February Bonus Review: DC vs Marvel Comics

Anyone who’s familiar with western comics knows Marvel and DC. They’re the big two. The ones with extended cinematic universes and adaptations of widely varying quality. Comic fans have long debated which characters should fight and who would win. In 1996 the companies themselves decided to come together for a crossover that would explore those very questions in a mini-series written by Ron Marz & Peter David that ran for four issues. So, is it everything that comic fans hoped for? The back of the trade promises the showdown of the century. So, let’s take a look. 

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Story:

The walls that separate universes are coming undone. Several heroes and villains are finding themselves transported elsewhere. Spidey appears in Gotham. The Juggernaut finds himself in Metropolis. Tim Drake finds himself right in the X-mansion and those are just a few examples. Everyone wonders what’s happening. The answer comes fairly quickly, two brothers are responsible for creating the universes and, after losing their consciousness from a climactic battle that destroyed everything, they’ve remembered everything and become aware of one another. They decide that instead of fighting directly and letting everything end in the cross fire, they’ll select champions from their own universes. The universe that wins gets to live. And that’s how the battle between these two universes is joined. 

Let’s talk about the writing flaws. The first is that a lot of the battles seem more like popularity contests than an actual examination of who would win given the powers and skills of the combatants. To go into some examples, Wolverine beats Lobo in a straight out brawl. And, as much as I like Wolverine’s character when he’s written by Chris Claremont, Larry Hama and several others, including Peter David. Lobo’s whole shtick is that he’s over-powered and over the top. The bloke can go toe to toe with the Justice League in its entirety. Wolverine is not that strong by half. You get the same thing with Storm against Wonder Woman. You’ve got a woman who’s effectively a Goddess against a lady who can control the weather. And somehow Storm wins with a couple lightning bolts even though Wondey should be able to stand up to far worse without a problem. As much as I love Strom, that’s nonsense. We’ve also got Batman against Captain America. A fight between two experts at hand to hand combat. Two tactical geniuses. With one having a measurable advantage in terms of strength, stamina and speed. And yet the one with the disadvantage wins and in a very lazy way. Which is the general problem with these fights. They can’t even give a conceivable explanation for why the less powerful combatant wins. At least the Spidey and Robin fights show you some cleverness on their part that lets them win. The Aquaman vs. Namor fight is also very lazy. This is a fight that could have gone either way, given how evenly matched they are. But we get bullshit involving a whale jumping out of the water and belly flopping onto someone standing on land. That is really stupid. Is the whale supposed to have super powers? 

There’s also a lot of bluster about these heroes working together, learning from one another and we see very little of that. The series really could have benefited from some extra length to let us see these actual interactions in a more substantial way than a few panels. 

With that being said, I do like the idea of the characters being put against one another by cosmic forces outside of their control. It certainly beats having there be some misunderstanding to clear up or having them all get tricked by some villains so that they can halt their battle and come together later. I also do rather like the big climax. 

Characters:

I’ll give the mini-series some credit here. They use a lot of characters and they’re pretty good at giving them a sense of personality that meshes with their regular characterisation. They aren’t deeply complex and I suspect the aftermath of these events was never dealt with in the comics proper. I don’t remember hearing anything about it in them, any way. But the characters are in character and I think that’s the best you can really expect from an event like this. The worst thing I can say about it is that the “romantic tension” betwixt Tim and Jubilation is really forced. 

Art:

So, we get artwork by Dan Jurgens & Josef Rubinstein. Overall, it looks really nice. There are some good action sequences in the story. They could have certainly benefited from being longer since most of them are over in two or three pages, but what we do get is pretty nicely done, mostly. The character art is dynamic with some really good designs for the Amalgam portion and the colourists did a really good job. There are occasional moments of minor fail. There are a couple panels with Bane where it looks like he was drawn without a top and it was lazily added in by the colourist later. There’s an original character called Access who’s drawn a bit inconsistently. All in all, though, the art fails are relatively minor and rare. 

Final Thoughts:

So, that’s DC vs. Marvel. Is it “the showdown of the century?” Not really. The writing can be lazy. Particularly when it comes to explaining how certain characters manage to win their bouts. The concept is a good one, but it’s not explored all that thoroughly and, when it comes right down to it, the actual bouts are too short for that particular accolade. That being said, it is fairly entertaining and there are things to like about it. In the end, it’s a pretty average read. My final rating is a 5/10. Have any ideas for what March’s bonus review should be? Leave them in the comments. Until then, expect the Wednesday anime reviews to continue as scheduled. 

Love Stage: That First Impression, though

Love Stage started as a romantic comedy manga by Eiki Eiki and Zaou Taishi. In 2014 our old friends at J.C. Staff, behind such titles as Yami no Matsuei, Hachimitsu to Clover, Shakugan no Shana, Toradora and a bunch of other anime I’ve reviewed, started releasing an anime adaptation. Is it a romance that’s worth your time? Let’s examine it and find out. As it was Valentine’s yesterday and this seems like a good week for some romance.

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Story:

Sena Izumi comes from a show business family. His mother is an actress. His father is in theatre and his elder brother is the lead singer of a band. Izumi, however, doesn’t want to be in show business. He wants to be a manga writer and artist. In spite of not being good at drawing. I know how he feels. That’s why all my writing just uses words. Things change for Izumi when he receives an offer to be the bride in an advert that’s a follow up to one he was in a decade ago. He initially refuses but finds out that the other intended star, Ichijou Ryouma, won’t take part unless the casting is the same as it was a decade ago. Reluctantly, Izumi agrees to take part for the sake of his family’s business. Little does he realise that Ichijou’s insistence has to do with the feelings he’s harboured for a decade and little does Ichijou realise that the co-star he’s been pining for is actually a boy. I detect incoming hijinks.

The biggest flaw with this series is that a lot of the early stuff involving the romance is questionable, at best. Ichijou carries around a picture of eight year old Izumi and he’s been obsessing over him. That’s pretty creepy. You’d think a mentally stable person would have gotten over their first crush given a decade. There’s also a scene where Ichijou actively tries to force himself on Izumi which begs the question of why a light-hearted comedic romance involves attempted rape. That’s not remotely suitable for the tone. To its credit, the series does acknowledge the atrocious nature of Ryouma’s actions and spends a good amount of time having him try to redeem himself but it’s still really tonally awkward and poor form for the start of a romance. There’s also some awkwardness involving Izumi’s brother harbouring a complex for him that borders on incestuous.

On the positive side, the romance does get pretty decent once its past the initial awkwardness. The comedic elements of the series also generally work pretty well. It’s not uproariously funny comedy, but it is pretty good.

Characters:

This series has two types of characters. The first are the major characters who are a step or two above archetypes. They develop, albeit in kind of shallow ways, over the course of the series. The second are the side characters who are pretty much the epitome of generic. The interactions vary a bit. Izumi is unrealistically quick to forgive Ryouma but their latter interactions after that whole plot point dies down are pretty decent and develop almost naturally. My favourite interactions by far are between Izumi & Rei, a gent who acts as a guardian and parental figure towards him. It’s a multi-faceted dynamic that can be genuinely heart-warming at times. Then we have the brotherly relationship which is far too clingy and a bit creepy.

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Art:

The artwork is, as a whole, pretty decent. The series does suffer a bit from the whole comedic undetailed moments that you get in a lot of series. The mouths are also a bit awkward both in how they move and in their appearance. I do quite like the way they do the eyes in the series, although the spectacles look awkward, and the regular scenes where they aren’t doing something odd for comedic effect look quite nice. I also do like that Izumi’s drawings are realistically amateurish. They don’t make them look exaggeratedly bad like a lot of series that have a character who’s supposed to be bad at artwork do.

Sound:

The cast in this is pretty good. Eguchi Takuya, Hirakawa Daisuke & Yonaga Tsubasa all deliver nice performances and the rest of the cast are all competent. The music was handled by Nakanishi Ryosuke and he did a decent enough job. It’s not a soundtrack I’ll be listening to on its own but it does get the job done.

Ho-yay:

I’ve already talked about Izumi And Ryouma quite a bit but there’s more homo-eroticism in the series than just the two of them. Towards the end it’s heavily implied that Izumi’s brother and Rei are in a sexual relationship. I don’t know why they didn’t do more that instead of focusing on the kind of creepy brother complex.

Final Thoughts:

Ultimately, Love Stage is a series that has a massive shadow hanging over it. The shadow of the messed up way the main romance starts. And while the series does markedly improve over that very poor first impression, it never quite breaks away from it. Ultimately, those things it does well kind of strike a balance with those it does poorly. Is it a bad series? No. It has quite a few funny moments and the latter stuff with the romance is decent enough. Is it a good one? Also no. It’s simply hurt too much by the tonal awkwardness in the beginning and by the whole brother complex aspect. In the end, it’s pretty average. My final rating is going to be a 5/10. If you like romances and can forgive the whole way things open, you’ll probably get some enjoyment from it. Next week I’ll look at JoJo no Kimyou na Bouken: Stardust Crusaders series 2.

Ktulu’s Fourth Annual Awards & Shaming Ceremony

For those of you who haven’t been following my blog for as long, allow me to explain. This is the time of year where I take every single series I’ve reviewed from February 15th of 2016 to the very last review I did, in this case Natsume Yuujinchou, and I praise the best while demeaning the worst. With every positive reward having a negative counterpart. Like last year I’m not going to bother giving you nominees. It’s not like I’m going to break for adverts and reveal the winners after the breaks or like I’m going to rent a stadium and invite all the nominees to wear fancy dress and accept trophies. Even if I had the euros to waste, I guarantee all those people have better things to do. So, let’s keep things to the point. I also won’t be including the bonus reviews. Maybe next year when I have more than five I’ll give them their own awards. Like last year, I’ll list off the eligible series in alphabetical order first.

This year the anime reviewed were:

91 Days, Ajin, Binbougami Ga, Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon S, Boku Dake ga Inai Machi, Bokusatsu Tenshi Dokuro-chan series 2, Brain Powerd, Byston Well Monogatari: Garzey no Tsubasa, Charlotte, Code Geass R2, Coppelion, Dance in the Vampire Bund, Danganronpa 3: Mirai Hen, Danganronpa 3: Zetsubou Hen, El Cazador de la Bruja, El Hazard: The Magnificent World, Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children, Gangsta, Ghost in the Shell Stand Alone Complex: 2nd Gig, Ginga Ojou-sama Densetsu Yuna Shin’en no Fairy, Gochuumon Wa Usagi Desu Ka series 2, Golgo 13, Gravitation, Gunsmith Cats, Haibane Renmei, Hanare Toride no Yonna, Ixion Saga DT, JoJo no Kimyou na Bouken: Stardust Crusaders, Kagewani, Kara no Kyoukai: Mirai Fukuin, Kashimashi, Komori-san wa Kotowarenai, Koutetsujou no Kabaneri, Kuuchuu Buranko, Love Live: The School Idol Film, Magic Tree House, Mononoke Hime, Mouryou no Hako, Natsume Yuujinchou, Noir, Non Non Biyori, One Punch Man, Rakudai Kishi no Cavalry, Rokka no Yuusha, Rurouni Kenshin: Meji Kenkaku Romantan- Tsuiokuhen, Ryuugajou Nanana no Maizoukin, Saenai Heroine no Sodatekata, Sansha Sanyou, Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu, SKET Dance, Sword Art Online II, Terra Formars, Terra Formars Revenge, Toradora, Totsuzen Neko no Kuni Banipal, Triangle Heart Sweet Songs Forever, Upotte, & Yuri Kuma Arashi

So, with our contestants firmly established let’s begin announcing the winners.

The Moffat award for unbearably awful writing in a mostly serious anime or OVA. Our previous winners were Dansi Bunri no Crime Edge, Neon Genesis Evangelion and Madhouse’s take on one of my absolute favourite super hero teams, the X-men. This year we had some stiff competition. The big contenders were Garzey no Tsubasa, Kagewani & Brain Powerd. In the end the winner is Brain Powerd.

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Here’s the thing that sets this one apart from the other two. The other two are unintentionally kind of enjoyable. While Brain Powerd also has some moments that are funny in their incompetence, it’s also much longer and those moments are farther between.

The Simone award for stellar writing in a mostly serious series or OVA. Previous winners were Psycho Pass, Ghost in the Shell Stand Alone Complex & Mahou Shoujo Lyrical Nanoha StrikerS. While I did watch several fantastic series this year, the winner probably won’t surprise anyone since I only gave one series a ten and the rest of the really strong ones got eights and nines. The winner is El Cazador de la Bruja.

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A fantastically written story about two ladies on a journey, meeting interesting characters and strengthening their bond. I absolutely adored this series.

The Abrams award for worst writing in a film. The prior winners were End of Evangelion, Metropolis & Hetalia: Paint it White. This year we had a very clear winner and that film was: Hanare Toride no Yonna.

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Yes, it was an ugly film with a nonsensical narrative and the best thing I could say about it was that it was over quickly.

The Miyazaki award for best writing in a film. Our previous winners were Nausicaa, Kara no Kyoukai 4 & Spirited Away. This year’s winner is probably kind of obvious. The award goes to Mononoke Hime.

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One of Ghibli’s finest and definitely a worthy winner.

The Macfarlane award for worst attempt at comedy. Our previous winners were OreImo, Kill la Kill & Sunabouzu. This year was a bit difficult since I watched two really horrendous comedies that were roughly on par but this year’s recipient is Kashimashi.

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While Bokusatsu Tenshi Dokuro-chan series 2 was a real contender, Kashimashi featured “jokes” about the main lead’s father acting like an incestuous pervert.Which is worse than anything from Bokusatsu Tenshi.

The Pratchett award for best comedic elements. The prior winners were Bottle Fairy, Doki Doki Precure & Yuru Yuri San Hai. This year it goes to Gochuumon wa Usagi Desu ka series 2.

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It’s a cutesy, endearing series and the funniest I’ve watched this year.

The Meyer award for the worst romantic elements. Our previous winners were OreImo, Mawaru Penguindrum & Love Hina Again. This year’s anime that gave love a bad name is Dance in the Vampire Bund.

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It was pretty difficult to choose between this and Kashimashi, the supposedly yuri (but not really) series that goes to absurd extremes to try and justify two girls liking one another. In the end, though, the series where both the major and secondary romance have paedophilic aspects has to be worse.

The Kanemaki award for best romantic elements. Our previous winners were Btooom (for the Himiko/ Ryouta romance), Mahou Shoujo Lyrical Nanoha & Mahou Shoujo Lyrical Nanoha StrikerS With both of those winning for the NanoFate. This year’s winner is probably obvious. The winner is El Cazador de la Bruja.

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Ellis and Nadie are such a superb couple. If Bee Train made an anime that was just the two of them doing mundane things like going to the cinema, grocery shopping, buying a chihuahua & getting married in their matching gowns, I’d watch it. As long as they were in character I’d absolutely love it too. Because when you’ve got a couple this superb, even the mundane things they do are compelling.

The Anno award for the worst cast of characters. Previous winners were End of Evangelion, Neon Genesis Evangelion & Love Hina Again. Joining them this year is Kashimashi.

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Yes, Kashimashi. It has some bland side characters and a whole lot of annoying ones. Notably the main cast.

The Moore award for best cast of characters. Our previous winners were Sailor Moon, Rainbow: Nisha Rokubou no Shichinin & Death Parade. This year it goes to Sailor Moon S.

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This was one of the hardest picks of the year. There were seven other anime that I really considered giving it to. In the end, however, I chose S just because it wins in terms of sheer numbers. In the end, it has more characters that I have a deep fondness for than any of the other series I considered. With most of them having three or four and S having close to ten.

The Bendis award for worst major conflict. The previous sultans of suckage were From Up on Poppy Hill, Sword Art Online & Ice. This year they’re going to be joined by Sword Art Online II.

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While there were some other series with lousy conflicts, Sword Art Online II surpassed them by having three. The plot hole riddled conflict where Blandon has more trouble cleaning up after the incompetence of the authorities than actually dealing with the threat. The whole thing where they’re just doing a lousy quest in an online game and there are no stakes and Blanda being a whiny, obnoxious pile of shite because her mum is slightly domineering.

The Claremont award for most compelling conflict. Previous winners were Psycho Pass, Shingeki no Kyojin & Mahou Shoujo Lyrical Nanoha As. This year it’s going to Haibane Renmei.

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With a heavily psychological conflict where the stakes boil down to the life of a character we’ve gotten to know and love. It really is masterful.

The Liefeld award for worst visuals. Previous winners were Aku no Hana, Amada anime series: Super Mario Brothers & last year I did something different by giving out two categories of this award. One for films and the other for series. The winners were Dragonball Z: Fusion Reborn & Corpse Party: Tortured Souls. This year I’ll be giving out two again, but this time we have a film that truly has awful art instead of passable art that suffers from weak action scenes. The awards go to Hanare Toride noYonna in the film category and Byston Well Monogatari: Garzey no Tsubasa in the series category.

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Both of these were outright ugly with bizarre proportions. Garzey no Tsubasa may, at least, have unintentionally hilarious art but that’s only because it’s so incompetent.

The Urbino award for excellent visuals. This is another one where I started giving out two last year, but I didn’t in the prior years. With that in mind the winners have been Nausicaa, Tokyo Godfathers, Spirited Away & Mushishi. This year the winner for the film category is Mononoke Hime. The winner for the series category is Ghost in the Shell Stand Alone Complex 2nd Gig.

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These ones were very difficult. For films it came down to Mononoke Hime and Advent Children, both of which have stunning visuals. For the series category, it was even harder. There were a good number of series I watched this year that just had superb artwork with really unique aesthetics. But, in the end, these two came out on top.

The Spencer award for acting incompetence. Our previous winners were the English dub of Sailor Moon (which will be the only dub I ever review), Neon Genesis Evangelion & Ice. This year it has to go to Kashimashi.

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Yes, Kashimashi. A series that took talented actors and made them sound like they don’t give a shit, except in a few notable cases where they sounded downright dreadful.

The Sir Stewart award for acting excellence. Our past winners were Black Rock Shooter (OVA), Mahou Shoujo Lyrical Nanoha & Glass no Kamen. This one is always harder to decide than the Spencer award, since even bad anime tend to have passable performances. So, the really wretched ones stand out. But this year the title of best goes to Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu.

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This was a series with a lot of drama, but also a lot of heart. It’s a series where the performances were subtle, nuanced and brilliant. Out of all the fantastic vocal performances I’ve heard this year, it definitely stands out.

The Perry award for worst music in a series. Previous winners were the English dub of Sailor Moon, Street Fighter II & Mars of Destruction. This year it goes to Kagewani.

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While not terrible, the music in it is really weak.

The Kloss award for best music. Our previous winners were Slayers Perfect, K-on the movie & Love Live series 2. This year it’s going to go to Love Live: The School Idol Film.

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This film has phenomenal music. The singing was superb. The composition was excellent. All in all, it’s a film where they needed good music for the premise and they nailed it.

That’s it for this year’s awards. Who knows what awaits us this year in terms of what’s going to be reviewed. This upcoming weekend I’ll post February’s bonus review. It’s covering the graphic novel DC Versus Marvel Comics. So, there’s that to look forward to. Tomorrow I’ll post my review of Love Stage and a special thanks to all of you who have been reading my reviews throughout the year and also those of you who started reading at some point during the year. I always love reading your comments and hearing what you thought of the various series I’ve reviewed. You’re all fantastic. Feel free to leave a comment telling me which of the eligible series you thought should have been shamed or awarded.

Natsume Yuujinchou: Natsume’s book of snores

Natsume Yuujinchou is a series that began as a shoujo manga by Midorikawa Yuki. In 2008 an anime adaptation by Brain’s Base aired. You may remember them from such anime as Baccano, Durarara, Penguindrum, Ixion Saga DT & Yahari Ore no Seishun Love Comedy wa Machigatteiru. So, their stuff has been pretty mixed from what I’ve seen. With Oregairu at the upper end and Ixion Saga & Penguindrum tied at the low end. How will this one place? Let’s have a look.

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Story:

Natsume Takashi is a lonely boy. He’s been ostracised for most of his life due to his ability to see youkai. After accidentally freeing a sealed one, that happens to look like a fat cat, he discovers that his grandmother, Reiko, could also see them. Not only that, but she went around collecting their names for her “book of friends” which she could use to summon and control them. Being able to think of no ways to use such a thing, Natsume decides to go about returning the names. The narrative from there follows him as he encounters youkai and goes about thinning the book of friends.

The biggest issue with the series is just that it’s tedious. It shouldn’t be since it has al of thirteen episodes, but it manages. The dialogue has a tendency to repeat itself a lot. The events from the episodes are painfully predictable and the series just never reaches a point where things get interesting. The result is that it feels like a slog to get through. There’s also a moment where they try to bring real world fact into the series, but they get the fact wrong. Basically, it uses the urban legend that birds will abandon their babies if a human handles them. Which I’m sure was invented by some arsehole who didn’t want to bother helping a distressed baby bird but didn’t want to look bad in front of their kids. Or maybe it’s a fabrication that stems from wanting to protect the chicks from good-hearted people who are trying to help, but aren’t helping.

The best part of the series are the few flashbacks we get of his grandmother when she was young. She has personality and seems to be enjoying herself. Can I watch a series about her instead? I don’t think it would be brilliant, but it would probably be better than this.

Characters:

Herein lies the core flaw with the series. Natsume is one of the most boring characters I’ve seen in quite a while. See, his whole schtick is that he’s a generic nice guy who’s melancholy because he’s special. That’s pretty much the end all and be all that passes for his personality. He’s about as compelling as an empty plastic crate. Well, less compelling. At least you could put something in the crate. Which is a big part of why the narrative itself is such a slog. We have this thoroughly uninteresting protagonist and it’s impossible to feel any tension or investment in him. Seriously, can we watch the grandma’s story instead? She has more personality by far and she’s only in roughly five minutes of flashbacks. The supporting characters really aren’t much better. They’re flat tropes.

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Art:

The artwork is, by far, the best element of the series. The backgrounds are nicely drawn and detailed. The youkai designs are pretty creative. The animation does flow well. The character designs are… okay. The biggest issue with the art is Natsume himself. The two expressions he generally has are just a blank look and dull surprise.

Sound:

Our protagonist is voiced by Kamiya Hiroshi. He also voiced a boring character in Hachimitsu to Clover. But he’s also given strong performances voicing characters like Levi and Otonashi Yuzuru. The problem with his performance in this, and indeed most of the performances, is just that there’s nothing to work with. You really can’t take a boringly written character and make them complex through the sheer power of acting. The music isn’t good, but it does suit the series. It is just as boring as the narrative and the protagonist. You can’t claim that Yoshimori Makoto isn’t good at composing music that matches the tone.

Ho-yay:

There’s a little bit. Natsume has a couple of friends who bicker like a married couple. There’s also a female youkai in the series who’s outright stated to have had a thing for Natsume’s grandmother. I’d kind of like to see the back story behind that one, actually. Seriously, why isn’t this series about Reiko?

Final Thoughts:

Natsume Yuujinchou is by no means a bad series. It’s also by no means a good one. Ultimately, it’s a boring series with very little that really stands out in either a positive or negative way. My final rating on it is a 5/10. Next week is Valentine’s and you know what that means, we’re going to look at a romance series. This year it’s Love Stage. You can also expect the 4th annual awards and shaming ceremony as an extra post.

Dance in the Vampire Bund: A Rather Boorish Affair

Dance in the Vampire Bund is a rather notorious series. It’s been heavily criticised for having sexualised content involving a character who looks like a child and when it was released outside of Japan there was a big fuss about censorship as various companies grappled with whether or not to cut some of the more controversial content. It’s a series I’ve avoided because it looked crass in the same vein as Strike Witches or Upotte but I was asked to review it in spite of it being, according to the requester “a not very good show” due to it being a prototype in the way it’s directed for a lot of studio Shafts later works. For those of you unfamiliar with shaft, they’re the ones behind the Rec OVA, which was terrible. They also did Ef: A Tale of Memories, which was sub-par. They also did Natsu no Arashi which was decent enough and Madoka which was actually really good. Thus far, my experiences with their work has been pretty mixed. But I did just review a masterpiece so I may as well take up the request and look at this anime to see where it falls on the spectrum of Shaft productions and to decide for ourselves if it really isn’t very good.

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Story:

After several attacks where young ladies are left with marks on their necks, a television program has a panel to discuss the possibility of vampires existing. The program includes a special guest, a woman claiming to be the vampire queen. She presents the preserved arm of the vampire who has, supposedly been attacking people. This prompts him to reveal himself and the existence of vampires is revealed to the public as is the face of the true vampire queen. She announces her plan to take a patch of land she owns within Japan and create a bund for vampires. Things take a turn when the vampire queen, Mina Tepes, begins showing interest in amnesiac High school student Kaburagi Akira. What’s the connection betwixt them and can she successfully establish her bund?

There are several narrative issues to the series. The first is that it lacks narrative cohesion. There are factors of vampire society that get established early on and then retconned later in the series. It can’t even keep whether Mina is the queen or the princess consistent. These are not interchangeable terms. They also switch between her as a student and as the school’s chairman. Her physical abilities also fluctuate. There are times when she can fight well and others where she’s completely helpless because the plot needs her to be rescued. It’s like she’s silver age Jimmy Olsen and just constantly has different abilities. The romance is pretty dreadful in this as well. The ‘development’ is really stilted and comes across as contrived. But that isn’t the worst part of it. You find out that she’s been basically obsessed with him since he was a small child. That’s the plot line with the paedophile werewolf from Twilight levels of just wrong. They try to balance it by making her look prepubescent but that just makes it worse. Or maybe it’s less about balance and more that the writer has a fetish for children and should probably be institutionalised. Even the major side romance is utterly horrendous garbage involving one character who’s way too old for the other, but with a less extreme age difference. The narrative isn’t particularly compelling either. While it has some concepts that could be interesting if they were expanded on, it’s more interested in showcasing its terrible romance and in providing fan-service. Because the only class that this writer is aware of is the variety you attend.

That being said, the whole idea of vampire society revealing itself and integrating into human society could have been really interesting if the writing hadn’t been complete schlock. The whole Dance With the Vampire Maids segment can be kind of funny at times too.

Characters:

For the most part, the characters aren’t all that bad. They’re mostly just dull. There are two issues that really demote them from mediocrity. The first is the incessantly obnoxious way that a bunch of the female characters pursue our boring hero. The second is that the character dynamics are weak and they suffer from the same lack of cohesion as the narrative, undergoing changes without any reason beyond the plot demands it.

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Art:

Dance in the Vampire Bund may very well be worse than Strike Witches when it comes to ridiculous, excess levels of fan-service. The big reason being that most of it centres around Mina, a character who looks to be eight or nine. She looks younger than Lucchini Here’s the thing about Mina. You could potentially make me believe that our bland hero could fall for her, in spite of her appearance, since she doesn’t act like a child, for the most part. It would require considerably better writing, but you could manage that. However, you aren’t going to convince me that you’re showing ‘sexy’ scenes of her starkers for any reason beyond you being a total sleazy scum bag. We don’t need to see her in the nude for the narrative it’s just distracting and unpleasant. Because she looks to be eight or nine. The action sequences are pretty bad too. Most of them consist of seeing our protagonist take a couple hits and then end things with one attack. Good thing his opponents have no durability. If they were evenly matched on that front he’d have been killed pretty much right away and the series would be somewhat better because it wouldn’t have its lousy romance taking up a bunch of time.

Sound:

The series got some good actors. Saito Chiwa, Yuuki Aoi & Itou Shizuka to name a few. Their performances in this, however, are pretty weak. You can tell they’re trying but the writing just doesn’t give them much in terms of character complexity. The music isn’t bad, but it is pretty weak.

Ho-yay:

The series doesn’t have any. Which is fine by me given that its romance is at the Twilight level.

Final Thoughts:

So, that’s Dance in the Vampire Bund. How ungood is “not very good?” Well, the premise had potential and there are some funny bits in the ending segments but its held back by an awful romance, a story that doesn’t hold together well, absurd levels of fan-service (a lot of which involves a character who looks like she’s eight), weak performances and bland characters. My final rating is going to stand at a 3/10. Next week I’ll look at Natsume Yuujinchou.

El Cazador de la Bruja: All of my Squee

Here we are on the final review of girls with guns month. Two weeks ago I discussed Noir, a really well done anime from Bee Train. I also briefly mentioned that it has two spiritual successors. The latter one ran in ’07. Six years after Noir. This is El Cazador de la Bruja, written by Kanemaki Kenichi. Does it live up to its predecessor?

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Story:

Nadie is a bounty hunter on a mission. She has to find and protect Ellis, a girl with a bounty on her head. With some help from the elderly fortune teller looking after Ellis, Nadie is able to convince her that they should travel together. Thus they begin their journey to the eternal city, Wiňay Marka. Presumably because it’s holding the year’s girl on girl tea party and Overwatch tournament. Actually, it’s because Wiňay Marka may hold the key to unlocking Ellis’ fragmented memory and the truth behind her mysterious power.

Like Noir, El Cazador has a really strong set up. It quickly introduces the mysterious elements that will get expounded upon and eventually explained. It does so in a way that captures the attention and keeps you invested. Unlike Noir, however, El Cazador doesn’t have any elements where the reveal is kind of weak. Its mysteries all have satisfying, well constructed resolutions. El Cazador may also exemplify what I like about so many of Bee Train’s works. This series actively makes fun of two tropes I really hate. The first being the stereotypical gay characters which they poke fun at with a pair of gag villains. They do it pretty subtly too. You might think they were playing the trope straight if our protagonists weren’t so blatantly gay for one another. They also poke fun of generic let down endings in a way that’s absolutely brilliant but that I won’t spoil. I will say, this series has one of the best, most satisfying endings I can recall. It’s even better than Noir’s and that one was fantastic.

This series may also have the best romance I’ve seen in anything. The relationship betwixt Ellis and Nadie is beyond superb. It starts out being very much all business, transitions into friendship and finally blossoms into something more. Part of what makes it so good and believable is that our heroines fall for one another at different times with Ellis falling in love with Nadie first. Which makes sense since Nadie has to move past thinking of Ellis as someone she needs to protect for a job before she can fall for her. Their relationship also has very natural ups and downs stemming from various events, which may or not may be related to the main plot. Not only that but it has a lot of absolutely adorable moments. Just when you think that nothing can top the cute scene in episode 15, episode 19 happens. Then you think that nothing could possibly top that in terms of being a cute romantic scene but the series does.

Characters:

The main heroines are absolutely phenomenal. I love Nadie’s flippant outlook and the way it occasionally masks the fact that she’s actually taking something seriously and the writing is complex enough that you can tell when she’s actually flippant versus putting on a façade. I like that Ellis is innocent and naïve in some ways but also clever and knowledgeable about certain things that she’s more familiar with. The side characters aren’t as strongly developed, but they’ve enough to them that they have verisimilitude. Even when they go by bizarre code names like “Blue Eyes.” I’m not sure if she’s called that because she has pretty, piercing blue eyes or because she wants to have her face put in a children’s card game. I actually really like Lirio, the child character, as well. I’m not normally a fan of child characters or children in general, but I really like the way she’s handled. I like that we see her take inspiration from the adults around her and grow as a person thanks to their influence and I like the way the change is gradual and subtle, like the character development in general. Then we have our antagonists. Unlike Noir, El Cazador doesn’t give us sympathetic main villains. There are still some sympathetic antagonistic characters, just not the big two. They’re complex villains with understandable motivations, but they’re also right creepy gits who have some small redeeming qualities, but they get heavily over-shadowed by all the ways they’re despicable. Chloe was a villain you felt sorry for. L.A. Is a villain you want to see get his comeuppance and you kind of want to see it come from Ellis so he’ll stop doing things like stealing her hair while she’s sleeping.

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Art:

The artwork and animation are probably the best I’ve seen from Bee Train. The character designs are distinctive and the way they do the eyes is incredibly expressive. It’s like their artists took the old adage about the eyes being windows to the soul and decided to represent that. The action scenes can be strategically slow to build up tension or fast-paced and intense. The backgrounds are nice. About the worst I can say about it is that it does do the usual Bee Train thing of having odd angles because… weird angles are more dramatic according to some high up animator’s theory.

Sound:

The acting is amazing. Itou Shizuka and Shimizu Ai are fabulous in the lead roles. They not only deliver the lines well, but they manage the difficult task of conveying the tension and chemistry between the leads. Which may very well be the result of superb directing. Miyano Mamoru also gives a really good performance as L.A. Hisakawa Aya is splendid as well in her role as Blue Eyes. The cast is just top notch in general. The music is really superlative as well. Savage Genius does a great job with the theme performance Kaida Yuriko did a sterling job of the music composition throughout the series. It really evokes the setting and complements the series as a whole.

Ho-yay:

In addition to the greatest romance I’ve ever seen inn media, El Cazador de la Bruja also has the aforementioned gag characters designed around taking the piss out of common stereotypes. There’s also some indication that Blue Eyes has a bit of a thing for some of the other ladies. The stuff betwixt our heroines is certainly the most pervasive, important and blatant use of ho-yay in the series, though.

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Final Thoughts:

Dammit Bee Train, stop being good so I can heavily castigate one of your series! In all seriousness, this anime is astonishing. It combines a compelling narrative with an awe-inspiring romance. A road trip full of twists and turns with a fascinating cast of characters met along the way. I have very little that I can say about this series that’s negative and that complaint is very minor. I absolutely adored this series and I’ll re-watch it periodically. My final rating is going to stand at a 10/10. Well, we ended girls with guns month on a powerful note. Next week I’ll look at the notorious Dance in the Vampire Bund.

Voice Actor Profile: Paku Romi

Let’s take a moment to talk about voice actors. I usually mention them when talking about the quality of the acting in a specific work, but I don’t really dedicate too much time to talking about them in general. So, I thought I’d try something a bit different and write up a short piece on a major anime voice actor. I thought that Hayashibara Megumi would be too obvious a choice for me to start with, so instead, let’s talk about Paku Romi.

Paku Romi is an interesting actress. A lot of people know her best from her roles as teenage boys and young men: Edward Elric from Fullmetal Alchemist, Tao Ren in Shaman King, Ueki in The Law of Ueki, Syrup in Yes Precure 5 GoGo, Switzerland in Hetalia, Hitsugaya in Bleach & Turtle in Rainbow to name a few. It’s a role type she’s good at and she’s given us a lot of good performances, but some people forget that she’s also good at playing women too. Zoë in Shingeki no Kyojin, Angelina in Kuroshitsuji, Naoto in Persona, Falis in Murder Princess, Pharah in Overwatch & Teresa in Claymore to name some prominent examples. Her roles as teenage boys just tend to be in more well known anime.

Whatever type of role she’s in, she usually does a really good job. So, I’m going to list her top five performances in anime I’ve reviewed. But it’s me and I have to be a bit critical, so I’ll also list her weakest three performances in anime I’ve reviewed. This is subject to change since she’s been in a lot of series I haven’t seen and some I’ve seen but haven’t done proper reviews of. Let’s start with the negativity with the three weakest roles. Just to be clear, these are ranked by the performance and not the writing for the characters.

3. Kanan Gimmes: Brain Powerd
Don’t you just love anime where the actors only need to demonstrate a few emotions? That’s the trouble with Brain Powerd. They got good actors, like Paku Romi, and gave them nothing to work with. She doesn’t sound bad in this, you’d be hard pressed to find something where the direction is that bad. She just sounds like she doesn’t care.

2. Tsubasa Yuuki: Mawaru Penguindrum
The trouble with the acting here is that the series has extreme tonal issues and shifts from extremely over exaggerated lines to really downplayed ones. Paku Romi voices a minor character, a really hammy actress. So, her lines tend to be among the more exaggerated in the series. Which isn’t exactly conducive to a tolerable performance.

1. Ragyou Kiryuuin: Kill La Kill
Speaking of characters who suffer from exaggerated lines, we have the big bad of Kill La Kill, an anime that’s all bout the characters being absurdly over the top at all times. Which definitely makes for the worst acted role I’ve heard her in.

Now that we’ve been a bit negative, let’s look at her good roles. This one was tougher to decide, because I’ve reviewed very few anime where she had roles that were weak but I’ve looked at a lot where she was fantastic. So, let’s quickly go through my picks for her strongest roles from anime I’ve reviewed. To be clear again, these are ranked by the strength of the performance and not the character writing.

5. Tamayo Kataoka: Rideback
Rideback
was one of my early reviews In that series, Paku Romi voices a Rideback champion who starts out as a relatively friendly rival to the protagonist and becomes a sort of mentor to her. A lot of what makes Rideback work as a series is that the characters have verisimilitude, and that’s certainly aided by the acting.

4. Hange Zoë: Shingeki no Kyojin
Zoë is a scientist in an apocalyptic landscape. Her most memorable facet is her love of studying the titans, but there’s more to the character than that. She gets strongly emotional when it comes to her work, but she’s also clever and can present ideas in a very calm, collected way.

3. Edward Elric: Fullmetal Alchemist/ Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood
Edward is a really well acted character. Our auto-mail wielding protagonist has his serious moments, his comedic moments, traumatic moments, triumphant moments. Basically, he runs the full gamut of human emotion and it’s all portrayed really strongly by our lead actress.

2. Falis: Murder Princess
You wouldn’t expect much in terms of subtlety from a series called Murder Princess. However, it’s a series where you do get it. Paku Romi essentially voices two different characters in this. The princess who flees an invasion and the bounty hunter who switches bodies with her. She also has to convey the emerging romantic feelings between the two as they get to know one another without it coming across as narcissistic.

1. Noboru Maeda “Turtle”: Rainbow: Nisha Rokubou no Shichinin
There’s a lot of good acting in Rainbow. Paku Romi’s role is no different. This is a role where her character gets kicked around by life but still manages to maintain a lot of positivity. It’s a role that requires a lot of subtlety and a lot of care when breaching certain sensitive topics and she delivers brilliantly.

There’s my quick discussion of Paku Romi and some of her best and worst roles. I’ll do this again at some point with a different voice actor who I’ve encountered a lot. If you have some favourite roles of Paku Romi’s, feel free to leave a post about it.