Reviews of yesteryear: A-Channel

A-channel is a slice of life manga about a group of girls written by bb Kuroda. I know next to nothing about it except that it’s supposed to have a good level of les-yay. Let’s take a look at the anime adaptation and see how accurate that is.

There’s not an over-arching story in A-channel. The basic setup is that a girl named Tooru is starting High School and she’s excited because she got into the same school as Run, the girl she loves. You follow Tooru, Run and two other girls, Yuuko and Nagi as they enjoy their school lives. Frankly, I don’t care about the lack of a story. This is a comedy so the important aspect is the humour. How does that hold up? Well, it’s pretty similar to Azumanga Daioh. The humour is derived mainly from quirky characters interacting and going through everyday situations. The major issue with the humour is that, in the first few episodes, they reuse the same jokes several times close to each other. Fortunately the series does get better about varying the humour pretty quickly so it’s not much of an issue. They even have some reoccurring setups that result in different punchlines, all of them funny. Is it as funny as Azumanga Daioh? Not quite, but it comes pretty close.

The characters are pretty familiar. Most of them come close to following common character tropes for slice of life comedies. They do vary somewhat and, to be fair, the variation they do get is arguably enough to set them apart, but it does feel like they started with the trope templates and modified them only slightly. I thought that it was adequate for what they were doing, but some people are probably going to find them too close to the standard.

Now we move onto my biggest issue with the series, the art. I don’t like the art style. It may even be more accurate to say that I heartily dislike the art style. Like Gakuen Utopia Manabi Straight, the characters look like children with overly large heads, no noses (or noses that are so small someone couldn’t possibly breathe with them), which begs the question of how Nagi keeps her glasses on. It has very basic sets and backgrounds. I’ll be fair to the series, the art doesn’t look bad. It’s bright, colourful and cheerful, which arguably suits the series. My dislike of it doesn’t have anything to do with the quality and is based entirely on preference.

A-Channel has a strong vocal cast. Uchiyama Yumi, Fukuhara Kaori, Yuuki Aoi and Kotobuki Minako (especially) all give wonderful performances. Then there’s the music. For some reason there are a lot of insert songs in this, one in almost every episode. They aren’t bad songs, even if a lot of them do sound really similar, but they do seem like a lazy way to extend the running time without having to come up with jokes.

The yuri factor is a 6/10. This is mainly a result of Tooru and Run but all of the characters contribute somewhat, especially the supporting characters Yutaka and Miho.

My final rating for A-channel is a solid 7/10. It has a few issues, and I didn’t care for the art, but it’s still a fun series with endearing characters and plenty of humour. If you like Azumanga Daioh or Gakuen Utopia Manabi Straight you’ll almost certainly have fun with this one. If, on the other hand, you think the whole slice of life comedy formula has been done to death and you don’t care for it then this one isn’t going to be an exception. 

Reviews of Yesteryear: Tales of Phantasia

The Tales series games have made welcome additions to any RPG aficionado’s collection since the 16-bit era. Every single installment I’ve played has been, at the very least, good. Not surprisingly, a lot of the Tales games have received anime adaptations. So, where should you start when looking at these adaptations? How about with the original Tales game, Phantasia.

The story in the OVA is close to the story in the game. A demon lord named Dhaos is revived at the expense of two villages and two young people, Cress and Mint, are sent back in time to find two magic users to bring back to their time and defeat him. If you’ve played the game then you can probably spot some difference there. That’s why I said “close to” rather than “exactly like.” The OVA does leave some stuff out, mainly for the sake of time, it’s only four episodes. For those of you who are curious about the OVA but aren’t interested in playing the game, as little sense as that seems to make, I’ll talk about how it stands on its own. It’s a really fast paced adventure. The story is a lot of fun and they manage to get quite a bit of complexity into it. Really, there are two issues. The first is that the pace is hectic. There’s a lot of story in the game and they fit as much of it into the OVA as they possibly can. The result is that things progress really quickly without much time for things to wind down or the action to fall. The other issue is that there are some scenes that only make sense if you’ve played the game. Without that background they seem to be kind of pointless. Now, these are pretty minor problems for anyone who’s played the game, but they could bother you if you haven’t.

Tales of Phantasia has some spectacular characters. The OVA keeps their personalities intact. It also fits in the most important aspects of their backstories. The only real exception is Suzu who barely plays a role in the OVA, showing up in only a few scenes. One thing that the OVA does do better than the game is fleshing out Dhaos’s character. In the game his motivations are barely touched on and he comes off as being randomly evil for the evils until the very end. In the OVA they actually make him a really sympathetic character which makes the conflict much more three dimensional and interesting.

The art is pretty good. They manage to copy the monsters really well. The action scenes are exciting and have a grand scale. It looks similar to the cut scene art in Lunar 2. My only real complaint is that the noses look bizarre. They’re barely there in most scenes, although they occasionally become more pronounced for no apparent reason. It’s a minor complaint but it bothered me.

The voice acting is really well done. Kusao Takeshi does really well in the hero’s role, almost like he’s played a similar role before. Which he has,several years before Tales of Phantasia he played the role of Adol Christin in the Book of Ys OVAs, I may get to those eventually. At this point, I have gotten to the first one. Kanai Mika, Inoue Kazuhiko and Itou Kentarou also do really well. Morikawa Toshiyuki is well suited as a villain. In fact, I think I’ve heard him do it before in a different video game based anime. Admit it, you looked it up. The background music is really similar to what you might find in a game, appropriately enough, and the theme music is… not particularly memorable, sorry to say.

The yuri factor is a 1/10. I’ve always thought that Phantasia would be a better game with some yuri, not that it isn’t awesome anyway, but the OVA did not change that.

My final rating for Tales of Phantasia is an 8/10. This is a great anime, especially for fans of the Tales games. You will probably like it better if you’re a fan of the game, but it’s still enjoyable if you just like a good fantasy story. Either way, give it a try.

Kousetsu Hyaku Monogatari: Leaving Dubious rumours for the townsfolk

Kousetsu Hyaku Monogatari is an anime based on the writing of Kyogoku Natsuhiko. It was handled by TMS Entertainment, the same studio behind Detective Conan and Monster Rancher. So, how does a studio like that manage with a horror series? Let’s take a look and see.

Story:

We open with a writer named Momosuke. Turns out, he’s going on a trip to gather information to write an anthology of a hundred tales. While walking on a rainy night, he nearly falls off of a cliff only to be saved by a traveling monk named Mataichi. Mataichi gives Momosuke directions for a place he can stay and gives him an ominous warning to go straight there. In the dark, Momosuke stumbles into a derelict looking building where a second traveling monk has shown up. Inside, Momosuke sees that Mataichi is there as well. Mataichi laments Momosuke’s inability to listen to people’s advice and tells him he’s going to see something terrifying. This begins Momosuke’s association with Mataichi, Ogin and Nagamimi, three people who find people guilty of horrific crimes and conduct summary executions against them after frightening them into revealing the truth.

Let’s get into the negative aspects of the series right away. The first is that it relies a lot on coincidence. Once the series gets going there’s active trickery to get Momosuke involved in the plot, but early on he just manages to stumble into Mataichi and his group by sheer plot convenience. There’s also the issue of him not having much to do in most of the episodes. There are a few where he plays a prominent role in the setup, but in most of them he either makes an incompetent attempt to help the criminal or he observes what’s happening from the side-lines and contributes absolutely nothing of value. The reason we follow him being to give us a more outsider’s perspective. Like in Yami no Matsuei, the horror elements are largely just dark and disturbing content, but nothing that’s actually apt to frighten anyone. The ending is mixed. There is some good setup leading up to it, but the payoff is pretty weak.

There is also quite a bit about the series that’s good. The premise is genuinely interesting and used to pretty good effect in most of the scenarios. The episodes are a bit formulaic, but there is more than enough variety in the setup and execution of them to keep it compelling. The dark content is handled decently, in spite of every scenario save one being completed in a single episode. I also like the way that the supernatural aspect is handled, but I can’t go into too many details on that one without giving away spoilers.

Characters:

Most of the characters in this series are a bit under-developed and I’m not just talking about the one-shot characters who appear in a single episode, which is the bulk of the characters in the series, or the supporting characters who appear in brief scenes throughout the series. No, I’m talking about the main cast. You never learn much about Mataichi’s group beyond some sparse backstory details and basic character traits. Most episodes focus on their target and steadily reveal details about their crime throughout, although even these characters aren’t particularly well developed or complex since most of their traits are based on their crimes with a very basic explanation for why they do it. As such, getting invested in the scenarios can be difficult. Momosuke is the most complex character in the series, having a pretty substantial character arc and undergoing changes as a result of everything he goes through.

Art:

The art has an unusual style. Everything has a textured look to it, kind of like the art of Gankutsuou, but more subdued. They also draw most of the random people in the crowd with very undetailed, blank faces which just kind of blend together. The details on the backgrounds are pretty muted and basic as well. Although I’m not sure if it’s laziness or that they thought the series aesthetic would work better if people and things in the background were kept with minimal details. The series does have some obtrusive fan-service, particularly with some of Ogin’s scenes, but there isn’t a huge amount. I will give them credit in that the imagery that’s supposed to be disturbing is very effectively done and the designs for the major characters are nicely handled.

Sound:

The voice acting is really good. Seki Toshihiko, Wakamoto Norio, Nakao Ryuusei & Kobayashi Sanae voice our main cast and they all do a great job. Although it is a little strange to hear Cell and Freeza give performances together in a serious anime. The music itself is mostly really good at helping set the tone, but sometimes it’s used to create a tonal clash which may or may not work depending on your perspective.

Ho-Yay:

There is no ho-yay in this. There’s very little romantic content at all and what there is is het.

Final Thoughts:

Kousetsu Hyaku Monogatari is an anime with some good, compelling ideas but with execution that isn’t very good. The characters are largely under-developed and the story has some serious issues. However, it does still have a lot of interesting moments and its art and sound do largely work. If you’re interested in the premise and you don’t mind the anthology aesthetic then you’ll probably like it okay since it is decent enough. Just be advised that some of the content is disturbing. My final rating is going to be a 6/10. Next week, horror anime month continues with a look at Corpse Party.

Review’s of yesteryear: Viper’s Creed

Viper’s Creed was made in 2009 by AIC Spirits (A company with some good stuff but a pretty questionable history overall.) It was was created by Aramaki Shinji. It aired briefly in America, but was quickly canceled due to low ratings. Honestly, given the stuff that gets popular in America, I’m not sure if that’s a good or a bad sign. So let’s take a look at Viper’s Creed and find out.

The story is pretty simple. Air and sea travel has been made impossible by a large-scale war. Cities have been isolated and contractors called Blademen have been hired by a foreign business to safeguard the city from bug mechs. A terrorist group with really nonsensical ideas called Hound is also causing problems and the Viper team finds itself in the middle of a conspiracy. The story does some things well. The setup is pretty interesting and, when you find out the nature of the conspiracy, a lot of the seemingly nonsensical elements do end up making some sense. But the story still has a couple major issues. Instead of developing their characters naturally in the narrative they have several episodes that barely connect to the main story in which they inundate you with backstory. Because that’s much better than learning about a character naturally. The story is also pretty minimal, when they do get to the main plot what you actually get is a lot of action sequences with short bursts of story. The ending is also a load of crap, but I can’t go into details about why without spoilers.

Let’s move into the characters. To Viper’s Creed’s credit, they do try to develop the six major characters and it works, they are three-dimensional characters. The major problem is with the supporting cast, which is composed largely of one-dimensional characters and the antagonists who barely get any motivation. Another problem is that some of the major characters are just unsympathetic. The main example of this being Haruki who goes beyond naive and into the realm of being a complete moron. The worst part is that his complete idiocy is barely questioned.

Let’s talk about the art for a moment. The machines in this look really good. The action scenes are really intense and well done. That being said, they do some bizarre things with faces and the backgrounds are pretty lazy most of the time.

The voice acting is good. Toyoguchi Megumi, Kuroda Takaya, Minagawa Junko and several others do well in their roles. The one real exception is Akiyama Nana who gives a rather uninspired and flat performance. I haven’t heard her in anything else so I couldn’t tell you whether this was the direction, inexperience or just a lack of ability at expressing emotions. I’m not even going to bother speculating on it. Her only other anime role was in the Shikabane series which I have not seen. Then there’s the music, a lot of it just doesn’t work with the series. It’s just too soft and serene for the action-packed content.

The yuri factor is a 1/10. There’s no yuri in this.

My final rating for Viper’s Creed is a 6/10. It does have some major issues, but it also has some great characters and great action scenes. If you can handle the story issues and the more minor issues then it is a decent enough watch.

Reviews of yesteryear: C: The Money of Soul and Possibility Control

All I know going into C for Control is that it’s a sci-fi series from Tatsunoko involving super powers and money. I’m really not sure what to expect from that since Tatsunoko has been involved in both good and really bad productions before. Of course, their most notoriously bad project was made about thirty years ago (Superbook) so there’s no reason to expect that kind of miserable performance here, but I also haven’t seen much of their modern work, so I don’t know what to expect. Let’s take a look and find out.

Our story proper begins with a poor student named Kimimaro Yoga being approached by a strange humanoid by the name of Masakaki. Masakaki offers Kimimaro the chance to earn money in a strange place outside of normal time and space known as the financial district. All he has to do is become an entrepreneur and battle against other entrepreneurs with the help of a being called an “asset”, with his future as collateral. So if he loses, he has no future. Kimimaro quickly discovers that the battles in the financial district are distorting the real world. All he has to do is figure out what to do about it. That’s about all I can give away without moving into spoilers. The idea is quite fascinating and the themes of the future and economics are both handled pretty well. My biggest issue with the series story-wise is that it moves too fast. To be fair, it’s kind of necessary when you look at how short it is, but it really could’ve used at least another episode or two, if not an entire season to explore the concepts that it introduces more thoroughly. This leads to my more minor but still pretty big issue, they introduce far too many sub-plots. The series is eleven episodes long and they introduce several major sub-plots, which they end up either rushing through or leaving incomplete. The story is still well done and it is intriguing, but they tried to do too much with too little time and it does hurt the anime quite a bit. Keep in mind, this isn’t based on a manga, graphic novel or anything else. It was created and written as an anime

The characters are done really well, overall. Initially it looks like Kimimaro is going to be your typical angsty and somewhat whiny protagonist, but he moves beyond that pretty quickly. They also do a really good job of making the main antagonist a developed and even sympathetic character. Kimimaro’s asset, Msyu, is also really interesting. I do have one issue with her character, but I can’t go into it without giving away spoilers. All I can say is that it has to do with her dynamic with Kimimaro. The supporting characters don’t fare as well. Most of them have pretty basic personalities. Although, I’m honestly not going to hold that against the series too much since it is doing a lot with very little time and it would be unreasonable to expect them to fully flesh out a bunch of characters. That being said, they could’ve done more with their major supporting characters if they hadn’t spent so much time on unnecessary sub-plots.

The visuals in this are fantastic. The financial district and the assets have really unique, otherworldly looks. The regular world is nicely detailed and the characters look good. That being said, I did have two issues with the art. The first is that there’s some unnecessary fan-service and it is to the detriment of the narrative and characters. The second is the final battle scene. It’s done in this really hectic style that’s obviously supposed to convey intensity, but it fails. Instead it’s just bizarre and distracting.

The voice acting is competently done, except for the scenes in English. They have some really awkward and stilted dialogue. The music is really good, especially the track that they use for really intense scenes.

The yuri factor is a 1.3/10. There’s one scene where it looks like they might go that route, but they end up not.

My final rating for C for Control is a 7/10. It’s an entertaining anime with lots of good ideas. It does have some issues, particularly with taking on far more than they have time to deal with, but they don’t stop it from being a good anime.

Yami No Matsuei: All the Bishounen love Tsuzuki

Yami no Matsuei is a fantasy, horror, supernatural, mystery created by Matsushita Yoko. It was published in manga form from 1996 to 2003, when it was put on hiatus for eight years, resuming in 2011 and still going. In 2000 J.C. Staff took four arcs from the manga and adapted them into a thirteen episode series. So, how does the anime hold up?

Story:

Our narrative opens with a meeting of Shinigami. There have been unusual deaths in Nagasaki in which the victim’s have been drained of blood and left with twin puncture marks on their necks. The shinigami in charge of that sector, Tsuzuki, is sent to rendezvous with his new partner, Kurosaki Hisoka, and investigate. They find out that there’s a lot going on that isn’t readily apparent and have their first encounter with the villainous Doctor Muraki, which sets the stage for their partnership going into further missions.

The only major complaint I have about the story is the pacing. I will give J.C. Staff credit for trying to cover all the important plot details of the arcs they look at while leaving room for character moments, but it doesn’t always work very well. There are several plot elements that get skimmed over or that wind up being inadequately explained or rushed through. One minor issue I had was with the “horror” classification. While there are some dark and disturbing elements to the series, it’s really not scary in the slightest. Part of it is that it has a lot of comedic moments that are kind of goofy and part of it is that the characters largely face the dark situations with courage and the conviction to solve them. There are certainly times where you worry about them, but it really doesn’t work as horror when the characters have the power ad will to reasonably be able to conquer the problem.

Those issues aside, there is a lot that the series does well. It has a strong sense of dramatic tension, with every arc having some good build up and with the antagonists being legitimately menacing. The humour is also used to great effect. It’s used to wind down from tense moments or for character moments before the action starts rising so it doesn’t clash with the tension. It also helps create a good contrast between the serious, dark content and the lighter moments. Which helps make the dark moments more intense. As opposed to a series where the characters are always needlessly angsty and it has no impact when things turn serious. The series is also good about treating its dark content with gravity and respect.

Characters:

There are some really great characters in this series. I do like that Tsuzuki is a largely happy guy since it does enhance the effect when things do go wrong and he goes through a difficult time. I also like that he does know when to be serious, particularly when someone’s life is on the line. Hisoka plays perfectly off of Tsuzuki. He’s more serious and mature but not to an extreme point. As such, the two complement one another very well. Muraki is the type of villain who is just irredeemable and infinitely hateable. Rather like Tenzen from Basilisk, but more interesting. On a side note, Tenzen and Muraki have the same voice actor. The side characters have some interesting moments as well, although they are less developed. Watari and Tatsumi are both really good characters with some great scenes. The series also does well at developing the characters who need help from the shinigami so that you do get invested in them and hope for them to get out of their situations safely.

Art:

The art is really good. The character designs are spectacular and have unique elements to them without being really outlandish. Particularly characters like Muraki and Tsuzuki who have distinctive eyes. The backgrounds have great details and there are some really strong action sequences. However, there is one issue with the action. Some of the special techniques, though they look cool, do get reused without much change. Rather like the special attacks of a magical girl anime, but in a series that’s a lot more serious.

Sound:

There are some really good performances in this. Miki Shinichiro, Brotherhood’s Roy Mustang, does a great job as Tsuzuki. Hayami Show gives a very intimidating performance as Muraki. Asano Mayumi, Wolf’s Rain’s Blue, also gives a really strong performance as Hisoka. Really, there are no weak links in the cast. The music is nice and atmospheric.

Ho-yay:

This series has quite a bit of yaoi. Some of the scenes are screwed up and disturbing, specifically the ones with Muraki. Others are really heart-warming and adorable. Mostly the ones with Tsuzuki and Hisoka. There are also some other guys who seem to have crushes on Tsuzuki. The content isn’t really graphic, but there’s certainly quite a bit. The ho-yay factor is going to be a 7/10.

Final Thoughts:

Yami no Matsuei is a really good series, in spite of a few issues. It has a strong narrative, great characters, amazing art, and good performances. If you’re a fan of supernatural drama it won’t disappoint. My final rating is going to be an 8/10. Next week, horror anime month continues with Kousetsu Hyaku Monogatari.

Reviews of yesteryear: Nodame Cantabile

Nodame Cantabile was originally a manga by Ninomiya Tomoko. I’ve never been exposed to her work before so I don’t quite know what to expect. I do know that it won the 2004 Kodansha manga award for best shoujo manga, so I’m hoping that’s a good sign. I’ll just have to watch through it and see.

The story is pretty basic. There’s a music student named Chiaki who can’t travel overseas due to an acute fear of both boats and planes, even though he’d like to study music in Europe. He lives next door to a piano student named Noda Megumi or Nodame who finds him passed out by the door one evening and decides to bring him inside her apartment to let him sleep in the comfort of the indoors… surrounded by comforting filth. The two quickly become linked when Chiaki starts taking lessons from the same instructor as Nodame and she quickly falls in love with him. You follow the two of them as they pursue their mutual love of music and as their relationship grows. It’s a simple story but it’s well written. The synopsis really doesn’t do it justice since quite a bit happens in their academic, personal and musical lives. There’s always an obstacle for one, if not both, of them to pass and it keeps things interesting. That being said, I did have one issue with the story, and no, it’s not the way the romance is done. Contrary to certain misconceptions, I don’t just mindlessly hate all het romances in anime. Just those that are poorly written. I don’t know whether that misconception still exists or not, but I heard it quite a bit back then. Possibly because I’d only reviewed a few things with prominent romance and most of them were terrible harem anime. This one, I honestly liked. Chiaki and Nodame might not be one of my favourite anime couples of all time but I did like their relationship. No, my problem is with the pacing. There are quite a few situations that drag on longer than they needed to and a few at the very end that were rushed. No, it isn’t a major problem but it’s enough of one to merit mention.

Since the story is pretty simple, this anime really needs interesting characters to work. Does it provide them? I’d have to say yes. The major characters are interesting and have some really dynamic and some funny interactions. Chiaki and Nodame especially are well developed. The primary supporting characters, Mine and Masumi, are also interesting. The more minor characters are really the issue. A lot of them get very little development or personality. Although I’m not going to hold that against the series too much since it deals with orchestras and, as such, has to have a lot of characters. What I will hold against the series is the character of Stresemann. While I don’t have a major issue with dirty old men in media on principal, it does bother me when they get away with harassment and borderline molestation without any real problems. Stresemann is one of those characters. He shouldn’t be able to maintain a career in education, or anything else where there’s potential for a harassment charge, at all.

The art is really detailed and impressive, mostly. The only issue I really had with it was that they do some bizarre stuff with facial expressions. I’ve mentioned this before, but it was in another review that not everyone’s necessarily seen so I’ll repeat it. This convention doesn’t bother me when it’s used sparingly, but Nodame Cantabile doesn’t show any kind of restraint with its use and the result is that it loses any impact that it may have had otherwise and it just ends up getting slightly annoying.

The actors do well in their roles. Especially Seki Tomokazu and Kawasumi Ayako. My only real problem with the cast is that there are a few Deutsch lines and the actors clearly don’t have a good grasp of Deutsch. So these lines just don’t sound good. Admittedly, that’s a pretty minor issue. Although you would think they’d give the actors pronunciation guides. The music… the music is amazing. When they’re trying to make it sound off, it sounds off and when they’re doing scenes where it all comes together, it sounds incredible. The music is so astounding that it almost makes the series worth watching by itself.

The yuri factor is a 1/10. There’s no yuri to be found in this.

My final rating for Nodame Cantabile is an 9/10. It’s an amazing series. I have a few gripes but they’re minor when compared with everything that the series does well. If you’re a fan of classical music, romance, or slice of life series, I would definitely suggest giving this one a try.