Pokemon: The Origin: Catching them all edition

Pokemon, or Pocket Monsters was a part of my generation’s childhood and every subsequent generation given that the series has continued with a new version being released every couple of years and that isn’t even including the spinoff games like Snap, Conquest, or Ranger. The original pair of games, Red and Green, was released in Japan during February of 96. (Blue didn’t come until later. We didn’t get them until 99 and we didn’t get Green at all. The games quickly grew into a major franchise with an anime that started broadcasting in 97 and has never stopped, getting new series added with every new game release. In addition to that it has a trading card game, a manga and a whole lot of merchandise. October of 2013 was pretty big for the series. Not only were the newest titles, X & Y released but so was a special hearkening back to the games that started it all. That being Pokemon: The Origin, a four episode piece. Brought to us by OLM, the same studio behind the rest of the anime, Production IG and Xebec. So, is this worth looking into?

Story:

The narrative opens at the same place as the original games, Professor Oak introduces himself and the world of Pokemon, although he doesn’t ask if you’re a boy or girl. It also shows the brief snippet of Gengar and Nidorino fighting that played before the title screen. Enter our hero, Red. He’s summoned to Oak’s lab along with his rival, Green. The two are given pokedexes and their first pokemon. Red chooses Charmander because of the connection to his name. Green calls that a girly reason and picks Squirtle, because being a dick is the manly thing to do. Red decides to focus on completing his pokedex while Green makes an effort to become the world’s greatest trainer. After losing horribly against Green, Red realises that he’s going to have to become a stronger trainer if he’s going to have a chance to complete his pokedex and he decides to take the gym challenge. From there, it follows the same narrative as the games with the gym battles and encounters with Team Rocket.

Now, there are quite a few things in the story that I do like. One of the big things is the way they show the gym leaders pick which pokemon to use. They only show two gym fights, the first being against Takeshi and the other against Sakaki. Takeshi asks Red how many badges he has and decides which Pokemon to use based on it, which implies that Gym leaders base their pokemon on their challenger’s progress. Which is an interesting addition to the universe and I’d really like to see it used in an actual game. It wouldn’t be difficult, they’d just have to give you a more open world where you could challenge the gyms in any order and have the pokemon used by the gym leaders be dependent on when you fight them. They skip over a lot out of necessity, but the moments they do hit on are handled pretty well and get some good dramatic tension. I also like the usage of game imagery throughout the special and I do appreciate that Pikachu barely appears. I don’t hate Pikachu, but it’s so over-used in most Pokemon media.

Now, there are flaws too. They use montages to explain everything they’ve skipped and these are entirely pointless. They show you the loading screen at the beginning of each episode, which tells you how many badges Red has and how many pokemon he’s caught. They rarely show the scenes of him catching pokemon so why do they need to explicate on how he beat gyms and got badges? It just takes time away from the moments they’re actually focusing on. They could have spent more time on Sakaki’s story arc so it didn’t feel so rushed. That’s another problem, Sakaki’s story arc is taken care of over the course of a single battle. It lasts for maybe five minutes and the result feels forced as a consequence.

Characters:

Red is a great lead character, unlike certain other Pokemon protagonists who are incompetent and have trouble with the basic idea of actually catching pokemon. Red grows as a character in a way that makes sense and seems realistic for what he’s going through. Green is overconfident and arrogant, but he’s not a bad character either. He seems like a brash and abrasive teenager. I also like the bond between Red and his starter. Unlike some incompetent twits who can’t even keep their pokemon from attacking them, (okay that’s the last swing I take at Satoshi), Red develops a strong camaraderie with his Charizard over the course of the series which culminates in a very strong scene when they face their greatest challenge. The biggest weakness in terms of major characters is Sakaki, who undergoes a radical change for flimsy reasons.

Art:

This special looks great. The character designs are nicely detailed while staying fairly faithful to the source material. The pokemon battles can get surprisingly brutal and they just look awesome. At least what they show of them. The battles are another area where a lot of stuff gets skipped over.

Sound:

The voice acting is pretty good. Red is voiced by Takeuchi Junko, who played Dieter in Monster. She gives a strong performance. Green is voiced bu Eguchi Takuya, who gave a decent performance in Chokotan as Arima and gives an even better one here. The music and sound are frequently reminiscent of the soundtrack from Red and Green which is really cool.

Ho-yay:

There’s no romance at all, homo-erotic or otherwise. 1/10.

Final Thoughts:

This special is actually really good. They do skip a lot of material, but it’s understandable and necessary given the length of the special. Red is a great protagonist and they manage some really good send ups to the original game. There’s a lot to like about it, especially if you were or still are a fan of the Pokemon games. It’s not a perfect series, but it is a great one. My final rating is going to be an 8/10. Next week, another anime based on a Nintendo property. This one involving blades and sorcery. That’s right, Fire Emblem had an OVA.

Reviews of Yesteryear: Ichiban Ushiro no Daimaou

Ichiban Ushiro no Daimaou is a harem series written by Mizuki Shotaro. It was originally a light novel series, which is still going, and got an anime adaptation more recently. I have to say that I have a bad feeling about this one just from the harem and ecchi tags so let’s get it over with. While there are good anime out there that use those tags, they are rare. 

Sai Akuto is a transfer student into a prestigious magic academy. He plans to work hard and make the world a better place. When he reports for his physical exam he’s told that his future occupation is a demon lord and everyone wants him dead or to get into his pants because free will doesn’t exist and he can’t just choose a different career or some such nonsense. The plot moves at an absurdly slow pace for most of the series where they introduce minor sub-plots that go absolutely nowhere only to rush through the main story in the last episodes. The plot is cheesy, full of ridiculous cliches and, as if it wasn’t bad enough, it gets a deus ex ending. The humour is another factor that utterly fails. How badly? They make a joke about tentacle rape. That’s all you really need to know, but if you’re curious about the rest of the humour it’s mostly tasteless sex jokes.

The characters are flat, one-dimensional cliches. They’re about as developed as the cast of Kingdom Hearts. That’s how exceedingly bland they are. You can pretty easily predict what each character is going to do shortly after being introduced to them just by being passingly familiar with the tropes they embody. Making their interactions completely uninteresting.

The art could be well done, if not for one major issue. The fan-service. I know, I complain about fan-service frequently in my reviews, but this has such an excessive level of fan-service that it makes everything else I’ve reviewed look tame by comparison. It’s so bad that it borders on soft-core porn. The fight scenes are dull. They’re over far too quickly and, frequently, they’re used as a thin excuse to strip the female characters. This anime wouldn’t be able to understand how to keep things classy with four years of study under Gail Simone.

The voice acting and music are both pretty forgettable. They aren’t bad but they aren’t anything special either. They just get the job done.

The yuri factor is a 2/10. There’s one scene involving Fujiko, unfortunately it’s a rape joke. Most of the time the female characters can’t even pass the Bechdel test, much less develop relationships with each other.

My final rating for Ichiban Ishiro no Daimaou is a 1/10. The series substitutes any kind of depth for ludicrous amounts of fan-service. Add the fact that the humour is repulsive and the characters flat and all you have left is the fan-service and, frankly, if that’s what you’re looking for you’d be better off just watching hentai.

Reviews of yesteryear: Rinne no Lagrange

Rinne no Lagrange is a sci-fi series written by Suga Shotaro, known for working on several really strong titles such as Stand Alone Complex, Le Chevalier D’Eon, Brotherhood and some others. It sounds promising so let’s take a look.

Kyouno Madoka is a young high school student and the only member of the Jersey Club, a group that aids other student organisations. One day she’s approached by a strange girl and taken to a battleship to pilot a giant robot called a Vox that everyone seems to want to possess or destroy. To make things more complicated, there’s a disturbing legend about the Vox. That’s the basic story, it seems like there’s a lot of material, especially for a relatively short anime, but all the material gets covered really well. There’s a lot of intrigue and the mixture of occasional serious moments with mostly light-hearted fun is well executed. The only real story issue is the pacing. Everything does get covered, but some parts have a really hectic pace, especially at the very beginning and end, while others are more relaxed and it makes the story seem like it’s moving far too fast at those hectic points which is a bit disorienting.

The anime focuses more on the characters than it does the story, which does make things interesting. The main cast is well developed and they get a lot of great interactions. The major interactions revolve around Madoka, Lan and Muginami (who can’t seem to figure out when things between Madoka and Lan are getting intense and polite people would leave the room). The three of them are spectacular characters. Even the supporting characters and antagonists feel fleshed out and interesting.

The art is good. It’s nice and vibrant, which suits the content well. The backgrounds are lively. My one issue is that there’s quite a bit of pointless fan-service and it gets pretty facepalm worthy at some moments. That being said, at least it’s equal opportunity fan-service.

The voice acting is well done. Seto Asami, Ishihara Kaori, and Kayano Ai especially do well with their roles. The music is upbeat, catchy and really well done.

The yuri factor is a 6.5/10. You can probably guess this from the characters paragraph, the relationship between Madoka and Lan is extremely homoerotic, and Muginami gets a few moments with them, so maybe it’s not that she can’t read the mood maybe she just wants to be involved. Youko and Machiko also get a couple moments, but the main les-yay focus is on Madoka and Lan, the last episode especially.

My final rating for Rinne no Lagrange is a 7.5/10. It has some awkward pacing and far too much fan-service, but overall it’s a delightful series with lots of fun moments and wonderful characters. If you’re a fan of Sky Girls or Canaan you’ll probably like this as well and the best part is that a sequel is set to start airing in July. Here’s hoping that it’s even better and that Madoka and Lan get to officially become a couple instead of just being really homoerotic.The original review was written in April of 2012 and the sequel did air from July to September of 2012. 

Chokotan: How do I dog?

Chokotan is an adaptation of an ongoing manga written by Takeuchi Kozue. The special is only ten minutes long and was handled by J.C. Staff. Yes, the same studio behind Potemayo, The Slayers and Honey & Clover, to name a few. So, how do they handle adapting an ongoing manga into a really short special? Let’s take a look and find out.

Story:

The titular Chokotan is a miniature Dachshund. Her owner, Nao, likes a boy in her school named Arima and gets to see him everyday when taking Chokotan for her morning walk in spite of being in different classes. Also, Chokotan can talk like a human because she ate a strange plant that somehow made her vocal cords work that way. One day things go wrong for Nao when two girls who are in Arima’s class stop by and talk to him. That’s pretty much the story presented in the ten minute segment.

Now, I will be somewhat lenient with it since it is only a ten minute segment. But even being lenient, it does have multiple problems. The first is that Chokotan’s magical vocal cords seem to work by plot convenience, failing for no apparent reason and then working again for no reason. The second is that Chokotan doesn’t work like a dog. In addition to her magic vocal cords, she has magical tear ducts and doesn’t have issues with being colour blind, being able to identify what “red” looks like. The reason for the tears is used as a lazy way to make Chokotan emote because… whimpering wasn’t good enough? The lack of colour blindness is just used for a terribly written bit of dialogue. Then we have the conflict itself. Nao freaks out because Arima knows girls besides her and talks with them in an innocuous and friendly way? That’s really weak and entirely petty on her part. The romance itself just seems cliché. Yeah, that’s a lot of problems crammed into ten minutes. And I’m not even going to complain about Chokotan’s ability to talk not doing anything in the narrative since there isn’t exactly sufficient time to make it really important.

Characters:

While the characters aren’t very well fleshed out, they are, in all fairness, about the best you can expect from a ten minute special. The only real complaint I have is that Nao is a twit. Having her react so vehemently to the guy she likes knowing other girls just makes her seem creepily possessive and annoyingly melodramatic.

Art:

The art is one aspect that they did a really good job with. The characters are nicely detailed and there are some nice background details. The best part is the art on the dogs, which looks absolutely adorable.

Sound:

Kugimiya Rie stars as our canine protagonist and does a cutesy voice for her. To her credit, the voice she uses isn’t so over the top and high-pitched that it gets annoying. So it is much better than her Nene performance in Potemayo. Nao is voiced by Sakura Ayane, who does a good job. Arima and his dog, Happy, are voiced by Eguchi Takuya and Tamura Mutsumi respectively, both of whom do well. The music is suitable for the series.

Ho-yay:

There is no ho-yay in this series. There are only a small number of characters and the important ones are two humans of the opposite sex and two dogs of the opposite sex.

Final Thoughts:

This is a short special that seems to be designed around gathering interest in the manga. The problem is it’s pretty stupid. The story, though very short, is riddled with problems. From not understanding how dogs work, to an incredibly weak conflict, to the plot contrivance talking ability and the really egregiously bad bit of “romantic” dialogue just serves to end it really badly. I will give the special that the art and acting are both good and the story, while bad, isn’t terrible or offensive. If the idea of a talking Dachshund helping her owner with her romantic problems appeals to you, give it a try. Maybe you’ll be interested enough to check out the manga. For myself, I have to give it a 4/10. There are simply too many story problems that crop up in those ten minutes. Next week, Pokemon: The Origin.

Reviews of yesteryear: Deadman Wonderland

Deadman Wonderland was written by Kataoka Jinsei. It started in 2007 and is still going. Last year it got a twelve episode anime adaptation. I haven’t heard much about the series so I don’t know what to expect. Let’s take a look and find out.

Fourteen year old Igarashi Ganta witnesses the murders of his peers at the hands of the mysterious “Red Man.” The Red Man pushes a crystal into Ganta’s chest and vanishes. He soon finds himself in a privatised prison where he’ll have to fight to survive. The basic elements seem very cliche, but it’s all presented in a very unique and interesting way. The story does an excellent job of balancing between more light-hearted moments and really dark, twisted moments. This contributes to making it very interesting to watch. It also has excellent pacing. It sets up for another season while still having a satisfying climax and an interesting conflict. The one negative is that it is a short anime. The result is that a lot of plot points don’t get resolved. However, it is clearly set up for a sequel so it’s really not a major negative and I do hope that the series does get a second season because what’s there is very interesting.

This series has a massive cast. The major characters are, mostly, very well fleshed out, as are some of the side characters, but most of them get very little character development. However, that does work for the story and the setting. Given the length, they really couldn’t have done much better. My only real issue with the characters is with Ganta himself. He feels like a stock everyman protagonist that we’ve seen a lot. He does get a little development in the last couple episodes, but he still comes across as a pretty bland character. Especially when compared to the far more interesting group around him.

The art is very good, overall. There’s a good use of colours, the fight scenes are interesting and they even manage to make the backgrounds lively. Which is pretty impressive for an anime mostly set in a prison. Now, there are some really gruesome scenes that may be a bit difficult to watch, but they are excellently handled and plot relevant. This isn’t mindless or something that’s just done for shock value. There are a few art issues. The first is that there are some really dark scenes that are hard to see and there’s really not a good reason for them to be. Another is that there are a few art errors, there aren’t many but there are enough that it is a little distracting.

The voice acting is excellent. Paku Romi and Hanazawa Kana both have very strong performances. The rest of the cast is good too, but those two in particular stand out. The music does a very good job of helping set the tone.

The yuri factor is a 2/10. Kyoko seems to have a crush on Makina in a few scenes, but you don’t get enough with them to be certain.

My final rating for Deadman Wonderland is an 8/10. It has a few weak points, but it’s a very good anime overall. It’s well-paced, interesting, well acted and it has a lot of endearing characters, even if the main protagonist is rather dull. If you don’t mind sitting through some gruesome scenes I would definitely suggest checking it out.

Reviews of yesteryear: Nichijou

Nichijou is a comedic manga/anime/PSP game written by Keiichi Arawi. It’s had very limited releases outside of Japan with the North American versions even being canceled for reasons I don’t know. The question is, were audiences thankfully spared or are they missing out on something? I’m going to examine the anime to find out.

This is yet another comedy without an over-arching story. The episodes do have a definite order, however. The setting is that a bunch of characters live their ordinary lives. It’s mostly about high school girls but there are some teachers, animals and other assorted characters as well. Now for the all important question: is it funny? The answer is on occasion. A lot of the humour just relies on complete randomness. And it’s not randomness that leads to an amusing moment most of the time. It’s just something completely random happening, like a vending machine not working properly. Sometimes it’s funny but it’s usually just something stupid that leaves you waiting for a nonexistent punch-line. The non-random humour is generally very predictable and a lot of jokes get repeated.

The cast of the characters is really too big. As a result most of them are used for one or two jokes. There are maybe six core characters who get involved with more than that and they’re still pretty bland.

The art is boring. The technique shifts pretty frequently and none of it is particularly good. Noses are largely absent and animals barely resemble what they’re supposed to be in most cases. It’s passable, but it’s not decent.

The voice acting isn’t bad. The cast does a fine job, nothing spectacular but it’s fine. One issue that I do have with the voice acting is that there are several loud tirades that just feel like pointless noise. Because shouting for about five minutes straight is funny? No, it’s just annoying. Speaking of annoying, a lot of the music in this is badly sung and just obnoxious.

The yuri factor is a 2/10. There are a couple moments that border on homoerotic but there aren’t many and they never go anywhere.

My final rating for Nichijou is a 3/10. There are a few funny moments but it’s mostly just loud and boring. If you think that random=funny you’ll probably find it hilarious. Otherwise, I would stay away from it.

Murder Princess: It’s magic and they don’t have to explain it

Murder Princess is a two volume manga written by Inui Sekihiko. During that tail end of the manga’s run, it was adapted into a six episode OVA. Which was produced by Marvelous Entertainment, a company primarily know for video games, and animated by Bee Train, the company behind a good chunk of the .Hack anime franchise. This is one you may or may not have heard of since it’s not obscure but not really well known either. So, is it worth looking into?

Story:

Our story opens with a coup. In the kingdom of Forland, a scientist under the monarchy’s employ decides that it’s time to take things over for reasons that are a spoiler and I shan’t get into. During the coup, the king sends his daughter, the Princess Alita, out through a hidden passage to safety. She and her escort are attacked by monsters in the forest and she barely manages to escape and meet the bounty hunter, Falis. The two fall from a cliff which causes their souls to swap bodies because… magic. Alita entreats Falis to save her kingdom, offering herself as collateral. Admiring her determination, Falis agrees, not completely realising what she’s getting herself into.

On the positive side, the narrative is compelling. It keeps several mysteries throughout the main story that keep your interest and the eventual payoff for them is pretty good. This is also one of those rare series that manages to combine sci-fi and fantasy elements in a sensical way that adds to the world instead of having the world suffer from the clash between the two as is often the case when you combine advanced technology and magic. The pacing is very close to perfect with the plot moving very smoothly and steadily. It’s never rushed or slowed to a crawl. The ending is great with some real emotional substance.

Now, to the problems with the series. The main problem is with the body switch. There are some good story reasons for it, but they don’t do much with it. Falis has no trouble adjusting to fighting in Alita’s body, which is apparently as well trained as her body was contrary to all logic. Neither one has much trouble adjusting to their new role either. Alita easily falls into a subservient role for the “princess” and Falis only has minor troubles adjusting to aristocratic comportment. It also bothers me that everyone consistently refers to Falis, in Alita’s body, as “princess” when she does act as the queen for a time. It’s, admittedly, a minor issue but it’s annoying to me when a work of media calls the land’s ruler “princess” when she’s doing the duties of a queen and it happens all the time. Whether it’s the Mushroom Kingdom, Mobius, Equestria or the Moon Kingdom.

Characters:

The primary characters in this, Alita and Falis, are really well developed and fleshed out characters. They also get some great interactions both with each other and with the secondary characters. The supporting characters vary a lot more. Dominikov and Pete are pretty good characters, Dominikov especially. But a lot of the other secondary characters are not very interesting. The antagonists have incredibly flimsy motivations. Then we have the characters who are there more to serve a function than to actually act as characters; Jodo, Ana and Yuna being prime examples.

Art:

The art is pretty spectacular. The character designs are all pretty creative and interesting. The action sequences flow well, in spite of the occasional motion lines scene, and have a very dynamic feel to them. The details are very nicely done in terms of backgrounds, background objects and the like. I also like that the series is pretty subdued about showing violence. It shows what it needs to, but keeps the more graphic parts off-screen. The only criticism I really have for the art is that some of the designs do look a bit cheesy.

Sound:

Our main protagonists are voiced by the impeccable Paku Romi, in one of her rare roles as a female character instead of a young man, and the talented Koshimizu Ami, who also played Kallen in Code Geass and Claes in Gunslinger Girl. They also got some really talented people in secondary roles like Namikawa Daisuke, Toyoguchi Megumi and Saito Chiwa. The music used throughout the series is really strong.

Ho-yay:

There is certainly some les-yay in this series between our two main characters. Which is odd given that they’ve swapped bodies. Although, to be fair, the scenes that show chemistry between Alita and Falis focus on the emotional connection between them and how they’re drawn to one another on an emotional level rather than a physical one. Which does help their relationship not seem narcissistic. And the dynamic between them is quite adorable. The ho-yay factor is going to be a 7/10.

Final Thoughts:

There are a lot of things to recommend Murder Princess. The narrative is compelling with a lot of unique facets. The main characters are really well written. The art and acting are both superb. It is held back somewhat by weak antagonists and some issues with the story telling, but it is a good watch if you’re looking for a good action adventure series. My final rating is going to be an 8/10. Next week, Chokotan.