September Bonus Review: Miitopia

For those of you who don’t know, I’m a big fan of Rpgs. I’ve been playing them since I was a small lad and I’ve invested more time in them than any other game genre. Enter Nintendo’s latest attempt to make Miis relevant, the RPG Miitopia.

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Story:

We open with our first mii, who is just a random traveller. They arrive in town and talk to people when the Dark Lord descends and steals faces from most of the townspeople. Our hero goes out to retrieve them and is visited by the voice of god, who gives them a class and abilities. To start out with, you can choose from Fighter, Rogue, Cleric, Mage, Pop Star or Chef but you get more as you progress. Three other adventurers join you and you go on a quest to stop the Dark Lord from stealing faces like a total wanker.

The story is very basic. Which isn’t bad, given that this is basically set up as an early RPG for youngsters. What is a problem is that it gets repetitive. There’s a pattern where you start alone, get your companions joining you one at a time at the conveniently placed Inns and then you chase after the Dark Lord until he unleashes something powerful. Then, once you’ve accomplished something by beating that, he captures your companions and you start back at level one and have to pick a new class. This plot point is repeated twice, thrice if you count the final time where he takes your companions but doesn’t seal your class, with your original character ultimately travelling with three different groups.

Characters:

Here’s another issue with Miitopia. With most RPGs you’ll get a group of defined characters with their own personalities. Even if you create the main lead, as you do in the Fallout games or Knights of the Old Republic, you generally get defined companion characters and choices with your lead to give them a sense of character. In this, you assign every random role to Miis that you’ve made or you can pick one that someone else has made. And the “characterisation” consists of picking from a list of seven personality types: Cool, Kind, Stubborn, Air-headed, Cautious, Energetic or Laid Back. And their effects are largely shown through quirks in combat. For instance, a stubborn character might attack a second time, defend against incoming attacks or refuse to let themselves be healed. There’s no connection to the narrative.

Character relationships are similarly unimportant. You build up your Miis relationships by having them room together. Which doesn’t serve the plot whatsoever, but does unlock behaviours in combat. Such as the ability to help an ally attack, perform a pincer attack rise up and avenge a fallen ally, take a hit for an ally and others. Your Miis can also end p in a quarrel, which causes problems when they’re together in battle. Which makes the Pop Star super useful since they have a class ability that instantly ends quarrels.

Gameplay:

I’ve already discussed the personality system  a bit. But I do want to add that I do like the idea behind it. I do like the idea of your characters building relationships and having quirks that affect their performances in combat. I just think it could stand to be more robust. As it stands, other RPGs have had systems where party members build relationships with actual characters that impact their combat performances and they’ve worked better. The Neptunia franchise and the bonuses you get from raising your Lily ranks comes to mind. For that matter, Fire Emblem gives you increased bonuses when two characters with higher support ranks work together.

The gameplay, overall, is pretty basic but kind of addictive. You basically have an over-world where you move from stage to stage. You go through a stage, possibly encountering monsters and random events or treasures, choose from branching paths and eventually arrive at the Inn and move on to the next. Or you can go back and check the path you didn’t take.

In combat, you’ll get to select the actions of your main Mii. The others will act independently. Actually, here’s something I have to praise Miitopia or. As a rule, the AI is really good about taking actions that make a lot of sense. It’s very rare for them to make a move that’s just a bad idea. Usually they make moves that are pretty optimal. Which is nice when you compare it to the AI in a lot of games where you basically have to babysit your party because they royally screw up otherwise.

I also do like the class system. I like that you’ve got your kind of standard classes but there are some strange classes in this. I’ve already mentioned Pop Star & Cook but later on you also get Imp, Scientist, Cat, Tank, Flower & Princess. It’s interesting trying different ones and seeing how their abilities work. I also like that you can change how your Mii looks so that if you get stronger armour, but it looks awful, you can make it look like your older armour while keeping the increased stats. And there are some absolutely terrible looking pieces of armour in this. The “Macho” equipment, for example.

One thing that is annoying about the classes is that some of them get abilities that damage their relationships and can cause quarrels. The Cook can feed everyone spicy dishes to make them breathe fire, which makes everyone mad and the Tank can shoot one of their companions at an enemy. Which the companion is not going to like.

But that brings me to the shopping situation. Shopping in Miitopia is a pain in the arse. What happens is you have to wait until your Mii wants new equipment and you have the money for it. Then you give them the money and they go off to buy the next upgrade for either their weapon or armour. And there’s a chance they might return with a healing item instead. In which case they return the extra gold and you have to wait until the next time they want their upgrade or until you find it in a treasure chest. It gets incredibly frustrating when you’re sending the same Mii to buy the same armour you’ve sent them to buy twice before only to have them come back with candy like a small child with no impulse control.

Although, speaking of the candy, I do like that you keep the same restorative items throughout the game but they upgrade after you use enough of them. It does get a little tiring in other RPGs when you have an inventory full of a hundred types of healing items and some are useless because you’ve far outgrown them. This is an elegant solution.

The game is very easy and not all that long, when compared to most other RPGs. You have a safe spot that heals status ailments, sprinkles that restore HP, MP, grant a free revive (one only), shield you from damage and can grant a berserk status effect for your Miis, although they don’t call it that. You also have the ever upgrading HP bananas & MP candies. If you have any healer, Cleric, Cook or Flower, in your party it’s going to be easy to not have your party wiped out. The only times I ever had trouble were when I encountered these shadowy imps who have an instant kill attack. Even then they became easy to handle once I got the shield sprinkles.

Art:

I’m not super fond of the artwork in this. I don’t really like the whole Mii aesthetic and the game is very much built around that. I do like the super sentai-inspired armour you get for the characters and there are other interesting looking armour and weapons here and there.

Sound:

The music composition is quite nice. I liked hearing the new tracks when I got to different areas. The squeaking sound of Miis talking, in contrast, gets a bit grating after a while.

Final Thoughts:

In terms of simple, introductory RPGs for younger audiences, Miitopia does its job really well. In terms of appeal for your more serious RPG fans, I don’t know that it has it. The very basic plot, non-characters & lack of difficulty are probably going to be a problem for your more seasoned veterans. It’s still a bit of a laugh to play around with and I would like to see a sequel that better refines its better ideas but, now that I’ve beaten the Darker Lord, I’ll probably erase my data and give it to my little niece instead of doing the post game stuff. For myself, the final rating is going to be a 6/10. It’s okay.

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Harmonie: Can we get this with only the dream sequence?

Harmonie is a short 2014 film from Studio Rikka. You may know them as the studio what done Eve no Jikan. It also has the same creator/director, Yoshiura Yasuhiro. I don’t know what to expect from it, but I did quite like Eve no Jikan. So, having the same studio and creative force as that isn’t a bad sign.

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Story:

We open with a young man talking about the concept that we all live in our own little worlds and can never truly enter someone else’s. He posits that his world must be close to that of his two friends, hence why they get along really well and wishes that it could be closer to his crush’s. He and his friends have a conversation while she has a conversation with her friends. During which one of them changes her ringtone. Class resumes and she gets rung, much to her dismay. He finds himself fascinated by the song and he’s recreating it using a piano app on his phone. She happens to hear and wonders how he can recreate it after hearing it once for a very short time. He explains it as him just having a strong ear for music and asks her where he can find the full version. She hands him an old mp3 player, thereby inviting him for a glimpse of her world.

The biggest problem with the narrative is just that it’s largely made up of very minor teenage drama. He likes her but she might have a boyfriend. Then the possible boyfriend gets jealous because they start to bond because he gets a glimpse into her reoccurring dream. It’s less than compelling and something this short really needs to grab your attention quickly since you know it’s not going to have a lot of opportunity to improve later. The narrative sequence is also a bit obvious.

The best part of the film, by far, is the dream sequence. The rest of it is a bit boring while that whole sequence actually grabs you attention and shows what looks to be an interesting little world.

Characters:

You wouldn’t expect a twenty five minute film to have much in terms of characterisation. Which is certainly the case here. The characters are a pretty generic bunch designed to call common slice of life archetypes to mind and, thereby, build off of those characters you know to create the illusion that they’re deeper than they actually are. The problem here is that the film’s premise is working off of this idea of our individually constructed worlds and that doesn’t exactly work as it should without characters who are actually well developed. It’s no wonder the dream sequence used to showcase the love interest’s own world has to be so outlandish. It’s the only method they had to make her seem kind of interesting.

Art:

The film is very well drawn and animated. I’ll give them full credit on that count. The dream sequence is, again, the part that really stands out positively. It has a very strong sense of atmosphere and some interesting visuals. The artwork outside of that still looks good, but the visuals themselves aren’t that interesting. You’ve got a bunch of standard looking kids faffing about in a rather drab looking school.

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Sound:

The acting is fair enough. Our main children were voiced by Ueda Reina, who I don’t think I’ve heard in anything else, & Matsuoka Yoshitsugu who voiced Array in Rinne no Lagrange, a very minor character in Madoka and never appeared in anything else good. At least as far as things I’ve seen. They both deliver decent enough performances. As do the rest of the cast. The music is pretty nice. I like Kokia’s performance for the theme tune.

Ho-yay:

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Final Thoughts:

Harmonie isn’t nearly on the level of Eve no Jikan. Length is probably a major factor, since it’s only twenty five minutes. But, ultimately, its big issue is just that the under-developed characters can’t carry the premise. I do like the idea and I won’t claim it’s handled poorly, it’s handled okay, given the short running time. So, my final rating for Harmonie is going to be a 6/10. It’s an all right little film and it may be worth watching just for the dream sequence. Next week it’s time to revisit a familiar franchise with a look at JoJo no Kimyou na Bouken: Diamond wa Kudakenai.

Kemono Friends: The Endearing Isle of Doctor Moreau

Kemono Friends is an anime based on a manga based on a Nexon cell phone game. Yaoyorozu is the studio we have to thank for them. If the name doesn’t sound familiar, it’s not surprising. They’re behind this, a two series anime called Tesagure Bukatsumono and its spin off & a ten episode series called Minarai Diva. Of all five of those, this is their best known work. I’d never even heard of them before doing my early research into this. Honestly, I don’t know what to expect from it. I’m only aware of this series because I’ve seen a tonne of cutesy yuri fan art for it. I suppose there are many worse ways to hear about a series.

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Story:

We open with our heroine waking in a strange savannah. She’s chased by Serval, eventually being pinned and asking her to please not eat her. She will be changing her tune later or maybe not since it’s a different type of “eat.” Serval asks her for her name and she doesn’t know. So, they decide to name her Kaban, meaning bag, since she’s carrying a bag. Good thing she wasn’t carrying around something embarrassing like an air-sickness bag or a floppy dildo. Kaban & Serval set out on a journey throughout Japari Park to discover what kind of animal Kaban is, where her habitat is and if there are any good love hotels because the ground isn’t ideally comfortable.

The big flaw with the series is just that things get resolved far too easily. Kaban & Serval encounter a lot of different problems involving a lot of different friends and they’re able to resolve them all pretty easily. The big climactic threat is the only one that seems to take any real effort. Now, to be fair, it’s pretty clear that the reasons they manage things pretty easily are a combination of Kaban’s smarts & the inherent goodness of all of the friends in the park. These ladies don’t know the definition of “malice.” They’re probably even unfailingly nice when their team is losing in an online shooter. But, here’s the thing, even if there is a ready in universe explanation for how they can solve things with relative ease, it does detract from any potential tension.

The world building is quite good. We get introduced to all of the different habitats and some of the friends that live in each one while also getting insights into how Japari Park was supposed to operate and what went wrong to make it not work out. It is also pretty enjoyable to watch Serval & Kaban interact with the various friends. The big climax is deftly handled with a strong, epic confrontation.

Characters:

The characters in this aren’t particularly complex. Quite the contrary, they’re pretty simple. That’s true for Kaban & Serval as well as all the friends we see a lot more briefly. But, in all fairness, it is a comedic series and their interactions are entertaining. I can’t say they’re uproariously funny like the character interactions you get in anime like Galaxy Angel or Muteki Kanban Musume but they work well enough.

Art:

This is the big area where the series just falls short. Last October I reviewed an anime called Ajin that had artwork and animation that I said looked like an early PS2 game from when developers weren’t even close to pushing the graphical limits of the machine. This anime is about on par with that. The character movements are stiff. The CGI models look very cheap and they’ll do things like go cross-eyed for no reason. You can tell the series didn’t have much of an animation budget.

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Sound:

They did get some talented actresses for this. We’ve got Uchida Aya (Hi, Kotori), Kobayashi Yuu (Sasha Blouse), Kaneda Tomoko (Chiyo-chan), Mimori Suzuko (So, that’s Umi in addition to Kotori) and a whole slew of actresses, both inexperienced and veteran. None of which do badly. The performances that we hear for any length of time are all quite good and those characters who only have a few lines sound just fine. Tateyama Akiyuki’s soundtrack is nicely composed.

Ho-yay:

I can see why there’s a lot of cutesy yuri fan art for this series. A lot of the friends Serval & Kaban encounter are paired up and either start out seemingly close or get to a point where they are. Praire Dog greets Beaver by giving her a big old kiss and then they move in together. Serval and Kaban are shown as being really close and there are no men in the series. Although they gender the little robot as male. So, this is one of those that was definitely going to be picked up on for “having potential” by the yuri fans. But, personally, I just don’t think most of the dynamics are all that strong for that specific purpose. They’re more friendly and good-natured.

Final Thoughts:

Overall, I did enjoy Kemono Friends. The world building was nice, the dynamics were enjoyable, the climax was satisfying, the voice acting and music were good. It’s a very simple series, but fun. It is, however, somewhat held back by the overall lack of tension and by the pretty bad artwork & animation. Ultimately, I’ll give it a 7/10. I was, for the longest time, planning on going with a 6 and saying it was all right but the final couple of episodes elevated it for me. Next week I’m looking at Harmonie.

Wizardry: What is “consistency?”

Wizardry was an old series of RPGs. The first one was released in 1981 as a simple dungeon crawler created by students. From there it exploded and kept going for two decades with the last game, Wizardry 8, coming out in ’01. Unless you want to count all the spin-offs, which have kept going with an online MMO being the most recent. Its servers shut down after a year or two though. About halfway into the franchise’s life cycle there was an OVA. It was brought to us by TMS Entertainment. You may remember them from Kyougoku Natsuhiko: Kousetsu Hyaku Monogatari, Glass no Kamen & Magic Knight Rayearth. So, how did they handle this classic RPG franchise? I’m guessing based on my track record of them that it was kind of middling. After all, the best series I’ve looked at was the slice of life drama, Glass no Kamen while the more fantasy-based ones have been rather mediocre or just all right. But maybe this one is better, or worse, than the works I’ve seen from them before. Let’s take a look.

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Story:

The narrative is simple enough. There’s a dungeon with ten floors. Adventurers travel through the floors, save for the tenth, and they gather treasures. The tenth is avoided because that’s where the big bad lurks and no group of adventurers wants to risk dealing with him. He hates adventurers getting on his lawn. Our protagonists are a party of three, not that kind, made up of Shin, Alex & Hawkwind. They’re going to search for some treasures when they encounter the elderly Joeza and his apprentice Albert. The two of them are planning to take on the big bad Werdna and they need help.

To be fair, that is basically the plot of the first Wizardry game. You create your party, go through the dungeon to try and reach the tenth floor and beat the big bad. Nice of them to leave that intact for the fans. That being said, there are some problems with the execution. The big one is consistency. Initially, our intrepid threesome, not that kind, decline to help Joeza and Albert because it’s not worth the risk. This is followed by them almost immediately changing their minds for paper-thin reasons. Why even have them decline under those circumstances? There’s also a fight scene where their enemy uses a sword beam and its impact varies for no apparent reason. One person gets their arm cleaved off. Then it hits a couple other people and they just get knocked back. Now, in a game you could call this the result of a poor saving throw but in an OVA that’s supposed to have a cohesive narrative, it just makes no sense. The series also suffers from being largely mindless action. It pretty much dumps its exposition at the start and then moves into a bunch of fight sequences. I know you aren’t going to manage much in less than an hour of running time, but you couldn’t have cut down on the action to strengthen the story a bit? Maybe do a better job with the main trio changing their minds?

Characters:

The characters are pretty much a generic fantasy group. Now, in the game you make your own characters. So, it’s not like they had any really well developed characters to work with. The problem is, again, the lack of consistency. It takes the characters from being kind of flat archetypes and downgrades them into kind of flat archetypes with confused motivations. It doesn’t help that Shiela, our token lady for the series, suffers from a great personal tragedy by having it barely impact her. Huzzah for character reactions, or lack thereof, that remove any potential impact that the events of this series could have had.

Art:

For an early 90s anime, the artwork is pretty average. It doesn’t look good by the standards of the time, nor does it hold up particularly well, but I can’t say it looks bad. There are some awkward moments. Alex gets bitten by a zombie and poisoned but his metal boot shows absolutely no sign of damage and you have to wonder how he’s actually injured in that situation. Did the zombie’s mouth phase through his armour and get his flesh while leaving the armour intact? I don’t recall the zombies in Wizardry having the powers of Kitty Pryde but maybe I’m just forgetting about that.

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Sound:

The acting in this is passable. The cast is pretty solid featuring the same actors who voiced Zoisite (Sailor Moon), Alex Louis Armstrong (Fullmetal Alchemist), Will A. Zeppeli (JoJo), Netero (Hunter x Hunter), Piccolo (Dragonball) & Chief Nakamura (Ghost in the Shell.) Unfortunately, the fact that they’re voicing wholly bland characters prevents them from really showing their abilities. They still do just fine, though. The music is all right. Not good, but decent enough.

Ho-yay:

Honestly, none of the characters have strong enough dynamics to have romantic tension. Ho-yay or otherwise.

Final Thoughts:

I will give Wizardry credit for making a genuine effort to capture the narrative of the first game in the franchise. Unfortunately, they couldn’t be bothered to develop the characters well and the general problems with consistency hurt the series. It winds up being, while not bad, a below average fantasy work. My final rating is going to be a 4/10. If you’re a huge fan of Wizardry or you just want a quick, action heavy fantasy story, consider giving it a try. Otherwise, I don’t recommend it. Next week will be Kemono Friends.

Sakamichi no Apollon: Teenage Drama Queens and their love lives

Sakamichi no Apollon is a school drama from 2012. The original manga was written by Kodama Yuki. The anime version was brought to us by MAPPA & Tezuka, neither of which I’ve seen a lot from. I don’t know what to expect from this one at all. So, let’s just get right into it.

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Story:

Our focus is on Nishimi Kaoru, a bright young student who plays the piano and moves a lot. He’s also a complete drama queen, but we’ll talk about that later. Nishimi suffers from social anxiety issues and feels the need to get some air on the roof after things take a slightly unanticipated turn. Fortunately for him, he’s able to overcome that within about five minutes of meeting Kawabuchi Sentarou. Aren’t we all glad that plot point was there? I mean, it contributed so much to the narrative. He and Sentarou wind up becoming friends and playing jazz together while filling the time between sessions with melodrama.

Therein lies the massive underlying problem with the series. Everything has to be overly melodramatic. Dude falls in love after knowing a girl for all of two minutes? Better act like this is super serious and dramatic. Someone gets rejected? Total drama. Sentarou might play… rock music with a band made up of their class mates? This is clearly the most important disaster in history. Don’t even pretend that worse things have happened. Although, in all fairness, the series actually acknowledges that that one is childish. To exacerbate things, however, the vast majority of these “hyper, ultra dramatic situations” get resolved, at least to a satisfactory degree, in the next episode. Probably would’ve worked better with fewer sources of drama that were ongoing.

Here’s the thing, teenagers can be overly dramatic about stupid things but watching teenagers be overly dramatic about stupid things is really annoying. Especially when the narrative treats it like it’s super serious. This shite isn’t serious, it’s dumb teenagers being drama queens. So, when two things that are actually serious happen in the last couple episodes they just don’t have much weight. Especially when one, an injury, gets resolved in less than five minutes. The romance is honestly where it’s at its worst. We start with a ridiculous situation where one dude likes a girl, she likes another guy, he likes a different girl and she likes this other guy. From there, we get a lot of overblown angst and aggravation because we can’t pummel these wankers.

The only good parts of the series are the jazz jam sessions where the characters are just enjoying themselves for once. Unfortunately, these scenes are vastly outweighed by the scenes where drama is happening over something that really doesn’t matter.

Characters:

The characters in this are reminiscent of the worst people you knew in secondary school. You know the ones. They treat everything that’s remotely upsetting to them as an unmitigated disaster. Then they get mad at you because you openly don’t care and won’t even remotely validate them. Kaoru is the worst about it, putting distance between himself and his friends on multiple occasions but always for petty reasons. Kodama, you do know that introverts don’t have those kinds of rifts just because we’re socially awkward and need to limit our time around people, right? Usually we just excuse ourselves from an event or don’t go out for a while when we need time alone. And, trust me on this one, your friends will understand if you just tell them “Hey, I need some time alone. Can you try calling back tomorrow?” Yes, even in High school.

Art:

The artwork is one positive the series has going for it. The backgrounds are well detailed and look quite nice. The characters are drawn well. The animation is nice and smooth. So, I’ll give them full credit on that one. They may not have produced something with a compelling narrative or tolerable characters but they made what they had look pretty.

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Sound:

The acting in this is passable enough. Our main cast is made up of Hosoya Yoshimasa (Reiner Braun), Kimura Ryouhei (Sorey) & Nanri Yuuka (Takakura Erika). Their performances here are perfectly fine. The music is pretty good, mostly. I won’t pretend that I cared for the theme tune and its whiny sounding singing but the jazz is good. Kanno Yoko’s soundtrack in general works nicely.

Ho-yay:

There’s a little bit. Kaouru goes off on a tangent about how handsome Sentarou is at one point. And Sentarou calls him an angel at another. Bad dialogue writing or unexplored sexual tension, you make the call.

Final Thoughts:

When it comes to the basics, the artwork, music and acting, Sakamichi no Apollon does just fine for itself. Unfortunately, it doesn’t do so well in terms of the main content. The characters are overly melodramatic to the point of being quite obnoxious a lot of the time. The narrative is a lot of annoying, all too easily resolved melodrama with the occasional good jazz session thrown in. All factors considered, it’s kind of a bad series. Although you might enjoy it if you like that High school melodrama. For myself, I lost all patience for that while I was still in High school and watching this was, more often than not, an irritation. So, for myself, I give it a 3/10. Next week I’ll look at Wizardry.

Shuumatsu no Izetta: Second Best Anime Witch

Shuumatsu no Izetta is an anime from late last year. It was written by Yoshino Hiroyuki who did some work for Code Geass & Kuroshitsuji. He also wrote the anime adaptation for Dance in the Vampire Bund, which was pretty dreadful. The studio behind it was Ajia-Do, which I remember from Magic Tree House. So, with this staff the series could go either way. Let’s find out how it does, shall we?

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Story:

Our narrative is set in an alternative world at the beginning of World War II. Princess Finé of Elystadt is going to the allies to plead for help against the Germanian forces. She and her guards are being chased by Germanian soldiers when she spots a strange capsule on the train. She tries to open it but the Germanians find her before she can. She and her guards manage to escape, but she’s taken prisoner after reaching the Britannian minister. She’s taken aboard a plane with the mysterious capsule when it opens, revealing a young red-haired girl who Finé knows very well, Izetta. Izetta uses her magic to rescue Finé and their struggle against Germania begins.

There are some relatively minor story issues. First off, there are some contrivances. For example, there’s a character who learns a secret because two higher ups in Elystadt’s military are discussing it outside where anyone could overhear them. Surely, they are strategic masterminds. There’s another case where a Germanian spy happens to make friends with a couple of supporting characters who he randomly encounters without knowing who they are and he makes friends with them in a very short time just to try and make a confrontation betwixt him and one of them more dramatic. It doesn’t really work. The length is also a bit of an issue. There are some really good ideas that really could have used more time to be properly fleshed out. The secret of Elystadt’s original White Witch, the death of Finé’s father very early on, the political gambits that Finé takes to try and save her nation. Frankly, there are enough ideas here that the series could have been twenty six episodes without ever feeling like it was dragging and the pacing wouldn’t have had to be so rushed.

That being said, when you factor in the time constraints, the series is really well written. It has strong sources of tension that get explained as well as one could reasonably expect them to be in a twelve episode series. The series is good at touching on all the beats that it needs to, even when there are ones that could have benefited from greater extrapolation. I also appreciate that every plot point comes into play. There’s a scene where a certain character dies for the sake of a state secret and it doesn’t seem like it’s going to be important but then it comes into play for two different plot points later. The way the series brings propaganda into play is superbly handled. It’s certainly a series that keeps you engrossed with every episode ending in a way that makes you curious about what comes next.

Characters:

The characters are the biggest strength of the series. Most of the supporting characters are well enough fleshed out to have verisimilitude. Which adds gravity to the situations. Sophie is a compelling character, particularly when you learn the truth behind her hatred of Elystadt. The best part of the characters, however, is Izetta & Finé’s relationship. It is expertly handled with a strong back story to illustrate how they got to the point they’re at when we first see them in the series and with a good degree of development over the course of the series. They’re both strongly fleshed out characters and having a very powerful dynamic only serves to highlight their best, and in a few cases worst, qualities thanks to the ways they interact with one another.

Art:

The artwork in this is largely excellent. The backgrounds are quite lovely and there’s clearly a lot of work put into the various military gear, outfits and animation. The one complaint I have with the artwork is that some of the scenes cross the line into crass fan-service. Which can be distracting when they’re trying to have a serious scene.

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Sound:

The entire vocal cast does well. There aren’t any weak links in that regard. The strongest performances come from Akaneya Himika & Hayami Saori. The two of them really manage to sell the chemistry between their characters. Amamiya Sora is also really good in this. We can thank Michiru for the music. Which is excellent.

Ho-yay:

There’s a lot in this series. This is one of those anime that’s technically not shoujo-ai, but might as well have been. There are a lot of scenes where the artwork and atmosphere give the impression that Finé and Izetta are going to start passionately snogging and then the scene will have to shift before the rating goes all the way up to Rx. Finé cross dresses at one point, seemingly just so she can dance with Izetta at a party. There are also some indications that Bianca would be interested in turning their relationship into a poly-amorous one and there’s a former journalist turned tutor who seems interested in the pair of them as well. There’s a maid, Lotte, who seems interested in Izetta. I wonder if these two meet a lot of other women who are interested by coincidence or if Elystadt’s royal family just hires a lot of lesbians by design.

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Final Thoughts:

Shuumatsu no Izetta certainly has its narrative flaws. It’s got its contrivances, it can be somewhat crass with its fan-service and it really would have benefited from a longer run. That being said, there’s a lot to like about it. The tension is strong. The characters are nicely fleshed out. The dynamic between our leads is amazing. The artwork largely looks legitimately lovely. The acting and music are strong. As a whole, I found it highly endearing and rather enjoyable. If you’re interested in seeing a WW II fiction that factors in magical powers and escapes being classified as shoujo-ai by a minor technicality, this one is for you. For myself, I give it a very respectable 8/10. Next week I’ve actually got a short request to look at, it’s going to be Sakamichi no Apollon.

August Bonus Review: Jem and The Holograms Volume 1

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I’ve briefly talked about IDW’s Jem comic before and some things that it improves on when compared with the cartoon. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the cartoon, it ran from the mid to late 80s as part of Hasboro’s line of cartoons based off of toys. It followed the outrageous adventures of the titular Jem and the Holograms, a band made up of four sisters and their conflicts with their rival band, The Misfits. In 2015, IDW began releasing a comic based off of the franchise the comic saw its final issue in June but the characters are still going in a couple of mini-series. So, I’ll be taking a look at the first collected volume of the comic. Which includes the first six issues written by Kelly Thompson with artwork by Sophie Campbell and colours by María Victoria Robado. 

Story:

We open with our heroines trying to record a video for a “Misfits VS.” competition. It’s not going well. Jerrica can’t bring herself to sing in front of the camera crew, all four of them. She hears her sisters venting their frustrations about her stage fright and goes home. A storm knocks out the  power which results in the holographic Synergy’s systems being rebooted. She shows Jerrica and her sisters the amazing technology their father was working on, prompting Kimber to ask if he was a super hero. Using Synergy’s holographic technology and the Jem persona that lets Jerrica overcome her performance anxiety, our Heroines are successfully able to enter the competition. Thereby kicking off their rivalry with the Misfits. Things become somewhat complicated when Kimber and Stormer meet at an event and there’s an immediate attraction. This prompts Pizzazz to forbid Stormer from dating “the enemy.” 

In terms of story-telling, the worst I can say about the comic is that the dialogue can get repetitive at times. we get such nuggets as “Saw your video. It was great. It was beyond great.” Or there’s also “They always get my bad side. Every time.” Which I can’t criticise too much because it is dialogue and it’s not exactly unusual for someone to say something redundant. 

There are a lot more praise-worthy things about the writing. Having the Holograms as an upcoming band entering a competition against the veteran Misfits is a good way to kick off the animosity. Having members of the opposing bands who are trying to make a fledgling relationship work, in spite of that, is a nice method of adding some dramatic tension. Jerrica suffering from performance anxiety and using Jem to disassociate from it provides a compelling reason for her to have a secret identity and Rio being a reporter, and one she meets after they enter the contest, gives a strong motive for not telling him the truth. As opposed to the cartoon where she couldn’t tell her long term boyfriend that they were the same person because… glamour & glitter and she needed a secret identity because… fashion & fame. the comic is also really superb about stopping each issue at a really good point. We get the first appearance of Jem at the end of one issue. The Misfits about to confront Stormer when they see her on a date with Kimber ending another. A light array about to fall on Jem ending yet another. They’re all moments that give the reader a reason to pick up the next issue while also stemming naturally from the events of that issue. There’s nothing that feels contrived or rushed about it. The comic is also very charming and funny. Aja throwing shoes because she wants to keep sleeping while Kimber tries to wake her up is hilarious. There’s a really funny scene where the Misfits argue before going on a television show and those are just a few examples. There are a lot more. 

Characters:

This may very well be the strongest aspect of the comic. Unlike the cartoon, where the villains were just causing trouble because they were the antagonists and it was their job, in the comics there’s a coherent motivation behind everything they do. It’s also nice that the Misfits in this never resort to attempted murder. The worst thing that happens comes from Clash acting on her own because she thinks it’ll please Pizzazz and Clash really wants some mutual pleasing betwixt herself and Pizzazz. The Misfits even react negatively when they find out what Clash allegedly (as far as they’re concerned) did. Pizzazz stops her from admitting to it, though, because she wants to keep the Misfits out of any possible legal issues. The Misfits, in general, just come across as the antagonists because they’re abrasive and needlessly competitive because they see the Holograms as a threat.

The sisterly dynamic among Jerrica, Kimber, Aja & Shana is excellently handled. Which is another improvement over the cartoon where Jerrica and Kimber acted like sisters while the other two acted more like friends. The budding relationship between Kimber and Stormer is, even in this early stage, shaping up to be the best romance I’ve seen in a comic and I find myself highly invested in what’s happening with it. None of that is hyperbolic either. 

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Art:

Campbell’s artwork is gorgeous. The facial expressions are highly expressive. The outfit, make-up and hair designs are consistently appealing. The way she makes up for the lack of music, because it’s a comic and doesn’t have sound, with lively panels surrounded by lyrics makes for some amazing visuals. The action flows nicely. The colours are vibrant and aesthetically pleasing. There are Rainbow Dash and Sunset Shimmer plushies. Yes, this is the same comic company that puts out the Friendship is Magic comic… Which I may have a lot of issues of on my shelf. 

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Final Thoughts:

The first volume of IDW’s Jem does exactly what it needs to. It establishes the characters, scenario and the underlying source of tension between the bands. It demonstrates a deep understanding of those elements that people liked about the cartoon while also establishing what it’s going to do differently. As a whole, it even uses those elements better with more thought and greater care going into it. It is a damn good comic and I do recommend it for anyone who likes slice of life works. Regardless of whether or not you watched or enjoyed the old cartoon. My final rating for the first volume of this comic is going to stand at a 9/10. It’s truly outrageous. Truly, truly, truly outrageous. Maybe I’ll look at the second volume at a later point. But next month I want to look at something a bit different. Preferably not super hero related because I  don’t want my bonus reviews to be too fixated on people running about in tights.