Terra Formars: Roaches from Mars

Terra Formars is an action, horror sci-fi piece. The manga began in 2011, written by Sasuga Yuu and drawn by Tachibana Kenichi. In 2014 we got a two episode OVA and a full thirteen episode series, both of which were handled by Liden Films. A studio that’s done nothing I’ve seen, although I know their names because they’re also working on the Berserk sequel that’s scheduled to start airing in July. I’m not sure what to expect so let’s just take a look at Terra Formars, both the prequel OVA & the TV series.

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Story:

In the OVA, we see the ill-fated Bugs-2 mission to Mars where a group of people with insect-based powers, which they turn on via injections, fight against a swarm of humanoid cockroaches. Why they don’t just use one of the many pesticides that’s proven efficacious against cockroaches instead of mucking about with their DNA, I haven’t the foggiest. In either case, the longer series opens with a young man fighting in cage matches. After fighting a bear, he’s approached by a familiar gent in a suit and a young woman. The two recruit him to join them in a trip to Mars, giving him a variation of the surgery that the Bugs-2 crew had. He survives the procedure and is taken to Mars on a mission to retrieve samples to concoct a vaccine for a disease that’s spread to Earth from there, along with a large number of people from varied countries. They’re under the command of Captain Komachi, one of the only survivors of the OVA. That’s when things go badly. The cockroaches somehow get aboard their spaceship and those members of the crew who survive the attack are forced to separate into six groups, all heading in different directions. Can they survive long enough to reach one another and complete their mission?

As is my usual habit, let’s discuss the problems with the narrative first. The biggest one is that it features a lot of situations where the solution or the problem itself, comes out of nowhere with no valid explanation. Take the opening event. How did these mutant cockroaches break into a sealed spaceship without getting noticed? You’d think they’d have to rupture the hull, creating explosive decompression, or something. The very last fight sequence also has a character use powers that they’ve never displayed before and that there was no indication of them having. Just when they really needed them to get out of a bad situation too, how fortuitous. No, wait, contrived. There’s also a pretty significant issue with exposition. Basically, there are segments, usually during action sequences, where the narrator jumps in to talk about flora or fauna and how the powers of these various people work based on that. It not only disrupts the action sequence but roughly drags you out of any investment you may have had in the scene. The science in this is just terrible too. The worst part is that it doesn’t even work within the series’ own universe. To use an example, there’s a character with the powers of Camponotus Saundersi aka the blast ant. The narration talks about the ant’s ability to self destruct using autothysis and yet, somehow, that translates to this character being able to blow the cockroaches she hits up. These things blow themselves up by rupturing a gland they have for that express purpose how the hell does that translate to being able to blow these cockroaches, which don’t even have that gland, up?

About the only positives that I can give the narrative are that the premise has potential, the idea of people using abilities of insects and other flora and fauna to fight a common threat could have been really interesting, and that it tries to be more than just a mindless action series. I’ll give it credit for that, it clearly is trying. It doesn’t succeed, but there is an effort there.

Characters:

The characters are a big part of the problem. They try to make the cast compelling and sympathetic but the execution is woefully shallow. Most of the characters we learn anything about have some bland, trite back story where they have a sick loved one or they grew up poor or some such thing. None of which tells us anything about them as a person. About the closest we get to a fleshed out character is Adolf and they spend close to an entire episode showing us flashbacks of his life. We do get flashbacks of a very small number of the other characters, but none that are on that level and most are a lot more shallow than what we get with him. The biggest problem with the characters being so egregiously boring is that there’s no investment in them or what happens to them. We see a lot of characters die after they’ve gotten roughly five minutes of screen time and two lines, if that much. Even the characters who die after we’ve spent a bit more time with them are largely just too bland to care about.

Then we have our villains. I’m not going to talk about how their motivations are weak, even though the only explanation the series gives for them killing humans is that they think we’re vermin. No, the problem here is a lot worse than that. These things aren’t intimidating in the least and a lot of the “tension” in the series revolves around them being this overwhelming, terrifying force. Yet, they look ridiculous, a good fighter in the main crew can slaughter huge numbers of them with ease and they don’t feel fear or pain, which is a huge evolutionary disadvantage. The child friendly version of the brood were more frightening and they got dealt with in an episode. Even the Spaceballs were more intimidating than these guys at least they had a transforming maid robot.

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(Actually somewhat intimidating)

Art:

The goofy villain design aside, I do generally like the art in this. The characters have interesting looks, at least when you factor in their mutated forms. The backgrounds have some nice detailing. The fight scenes are very gruesome but also are impressive, when the flow isn’t disrupted by the narrator giving us information, some of which is outright wrong. The series also does largely refrain from pointless fan-service scenes. About the closest they come are some scenes where some of the guys in the team will try to peep at one of the women or their eyes will wander, which, in all fairness, is a realistic situation.

Sound:

The vocal performances in this are passable. They are a bit emotionless and dull but they aren’t bad and they’re about what you’d expect from the writing. Murai Shusei’s music is pretty good.

Ho-yay:

There really isn’t any. We get a few stated het crushes and some characters who we’re told are married but, aside from that, the relationships really aren’t developed enough for them to get homo-erotic.

Final Thoughts:

So that’s Terra Formars, a mindless action series with delusions of grandeur. While I do give it credit for trying to do something more, in this situation, it might actually hurt it since the execution is shallow and the end result is that the action sequences are interrupted and weakened by narration. It isn’t a bad anime, but it is weak. My final rating for the series and OVA together is going to be a 4/10. Next week it’s Saenai Heroine no Sodatekata.

Yuri Kuma Arashi: Fairy Tale Romance… for older teens

I was drawn to Yuri Kuma Arashi because I heard its basic premise and it’s bizarre. Humans and bears were at war, the humans built a wall to keep peace, some bears sneak into a human school. That’s a premise that’s likely either going to be awesomely stupid & hilarious or just really stupid. The anime version was handled by Silver Link, and I’m hoping for the best thing I’ve seen from them. Which wouldn’t be difficult given the other works of theirs that I’ve reviewed. It could be sub-par but not bad and still be the best I’ve seen from them. Now, the original manga was created by Ikuhara Kunihiko, known for the awesomeness of Utena, the crappy melodrama of Penguindrum and directing a good chunk of the original Sailor Moon anime. So, there is potential there. But let’s take a look at Yuri Kuma Arashi and see if Ikuhara still has it or if Penguindrum was a sad precursor of where his work’s going.

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Story:

Long ago, humans and bears lived in peace. Then, in distant space, Kumaria exploded. This somehow resulted in bears getting violent and resulted in a war between humans and bears. This eventually ended with the wall of Severance being erected to keep bears away from humans. In the present, two bears, Ginko & Lulu, sneak into the wall disguised as human schoolgirls. The two enrol in Arashigaoka Academy where they take an interest in Tsubaki Kureha, another student there. When Kureha’s girlfriend, Sumika, goes missing she receives a call from a blocked number telling her, if her love is true, to go to the roof and give herself to the bears. She heads up, rifle in hand and ready to prove her love. What happened to Sumika? Why are the bears interested in Kureha? And what exactly is this “Invisible Storm” that keeps getting mentioned? These questions may very well lead Kureha on a journey of personal growth that she never expected.

This story is odd and I’m not saying that in a demeaning way. It’s done in a style very reminiscent of a fairy tale, much like Princess Tutu, with Ikuhara’s own inimitable twist and all of the surreal elements one would expect from that. The trial scenes with Sexy judging, Beauty defending and Cool prosecuting as well as the Exclusion ceremony scenes being the most prominent. The biggest issue I had with the narrative is that it’s written like a relatively uncomplicated fairy tale, one character even announcing what she represents at one point while others are quite literally named for it, but it’s intended for older audiences. There’s a bit of a disconnect there and there, honestly, isn’t much reason for this to be made for older audiences. About the only thing that elevates it to that level are some of the more explicit yuri moments. Aside from that, the violence is very much toned down and the structure and dialogue are both very much that of a traditional fairy tale.

That being said, I quite liked the narrative, in much the same way as I liked Princess Tutu. The fairy tale element meshes quite well with Ikuhara’s surrealism. The love story has a surprising amount of tension, especially given how formulaic it is and it has a lot of strong moments. The themes of fighting for love and refusing to give up on love are both superbly handled, accentuated deftly by the way it uses repetitious scenes, like the aforementioned trial scenes. I really do like the main romance in general. It has a lot of sweetness to it, intermixed with some tragic elements.

Characters:

The characters are about as complex as they need to be. By that, I mean that the major characters have a good amount going on. They have fleshed out motivations, back stories and they have arcs within the story that move them. The secondary characters have as much as they need for the function they serve. Some of them are simply there to embody a particular aspect and that’s what they do. Others are more side characters who need to do a particular thing and they get very basic motivations for it but not much in terms of personality. Yet others, notably Yuriika, are more developed. About the only complaint I have is with Milne, a small child character who does virtually nothing but try to cling to his older sister, Lulu, and act kind of obnoxious. The episode with him in a central role was definitely the hardest to watch. Yeah, I can understand a five or six year old kid being clingy, but that doesn’t make it not annoying.

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Art:

The only real flaw with the art is the excessive fan-service. Which basically all revolves around high school girls. Way to keep it classy, Silver Link. And yes, that was sarcasm. That aside, I actually really liked the art in this. The way they portray the story book scenes, the surreal moments. I also appreciate that they do downplay the actual violence, opting to show a claw and then a collapsed form or to otherwise keep the camera away from the injury while also clearly conveying that the injury happened. It fits in with the fairy tale style. As does making the bears cutesy instead of more realistic. We also see Ikuhara’s flower fixation at play. In Utena, it was roses. In Yuri Kuma Arashi, it’s lilies and there are some really pretty scenes with them.

Sound:

You might not expect this series to have great acting simply because the leads are all voiced by ladies without many roles. We’ve got Yamane Nozomi, who has one other credit on MAL, Ikuta Yoshiko, with credits for six characters & Arakawa Miho, she has the most with twenty characters. That being said, they all do really well. The performances in this are all capable but those three in particular have a lot to express with theirs and they all do so very well. I really like the music too. Hashimoto Yukari does a fantastic job of composing to suit the aesthetic.

Ho-yay:

Naturally, there is a lot. Every female character we spend any time with is shown or heavily implied to be into girls. Even Kureha’s mum seems to have been highly homo-erotic with another woman. I’m guessing she likes both. Although, we never even see the father nor is he mentioned. For all we know, she got herself artificially inseminated so that she could share a baby with this other woman. Feel free to make that your head canon. There are a handful of significant dudes, the blokes in the trial scenes and Lulu’s twit of a brother. None of them get involved with anyone romantically. So, it’s not an anime like Strawberry Panic where men only exist as an abstract concept, but it comes close.

Final Thoughts:

So, that’s Yuri Kuma Arashi. It’s not what I expected, being more serious and lacking in stupidity, awesome or otherwise. Is it Ikuhara’s best work? No. Is it better than Penguindrum? No contest. Is it the best I’ve seen from Silver Link thus far? Absolutely. I found it quite enjoyable. I liked the way they used the fairy tale aesthetic and thought that the surreal elements added a lot to that. I found the characters endearing. The art, vocal performances and music were all strong as well. I would go so far as to call it a good series. Not one of the best I’ve seen but a solid 7/10. Next week I’m going to go back to requests and look at Terra Formars. So, that’ll be fun, possibly.

Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu: Tragedy & Art

Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu is a historical Josei manga written by Kumota Haruko that began in 2010. Just this year, an anime adaptation aired, being brought to us by Studio Deen. You may recall them as the studio behind Read or Die, Gravitation, The law of Ueki, & Sakura Trick. Just to name some of their series I’ve looked at. How does this historical drama compare? Let’s take a look and see.

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Story:

We open our tale with a young man getting released from prison. He makes his way to the theatre and begs the Rakugo master, Yakumo, to make him his apprentice. Yakumo reluctantly accepts and take Yotarou with him. At Yakumo’s home, Yotarou meets Konatsu, a young woman who was raised by him. After committing a massive faux pas during one of Yakumo’s Rakugo performances, Yotarou begs for forgiveness. Yakumo sits him and Konatsu down and tells them the story of how he and Konatsu’s father began their lives as Rakugo storytellers. The bulk of the series follows the flashback, showing how things reached the state that they’re in at the opening of the series.

Let’s examine the series’ faults first. There are some fairly minor ones. The most noticeable is that Yakumo’s story includes scenes that he wasn’t present for and these are pretty specific scenes where there’s no real reason that someone would have told him exactly what happened in detail. Is he just guessing at what happened for the sake of embellishment? It’s also a bit jarring when Yakumo’s story ends and we abruptly skip ahead to events that take place quite a long time after. How did Yotarou & Konatsu respond to his story? What events led them to the point where they were at the end? Bugger if I know. Maybe when they get a second series they’ll spend most of it on a flashback to show us that missing time. But, as things stand, there’s really not much point to Yakumo telling his story to Konatsu & Yotarou since we see neither a reaction from them nor any evidence of character growth because of it.

That being said, there are a lot of positive aspects to the series. The series excels at illustrating realistic situations with all of the joys and sorrows that can stem from them. It does so in a very compelling and nuanced way. The way it handles its foreshadowed character death reminds me of A Prayer for Owen Meany. Both works involve a character reminiscing about a lost friend and both proceed to show you who this character was, faults and strengths, while demonstrating why they mattered to the reminiscing character and make a strong case for why they should matter to us too. See, Divergence Eve? It is possible to show a character’s death in advance and still get the audience invested. In addition to telling the tragic story of Yakumo’s old friend, the series also contains a coming of age story. Telling how he came into his own as a performer and showing his growth from child to man. The two tales are heavily intertwined and they’re both superb.

Characters:

Any strong slice of life narrative requires strong characters. Otherwise you just have a bunch of gits doing mundane things. Fortunately, that’s an arena where this series absolutely excels. We see a lot of progression for both Yakumo and Sukeroku. The way they react to one another, the way they respond to others and the way they influence one another all change over the course of the series in a very natural way. The character progression never feels contrived or forced. It’s also interesting to see how their personalities get reflected in the way they perform rakugo and how that changes as they start to develop their own styles instead of trying to copy their instructors. That isn’t a simple feat nor is it something that could have been done without complex characters. The cast in general just has a great deal of verisimilitude and is really well fleshed out.

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Art:

The animation in this is really good. There’s a lot of detail put into the snippets of rakugo performances that we see. Studio Deen clearly put a great deal of effort into making them look realistic. They actually are very impressive. The backgrounds are nicely detailed and the character designs are well done.

Sound:

The vocal cast in this is stellar. Our three major characters, Yakumo, Sukeroku & Miyokichi are portrayed by Ishida Akira, Yamadera Kouichi & Hayshibara Megumi. Three spectacular actors and all of them are brilliant in this. The more secondary characters are well acted as well. Seki Tomokazu & Kobayashi Yuu voice our present day characters, Yotarou & Konatsu and they do really well. The music has a very classical feel, complementing the old-fashioned story telling tradition quite nicely.

Ho-yay:

There really isn’t any.

Final Thoughts:

Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu, is a pretty impressive series. It has a strong narrative, superb characters and acting and really good art and animation. If you’re interested in historical dramas at all, I do recommend trying it. For myself, I give it an enthusiastic 9/10. Next week, I’m looking at Yuri Kuma Arashi. It’s actually not a request. I kind of stumbled upon the basic premise randomly and I’m very morbidly curious. I’ll get back to doing requests on the 25th.. This one just sounds so bizarre that I have to try it.

Boku dake ga Inai Machi: Mentally projecting through time

Boku Dake ga Inai Machi ran from 2012 to 2016 in its manga form from author Sanbe Kei. At the beginning of 2016, it also got an anime adaptation from A-i pictures. Which concluded in March. This is the same studio that gave us Kuroshitsuji, Anohana, Valkyria Chronicles, Uchuu Kyoudai, Sword Art Online & OreImo. For me, their track record has been extremely mixed. With some of those anime being strong, some being more middling and some, SAO & OreImo, being foetid piles of excrement. So, let’s look at Boku Dake ga Inai Machi and see how it compares to the studio’s other works.

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Story:

Satoru is a failed manga artist making ends meet by delivering pizzas. He also has a strange power, revival. When something is about to go wrong around him, he finds himself a couple minutes back in time so that he can search for signs of what’s about to go wrong and intervene. During one such incident, he saves a young child from an out of control truck and gets in an accident in the process. His mother shows up to his flat to help him recuperate. While they’re out shopping, he experiences a revival and asks her if she notices anything amiss. She spots someone about to abduct a child. He notices and scarpers. She snaps a picture of his car and is reminded of an incident from when Satoru was a child. She mentions a belief that the case is still unsolved in spite of a man being in prison for it. Later on, Satoru returns home to find her murdered and he’s the primary suspect. In grief and panic, his mind reaches 141.6 km per hour and he experiences the biggest revival of his life, with his mind sent all the way back eighteen years to just before the serial abduction case. In order to change the future, the now eleven year old Satoru has to find the truth behind the incident and prevent it from happening.

While the premise is very compelling, there are some pretty significant flaws with the execution. The most substantial being that the mystery element is too obvious. While there aren’t many clues to go on, there also aren’t any suspects that fit those clues and are also major enough characters to be viable except one bloke. So, you can pretty readily figure out that it’s either going to be that guy or the Baron showing up out of nowhere.

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(the face of true evil)

The series could have really benefited from having more major adult characters who could have potentially been the culprit. There’s also a bit of a problem with Satoru gaining knowledge out of nowhere. For example, there’s a part where Satoru is looking over the files on the abduction case from when he was a child and he somehow knows instinctively that the killer murdered one child in particular to throw suspicion off of himself. What, did he peek at the script? But that actually brings me to another story aspect that bothers me. The police investigation of this case was downright inept. From two young girls being murdered, they came to the conclusion that their culprit was definitively targeting girls and only girls. Seriously? I’m pretty sure that a sample size of two victims is not enough to make definite claims about someone’s modus operandi. I’m sure they’d look for commonalities, but I’m also pretty sure the response to a boy joining the victims wouldn’t be “our perpetrator must have thought that he was a girl.” At that point, it’s just as likely that the culprit is just going after children and doesn’t care about their sex.

On some more positive notes, the premise is highly compelling. And, while the mystery falls woefully short, the thriller element is very strong with a lot of strong tension. The series also does a really good job of tackling some difficult and serious issues like child abuse. The ending is really good. The series also does have a very strong atmosphere with a lot of really good scenes playing off of it. The anime is also pretty well-paced especially given how much longer the manga version is.

Characters:

Boku dake ga inai machi is one of those works where the shortcomings of the plot are somewhat offset by the strength of the characters. It has a really strong cast. Sachiko is, quite possibly the best anime mother I’ve ever seen and her strength as a character really helps add to that tension since part of what Satoru is trying to do is save her. His young friends are also pretty complex characters who still manage to feel like children. Some people may take issue with Satoru’s character and how his young self, in spite of having his adult mind, still acts largely like a child. However, there are two possible explanations for it that would make complete sense. The first is that he has the adult’s memories and knowledge but he’s sharing his mind with his childhood self. One of his friends even suggests that, at times, he seems like someone else which would support that idea. The second possibility is that he has his adult mind but he still has an underdeveloped child’s brain so that he can’t fully utilise it. Which would make sense based on actual brain development. It could also be a combination of the two, I suppose. The point is, I’m not going to complain about the story not explicitly stating it when there are ready explanations that make perfect sense.

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Art:

The artwork and animation in this are well done. There are a lot of nice details and it does do a really superb job of helping build and maintain that atmosphere. The film reel image for Satoru’s time travel is an effective one. About the only thing I would say in criticism of it is that the character designs are pretty standard. They look fine but they also look like the characters you’d see in a lot of other works. Exempting only the pronounced lips on certain characters.

Sound:

This series does have a strong cast. For me, the performances that stood out were Mistushima Shinnosuke & Tsuchiya Tao (as older and younger Satoru), Yuuki Aoi as Hinazuki and Takayama Minami as Sachiko. There really weren’t any weak performances, but those four were the best. The music, on the other hand… it’s all right. Kajiura Yuki has certainly done a lot better but there’s nothing really wrong with it.

Ho-yay:

This series really doesn’t have any. It doesn’t do much in terms of romance, really.

Final Thoughts:

Boku Dake ga Inai Machi is a good series. The weakest aspect is the narrative itself which, though flawed, is still decent. Aside from that, the characters are great. The artwork is good. The acting is great and the music is decent enough. If the premise seems interesting to you, even knowing that the mystery is weak, try it. If the mystery being weak is going to ruin it for you or the premise doesn’t seem interesting, give it a pass. For me, it’s a solid 7/10. Next week I’ll be looking at another request with Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu. We’ll see how that goes.

Combining games for fun and profit

Lately, we’ve seen quite a few games released that combine the mechanics of two different games. Dynasty Warriors with both Zelda & Dragon Quest. Etrian Odyssey with Mystery Dungeon & Persona. Tekken with Pokémon. And that’s just to name a few. On one hand, it’s easy to understand why this happens. It’s an easy way to do something new with a franchise while also using game mechanics that are tried and true, even if they are such for a completely different game franchise. It’s also undoubtedly true that some of these combination games have been really good, melding elements of the two games for something that manages to be, strangely enough, unique.

Yeah, I’m not going to slag off the practice itself. Instead, I’m going to give you a list of five game combinations I’d like to see. Sorted by the one I’d like to see the least to the one I’d like the most.

5. Pokémon & Endless Ocean.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Endless Ocean, the idea is that you’re a diver mucking about underwater in various areas, interacting with marine life to learn about them including feeding and petting them. You even get dolphin friends to swim around with you. It’s a very relaxing game. Imagine how perfect that format would be for a game where you take the role of a Pokémon professor. You could explore various environments, not just the ocean but the forest, mountains and such, while studying wild Pokémon and gaining information for your Pokédex in the most world-building Pokémon game to date with an emphasis on exploration and environment rather than on battling. It wouldn’t be for every Pokémon fan but I’d certainly buy and sink hours of time into it.

4. Metroid & Borderlands

It’s no secret that I love most of the Metroid franchise, except that one game that basically nobody liked where Samus had Daddy issues for some reason. The games are about exploration and making your way through hostile worlds. However, one thing they haven’t really taken advantage of is the fact that Samus is a bounty hunter. Which is why I think it could benefit from taking some cues from Borderlands. Giving us a Metroid game with city hubs and quests. They could even adapt the gold rewards system to have Samus unlock armour, missile and weapon upgrades instead of just having her lose her power-ups and have to relocate them, usually attached to random statues.

3. Dragon Quest & Dissidia

Having a Final Fantasy based fighting game, that isn’t Ehrgeiz or anything like Ehrgeiz, was a brilliant move on Square-Enix’s part. And I’d love to see the same kind of treatment given to their other big RPG franchise, Dragon Quest. just tweak the mechanics a bit to be more suitable for the franchise and you’d almost certainly have a hit.

2. Persona & X-men Legends

The great thing about this combination is that it would work either way. You could have a more action-oriented Persona game where you can switch between characters readily and summon your personae for special attacks or a more traditional X-men RPG with an emphasis on the character dynamics. Which would also have the benefit of letting characters who don’t really work with the Legends style of gameplay, characters like Shadowcat, Mirage & Karma, take active roles in the party.

1. Fire Emblem & Neptunia

I know, I’m weird. That being said, I would love to see a more action-RPG style Fire Emblem game  where enemy soldiers are scattered throughout a map and you can avoid or engage them while making your way through the map. Where scavenging for materials is a big deal. With a female cast and where the Support conversation system is combined with Neptunia’s Lily rank system for a bit more of an involved dynamic when your ladies reach C, B, A or S-rank. Honestly, it could easily replace Blazing Sword as my favourite Fire Emblem title if it had characters and a narrative on par with it. Even if it couldn’t really include perma-death with a more Neptunia style battle system.

There you have it, some game combinations I, in all my eccentricity, would personally like to see. Feel free to leave your own ideas for cool combinations that haven’t been done yet in the comments.

Rakudai Kishi no Cavalry: Third time is not the charm

Rakudai kishi no Cavalry is an ongoing light novel series from Misora Riku. Near the end of last year an anime adaptation aired. It was handled by Nexus and Silver Link. Silver Link being the studio behind WataMote & Baka To Test. Yeah, that’s not an auspicious sign. Then again, those are the only two series that they did the main work on that I’ve reviewed or even seen. Their studio probably has some really good stuff of their own. I know that some of the stuff they’ve done in-between animation for has been quite good. So, let’s look at this thing and see if the third time will, indeed, be the charm.

Story:

Ikki is the worst magical knight. He’s at the bottom of his class in ranking and can’t even get proper lessons because his stats are so low. One day, he returns to his room to find a young lady changing her clothes. Not knowing what else to do, he apologises for seeing what he saw and takes off his clothes to make up for it. He later finds out that this is his new room mate. Princess Stella Vermillion, a high ranking magical knight exchange student. The two have a mock battle to decide who gets to make their room’s rules. After the obvious upset, the two and the rest of their school begin competing in a tournament to determine who will represent them at some big magic knight battle event.

Let’s talk about the comedy in this series for a moment. I know, it’s an action fantasy romance and not a comedic work. However, it does try to inject quite a few comedic moments. The problem is that these comedic attempts are just poor. They all seem to be based on something being unusual. The perky teacher who constantly vomits blood or Stella’s entire body turning bright red in a slightly over the top way. Misora doesn’t seem to understand that unusual does not equate to funny. I could sew newsie caps onto the shoulders of my coat and it would be weird but it wouldn’t really be funny and the same can be said for these moments. They’re odd and, at times, out of place but they aren’t funny.

Let’s move on to the main narrative. We have an underdog hero in a tournament with a bunch of other teens who all have special powers. It’s a very trite, very done to death type of story. I’ve reviewed two series that used the same premise, at least as far as I can remember ff the top of my head, four if you count the tournament arcs in Dragonball and Yu Yu Hakusho and there are quite a few more out there. Rakudai kishi no Cavalry takes this very over-used, standard premise and does nothing unique or original with it. It follows every cliché with no surprises which just serves to make it incredibly predictable and pretty boring when it comes right down to it.

That brings me to the biggest weakness of the series, the romance. Like the main narrative, the romance is very trite and standard in terms of its arc. However, it also suffers from there being no chemistry between the leads whatsoever. They barely know each other and have been nothing but antagonistic and then, suddenly she has a thing for him. All in the same episode. No explanation or motivation behind it. It’s just contrived and weak. Then she starts acting tsundere towards him and then the obvious arc is obvious. Granted, it could be worse. His younger sister could be introduced as a romantic rival. Cavalry2.png

(Ikki with his sister…)

This romance is utter shite.

Characters:

So, with such a standard plot do we at least get strong characters? After all, Nanoha Vivid managed to do something pretty good with the same story just by virtue of having strong characters. So, what do we get here? The bland protagonist who acts like basically every generic nice guy protagonist ever, I’m going to call him Blandon from this point on. The tsundere princess, I’m going to call her OA from this point on because it amuses me to do so. The creepily devoted little sister. The supportive trans-girl and a bunch of archetypical characters on the side. The closest you get to any character arcs are the standard doubting yourself for reasons and having to get out of it thing that Blandon undergoes near the end and OA’s spontaneous romantic interest in Blandon. And even those character arcs are ones that are often associated with the tropes the characters embody. I will give the series some credit for not using the trans-girl for a bunch of really tasteless jokes, they do have one, when so many series would have but that’s not saying much. Save that the series could have been tackier.

Art:

The artwork in this is a bit mixed. On the positive side, there is some really nice background design The battle between the little sister & the student council President is pretty decent. The character designs also look mostly okay if a bit standard, except that their eyes are done in such a way that it looks like they’re all constantly wearing heavy eye-liner. On the down side, this is a series with really tasteless, really tacky uses of fan-service. There’s also an issue with most of the action sequences being really weak. So, not only do you have this bog-standard plot but there aren’t even good action sequences to make it worthwhile. Instead, we get these very quick matches that end before anything exciting can happen or these kind of standard hero gets knocked around a bit before winning matches. The final match in the series is the absolute worst offender. They build it up quite a bit and then it’s over in ten seconds. What’s the point of a super-powered tournament plot if there aren’t even going to be good fight scenes? Then, we have the “artistic” art choices. We’ve seen some of these in other reviews, the odd slanted shots in Phantom and such. Inn this one, they use mostly black and white with little colour during Blandon’s doubting arc. To be fair, they do actually need to do this for practical reasons. There’s nothing to the character beyond the trope so the art has to try and convey the emotional tone that the character himself can’t carry.

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Sound:

The acting in this is not very good. It suffers from the same issue as a lot of anime with weak characters, the vocal cast is very limited in what they can actually do with them. You can’t give a complex performance to Blandon or OA or any of these other characters because they have no complexity. Instead, we get the actors doing the standard performances that go with the tropes. They may not be strong, emotional performances but they’re the best you can expect under the circumstances. The music is pretty forgettable. It’s not Nakagawa Kotaro’s best, certainly but it’s not bad. Remember, he did work on the music for Code Geass.

Ho-yay:

There really isn’t any in the series.

Final Thoughts:

Rakudai Kishi no Cavalry is a bad series. The plot is trite. The romance is outright atrocious. The characters are weak with acting to match. The action is mostly pretty bad, culminating in an unforgivably short and disappointing climactic battle. If you’re looking for a series where super-powered characters battle one another, you’d be better off with Nanoha Vivid, Shaman King, Dragonball, Yu Yu Hakusho or even the Law of Ueki. That being said, I have seen worse series. At least the backgrounds are nice and most of its flaws, though glaring, veer more towards stupidity than they do towards painfully terrible to watch. As such, my final rating is a 3/10. Next week I’m going to look at Boku dake ga Inai Machi. Hopefully, it will be better than this was.

Charlotte: Star-gazing & Super powers

Charlotte is an ongoing manga from Maeda Jun, the same writer as Angel Beats. He also did some work on Air, which was considerably less impressive. Last year, Charlotte got a thirteen episode anime adaptation from P.A. Works. The same studio behind both Angel Beats & Another. Knowing nothing else about the series, that’s a couple of good signs. We’ve got a writer who’s shown skill in another work and the same studio that worked with him on it. On the other hand, Penguindrum also had a writer and studio that had both shown great ability before and we all know how that turned out. I’m still cautiously optimistic for this one, so let’s take a look.

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Story:

We open with our protagonist, Otosaka Yuu, explaining that he has the power to take control of other people for five seconds when he’s within visual range of them. He uses this power to cause trouble for people he doesn’t like, peep, manipulate events to his advantage and cheat at school. With the only disadvantage being that his regular body slumps over while he’s doing it. One day, he’s approached by a member of the student council who sits him down to retake a test. Otosaka tries to take control of him to get the answers, only to find that the supposed answer sheet is something entirely different. He finds himself being chased by two students from a different school, Tomori & Takajou. Both of whom exhibit strange abilities like his own. They explain that the abilities manifest at adolescence, like Marvel’s mutant powers but, unlike those, they fade away with time. The two compel him to join them at their school. That’s where the meat of our story begins.

There are a few points that act to the series’ detriment. The first is that it has some tonal problems. We start out with things keeping a fairly light-hearted and kind of silly tone but, not quite halfway through, things suddenly get pretty dark and a lot more serious. It’s more than a little awkward. The second issue is with the very final episode. This episode crams in enough material that, well-paced, should be at least three or four episodes. As a result things that should get developed more strongly or that should be built up or that should have some time to develop tension, end up getting rushed through as everything gets wrapped up. Finally, we have a slight problem with the romance. To Maeda’s credit, I do like that the main romance in this is built on mutual respect and that it does drive both characters involved to be better people. However, the romance arc itself unravels in a pretty clichéd way and it’s not one that develops particularly naturally.

That being said, there are a lot of strong points to the series. The more light-hearted moments are really enjoyable and funny. There are also some really strong emotional moments. If the series had done a better job of integrating both from the get go, both would be handled nearly flawlessly. As is, the execution is still very impressive. The story itself is also strong at introducing hints about the main narrative throughout the more episodic content, which allows for some strong tension as things progress further and you get more curious about where they’re going with certain things. I also do like the way the series handles its super powers. It’s a refreshingly unique and clever take on the way those kinds of stories are usually done.

Characters:

Maeda actually takes a pretty significant risk in introducing the main character in this series. Namely, there’s nothing likeable or even that interesting about Otosaka in our initial look at the character. He’s petty, pervy and just generally terrible. Only after we get this initial, bad impression does the character start getting fleshed out and his positive aspects start coming through. First impressions mean a lot and this could have, in the hands of a less skilled writer, killed any potential for us to identify with him. However, in this case it works. For one thing, the first positive traits we’re exposed to are the result of his affection towards his little sister, which does have verisimilitude. We also see the character gradually change as a result of his interactions with the student council. Not only that, but his negative traits are still present, just less pronounced. He also does suffer consequences for all the nasty things we see him do. The other major characters are pretty compelling and developed as well. There are some really strong interactions among the characters in this. The side characters vary quite a bit. Some are pretty fleshed out while others are stagnant and flat.

Art:

I have to give P.A. Works credit on this one. The animation in this is pretty fantastic. The backgrounds are very nicely detailed. It’s a very nice looking series.

Sound:

We get some really strong vocal performances in this. Especially coming from Sakura Ayane, Uchiyama Kouki, Uchida Maaya & Ono Daisuke. The music from Anant-Garde Eyes & Maeda Jun is really well done. Which isn’t really surprising since they also worked on the music for Angel Beats.

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Ho-yay:

There is a little bit. When Yuu’s sister, Ayumi, talks about Yusa she tends to get hearts in her eyes and nose bleeds which kind of indicate that she has a crush.

Final Thoughts:

So, with everything said and done this anime is great. There are a lot of narrative and character strengths with really strong acting, music and artwork. While there are a few factors that do hold it back, it’s still a great watch. If you were a fan of Maeda’s work on Angel Beats or the premise sounds good to you, check it out. My final rating is going to be a strong 8/10. Next week, I’ll look at another requested anime with Rakudai kishi no cavalry.