Tag Archives: review

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.

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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. 

Bishoujo Yuugekitai Battle Skipper: A Cynical OVA

Bishoujo Yuugekitai Battle Skipper is a mecha comedy from the mid 90s. It was brought to us by Artmic. If you haven’t heard of them, it’s not a surprise. They’ve worked with AIC on a couple anime I’ve reviewed, Bubblegum Crisis & AD Police. They’ve also worked with Tatsunoko on some anime I’ve never seen. This will be the first time I’ve seen something that they were the sole driving force for and I don’t know if that’s a good thing. But, let’s give it a chance and take a look.

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Story:

We open with a secondary school girl in the shower because… class killed the writer’s goldfish. She gets dressed and talks with her minion about a group of “Extars” who are piloting their BS’s and causing problems. The showering scene totally adds a lot to this plot point and wasn’t gratuitous at all. We then join two different girls as they run to their first day at school. They see some upper classmen arrive and move to orientation where we find out that the débutante club is the most powerful force in the school and everyone wants to join for the connections. Our heroines, Shihoko & Saori, decide to join the etiquette club instead because Shihoko is immediately attracted to the vice-president, Rie. They’re joined by another girl, Kanami, who admires the president, Reika. They decide to break into the club at night because… they think there might be Friendship is Magic DVDs that they can watch or, maybe, the reasons are just really flimsy. It’s one of those. They accidentally stumble onto a hidden basement and find themselves inside their own BSs. The three of them join Reika and Rie as Extars in order to combat ne’er do wells.

The major problem with this OVA is the humour. Most of the time it comes across as an excuse for lazy writing. Why is the Extars’ super advanced hidden base easily accessed by anyone? It’s a comedy, don’t worry about it. How do the antagonists break in? Comedy. If our heroines are trying to fight in secret why do they throw that out the window in order to fight hand to hand, especially when they could handle the ruffians with their armoured tank suits? It’s a comedy, they don’t have to explain it. The more ordinary jokes barely register as jokes. To use an example, when Shihoko and Saori arrive Shihoko refers to her initial meetings with both Reika & Rie as fateful. It’s supposed to be funny because she falls in love easily. And no, the comedy never elevates above that.

The writing is, in general, just very lazy. The plot points are heavily telegraphed and clichéd. At one point we see our antagonist’s minion rescue Saori from familiar looking thugs. I wonder where that’s going to go? It couldn’t possibly be a set up to get close to her for nefarious purposes. That would just be crazy. At another point we see our heroines come under heavy fire by a mobile fortress. I wonder if the one that got left behind is going to come to their rescue with their own mobile fortress that was introduced near the end of the previous episode? It’s almost like our script writer, Kamata Hidemi, had no passion for the project whatsoever and just rushed through the script over a couple hours.

Characters:

The characters are pretty dull. Saori is the kind of clumsy protagonist who stands up for her friends. Shihoko falls in love easily and needs to be protected. Kanami is good at everything but gets a more supporting role because otherwise she’d be even more noticeably a Mary Sue. Rie is the kind of abrasive one who likes to fight. Reika is the motherly one who looks out for the others. And our antagonist wants to rule the world because… she’s rich? It’s rather like the script writing. Very low effort and reliant on the generic.

Art:

Frankly, I’ve seen stronger artwork and animation from several other 90s anime. This is another arena where Battle Skipper just seems to lack any real effort. The action sequences are pretty weak, with an over-reliance on motion blur and with machines that shoot each other kind of slowly. The character designs are kind of dull as well. Shihoko has random circles in her hair that don’t seem to be attached and that she leaves in when she sleeps because… she doesn’t want to actually get dressed in the morning. She’d rather just let her hair get tangled in the ruddy things. But don’t worry, not looking even close to good doesn’t stop them from throwing in random fan-service of the school girls. Because Kamata has a grudge against class and refuses to have anything to do with it.

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Sound:

The acting is passable. It’s not good nor is it bad. They did get some talented actresses like Orikasa Ai, Niiyama Shiho, Inoue Kikuko & Shiratori Yuri but the characters are, unfortunately, too under-written for them to show their abilities. The music is similarly mediocre.

Ho-yay:

The les-yay of this series is largely limited to Shihoko’s one-sided crushes. Although Kanami may also have a thing for Reika.

Final Thoughts:

That’s Bishoujo Yuugekitai Battle Skipper. I don’t think anyone involved was actually invested in the project. It feels like cheaply produced shlock that no one really wanted to be involved with but, hey, it’s a pay cheque. I wouldn’t call it a terrible or even a bad OVA. It’s mostly just kind of stupid and innocuous. My final rating is going to be a 4/10. Next week I’ll look at Shuumatsu no Izetta.

Vivid Strike: Reconciliation is Key

The Nanoha franchise is one I’ve talked about a lot. I’ve reviewed the first series, As, StrikerS, Vivid and even the loosely connected Triangle Heart, which has been the only ungood one thus far. This week I’m going to look at Vivid Strike, which is a side story for Vivid. It was produced by Seven Arcs, the same studio behind everything else I’ve looked at except, oddly enough, Vivid itself. Let’s see if it upholds the franchise’s proud traditions of quality and les-yay. That excludes Triangle Heart, obviously.

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Story:

Fuuka Reventon is an orphan with a propensity for trouble. We open with her getting into a fight with a bunch of ne’er do wells. When law enforcement arrives on the scene, she’s forced to flee. She runs right into Einhald Stratos and manages to throw one punch before collapsing from injuries she sustained in her earlier altercation. Einhald sees potential in her and brings her into the Nakajima Gym, offering to coach her in martial arts. Fuuka eventually accepts, hoping to reconnect with her childhood friend, Rinne Berlinetta.

The only real narrative issue I have with this series is that it may abridge things too much. A lot of the stuff they skip over is totally justifiable. We don’t need to see all the tournament fights. Especially when one of our main characters is going against some Rando and they’re obviously going to win because it’s a main character against someone who we’re just now meeting. However, the unfortunate side effect of skipping over all but a few of those is that we don’t get a proper arc for Fuuka and her development as a martial artist. We see her train with the other girls a bit and win a single match before we cut to the climactic fight betwixt her and Rinne. Which really isn’t enough to give her a plausible chance. Instead, we get to be told how far she’s come by other characters. Because that’s just as good as seeing it.

That aspect aside, I do have a lot of praise for the story. The conflict between Fuuka and Rinne is really well handled. It acknowledges the mistakes that are made while also showing us the reasons behind them. The scenes showing Rinne’s back story are actually highly poignant. The narrative being about these old friends and their trying to reconnect also provides a compelling tension to the narrative that was absent from the regular Vivid anime and using martial arts as a vehicle that could potentially make that happen really works to tie it in with the framework we’ve already got. I also do appreciate that the tournament doesn’t go the way you would normally expect from this kind of series. The pacing is fairly well done, in spite of the aforementioned abridging issue. It has rising action, an intense climax and then adequate time to wrap things up from there.

Characters:

The character element has always been a strong suit for this franchise. This instalment is no exception. Fuuka has a strong student-master relationship with Einhald. There are a lot of nive little touches that give us insight into her character. The way she talks to the other girls, frequently using nicknames is one. The way she responds to Rinne when Rinne is talking about the lack of understanding other people have towards her is a big one. The dynamic of her and Rinne is the core of the series and it is actually superb. The flashbacks of them together show us very clearly why they mean a lot to each other and add weight to the reconnection plot. Their early interactions also illustrate both the difficulties of rekindling their connection and the yearning to rekindle it from both of them. Which makes things really interesting. I also do like the way it further develops the Vivid cast.

Art:

the only real art issue I have with this one is that the transformation sequences remain rather sleazy in their usage of fan-service. It does, however, improve on a lot of my issues with Vivid. There’s a lot less general fan-service. There aren’t any overly fan-servicey outfits on display. We don’t see Sister Chantez’s stripper nun outfit, for instance. They manage to fight in their matches and keep their clothing intact because, I guess, Seven Arcs is better about that than A-1. I do generally like the character designs. Although, Fuuka looks a lot like IF from Neptunia. Did IF and Compa have a science baby? Come to think of it, Rinne looks a bit like Lady Blackheart but with Neptune’s eyes. Did Noire and Neptune also have a science baby? Did the infants get left alone with Neptune and accidentally sent to another dimension? She probably responded to the justifiable anger by breaking the fourth wall and joking too. Joking tangents aside, the designs are striking and I do like that Fuuka bases her transformation off of her mentor. It’s another of those little touches that tells us about her. The action sequences are really good. You can really see the force of the impacts and the animation is just highly polished. And all without having anyone’s clothes torn apart. Almost like that was completely unnecessary, A-1.

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Sound:

The performances in this are all great. The strongest come from our main duo voiced by Ogura Yui & Minase Inori. Sakura Ayane, Noto Mamiko & Mizuhashi Kaori also do particularly well. This series probably has the best soundtrack I’ve heard from Yoshikawa Youichirou. You may remember him as the composer for Iria & Green Legend Ran. Iria had good music as well, this just has really good music.

Ho-yay:

As this is the Nanoha franchise, there’s a lot of les-yay. The vast bulk of it in this series is between Fuuka and Rinne. We don’t see much of Vivio and Einhald’s sapphic tension in this one and a lot of our previous couples (Nanoha & Fate, Subaru & Teana, etc.) don’t show up. It’s also heavily implied that Victoria has a thing for Rinne. Harry and Els allude to it during a conversation and Victoria just responds like it’s completely natural. As she should. There’s no shame in her having a crush on Rinne. I don’t think she’s going to win out over Fuuka in that regard, but I’m sure she’ll get over it and find a nice girlfriend of her own eventually. After all, the population in this franchise seems to be ninety percent lesbians. No lack of selection there.

Final Thoughts:

Vivid Strike isn’t just a marked improvement over Vivid. It’s a really great series in its own right. The narrative of old friends trying to connect again after falling out really resonates. The action sequences are awesome. The acting is skilful. The relationship dynamic between our leads is amazing. It is, however, not a perfect series by any means. The transformation sequences are overly focused on titillation and Fuuka’s coming into her own as a martial artist could have been much better handled. Still, I do recommend it for any fans of the franchise. Even those of you who were a bit disappointed with Vivid. Especially since I was as well. My final rating is still going to stand at a very solid 9/10. Next week I’ll take a look at Bishoujo Yuugekitai Battle Skipper.