Monthly Archives: June 2014

Aesthetica of a Rogue Hero review

Funimation.

We need to have a word.

Aesthetica of a Rogue Hero definitely made me feel uncomfortable.” – ANN, The Stream.

On the back of the box.

In the dub trailer.

I CAN’T EVEN

Yes, Aesthetica of a Rogue Hero, the show that Funi is quick to remind you made someone uncomfortable. Anyone else remember the godawful trailers and box quotes for Sekirei? “Boobies for the win”? Could you imagine if supermarkets marketed by just putting pictures of bacon on their posters along with the text ‘FOOD ARE GOOD” as if Neanderthals understood the concept of capitalist consumerism. But what do I know? Sekirei sold out at distributor level, so I guess it works. I just hate it when a legitimately good series is impossible to vouch for because it gets shafted with a box that screams “SHHHH, NO PLOT, ONLY TITS NOW”.

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I mean, it’s not entirely inaccurate…

I suppose the question that arises, then, is whether or not Aesthetica of a None Too Catchy Title follows the pattern that Sekirei set out. Well…

Aesthetica of a Rogue Hero (which shall henceforth be referred to as ‘Aesthetica‘) follows ‘rogue hero’ Akatsuki Ousawa, a universal badass who has just returned from a trip to a mystical world of fantasy tropes called Alayzard, having killed its resident Dark Lord. Before he died, however, the Dark Lord asked one last request – that Akatsuki look after his daughter Miu, the pink haired girl with large breasts who appears in all the posters and likely most of the pictures used in this review.

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Yeah, like this one.

I say ‘returned from’ this world, because Aesthetica takes place in two different worlds – ‘our’ world and Alayzard. People from our world get spirited away to Alayzard for… reasons not made entirely clear, actually. Regardless, they usually gain magic powers and combat proficiency when on the other side. Because of this, people who have been on the other side are conscripted into Babel High School, to train them and keep them quarantined.

Akatsuki doesn’t have any magical powers, but what he does have is far more useful – energy manipulation, which basically makes him a walking cheat code, but we’ll get to that later. Akatsuki and Miu join the school, with Miu posing as Akatsuki’s long lost sister.

However, Akatsuki, being a Badass™, instantly takes issue with being corralled and the authority imposed on him by the Babel quarantine, which results in wacky shenanigans as he comes up against the Student Council, who basically act as the military police of Babel. Most of their encounters involve the somewhat overzealous Vice President, Haruka, who is constantly the recipient of Akatsuki’s lewd powers, losing her underwear on a regular basis.

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The face of someone who has suffered loss.

Oh yes, did I mention that? Akatsuki, being a Badass™, is quite possibly the most open and confident protagonist of a sort-of harem comedy since Majikoi’s Yamato Naoe – he’s cocky, insanely powerful, and perverse beyond all belief, but with a heart of gold. If that makes him sound like a Gary Stu… well, he kind of is. But in a more endearing way. Akatsuki’s cockiness and confidence usually leads to funny stuff happening, so I’ll let it slide.

But what is a sort-of harem comedy without more characters? Akatsuki and Miu quickly team up with resident lesbian Chikage Izumi who, in a surprising inversion of anime norms, is full-blood gay, rather than the usual ‘I’m just messing around’ characters we usually see, which is kind of cool in its own way.

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Also on their team is Kuzuha Doumoto, a grade schooler who was moved up to Babel to meet their quota of flat chested younger girls, because anime. Or something like that.

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Quite.

Last is Motoharu Kaidou, a laid-back guy who just appears one day and is suddenly friends with Akatsuki. He plays an important part in the series, but in a clandestine manner, rarely entering open conflict under the guise of being weak. Yeah, right.

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“What? Nooooooo…”

The plot of Aesthetica strikes a decent balance between goofy fanservice and actual plot – the final episodes of the series concern a ‘hero’ from Alayzard returning to our world to hunt down Miu due to the political machinations of her escape. Political consequences? In my anime? That aren’t ham-fisted like in Majikoi? It’s more likely than you think.

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I know, I was surprised too.

And then theres episode 7, the obligatory beach episode in which all the characters go to a beach and participate in a swimsuit tag contest, where Akatsuki’s trunks are the prize. It’s very funny, and – naturally – loaded with fanservice, but it feels legitimate in the grand scheme of the series.

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Aesthetica comes from the same studio and personnel who created the infamous Queen’s Blade series, and it shows – though not in the way you might think. Queen’s Blade is many things, and low budget is not one of them. Aesthetica follows in Queen’s Blade‘s footsteps with extremely slick, sharp animation, with detailed facial animation, bright lively colours and creative character design.

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And some creative camera angles, too.

And the music. Whoo, the music. Go back and listen to that theme song and really watch the intro animation. Classy, no? Kudos to the choice of Faylan’s “Realisation” as the theme of the series – it oozes action and excitement and really gets you in the mood to watch more episodes. It also comes into play in orchestral instrumental form during key moments of the series to drive the scene forward.

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Then again, sometimes the horror just comes naturally.

Voice acting, similarly, is top notch, with Eric Vale (better known as Trunks in Funimation’s Dragon Ball dubs) leading the cast with aplomb. Felicia Angelle in particular blew me away, following her performance as Yuma in High School DxD, showing range and confidence that really inspire. Keep an eye on this one, guys, she’s going places. Mark my words! Special props also go to Ryan Reynolds (no, not that one), voicing Chikage with just the right amount of attitude to sell the character, and the rest of the Funimation cadre who seem to make a living off shows like this – including, but not limited to, Alexis Tipton (Haruka), Monica Rial (Kuzuha), Joel McDonald (Motoharu) and Colleen Clinkenbeard (Queen Listy, from Alayzard).

So, where does that leave the series as a whole? Well, I liked it. I can’t say I felt uncomfortable watching – I’ve seen far worse (Seikon no Qwaser and Manyuu Hikenchou, anyone?). Perhaps that makes me the exception that proves the rule. Regardless, Aesthetica of a Rogue Hero gets a verdict of…

NOT GUILTY

An energetic romp of flashy action and flashing pants, Aesthetica of a Rogue Hero stands out from the pack with a refreshingly badass lead and sheer high quality parts that combine to make an enjoyable whole.

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Nice Power Girl costume, by the way.

 

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High School DxD review

aka One Hell Of A Show

aka Better The Devil You Know

aka The Devil’s Due

aka Rias Gremory Makes Work For Issei’s Hands

No opening video this time, due to uncensored boobles, so you’ll have to make do with the ending credits.

High School DxD is the story of Issei Hyodo, second year student and lecherous pervert at the recently co-ed Kuoh Academy. Issei spends most of his time hanging out with his equally perverted friends, peeping into girls’ locker rooms and generally being a hopeless idiot loser.

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“Damn straight!”

One day on his way home from school, a cute girl asks him to go out with her (I know, right?). And then she turns into a demonic creature (a fallen angel) and straight up murders him. So that sucks.

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Luckily for Issei, the only thing that comes to his mind in his dying moments is Rias Gremory, red haired busty beauty and leader of the school’s Occult Research Club, which as far as last thoughts go is pretty pleasant. Even luckier for him, Rias is a devil – and not just in the kinky sense. Like, actual literal demony devil. Fo rizzle.

…What was I talking about?

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“…Idiot.”

Oh yeah! So Rias, summoned by his dying thoughts of her, revives Issei and brings him back to life as a devil, to serve as part of the Occult Research Club – or more correctly, her family of devils. They’re a colourful bunch, with unique personalities and strengths.

Akeno Himejima is Rias’ right hand. Also known as the Goddess of Thunder, she’s a powerful element manipulator, who is kind and gentle outside of battle. Inside of battle, well…

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I believe the word is ‘sadist’.

Koneko Toujo is ‘the petite one’. You know the type. Small? Check. Ridiculously strong? Check. Flat chested? Check. Generally quiet and stoic, but quick to anger? Check, check, check.

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Then there’s Yuto Kiba, who Issei hated for being the school’s resident pretty-boy girl magnet, but is actually a decent gent. He can summon swords of any type at will, and was created by writer Ichiei Ishibumi to appeal to the female audience.

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A character’s appeal value to ladies is directly proportional to the number of sparkles they emit when they walk into a room.

Anyway, Issei is quickly put to work seeking contracts from people who call upon devils for services. He’s not very good at it, can’t use teleportation circles and so has to ride his bike to each summoner, and seems to get the weirdest clients in town. Worse yet, these summons sometimes put him in contact with extremely dangerous individuals like flamboyant priest Freed Sellzen, who sidelines as a ‘stray exorcist’.

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And as a total freaky weirdo.

Devils, naturally, can’t be near holy objects like Bibles and crosses, or say prayers. This causes problems for Issei when he meets sweet, innocent nun and healer Asia Argento, who strikes up an immediate friendship with him. Though he is forbidden to see her by Rias, she accompanies Sellzen on one of his exorcisms and defends Issei. This eventually leads to her kidnap by Issei’s murderous ex, who is seeking to obtain her healing powers.

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But Issei, having awakened his devil power Boosted Gear – a sweet armour gauntlet that amplifies his power – crashes their little crucifiction party and punches his ex straight to Hell. Sadly, Asia dies having had her powers taken from her, and everything is very sad…

…until Rias brings her back to life, because she did that before, duh.

What I just recited is the first arc of the High School DxD storyline. Why did I do that? Because that means High School DxD fulfils the most basic requirement for any series. IT HAS A PLOT!

NO half-written crap about hating your own country, NO pointless killing time till the last two episodes before bringing up the plot. We’re saved! Cast from the fire straight into the safe bosom of…

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Oh, that’s right.

Therein lies the trade off – in exchange for having a decent plot, High School DxD loads practically every frame with lascivious amounts of fan service. Getting healed? Getting naked.

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Issei gets a new power? It’s the power to make someone naked.

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Dialogue scene? It’ll probably cut to someone getting naked.

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Putting on the ad bumper? Oh, you better believe someone’s getting naked.

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Now, as you know from my past reviews, I don’t have too much of a problem with fan service. Hell, I gave a show that literally had a character shooting milk out of their nipples like a fire hose a reasonably positive rating. On a side note, that also happens in High School DxD. But with acid.

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NO.

But there’s no doubt that it will be a problem for some people, so it only seems fair that I mention that yes, it is a thing. A big thing. A big, bouncy thing. A big, bouncy, soft…

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Where was I? Oh yes. In many ways the amount of fan service is almost appropriate, as it fits with Issei’s perverted personality – it leads to many fun situations where’s he’s SO close to fulfilling his lusty desires before being distracted/stopped/punched, as well as some great English dub dialogue.

The dub was written by experienced voice actress Jamie Marchi (who you may remember from Sekirei, Mnemosyne and Borderlands), who is also the voice of Rias Gremory. The dialogue clearly doesn’t take itself seriously, and features a surprising amount of swearing, which usually makes conversations much funnier. A great example of this is changing the Freed Sellzen line “Are you for real?” to a simple “I’m f**ked.”

Marchi is joined by a mixture of relative newbies and fairly prolific actors and actresses. Issei is voiced with great aplomb by Scott Freeman. Jad Saxton (Faris from Steins;Gate) is absolutely hilarious as the terse Koneko, Tyson Rinehart (Daru from Steins;Gate) is at his wacky, pop culture spewing best in the minor role of Issei’s friend Matsuda, and I would be absolutely remiss if I didn’t at least give a passing mention to the surprisingly amazing Ben Phillips as Freed Sellzen. I see great things ahead of him if he’s able to make characters so memorable in the future. Promising new actresses Teri Rogers and Felicia Angelle respectively play Akeno and Raynere, Issei’s fallen angel ex, with suitably psychotic and sexy overtones. I look forward to their performances in Funimation’s Senran Kagura dub later this year.

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Also, this totally happened.

Visually and aurally, High School DxD has all the hallmarks of a high budget production. Music is catchy and well mixed, the voice acting is clear and doesn’t get swallowed up in sound effects and music (a problem more common than you might think), and the animation is high caliber all round. Fight scenes in particularly are filled with colourful neon flashes, sparks and creative angles.

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So, what are we up to? Well written dub, likeable characters, good sound and visual production, and a plot that actually extends to two full arcs over the 12 episode season. This one’s a no brainer.

NOT GUILTY

While the humour employed might not be the most sophisticated, and the series is practically built on fan service, likeable characters and an enjoyable plot, combined with a decent dub showcasing some of Funimation’s brightest young stars make High School DxD a show worth watching. Just remember to hide it from your mum.

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Seriously.

 

Senran Kagura review

(aka I Should Probably Not Reference Something Without Having Reviewed It First)

WARNING: This review contains spoilers and is mostly just a rant. Enjoy!

Senran Kagura is an anime based on the moderately successful video game series of the same name about the students of Hanzo Academy – a school which houses a secret shinobi training centre – and their struggles against the evil shinobi of Hebijo Academy.

Now, I’ve actually played Senran Kagura Burst, the only game in the series currently released in the UK, so I’m pretty familiar with the characters and storyline represented in the anime – and yes, despite the amount of jiggling on display (actual quote from the back of the box: “Two good reasons to turn on your 3D!”), there really is a good story.

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No, really.

You see, Senran Kagura shares a writing credit with 9 Persons, 9 Hours, 9 Doors, Yukinori Kitajima. 999 is well regarded as having excellent, dark writing, and Kitajima wanted to continue this as scenarist in Senran Kagura – but the producer, Kenichiro Takaki, wanted something lighter and funnier. Eventually they settled on a happy medium of a light atmosphere with occasional flashes of darker themes, and frequent flashes of underpants.

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Wheeeeee!

The game itself is a fun Streets Of Rage-like beat em’ up – fast, flashy and frenetic to the extreme, an excellent addition to a dying genre. I liked it far more than I thought I would, and was especially impressed by the way the characterization was handled, creating characters that actually feel lively, with believable motivations and back stories. Apparently I’m not the only one, as Shinovi Versus achieved more preorders than Mario Kart 8 and Watch Dogs at Gamestop upon its announcement – which, for a niche title on an arguably failing handheld console, is an outstanding achievement.

But that’s enough of the history lesson – the point I’m making is that the series was popular enough to warrant the creation of an anime. Does it hold up? Is it an accurate representation of the source material? Or is it another case of Personafouritis? Let’s find out!

As I said before, Senran Kagura follows the five shinobi students of Hanzo Academy:

Asuka, ostensibly the main character, a second year student, wielder of Kodachi swords and toad powers.

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Ikaruga, class rep, third year student, wielder of the nodachi sword ‘Hien’ and phoenix powers.

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Hibari, clumsy first year student, wielder of panicked flailing and rabbit powers.

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Yagyuu, extremely powerful, stoic first year student, sister figure to Hibari and wielder of an umbrella and squid powers.

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And everyone’s favourite pervert, Katsuragi. Energetic third year tomboy, wielder of face-stompin’ boots and dragon powaaaaaas.

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And also the ability to conceal her nipples in that shirt without using staples.

They are lead by their master, Kiriya, and occasionally advised by the legendary shinobi Hanzo, Asuka’s grandfather and the man the school was named after.

As shinobi in training, the Hanzo students rarely undergo real missions, but one trivial assignment brings them into contact with a group of ‘evil’ shinobi from Hebijo Academy, lead by their probably-inappropriately-dressed-for-the-job teacher Suzune.

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Seriously, how is she supposed to run with–I mean, IN those?

Homura, Asuka’s rival, is the severe, tanned leader of the Hebijo elite five. She wields SIX swords all at once, like Freddie Krueger’s claws.

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Haruka, Hibari’s… fancier, is a master manipulator and human puppet master. And maybe a bit of a dominatrix.

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Maybe.

Mirai, who wishes she was Yagyuu’s rival, uses guns. Lots of guns.

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Yomi, Ikaruga’s rival, hates rich people because she was poor, but loves bean sprouts. A lot. Too much.

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Lastly we have Hikage, a serpent-like girl with no feelings. Katsuragi wants to beat feelings into her.

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Now, the reason I’ve devoted so much time into discussing the characters of the Senran Kagura universe (and posting so many images), aside from the fact it makes this review seem longer, is that characterization and motivations are the aspects that make the series enjoyable. Quite aside from the fact that all the characters have distinct personalities and designs (easily identifiable silhouettes are a must!), their motivations are key to making the series work.

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Even if that motivation is ‘touch more boobs’.

And then the anime took a lot of those motivations and threw them out the damn window. But we’ll get to that.

The Senran Kagura anime pretty closely follows the game itself – evil shinobi attack good shinobi, trounce them royally, good shinobi train harder, get better, fight back, win. And maybe there’s some defection and a huge demonic force that brings them all together in the end, but that’s getting into spoiler territory.

However, as someone who enjoyed the game, I find myself finding flaws in the way the anime series handles things. The ‘evil’ shinobi in the games are, as the inverted commas suggest, not actually evil. They’re just making the best of a bad situation – a direct quote from the series is “the light favours few, the dark accepts all”. Essentially, you need a spotless track record and family of good shinobi to become one, whereas the ‘evil’ shinobis accept anyone, but subject them to gruelling training exercises.

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Ladies and gentlemen, the face of a hardened killer.

While this is touched on in the anime, something about the way the Hebijo students are written rubs me the wrong way (no, not like that), in particular Haruka and Hikage. Haruka is portrayed in the games as being a manipulative sadist to her foes and underlings, but kind and motherly to her friends. She holds an especially soft spot for Hibari as soon as they meet, and desires her friendship. In the anime, she’s just a manipulative sadist to everyone, seems to lust after Hibari and eventually just wants to make her into one of her mindless thrall dolls, something that she would NEVER do in the games – she threatens it all the time, but would never do it to Hibari.

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Correct.

But it’s Hikage that sadly gets the worst of the rewrite treatment. In the games, Hikage is completely devoid of emotions, and grew up on the streets, adopted by a gang leader who was killed in a fight. Hikage found her body in an alleyway and took her knife as a reminder. It’s a sad story that resonates with her constantly blank face and monotone voice. Katsuragi wants to fight her so that she can expose the emotions one feels when involved in a good battle. Hikage mostly just responds with lazy curiosity.

In the anime, she was a soldier conditioned to fight without feeling, and Katsuragi wants to fight her ‘because she’s strong’. The first time we see her she is SMILING. What.

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EVERYTHING IS LIES

It’s baffling that the huge amounts of dialogue in the games dedicated to painting the Hebijo characters as likable if misguided misfits is almost completely passed over in the anime, instead pretty much labelling them squarely as villains. Sure, they have their little redemption near the end, but there’s no real powerful moments where their humanity really shines through.

Thankfully, the rest of the cast is largely kept as was in the games, with some characters even being improved upon. Master Kiriya, formerly designated as a side character, has a great deal of involvement in the anime, with particular attention paid to his doubts about his former student Rin. Hibari and Yagyuu’s sisterly relationship is also used to great effect – in the game, Yagyuu had comparatively little dialogue and screen time, despite being such a cool character.

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They have matching swimsuits, so you know it’s legit.

That’s not to say that the plot is a perfect recreation of the games. Hibari’s temporary defection to Hebijo to recover Hanzo’s stolen ninja scroll is handled with no suspense or doubt – she literally leaves a note telling everyone else her intentions. In the game we’re not sure for a long while if it’s because she actually wants to go because she’s clumsy and not ‘fit’ to be a good shinobi, or to recover the scroll.

The final battle, too, is changed – and not for the better. In the games, the Hanzo students attack Hebijo to help Hibari recover the scroll. When each Hebijo student is defeated, they wait for the Hanzo student to leave and have a very sad moment where they commit themselves to suicide for their failure. Asuka and Homura fight on the roof, both using their respective ninja scrolls in an attempt to overpower the other. Homura finally has the power to draw her seventh sword, but is bested by Asuka. Dougen, the principal of the school, uses the combined spirits of the Hebijo students to summon the horrifying demon Orochi and attain ultimate power. Asuka fights and eventually kills the monster and Dougen along with it, and the Hebijo students, alive and well, appear atop the wreckage of the academy, then disappear into the night.

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Like this, but playable.

In the anime? Dougen summons Orochi with the scrolls, and then Suzune tackles him off the roof. Orochi disappears. Homura doesn’t even have a seventh sword.

Do you see what I’m getting at?

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It’s more annoying than getting a piranha stuck in your cleavage.

Aside from these irritations, the series has decent animation, fanservice out the wazzoo, and retains all the original voice actors from the games, which is nice. The fanservice itself involves no nipples, as in the game. Because everyone knows that nipples are the offensive bit, right? Sigh.

Giving Senran Kagura a rating is going to be difficult. I’ve spent the entire review hating on it for deviating from the source material – which I’m totally okay with, IF it goes in a completely different direction, rather than ‘some in, some out’. LA Confidential, The Shawshank Redemption and the original Fullmetal Alchemist series are good examples of where deviation from the source material can be good, or even better. There’s nothing inherently wrong with the story Senran Kagura tells, it’s just not quite the story I know and appreciate. Looking at the anime objectively, there’s a lot to like – it looks nice, sounds good and the music is fantastic. There are points in the soundtrack that sound like To The Moon, some that sound like Persona, some like Clannad. And at least this series has a plot that hangs together well and isn’t boring as hell, unlike some shows I’ve been watching recently.

To be honest, my ‘not proven’ rating was invented for this. Think of it as a ‘your mileage may vary’. Here goes.

 

NOT PROVEN

While an arguably flawed representation of the games it is based on, Senran Kagura may provide some light entertainment for those willing to look past its lackluster characterization and finale, perhaps through the soundtrack, lively animation and fight scenes. However, if you like what you see, I highly recommend buying the game for the true SK experience.

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Now get lost.