Gyo: Attack of the Mecha Fish

Gyo was a horror manga written by Ito Junji. He’s known for his horror works like Umazaki & Tomie. Gyo was written in the very early 2000s. The anime adaptation was released in 2012, roughly a decade after the manga ended. It was brought to us by Ufotable. We’ve seen them before with such works as Fate/Zero, Kara no Kyoukai, Gakuen Utopia Manabi Straight & Tales of Zestiria. How do they handle Ito Junji’s breed of horror, usually involving fucked up body stuff? Let’s have a look and judge.

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Story:

We open with a trio of young ladies, Kaori, Erika & Aki enjoying a nice graduation trip to Okinawa where nothing bad could possibly happen, right? Unsurprisingly, things don’t stay peaceful. The three arrive at the house they’re staying in and smell something rancid. Someone opened a McDonalds across the street. Actually, it’s the smell of rotting flesh and, surprisingly, it’s completely unrelated to fast food. Something darts around their feet. Kaori manages to push a dresser into it, splattering blood everywhere. To their surprise, they find a fish that seems to have borrowed technology from Mojo. Better call Longshot. They’re freaked out but not too worried. Then things get worse. The streets are flooded with walking fish and people are dying and it’s not just Okinawa. They seem to be spreading all over Japan. Kaori runs back to Tokyo to try and find her boyfriend while her friends stay behind because the house can surely protect them… The one that’s been breached twice at that point. Safest option ever.

The biggest narrative issue here is just that a lot of the story is very formulaic. The peaceful setting that gets overrun by something sinister. The emergency back home that forces the protagonist to risk greater danger and the fairly predictable obstacles that she encounters on her way. The beats are familiar which does detract from the impact of the events.

Then we have the premise. On one hand, fish with mechanical legs attacking Japan is, on the surface, pretty damn goofy. It’s not nearly as absurd as the idea of a shark tornado but it’s still ridiculous. However, Ito manages to take that silly premise and make it kind of intense. The narrative doesn’t afford you any real opportunities to laugh at the absurdity of the premise because there’s constantly something grotesque, creepy or otherworldly happening. All while managing to be paced pretty well. Ultimately, that’s the biggest strength of Gyo. The strength of its execution and pacing because pulling off a premise this silly even somewhat competently in a horror work isn’t easy. I also do appreciate that there is effort put into explaining the basics of how this situation happened while leaving some supernatural elements intact. Because there’s no way you’re explaining this with no supernatural elements.

Characters:

The characters are something of a problem in this. Let’s start with Kaori and her friends. The first issue here is that they really don’t come across as much of friends. We’re supposed to believe that they’re the bosomiest of bosom buddies but pretty much the first thing we see is Erika trying to ditch the other two so that she can fool around with random blokes and they just generally act more like people who can basically tolerate one another with some effort than the types of friends you’d actually expect to see take a trip together. We also have the motivations. Let’s look at Aki specifically for this one. When Kaori is going back to Tokyo she stays behind with Erika even though evidence suggests that she can’t stand Erika at that point. Why doesn’t she just go back with Kaori then? And then she gets mad because Kaori left her alone with Erika even though there’s no reason given for why she couldn’t have just gone back. Kaori herself is just a bland character. And her boyfriend is basically a non-character but her search for him also, unfortunately, drives a lot of the narrative and serves as her primary motivation.

Art:

Ito has a talent for taking something ordinary and innocuous & twisting it into something disturbingly grotesque. Which is something that Gyo manages to portray pretty well. It’s not his absolute best, that still goes to superimposing pregnant women and mosquitoes. The deformations in this little OVA are gruesome & disturbing, though. The animation itself flows very well. The action is quickly moving while possessing impact and it manages to convey the chaotic atmosphere while still being easy to follow.

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Sound:

Most of the cast in this is perfectly passable. Not exactly good, but decent enough. The problem is that our main actress, Kataoka Mirai, gives a performance that seems completely devoid of actual effort. Her delivery reminds me of a student reading off of the script while trying to get a role in a school play. When the student in question was dragged in by their friend and doesn’t really want to be there. Could they not be bothered to give this poor woman some direction? Shiina Go’s soundtrack is actually quite good. He does a good job of matching his tracks to the atmosphere. Which does help things come across as creepier than they might have otherwise.

Ho-yay:

There isn’t any to be found.

Final Thoughts:

Gyo could have been a solid OVA. It has some narrative issues but the execution is quite good. The atmosphere works nicely. The artwork really matches Ito Junji’s style. Unfortunately, the bland characters result in the piece lacking any real tension and Kataoka’s poor performance also holds the work back. It ends up being a decent enough spectacle and even worth watching just for those elements that do work but it’s not great or even particularly good. My final rating is going to stand at a 6/10. Next week I’ll continue horror month with a look at Kowabon and then we’ll finish this year’s horror month with a look at Elfen Lied.

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Ayakashi: Japanese Classic Horror- With Progressively Better Stories

Ayakashi: Japanese Classic Horror was brought to us by Toei animation. It’s also the series that Mononoke was a spin-off of. Like that series, it’s a horror anthology. I really enjoyed Mononoke and I’m hoping that this one will be at the same level. Let’s examine it and see.

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Story:

There are three distinct stories in this anime. The first is based off of a classic ghost story by the kabuki playwright, Nanboku Tsuruya IV. The second is based off of a play by Kyouka Izumi. The third is an original story featuring the medicine seller with the same voice as Cloud who we all know and love from Mononoke. Since these three parts are pretty different and each one has their own strengths & weaknesses, I’m going to be discussing each one separately.

The first four episodes are dedicated to the story of a ronin named Tamiya Iemon. He marries a beautiful young woman, Oiwa but quickly loses interest in her. This results in tragedy and he finds himself haunted by her vengeful spirit. This is easily the weakest story in the anime. It relies pretty heavily on exaggerated melodrama which, to be fair, is pretty normal in kabuki. But, at the same time, the story doesn’t come across as a kabuki production in any other way and it can be a bit grating. They also make some changes that don’t make sense. A damaging face cream gets changed to an ingested pill so the effect it has no longer makes sense. On the positive side, the way the narrative is tied to its history as a production is pretty interesting. I rather like that take on things.

Our second story, which also takes up four episodes, follows a young falcon tamer who loses a falcon he’s been training and is forced to go searching for it. In the process, he has a fateful encounter with a hauntingly beautiful woman. Turns out she’s a forgotten God who lives in a Keep that’s known for having mortals enter but never leave. The biggest flaw with this one is that the romance, which is at the core of the tale, is pretty shallow and under-developed. They meet for all of five minutes and it forges a strong connection and then in the span of a short conversation it turns to full blown huggy muggy love. Maybe I’m just overly cynical and my cold, dead heart doesn’t feel love any more, but I call bullshit on that. Especially when he has a fiancée he’s presumably known for a long time and spent a far more substantial amount of time with. On the positive side, the story is pretty compelling and the turns it takes are well foreshadowed. The climax is also intense and gripping.

Then we have our final story, which only gets three episodes. The Medicine Seller goes to an estate that’s preparing for a wedding. Unfortunately for the bride, something slays her as she goes to leave, and not in the sense that she finds it really funny. The household blames our elfin hero, even though he was nowhere near when it happened, but he knows the truth. The house is being haunted by a mononoke & unless he can find its shape, truth & reasoning there will be a lot more casualties. This story is the best of the lot, by far. It follows the same pattern we saw in the Mononoke sequel series. The Medicine Seller encounters a problem with a mononoke. The creature has some connection to its potential victims and finding out the truth behind the situation serves to highlight some of the worst aspects of humanity in a way that’s chilling and pretty creepy. The story is full of tension and intrigue. Watching this, it’s no surprise that there was a sequel just dedicated to giving audiences more of this sort of thing.

Characters:

Once again, I’ll go from story to story with this.

The big issue with the characters in the first story is their motivations. The motivating factors for the characters really don’t have verisimilitude. Take our Iemon. He murders someone because he wants to be with Oiwa so much, then grows tired of her within maybe a year for no adequately explored reason. It really comes across as the character actions being based on contrivance to get to the next melodramatic moment.

The second story fares better in that regard. Even if the romance is bollocks, our main characters feel somewhat fleshed out and real. The motivations of his fiancée make sense. As do the actions of her advisor and maids. If there’s a weakness, it’s the lord he serves. The dude comes across as pretty cartoonishly evil, but more extreme in regards to the things he does.

The final story is, once again, the best. The Medicine Seller unravelling the facts behind the mononoke attacking them provides insight into the characters who are in danger and it also serves to showcase the karma inherent to the situation. In some ways, we actually end up rooting for the mononoke since some of its potential victims clearly deserve retribution. Then there are the characters we’re more invested in and we want to see make it out all right. All of the characters in the situation have relevance to the story and they do come across as actual people. Not good people, in many cases, but people.

Art:

The artwork in this works really nicely. It’s designed to be theatrical and it does shift a bit between stories to better fit the artwork to the narrative. It’s a level of polish that I appreciate from an anthology series.

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Sound:

The performances vary. The actors in the first story (Hirata Hiroaki, Koyama Mami, etc…) are a bit prone to exaggeration on account of the nature of the tale. The acting in the second story, featuring performances by Kuwashima Houko, Midorikawa Hikaru and others, is more nuanced and they are quite good. The final arc, featuring Sakurai Takahiro & Yukana has the most memorable, intense performances. The acting in it goes beyond good and right to bloody phenomenal. In terms of music, the music composition by Takanashi Yasuharu, who worked on Mononke, Gantz & Shiki, is really well done. REMI’s chorus work is expertly done. I will say, I didn’t like the opening theme tune. Not only is it out of place, but it’s kind of annoying. In contrast I really enjoyed the ending theme tune, performed by Hajime Chitose.

Ho-yay:

There really isn’t any to be found.

Final Thoughts:

For the first story, Yotsuya Kaidan, I would say it’s pretty average. It has some significant issues that hold it back, but it also keeps you interested and has some good bits. The second story, Tenshu Monogatari, is pretty good. It’s not great, but it’s good. The final story, Bakeneko, is excellent and definitely serves as a worthy precursor to the series that came after. So, factoring in all three of them, I’ll give Ayakashi a solid 7/10. Next week I’ll continue horror anime month with a look at Gyo.

A Snarky Retrospective on 4Kids

One thing people have been wanting me to do for a while is take the piss out of 4kids Entertainment. Which I haven’t done because I’ve already had my one review ever that will look at a dub. Besides, they’ve filed for bankruptcy at least twice and is it really the best idea to kick a company while it’s down, especially when it’s such an easy target? Honestly, they’ve had the piss taken out of them by everyone and their eighty year old great grandmum. Still, the answer I’ve come up with is that it may not be the best idea ever, but it should be hilarious. So, instead of looking at a 4kids dub, I’m going to castigate the company itself so heavily that even its subsidiaries go sterile, if it even has any. I’m also going to say outright that I won’t be looking at every bad decision they made to make themselves reviled. I’m pretty sure there is an upper word limit to these posts and I would hit it a hundred plus times if I went into every single thing. Plus I’d have to watch their dubs and I like my sanity and eardrums intact.

Let’s start with why everyone, and their pet dog, hates 4kids. To use a simple analogy, let’s think of an anime as an uncooked steak. The Japanese studio will season that steak with music and voice acting, possibly coming out with something really delicious. 4Kids will take that uncooked steak and they’ll cut out huge chunks of meat and fill the gaps with things that should never go in a steak like vinegar crisps, those jelly beans with weird flavours like lawn clippings or rotten eggs & actual faeces. Then they’ll season it with other things that should never be paired with steak like chocolate syrup, Velveeta & something that suspiciously has the texture, flavour and consistency of semen. Now, I’m not saying that 4Kids is actually feeding semen to children. I’m not the health inspector who goes to their board room and sees their executives gathered around the series with their trousers down and making suspicious grunting sounds. That got way more graphic than I’d originally intended, but I’m keeping it as is because I amused myself. The point I’m getting to is that that is a completely unpalatable steak at the point where these incompetent wankers have gotten done with it.

There seem to be two main motivating factors behind the things they change. The first as that they don’t want to seem like nerds who watch Japanese media, presumably because they think the athletes will take their lunch money, so they pretend that everything is ‘merican. So, when a character is eating a rice ball, they call it a doughnut. True fact, American children can’t eat rice balls. The climate causes the rice to expand in their stomachs and then they explode. So, they pretend the rice balls are doughnuts because that’s more ‘merican. Other completely true and not made up statement, in America doughnuts are designed to look like rice balls. Possibly so that American children don’t feel bad about not getting to eat delicious rice balls. They also change character names, but not all of them. Anzu becomes a refreshing beverage that pairs well with biscuits. Satoshi becomes volcanic debris and so on. They’re really inconsistent about it, though. A character like Pegasus Crawford becomes Maximilian Pegasus, because Crawford was the strange part of that name, clearly. And a name like Honda is deemed too foreign but Bakura is a completely normal ‘merican name. That’s why they never pronounce it properly. Seriously, they pronounce it “Ba-kor-a” when it should be more like “Ba-ku-ra.” How hard do you have to fail to get a fecking phonetic pronunciation right? I guess phonetic pronunciations are one of 4Kids’ many weaknesses. They’ll also change lettering and just pretend that everything is set in America because Japanese & American cultures are completely interchangeable and this will surely lead to nothing being out of place. Some dumbass 4kids executive actually thought that. I sincerely hope they got sacked without any sort of severance pay.

The other big motivating factor seems to be an over-reactionary attitude towards anything that someone somewhere might construe as being not child friendly. The weird part is that most of the content that they turn to absolute shite in their quest to not offend anyone is stuff that’s pretty old hat for American cartoons.

Take mentions of death and dying as an example. 4Kids absolutely refuses to mention the forbidden “d” word. Even though cartoons like Beast Wars have shown characters get killed in battle. For fuck’s sake, the 90s Spider-man cartoon showed Uncle Ben’s death, not graphically but we’re comparing a scene that very much gets the point across to mere mentions of the word. For that matter, how many of Disney’s children’s films have included death & dying at some point, besides the obvious most of them? Why the fuck would it be okay for these older cartoons to show death but not for these 4kids dubs to mention the bloody word? I would say their execs had their intelligence “sent to the Shadow Realm” where it got decapitated by a scythe wielding maniac and cannibalised by grotesque ghouls with rotting flesh, but that would imply that they, at some point, had something worth calling intelligence and I wouldn’t want to over-estimate them.

Then we’ve got guns. In all fairness, American cartoons are kind of weird when it comes to guns in general, especially when you consider how much America, as a nation, loves guns. I’ve seen plenty of guns in cartoons, but they always have to fire laser beams for some reason. Because guns are okay when they fire lethal lasers, it’s like laser tag crossed with Battle Royale. So, you’d think this would be an easy fix. Just establish that your guns fire laser beams. You’d have to make some slight changes whenever anyone actually fires but it would be better than just erasing them, yeah? Nope. 4Kids is made up of fucking morons. So, they just take the guns out. Which leaves you with awkward shots of thugs threatening someone by pointing at them as if they were holding a gun. Because that posing still works when they aren’t holding anything, according to some fuck nugget at 4kids. And I know I’m using more expletives here than I normally would. I apologise if that comes across as ineloquent or even crass. But discussing a censorship heavy company kind of make me want to use profanity. I just imagine some fuckwit with the mentality of an executive at that company having an aneurysm over the word choice and then trying to censor the whole diatribe to be child friendly. Although I’m sure most of them don’t actually care. I’m sure most of them use profanity in their everyday lives & watch excessive pornography, because it’s hard to have a sex life when the person you’re trying to get involved with knows you used to work for 4Kids. It’s still an amusing mental image.

Shit, piss, fuck, cunt, cock sucker, mother fucker, tits, fart, turd & twat.

There’s also a Pokemon episode that 4kids “needed” to remove because it featured a character comically cross-dressing with fake breasts. You couldn’t possibly show that to children. You know, unless you’re Warner Brothers making a Bugs Bunny cartoon in the 1940s. Wait, they could show that in the fucking 1940s but you, 4kids, don’t have the ovarian fortitude to show the same type of thing five decades later? Five Jesus fucking Christ with a big floppy dildo decades? You’re a bunch of right weak-willed bastards, aren’t you?

They even shy away from mentioning that a character needs to pee. I’m not even kidding. There’s a scene in Duel Monsters where Anzu is fretful after sneaking aboard a ship with Honda because she has to pee. He suggests that she just go over the side of the ship and she gets mad at him for being a dumbass because she’s a girl and can’t just go over the damn side, Honda. 4Kids, being the worst, changes this so that she never mentions needing to use the bathroom and he just has a nonsensical line about the sun coming up soon. I’m pretty sure the Animaniacs had way more risky gags than that. In fact, I know damn well they did because I’ve seen the finger prints/conjugation scenes, but that series was also good and not handled by complete and utter toolboxes.

Then we have the acting. 4Kids is a company that had such horrendously awful voice work that even the people who watch and enjoy English dubs frequently refuse to have anything to do with the ones done by 4kids. Yeah, when I dislike an English dub that’s just a moment of “no surprise whatsoever” but when even the fans of English dubs think you fail, that’s when you’re the actual worst at voice work.

Ultimately, it’s not anything of a surprise that 4kids has gone bankrupt at least twice. They’re one of those companies that bitches, cries piracy and blames the consumer when they fail, but really they’re a licensing company that grossly mishandled their properties. They had a potential audience of children who saw what they put out as fun cartoons and adult anime fans. Then they quickly alienated those anime fans by doing a complete hack job (double meaning intended) with the properties. What they either didn’t know or didn’t care about is that anime fans in general, myself included, hate censorship. We don’t want the watered down, shit-filled versions of anime. We want the anime as intact as feasible. We aren’t going to open our wallets and spend our hard-earned money on a markedly inferior product. 4Kids can wail all they want about how pirates took their sales but the honest truth is that they told anime fans, in no uncertain terms, that they don’t want our money. They established that their audience wasn’t anime fans nor did they want it to be. Then they acted like they were absolutely shocked when anime fans everywhere said “fine, we won’t give our money to you but we will hold up our middle fingers for you to have a look at.”

Even if they did manage to resurface after their latest bankruptcy, they’d have to demonstrate that they’ve extracted the massive oaken saplings from their anuses and they’re ready to just let the properties be if they want any hope of courting that lost audience. Even then it would take a while of not fucking up since they’ve been known for their unmitigated douchebaggery for literal decades. Realistically, I don’t suspect we’ll see them back. Even if we do, I very much doubt they’ll have learned anything. At best they might make some minor concession like not calling rice balls doughnuts while continuing to do everything else wrong. So, I’ll conclude by saying that I hope you’ve enjoyed my little retrospective & fuck 4Kids and everything they stand for. Fuck them with something long, hard and with the consistency of sandpaper.

Oh, and don’t worry. There’ll still be a bonus review for this month. I haven’t decided what it’ll be yet, but I know it’s going to be horror related since it is October. This is just a little something extra for you enjoyment. Just because I  know several of you have been wanting to see me take some shots at these scrotum gobblers and it seemed like it would be amusing. It was, by the way. 

JoJo no Kimyou na Bouken: Diamond Wa Kudakenai- My Stand is White & Nerdy

The JoJo franchise is one I have some fondness for. It has an absurd naming scheme, over the top machismo & action, but I’ve still found it pretty endearing. I’ve talked about JoJo, Stardust Crusaders series 1 & 2. This time around, I’ll be discussing Diamond is Unbreakable. Like the others, this is brought to us by David Production. It aired from April to December of 2016. I look forward to seeing a bunch of characters named after musicians & bands fighting in an absurdly over the top fashion. Let’s get right to it.

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Story:

We open with Joutarou heading to a small town called Morioh to meet Joseph’s bastard son, Jousuke. Yeah, apparently Joseph had an affair with a woman forty years younger than him when he was in his sixties. Way to keep it classy, Joseph. Arsehole. Joutarou wants to discuss the old man’s inheritance because, at this point, Joseph’s really old and could die from a heavy wind. Actually, now seems like an opportune time to go into a detail that bothered me in the last series, but I couldn’t go into too much detail about because it was a spoiler. But, since this series takes place after the ending of that one and goes over the basics of what happened, I can talk about it freely here. Okay, so Vanilla Ice is turned into a vampire by taking Dio’s blood but we also saw Joseph take Dio’s blood so why isn’t he an ageless vampire with the same appearance that he ad in the last series while being unable to go out in sunlight. Rather like I can’t on account of being a pale ginger. That seems to be a thing with this franchise, the internal logic doesn’t always hold up. Any way, it turns out that there’s some dangerous stand user on the loose in Morioh with an arrow that can create more stand users. So, Jousuke begins his own bizarre adventure, aided by Joutarou and some friends to find the arrow. This quest ultimately brings them into conflict with the town’s most notorious criminal and stand user.

Let’s look at the issues with the series first. And it starts with the aforementioned internal consistency problem. Here’s the thing, our group of heroic stand users summons an elderly Joseph to Morioh to help them find the stand user who controls Red Hot Chili Pepper. He arrives but they end up not needing his help. So, he sticks around doing bugger all. Then they encounter our main antagonist for the series with his stand, Killer Queen. He escapes them and they begin the hunt for him. So, no one thinks to have Joseph use his Hermit Purple, the stand that he was going to use to find a stand user for you, to find this guy? He’s literally right there. He could do it with no real risk to himself and you could find this guy in five minutes. Another example comes with Jousuke’s stand, Crazy Diamond. It’s established that his stand can heal, but can’t bring someone back to life and yet, he manages to put someone back together who gets blown apart. How does instantaneous death not happen in that situation? We also have Kouichi’s super unhealthy romance sub-plot that serves no purpose but makes for an awkward, uncomfortable time. This series also gets some rather dreadful attempts at “street” dialogue from Kouichi’s Stand, Echoes. This thing spells out the word shit on multiple occasions and it does it with the mannerisms of someone who thinks they’re tough, but they just come across as cringey and trying too hard.

With all that being said, the series still retains its sense of over the top machismo fun. It’s also very much self aware about it. It’s not asking you to take it really seriously, it’s asking you to join in the fun. That’s especially apparent in scenes where the characters monologue about why they’re going to win and strike over the top poses. It’s also pretty obvious in, for example, the Pearl Jam episode where everything is a bit of a goof. I also do appreciate the way this franchise establishes its battles as being less about brute forcing your way past an opponent and more about tricking them into a corner. I rather like seeing the characters playing mind games.

Characters:

The fourth iteration of JoJo and his Amazing friends is just as archetypical and trite as all the others. Similarly, the antagonists are just as much evil for the evils. There are three major ones. The first is a serial murderer and rapist. Has been since he was all of twelve. The second is a murderer and thief, which isn’t as bad. The final one is a long-running serial killer who makes women disappear and keeps one of their hands to serve as his “girlfriend.” Dude, just buy a mannequin and use its hand. Still weird, but at least it won’t make you terrible. All three of them are completely unrepentant for their crimes. This series also maintains the franchise’s tradition of having a main cast that’s largely enjoyable in spite of their relative shallowness as characters. The naming theme of band & song names continues, although this time it’s used for the stands. Araki Hirohiko must have really liked Pink Floyd since two of the main stands, Crazy Diamond & Echoes, are named after their songs. In addition to the other ones I’ve mentioned so far we also have Super Fly, Cheap Trick, Highway Star, Heaven’s Door and others. Stay tuned for the tenth JoJo where someone has the stand, Dinosaur Laser Fight. (I don’t actually know if he’s gotten that far or what the stands are called if he has, but that would be amazing.)

Art:

Are you ready for muscular boys with absurd hair to strike over the top poses? If that sounds awesome, this anime has you covered. The art style continues to be overwhelmingly macho. I think my beard actually grew by ten centimetres just from watching it. It’s that macho and my beard wasn’t exactly short before. I do like a lot of the action sequences in this. That’s one arena where I’ll keep giving this franchise credit. Even with the pauses for monologues and dramatic posing, it has some solid, creative action sequences.

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Sound:

So, what kinds of performances can you expect? If you said that it’s going to be largely over the top and exaggerated, congratulations on your pattern recognition skills. That is exactly right. The cast they got is good at that. Ono Yuuki, Ono Daisuke, Kaji Yuki, Sakurai Takahiro (Hi, Cloud) & Morikawa Toshiyuki (Hi, Sephiroth) are all good choices for that. This time around the ending theme tune is a selection from Savage Garden’s I Want You, which is appropriately ridiculous for the ending theme tune of an action anime. Kanno Yugo’s score is quite good too.

Ho-yay:

Jousuke & Okuyasu get a bit of a “bromance” going. But this franchise has never been big on romance and this one’s no exception. Even Kouichi’s kind of shit het romance is pretty downplayed.

Final Thoughts:

This series… this entire franchise is ridiculous and I can’t deny that I enjoy watching it. I didn’t like Diamond is Unbreakable as much as I liked the first half of Stardust Crusaders, but it’s still solid and I liked it bout as much as I have most of the franchise. My final rating is going to be a 7/10. Next week will kick off horror anime month and I’m going to start things off with a review of Ayakashi: Japanese Classic Horror.

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.

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.