Anime Corner: Garo – Vanishing Line Review

Blog Garo Review Title

A man called Sword, because Awesome was too on the nose I guess.

What’s the Story?

Grief, heartbreak, jealousy, greed, arrogance, pride, all of these and more can turn a person from a human being into a Horror, a monster that feeds on humans. Fear not though, for there are those that protect us mere mortals from the Horrors, they are known as Makai Knights and it is their job to battle the monsters born of humans. The most powerful Makai Knight currently around is the Golden Knight, a man who goes by the name Sword. He’s a man’s man, good with kids, has a talking bike and, of course, a really big sword. When he meets Sophie, a young orphan girl looking for her lost brother neither of them realises that they’ve stumbled across a plot that could end the world as we know it. Their only clue being two words, ‘El Dorado’. Let the epic road trip begin!

The Review

I will admit, when I first started watching this show I was expecting it to be just an action fest. Something for me to switch my brain off, pull out the popcorn and watch and yet somehow I ended up falling in love with this series. It’s not perfect, it isn’t always good and it has its flaws, but there’s a level of talent and thought in this series that raises it above what I was expecting. I love these characters and there have been moments where this show has made me cry and other moments where my jaw has hit the floor in shock and awe.

A lot of the series plays out as a monster of the week show, with each week being a new Horror on the loose and our heroes either having to track them down or figure out how to stop them, while we get the story behind what created this Horror in the first place. It’s a good format and it works well, there’s plenty of entertainment to be had, whether in the whirling action scenes or just in some solid stories. As the series progresses though, the overarching El Dorado plot begins to take over and our heroes leave the city and begin an epic road trip to reach the mysterious city. I will admit that parts of the finale were…disappointing. The conclusion could have packed more punch and resolution for certain characters and some elements of King’s big plan where kind of confusing (how does a phone app suck souls?). Better explanations could have been given.

What makes the stories work though and had me eagerly awaiting each new episode, was that it got its characters. Sure on the surface they look like your stereotypical action heroes from every 80s and 90s film ever. You’ve got Sword, the big damn hero, who’s all muscular and badass with a tragic back-story to boot. Luke is the brooding loner, who’s Swords rival in every way, yet has a grudging respect for the man. Gina is the femme fatale and token female warrior. Then there’s Sophie, the kid, because every story needs a kid right? That’s how we pull in the child audience, despite the fact that there’s blood and dismemberment all over the place. It’s all very stock and just what you’d expect, but the acting and the animation makes you believe that there is more to these people. They have actually emotional reactions to things, emotions that I can believe in.

Sophie is the best example of this that I have, because kid characters are hard to do right, especially in a show like this. They’ll often be annoying, taking up screen time that could be given over to exciting action sequences and are often there just so the hero can show his caring, parental side. Yet I care about Sophie so much. At times she can be frustrating and she does make mistakes, but it’s believable because she is a kid and she acts like that, but hardly ever verges into annoying. Her story is a relatable one and she has some horrible things happen to her, people she cares about die and yet she still finds a way to smile and push forward. Sophie’s arc is really the message of the whole show, that despite the tragedy and the horror that can befall us, we can survive and be stronger for it. By the end of this series, I admire Sophie and I really wish I had more time to spend with her.

With the other characters, we don’t get much development for Sword and Gina, but we do get peeks into different sides of them so they feel a bit more fleshed out. Luke actually gets the next most development as he goes from a heartless loner bent on revenge to a man who will use his strength to protect others. My favourite episode of the whole series is a Luke episode (It’s episode 10 – Rebirth, even if you don’t want to watch the series, just watch this episode, it’s amazing.) It’s the episode after the big battle with the city in ruins and Luke wandering around helping people. It shows exactly what this series is best at, it’s a powerful and emotional story that really gets you in the gut.

On the animation front I’m kind of torn. On the one hand I really like the character animation, the motion is always fluid and energetic and the fights look amazing. The CGI I’m less keen on, it just sticks out a bit too much and the bike and the Golden Knight armour feel just a little too overcomplicated for my tastes. Of course that’s when I can actually see them, most of the action is really good, but there are times when the camera starts spinning round like its stuck on a spin cycle and I have no idea what’s going on. Other times it’s the most awesome action I have ever seen. A bit more consistency would have been nice. Outside of the action though there are some really beautiful shots and bits of directing. This series isn’t all action, it has its quiet moments. It knows when to let its characters just sit and breathe and be characters. Either way this show found a way to please both my older self and the ten year old me, so job well done I’d say.

The Verdict

All in all Garo – Vanishing Line is not a perfect series, but it is really enjoyable. There’s plenty of action and excitement for your inner ten year old and there’s also quieter, more character-driven moments for those looking for more than just action scenes. Where this series excels is in making its characters likable and really hitting you with their emotions. Watching Sophie, Luke and the others grow across the series is a true pleasure and one I will happily sit through again and again.

fish stamp great

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

Anime Corner: DARLING in the FRANXX Review

Blog Darling in the FRANXX Review Title

You can tell this piloting system was designed by a guy can’t you?

What’s the Story?

In the distant future, humanity is under threat and on the brink of extinction. The majority of the Earth has been reduced to a vast wasteland and humankind now live in domed cities, travelling that wasteland in search of Magma Energy. Then there are the klaxosaurs, huge beasts that are attracted to Magma Energy and devour anything that gets in their way. The only way humanity has found of fighting these monsters is by using pairs of boys and girls to pilot giant robots and tackle the creatures head on. Between fighting for their lives and the usual angst and drama teenagers go through, these kids have a lot to learn and not all of it pleasant. Just what are Papa’s true intentions for the kids and the world, what are the klaxosaurs really and, most importantly of all, what exactly is a kiss?

The Review

I’ll give this show one thing. It’s certainly not predictable; I mean when this show began I certainly didn’t imagine it ending where it did (and to be honest, I’m not exactly sure the writers knew that either). That’s one of this show’s biggest problems, a lot of the time it just doesn’t know where it’s going or what it wants to do. Oh it has plenty of ideas and a whole wide world to explore, the trouble is it spends a few episodes on one thing, then gets bored and wanders over to another plot point, which is fairly disappointing. I mean when I heard about this show I was super excited. I love mech anime. I love studio Trigger (they’ve given me some of my favourite anime in Kill la Kill and Little Witch Academia to name two) and they’ll be backed up by A-1 Pictures? Sign me up, this sounds epic and, in the very least, it looks epic. I’ve always love the character designs that Trigger uses and A-1 pictures generally has solid animation in its shows (if a few rough patches here and there) and that combines here to form a show that always looks good, whether its just two characters talking in a corridor or an epic battle to the finish between mechs and giant monsters. I really like this show’s use of colour and its cinematography, it’s just a pity I’m not as keen on the rest of it.

My problem comes in with how this series chooses to tell its plot. As I said it has trouble making up its mind what it wants to do, at first its your typical post-apocalyptic mech series with humanity fighting for survival and us getting to know the various pilots. Then the series decides to slow things down and forget about the battles and instead focus on the daily lives of the characters, showing how they interact and both antagonise and support one another, which I was okay with. I’d been promised giant robot battles, but I could survive with a more character driven story about how messed up humanity has become and the effect it’s had on these kids. Then the series goes “Oh right, mechs and giant monsters” and goes back to the fights and from that point onwards the plot just keeps ping ponging all over the place, sometimes having whole episodes of fighting and then long stretches of character stuff and very little action. Now maybe that could work, but the way its done in this show just makes it feel as if the pacing is way off, barreling along one minute and the next dragging its feet like you wouldn’t believe.

I think one of the best examples I’ve got of just how strange the storytelling in this series can be is by pointing out the fact that this series has three different finales (or at least what would be a finale in another show). We’ve got an epic battle where the city is being trashed by klaxosaurs and several of the characters emotional arcs come to boiling point, leading up to an epic final attack where our main characters Hiro and Zero Two Super Saiyan up to wipe out the majority of the klaxosaurs. Wow, that’s the finale right? Nope. Okay, how about a brutal slugfest against the entirety of the remaining klaxosaur population, with the klaxosaur’s princess kidnapping Hiro and the reveal villain of the story finally stepping into the spotlight! Finale? Nope. Right then, let’s try this. An epic battle in space with all the characters whizzing around and giving it their all to fend off the real villain, with a couple of deaths thrown in for good measure. Fin? Kind of. There’s an epilogue/finale that is the actual finale, but I hope you get the point I’m trying to make here. There’s about three seasons of show here all cramped into one and it messes up the natural flow of the story in my opinion.

The strangest thing about this show though is that individually everything pretty much works perfectly. If you took any one scene from this show and played it independent of the rest, it works pretty well. From the directing to the acting to the animation, everything is spot on. The problem is when you hook all the scenes up together and join together all the episodes, there’s a dissonance that disrupts the flow and for me that’s been a huge barrier to getting invested in what’s happening in this show. I’d watch scenes with characters pouring their hearts out or being cute and my reaction tended to be a blank stare. I watched several scenes back trying to work out why I wasn’t getting invested, there was nothing wrong with the scenes in and of themselves, I should have been reacting, but I just couldn’t. I mean when what seemed like the whole internet blew up at Ichigo over the kiss incident my response was a light shrug. I understood why people were upset, I also got Ichigo, she didn’t have all the facts we had and was doing the best with what she did know, also the fact that she is a horny teenager and her feels play a part in her decision making. For me though, I didn’t care one way or the other and I ended up getting mad at myself because I should have felt something. I wanted to like this show, I was ready to fall in love, but in the end I feel like one of the adults from this world, in that I’ve forgotten how to feel.

The Verdict

In the end Darling the Franxx is an okay anime. It’s certainly visually interesting, but its plot meanders all over the place, unable to decide between being an over the top, insane epic like studio Trigger does so well, or something more thoughtful and character-driven. Each element by itself is done perfectly and should work, but when you put it all together this show’s plot collapses in on itself and it’s not insane or energetic enough to cover up the huge gaping holes that creates. I wanted to love this show, but I’m afraid I won’t be calling it darling 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.

Anime Corner: Hakata Tonkotsu Ramens Review

Blog Hakata Review Title

Play Ball!

What’s the Story?

Fukuoka could pass for any other, hectic, thriving city, but this is a city that hides a dark secret. More than any other this is a city of killers, where the majority of the population (at least out of the ones we meet) are professional thugs-for-hire, hitmen or just people that are connected to their industry in one way or another. Rookies, old veterans, assassins, mercenaries, torturers, hackers, they can all be found here and if you need someone killing then there is someone willing to do it for you walking these streets. They even have a few speciality killers like the Submarine Ninja or a samurai who specialises in killing other professional killers. Lin is relatively new to the city, but soon finds himself on the wrong side of a dangerous organisation and crossing paths with a certain samurai and all of this is a wonderful metaphor for baseball! Wait, or is it baseball that’s the metaphor?

The Review

How do you make a hired killer the good guy in your story? Easy. You hire him to kill worse killers than he is (also you never show him hurting innocent people). Yeah, this is a show that likes to sidestep the moral greyness of its characters and instead likes to focus on character-driven and intricate plots, which if it makes a series this good I’m completely okay with. Now fair warning this show can be as dark and violent as a series about a dense population of hitmen should be. It’s not afraid to show just how horrible people can be to one another, but that’s never really the focus of the series.

Instead the series prefers to focus, and finds the must fun, in its characters and how they interact. Murderers, assassins and torturers they may be, but all of them are loveable in their own way and things get even better when they’re together. They bounce off of one another really well and act very much like a bizarre family unit. My one gripe about the series is that only Lin, Banba and Enokida get any real attention, everyone else kind of falls into the background. Now giving Lin and Banba the most attention makes sense seeing as how they are the ‘main couple’ as it were, but it would be nice for the others to get a bit more of the spotlight. Hopefully we can get a season 2 to explore these guys a bit more.

Lin and Banba are great together, they have a real chemistry and are always funny. Banba is the cool and quirky one (I see him as Spike from Cowboy Bebop by way of Dazai from Bungo Stray Dogs). Lin on the other hand is the tsundere and it is great to see him develop across the series to the point were he can trust others and even admits he likes the people in this city (especially considering his back story which we learn in latter episodes). Another thing to go on to the season 2 wish list is some of Banba’s back story, thinking about it we learn surprisingly little about he came to be who he is. Where did he learn how to use a sword? Why is he the way he is? What’s the deal with his ex that keeps being mentioned? Not that any of these questions is a detriment to his character in the show, Banba comes to us pretty much fully formed, I’m just curious is all.

The other area where this series excels is in its plotting. Each story arc (every two to four episodes) feels like a little mini movie, with set up for new characters and events leading through to drama and a very satisfying resolution. It’s very much a marvel watching all the different threads set up in the first episode of each arc weaving together in the resolution and all of it feels so natural. It’s a thing that so many shows struggle with and for good reason, getting a satisfactory ending is one of the hardest things to do and yet this show does it effortlessly. The episodes even still work as individual installments, but obviously better as a whole. If you want to know how to do pacing as well as set up and pay off then watch this show.

On a last note, I do have to admit that this isn’t a very action-packed show, well, not as action-packed as you’d guess as a series about professional killers should be. The focus, as I’ve said is on the characters and the plot so the action is pretty fast, but still cool. It gives you the moments you want to see then gets out of the way so that the plot can carry on, which I guess adds a note of realism to the fighting (not that this is a realistic show). As much as my inner ten year old loves long, drawn out battles (I blame Dragonball Z), but real fights tend to be over pretty quickly. We humans are incredibly weak and fragile creatures and are so easy to break. Still, despite the speed of the fights they are always satisfying, giving you just of enough the resolution that you need to leave happy.

The Verdict

There isn’t much more to be said about Hakata Tonkotsu Ramens, it kind of gets everything right, from the way the plot threads weave together, to the fun character interactions. Definitely watch the first four episodes as that’s the first arc of the series and will give you a good idea of what this show is capable of. I do get the feeling that this show has flown under a lot of people’s radars and I want to change that. Check this series out.

fish stamp great

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

Anime Corner: Death March to the Parallel World Rhapsody Review

Blog Death March Review Title

Tell me if you’ve heard this one before…

What’s the Story?

Satou is a programmer in the middle of a death march, working non-stop to get a game ready for launch, but when he lies down to take a nap he wakes up in a strange world, a world that is oddly similar to the game he’s been working on. After a using a couple of spells designed to help new players Satou ends up with a level higher than any other character in the game and with an ability to pick up new skills like other people breath, he has it pretty easy in this game. So Satou is going to enjoy his unexpected break, lord knows he doesn’t need to figure out why he’s here or even how he got here or can get home again. No, this is his vacation and if you’ve ever had to sit through someone else showing you their holiday snaps, then you have an inkling as to what is coming.

The Review

You know, this anime is kind of fascinating, not for anything that it does, or any of its characters or plot elements (those are all as dull and lifeless as a blank wall), no what’s fascinating to me is this thing’s mere existence. ‘Cause for the life of me I can’t think what possessed someone to make this anime. I mean this franchise must work in another medium, I think there’s a light novel, and it must be popular for someone to throw money into making a show, but I can’t figure it out. Mediocre is the best word I can use to describe this series, or if I felt like laying into it a bit more I’d call it crushingly boring, I’m still wavering on which to go with. I spent twelve episodes watching this thing, waiting for something to happen and it never did!

Okay let’s try and break this down, as far as the plot is concerned, there is none, moving on! Okay, okay, so the story follows the typical story of a person from modern times waking up in a strange and fantastical world (because that only happens every other anime nowadays. Seriously why will this genre not stop? I can’t rewatch Escaflowne ‘cause I’m so sick of this genre and yet I still watch these shows, so maybe I’m the problem). After that, there’s a bit of drama in the first episode, but once that’s over Satou gets his power boost and takes it easy. I mean, he’s the most powerful guy around, he has loads of money, a harem of girls and women to travel with and can pick up any new skills he needs in a heartbeat. He has nothing to worry about and look, I’ve never worked a death march, but it sounds horrendous and I can’t blame the guy for wanting to take some time off. However, he could try to act like an actual human being because I don’t know about you, but if I suddenly work up in a game that I’d been making, I’d be a little surprised.

Satou takes everything in his stride, nothing phases him, he has a plan for every occasion and if that fails he can always hit things really hard. I get that he’s an escapist’s power fantasy, but because he’s the way he is, there is no urgency to the plot. He shows no desire to find a way home, or to discover the particulars of how or why he was brought here. He even gives up trying to figure out if this actually is the game he was working on, or some weird parallel world. He doesn’t even want to be the big hero, which part of me likes ‘cause that’s a tiny bit different from the norm, but when you take that out all we’re left with is Satou wandering around doing stuff. I mean occasionally the plot will throw stuff that has potential at us, like the hints of a back story about gods and Satou’s altered memories, or when the undead king shows up and challenges Satou to complete a dungeon or the machinations of corrupt politicians trying to take over a witch’s forest. Yet, with those last two, you have to remember that Satou is pretty much untouchable so any threat they do present is wiped away with a snap of Satou’s fingers. I mean the guy walks through the dungeon without so much as breaking a sweat.

There’s no threat or urgency to this story, no reason to invest in the plight of the characters because there is none. The shows kept teasing me, like maybe this time, this one time, something would happen, but no. Satou is god here and as such none may so much as knock a hair out of place atop his majestic head. I think the biggest sin of this show is that it’s not terrible. There’s nothing outlandishly bad to turn me away, no everything is serviceable, enough that I hope it’ll get better next week, which as I may have mentioned, it doesn’t! If you want to watch a show about an impossibly overpowered main character hanging out with his harem of girls in a generic fantasy world, then this is okay. Not bad, but definitely not good.

The Verdict

Death March to the Parallel World Rhapsody is a serviceable series, that’s as kind as I can be. There’s nothing glaringly bad about this show, but there’s also nothing new, exciting or in anyway original about this series either. You’ve got a bunch of pleasant characters hanging around in a generic fantasy world where nothing can hurt or even threaten them, not as long as Satou is around. There are hints of a deeper story and a potential danger, but the series grinds to a halt long before any of becomes more than some vague mythology in the background. You can watch this show and not hate it, but personally I want all the time back that I wasted watching this!

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: Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card Review

Blog Cardcaptor Clear Card Review Title

Ah who cares about a bunch of cards, let’s all sing the rolled omelette song!

What’s the Story?

Once, long ago (in like the 90s) a young Japanese girl named Sakura found a mysterious book in her father’s basement. Upon opening the book Sakura released the Clow Cards and it became her job to put them back and turn them into Sakura Cards. She did this and became one of the most powerful magicians in the world. Job done. Enough said. Plain sailing from then on out, right? Not quite. One day Sakura has a strange dream and when she wakes up all the cards have become clear (well that explains the title)! Now Sakura must work out what has happened to the cards while new cards begin to appear and cause mischief across the city. Of course none of this is Sakura’s main concern. No she has to learn how to make better rolled omelettes and go on picnics and do cheerleading practise. Oh and her boyfriend Syaoran is finally back in Japan.

The Review

I may have mentioned this before, but I’m a huge fan of Cardcaptor Sakura. I found the series when I was a kid and pretty much fell in love with both Sakura as a heroine and the clow cards themselves within about five seconds. It had just the right mix of magic, mystery and cutesy antics to captivate me (and that was the English dub, you can imagine my shock and joy when I found the original manga). Anyway, so you can imagine my reaction when I heard they were not only making a new series, but one that carried on with a brand new story? They had to peel me off the ceiling I was that excited.

Then we come to the actual series and, well, disappointed isn’t the right word. The series isn’t what I was expecting, it’s good and it has a lot going for it, but it’s not the knockout I wanted it to be. I think what I wanted from the series and what the creators behind it wanted to give me are two entirely different things, which is okay. It just means I need to realign my expectations, but all the while I couldn’t shake the little voice in the back of my head whispering that this wasn’t what I wanted. I mean it’s great to see all the characters again and see them all up to their usual antics. Heck the arc in the middle of this anime where Meiling shows up has some of my favourite parts just from the fact that we get to see how much Meiling has grown as a character.

That does bring up one of the problems with the series though, Meiling may have developed, but the others haven’t. Sakura is still as oblivious as a brick wall and as adorable as ever, Tomoyo is reaching stalker levels with the amount she records Sakura and all their school friends keep up their usual bubbly antics. Syaoran on the other hand has picked up a rather worrying trait, in that he’s keeping secrets from Sakura. I won’t go into what said secret is, and I do get why he’s doing it from his point of view, but it’s veering dangerously close to toxic masculinity for my taste and I just want to grab the kid and shake him until he realises what an idiot he’s being. I don’t care about the excuse they eventually come up with, keeping secrets like this is never good and its only real purpose is to just to create drama and it’s forced and it’s stupid.

For so many of these character it feels like their stories reached their peak in the previous series and there’s nowhere left for them to go. So much of this anime feels like its dragging itself out or spinning its wheels and that is just frustrating. Yes watching Sakura and Kero sing as they make rolled omelettes is one of the cutest things ever animated, but I come to Cardcaptor Sakura for more than that. It’s a real shame because there are some interesting things bubbling away in the background, mentions of how powerful Sakura has become, the new transfer student and the possibility of an actual bad guy for Sakura to face (‘Cause let’s face it both Yue and Eriol were antagonists, but they never actually wanted to hurt Sakura).

There’s even some hints at some interesting character exploration for Sakura in the later episodes, but it never really goes anyway, mostly because the anime just stops. I’m hoping there’s a second season being lined up somewhere, because if the final episode is the actual final episode I’m going to scream, then I’m going to kill somebody. I don’t think the creators have actually got how seasonal anime words. The industry has changed since the original series came out, animes that just run and run for more than fifty episodes are a thing of the past and nowadays most’ll run for twelve or thirteen episodes, take a break and come back next year. Cardcaptor Sakura Clear Card has taken its break, but it’s forgot to leave us on a satisfactory enough conclusion to make sure we hang around for the year. The way the series is structured at the minutes it’s as if there should be an episode next week to carry on the story.

One other thing I’ve noticed about this series though, and this is the point were I realised what I wanted from the series and what the creators wanted to put out was entirely different, is the cards. The cards in this series feel almost like an afterthought. Often an episode will run for twenty minutes with lots of Sakura hanging out with her friends or blushing at Syaoran and stuff like that and then in the last five minutes they’ll realise they haven’t actually had a card appear yet so they’ll quickly throw one in and have it captured pretty much as soon as it appears. My memories of the original series may be a touch distorted, but I’m pretty sure the cards got a bit more build up than that. Most of the cards, not all of them, were the focus of the episode, with whatever power they had causing some kind of mischief and eventually Sakura and the others would notice and they’d go out to capture it. It’s a good formula and one I wish this series would have used, because frankly that would have been distracting enough that I wouldn’t be so frustrated by the snails pace of the mystery plot about the bad guys and what’s going on.

Let’s end on a positive note though, the animation. This show is utterly gorgeous, there is some cinema quality visuals at times, seriously, the Cardcaptor series has never looked this good before. From the bright vibrant colours, to the motion of the action, especially during some of the capture sequences, there were several captures that I just had to stop and rewatch (my favourites being the captures of the Snooze Card and the Struggle Card).

The Verdict

In the end, I don’t think I can recommend Cardcaptor Sakura until I’ve seen whatever happens in the next part (and there will be a next part, or else). If you’re a fan of the franchise you’ve probably already seen this and if you haven’t taken part in Cardcaptor Sakura before I’d recommend going to check out the original series before watching this (and hopefully by the time you’ve done that they’ll be more of this). Animation wise this series is fantastic and it’s great to see all of the characters again, even if they don’t develop all that much. There’s definite potential to where they could take this series, but as it stands at the moment this series is just filled with too much padding and focus on the slice of life aspects. It was the magic and mystery of the original series that drew me in in the first place and so far this series just doesn’t have that. Here’s hoping Clear Card part 2 will improve on things (and there had better be a part 2 dammit!).

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: A Place Further Than The Universe Review

Blog Universe Review Title

Youth in Motion!

What’s the Story?

Kimari wanted to have an adventure once she got to high school, but wakes up one morning to realise that she’s actually done nothing! She’s too afraid to take that first step, that is until she meets Shirase, an awkward girl with dreams of joining an expedition to Antarctica. Suddenly Kimari finds herself on an adventure unlike any she’s ever dreamed of and when joined by two other girls they might just make it on the expedition. There will be tears. There will be laughs. There will be some downright gorgeous animation; their youth is finally in motion!

The Review

Okay, I’m calling it now, this is my favourite anime of the whole year, heck it’s going straight on to my top 10 anime list (I just don’t know where, surely it can’t topple Fullmetal Alchemist and Madoka Magica, can it?). I absolutely adore every aspect of this show from the frankly breathtaking animation to the loveable characters and the heartfelt stories. There’s something about these series about young women tackling life and drama that just resonates with me, I loved Shirobako and Sakura Quest, but there was something about this show in particular, I’m struggling to find the right words for it, the best I can express it as is that it got me in the feels. Every damn episode of this show had me crying, every single one. I mean there were some weeks when I was determined not to cry again, but we’d hit the insert song and I’d go instantly (also this show is a master class in how to use an insert song for full effect).

I suppose it all comes down to the core message of the show, that the world is a huge, magnificent place and just sitting there isn’t going to let you see it. If you want it, you have to go out and get it and it’s time to get personal. I’m very much a home-rooster (not sure if that’s even a phrase, but I’m using it), by which I mean I don’t get out much. I like getting home, closing the curtains and curling up with a book or a series or maybe even working on my own stuff and not really getting out too much. Now I’m content with that, I am a lot more sociable than I used to be and I do go out with friends, but watching a series like this. It does make me stare out the window and wonder what else I could do. I think that’s why this series works so much, it’s not out to be mean, or say anyone’s wrong about how they choose to live, it certainly doesn’t make me feel bad about how I live my life, but it does make you think. This series is here to inspire, to show that no matter how big the obstacle, how mighty the odds are, if you put the work in, you can get there.

Okay, enough gushing, let’s talk about the actual mechanics of the series, because this series has so much more to offer than a heart warming message. We’ll start with the animation, which frankly just blows my mind every time I see it. I mean so much of this is cinema quality in my mind, the colours, the figures, the motion, all of it speaks of either a really high budget or some of the most talented animators in the industry today. The landscape shots of Antarctica are just jaw-droppingly gorgeous. What I think sells it the most though is the little details. Just watch the opening, in those shots of the buildings and the street with the sun slowly moving across the sky, just really look at those shots. Not only do you get things like the glare of the sun moving across the car in the parking lot, but you can see each individual shadow moving exactly as it should. That is an insane level of detail and my hat goes off to the people that spent their time not just on those scenes, but all the scenes. I mean they really capture the characters, with little expressions and their body language, there’s just so much energy on the screen, you can’t help but be sucked in.

Speaking of the characters, that’s another big selling part of this series. I want to give a round of applause to the voice actors on this series, especially the four main girls. They all put in really great performances and I’ll have to check because either these four girls are best friends in real life or they’re some damned great actresses. You feel the chemistry between each of them, the way they joke around and comfort one another, you get the feeling that these people have known one another for a very long time and it’s a beautiful thing to watch. Also I really like how the series doesn’t make any of the girls more important than the others, each of them gets a fair share of the spotlight dealing with either something that’s come up on the expedition or their own personal little dramas. You see each of these girls grow from their experiences and the bond between them deepen until we get to the point where they’re vastly different to how they started and I love that.

The Verdict

In the end, just go watch this series. I cannot stress how amazing, beautiful and heart-meltingly good this series is. You are doing yourself a disservice if you don’t go to see it. It has a little bit for everybody, some gorgeous animation, a great soundtrack, lovable characters, great jokes, plenty of tears, drama and friendships galore. This show is a master class in how to do a series. Go. And. Watch. It!

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

Anime Corner: Laid-Back Camp Review

Blog Laid Back Camp Review Title

Secret Society BLANKET will cover the world!

What’s the Story?

Rin is a solo-camper and likes it that way. There’s nothing that she enjoys more than spending time in the great outdoors with only her hand-me down camping gear and the winter chill in the air. Then she meets Nadeshiko, a hyperactive girl who has fallen down due to exhaustion. Rin helps Nadeshiko recover and introduces her to the joys of camping. But now that Nadeshiko has the camping bug, can she convince Rin to give group camping a go?

The Review

Aaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhh. That’s been my reaction after each episode of this show, a long contented sigh. If you’re looking for action, excitement or even a hint of drama then move along because you’re not going to find that here. Relaxed is the order of the day, which I suppose should be obvious considering the title of this show, and all in all I’ve really enjoyed this show, a lot more than I thought I would. I mean I’m not an outdoors person, camping has never interested me in the past, I’m very much a housebound soul. I enjoy nothing more than getting into my nice warm, cosy house and nesting in front of my laptop. If I want the outside world, well, that’s what the window is for. However, this series has got me curious and while I realise that this anime is an incredibly romanticised version of camping, after watching this I wouldn’t mind giving it a go.

The anime gets so many things just right, but let’s start with the characters. Now the story of cute girls doing cute things is an often-repeated trope and one that I don’t think will be leaving us anytime soon. It works a lot of the time, but I feel that these characters are a slight cut above the average. Each one of them is adorable, though I will admit a lot of my feelings come from just how much I adore the central pair of Nadeshiko and Rin. They really work well together and you feel the friendship blossoming between them. Nadeshiko is a hyperactive puppy of a character and an utter joy to be around, her excitement is infectious, even if it does make her seem like a bit of an airhead at times. Rin on the other hand is quiet and serious, but what makes both characters work is that there is a touch more to their characters. Don’t get me wrong, none of the characters have that much depth, but its little touches that make them engaging.

Rin, while a bit of a loner, can have a laugh and a joke at times and she is susceptible to the lure of the cute, especially cute dogs. What I think I like most about her character though is that she’s never portrayed as an outcast and nor does she have a resistance to being around other people. She’s perfectly happy to be around and talk to other people, it’s that there are other times when she wants to be alone (which I completely get). Though the main arc of the series is to get Rin to go along on a camping trip with the whole gang, it’s not some sort of intervention to get Rin to come out of her shell, no, the girls just want to hang out together. The also does a good job balancing the pros of solo camping as well as the pros of group camping, neither one is shown as better than the other and that really surprised me. A lesser show would have been pitching the group camp like crazy and making it seem as if there was something wrong with solo camping.

That brings me to the biggest draw for this series, outside of the gentle humour, relaxed atmosphere and charming characters, and that’s the scenery. A lot of the early episodes do feel like commercials for camping sites, but that feeling disappears as the series continues. The backdrops in this show are entirely gorgeous, especially the shots of Mt. Fuji. I am entirely convinced that they just slapped a high definition photo up on the screen because if an actual background artist or artists made those shots, well, first I want to shake their hands and then I want to know what black magic they performed to make them. Some of the shots of the scenery are so realistic and gorgeous that I wanted to reach through the screen and touch them, just…wow. That’s all I got.

There’s not really much more to say about this series. The characters are sweet and funny, not exactly laugh out loud, but they had me chuckling along. The character designs are cute and the animation is bright and colourful. There’s no real plot outside of the various events as the girls learn and teach one another about camping, as I said the first few episode do feel like commercials at times, but the characters and animation were enough to pull me along until that passed.

The Verdict

Laid-Back Camp is a charming, if very idyllic look at camping. It has lots of tips and information about camping for those that are interested or new, but more than anything this is a series about cute girls being cute and I’m okay with that. There’s no drama or plot to speak of, but there’s plenty of moments that made me smile and some utterly gorgeous scenery to carry me along the journey. If you’re after a break from the more action-packed shows or just life in general this could be the series for you, so wrap yourself up in a blanket, sit back and relax.

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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.