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Majo no Tabitabi (2020)
Mismatched Storytelling with Unappealing Protagonist
Wandering Witch isn't so much your classic character's journey as much as it's just a bunch of happening in a world that happens to have some semblance of magic and fantasy. With that every week is a new adventure but it's an adventure with no goal, no purpose no appeal.
Elaina who is a bright young girl becomes a certified witch and sets off to explore the lands and well that's pretty much it. The big drawback is Elaina as a main character is so unappealing because it feels like she matters little to the story. Bouncing between a character who is only looking out for her self interests or a character who is just a passive player in her own story. Honestly by the fourth episode you'll be wondering, what is even the point?
Pro tip, if you're going to make your character a generic blank slate for us to see the world through their eyes, make sure the world is actually interesting. Elaina's world is one of joy and sorrow and the show does its best to replicate that, a noble pursuit but the results are mixed and being so cynical of the main character, doesn't make me care all that much. That said the world of this fantasy, isn't very fantastic at all. Frankly, if you stripped Elaina of her broom stick and gave her a horse, motorcycle or her own two feet, there wouldn't be a lot about this story that would change, that leaves this setting feel more like a pseudo historical backdrop and there's already plenty of boring isekai shows that do this already.
Elaina is a pretty looking show with very vibrant colors and lovely animation, and the CGI is also great too, when it's used for anything worthwhile which isn't very often.
Between the terrible character, boring stories saved by a few memorable moments and nice art, Elaina is probably my most disappointing show this year, even more so than Magia Record, but with Magia Record I already had low expctations going in, this was hopefully going to be different. I'm in need of a good fantasy that is just a fantasy and not another character reborn into another generic MMORPG yet again.
What Just Happened?
So far, Wandering Witch seemed to have a comfortable formula it slipped into but then came episode 3 and now whatever this show was has seemingly been abandoned.
For some strange reason this decided to be split into an A-story and a B-story, like the writers crammed two parts of lengthy chapters into one story instead of just trimming they felt the need to cram in two separate unrelated plots into this one episode and saying forget all to things like character development and story, because now we're just a world building show.
The episodic formula might be this show's undoing from this episode, especially if they continue the course of Elaina's character, a character who now just the passive observer in her own story. Barely a witch, barely a protagonist, barely a character, just a stupid girl here to watch stuff happen.
The first part, she arrives in a town and learns about flowers that have a hypnotic pull on people and consume them. Not even five minutes later, she's ready to go and finds a soldier from the town being consumed by the plants and is like "oh well, not my problem." Then we see a bunch of plant zombies wandering towards the town in question and that's the end of that segment. No resolution, no nothing, we're just onto the next part. Okay I guess the writers don't care about their plot so what does story B deliver? An enslaved girl, subject to sexual abuse and again our "protagonist" doesn't do diddly squat.
All right so what is Elaina's mission here? Why is she on this journey? She has yet to do anything of consequence to the story. She's already a certified witch she doesn't seem to do anything with the people she meets along the way, she's not taking in life lessons, she's just here to be a passive observer. She's our surrogate and it's a dull choice.
Lost in Adaptation (2014)
Dom Doesn't Understand How Movies Work
Lost in Adaptation is a really interesting concept and I did watch it and occasionally got some entertainment out of it but Dom Smith's methods are dubious. For the outsider looking at an adapted work, it's always easy enough to say "it didn't contain X parts of my favorite book and that makes it bad" but that's a terrible way to look at book to movie adaptations.
Your novice usually doesn't understand why mediums are different and why straight adaptations are not always the best or possible and people like Dom only perpetuate that with shows like Lost in Adaptation as a result. Dom's videos boil down to "Does it follow the book to the letter? If yes then good movie if no then bad movie" and that's a terrible way to look at books to movies or whatever.
This show is just nitpicking at changes but doesn't grasp why or if these changes better suit the narrative or take away from the narrative, it always boils down to "They changed it, now it sucks!"
A better show than this is "What's the Difference" by CineFix which has the same concept of examining the differences between source material the nuances behind changes and how it affects the narrative of both materials instead of just "They changed it, now it sucks!" mentality that people like Dom perpetuate. Dom is not an analyzer nor good critic, he's a material purist at the end of the day, and somebody should at least tell him that one page of script is one minute of film.
Feels More Like a Poor Imitator
Review of Season 1: Since the original Madoka Magica became such a success there were a slew of imitators that tried to do what it did but there can only be one as it often is. Despite being apart of the official franchise, Magia Record feels like one of those poor imitators often with a meandering first season of no thrills, no stakes, no suspense, no intrigue, nothing that made the original series so great in the first place.
The first major issue this show has is the bulky cast. Besides our main girl, Iroha we have so many other characters that come into play and the plot seems to just forget about most of them anyway. With so many characters to quickly introduce and quickly dump. None of the characters are interesting and all feel like the same stock characters in many shows. The good one, the stoic one, the hot head and the cheerful one. The rest are just uh?
The show is just as visually trippy as the original, with just as many odd designs and creative uses of Gekidan Inu Curry's art. But that's also to this show's detriment as the art just seems to be all over the place with no design purpose other than to look cool. This show follows Rebellion's act by constantly bleeding the unreal of the witches into the real so often it's hard to track what is what in this world. What is the world of magic that these girls are intended to fight (which this show surprisingly has very little of) and what is these girls ordinary lives.
The character art is still just as good with unique designs for all main girls, enough design variety that gives them all a place to be in this series. We're even treated to one full magical girl transformation sequence which was fun.
In the absence of Yuki Kajiura this show surprisingly still pulls out some good music by Takumi Ozawa and my hat goes off to them for that.
I'm extremely disappointed thus far with Magia Record. I had my doubts already going in and was already disappointed that the producers decided to adapt a side story based on a mobile game instead of the sequel to Rebellion they had been teasing these last few years. Poor choices have really dragged the first season with dull story telling and dull characters robbing the show of the excellent razor sharp tension set from the original.
Will season 2 be better? I don't know but my interest had dwindled as watching this was a chore. Too much emphasis on making crazy art and not enough on storytelling and that's a real shame.
Superhero Story Provides Stylish Action
Blackfox or Black Fox is something unusual, seemingly suffered from some troubled production issues it stands somewhere between being a backdoor pilot for a potential series or part of a series condensed into a single 90-minute movie. While some of this might have hurt the film in the end, it didn't detract too badly from the enjoyment and entertainment factor behind it.
Blackfox is light on story, there are obviously chunks of story missing. It's a shame on that end because this does have so much good potential and that potential may rest with ultimate success of this film.
What it really has going for it, are some exciting and stylish action sequences sprinkled throughout, you'll be hard press to not be entertained by the various action scenes sprinkled out through this film. Best part it is, it shows rather than tells like many in the action genre of anime fall to.
Blackfox is pretty much on par with most Marvel movies this day and age and if you can enjoy those movies you can certainly enjoy this.
Kimetsu no Yaiba (2019)
Stunning Animation, Subpar Writing
Kimetsu no Yaiba is just the latest in the Shounen Jump catalogue to see an anime adaptation. From ufotable the studio behind such works as The Garden of Sinners and the more recent entries of the Fate/Stay Night franchise the studio shows an uncompromising visual flair for some highly stylized and impressive animation. Stellar fight scenes are sure to dazzle the eyes but really what holds this show down from being able to break the tropes of other stories from this demographic magazine is just how much the writing is mismatched and all over the place. It's not awful, there are some legitimately good moments in this but it seems every decent moment gets instantly replaced by five more questionable to downright stupid writing mistakes.
Though this is an action show, animated and brought to life by our very eyes, the show doesn't seem to think we can understand anything as our main character has to constantly walk us through every single fight. Sometimes it works and makes sense as he plots out his next move, other times it's just annoying and makes you want to shout out "SHUT UP" the first rule of film making is often, show don't tell. Well this not only tells me, it tells me while it's showing. It makes sense in the context of a manga, where you are limited to just a few panels at a time to convey a scene but you think the animators would realize they aren't as confined. This isn't a low budget series either, not that would be any excuse considering I've seen low budget anime do just as impressive action sequences without the play-by-play. This is an action show not a sports/tournament show!
Our main character is on a quest to save his younger sister, wonderful, I love stories like that! The sister character in this case being turned into a demon who still is restrained from craving human flesh as other demons do was set up so spectacularly then it came crashing down as it was bizarrely revealed via flashback that she's in a state of hypnosis to perceive everyone as her family members. Well first it's a wasted chance to show maybe she still has humanity in her, secondly the way that was conveyed makes it feel like an afterthought.
Then later annoying comic relief character who won't stop screaming shows up who also has some stupid ability like being able to magically kill in his sleep. Again the way this is conveyed just feels like an afterthought. Points this time for not relegating it to a random flashback but maybe I'd have an easier time believing he passed the "exam" if that had been established then and there. You know that brutal final exam that Tanjiro walked away from alive but not without a good beating. I guess annoying sidekick just got lucky with a easy demon? Comic relief is good in a show like this but laying on thick when I expect a bit more dread really takes away from the show.
Other high points for this series is the terrific soundtrack, featuring great opening and ending themes by LiSA of SAO fame (or infamy?) and a pounding score by Yuki Kajiura and Go Shiina. At this point this OST is the only thing keeping me going in this series because who can take this seriously anymore between screaming side character, plank of wood MC, cute demon sister, and hastily thrown out there plot points. If you're looking for a lot of pretty action sequences without any depth ala SAO then this show will be right up your alley.
Super Lucky's Tale (2017)
Family Fun Fom Microsoft?
XBox is probably really only thought of as the Adult's Gaming Console. XBox and the Microsoft published games largely cater to that crowd, leaving Nintendo and Sony (to a lesser extent) to cater to the family market and those nostalgic for old an old fashioned collect-a-thon platforming game. 2017 delivered some really solid platforming games, A Hat in Time, Sonic Mania and Super Mario Odyssey to name a few and this game was largely buried in the success of those games that are all certainly good and largely shunned by the serious business crowd.
As someone who grew up on the classics of Donkey Kong Country on SNES along with Banjo-Kazooie, Mario 64 and Mario Sunshine (sad to say I missed out on Sony's fare) this game seemed right up my alley.
Super Lucky's Tale delivers classic quality platform game for fans young and old to really enjoy. The game really harkens back to classic pre-Microsoft days of Rare with plenty of items to collect and a charming little story to go with it. The story reminds me a little of Sonic Lost World, minus the frustrating level design that came with that game. Still the game is simple, it won't overwhelm a new player and won't eat up your time as a busy adult either.
There's plenty to get with the missions being pretty straightforward. I've seen complaints about controls, honestly it's no worse than most out there, I had a perfectly fine time controlling it. I played mostly on my PC which was slightly underpar for the game, however the game did run fine with maybe some occasional frame rate issues. I also had constant trouble booting the game up after extensive play which I fault more to the Microsoft store than anything else.
I've heard complaints about camera issues, I don't recalling having issues or maybe I'm just used to 3D Platform games having camera issues that I'm desensitized to it.
A few cons to mention, the game plays the traditional "get item, end level." It's an element many platformers do even today and it does leave players widely mixed on that. The game's load times are a little long but not overbearing.
Super Lucky's Tale is a great break of the usual Xbox fare. If you aren't into classic style 3D Platform games at all it won't be for you but for those who are will find this to be charming and enjoyable. Sometimes back to basics is best rather than constantly breaking the bank on AAA, MS should consider some more of these mid-range titles in the future.
Mystik Belle (2015)
The saving grace of the game, the cute little story and the fact it's super cheap. Beyond that it's a frustrating hour long game that can take you longer without some extra help.
The independent market is where classic genres continue to thrive, none more evident than the Metroidvania game, the fusion of Metroid and Castlevania. Mystik Belle really takes the style of Castlevania to heart set in a witch school in the dead of night as you run about collecting everything.
Besides the collect-a-thon aspects, the game is also a platformer and it's clunky as can be. Some platforms are just arbitrarily difficult to reach no matter how precise you are and its only somehow made more frustrating when you get a Double Jump and Air Dash considering they often are not responsive at critical times.
Finding all you need to complete the game can be frustrating and unintuitive due to the game also incorporating elements of point-and-click adventure games which comes with an extensive inventory management system. I played on PlayStation 4 which had chests at critical moments to make this more manageable but I can't speak for Steam and PC Platforms from what I've seen earlier builds don't have this feature so you're left to remember where you left everything once your inventory gets full. And it will fill up fast because the game randomly throws in worthless red herring items and items that it expect you to toss anyway. So what's even the point?
Two of the games bosses are rage inducing near game breaking to outright broken. One is the Tree Boss in the Dark Forest which suddenly ramps up the difficulty compared to other bosses prior and the final boss which I don't even understand how it's meant to be defeated. You're slapped into a giant robot, for who knows why, and left to fight a giant monster with twice your HP, no room to counter or dodge or any ability to tank. Considering the game is built so you are expected to take levels of damage and endure it to the end it's a striking contrast to everything and renders everything you've done up in the game entirely pointless. Generally any kind of leveling system with different abilities you lean are meant to be used in the end somehow but no the magic spells are just a means to progress the plot and find some hidden items if you want to 100% the game.
The art goes for a very classic pixel-art style of game a bit more advanced than say old NES or Game Boy Color but still under the SNES and Game Boy Advanced very much like an old PC point-and-click by Sierra or LucasArts. There's very few music tracks going for an old chiptune quality but the tunes are pretty good.
Depending on which version you play this game is either really geared towards teens and adults or can be played as a family friendly title. The console versions are edited taking out language and alcohol references in favor of an E10 rating. Steam allows you to play the game unedited but also gives options to play with an edited script.
LWA Deserved Better (PS4 Standard Review)
I love this franchise and I was really looking forward to this game. Unfortunately it's not good. Chamber of Time is not a good game. I don't know if 1/10 is way to harsh of a score for this game because on the surface this game isn't absolute garbage. It has many positive factors to it, but I grew beyond frustrated at the inability to progress in the main story for lacking a specific spell. How do I get it? I still don't know. No guides are helpful, the characters don't tell me anything, there's no in-game hints. All I can do is assume the game is over and I'm stuck, and I'm done.
This game's biggest issue is on how vague it is. This is an RPG that seems to be played in any way you want but it also makes little distinction between side questing and story essential quests. What you may think is just a pointless side mission may actually be important. No one is any help.
Traversing Luna Nova or anywhere is tedious and time consuming and just boring. The game developers do give it enough personality by shifting around groups of students to give you quests or just talk to you and the game is surprisingly fully voice acted but only in Japanese with barely legible English subtitles! Despite all anime installments being available on Netflix English, BNE felt this was too niche to have a dub.
Though billed as an RPG it's more like dungeon crawler where you move around confined areas on three-planes in a 2.5D perspective. This is confusing and difficult to line yourself up with enemies and use spells and not waste your magic points. I don't like the whole three-plane side-scrolling game play in other games and I don't like it here.
On PS4 Standard this game's UI is terrible. Text is tiny, so good luck if you're a nearsighted person, the subtitles don't have any scale or drop shadow so they get lost in the bright animation and backgrounds. I've seen the game on PS4 Pro and PC where the text is still tiny but at least your button key isn't crunched off the screen! The sound isn't much better, weirdly dungeon music is super quiet it's barely audible (at least on a PS4-S and on TV, maybe with headphones it's better and I can't speak for Pro or PC), while over world music is so loud you have to turn it down or it will overpower the dialogue.
This really should have been a better game. I like how expressive the character models are, graphically it does great about braining the anime style into 3D. But the game controls poorly, the questing is nonsensical, the fights are tedious, the audio design is shoddy. BNE seemed to contract a third-rate-studio for this. It's a shame.
Sonic Forces (2017)
Why, just WHY?!
You've heard it right, "Sonic was never good" "Sonic was only good in 2D" I've never bought into that, I thoroughly enjoyed Sonic from it's 2D days well into the 3D days but the series has been so thoroughly off track since 2006 with it's ill fated Sonic '06 entry. After a series if poorly conceived and boring gimmicks we were treated to Sonic Colors which felt like a real rebound for the series. Then came Generations, many loved it, I was meh on it to be honest, feeling it was too short and the controls too stiff for platforming.
Sonic Lost World came next which looked like Sega's sorry attempt to ride Mario's coattails with a Galaxy-esque design style and returning the Whisps from Sonic Colors. That game was dull and plagued by so many poor choices. Sonic Boom was another odd experiment that I had hopes for but was sorely disappointed on. Now we have Sonic Forces, promising at first, a game that's been in development for a long time, no sorry rush jobs, enough time to really think about the design mentalities from the last six years and a new generation of consoles to welcome to and it all has fallen apart. Everything done right in Colors has thoroughly been undone in this one game.
The flaws: Early promises with the first few stages until the game ramps it up with artificial difficulty with a slew of bottomless pits. True pits are time honored platform traditions, even in Sonic games but this game really laid it on thick! This game might as well be Bottomless Pits, the Game, featuring Sonic the Hedgehog. The most egregious of pits, the last two stages, Metropolis and The Tower level where precise timing is key to not falling in these pits that litter these stages.
The controls are clunky and awkward. You control between Modern Sonic, Classic Sonic (though I guess now he's just Alternate Sonic) and your own custom avatar. Classic Sonic can't make it up a simple loop even while running at a decent pace, what is this, Sonic 4? I thought we fixed this long ago, Sonic Team! Modern Sonic and Avatar are a little floaty thought somehow it doesn't work as it did before in the Adventure series. Again probably because the abundance of bottomless pits makes it easy to overshoot your platform. Despite being floaty your jump is also terribly gimped, as gimped as it was back in Generations. Somehow the game is floaty and gimped at the same time, I really don't understand.
The whisps are back but terribly this time. Perhaps the most fun aspect of Sonic Colors has been reduced to a small powerup that's good for maybe five seconds at most and is limited to one single weapon your avatar can get. And it's not as though your avatar can change weapons on the fly, no that'd mean doing something well in this. The homing attack, a Sonic staple for 20 years now, since Adventure 1, is here but is bizarrely relegated to the need of a reticule lock on mechanic. Why?! Why change what has been known for nearly two-decades, what's been ingrained into every player who ever picked up a modern 3D Sonic game, why of all things would you change that. This franchise has seen many changes over the years with it's mechanics and styles but if anything has been consistent it's the homing attack.
The Rage-Quit moment: I had two rage-quit moments in this, first was during the Zavok battle, the first boss in the game. The key is to hold your position on the ground and let his ground pound launch you into the air. This isn't communicated to you in anyway so what's your first instinct, jump into the air to get the homing attack! I must have jumped over and over again but nothing came about. I constantly restarted, intentionally died just thinking maybe I was hitting some kind of bug until I learned the proper way to do that. What's your first instinct in a game like this where the boss rides high in the air, or again any 3D Sonic game before Lost World? JUMP INTO A BOSS! The second moment was the final level, suddenly wall jumping is back! It was nowhere to be found for most of the game but now I have to do it here, with a slippery as can be custom character over an endless amount of pits. I couldn't make it through, I just got fed up with constantly falling and dying and falling and dying! The positives? Though I give this game a real failing score there are just a few bright spots, they're few and not enough to really save this but most of the music is pretty good. Probably one of the better soundtracks in a while from a series sometimes known for better music than games. The last few games have come to rely on dull orchestral scores (orchestral is usually great but not what I come to want in a Sonic game) and badly auto tuned theme songs. Forces goes back to the mix and match of rock and synth pop that made the Adventure games so memorable. But even there there's a few dull tunes, 2D Death Egg was garbage, not taking from either S3&K or Sonic 2 (likely for Sega being cheap in licensing). The story is the same goofy cheesy comedy we've had since Colors, which is for the best, Sonic trying to get too serious just comes off as trying too hard. We had it work once in SAT-AM let's call that lightning in a bottle magic and not keep trying it.
Early promises of Forces and early good will steadily faded the longer I played. I'm not going to waste more time by finishing it, I'm done with this game and I'm done with this franchise.
Flip Flappers (2016)
Wildly Imaginative and Touching
Flip Flappers is an original series than aired in Fall 2016 from Studio 3HZ. Initial impressions I got were mostly a "meh" but then it turned around gave me a surprise and became one my favorites from 2016. Whether through grand design or behind-the-scenes trouble it's a fascinating show to watch from its first half to the second half.
The first half of the show is largely adventure-of-the-week style, with our main characters Cocona and Papika going through to all kinds of unusual and crazy worlds. A remote tropical beach, a haunted version of their school combined with a Groundhog Day loop, a world created through abstract art and even a surreal journey through the psyche of a girl who lost her meaningful connection with someone dear to her heart.
But it doesn't stop there as the girls gain magical powers that allow them to morph into powerful fighters, giving this show some magical girl elements to it. We expect this will be a show where Cocona and Papika will have to embark on "Gotta-catch-em-all" adventure of the week for the show's 12 episode run but in the middle suddenly everything is turned on its head as we reveal the identity of a mysterious girl that we've seen since the start is Cocona's mother, Mimi then ending in a climactic battle of Papika and the choices between mother and daughter.
In regards to the story, I do like the fact we shifted from the episodic structure into the main crux plot but it's odd they chose the last few episodes to do this. Frankly I think this is to be blamed on the short length of the show but what can you do, these days anime is lucky to get out of 12-13 episode range, especially if you are original. While I am satisfied I do think Flip Flappers would have benefited from having 24-26 episodes giving enough breathing room to transition from the episodic structure to the plot but as it stands I don't think it's bad, just a little abrupt.
The show's art and animation is awe inspiring. One of my favorites has to be the fight between Yayaka and Cocona in the dome with the childhood memories flashing and literally being shattered. It's probably a bit blunt but I just appreciate the weight into the visuals here. The ending animation is pretty interesting too, taking on a Hansel and Gretel vibe with its imagery.
The overall art direction has been something unique too. The town is pretty interesting looking, forsaking the usual Japan styles of modern or rural life for a more Euro-centric feel even though it's still a Japanese story to the core, especially with the school uniforms, the use of Japanese honorifics and some interior designs that are more inherently Japanese. Naturally when it comes to Pure Illusion you have all sorts of interesting and dynamic environments to look at. Simple desert, abstract art, futuristic Blade Runner style city, and creepy ghost school with a giant clock tower, etc. The unique art direction and animation style is why my first impressions of the series felt this might be more of a visually driven show with plot and characters taking a back seat so maybe some people are let down by this change when they might have wanted something more akin to FLCL.
The music for Flip Flappers was handled by the group TO-MAS and overall I loved the soundtrack. There's a few really memorable score pieces that stand out but the real star has to be their ending theme, this song is endlessly catchy and entertaining.
Much like Erased, Flip Flappers was a real surprise for me in 2016. Times I thought I might had the show figured out it constantly surprised me. For losing its head writer in the middle of production, it certainly doesn't feel like it adversely affected the production beyond maybe a few unanswered plot threads such as that weird cult. And maybe you could argue the little girl who was brought in to replace Yayaka but I'm more leaning towards she could have been a red herring as I and many others assumed she was probably Mimi turned evil. An original anime is always filled to the brim with potential even if there's no guarantees that it will be amazing it's great to see when that potential can be realized. With Flip Flappers wildly imaginative spirit it's no wonder this made my top list for anime in 2016.
Sonic Mania (2017)
Back to Basics
(Review based on Steam PC version) After the mediocre two-episode "Sonic 4" I was more tempered with Sonic Mania. Even though Mania looked to be taking a few more pages from the classics on the Genesis era I still went in largely skeptical and a bit blase about it if only for the fact this looked to be another heavy embankment on nostalgia more than trying anything really new. Returning levels had been done and not done well prior and I was mostly set up for an average experience. Still the development team lead by Christian Whitehead who helped port many classics and made a name for himself in the ROM hacking community did give me some encouragement.
After three plays of Mania (Sonic+Tails, Tails, and Knuckles) I can say it's a worthy callback to the classics made by the hardest of hard core fans getting a sense more what made the originals good and not relying heavily on nostalgia. Besides Sonic 1-3&K we have homages and little hints towards every game in Sonic's long history. Sounds and nods to even the 8Bit Sonic games, Sonic CD, Genesis era games, a little of the 3D era and even Dr. Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine are all represented here and it works. Sporting new level aesthetics and character animations add extra touches and magic, such as lighting the oil on fire with a flame shield! Brilliant! Designs are like the classics (though let's not dig up the trivial "Waah Sonic has Green Eyes" nonsense) controls are like the classics everything is tightly focused and well polished as games that came before it.
The music is better replicating the old 16bit soundtracks, better than Sonic 4's bland midi synth. Tee Lopes makes fantastic new tracks and great remixes of old stages too, but nothing musically will ever beat Sonic 3 & Knuckles but this comes pretty close. Still I didn't care for the mini boss music or the renditions of Stardust Speedway, which was based mostly on the Japan tracks which personally I found inferior to the U.S. Mixes and to the original. The original stages shine brightly and my praises there. My personal favorite has to be Lava Reef Zone 2 with the added guitars.
The game's fault lies in the fact it had to go back to old stages again, 60% of the game is remade old stages. The stages do have many new added gimmicks and aesthetics to shake it up, more original stages. The ideas are there and whether by over cautiousness or executive meddling to much of this game is the old with a new coat of paint. Nevertheless I didn't find them boring or uninteresting so there is that.
Mysteriously, moves like the Insta-Shield from Sonic 3 are absent from the main game. They are in the game but they're unlockables if you collect all the medals and only works in the No-Save game. This begs the question as to why something that should be in theory a standard move is behind an unlock wall and only in the No-Save game. There's also the super-peel out from CD though I didn't miss that much, I hardly used it in CD beyond the need to time jump but it's a fan favorite so I feel it should have been included.
Sonic Mania is terrific even though it relies heavily on the old to give us something new it still finds ways to innovate the old without reinventing the wheel.
It's OK. Just OK
After years and years of rumors and attempts to make the beloved Konami franchise Castlevania into an animated series, Adi Shankar with Warren Ellis and Netflix deliver but is it as good as everyone says? Kind of. As someone who is only thinly familiar with the games I went into this fairly open-minded or maybe indifferent just hoping for a good short series to enjoy.
This Castelvania animated by Studio Frederator adapts the anime aesthetic seen in series like Avatar the Last Airbender, Boondocks or the many DC Animated films of the last few years, going for a middle ground of meshing the two styles of western and eastern animation. Overall it's a solid attempt visually. We have some really wonderful art direction, providing some terrific Gothic style art, fitting of a dark vampire driven horror, some creative character designs to appeal to those who probably aren't down with the cute and flashy styles of anime and also paying homage to the art styles of Symphony of the Night.
But the trade off is animation corners are cut, drastically. Character animations are stiff, action scenes are stiff and our main character doesn't get to use his signature whip as much as we might like. Of course this is new ground for Netflix moving forward in a genre cluttered by so much mediocrity it's only reasonable to expect they're not throwing a huge amount of money at this right now. Let's hope moving forward the animation quality can improve.
There are some callbacks to the games, a little bit of action; platforming action that looks like it would be from a level in Castlevania but the references don't overstay their welcome and feel like nice nods to fans.
The series also suffers greatly in its sound. Many characters are mumbling their lines, the sound mix and audio levels are unbalanced and the music drones on, non-stop. You won't hear any iconic tunes of the game series here, just basic filler orchestral music that never stops.
The story isn't all that creative, mostly going on the old cliché of how horrible humanity is. The story's criticism against the Church seems reasonable given the era is the mide-to-late-1400s, I didn't find it anti-religious but heavy handed and blunt enough where I can see where the lines between true to the period and location to soapboxing are blurred. This series also jumps ahead in the lore, skipping over the first Castelvania story to the story of Trevor Belmont. Trevor is like the other dozen gruff anti-heroes out there and feels like a carbon copy of many other characters of this arc type.
Because of how experimental this series is the show has a 4-episode first season, equating to basically a pilot movie but there is no skimping on character development. The next eight episodes should be interesting to see where they push the story further but a bland main character, poor audio and substandard character animation leaves me a bit more mixed and not as enthused as many others.
Shumatsu no Izetta (2016)
World War II, there's no shortage of stories revolving around it. Anime of course is no different, there's plenty of stories about the war and usually they're serious dramas.
I've been growing more evasive of fantasy anime as more and more feel like they're the latest attempts to cash in on Sword Art Online or Attack on Titan or just another lousy light novel spat off the assembly line filled with every tired cliché imaginable. Izetta reminded me of why I really love fantasy anime and filled a gap I haven't had in quite a while.
The story is wonderful, it's a really refreshing take on WWII by making it more alternate history with fantasy as opposed to another war time drama about how hard it was in Japan at that time. No one denies life was terrible during those times but we have plenty of movies from Grave of the Fireflies to Barefoot Gen that explore that already.
Watching the two girls, Fine and Izetta share a bond and a common desire to bring a quick end to the war and building what feels like a sweet romance (though never going beyond subtle) makes for wonderful dramatic pathos the show needs and keeps it from being just another generic action show.
The visuals of the characters take a little getting used to at first, they're not quite as smooth and clean looking as some others but by no means does the animation feel cheap or rushed. They just looked a little strange to me at first but I was also watching Sound Euphonium which had wonderful visuals so maybe just a little whiplash. The great thing about anime is there are so many visual styles to pick from and it's that kind of variety I truly enjoy about the medium.
There's a lot of excellent special effects work with explosions, flight, dust, smoke and other little things a list that could go on and on; the combat scenes use just enough CGI that it looks good without being gaudy or distracting and naturally there's some very beautiful art direction with great color choices and great scenic art from the little capital city nestled in the mountains to the cold industrial heart of Germania.
There are moments some would say are fan service oriented but I'd argue otherwise. Yeah some of the camera angles might be misplaced and we all saw the scene of Izetta being squeezed into a corset which is played for laughs than usual play for the senses.Frankly after seeing the gratuitous amount of pointless fan service in Dragonar Academy, yeah I'm not still over that, everything in Izetta is tame rather reminding me of Murder Princess.
Izetta's music was handled by Michiru and it's actually pretty good on its own though I'd question some of the arrangements during some of the more intense scenes but it's overall a nice package and certainly a score that is worth a listen. I picked up the original soundtrack and love every track on it, but none more so than it's signature motif that shares it's name with the anime title. The score does remind me quite a bit of Yuki Kajiura; not to take away from Michiru's own accomplishment with the score. I really hope to see some more anime soundtracks out of her, I think she's got real potential as an anime composer. The opening theme song is okay, it does have a weird fusion of J-Pop with heavy guitars, so it's pop-metal? That might be pushing it. I guess it does fit the industrial feel of the opening animation, with many shots of tanks, military might and equipment. The ending theme song was a favorite of mine from 2016, "To Where the Light Is" by May'n a very solemn and somber song very perfect for the mood of the show. I really enjoyed the ending as a solemn song to counter the high tempo opening. You know this reminds me of Chrono Crusade with the spirited opening by Minami Kuribayashi and the solemn ending by Saeko Chiba.
I watched the show in Japanese with English subtitles and have been able to hear of Funimation's dubbing, it's okay sounding, might take more getting used to after some watching but I think they've had better dubs in the past. Makes me wonder how the eagerness to dub brand new shows as they are coming out is starting to affect quality but I'm not ready to panic yet. For those wanting to stick to Japanese you won't be disappointed with our leading lady, Saori Hayami as Fine and Himika Akaneya as Izetta.
I think Izetta the Last Witch is a wonderful and underrated show worth a watch for fans of action, history or just those looking for a fun fantasy that isn't another cheap SAO clone. Unfortunately for Izetta, while gaining some early praise opinions largely dropped off into criticism. It's the nature of the beast at times with TV shows they can start strong but falter, I've seen my fair share of shows that have done that but regardless of what everyone else thinks I found Izetta a fun experience from start to finish and one of my favorites of 2016. Who knows this may end up on my list of anime I love but nobody else does. It just hits the right notes, historical fiction, fusions of magic with technology without going to mechs and great action sequences. Lord knows we can use some more original anime and it's a shame when it doesn't capture the imagination of the masses. Regardless, I can only hope this anime does well enough to spur other creative original productions to come.
*As full disclosure, I contributed to the game's Kickstarter campaign* Growing up with games like Mario 64 and the Banjo-Kazooie games (minus Nuts and Bolts) I was all to happy and willing to return to the classic collect-a-thon games of old, especially a indy game created by the many talents who departed from Rare who made the Banjo games a reality. Yooka-Laylee is that upfront, a collect-a-thon revival (or Rarevival as they put it) and if those weren't your kind of games back then this certainly won't be but does it catch what made the old games like Banjo great? Yes and no.
First the pros: I'm all for cheesy and fourth-wall-breaking humor and Yooka-Laylee is packed full of it especially the little double entendres that were littered in Banjo which lead to the the rompus Conker's Bad Fur Day. Laylee is basically this game's Kazooie, full of snark and snide remarks while Yooka serves the Banjo role being the reasonable one. The cartoon atmosphere and characters are a little more fleshed out even for a game that isn't primarily focused on the story adding to a nice touch.
Though the game features fewer worlds than the games that came before it, (understanding for an indy project) the smaller scale of the game is mostly made up for by the expansiveness of the worlds you can achieve by collecting more Pagies to unlock more of the world and a small cast of colorful characters to come across.
The music is splendid returning many former veteran composers of Rare making a wonderfully catchy and eclectic soundtrack. The game really hearkens back to the sound-voices as a sub for speech bringing back the old Banjo charm, though this may wear thin on some, you can always adjust the sound settings in the menu.
But now the cons, control wise, the game is mostly fine but it seems in 20 years we still have not managed to fix the bane of all 3D platforms, the camera. The camera is especially bad for specific mini games and boss battles where sight and depth are the key to winning or simply surviving. With hoop games so frequent, loosing your bearings while trying to find the next hoop to literally jump through can eat up precious seconds needed to win the game and in the case of the first world boss battle dodging obstacles is next to impossible. Flight controls suffer both in control and camera whether by design or negligence and trying to do anything but move from point-a-to-point B is terrible when it comes to flight.
Though I did say the game isn't light on content it still suffers padding issues with poorly conceived and strikingly difficult arcade style mini games and a cheap luck driven quiz game. Time limits can be arbitrarily tight and unforgiving at times. It's understandable some play games for tough challenges but I more play for entertainment and fun and challenge can be fun when it feels balanced and fair.
Yooka-Laylee is a game I didn't pay a great amount into so I can say I got my money worth. Issues I mentioned I hope can be worked out if more games in this or similar franchises can be worked out.
Impressive to a First Timer
Though I didn't really grow up playing Zelda on the NES or SNES I've come to fall in love with the series over the last couple of years, from the music to seeing some of the games, I thought what a better time to finally make the plunge and play the game than with the hotly anticipated BOTW for Nintendo Switch and Wii U. I chose the Wii U version.
Of course the story is pretty simple, Gannon is evil, now stop him and how you do that is largely up to you. The routes you take, the quests you do, the story you watch take shape through your actions or lack of actions. I've never been a big puzzle game person and BOTW will offer some puzzles ranging from tutorial to head scratching that requires some deep thought on the best way to solve. Many of these puzzles do have multiple ways to solve it.
The vast open world wastes no time getting down to business with nothing more than a pair of shorts you are thrusted and expected to figure things out. Thankfully the game is very intuitive it's not hard to pick up on what needs doing and how to do it, quickly, especially in combat. As the game progresses you continue to explore the large and vast world of Hyrule and figure more challenges and obstacles, much through trial and error.
Traveling is time consuming, you will spend a great deal of time moving from place to place. There is always something to see and do, finding a shrine to solve a puzzle or uncovering more of the map by climbing large towers. Doing the shrines is optional but will benefit you in the long run by allowing you to increase health and stamina to better handle the obstacles.
Combat while intuitive is more often a hassle than a reward. Weapons are puzzling fragile and break after so many uses. While weapons and shields plentiful, you're still limited by what you can carry, unless you want to embark on quests to expand your inventory by finding tiny little needles in the large haystack of the world. Breaking weapons is all to common as even with the best weapons you're still only doing chip damage on tough enemies and bosses.
Cheap one-shot-kills also seem oddly common, even when equipped with armor getting a single arrow in your side or a lucky swipe from an enemy you'll be dead before you hit the ground. The game can still be forgiving in this sense, when you are knocked on your knees you'll have a decent moment to get back up to defend yourself before more damage can be done. Save scumming can help prevent excessive setbacks and the auto-save system works as well as it needs.
I can't speak for the Switch but the Wii U version suffers lag and even momentary lockups at times. I know this game has been in development for a long time and I know game consoles like the Switch aren't made overnight so no doubt R&D and development had to have been working on since the early days of the game's production but the fact the issues are happening when the Wii U has been on the market for several years, this is a first-party-in-house development by Nintendo just screams amateur hour.
BOTW is a visually impressive and fun game with a few minor irritants. The frustration though does lead to more and more desire to continue and push on instead of surrendering and that is the mark of a great game.
Kuzu no honkai (2017)
I'll have to let Scum's Wish (Kazu no Honkai) be a good reminder to really examine the premise of a show more closely before watching. The genres were interesting enough to catch my eye in the first place, romantic drama, psychological and so on it sounded like good makings for a more serious romance after watching the more light hearted and bubbly romance shows that I loved such as One Week Friends, Yona of the Dawn and Snow White With the Red Hair so the best I could hope for is something like Destiny of the Shrine Maiden (Kannazuki no Miko) but rather I end with was School Days redux that mysteriously is trending better than School Days.
The basic concept of two teenagers forming a pact to quell their loneliness should sound and come as a heart breaking romance or the potential of a feel good story where they find the love with each other, maybe a cautionary tragedy a deconstruction of the Romeo and Juliet plot, or just simply learn to accept and move on from their first loves but the first episode left such a sour taste in my mouth that I only hope for a miserable end to our two little losers who deserve what they get. Hanabi Yasuroka is in love with an older man who is her teacher but curiously refers to him as her older brother despite no relations. I'm convinced they do that to have a incest or sister-brother-complex without having to do that. And you have Mugi Awaya likewise is in love with a teacher that is in love with the man who Hanabi is in love with then we're introduced to Noriko Kamomebata who is in love with Mugi and then to Sane Ebato who is in love with Hanabi, but wait there's more! Turns out the music teacher Akane Minagawa likes to use men! Can this awful love web become more convoluted and ridiculous? Though having no actual romantic ties our two main characters certainly love to get physical enough to have the most casual sex and try to write it off as nothing and love to deny being anything more than cheap friends with benefits. Anime fans laud this show for the "maturity" but casual sex in an anime isn't maturity it's just fan service that goes a little further than the usual bouncing boobs and panty shots.
The first episode by itself is a mess in structure jumping between time periods of past and present and the confusing referral of Hanabi's love interest as her brother leads a viewer to believe this may be an incest based anime. In fact I'm convinced that's why is just to give it an incest angle for the incest fetish without having to do incest. The second episode began to narrow its focus but everything keeps jumping around it becomes hard to tell what is ever going on at any given time because of the massive story leaps. But the writing only spirals more and more as the dialogue gets to near Twilight levels of insufferable. It's amazing to also see how much Mugi denies that he and Hanabi have sex even though we get a full scene with her in bed stroking his erection.
The animation looks all right, aesthetically it's quite pretty and seems to go for a manga vibe with split screen and paneling. However they have a real tendency to abuse the hidden eyes trope many anime do wherein a characters eyes will disappear either to reflect deep emotion or be scary and intimidating for a moment. Many anime do this from time to time but I can't say I've seen an anime do it so much.
The music feels to be the one redemption to this otherwise piece of garbage as were treated to a very nice original score by composer Masaru Yokoyama (of Your Lie in April fame) with some very pleasant to listen to melodies that enrich the atmosphere but it's too bad this isn't atmosphere I want to be in.
Scum's Wish I feel is trying to go for a "so uncomfortable" vibe, which can be done well, one only need watch David Fincher films but the cast of deplorable characters added with the sappy, convoluted over the top writing make this show unbearable to sit through.
Boku dake ga inai machi (2016)
Taut and Gripping Thriller
ERASED also known as Boku dake gai Inai Machi is the breakout winter hit for 2016 based on the manga by the same name. Going into this series I was largely skeptical, between Aniplex as a business souring me on shows produced by them, the show's director being the same who did Sword Art Online adding to that a time travel plot I was set up for this to be a failure. The only thing this had going for me was hopefully a passable Yuki Kajiura score. From episode one I was already hooked and as the series continued on I was immensely pulled in by the strong atmosphere and strongly woven mystery.
Time travel usually falls along one of two plot lines, set-right-what-once-went-wrong or change the future sometimes with overlap of both. In the case of Erased we have an overlap as our main character Satoru goes back to his past to rewrite the wrongs of history to solve a kidnapping he feels partly responsible for, for not doing enough to possibly prevent it in the first place and help a friend who was set up to take the fall for such a crime. Through the course of several episodes we see him craftily work out tactics as a grown man occupying the body of his 10-year-old-self. Slowly but surely he has to make a connection with Kayo, a seemingly cold and distant person but finding out she's a girl hiding incredible amount of pain in her life.
As the episodes progress the series really is less about the time travel and more about a kid trying to do the right thing, even if that kid is really an adult. If not for the clever visual reminders and the ongoing mystery of the future which propels Satoru back in time, it would be easy to forget this is supposed to be a time traveling mystery.
If the show has a few shortcomings it does unfortunately suffer slightly by it's short length. With a 12 episode count a good chunk of the story is focused on Satoru's efforts to save his classmate, Kayo Hinazuki from a grim fate and terrible home life while the other victims of the story largely come in and are quickly resolved. The who-done-it aspect of the mystery might not hold you for long thanks to some fairly obvious clues and hints but then again plenty of red herrings can keep you guessing all the same.
The finale does bring some good emotional closure but as it is but felt rather rushed and anti-climactic as a culmination of 11 episodes worth of suspense and buildup. In spite of the flaw the dramatic pathos and tight scripting of the series as a whole should keep you engaged consistently.
The animation by A-1 Pictures is quality with many good uses of symbolism in its art, color design and cinematography. The art of the manga is evolved to fluid and dynamic looking animation with clean looking character designs making them adaptable and distinguishable.
Yuki Kajiura's music shapes up to make a good atmospheric score using her usual blend of synth and real instruments to mix and match mood of the series highs and lows. The opening theme provided by Asian-Kung-Fu Generation feels like a standard rock song but with a few listens manages to mesh decently into the series as a whole. The ending by Sayuri is a song bolstered by a good melody written by the accomplished Kajiura but hampered by a poor arrangement by Ryou Eguchi.
ERASED in the end proves to be a gripping thriller filled with many emotional twits and turns and will leave you consistently on the edge of your seat. A few shortcomings aside I can't deny it had me biting my nails through most of it and I highly recommend it.
Star Wars: Battlefront (2015)
Star Wars Battlefront III or rather the uninspired "reboot" of the original two games, shows DICE and EA pumped all their resources into making the game nice and pretty but lack in the game play department. Perhaps instead of taking a glorified field trip to Skywalker Ranch and all the filming locations of the Star Wars films, DICE would have better spent their time playing the original two Battlefront games and refining all the fine elements from them and weeding out the weaker elements. But instead they fall back onto making the game like every other first-person-shooter to have come out in the last several years. With half of the worlds as the original two Battlefront games with no first-player campaign mode, (Galactic Conquest, Story Mode, Instant Action) and most of the actual meaty content relegated to online play, assuming you can shell out the money for XBox Live.
The game's main modes are glorified tutorial quests, survival campaigns and death matches all feeling so underwhelming and just not fun. Star Wars has a plethora of planets, worlds, concepts to use but DICE went with the familiar few with the addition of one or two more to make it look like they're actually trying. There is aerial combat in the game but it's very stilted and just kind of boring; though I never cared much for the space battles in the original Battlefront. Oh but there is more content if you give EA Games even more money for a "season pass." In other words pay twice for the price of one game! I had little hope when I heard EA was going to be the one behind this game and the end result was exactly as a I expected, dull, inspired Call of Duty Clone catered to the annoying little kids who have been raised on Call of Duty. The missions are dull most of the content is online and multiplayer because apparently EA thinks nobody plays games alone anymore. The graphics are pretty but that's no surprise there and the game does control very well and shockingly you actually get the option to play first or third person. Battlefront is garbage, the originals were far better and it's hard to say why EA couldn't stick to that concept.
Five Nights at Freddy's (2014)
Actually Rather Clever
Five Nights at Freddy's or FNAF as sometimes shortened has taken the gaming world by storm it seems as a breakthrough hit of 2014 and a new darling of the independent scene. The game a simple point and click survival game seems pretty simple but has enough layers of complexities to make it interesting.
With all the buzz and hype surrounding it and a very passionate and vocal fanbase around it, it's no doubt causing enough of the love-it-or-hate it rift among gamers, with some saying this is incredible and other saying it's the worst thing to happen to games. Here is my take. Yes I do enjoy these series of games and this one caught me by surprise.
Survival Horror games lately have been something of a dying breed as the technology of games has improved incredibly the need of suspense has gone with it. Flashy graphics, high quality animations have subverted the need for old time spooky feelings. FNAF however is survival horror at its very basic because all you can do is survive.
While it is easy to write FNAF off as simply a game of nothing more than cheap jump-scares and it has plenty of them, the suspense of the game lies in playing with your auditory senses, before the robots come to scare you and your reflexes as you use only a few basic measures to keep your self alive. You don't walk around, you don't blast away zombies or other monsters, you sit and you open and close doors, check cameras to keep tabs on your foes and hold out enough power. It doesn't sound the most riveting but its the simplicity that captures the imagination. It's a very back to basics form of gaming that's been lost in the era of highly bloated budgeted games.
The scare factor wears off as the nights progress and FNAF becomes less of a scary game and more of a game of luck and stress management, especially when you delve into the extremely difficult mode by setting all AI program levels to max. Your patience and your tolerance for loud screeching sounds will be tested and for someone like me who has never been a fan of purely luck driven games somehow I managed to still find it enjoyable.
FNAF can scare you, bore you or just catch your imagination with the absurd amount of lore surrounding this game. Fans have really elevated a simple concept with a horrifying in-universe back story and Scott Cawthon has been all to happy to oblige by expanding on this and giving just enough taste of mystery and suspense to keep us coming for more.
Seikoku no Dragonar (2014)
Roger Ebert famously wrote on the movie North how much he "hated this movie. Hated, hated, hated, hated, hated this movie. Hated it. Hated every simpering stupid vacant audience-insulting moment of it."
That sums up perfectly how I felt about Dragonar Academy. I hated this series so much I had to write a quick review about how utterly disgusted I was when the series began. Now months later here's a re-write giving a little more detail about why this show is truly as terrible as it is even though the rest of the reviews are throwing roses to it and it somehow managed a shockingly high 7.8 score.
Dragonar Academy is awful. If you're the type to enjoy shows like these then maybe it's for you but if you are looking for something even remotely entertaining stay away from this garbage. Dragonar Academy was produced by newcomer C-Station and directed by Shunsuke Tada of the Tsubasa Chronicle video series and Kuroko's Basketball.
I didn't have high expectations going onto this but I was curious and much of my morbid curiosity stemmed from the fact C-Station was once apart of Bee Train, a studio that many have come to hate over the years but I still remain a fan today for their vast and highly imaginative works. By 2012 however it seemed Bee Train made a quiet retreat from the business with it's aged founder and director likely retiring and this sub studio breaking out on their own.
Anime is full clichés that never seem to die and Dragonar Academy is so packed full of them it shows just how void this show is of any shred of creativity or imagination. Count them, Giant bouncing breasts on all women characters, naked magic girls showing up from nowhere and mood swinging characters and that's just scratching the surface of all the stupid tropes that are ripe and abound in this series.
As C-Station's first produced effort, it's a marginal failure on just about everything it sets out to do. Taking from probably equally lazy source material, the scripts written by Noboru Kimura are shoddy and thrown together with no thought or effort behind them. Many tropes from Mai-Hime, which Kimura wrote the manga for, are present in this it feels like deja vu all over again. Basically this amounts to being a fantasy slapped into school setting for no good reason.
There's a large cast of cookie cutter characters that will bore you with just how uninspired they are. We have Ash Blake, typical do-gooder-main character, Silvia whom feels like she might have some depth but in the end is only a shallow attempt at depth, her loyal maid servant who clearly is supposed to be clever and in on some grand scheme and Echo the dragon, a girl with no concept of any of our silly "Human Standards" as an excuse for her to be brash and walk around naked when the producers feel like it. This show is a cliché of clichés and this is barely forgivable from a group of first time creators but this comes from several long time animators.
Topping off this we're treated to many moments of soft core tentacle porn, a trope you thought would have died out in the 80s but somehow has found a modern revival. Between Ash being molested in his dreams and given oral sex and the moments of tentacle molestation of our characters I'm surprised the producers didn't just opt to make this a porn and call it a day. There's so much fan service and tentacle action you'd swear that ARMS Company the makers of Queens Blade and Elfen Lied were the ones animating this series.
The series animation and art is just as lazy with ugly looking dragons to top off the grossly exaggerated character designs. One would think with a show centered all around dragons it would be the one thing you could get right. Half the time you won't see any dragons and it will be mostly focused on whatever lame slice-of-life scenarios ripped from every other show of it's kind. The dragons are oddly colored and look like they're stained in hard water spots you'd find on a mirror and the character animation is laughable. I'll admit I do like some of the designs namely of Anya and Silvia but that's about it.
The music was about the only thing memorable about it, at least the score was, the theme songs were typical J-pop song that feels the need to shore-horn in the entire cast for some odd reason. I can't imagine every seiyu in Japan has singing talent, yet it seems every anime that features a pop opening has to use its cast for some reason; another thing that really needs to go away.
Dragonar Academy has to be the most uninspired, unoriginal, unimaginative, most creatively bankrupt show I've seen. With its cast of clichéd, cookie-cutter-anime stereotypes, terrible character designs terrible animation and over the top pointless nudity and sexual content it wouldn't surprise me if it's source material was just as lazy. Beating down dead tropes that have saturated the market of the last several years alone and still going. This is a show that would barely make the grade for a crappy one episode direct-to-video, forget a 12 episode season.
Perhaps it's not fair to compare or expect C-Station to be the successor to a studio I adored which made most of its work with the very auteur director Koichi Mashimo but it goes even beyond Bee Train now as we are seeing the potential end of Studio Ghibli and in this era of remakes, reboots and horrid stuff like Dragonar Academy we need these creative forces more than ever but as long as the otaku keep running things expect more light novel adaptations but hopefully those will have a little less soft core and a little more plot.
Selector Infected WIXOSS (2014)
Mediocer Attempt of Being A Dark Edgy Answer to Card Games
With the overwhelming success of Puella Magi Madoka Magica it was inevitable that the copycats were going to start coming. Then enter the Wixoss series a series not only built to push merchandise but also be the dark and edgy answer to card game and tournament based shows the way Madoka Magica was for Magical Girl shows.
Produced by J.C. Staff the and split into two series, the first series known as Selector Infected WIXOSS delves into a popular card game played by teenagers known as you guessed it, WIXOSS. The second series then picks up shortly after the events of the first series to delve deeper into the psyche of the games and the girls who play them. At least it would if this show had a good script.
The plot of WIXOSS is a fairly messy. From the unanswered questions about our main character to why the game only seems to appeal to girls and to wishes and what it means to lose your wish. While I do feel this was a series made to capitalize on Madoka's popularity it still does enough to stand on its own without being too much of a copycat. But it's definitely not as tight as Madoka in scripting.
Mari Okada is a pretty weak writer, most of the stuff I've seen by her is really bland and this series isn't much different. It seems like she has a lot of great ideas but those ideas for whatever reason just pitter out when executed. Frankly, a lot of this series comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb.
So many times you get moments building up to something only to amount to nothing. It's rather ironic because this series actually is kind of a slow moving one. It's nice to see a show build on its atmosphere and take its time but somehow in all that it doesn't do much to develop its main character. Take for example Ruuko, it's apparent she was abandoned by her mother for some odd reason but it's never explained why. Normally this wouldn't be a big deal but there are a few scenes that actually show her mom saying something cryptic about Ruuko. Character ambiguity is fine, but don't tease and hint like there's something important only to not pay it off later. Even Akira doesn't delve into her history and use it against her like she does with Yuzuki and Hitoe. It's a shame because that certainly would have made for a good episode and a good duel to have.
And given that the character Mayu was neglected and abandoned wouldn't that have been a very interesting parallel to delve into? Instead of the entire back story of the random author who served only to give MORE exposition? We learn more about the supporting cast than our own main character! Many times problems like these come out through short season lengths but the Wixoss series had TWO seasons and much of Spread Wixoss already felt padded out. Much of the dialog ends up getting muddled down in trying to explain the rules of the game but I don't even think Okada understands the rules herself. There's also a pretty gaping plot hole with Hitoe bouncing back from her own tainted wish.
The animation is nice mostly; the character designs are pretty good the art direction is all right but the battles are nothing special because there's so few of them and when we do see them it's mostly one firing an attack and the other absorbing the blow. For a show about card game battling in a supernatural parallel universe, it surprisingly features very little card game battles. Yeah it's refreshing to not see battles stretched obscenely long, especially considering this series was made to promote the game but they always seem to be over in just a few moments or worse we cut away before the action can start only to come back when it's over.
The bright spot of this mediocre series is surprisingly is the music. The theme songs in either season aren't anything memorable but I really do like the original score by Maiko Iuchi. It really adds to the overall atmosphere building suspense, tension and mood. I really want to find this OST because this is really one of the better scores I've heard in a long while. It's a dark psychedelic electronic score and it meshes so well into a series.
The two WIXOSS Series are OKAY at best. It does some things nice like not dragging card battles out for many episodes at a time and the music is really good. I do like much of the cast but Ruuko in particular could have really used more development and some of the battles could have gone on a little longer.
Gekijô-ban Kâdokaputâ Sakura (1999)
Fun Little Side Story
Spinning a movie off from an ongoing anime series is a popular trend and has been for ages. Cardcaptor Sakura being a series that has drew in wide appeal naturally was destined for a big screen treatment of it's own back in the series run. This movie, Cardcaptor Sakura the Movie is set sometime in the middle of the series making this story act as an interquel to expand on the ongoing series. One difficult aspect about making a movie from a serial adventure of the week is making it worthwhile and the Cardcaptor movie delivers on the worthwhile aspect. The main series of Cardcaptor Sakura is about Sakura capturing a set of magical tarot styled cards and ensuring their power remains sealed.
This movie story tells it's own unique side-quest adventure scenario featuring Sakura, her best friend Tomoyo, her older brother Touya and her childhood crush, Yukito going on a trip to Hong Kong. True to the style of Cardcaptor Sakura's story this trip is no luck of the draw but the will of the universe and fate itself. This gives a sense the real sense of being fresh and original and doesn't let the movie feel like a slightly longer episode.
The pacing can be a bit on the slow side, Sakura sees the same dream several times as a means to build a sense of foreboding this may dissuade some and feel a bit like padding.
The animation is of high theatrical quality for the era and still looks very good today. The lighting and color tones are softer and darker compared to the brighter television series but it looks very well done especially on later Bluray remasters. Studio Madhouse teamed with famed Studio Ghibli for the film's special effects and visually it's an impressive marvel of animation for the late 90s. Fluid cinematography adds to the overall energy of the film.
The acting is about what you might expect if you are familiar with the series. The original Japanese cast returns and they do the job all the same as the series which was good as it is for the kind of show it is that is a silly, bubbly and upbeat series. The English dub is best avoided but if you do need to watch it dubbed seek out the mostly uncut version which features the story intact but do keep in mind the names are all Westernized. The heavily edited and trimmed down "Cardcaptors the Movie" is best avoided all together.
A relatively short film, the Cardcaptor Sakura movie will provide joy to fans of the Cardcaptor Sakura series. Obviously for first time audiences with no knowledge this won't be the movie you'll want jump into of course if you are a fan and this has passed you buy it's never too late to check it out.
Jobanni no shima (2014)
Powerful, Heartbreaking and Sweet at the Same Time
"Giovanni's Island" takes cues from other acclaimed movies such as "Grave of the Fireflies" and "Barefoot Gen" telling a wartime movie from the perspective of a child. This film is set in the first two years following Japan's defeat and surrender in World War II and how the Soviet Union occupied the northern island and with troops have come their families. This evolves into a a story of childhood friendship between brothers Junpei and Kanata who give their names as Giovanni and Campanella from "Night on the Galactic Railroad" by Kenji Miyazawa and a Russian girl named Tanya. What evolves from there is a seemingly simple story of a boy-meets-girl friendship crossing cultural and language barriers. For the first half, the second half of the movie goes into the deportation of Japanese residents and the boys desperately wanting to find their interned father. While the story does divide into two different plots it still keeps the emotion and power going.
The magical feeling between the children's relationship is captured with the visuals as the boys emulate and recite their favorite story of "Galactic Railroad" showing all the imagination of small children. Playing with the train set for the first time just gives that magical feeling that will leave you feeling uplifted.
The heartbreak and tragedy all come out in the second half of the movie as the boys lose their father as a prisoner, are forced to deport their home and eventually little Kanata dies of a serious illness. But the movie rebounds with a uplifting ending of seeing the older survivors return once more to their old homeland to be given their diplomas for primary school and we see Junpei unite with Tanya's daughter and grand daughter.
The film is visually striking being a very stylish hand-drawn animated film even with hand drawn and painted backgrounds. The character designs are all unique and will bear a resemblance to those of Studio Ghibli's work. The imagination and fantasy sequences are beautiful and will capture your own imagination.
Personally I would have liked to have seen a little more time with Junpei and Tanya. We get a fair amount of time with them but the second half of the film they are torn apart. It's understandable but I think that portion of the film could have been a little shorter. We never did get any real closure on the fate of Junpei's father either.
The film goes the extra mile by using real Russian and Japanese dialogue intermixed with each other but at times it seems the characters understood each other just a little too well.
"Giovanni's Island" is a very inspired and impactful post-war character drama with a few minor flaws but otherwise it is a wonderful film that will tug at your heartstrings quite a bit I know it tugged at mine.
Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric (2014)
Sonic Boom is a Sonic Bust
*This review is based entirely on the Wii U* Sonic Boom has roared onto the Wii U and 3DS for this fall complete with a TV Series to tie in. While the TV series proves to be entertaining Sonic Boom on the Wii U proves to be an overall frustrating Sonic game in the latest of a long string of flops for the ever struggling franchise.
"Rise of Lyric" is the first produced effort by newcomer Big Red Button founded by veteran game makers from the studio Naughty Dog. As their first run out the gate is a near marginal failure.
In Sega's attempt to spin off Sonic in a separate direction we're treated to a sling of character redesigns from Yuji Uekawa's character designs from the earlier 3D titles. These new designs aren't bad so much as how they are used in the game. The game's graphics are pretty primitive for a next gen console, while the Wii U is given flak for being comparably underpowered compared to PS4 or Xbox it shouldn't matter as Sonic Team has proved before you can push a marginally underpowered console to full potential we saw this in the Sonic Storybook games for the Nintendo Wii before it.
The game suffers from terrible lag and constant frame rate issues. Even though Sonic Generations had frame rate issues too they suddenly don't look half as bad compared to Rise of Lyric. This is especially frustrating when you are surrounded by a host of enemies or on a long stretch of running.
Speaking of running, Sonic does very little of running in this game, as mostly he moves at a very leisurely jog. Speed sections are limited to long stretches of track that don't offer anything interesting except the occasional side path. Speed sections are few and far between as most of the time you'll be exploring the over sized hub worlds. This Sonic game tries to incorporate elements of modern platformers not typically seen in a Sonic game with a large hub world and side quests These large worlds are horribly confusing due to the bland design of them and the lack of any kind of map, quest system or just simple hint bubbles. When given an objective by an NPC it's your job to eventually find where you need to go.
The stages themselves are incredibly platform heavy but most of the time I can't tell whether I'm in a stage or just another hub area because the transitions are so choppy and there are no title cards indicating you are in a stage. No creative names like Speed Highway or City Escape before it, you're just suddenly in a new area with no explanation.
The platforming sections aren't terrible, after all Sonic was born as a platforming and speed oriented game and I've actually missed some of the platforming aspects in recent games, however like games since Sonic Unleashed most of the stage platforming is a 2.5D perspective instead of a full 3D experience.
Rise of Lyric does have a nifty aspect of rotating you through the roster of characters, Sonic, Tails, Knuckles and Amy in a similar style to Sonic Heroes before it. This is an aspect I did find enjoyable for the most part. The AI can be really stupid at times the as they won't help you in combat but stand around like an idiot. There's also a shoehorned in vehicle section where you float on a river in a hovercraft. Guess they missed the memo that nobody liked the vehicles in Shadow the Hedgehog or Sonic the Hedgehog 2006.
The story isn't really much, it's a retread of the Monster of the Week scenario but there is surprisingly no effort into developing this whole new universe BRB is trying to establish. Perhaps they want you to watch the TV series but the series episodes are only 11 minutes long so don't count on development there. Perhaps they want you to read the tie in comics by Archie instead. Though Sonic has never been the best with storytelling anyway so it's not a big deal. I gotta say I do like the overly cheesy jokes and snarky charm of Sonic. It takes me back to my childhood days of watching Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog which was filled with those quips. Shadow the Hedgehog and Metal Sonic appear in this game but I think they were added as afterthoughts as they appear once and disappear for the rest of the game and their designs aren't terribly different either.
The music is perhaps the worst in this game. Sonic has always had great music but Richard Jacques writes music that might befit a Sonic movie but is forgettable in a video game. No rock or rap tunes to be found just a cinematic sweeping orchestral score that's not very good anyway.
I've compared Sonic Boom to a lot of previous games because well that's what it does, it rehashes a lot of old ideas from older games only badly. 2.5D platforming and combat styles from Sonic Unleashed, rail track running in the Sonic Storybook games, the team-up mechanic seen in Sonic Heroes and random vehicles from Shadow and Sonic '06. This game is not nearly as bad as the botched Sonic '06 but it shows Sega needs to stop trying to reinvent the wheel and make a decent game in the vein of the classics or the Adventure games. This game is not worth the $50 I paid for it and I don't have any confidence in the 3DS game either.