A-ko the Versus: Stop trying to be serious.

The A-Ko series is a pretty well known one. It all started with a single A.P.P.P film and spread into a whole slew of spin-offs. Including this OVA, which was produced by Studio Fantasia. That’s right, the studio that worked on Fire Emblem. This is a franchise I’ve known about for a long time, but have never watched anything related to. So, let’s take a look at A-Ko the Versus and see if I’ve been missing anything.

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Story:

We open with a young heiress, C-ko, celebrating her 10th birthday. Unfortunately for her, the festivities don’t really get started as she’s kidnapped by a pair of ruffians. Because an incredibly wealthy man can’t afford enough security to stop two people. Meanwhile, A-ko & B-ko are running around a desert planet hunting giant sand turtles. Unbeknownst to them, the baddies are above, driving C-ko when their ship has plot-driven engine trouble. This results in C-ko falling out and, by sheer coincidence, falling on top of A-ko’s giant backpack. Thus bringing our heroines into conflict with the kidnappers.

The biggest issue with the series is B-ko’s spontaneous romance with the main antagonist. I’m not exaggerating when I say that this thing comes out of nowhere, contributes nothing of value and is really bloody stupid. The entire point of it seems to be to try and humanise him but it doesn’t work. At all. A big part of the issue is that this is a work that’s at its best when the characters are being over the top and goofy. It works when it’s embracing those more absurd elements and leaning towards a silver age comic aesthetic. Trying to have a bitter-sweet romance with dramatic elements just isn’t its forte and that’s very readily apparent.

Hat being said, the series is pretty enjoyable when it’s embracing its goofier elements. It’s not one of the most uproariously funny anime ever made but it can be quite good. A lot of the strongest moments come down to the dynamic betwixt A-ko & B-ko. These two have that type of relationship where they’re friends but neither will ever admit to it. So, they act insulting towards one another and the resulting back and forth is really funny.

Characters:

The characters are pretty basic. A-ko is the strong, hot-headed one. B-ko is the smart, calculating one. C-ko is the silly child character. For the comedic bits, that works perfectly fine. They play off of one another well and there are plenty of possibilities to explore. The issue is that those more serious moments don’t work with characters that basic and under-developed. There’s also the antagonist who they try to play up as sympathetic but he never actually comes across as such. Honestly, they’d probably have been better off just going full evil for the evils, watch him be thwarted in a ludicrous fashion.

Art:

The artwork is pretty decidedly late 80s early 90s with all the usual hallmarks thereof. Motion line heavy action sequences, exaggerated comedic proportions and expressions, facial expressions that can be really awkward, recycled footage. It doesn’t look bad but it’s also not something you’re ever going to hold up as a visual triumph.

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Sound:

The OVA does have some strong actors. Our main trio are voiced by Itou Miki, Shinohara Emi & Tomizawa Michie. Yes, they were all also cast in Sailor Moon and two of them as major characters (Jupiter & Mars.) Their performances here aren’t on that level, but they’re still good. The music, by Kawai Kenji & Tanaka Kouhei, is pretty good as well.

Ho-yay:

There isn’t any, really. If you wanted to you could say A-ko & B-ko’s bickering is reminiscent of an old married couple, I guess. But I don’t think they ever came across as anything more than old friends who just interact largely through friendly spats.

Final Thoughts:

A-ko the Versus is an OVA that’s a bit confused over what it wants to be. Which is a shame since it shines when it fully embraces the comedic aspects and just falls flat when it tries to be more subdued and serious. The result is that it isn’t as strong as it could have been if the writers had just committed. It’s still an okay piece but I can’t call it good. My final rating stands at a 6/10. Next week I’m looking at New Game.

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Junjou Romantica: Misaki Needs Trauma Therapy & Usami Needs Arresting

This year for our Valentine’s week romance review, we’re looking at Junjou Romantica. This one is based off of the best known work of Nakamura Shungiku. The manga has been going since late 2003. The anime, at least the first series of it, aired in 2008. And that was brought to us by Studio Deen. Yes, the same studio that brought us Gravitation, Twilight Q, & Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinju. I have a feeling one of those is going to bear far more similarities to this than the others. But maybe I’m just making assumptions based on the genre overlap. Is this one as good as Gravitation was? Let’s take a look at the first series and see.

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Story:

We start out with Misaki, our protagonist, trying to get into a good university. There’s just one problem. His test scores are pretty bad. In order to better prepare for the entrance exams he enlists the aid of his older brother’s friend who also happens to be a famous author. This is Usami, also called Usagi-san. But things quickly take a strange turn when Usami immediately molests Misaki. We then go through a harrowing narrative as Misaki struggles to cope with the violation and whether or not to involve law enforcement. Or, maybe that’s just the start of a romance. It’s one of those, and not the one that makes more sense.

Therein lies the fundamental flaw with Junjou Romantica. The main romance is completely fucked up. Usami straight up sexually assaults Misaki a lot. With dialogue from Misaki to the effect of “Stop. Let go. Get off of me.” and yet we’re supposed to buy into the idea that this is a good romantic relationship and not a serial rapist who’s chosen a younger victim who happens to be in his power. But it’s actually totally the latter and they never acknowledge the severe problems with it. Give a series like Love Stage some credit, at least when it uncomfortably started with an attempted sexual assault they put some effort into showing redemption and repentance on the part of the guilty party. There’s also a secondary romance between a university professor and a high school boy who wants to go to the university he teaches at. I foresee no ethical problems with that whatsoever. Frankly, both of these romances are super unhealthy & really uncomfortable to watch. Which also adversely affects the attempts at comedy. Because you aren’t getting legitimately funny scenes in a series with an uncomfortable, rapey atmosphere.

The one area where I’ll give the series some credit is that the relationship betwixt Hiroki & Nowaki generally does work. They demonstrate respect for one another’s boundaries, which should go without saying but, in this series, is unique. They also have some compelling relationship issues that do speak to the kinds of real problems that healthy couples face. Like a lack of communication or jealousy.

Characters:

The characters could almost be pretty typical. Usami is the talented rich boy who has a childish side into adulthood, with a side of being a rapist. Misaki is the youngster with a lot of potential who’s uncertain about himself but will do anything for the one they love. Or, in this case, the one he’s got Stockholm syndrome for. Ultimately, that makes them worse than generic. Because this series is grotty.

Like with the romance in general, the only characters who somewhat redeem the series are Hiroki & Nowaki. Since the problems they deal with are pretty legitimate and they handle their situations in a somewhat realistic fashion.

Art:

In terms of artwork, there are some nice backgrounds. The character designs look decent enough. The comedic art shift that you get when the series thinks it’s pulled away from the uncomfortable romance aspects enough to go for a joke look pretty bad and they’re kind of over done in terms of how frequently it happens.

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Sound:

They did get some very talented actors for this. Including our old friend, Sakurai Takahiro. There’s also Itou Kentarou, Canna Nobutoshi & Kishio Daisuke to name a few. That being said, these aren’t their best performances. A lot of it boils down to them having reactions that are really downplayed because “this is a romance. So, your “no, stop” needs to be a soft protest.” It’s almost like that element singularly damages virtually every facet of the series. That’s also why Itou & Canna give, by a good margin, the best performances in the series. Since their characters are allowed to react to their situation in a way that isn’t totally stilted. The music is by MOKA, the same music unit that brought us Elfen Lied‘s average music. This is slightly better than that. It’s okay.

Ho-yay:

Well, we have three main couples, all of which are gay. Our main couple is really rapey and repulsive. One of our secondary couples is exceedingly unethical excrement. That leaves the Hiroki/ Nowaki couple. Which, to be honest, isn’t worth sitting through the rest of this for. They have some cute moments and if they were in a series by themselves I’d probably be pretty fond of it. Overall, though, this is not a series with a healthy concept of what a romantic relationship between men looks like. You’d be better off with Gravitation or Gakuen Heaven. Even something with a gay couple on the side like Gundam Wing or Voyages of the Cerberus (I know, shameless self plug) would be better if decently handled.

Final Thoughts:

It’s probably pretty plain to see that I did not care for this series. Part of the problem is that it paints sexual assault as an ordinary part of romance. Part of the problem is that it portrays itself as a “pure” romance series while having that kind of shite as a staple. Ultimately, it’s pretty bad and I really don’t recommend it unless you have a fetish for gay rape. Which I won’t judge you for but I may slowly back away from you and only ever be around you in bright, crowded areas. The one redeeming factor is the Hiroki/ Nowaki romance, which is, unfortunately, not the focus. So, the final rating is going to stand at a 3/10. Next week I’ll look at A-Ko the Versus.

Ktulu’s 5th Annual Awards & Shaming Ceremony

All right, Everybody. It’s this time of year again. Time to go over the best and worst of the works I’ve reviewed from February 15th of 2017 right up to last week’s review of Trinity Blood. Now, last year I didn’t do anything based off of the bonus reviews since those only became a thing starting in December. So, there weren’t may to choose from. This year, we’re going to have two simple awards for those based on the best and worst things I’ve done bonus reviews of.

I’ll start with the best and worst in show for the bonus reviews and our list of contestants is as follows: Blackest Night, Civil War, DC vs Marvel, Doctor Who- The First Doctor, Dragon Quest VII, Frosty the Snowman, Gravity Falls, Jem and the Holograms volume one, Justice League- Crisis on Two Earths, Miitopia, Mortal Kombat- Defenders of the Realm, Muppet Fairy Tales, Ohimesama no Himitsu, Secret Wars, Spider-man Unlimited, Tiny Toons- Night Ghoulery

The Worst In Bonus:

Honestly, there were two big contenders for this one. Mortal Kombat: Defenders of the Realm & Civil War. But only one can be the worst and this year that one is Civil War.

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There are two big reasons that Civil War takes the title. The first is that it, ultimately, had a greater impact. Defenders is barely remembered and the franchise certainly isn’t going to try and make anything from it canon. Civil War, in contrast, led directly to a lot of other horrendous things. The One More Day event, the second Ultimate Alliance game being a load of wank, a sequel that was almost certainly also shit and factored into several other bad Marvel decisions. The second is that Civil War is bad in more egregious ways. Defenders is bad in the manner of a lazy cartoon where the premise wasn’t going to work and no one gave a shit. Civil War had a premise with potential but did everything wrong. And some of it in ways that say really bad things about the creative team.

The Best in Bonus:

This one was a lot harder to pick. I’ve reviewed some phenomenal works as part of the bonus reviews this year. Dragon Quest VII. Gravity Falls, Jem, Secret Wars & Ohimesama no Himitsu are all superb works and I have a lot of affection for every single one of them. But, ultimately, the award goes to Ohimesama no Himitsu. Because out of all the minor problems I had with all of these, it had the most minor. It’s damn close to being the perfect romance work.

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Onto the anime awards. The potential contestants are: AD Police, Arion, Ayakashi, Azumanga Daioh, Bakemono no Ko, Bishoujo Yuugekitai Battle Skipper, Chocolate Underground, Dennou Sentai Voogie’s Angel, Devil May Cry, Dragonball- Legend of Shenron, Drifters, Elfen Lied, Final Fantasy Unlimited, Futari wa Precure- Max Heart film 1, Futari wa Precure- Max Heart film 2, Futari wa Precure- Splash Star, gdgd Faeries, Girls und Panzer der film, Green Legend Ran, Gyo, Harmonie, Hunter x Hunter 2011, Idol Project, Iria- Zeiram, Jojo no Kimyou na Bouken- Diamond Wa Kudakenai, Jojo no Kimyou na Bouken- Stardust Crusaders 2, Karas, Kaze Tachinu, Kemono Friends, Kill me Baby, Koe no Katachi, Kowabon, Love Stage, Mob Psycho 100, Mobile Suit Gundam- Iron-Blooded Orphans, Mononoke, Nanbaka, Ookami Kodomo no Ame to Yuki, Osomatsu-san, Palme no Ki, Phantasy Star Online II, Rose of Versailles, Rurouni Kenshin, Sakamichi no Apollon, Shuumatsu no Izetta, Stranger- Mukou Hadan, Street Fighter Alpha, Tales of Eternia, Tales of Zestiria the X, Trinity Blood, Tsuritama, Twilight Q, Vivid Strike, Warau Salesman New, Windaria, Wizardry, Wolf Guy, Youjo Senki

So, there’s our stable of contestants. Let’s move on to the awards.

The Moffat Award for most horrendous writing in a supposedly serious series or OVA. Our previous hall of shamers include such piles of rubbish as Dansi Bunri no Crime Edge, Neon Genesis Evangelion, Madhouse’s X-men & Brain Powerd. This year the big stand outs were Wolf Guy & Elfen Lied. Either one of which deserves recognition but there can be only one “winner” and this year that’s Elfen Lied.

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Not only is there more of Elfen Lied to hate, with about twice the content, but there’s also what the series were going for. Wolf Guy was a dumb action work that was trying to be a dumb action work. Elfen Lied was trying to be psychological, mature & filled with horror. None of which worked because the writing was roughly equivalent to a twelve year old who’s trying way too hard to show how mature they are.

The Simone Award for excellent writing in a mostly serious series or OVA. Our prior winners were Psycho Pass, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, Mahou Shoujo Lyrical Nanoha StrikerS & El Cazador de La Bruja. This year’s tough. I gave out a lot of 8s, but not much above that. The two big contenders end up being Mononoke & Vivid Strike. Ultimately, the Simone Award is going to Mononoke.

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So, why Mononoke? While both these series are very much worthy, I ultimately feel that Mononoke is a little bit more solid. Because setting up new characters with interesting facets to them and a compelling new scenario for every arc is a little more challenging than telling a really good story about two friends reconnecting over martial arts.

The Abrams Award for worst writing in a film. Our previous hall of shame consists of End of Evangelion, Metropolis, Hetalia: Paint it White & Hanare Toride no Yonna. This year I reviewed quite a few films and the worst, by a good margin, was Arion.

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Who would’ve thought that a film ostensibly about mythology that doesn’t understand said mythology, has a confused aesthetic and that thinks a rousing speech is the protagonist complaining that he just killed his father and wants to bone his sister, would turn out to be such an absolute mess? Besides Everybody.

The Miyazaki Award for film writing excellence. Our prior winners were Nausicaa, Kara no Kyoukai 4, Spirited Away & Mononoke Hime. This one was harder to choose. I saw some very solid films this year. But the award ultimately goes to Koe no Katachi.

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This one touches on some very real challenges and actually tells a really strong redemption all while keeping things largely realistic.

The Macfarlane Award for shittiest comedy. Our previous winners were OreImo, Kill la Kill, Sunabouzu & Kashimashi. Now that’s company you want to stand upwind from. This year there was a clear winner and that’s Idol Project.

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Yes, the comedy where random nonsense is used as a substitute for actual jokes and where the under-developed characters aren’t even used for comedic possibilities. All in all, a failure.

The Pratchett Award for best comedic elements. Our prior winners are Bottle Fairy, Doki Doki PreCure, Yuru Yuri San Hai & Gochuumon wa Usagi desu ka 2. This year the bell of fortune tolls for Azumanga Daioh.

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This was a tough one because I’ve seen a good number of enjoyable, consistently funny comedies. But, ultimately, Azumanga Daioh is the one that stands above the others.

The Meyer Award for worst romantic elements. Our prior anal leakings of amore were OreImo, Mawaru Penguindrum, Love Hina Again & Dance in the Vampire Bund. This year the series that showcases the worst idea of what love is is Wolf Guy.

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Yeah, the series where our “romance” consists of our protagonist not letting the woman he supposedly loves abort her rapist’s baby even though giving birth is going to kill her because she’s had her mind destroyed and can’t make that decision. This also takes place in a fucked up world where, apparently, this piece of shit is the best one to make the decision for her.

The Kanemaki Award for strongest romance. Our previous winners were Btooom (for Himiko/ Ryouta), Mahou Shoujo Lyrical Nanoha, Mahou Shoujo Lyrical Nanha StrikerS (both for NanoFate) & El Cazador de la Bruja (Ellis/ Nadie). This year was actually really difficult to pick a winner. On one hand, we have the Finé/ Izetta romance from Shuumatsu no Izetta and it’s beautiful. On the other hand, we have the Fuuka/ Rinne relationship from Vivid Strike. Which is also lovely. These two dynamics are kind of similar too, both being about old friends reconnecting as their love blossoms. The big difference is that Finé/ Izetta work together and have to overcome outside obstacles while Fuuka/ Rinne have to overcome those elements which caused a falling out betwixt them. Ultimately, I think one of those does lead to a slightly stronger romantic dynamic and that’s why the award goes to Shuumatsu no Izetta.

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In the end, we just see more moments of these two as a couple while Vivid Strike is more about the hesitation brought on by past events that’s getting in the way of them coming together. Which gives us more time to spend with Finé & Izetta as a pair and more really sweet moments betwixt the two. And that’s why they edge out the competition and emerge as the better couple.

The Anno Award for the shittiest cast of characters. Our former winners were End of Evangelion, Neon Genesis Evangelion, Love Hina Again & Kashimashi. All terribly obnoxious groups of characters with no complexity to be found. This year they’re joined by a series that fits right in, Elfen Lied.

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Yes, a series with annoying, trope characters. Some of whom have tragic back stories that end up contributing nothing.

The Moore Award for strongest cast of characters. Our prior winners have been Sailor Moon, Rainbow: Nisha Rokubou no Shichinin, Death Parade & Sailor Moon S. As a general rule, I prefer to give this one to a series that has well written characters and a good sized cast of them. This year the series that best fits those criteria is Hunter x Hunter 2011.

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This series has a large cast of compelling characters, all of whom possess verisimilitude. In terms of personality, at least. Not so much with their super powers. It also has some of the best written antagonists I’ve ever seen in a shounen action series.

The Bendis Award for the worst major conflict in a series. Our previous piss stains of poor plotting were From Up On Poppy Hill, Sword Art Online, Ice & Sword Art Online II. This was a tough choice because there were several series that legitimately deserved this. But, ultimately, I’m giving the award to AD Police.

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Yes, the series wherein we learn that all major conflicts are caused by over-sexed women. And we can’t bring ourselves to remotely care about any of it because the writing is shite.

The Claremont Award for the greatest major conflict. Our preceding powerhouses of plotting were Psycho Pass, Shingeki no Kyojin, Mahou Shoujo Lyrical Nanoha As & Haibane Renmei. This year Vivid Strike will be joining their ranks.

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Vivid Strike’s poignant conflict of a pair of old friends trying to reconnect while also delving into the mistakes that were made on both sides is really engrossing and the added romantic tension between the girls just gives their falling out all the more punch.

The Liefeld Award for worst visuals. Our former ocular atrocities in the series category were Aku no Hana, Amada Anime Series: Super Mario Brothers, Corpse Party: Tortured Souls & Byston Well Monogatari: Garzey no Tsubasa. The film category awards have gone to DBZ: Fusion Reborn & Hanare Toride no Yonna. This year our vomit inducing visuals were found in Elfen Lied & Arion.

Arion should come as no surprise but you might be wondering how Elfen Lied won over series like gdgd Faeries where the artwork looks generally like bad cg. Well, the ultimate reason is that gdgd Faeries has bad artwork, but it’s artwork that doesn’t detract from anything the series is doing. Elfen Lied, in contrast, is trying to incorporate subtle, psychological elements. It fails completely, but it’s trying to. And when you’re trying to incorporate subtle psychological elements, having overblown, ridiculous violence and nudity undermines that aspect. Even if the series hadn’t been really terribly written the visuals would hurt it. And that’s why it’s the worst.

The Urbino Award for vivacious visuals. Our prior comely chieftains were (series) Mushishi & Stand Alone Complex 2nd gig and (film) Nausicaa, Tokyo Godfathers, Spirited Away & Mononoke Hime. This year they’re joined by Kaze Tachinu & Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans.

A film that was just okay but with the lovely visual elements of most Ghibli films and a series where the art was stellar.

The Spencer Award for scrub-tier acting. Our previous grade school theatre productions were the English dub of Sailor Moon, Neon Genesis Evangelion, Ice & Kashimashi. This year it goes to Wolf Guy.

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Like most of the winners, this one had some good actors. It just had good actors who sounded terrible due to writing and direction that demanded dreadful performances.

The Sir Stewart Award for amazing acting. Our preceding pinnacle performances came from Black Rock Shooter (OVA), Mahou Shoujo Lyrical Nanoha, Glass no Kamen & Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu. This was really tough to choose since a lot of the more average series I’ve reviewed have still managed to have good acting. But this year they’re being joined by Hunter x Hunter 2011.

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This series has a lot of excellent performances and it, ultimately, deserves to be recognised for it.

The Perry Award for malodorous music. Our former ear beatings were the English dub of Sailor Moon, Street Fighter II, Mars of Destruction & Kagewani. This year it goes to Arion.

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Yes, the film where the lousy sound mixing damages music that actually did come from a good composer. Even if it is probably was his worst composition work even without the balancing problems.

The Kloss Award for magnificent melodies. Our previous cherished compositions came from Slayers Perfect, K-on the film, Love Live series 2 & Love Live the School Idol film. This year they’re joined by Michiru’s prominent OST work on Shuumatsu no Izetta.

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There were some other strong candidates but none as consistently good, musically, as this. It’s a superb soundtrack, period.

That’s it for this year’s awards. Thank you all for reading my snark-laden reviews another year. I’ve enjoyed all of your comments. You’re a fantastic bunch of readers. Tomorrow I’ll post the Junjou Romantica review. So, there’s that to look forward to.

Trinity Blood: Totally didn’t Steal Anything from Trigun

Last week I talked about Gonzo with a look at Final Fantasy- Unlimited. This week we have another Gonzo anime with Trinity Blood. The series began as a series of light novels by the now deceased Yoshida Sunao. It was adapted into a manga that’s still ongoing and into this anime which aired in 2005. Let’s take a look at it and see how Gonzo did with this one.

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Story:

In some indeterminate time in the future, humanity has changed. We’re separated into two basic types. The ordinary humans of today, called Terrans and the vampiric Methuselah. There’s a territorial; divide with a lot of western Europe being Terran controlled & eastern Europe being Methuselah with some neutral nations acting as a buffer. Unfortunately, the uneasy peace is being threatened by the Rosenkreuz Order. It’s up to Father Abel Nightroad and his comrades at the Vatican to put an end to their machinations.

The biggest issue with this series is a simple one. Virtually everything that happens in it is really obvious and predictable. Because this story doesn’t so much put twists on clichés to make it its own as run down the list and pick all the ones it likes to just throw in completely true to form. And this is a point I’ve made before, a good writer can use unoriginal ideas and turn them into something unique. Terry Pratchett did it with his personification of Death. Miyabe Miyuki did it with a story about a boy transported to another world, even if the Brave Story film was bollocks, the novel did a really stellar job with it. But an unskilled writer will just toss every over done, tired, generic plot point they can into their work and it just comes across as trite. Which is what happens here. I’ll give some examples but I won’t name names because I don’t want to spoil a lot. There’s a bit where the series makes sure to point out something unusual on one of the female characters and the obvious place to go with it is that she’s actually royalty or something and that’s why that’s there. Which is exactly where the series goes with it. There’s also a minor character death where everything leading up to it is stuff that would typically come before a character’s death. There’s a sudden focus on their relationship with the protagonist, they’re having a bonding experience and then they get separated and go off into a dangerous situation and you know that character isn’t coming back. The one thing that might have been surprising is spoiled in the ending theme tune & even then you know where they’re going to eventually go with it. There’s just nothing that happens narratively that actually surprises or engages you. Maybe they would if this was one of your first action anime but if you’ve seen a decent number, this is all old hat.

They also seem to have “borrowed” a lot of ideas from Trigun. Except that they were a lot better executed in that series. And this isn’t like Hunter x Hunter where some things were clearly inspired by Dragonball but they were modified into something unique to that series. This is a lot more copy-pasted. Also, what kind of a surname is “Nightroad” for a vampire. That would be like having a witch with the surname Hexe…. I redact the name criticism immediately.

The biggest pity is that this series did have potential. The idea of vampires and humans openly living side by side but in a state of unease could have been really interesting. The execution is just tepid and ends up spoiling the concept.

Characters:

The cast suffers from the same issue as the story. They’re just really archetypical and uninteresting as a consequence. Father Nightroad is that variety of shounen protagonist who’s powerful but kind of goofy and hiding a tragic back story. Think of a super watered down version of Vash the Stampede without any of those elements that make Vash compelling. Then we have Sister Esther. She’s the super pure, kind and supportive girl who isn’t too good in a fight but tries her best. The prickly action girl with a kind side role is taken by Astharoshe.

Art:

The art varies. The cityscapes tend to be pretty good. Some of the futuristic technology looks cool. The character designs are a bit plain, but work. Except for Father Nightroad’s transformed version. He looks like a Goth kid is trying to make themselves look “dark & brooding” but the youngster in question has no sense of subtlety so they way overdo it. He also has hair that sticks up in a way that makes the super saiyajins look subdued. To think, those five gallons of hair gel could’ve been used to spike the hair of a hundred idiot frat boys. Even his weapon looks absurd. The cg doesn’t always mesh well with the rest of the artwork either. The wings look really out of place, there are times when you’ll get a bit of technology that clashes with everything around it. Some of the more outlandish attacks look awkward. The action sequences as a whole aren’t very good. They’re kind of lazily done.

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Sound:

The acting in this is pretty good. Which isn’t surprising with a cast that includes such names as Noto Mamiko, Touchi Hiroki & Honda Takako. I don’t think it really challenged any of them since the characters are just flat tropes, but it’s still good. Eguchi Takahito’s music is decent enough.

Ho-yay:

This doesn’t really have any ho-yay. It has a good deal of het. I guess in this version of the future the Catholic church decided to lose the celibacy vows as a method of stopping the priests from touching children. Wouldn’t it be great if the actual Catholic church did literally anything to try and stop that instead of just relocating the problem priests and pretending everything was fine?

Final Thoughts:

I won’t say that Trinity Blood is a bad anime. That being said, it certainly isn’t good. It’s a series that has a premise with a lot of potential but wastes it with a serious over-reliance on clichés and, to make it a bit worse, it outright plagiarises content from Trigun. So, I’d suggest just watching Trigun instead. Because this series hasn’t a single creative bone in its proverbial body. My final rating for Trinity Blood is going to be a 4/10. It’s below average. Next week is Valentine’s day, so let’s look at something with a romantic bend. The review is going to be on Junjou Romantica. That seems like a good choice. However, it’s not going to be up on Wednesday like it usually would. On the 14th I’ll do my usual awards for the best and worst things I’ve reviewed this past year. So, the actual review will be going up on Thursday instead.

Final Fantasy: Unlimited- I’ve chosen the review score for the likes of you

Final Fantasy: Unlimited began airing towards the end of 2001. It was one of Gonzo’s early anime projects. Yes, the same studio behind Gantz, Solty Rei, Strike Witches & Gankutsuo. Gonzo is one of those studios that seems to have something really bad for every good series they put out. The Sunabouzu to balance out the Bakuretsu Tenshi, if you will. They’ve also had quite a few middling titles. Where does this one fit? Let’s take a look.

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Story:

We open with a scene in our everyday world where two dragons are facing off as onlookers take bets and wonder when Godzilla is going to get involved. Or, maybe it’ll be Gamera. I hear he’s really neat and full of meat. We cut to much later when the existence of the other world has become old hat. Twins Ai & Yu are heading to a magical subway to journey to the Inner World in search of their parents who went there to do science. On the subway they encounter Lisa Pacifist, a young woman going to the Inner World for reasons of her own. Which may be related to them having really good tacos, but probably isn’t. We follow the travellers as they go through different, strange locales of the Inner World and encounter all kinds of trouble. Fortunately for them, a mysterious bloke with a magic gun always seems to be in the same areas to help them.

By far the biggest issue with this series is just that it’s under-developed. There are quite a few things that had the potential to be interesting. The revelation involving the soil that Kaze uses in his magic gun could have been interesting and led to some really compelling stuff in turn. The revelation about Ai & Yu had potential as well. But in both of these cases the revelations come at the very end and there’s really nothing to even strongly hint at them beforehand. So, they end up as pretty close to nothing. There’s also the evil death lord characters. It’s hinted throughout that one of them, Oscha, is plotting something. And there’s a lot of build up and then it all leads up to nothing. The series also suffers a bit from being overly repetitive. Yeah, the characters travel to a variety of strange locations but, ultimately, most of it culminates in some big bad attacking, Kaze’s magic gun moving, him shooting a summoned creature and the FF victory music playing. Incidentally, you know how a good magical girl series will start abridging its stock footage so that you aren’t watching the same thing in every bloody episode? Well, Unlimited takes the other route. They never abridge Kaze’s magic gun sequence and most episodes use it. I guess they were really happy with the animation. Or they didn’t want to bother writing a little extra content.

There are some parts to the series that are kind of dumb too. For example, there’s a point where our characters are in an advanced submarines and its weapons work by having a bunch of men blow into tubes like they’re trying to audition for pornographic yaoi. You can make a really advanced submarine but you can’t build a more effective firing mechanism? You really have to take the giant blowgun route? This version of Cid is an idiot. There’s also the whole magic gun thing. This thing doesn’t just require specific combinations to work, it requires super specific combinations. There are at least three different versions of white. With that many kinds of Soil, how exactly does Kaze know which ones work? A lot of trial and error? Considering the soil’s secret, that would be unfortunate. Did he look it up on the Internet? Does he have a strategy guide with all two hundred varieties of soil and exactly which summoning recipes each one is used for? Did he scour the bookshelves, chests and back alleys of the Inner World until he found all the secreted away books with summon recipes in them? Inquiring minds demand answers.

With that out of the way, I do have to say that most of its problems aren’t all that bad. And it is kind of interesting to watch them go through the strange locations. Some of the set ups they find themselves facing are quite intricate and it can be interesting to experience how they function. The series also has some pretty nice comedic moments here and there. It never quite reaches the point where it’s a slog to get through.

Characters:

The characters in this can best be described as mediocre. With the main cast, you occasionally get glimpses that indicate that the writers are going for something better but they never take the time to really focus on any of the characters enough to elevate them above average. Take Kaze for example. For most of the series, he acts as a “mysterious” figure who seems to care more for his vendetta than for the people around him. We then start getting hints that he has some tragic past that drives him. Towards the end of the series, we learn basically what that tragedy was but it comes across more as a blanket justification for his behaviour as opposed to a new facet for the character. His attitude and behaviour remain completely stagnant.

Art:

The art is pretty mixed. On the negative side, the character designs look kind of lazy. There’s also some awkward CG in places. To top it all off, the stock footage stuff gets boring very quickly. On the positive side, the summoned creatures do look pretty interesting. There are also some visually surreal locations they go through that look good.

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Sound:

There are some superb actors in this. Takehito Koyasu, Imai Yuka, Canna Nobutoshi & Ishida Akira among them. We also get a surprisingly good performance from Inoue Kikuko who only gets to say variations of “kukururu” but manages to show a lot of emotion anyway. Her character has moments where she sounds shocked, uncertain, sad & frightened. All while speaking gibberish. None of them are giving their best performances ever here, but they’re all good. The music is very Final Fantasy. We’ve got some classics by Uematsu Nobuo. We’ve also got some from Hamaguchi Shiro (who also has a decorated background in FF music) & Tada Akifumi. The music is, by far, the strongest element in the series.

Ho-yay:

The closest thing we get to ho-yay in this series is Lisa blushing furiously when she finds out she’ll be sharing a room with Mireth, and Mireth winking at her when imparting that information. There might be payapaya happening on this submarine.

Final Thoughts:

There are certainly things to like about Final Fantasy: Unlimited. The music and acting are both strong. The summons and diverse, strange worlds look good. The story keeps your interest with its strange set ups & locales. It manages to get some laughs. Unfortunately, it’s also a series that never reaches its full potential. The story has a lot that’s under-developed and under-utilised. The characters are just mediocre and the boring, uncut stock footage attack is a constant. I would still say the series is okay but it’s not good. My final rating is going to be a 6/10. Next week I’ll talk about Trinity Blood.

Phantasy Star Online II- The Animation: I’d rather be around mad people

Phantasy Star started as a series of solid RPGs made for the Mega Drive. In more recent years, it’s transitioned into an online game. Phantasy Star Online II is a Japanese only game since initial plans for a more global release kind of fell through. It was released in 2012. In 2016 an anime by our old friends at TMS began airing. That’s right, the same studio that gave us Glass no Kamen, Magic Knight Rayearth & Rose of Versailles to name a few.

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Story:

We open with our protagonist… Blandon attending his classes at Seiga Academy. Which seems like a nice school until you look in the textbooks and find out they’re full of glitches. Blandon is approached by the student council to join them as the new Vice President since the former one went off to star in her own spin-off game that tries way too hard to be dark and edgy and throws in guns and random shadowy aliens. One of his duties is playing the greatest online game ever made, they promise, PSO2. Why? Because the school is thinking about banning online games for distracting students from their studies. So, he randomises a character who just so happens to look exactly like him and starts playing the game. Finding it to be totally better than all those other online games that more people play. Things get a bit surreal when a transfer student shows up who seems very immersed in the game and she seems to be investigating a string of disappearances. But how are they related to the messiah of online gaming?

All right, let’s start with the negatives. First off all, the coincidences get to be absurd at times. It’s not limited to randomising a character who looks like the player either. There are times when Blandon encounters people who just happen to be talking loudly about the game in front of him after he’s met their in-game characters. There are also times when, against all odds, he or another character will run into exactly what they need. And I thought Steerforth randomly showing up all the time got ridiculous. The love triangle is also quite insipid. The series also suffers from the fact that every plot point is really trite. Whenever any plot point comes up you can guess exactly where it’s going to go, if you have some level of genre familiarity.

On as positive note, I kind of like the basic premise behind this series. The idea of the game’s world being real and there being a way to travel betwixt the two could have been quite a compelling twist. If the writing in this wasn’t so bland.

Characters:

You’ve probably inferred this already from my calling the protagonist “Blandon” but the characters in this are really one-note and boring. They try to add depth by having people play characters that “demonstrate hidden facets of themselves” but they’re quite literally all clichéd character types and the “hidden facets” fit neatly into that. The antagonists are very much the “don’t need motivations because they’re just evil” variety. At least they aren’t actively obnoxious, I guess. That makes them better than a fair number of Sonic’s woodland friends.

Art:

The biggest issue with the art is simply that some of the cg really stands out awkwardly. That being said, some of the action sequences are pretty neat. There are some good backgrounds. I also do kind of like the way they throw Sonic merchandise around the school.

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Sound:

The voice acting is decent enough. They don’t exactly use their actors to their full potential but they sound fine. The music is okay as well. It’s not something I’m going to listen to on its own but it as fine in context of the series.

Ho-yay:

Both our main girls, Blanda & more Mary Sue-ish Blanda, have fangirls who seem romantically interested. Blanda even has them ask her how she feels about lesbian relationships. So, it’s pretty blatant that there’s romantic attraction there. In a more interesting series, they might have done something with that.

Final Thoughts:

I’d hesitate to call Phantasy Star Online II: The Animation a bad series. It’s not. I also wouldn’t call it good because it’s not. It’s an average series where the over-reliance on clichés makes it a bit dull and highly predictable. If you’re really into the whole “online games are life” types of anime you might have a good time with it. It’s certainly better than some other anime of that type. Otherwise, there’s really nothing appealing about it. And, as an advert for the game, it fails pretty badly. You mean I can play a game with a bunch of really dull people and possibly have a monster jump out of it and try to eat my face? Sounds like a terrible time. The final rating is a 5/10. 

January Bonus Review: Mortal Kombat- Defenders of the Realm

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So, I’ve been critical of a bunch of anime based off of video games this month. As such, it seems fair to talk about something American as well. The eternally miss-spelled Mortal Kombat franchise has had a lot of adaptations. Films, card games, & several television series. This was the first television adaptation.

Now, you might think it’s a patently bad idea to make a children’s cartoon out of a series that’s notorious for its extreme violence and was instrumental in making rating systems happen. Of course, you only think that because you’re objectively smarter than anyone who was instrumental in making this project a reality. So, give yourself a quick golf clap on that one.

Story:

The basic story behind this is that our world is being invaded and the “heroes” of Mortal Kombat, Sonya Blade, Liu Kang, Jax, Subzero, Kitana, Nightwolf & that former cop no one likes band together under Raiden’s guidance to seal the portals that open up into our world and repel the invaders by ripping out their spinal columns or just by punching them a lot. That’s the experience people think of when they think of Mortal Kombat.

So, beyond the premise and this being a very poor fit for a children’s cartoon, what’s wrong with the writing in this series? well, the first thing is the pacing. This cartoon basically has long, boring conversations of exposition while quickly glossing over things like “should we trust this guy who seems suspicious?”  Seriously, any time something comes up that could lead to anything remotely interesting the writers quickly lose interest and jump to a shit action sequence. Then we have the series’ efforts to be “cool.” They’re just really cringe-worthy. They try to make “combat time” sorry, I mean “kombat time” into a major catch phrase for fuck’s sake. And if you thought wearing the other peoples’ outfits and just relying on them having no security was a stupid strategy, this cartoon gives us such gems as “run directly at the killer robots and punch them.” And let us not forget the “nice, wholesome” lessons that Mortal Kombat has to teach us. Like how much leverage and force you need to tear someone’s jaw off of their skull or there’s the lazy, tepid stuff you can get from this cartoon. Like that teamwork is good or that being evil and stubborn can make you immortal. Thanks, Defenders, that’s a great lesson for the little kiddies.

Characters:

Take the most generic heroes and villains you can think of, cover them in faecal matter and leave them to rot for a couple decades and you’ve got a  reasonable facsimile of the characterisation in this cartoon. It doesn’t even have the decency to be basically consistent. You get Raiden flip-flopping over whether or not he’ll actually fight or  Nightwolf deciding that he needs to rely on his instincts more and his machines less only to go back to the way things were and never mention it again.

Art:

I don’t know if there’s time to actually cover everything wrong with the artwork without writing a fecking novella. I’ll try to cover the big issues. First off, the facial expressions in this barely change. Everyone has their default look that just stays largely stagnant and it results in a lot of situations where their expressions don’t match what’s happening. Secondly, the action sequences are shit. They’re very slow and deliberate. So, you get scenes where someone will take a hit and very slowly fall back like they’re the world’s worst wrestler and they almost forgot they were supposed to get knocked over. The backgrounds are really lazy too.

Then we have the character designs. Most of the characters in this have their navels exposed, but none of them have navels. Did the studio think showing a belly button would be considered lewd? For that matter, a bunch of the guys have their chests showing but none of them have nipples. It’s like looking at really badly made dolls. Then we have Kitana’s boob situation. Instead of just using her MK II design, they decided to give her a toned down version of the MK III boob window. But, they decided to do it without showing any actual breasts through it. Are Kitana’s boobs supposed to be triangular and pointing off to each side?

Sound: 

In all fairness, they did get some people who can act. I mean, Cree Summer is in this. Voice of Penny Gadget, Elmyra Duff, Hyena  & She Hulk, to name just a few. Unfortunately, the director seems to have given them all explicit instructions to not show emotions or act. So, it sounds really terrible. Even the music is bad, and the film this is supposed to be a follow up to had some stellar music. So, you’d think that would be the one thing they could manage to get right.

Final Thoughts:

Defenders of the Realm is outright terrible. It’s a cartoon that took an idea that was already bad and did everything wrong when executing it. It’s a surprise it managed to even last thirteen episodes. My final rating is going to be a 1/10. If you’re going to watch it, get some snarky friends together and get your enjoyment out of incessantly mocking it.