit early in the review to be talking about this, but I’m kind of struggling with the score for this one. It’s weird because there are some things that it does amazingly well, but most of it is just kind of…average. There’s nothing really bad here, but a lot of it only just makes it to the good the category. I suppose it’s a question of whether the average stuff drags it down more than the amazing stuff raises it up. I suppose I’ll just have to ramble on for near a 1000 words until I make my mind up (no change there then).

The most annoying thing about this anime is its wasted potential. The concept is something really interesting and a little unique. What are phantoms? Where do they really come from? Why do they resemble creatures from folklore? Where they always there? Or are they merely an extension of ourselves? Hell if I know. The anime clearly doesn’t care either. The phantoms are merely an excuse to have a monster of the week for our heroes to have to deal with while they get up to the usual anime hijinks. The show keeps mentioning that the line between reality and fantasy has been blurred, but we never really see any evidence of that. Yes people can now interact with fantasy creatures, but we have no idea how that has changed this society, it pretty much just looks like present day Japan with powered teenagers fighting magical creatures (and this may be evidence that I watch too much anime, but I assumed that’s what Japan is like anyway).

Also, due to this monster-of-the-week approach, we lose any kind of ongoing story. Oh the anime tries to set up an ongoing plot thread with a link to the company that brought the phantoms into existence in the first place, but that gets forgotten pretty quickly. The anime is far too happy to just mess around with one-off adventures that don’t have that much relevance beyond their 23 minute runtime. The result of this is that when the anime wants to have a Big Bad for the show-stopping finale they get introduced completely last minute, get built up as an unstoppable threat in one episode only to be beaten in the next. Outside of some impressive fight animation the whole finale falls kind of flat. Sure you can see that this super phantom is a physical threat, but everything about it feels rushed, it has no build up, its tragic back story and crazy mentally are dropped on you in one big clump and it’s no time before it’s sealed. And don’t even get me started on Haruhiko’s clichéd upgrade to unstoppable badass in order to win.

I said there was good stuff in this anime right? Visually, this anime is stunning. There’s a reason colour is in the title, I love the colour palette on this show. Everything is so bright and eye-catching, it’s really just a joy to watch. Throw on top of that some consistently amazing animation and you have a brilliant visual spectacle. The fight scenes are something else, you really feel the characters move and every hit hurts, though it’s not as if every penny is saved for the fights. That quality of movement even goes into just a pair of characters walking and talking. The visuals are definitely the best part of the anime.

That brings me to the characters and probably the reason why I don’t have any truly ill-feelings for this anime, yes I’ve been complaining for most of this review, but I did actually enjoy watching this series. On paper the characters aren’t really all that much to write about. They’re pretty much your standard stereotypes. Haruhiko is…well for one he’s the only guy, but his main role is as the nerd. He’s the bookworm you have all the background info on the phantom of the week, he even opens the episodes with tiny little lectures about the subject. Outside of the exposition though he’s there to be just pathetic enough that the girls can make fun of him, but be reliable enough to save the day when necessary (and of course win the girl’s affection with his good-natured heart).

The girls themselves are even less to write about. Mai is the sporty, bossy one, Reina is the nice girl with a big appetite, Koito is the sullen loner and Kurumi is the shy little girl. The anime tries to give them episodes to expand their back stories and develop their characters, but most are just superficial adventures. Don’t get me wrong, they’re fun episodes, like most of them are, but the most effect they ever have is just bonding the characters closer together. That’s what makes these characters work though; despite having little to work with they have enough personality and charm to be likeable. You do feel the bond between these characters and you have no idea how grateful I am that it never strays too far into harem territory. Yes all the girls like Haruhiko, and you’re free to ship whoever you like, but the show itself never tries to push those ships on to the audience, outside of Haruhiko and Mai, which I’m fine with.

Lastly I should talk about the fanservice. Watching the opening I was petrified of this show, there were so many shots of bouncing boobs and bottoms that I feared the worst. Oh there’s definitely a fair amount of fanservice in this show and there are the odd occasions where it strays into unbearable territory for me, but for the most part the anime keeps it to a level that isn’t too distracting. It even manages to have a bit of tongue in cheek fun with the fanservice in some scenes, its still fanservice, but at least they’re trying to use it for a purpose other than appealing to the downstairs department.

The Verdict

In the end, Myriad Colours Phantom World is a fun little show. As a visual piece of media it looks fantastic and has a likeable cast. The monsters of each week are creative and how they’re dealt with equally so. The plot does lack any kind of momentum, so that when it tries to have an epic finale it ends up as just a rather clichéd and flat letdown, but this is still probably worth a few episodes of your time.

fish stamp good

Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday.

Anime Corner: GATE Review

Sorry for the late upload folks, things kinda got out of hand. Anyway, on with the show!

Blog Gate Review Title

And so the Special Defence Force fought (well actually it was more of an outright slaughter, but saying they fought sounds better).

What’s the Story?

One day a gateway to another world opens up in the middle of Japan and suddenly a city finds itself under attack from guys in medieval armour and riding dragons. The invaders are repelled, but Japan is left wondering what to do with the portal. The SDF (Special Defence Force) is tasked with the mission of venturing into the world beyond the gate, exploring it and establishing relations with the locals. Peace isn’t exactly the first thing on the Empire’s mind though.

The Review

Gate certainly has an intriguing concept. What would happen if your typical medieval soldiers and fantasy creatures went up against the contemporary military? The answer? Get mowed down like a field of corn. Yeah, it’s not exactly surprising to watch, we have come a long since the days when we used swords and arrows in regular conflict. You really have to feel sorry for the knights and such in the Empire’s army, I’m sure they’re used to the idea of dying in battle, but they usually get the opportunity to get a few swings in first. Can you imagine standing in the lines of battle, watching your mates getting blown up in the hundreds and you’re not even in spitting distance of the enemy.

That’s what I see as one of the main problems of Gate’s first season. After a couple of episodes the novelty of seeing the military lay into these fantasy types soon wears off. Outside of a fire dragon, no one really poses that much of a threat to the SDF, and it’s kind of hard to build up tension when you know the heroes can pretty much walk through the enemy. The anime tries different things and creates scenarios where the stakes a raised a little bit, but you never quite lose that certainty that the good guys will just pull out a gun and shoot someone Indiana Jones style.

The first season was starting to get a little boring for me. I’m sure someone who’s into military stuff would enjoy it as there’s a lot of what I presume to be realistic military jargon with talk about weapons and tactics that are executed with precision and intelligence. That’s another thing though, I don’t know that much about the SDF (except for when they happen to turn up in a Godzilla film), and maybe I’ve just seen too many shows where the military are the bad guys, but the SDF come across as just a touch too infallible and perfect. Everyone’s a good guy, they’re all beyond competent, no one ever screws up and everyone gets along like their best friends. It’s too polished is all I’m saying. If you’re not going to give me any conflict with the enemy, there could at least be some between the friends.  Conflict breeds drama people!

Ok, that’s the moaning about the first season over with, luckily the show left me with enough interest to check out the second season, where things get good. The second season is a huge improvement and actually manages to bring in a conflict that has some tension to it. While our main character Itami putzes about with his harem (though admittedly this does lead to an awesome rematch with the fire dragon) the rest of the SDF has set up a permanent base and even an offshoot village in the world around the gate. They want to sign a peace treaty with the Empire, but there are forces working against them. A slave turned advisor seeks revenge for her humiliating defeat at the hands of the Empire by pushing said Empire into a conflict with the SDF. We know that the SDF can wipe out the Empire in a second, but that’s exactly what we’re trying to avoid with this storyline. It becomes a political battle with moves and counter-moves as the various factions try to get what they want. It’s a really interesting and genuinely exciting plot as everything spirals towards the inevitable conflict.

It’s not entirely faultless though, Princess Pina didn’t need the slave girl treatment and that sex scene with the bunny girl was beyond uncomfortable. Also most of Itami’s plot lines throughout the arc are mostly there to keep him away from main plot, which kind of makes him feel like a side character in the anime he’s supposed to be the star of (though that fight with the fire dragon is pretty awesome). Itami only becomes relevant in the last episode as he races to rescue Princess Pina.

I’m probably going to have to talk about Itami now aren’t I? I don’t like him. Actually I should rephrase that, it’s not that I don’t like him it’s more a case of, one, I’m not interested in him in the slightest, two, I think of him as less of a character and more a construct trying to be badass. He’s just too good. When he’s introduced he’s meant to be this slacker otaku, who self-proclaims that if it came down to his hobby or his job, he’d put his hobby first, yet this never really comes to pass. Every time it comes between him and his hobby, he drops everything to save people, so he’s clearly in denial. Second we never really see his hobby all that much. There’s a few little bits in the first season, but his passion as an otaku hardly comes across once he’s in uniform. I had to be reminded that he was an otaku when the second series started.

Then there’s the fact that Itami is such a badass that it’s completely unbelievable. He has a whole truck load of distinctions and special qualifications that even the other characters wonder how this slacker moron managed to get them. It wasn’t until the other characters started throwing around the phrase ‘What would Itami do?’ that I realised what the problem was. Itami is Jesus. He is perfect and flawless and will always win, they do manage to drag some personality out of him when he’s being teased or fighting to protect his friends, but it’s not enough for me to invest in the character.

The rest of the characters fair a little better. They’re not nearly as perfect and have just enough personality that I don’t mind being with them, though as we progress to the second series there does start to be just a few too many characters hanging about, meaning that a lot are left undeveloped.

The Verdict

In the end, Gate isn’t a bad anime, but not one that gets me excited either. It’s probably meant for a different audience, anyone who’s into contemporary military, its weapons and its tactics, will no doubt enjoy this a lot more than me. The animation is fairly nice, it’s pretty bright and colourful and represents the motion to a decent standard. The characters are likeable enough though lack some development in a lot of cases (and I’ve just gone through my issues with the main character). The second series is a great improvement and worth a watch.

 

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, usually. 

Anime Corner: Utawarerumono the False Faces Review

Blog False Faces Review Title

Please don’t ask me to pronounce that title.

What’s the Story?

A man in a hospital gown finds himself stumbling through a strange winter landscape. He has no memory of who is he or where he comes from. After being chased by a monster and weirded out by a blob, he comes across a friendly face, Kuon, who happens to be a cat girl. In fact everyone in this land looks to be part animal. Just who is Haku and what is this strange land he has found himself in? Ah who cares about that stuff, where’s the nearest bath?

The Review

Uta…Utawar….Utawa…The False Faces is probably an anime that has disappointed me more than most, and part of it is my fault. I mean for one the story goes down a completely different path to what I was expecting, and not in a good way. You’d think from the set of a guy with amnesia finding himself in a strange land the story would be about him discovering who is and maybe even finding a way home. Nope. Haku doesn’t even seem to care. He hardly ever thinks about where he might come from and no one ever brings up the fact that he doesn’t have a tail like everyone else. You’d think the loss of one’s identity would have some kind of emotional or psychological effect on him, but nope, let’s get drunk and move on to the next bath scene. The anime does eventually answer the questions, but it’s not through Haku actively seeking out the answers and it has so little impact on the plot that it’s clearly just there because it has to be. If you’re not going to do something with a plot point, and this may be a revolutionary concept, don’t include it!

I do admit that another fault with this anime is one that falls at my feet. I watched this anime out of order, though I didn’t realise it until I was a few episodes in and only then because of a few comments on the Crunchyroll forums. This anime is a sequel to another anime under the (copy/paste unpronounceable title here) series. Now this isn’t a direct sequel, its set in the same world but follows completely different characters and is even set in a different land, that’s why I kept watching it. You don’t need any prior knowledge at the beginning of the series, but as you get into the latter half and more characters start popping up out of nowhere, you get the sense that some characters have some kind of special significance that you need to watch the first series to understand. Also the ending of this anime makes it very clear that this entire series is pretty much just set up for a third series down the line. I don’t think prior knowledge is in anyway essential to watch this anime, but I do get the feeling that it would have been a lot more satisfying if I’d watched the first series, well, first.

The rest of my disappointment however falls completely at the anime’s feet. My main gripe is the pacing. Now at first I really liked the languid pace that the anime set, it was nice and relaxing, you got to just enjoy the pretty scenery and soak up all that wonderful atmosphere (this is definitely a gorgeous anime). Then it started to drag on at excruciating levels. A good majority of this anime is spent following Haku around as he gets up to various misadventures and slowly builds up his harem. There are also a lot of bath scenes, my god are there a lot of bath scenes. I’m surprised the characters don’t walk around looking like a bunch of prunes. It’s ridiculous.

So much time is soaked up by the bath scenes and the meandering plot that when the anime finally gets to something more than hijinks it has to rush through several big events in hardly any time at all.  We have an invasion by barbarians, a war with another country, the death of an important figure and an assassination plot all squeezed up together while attempting to develop the characters. Thanks to some good animation and decent acting the events still hold some emotional impact, but if these plot points had been allowed to breathe properly they could have been truly sensational. Surely we could have dropped a bath scene or two to make room for this stuff.

Finally the characters, there’s too many of them. You just need to look at Haku’s harem to see that. You don’t need a cast this big, and you certainly don’t need so many following Haku around. A couple of them are funny and have decent likeable personalities, keep them, throw out the other half dozen, let’s face it they’re only there for when the plot needs them. Then you’ve also got all the folks around the city, the generals, the family and friends of the harem, the characters that pop in from the first series and the anime just keeps adding more and more, most of which go undeveloped because there’s just no room for them.

It’s a real shame, because I was enjoying this anime at the start. I like this world. It’s a huge landscape with lots of possibilities and has a slightly unique vibe to it. Its fantasy and magic with just a little hint of sci-fi mixed in, and I honestly wouldn’t mind learning more about this world.

The Verdict

In the end, if you’re going to watch this anime, I really do recommend trying to track down the first series (I think I read somewhere that Funimation has it, but I’ve yet to verify this). When the anime is taken by itself, it doesn’t make for a compelling story. The meandering and poorly paced story and the excessive cast of character hamper what could have been a really enjoyable and unique anime. The setting is interesting and the animation, especially during the action scenes, is superb. It’s probably worth a watch, after the first season.

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. 

Anime Corner: Bubuki Buranki Review

Blog Bubuki Buranki Review Title

An anime derailed itself today; crews have yet to find any survivors

What’s the Story?

…Ok…I really don’t have any clue where to start, mostly because this anime has no idea what its story is. We start with Azuma living on a floating island with his sister and parents, oh and there’s giant robots called Buranki walking around. Then things go bad and Azuma and his sister fall off of the island and we skip ahead 10 years to where Azuma joins up with a bunch of kids and their Bubuki, their like pieces of Buranki that combine to control an actual Buranki. They face off against a bunch of adults out to wipe out the Buranki who are led by an immortal sixteen year old girl, Reoko. They battle over Bubuki as the kids try to reach the island in the sky. Then we throw in a bunch of international teams who are also out to reach the island… and I think we can all see the problem here.

The Review

This anime is just fascinating to watch, it’s like a car crash you just can’t look away as it gets steadily more and more horrific. It’s not the worst anime I’ve ever seen, there are some decent ideas in here, but they’re drowned under so many plotlines that come out of nowhere and go right back to nowhere. It’s like the writers of this anime just couldn’t decide on what story they wanted to tell. We’re going to tell a story about a floating island and these kids’ attempts to return to it. No! We’re going to tell a story about these weapons with minds of their own and the battle between the kids and these adults that have turned Japan into their own private dictatorship. No! We’re going to tell a story about these giant robots that lots of corrupt governments were exploiting, until Azuma’s mother shut them all down, now all these teams from other countries are fighting to activate the robots again.

It’s too much. This anime is 12 episodes long, you don’t have the time to tell all of that and by trying to you have less of a story and more of a wriggling, heaving mess on the floor. It’s like trying to tell three different story arcs all at the same time; it’s not going to work not unless you’re a genius writer (which, no offence, but these guys clearly aren’t).

This anime also has problems explaining things, though that could be down to the different stories not checking the back story with one another. Let’s take episode 1 as an example. We start with Azuma and his family on Treasure Island, the floating island. It’s all very nice and idyllic, very much the calm before the storm, there’s some decent character work and few good mysteries sown into events, then we get the time skip which proves that a good 60% of that was pointless. We get that Azuma’s goal is to get back to his mum who’s still on Treasure Island and find out if she’s ok, but what about the rest of his family? We only see Azuma’s sister a couple of times after this and she just watches from a distance, making ominous comments and teasing a 2nd season. She has no impact on the plot whatsoever and neither Azuma nor his mum mentions her again. Then there’s Azuma’s dad who vanishes from existence entirely after episode 1.

Bear in mind that the anime has barely started at this point and it’s already fallen flat on its face. The time skip is where a lot of my opinion that the writer’s had no idea what they were doing comes from. There is a complete lack of explanation of what’s going on. It’s been 10 years since Azuma fell from Treasure Island and we have no idea what has happened in those years. Where has Azuma been? Overseas is the only answer we get. What has he been doing? Looking for a way to get back to Treasure Island, but how was he doing that? Who has been raising him during this time? Surely not his dad because we all know he blinked out of existence as soon as he left the island. It doesn’t help that Azuma wanders around like a clueless idiot having everyone explain stuff to him, I know we need a character for you to explain to so that we the audience can get the explanations, but Azuma is such a blank slate it makes me wonder if he’s just been in a coma for the past ten years.

Then we come to the big question. Just what on Earth are Bubuki and Buranki. Where do they come from? What do they want? When did they first appear? There’s been human interaction with them for a long time, so what was that like? A little bit of history please. A mystery is a good way to hook in your audience, but when you have hundreds of questions and not even a handful of answers it’s more likely to annoy the audience than draw them in.

The anime can’t even do it right on the character front. It tries to give the kids interesting back stories to get you invested, but they’re all such bland stereotypes with limited personality that I hardly care. The only character that I actually looked forward to seeing was our lead villain, Reoko. I admit I have a soft spot for a villain who can pull off a truly insane evil cackle. She is full throttle insane and she enjoys it so much you just can’t help enjoying it too. It helps that she’s not just crazy though, she has a genuinely tragic back story and you understand where all of the anger and crazy comes from.

On a final note there is something I can praise in this anime, the animation. It’s entirely CGI, which will no doubt put off a lot of people, but it’s actually pretty good. It moves very well especially during the action sequences and also manages to convey a convincing amount of emotion. It adds a nice stylised look to proceedings, I could put up with more CGI anime if they have this quality of animation.

The Verdict

In the end, Bubuki Buranki is really a mess of an anime. There’s just too many different plot threads fighting against one another, meaning that the few good ideas don’t get the attention they need, the characters don’t get any room to breathe and development and vital questions don’t have room to be answered. It does have some pretty nice animation though and the action is good, so if nothing else this anime works as a visual spectacle, but nothing much more than that.

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Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday. 

Anime Corner: Erased Review

Blog Erased Review Title

If I could turn back time.

What’s the Story?

Satoru is a 29 year old Pizza delivery boy with a very special ability which he calls ‘Revival’. When something bad happens nearby, he can travel back in time by a few minutes and prevent whatever it is from happening. Satoru has no idea where this power comes from, but it could be linked to his frustration at failing to save a fellow classmate when he was 10. Things take a turn for the dramatic when Satoru finds his mother murdered and Revival activates, but instead of sending himself back a few minutes, he ends up going back 18 years. Now Satoru finally has a chance to save his classmate, Kayo, and just maybe his mum in the future too, as the cases appear to be linked.

The Review

All aboard the hype train! NO! Stop it! Stop it. No hype train, the hype train has ruined too many good shows, I must give a balanced and fair assessment of this series, but I love this series so much! Ok, ok we can do this. I really like Erased (if you can’t tell), I enjoyed it from beginning to end and there’s hardly anything that I want to gripe about, but then I started to notice that there was some backlash going on in small corners of the internet and I have to admit that a few points have merit. This isn’t a perfect series, and if I overhype it people are going to watch it expecting a masterpiece and come away disappointed, which I don’t want. Now these flaws don’t destroy the anime, they hardly even dent my glowing opinion of this anime, but they are there.

The first real flaw is with Satoru’s power, Revival. We never get a proper explanation of what it is, how it works or where it came from. We learn absolutely nothing about it, which is kind of a problem when it’s such a key element of the plot. The reason for this is that Revival may be needed to kick start the plot, but it’s not what the plot is really about, not in my opinion anyway. This isn’t a supernatural story about a boy with time travel powers, it’s a thriller about a boy trying to find a way to save the girl he loves and finding himself along the way.

Satoru is a very detached person. As a kid he was shy and acted the way he thought others wanted him to act, as a result of this he had hardly any real friends or even emotions. When the 29 year old Satoru takes over his 10 year old self it begins a process of awakening as his true feelings start to show, and his mental chess match with a serial killer allows him to forge genuine friendships with his classmates. This is the story of Satoru dealing with the frustration and guilt of being unable to save someone he cared about, and finally becoming the hero he always wanted to be.

I mentioned that this anime does have a pretty big mystery element, and that’s where another flaw comes in. There isn’t really an overabundance of suspects. Even I managed to guess at the killer’s identity fairly early on, but I didn’t think that was really the killer because usually in a story like this it’s never the first person you suspect, unless the writers were going for some kind of double bluff, but then they never really give us anyone else to suspect, which is weird. The killer’s reasoning for what he does is also a little unclear, but that ties into another flaw, the pacing.

Now for the first handful of episodes the pacing on this show is pretty much as close to perfection as it gets. It’s tense, it’s thrilling, it’s so good and this is where the hype train for this anime first left the station. The problem comes in the latter half of the anime where things aren’t exactly rushed, but you can feel them being squeezed in. The writers are trying to get 8 volumes of content into a 12 episode anime, so that can be expected. There isn’t as much breathing room for the developments that get thrown at us towards the end, not to mention that the end sinks a pretty powerful ship. A lot of this can be felt after Kayo has been saved. The series puts so much emotional weight on Kayo and Satoru’s attempts to save her, that once that’s accomplished the rest of the anime just feels like it’s only carrying on to tidy things up. It never quite reaches the same level of emotional gut punch that it had before. Also there’s the fact that a lot of the other victims of the serial killer never get as much build up as Kayo, but then that can be said of pretty much the entire cast outside of Satoru and his mum.

The animation for the series is fairly standard for A-1 Pictures, which is still good on any day, the designs are all nice, it moves well and does occasionally get to stretch its legs, but there’s something special about the way everything is presented. This anime has a movie feel to each episode, it’s the way the shots are framed and scenes are shown. There is some really beautiful imagery in this series, kudos to the Director.

No series is perfect. Every single person has a different version of ‘perfect’ in their heads and you’re never going to make something that matches up with all those different versions. People can interpret the same thing a thousand different ways, so some members of the audience will spot a plot hole that the author never saw, or a character, theme or emotion won’t resonate as the creator intended. The art of good story-telling is to mask the flaws so that the audience doesn’t recognise them until after the show is over, and then to have been enjoyable enough a ride that the audience don’t mind. For me, Erased was a series just like that. It has its flaws sure, but I didn’t notice until it was over and I had enough fun that I’ll gladly watch it again. That is how you tell a good story.

The Verdict

In the end, I recommend that everyone gives Erased a try. It’s a beautiful little anime that uses a supernatural premise to tell a very human and very emotional story of a boy’s fight to save those he loves and make a little self-discovery along the way. It has its flaws sure, but none of them are enough for me to think any less of this anime. Now if you’ll excuse me I’m going to rewind time and watch this series again.

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Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday. 

Anime Corner: KonoSuba – God’s Blessing on this Wonderful World!

Blog Konosuba Review Title

Yes I’m Kazuma

What’s the Story?

Kazuma really is the unlucky sort. He’s a shut-in video game nerd who finally goes outside the house to buy a new game, which leads to the most pathetic death in the history of…well anything really. Things start to look on the up when the Goddess Aqua offers Kazuma the chance to be reborn in a world where he will be an adventurer out to defeat an evil demon king. Kazuma’s luck can’t hold out that long though as he finds out that the fantasy life ain’t all it’s cracked up to be, and maybe it wasn’t such a good idea to drag Aqua along with him.

The Review

They say the key to good comedy is timing, and this is true, but there are other important factors, such as surprise. The way a lot of jokes are structured is that the initial lead-in sets up an expectation then the punchline jumps you from round a corner and proves that expectation to be wrong. Laughter then ensues (hopefully). Now this isn’t a hard rule, humour is different for everyone after all, but it happens enough to be a pattern. KonoSuba is a surprise is what I’m getting at; well it was for me anyway.

I wasn’t expecting much going into this anime; it’s a story about a Japanese boy being transported to a fantasy world with a harem of girls behind him on the poster (because no one’s ever told that story before), but I gave it a shot (mostly because I wanted another show to fill out my first impressions post for the blog) and I’m really glad I saw this. I don’t think I’ve seen an anime this funny in a while, every episode had me laughing for the majority of it and I’m now endlessly sad that it’s over (when’s season 2 getting here!).

The comedy spends a lot of time poking fun at fantasy tropes and showing how they’d work in a more realistic sense. Guild work turns out to be a lot of menial labour, our heroes spend most of the season sleeping in a barn, they’re in debt up to their eyeballs and things generally go wrong in some way or another for the group. The main lesson to take from this anime is that when you remove the plot armour a fantasy would actually be really hard work to live in, and KonoSuba loves nothing more than proving this again and again, taking popular tropes and turning them on their head.

The heart of this anime, and the reason I fell in love with it, lies somewhere else though, and that’s with the characters. I really like the main cast in this show, but not in the normal way. These aren’t richly textured, deep and interesting characters, heck I wouldn’t even really call them likeable. The characters of KonoSuba are, frankly, idiots. They are morons of the highest order. Aqua is a whiny, self-obsessed diva. Megumin is the Michael Bay of witchcraft as she refuses to use any magic except for explosion magic, which is so draining that she can only use it once a day. Then we come to my two favourite characters.

First there’s our lead, Kazuma, like so many great comic characters he’s kind of an ass. A lot of animes would have Kazuma be the straight man to the craziness of the girls, but here he’s just as self-centred and as big a loser as everyone else, the only real difference being that he recognises how insane the people around him are. Kazuma is constantly struggling to get the life of adventure and comfort he envisioned when he signed up for this deal. Yet something also gets in the way and knocks him back two steps for every one he takes, which he admittedly deserves. Some of his funniest moments are when he’s on the verge of thinking how this life isn’t so bad, he has his friends after all, then a second later says ‘Nah, this world sucks I need stuff for me!”. Luckily he’s never unredeemable, he’s just enough of a good guy that you can root for him while enjoying his constant failures.

Then we come to the best character in the show, Darkness. Darkness is the paladin, the holy knight who is supposed to be virtuous and pure and stuff like that, what she actually is is a secret masochist. She runs headlong into danger, everyone commenting on how brave she is, when in actual fact she’s just hoping she’ll get hit and possibly publically shamed. She is weird, insane and I love her. She never stops being funny.

That brings me to probably the weakest element of the show, the animation. Crude is probably the best way to describe it, and I don’t mean that as a slam. The animation works for the show, but there are a lot of off model bits and some wonky movements. It has a sense of cheapness to it, and while I can’t say it’s good to look at, it gives the anime a feeling like the little show that could, and it does. It’s not big shiny and polished, but it does what its best and, unlike our characters, that’s enough to be a success.

The last thing I want to talk about is this film’s obsession with boobs. The slightest turn will have the women jiggling like jelly fresh out of the mould. It’s almost as comical as the jokes. The opening sequence is even full of them. I really don’t get the point of it. Why do you need so many boobs flopping about the place? Wait, what am I talking about, this is anime what other reason do they need?

The Verdict

I realise that comedy is subjective and I don’t doubt that there are people out there that will never laugh at this show, and that’s ok, but I greatly enjoyed it and I think everyone should give this show a try. The animation is a bit choppy, but there are some fun twists on common tropes and hilarious characters to get to know. This really is a wonderful world.

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Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday. 

Anime Corner: First Impressions: Winter 2016

Oh the weather outside is frightful, but the anime is so delightful. Come one, come all, warm your soul upon the joy, the wonder and the sheer insanity of our latest imports from Japan. The winter season has begun, so let’s take a look at what we’ve got this year.

Myriad Colours Phantom World

The line between fantasy and reality has blurred. After a chemical was accidentally released into the atmosphere people began to see imaginary creatures. Most of these ‘phantoms’ are harmless, but every now and again some can cause problems for the general population. When that happens it’s up to super-powered teenagers (because when is it not the job of super-powered teenagers?) to calm these spirits and keep the peace.

I was really worried about this show after the first episode. I mean it’s gorgeously animated, it’s full of eye-popping colours and I really like the concept, but then there was that fanservice and the beginnings of a harem. I was ready to run for the hills, but I stuck it out for a couple more episodes and I’m glad that I did. Yes there are fanservice and harem elements, but they’re a lot more toned down than I was expecting. It doesn’t overpower the series. The characters are nice, if nothing exceptional. Their powers are pretty cool though, just different enough to be interesting. The phantoms and concepts that each episode has dealt with so far are also pretty interesting. The story could do with moving along a bit, I want to know more about this world and the phantoms, also an over-arching plot would be nice. So far it’s just been set up and character stuff. Still I’m content with the show as it is for the moment.

Erased

Satoru Fujinuma has a peculiar condition. When something bad happens he often finds himself sent back a few minutes in time, allowing him to prevent the bad thing from taking place. When someone dear to him is lost though something odd happens. He’s transported back to his childhood, in the days leading up the disappearance and murder of a young girl. By solving the mystery of her death he can hopefully not only save the girl, but the person he lost back in the present. Or maybe things will end up worse. Time travel ain’t easy.

Butterfly Effect the anime. The story here isn’t really anything really original or mind-blowing, but the execution is. It’s not only the gorgeous animation, but also the way it’s directed. This is a master class in the way to structure and show drama. It sucks you in and wrenches all of the emotion out of you, and you enjoy it while it does it. It’s only been three episodes, but I’m already in love. I don’t normally do a ‘Best of the Season’, but that’s what this show is shaping up to be.

Active Raid

In the future, due to a rising rate of crimes involving exoskeletons known as Willwears, a new section of the police force has been put together to combat these criminals. Unit 8 is in charge of protecting Japan, when they’re not destroying buildings and generally goofing around. Can the members of Unit 8 track down the mysterious figures behind a series of Willwear related attacks, in between writing apology letters.

There is some really good anime this season. Compared to them Active Raid is actually a fairly mediocre anime. It’s not the prettiest, it’s not the funniest, it’s not the most exciting. Story wise it’s your typical kind of oddball unit that always manages to somehow save the day, while still making the higher ups mad at them. The Willwears have some decent designs and abilities, but nothing amazing, and the characters aren’t anything special either. So why am I planning on continuing watching this? Because it’s fun. Active Raid doesn’t take itself very seriously. It’s perfectly happy just to be popcorn fodder and enjoy itself while it’s at it. It has this infectious energy to it that makes each episode an easy watch.

Nurse Witch Komugi R

It’s your typical magical girl set up.  Komugi is your typical middle school going main protagonist, she’s kind and fun-loving, while also a little clumsy. She does do a little work as an idol on the side though she’s hardly what you’d call a-list. Then a magical talking animal drops into her life and suddenly Komugi is transforming into Magical Nurse and battling monsters (or else she’ll turn into the Dreaded ‘C’! That’s a cockroach by the way). Hilarity ensues.

Now I may have mentioned before on this blog that I have a real soft spot for Magical Girl anime. I grew up on Cardcaptor Sakura and Sailor Moon, and Madoka Magica is my second favourite anime of all time. I keep trying Magical Girls series in the hope of either recapturing that nostalgia, or finding something as darkly beautiful as Madoka, but it hasn’t happened yet. Komugi has potential though. The series manages to balance a fine line between being a genuine Magical Girl series, and a pretty funny parody poking fun some of sillier aspects of the genre. There’s a sense of joy that is woven through every fibre of this anime. It knows it’s silly, embraces it and runs with it. It’s the kind of anime that just makes you smile and I just hope it can manage to keep it up.

Bubuki Buranki (BBK/BRNK)

What’s the Story? Hell if I know. There’s giant robots that fall down from an island in the sky. There’s all these little critters with eyeballs that combine to become the big guy. There’s our gentle, but determined main protagonist who knows nothing about current state of affairs. Yes he’s been out of the country, but don’t they have world affairs programmes? I’m sure the day a 16 year old and her giant robot of death takes over an entire country would kind of be a big news day.

What this anime lacks is context. There’s far too much that we just don’t know, or at least we don’t know how it connects together. The opening is great, but the disparity between that and the ten years later where this anime is set is more confusing than entertaining. Where has the sister gone? More importantly, why the hell is there an island in the sky with giant robots on it? Letting things develop and slowly reveal themselves over time is a great story-telling method, but unless you give the audience something to latch on to that mystery becomes more infuriating than intriguing. Lucky this anime has some great visuals and a few epic battles to tide me over until the dots are connected.

Phantasy Star Online 2 The Animation

The students of the Sega Academy, sorry I mean Seiga Academy (because adding one letter makes it totally different), face a truly devastating future. Those cold-hearted fiends that run the place wish to ban the playing of the MMO Phantasy Star Online 2 (have they no soul?) The student body’s hopes rest solely upon the shoulders of Itsuki, who is a newcomer to the game and tasked with writing a report on his experience. Can our bland male protagonist, sorry, that’s supposed to be genuine and likeable hero, save the day? Who really cares, outside of the advertising team I mean?

I really don’t see the point of this anime. You might as well just have a big flashing neon sign that says ‘Buy the Game!’ and force people to stare at that for half an hour each week. It’d have the same amount of impact. I really just don’t get this anime. Actually that’s a lie. I understand it perfectly, it’s just a huge advert. What I don’t get is who thought this was the right way to go about advertising the game? I mean there are plenty of animes that are just walking advertisements, whether it’s to get you to go read the manga or buy games, but a lot of those anime actually try to get you invested in some form of plot or characters. This anime is basically just sitting around watching other people play games and I’m not sure if the advertisers understand this part, but one of the lures of games is the fact that they’re interactive. It’s not exactly fun to just sit around and watch someone else having fun. Add in the bland characters, lack of any kind of plot and the fact that is has to spend so much of its time having to point out how flawless and good the product is and you end up with a soulless and hollow anime. Avoid this one, I certainly will from now on.

Konosuba – God’s Blessing On This Wonderful World!

Kazuma is very much the stereotypical geeky shut-in. In fact the only thing that can drag him out of the house is a brand new game. Unfortunately it was a bad day to leave the house as an uncharacteristic act of heroism and a tractor lead to his death (weird start to a comedy I know, but then weird looks to be the word of the day here). As Kazuma enter the afterlife he’s greeted by the Goddess Aqua, who offers him the chance to travel to a fantasy land and fight to free it from the evil ‘Demon King’, he even gets to take any one thing of his choosing with him. What does Kazuma pick? Well the Goddess Aqua of course. Let the adventures begin!

This anime is weird, subversive and really funny. Take the classic archetypes of a fantasy RPG and turn them into crazy people then you’ll have the cast of this anime. There’s the healer who wastes her experience points learning party tricks, the mage who refuses to use any magic except explosion magic (a spell that she can only use once per day) and the knight who can’t hit anything and is a secret masochist. Kazuma is probably the most normal character, which unfortunately also makes him the most boring, but then someone has to be the straight man to all this crazy. True the animation isn’t the best, I’ve notice a few awkward or stilted moments and the animators appear to have an obsession with boobs flopping around the place, but so far this anime has managed to hit my funny bone every episode so I’ll let it slide, for now.

Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday.