Shining Tears X Wind: Gotta go fast

The best RPGs for the Megadrive were Shining Force and Shining Force II. Some of the best, if not the best Game Gear games were Shining Force titles. After a while, the word “Force” was dropped from the game titles and you got such games as Shining Blade, Shining Wisdom and so on. Either way, the Shining franchise has had a lot of high quality games for multiple platforms. So, why am I bringing this up? Well, the franchise also has an anime adaptation. The weird thing about it is that it’s not adapted from one game, but two. Shining Tears and Shining Wind, hence the title Shining Tears x Wind. The adaptation was handled by Studio Deen, which is no stranger to game adaptations having done Star Ocean EX, Fate/Stay Night and Bomberman Jetters prior to this. They’ve also earned my adoration for their work on the brilliant Read or Die and my contempt for the idiotic Kore wa Zombie desu ka. So, how will this adaptation compare to their other works?

Story:

The tale opens with several student, Kiriya, Souma, Seena, Kureha, and Saionji discussing recent disappearances in the area. When the others leave, a girl named Hiruda brings Saionji a strange book. The two ominously discuss making it work and they disappear shortly afterward. The other four agree to meet at school to figure out what to do, deciding to bring weapons, because that seems like a plan that couldn’t possibly go wrong. Souma and Kureha arrive first and talk only to be interrupted by a fight between a wolfman and Mao, a cat-eared girl. Mao starts to tell them about herself, only for a gem she’s carrying to be destroyed which causes all of them to be sucked into another world. Souma and Kureha find themselves alone and surrounded by monsters, but they’re saved when Souma pulls a sword from Kureha’s chest, revealing that he’s a soul blader. (I’m not sure whether they’re ripping off Utena or the soul blade thing is based off of some legend I’m unfamiliar with.) Now, Souma and Kureha have to find a way to return home, but first they have to help the peoples of this world deal with an imminent crisis.

If it seems like I just glanced over that information, it’s only because the anime does too. The pacing in this is ridiculously fast. It doesn’t let you acclimate to the real world or main characters before dumping you into the fantasy world. The series basically assumes that you’ve played the games and will know what’s going on so they don’t have to take any time whatsoever to explain anything. To make matters worse, scenes only last for around five minutes before rushing to the next. The narrative never takes time to breathe. The worst part is that they have several important plot points that they never introduce until it’s time to actually use them, which makes them seem like they come out of nowhere. The ending is especially guilty of this, introducing the plot device that’s necessary to end the conflict only after the conflict has started. It doesn’t even get mentioned in passing before that.

In all fairness, the story, though hectic, isn’t bad. It has quite a few interesting aspects. The political machinations are nice. I also like that every group is doing what they think is for the best in order to save the world and they certainly have some good scenes devoted to that. Unfortunately, those scenes are rushed through in order to cram the entirety of Shining Wind’s plot into thirteen episodes. Yes, the story uses Shining Wind‘s plot but with greater emphasis on the Shining Tears characters than they had in that game.

Characters:

The characters in this aren’t deep or well developed. Since they rush through the narrative so much, they never take time to develop the characters in any significant way. Which may lead you to conclude that the characters are flat if you’ve never played the games that the anime is based on. Even if you have played through the games, you might find yourself annoyed by the character portrayals. The female characters have it especially bad. They get relegated to the background and spend most of the series just kind of standing there, or having swords drawn from them, rather than doing anything. In theory, this is so that the focus can be on the soul bladers, but it comes across as, at the very least, pretty suspect.

The interactions also suffer from the pacing problem. There are moments when characters almost feel like they’re having a normal conversation, but then the scene will end or something will happen because the plot needs it to and the effect will be spoiled. It’s like watching an abridged series where someone thought the character moments were less important than the action sequences. The “romantic” sequences are especially bad, frequently feeling like the characters have no chemistry and are just getting together because… someone wanted to throw in gratuitous romance.

Art:

The character designs are pretty well done, exempting some of the costumes (especially the fan-service based ones) but I don’t blame the anime for that since they are using the established costumes from the games. Although I’m not sure why Hiruda has the tri-force on her costume. The action sequences are, mostly, well handled. The fast pace actually does work for the action sequences, giving them a dynamic feel. The problem is that some of them resort to random still shots in place of actually animating anything. The stills look fine, but they’re just lazy.

Sound:

They got a really good cast for this. It features Ishida Akira, Mizuki Nana, Hoshi Soichirou, Okiayu Ryotaro, and Horie Yui in major roles and that’s not even naming all of the highly skilled actors they got for this project. They are all just fantastic, delivering strong performances. The music is really good as well.

Ho-yay:

This has no signs of yuri, but it has a bit of yaoi. There’s a scene where one of the guys lovingly sponges another off and it is extremely homo-erotic, oddly enough this is the best romantic scene in the series. There’s also a bit in the end with the previously mentioned plot device that comes out of nowhere but they need to help end the conflict. The ho-yay factor is going to be a 4/10.

Final Thoughts:

Shining Tears X Wind is definitely a series made for fans of the games. If you don’t like the games, you aren’t going to like it either. If you’ve never played the games, you’ll be hopelessly lost and have no idea what’s happening or why. If you’re a fan of the games, you’ll probably enjoy the anime okay, but there are going to be aspects that you find annoying. As for me, I’m going to give it a 6/10. I do think it’s interesting to see the story adapted in anime form and there are some parts of the story I enjoyed, but I hate that the female characters aren’t allowed to do anything and the hectic pace harms it quite a bit. Next week, I’ll take a look at another video game tie-in. Street Fighter II: the movie.

 

Reviews of Yesteryear: Yu-gi-oh

The premise of Yu-gi-oh is that a young High School boy solves an ancient Egyptian puzzle that unleashes another self within his mind. This other self challenges those who do evil to karmic games and destroys their minds when they cheat. The story is laughably bad. The games are different in virtually every episode so they constantly have to take time out of the action to explain the rules for the episode. Add that to the fact that the other Yugi frequently wins through pure BS, I mean the power of friendship, and you get a story that’s so stupid and cheesy it feels like an old B-movie. To Yu-gi-oh’s credit there are some really funny moments, although most of them are unintentionally hilarious as a result of how bad the anime is. 

The characters are what really hurt the anime. Most of the main cast is composed of complete twits. There’s ordinary Yugi who acts like a small child. Jonouchi Katsuya, who’s your typical thug with a decent heart. Honda, who is very bland and never shuts up about being a beautification department member and Miho, who is useless. The only characters who are somewhat interesting are Yugi’s other self, Bakura and Anzu. Since they actually get some depth. The antagonists are all pretty typical as well.

The art is atrocious. Everything’s done in bright neon colours that can get painful to look at sometimes. There are also a lot of art errors. This makes Hitsuji no Uta look really professional. 

The voice work is actually pretty well done. Ogata Megumi, Shiozawa Kaneto and Midorikawa Hikaru are especially good. The music is also very good so sound is one thing they did right.

The yuri factor is a 2/10. Miho shows some homoeroticism towards Anzu, but Miho also spends a lot of time chasing guys and Anzu doesn’t show a lot of interest in her so those moments don’t amount to anything.

My final rating for Yugioh is a 3.5/10. It’s bad, but it’s bad in a way that’s pretty entertaining. It’s sort of like Adam West’s Batman. It’s not well written or drawn, but it’s also fun to watch. So, even though it is bad, I actually do suggest watching it, if you enjoy media that’s cheesy and over the top in an entertaining way. In fact you should get some friends together and snark it. Just don’t marathon it because the art really is so atrocious that it’s hard on the eyes.

Reviews of yesteryear: Berserk

Some of you may have heard that Berserk is a mindless action anime with a lot of violence. That is not true. It is incredibly violent, but it possesses a very rich and complex story. 

The basic setup is that a young mercenary with an over-sized sword named Guts is coerced into joining a large mercenary band led by an ambitious young man named Griffith. The group gets hired to help a kingdom during a war. Griffith gains the trust of the king and uses the opportunity to further his ambitions. That’s about all I can give away without going into spoilers, but it’s a very complex story with themes of nobility, betrayal, war, hierarchy, ambition and camaraderie. All of which emerge naturally from the story. That being said the story does have a major issue. The first episode takes place after the last episode and that, combined with the heavy foreshadowing of episode 6, makes what’s going to happen far too predictable. There are also a few minor issues. The most prominent being that there are some really clunky exposition moments. The story is also incomplete since the anime only covers a small part of the manga. 

The characters are mostly well written. There is a slight issue with the fact that there’s only one well written female character and the rest are either passive and bland or evil. I honestly attribute that to the time period Berserk is set in rather than to misogyny from Miura Kentaro, but I haven’t read his other works or seen anime based off of them so I could be giving him too much credit, but that was the impression I got from it. 

The art is very nicely done overall. The backgrounds are detailed, the characters have distinct looks. There are a few art errors where characters randomly go cross-eyed or something, but they’re few and not really an issue. The only real art issue is that sometimes the art switches from animation to a still image for no apparent reason. I think it’s supposed to be for emphasis, but it rarely works. It usually just pulls the viewer out of the story. 

The voice work is decent, but it doesn’t really stand out. The music really varies in quality some of it is good, some of it is not well done. 

The yuri factor is a 1/10. All of the main and minor female characters are, or end up in, heterosexual relationships. 

My final rating for Berserk is an 8/10. It has some issues but, overall, it’s a very good anime and well worth watching. If you like Le Chevalier D’Eon or Murder Princess you’ll probably enjoy Berserk as well.

One Outs: Games Within Games

One Outs was a baseball manga written by Kaitani Shinobu. It was adapted into an anime by our old friends at Madhouse, who brought us such classics as Black Lagoon, Petshop of Horrors and Rideback. Unfortunately, they’ve also been behind some of the worst anime I’ve ever seen such as Highschool of the Dead and Devil Hunter Yohko. I’m honestly not predicting their best work this time around, although a lot of that is more to do with the subject matter than anything else. I am not a person who cares about sports in the slightest. So, let’s look at One Outs and see if it holds up in spite of my own apathy towards the material.

Story:

Our story opens with some minor league players at a training camp. After an injury destroys their pitcher’s ability to throw balls at a guy with a stick, two of them go on a search for a new one. At this point they get lured to a gambling arena where people bet on whether or not a guy can hit a ball with a stick. The two lose a large amount of money and their friend, Kojima, who has won a bunch of awards with names that are meaningless to me, returns to challenge the pitcher who beat them, Tokuchi. He loses, but returns for a rematch, if he loses he’ll retire, if he wins he’ll take Tokuchi’s hand so that he can never gamble using baseball again. Because a game that requires people to hit a ball with a stick and run in a square is serious business and not some kind of game.

In spite of a rather serious hand injury, Kojima wins, but instead of inflicting violence to take Tokuchi’s hand, he recruits him as a pitcher to help his team, the Lycaons, win the championship. So, the basic plot is that a low ranking team aims for the championship? I haven’t seen that plot since… every piece of sports media ever made, I think. To be fair, One Outs isn’t typical in its execution. It uses Tokuchi’s unusual contract with the game’s owner as the primary source of tension instead of whether or not the team will win the big game. It also puts the focus, not on whether or not the Lycaons will win since basic pattern recognition gives it away, but on how they’re going to win. Which is more interesting than it sounds since Tokuchi uses a lot of psychological manipulation and has to think of ways to outsmart his opponents while thwarting the owner’s attempts to sabotage him.

The strategic aspects are pretty well handled in this anime, in spite of the rather trite plot. The series is also good at keeping the viewer’s attention with various new elements and twists as well. However, the story telling isn’t perfect. The biggest problem is the narrator. His entire job seems to be to give exposition. Which isn’t so bad when it’s used as a tool to skip through the boring bits, but it’s also pretty unnecessary. You could cut out the dialogue for almost all of these scenes and lose nothing. There’s also the issue of the plot itself. Even if the execution is unique, just about everyone knows exactly where it’s going to go which does limit how much tension the series can have.

Characters:

The characters of One Outs are mixed. Tokuchi is a pretty interesting “magnificent bastard” type of character. The Lycaons’ owner makes for a compelling antagonist as well. Ideguchi and Kojima are two-dimensional characters. They get some personality and develop a bit, but not a whole lot. The rest of the characters are pretty one-note. They’re around and you might remember their names, but there isn’t anything that really makes them unique or compelling. They’re just “that guy who runs fast” or “that guy with glasses.”

One thing of note is that a lot of the antagonistic teams that Tokuchi and the Lycaons have to face are shown to have foreigners as their big guns. I’m not sure whether it’s a demonstration of Xenophobia in which the great all-Japanese team has to face off against those foreign players who came from some unspecified location or it’s just a coincidence. That being said, they do make it a point to bring the foreign players to the viewer’s attention so the former seems more likely.

Art:

The art is pretty good, overall. The character designs are distinctive. The backgrounds are nicely detailed as well. That being said, there are some questionable art decisions. There are some ridiculously exaggerated expressions. For example, a “shocked” character might just open their mouth so wide they could fit their own head in there. Tokuchi also has an absurd hairstyle that makes him look like he’s gone half super saiyan. I know, an anime with silly hair what an original concept.

Sound:

The acting in this is okay. It doesn’t stand out in any way, but it’s passable. The music is really effective when it comes to atmosphere. The tense moments have a score that perfectly emphasises the tension as do the victorious moments.

Ho-Yay:

There is none in this series. 1/10.

Final Thoughts:

In some ways, One Outs is a typical piece of sports media. Underdog team pushing for victory. In others, it’s not at all typical. The battle of wits aspect works pretty effectively and the main protagonist is an interesting character, even if most of the side characters are really flat. Still, it has quite a bit of intrigue and I do recommend checking it out for the battle of wits, if you don’t mind watching grown men act like hitting a ball with a stick is a pastime of dire importance. Final rating, 6/10. Next week I’ll look at Shining Tears x Wind.

 

Reviews of Yesteryear: Ariel

The story takes place after the first Ariel OVA, corporate aliens have invaded earth but they’re in trouble. They don’t have a proper budget and their ship is in desperate need of an overhaul. They must be financed by the government. When their ship starts breaking down, first accidentally sending obsolete drop units to earth and then starting to crash into it, it’s up to scientists at SCEBAI and their giant robot Ariel to stop the damage. The story this time is a lot more open as a parody and, honestly, it helps it. It frees them to have more fun with the scenario. The exposition dumps are still an issue, but this time they at least inject them with some humour instead of pretending that the plot is serious business during them.

The characters are improved a little. Except for Mia who gets used almost exclusively for fan service and gets reduced to a one dimensional character as a result. Kazumi and Aya are a little more fleshed out as characters, but they stay pretty two dimensional. 

The art is about the same, except that they do some really bad battle effects and some of the visuals are kind of shaky. Maybe the studio was in more of a hurry with this one, I don’t know for sure, but the art is slightly downgraded. 

The voice work is still excellent and the main cast all deliver strong performances. The music flows well with the action and they added in a humorous parody song. 

The yuri factor is a 1/10 again. The girls do interact with female friends this time but there’s nothing in those interactions that indicates that their relationship goes beyond friendship. 

My final rating for Ariel Deluxe is a 6.7/10. It’s slightly improved over Visual. If you’re a fan of Ariel Visual, Gunbuster or All purpose cultural cat girl Nuku Nuku this is probably a good choice for you. If you can find it subtitled in a language you understand I recommend checking it out.

Reviews of Yesteryear: Ariel Visual

The story arc is pretty simple. Aliens have invaded for the sake of claiming Earth for the corporation they work for. Their efforts are being thwarted by a large mecha shaped like a woman, ARIEL, so an old friend of the invasion force’s leader shows up to provide assistance. Things aren’t going smoothly on Earth, however. ARIEL’s pilots decided that they don’t want the job and it’s up to their Grandfather/Uncle, two of the girls are his granddaughters the other is his niece, to persuade them otherwise. The story itself is pretty standard and kind of weak, but the execution is great. It’s very light-hearted and it’s clear that the story is more of a subtle parody of these types of stories than a serious attempt at writing one. The biggest problem is that it suffers from massive exposition dumps. There’s one at the beginning of each episode. I know that this is based on a light novel series but show, don’t tell. There are better ways to get this information across. Even with the time constraints. 

The characters are kind of under-developed. We get a few personality traits for the major characters, but they’re pretty two-dimensional traits. Aya is an especially interesting character, but she’s really the exception. 

The art is pretty good for 1989. It’s better than some later anime from the 90s or in some rare cases, anime from the 2000s. It’s almost as good as the art of Gundam Wing which came out six years later. 

The voice work is stellar. Mizutani Yuko, Koyama Mami and Hayashibara Megumi all give strong performances. The music flows well with the action and helps establish atmosphere. 

There is no yuri in this. Which is good since the female characters who interact are closely related. The yuri factor is a 1/10.

My final rating for Ariel Visual is a 6.5/10. The story and characters have some issues, but the whimsical tone makes it a lot of fun to watch and the music and voice acting are both spectacular. If you enjoyed Gunbuster or All Purpose Cultural Cat Girl Nuku Nuku, you’ll probably enjoy this. If you can find a copy, go ahead and check it out. 

Shin Sekai Yori: A whole new world of plot holes and scientific illiteracy

Shin Sekai Yori is an anime based on a novel written by Kishi Yusuke. The anime adaptation was handled by A-1 pictures. You may remember them as the studio behind Kuroshitsuji and AnoHana. This was actually requested as a “futuristic scenario done right” after I took a look at the mediocrity that was Blue Gender, but I’ve also been told that this series is just as bad, even using several of the same cliches. There’s only one way to find out which is more correct and that’s by taking a look.

Story:

Our tale opens in the far future. Our protagonist, Saki, has just advanced to the next level of education, a school that teaches kids how to use their psychic abilities, but there’s something wrong. Students disappear from the school and are promptly forgotten. Saki and her friends go on a camping trip that will lead to them learning a great secret about their society.

That’s how the first arc begins. Yes, the series has multiple story arcs. One thing the series does really well is introducing intriguing ideas. The problem is that most of those concepts end up going absolutely nowhere or are just executed poorly. You think that the various ideas that are touched upon are going to eventually have a point, but they never do. It’s like Kishi introduced them planning to integrate them into the plot eventually, but couldn’t figure out how and let them drop, or briefly mentioned them in some minor scene in the hopes that he could validate having them in the first place.

There are quite a few other issues with the execution of this anime. The series tries to explain several facets of its world with science, which it gets wrong consistently. To use an early example that won’t spoil anything, the series talks about bonobos. It says that they’re peaceful, preferring sex to conflict and that they’ll only engage in sexual activities with the same sex when they’re young. The first half is true, the second is an outright lie and the bad part is that a half-true scientific statement is about the best the series ever gets in terms of its science.

The crowning moment of stupidity is definitely the ending. It starts by using a huge logical fallacy in the major climax. Then it segues into a plot twist that hinges on bad science and just to make things even worse, the series ends with the same lazy, stupid, cliché that Blue Gender ended with. Except that the execution is even worse. At least Blue Gender had some build up going into it, Shin Sekai Yori has a five minute montage at the very end to justify resorting to this tripe.

Characters:

The characters are similar to the story. The writing teases you with hints that these characters are going to develop and get fleshed out, but then it never delivers. In spite of the story spanning over a decade, the characters never grow or develop. They remain pretty stagnant throughout.

The only attempts to demonstrate growth for the characters are done with informed characteristics. For example, there’s a character who talks about Saki’s great leadership skills but she never demonstrates any leadership abilities whatsoever. She follows other people’s plans or gets told what to do by the voices in her head. Yes, she has deceased people talk to her. No, this is never explained it’s just used as a deus ex machina device.

The issue with informed characteristics like this is that the audience isn’t going to believe them. You can tell us the stormtroopers are precise marksmen, but if we see them miss virtually ever shot we aren’t going to believe it. Likewise, you can tell us she’s a great leader. You could also tell us she gained magical girl powers from a talking dog and saved the world from goo monsters during one of the time skips or that she’s the world’s greatest detective. We not only aren’t going to buy it, but we aren’t going to care unless you actually demonstrate it within the narrative.

Art:

The art is really good. Everything is nicely detailed and the character designs are nicely done. That being said, there is one problem with the art. The action sequences are drawn very oddly and they can be difficult to follow. Especially the early ones. For the sake of argument, let’s say that this was done to provide a sense of chaos and make things seem hectic. That would be fine, but it still doesn’t flow well or look good.

Sound:

I have no complaints about the voice acting. Every actor gives a capable performance, in spite of not having much to work with. Hanazawa Kana (Akane from Psycho Pass) and Hirata Hiroaki (Benny from Black Lagoon) are particularly good. The music is largely forgettable, but not bad.

Ho-Yay:

The ho-yay factor is going to be a 4/10. The series has a bit early on. It has some yaoi between Shun and Satoru, as well as some in the background, and some yuri between Saki and Maria, plus some more in the background. Then it transitions into having nothing but het.

Final Thoughts:

On the positive side, Shin Sekai Yori has strong art and good voice acting. Unfortunately, the writing is just inept. The story suffers from major plot holes, terrible science, dropped plot aspects, a horrendous ending and characters who are less interesting than the random nameless bad guys you fight in a Fire Emblem game. As a result, the narrative is just terrible and I would not suggest sitting through it just for the art and acting. My final rating is going to be a 3/10. Next week, One Outs.