Category Archives: Review

Love, Chūnibyō & Other Delusions review

Everyone has something in their life that they’re not proud of. Some people were bullies when they were kids, some people have had relationships they regret…

Some people pretend to be supervillains until they’re 15.

Such is the lot of the interesting bunch afflicted by “chūnibyō”. But what is chūnibyō? Well, as with all odd Japanese, there’s a Wikipedia definition to help us out:

“The tendency of a character to pretend to be a made-up character from fantasy such as a vampire, demon, angel, wizard, alien, warrior or people with special bloodline, often imagining themselves to possess magical/super powers or cursed items. Characters with chūnibyō tend to have a unique manner of speech, dress in gothic clothing, and sometimes wear objects such as bandages or eyepatches to represent their persona. The term refers to 14-15 year-old children, but can also be used to describe characters who exhibit these traits regardless of their actual age. The term is believed to have been coined by Hikaru Ijūin in 1999 and was originally intended to describe things people who are pretending to be “grown-ups” in their second year of middle school.”

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Yup.

Our hero, Yuta Togashi, was a chūnibyō, and the embarrassing memory of his time being the DARK FLAME MASTER haunts his every waking moment. To avoid any awkwardness in his transition to high school, Yuta decides to attend a school miles away from his home, where people won’t know about his sordid past. One problem – other people have a sordid present.

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You see, our heroine, Rikka Togashi, is also a chūnibyō, except she hasn’t quite grown out of it. Worse yet, she and Yuta are in the same class at school, and even live in the same apartment building!

But despite the fact seeing her every day is like looking in a horrible window to the past, Yuta somehow feels obliged to look out for Rikka, help her out with her school club, and maybe even break her chūnibyō habits.

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Along the way they’ll meet a host of entertaining side characters, including a narcoleptic third-year, a spunky grade schooler and a class rep with a sordid past (don’t they all).

So begins an actually rather sweet love story, filled with the kind of care and attention we’ve come to expect from Kyoto Animation.

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The animation, naturally, is beautiful and fluid, with a myriad of small touches and visual flairs that give the scenes set in reality a warm, mellow feeling…

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Still cooler than most gangs.

…and the scenes set in delusions a loud, overzealous fighting spirit.

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Still cooler than Cyclops.

Indeed, one of the best parts of the series is when scenes take an unexpected turn to the outlandish – Rikka and her friends’ delusions are presented on-screen in a classic shonen style with plenty of flashy colours and explosions as they “battle to the death” with their “superpowers” and “weaponry”.

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Thankfully, the English dub is able to keep up with the silly tone of the series with such talents as Leraldo Anzaldua, Brittney Karbowski and Emily Neves in the leading roles.

Margaret McDonald is easily the highlight of the dub as Rikka, in a performance that I think actively improves on the original. While the Japanese dub offers the relatively clichéd squeaky-voiced character you’d cynically expect from the way she’s drawn, McDonald feels much more like a teenager with delusions of villainy. She clearly got into the role, and it pays dividends.

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Plus her character drinks the nectar of the gods, delicious Mr Peter.

The weakest aspect of the dub, in my opinion, is Maggie Flecknoe’s performance as Shinka Nibutani. Unfortunately she just sounds a little too old for the role – a minor character with that voice could have been forgiven, but as a main cast member it ultimately feels a little off. That said, trying to sound like a teenager as an adult is a difficult task, so I can respect the attempt.

Still, overall, I have to give the series a positive rating. It’s really funny when it’s not making you embarrassed for the characters (while watching the first episode of the series one of my friends nearly cringed out of her skin), and has a lot of heart. And really, that’s all I ask of a KyoAni series.

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Nah, I’m good thanks.

NOT GUILTY

A cute, funny, completely inoffensive romance story that never annoys, Love, Chūnibyō and Other Delusions will make you laugh, and maybe even cry – just a little. Bring on season two!

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Kill la Kill review

aka TOO MANY GIFS: THE REVIEW

You know what? Let me just stick this here:

NOT GUILTY

Cool, now that we’ve got that out of the way, let me tell you why Kill la Kill is FREAKING AWESOME.

Once in a while, there comes a media experience that reminds you what human creativity can accomplish. Kill la Kill is one such experience. Let’s have a little look into the behind-the-scenes aspects that make up the series.

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L-R: director Hiroyuki Imaishi; producer Masahiko Otsuka; translator Tatsuru Tatemoto.

Kill la Kill was produced by Studio Trigger, a team created by ex-members of Gainax, a studio famous for such series as Neon Genesis Evangelion, FLCL, Panty & Stocking With Garterbelt and Gurren Lagann. The latter two were directed by Hiroyuki Imaishi, whose first order of business as co-creator of Studio Trigger was to direct Kill la Kill.

Now, if you’ve ever seen Panty & Stocking or Gurren Lagann, you’ll know two things:

One, that Hiroyuki Imaishi is certifiably insane.

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Ladies and gentlemen, Inferno Cop.

Two, that Hiroyuki Imaishi is certifiably awesome.

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Ladies and gentlemen, Gurren Lagann.

Let’s just say the show was destined for greatness from the get-go.

But enough back story. Let’s look at why Kill la Kill kicks so much ass.

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No no no, “kicks”, not “whips”.

Kill la Kill is the story of Ryuko Matoi, a 17-year-old drifter who finds her way to Honnouji Academy, a massive, obelisk-like concrete monstrosity perched atop the top of a multi-tiered shanty town. It kind of looks a bit like the Tower of Barbs from Let It Die.

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Ryuko is on the hunt for her father’s murderer, armed with one half of the weapon used to kill him – a giant pair of scissors! (just go with it)

Her mission brings her into conflict with sinister student council president (and full-time ice queen) Satsuki Kiryuin, and her elite four students, who lord over the academy and submit its students to gruelling exercises, armed with their transforming “Goku Uniforms”.

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You see, each student has their own rank at the academy, from the incredibly wealthy and powerful three-stars, to the lowly no-stars, like Ryuko’s new best buddy, Mako Mankanshoku.

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Regardless, Ryuko is no match for these uber-powerful uniforms, and is quickly dispatched by the forces of Honnouji Academy. But just when her mission seems doomed to failure, she bleeds on a pile of clothing and…

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BAD TOUCH

..she gets accosted by a talking sailor uniform that desperately wants her to wear him. His name is Senketsu, and he’s basically an evolving Goku uniform on steroids. Thus begins Ryuko’s crusade against Satsuki Kiryuin, and to find out the truth about what happened to her father…

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Now, I know what you’re thinking. “Ace, this is sounding dumber by the minute. Scissor blades? Caste systems? Giant structurally unsafe concrete towers? TALKING CLOTHES?” And you’d be right! But here’s the secret weapon up Kill la Kill’s sleeve.

Everything in the series is gleefully, giddily silly, and it knows it. Every aspect of the show, from the writing to the animation to the voice acting is oozing with a combination of over-the-top mid-90s anime cheese and a modern sensibility.

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Indeed.

In essence, Kill la Kill is a parody of shonen series of yesteryear, featuring a cast of big beefy boy and sexy girls with ludicrous “finishing moves”, “techniques” and motivations. Overly-revealing and sexualized transformation scenes evoke famous “magical girl” series like Sailor Moon, but with the added spice of attitude and knowing humour that Trigger is best at.

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No seriously guys, I like it because it’s funny. Honest.

It’s that sense of self awareness that raises Kill la Kill above the rank and file to a place where it can not only be appreciated as great entertainment, but as an indictment of modern anime itself. Far too many anime today focus on ensuring characters look perfect in every frame, every scene, every episode. Kill la Kill is far more inclined to throw consistency out the window in order to give a frame some more punch.

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Character sizes warp and change depending on the situation, attacks launch their victims high in the air, through walls, other people, whatever stands in their way. Everything in Kill la Kill seems to be in a constant state of motion, like a small child who’s eaten too much candy and just can’t. Sit. Still.

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And the characters are great, too! Ryuko and her nemesis Lady Satsuki are easily two of my favourite lead characters now. Ryuko embodies what I love to see in my protagonists – a sense of barely contained bubbling rage occasionally bursting into action, while still being sympathetic. It’s badass.

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And Lady Satsuki? Lemme tell ya, I’ll be her loyal servant any day, yanowataimsayin?

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I’m saying she’s very very scary please don’t kill me

Her ensemble of cronies, too, get a lot of fun moments. Everyone’s favourite Ira Gamagoori, aka MISTER LOUD NOISES is obviously a crowd pleaser, and very much a retro throwback character, though I’m personally partial to Nonon Jakuzure, the obnoxious band leader who fights with the power of classical music.

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For those curious, the English dub of the series features a slew of well-to-lesser known talent, who fill their roles perfectly in a spot somewhere between early 90s cheese and modern professionalism. It features all of the cliches of old-timey dubs (ALL YELLING, ALL THE TIME) but has a sense of razor-sharp wit and awareness that just makes everything fun and punchy.

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FORCED SEGUE

Speaking of listening, the soundtrack of Kill la Kill is easily its weakest aspect. Not because it’s terrible, but because it’s mostly fairly unremarkable. That said, Before My Body Is Dry is a beautiful catastrophe of dubious English, edgy metal and a rap verse. I love it.

So basically what I’m saying is I’ll take re-watching Kill la Kill another eight times before I watch Attack on Titan again. Let me repeat my previous statement.

NOT GUILTY

NOT GUILTY

NOT GUILTY

A pleasure to watch from start to finish. Likeable characters, an engaging plot and stunning, if rough, animation make Kill la Kill one adrenaline rush you won’t want to miss.

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I Couldn’t Become a Hero, so I Reluctantly Decided to Get a Job review

Work is hard. I think we can all relate to that, right? And it’s even harder when you’re not in a line of work you’re actually invested in. Days are long, the pay sucks, and the people you interact with on a daily basis make you want to scream.

Now imagine the job you REALLY wanted was to be a sword-and-shield wielding hero, but instead…

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RETAIL, BABY

Such is the basic premise of I Couldn’t Become a Hero, so I Reluctantly Decided to Get a Job, a title so unwieldy I’m going to refer to it from here on as Yu-Shibu (the official shortened Japanese title).

Yu-Shibu is set in a fantasy world in which magic exists, but is mostly used for banal, practical purposes like microwaves and televisions. However, with magic comes monsters, and the heroes who fight them.

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On the eve of his graduation from a hero academy, Raul Chaser discovers his dream is over – the Demon Lord has been slain, and the world has no more need for heroes like him. With no other place to go, Raul gets a job at a magic shop – Leon – and spends his days bored out of his mind.

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One day, a young lad applies for a job at Leon. He’s an odd duck and, as it transpires, is actually the son of the Demon Lord! And he’s actually not his son, but actually his daughter! Actually!

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How did they ever tell?

Cue a fish-out-of-water story for the ages, as the Demon Lord’s daughter – Fino Bloodstone – attempts to fit in at Leon despite the fact she has no clue how to interact in human society. If it’s starting to sound like this is another The Devil Is A Part Timer, then that’s kind of appropriate.

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The main difference with Yu-Shibu is in the overall message of the show. TDIAPT is all about Satan attempting to fit into human society by working his way from the ground up to conquer Earth, inevitably becoming more comfortable with the change of pace offered by a middle-management position.

Yu-Shibu, on the other hand, is about a guy who has been forced to abandon his dreams in order to work a menial job, when someone with infectious energy enters his life who gives him a new perspective and makes him appreciate what he has, rather than pining over what could have been.

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And Yu-Shibu does this really well! After all, who wouldn’t want to live surrounded by all the weird and wonderful characters in the series. Fino herself is one of my new favourite heroines, and her relatively new seiyuu did a fantastic job – especially that evil laugh. Fino occasionally lapses into Demon-talk, casually discussing torture and other horrible things, which leads to some very amusing moments.

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The supporting cast is strong too, even if many of them do fall into the old character archetypes we’ve come to know and not exactly love. Regardless, I’m quite the fan of the employees of Lawson, a neighbouring shop to Leon, especially Lam.

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Oh yes, sorry, my apologies.

Raul’s old classmate Airi Ortinet is also an interesting character, taken as a direct parallel to Raul in terms of employment and what she’s doing about her lot in life. Saying any more than that would be a spoiler, but trust me, it’s a nice dynamic.

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Really, of all the characters Raul is easily the weakest – but then I suppose he’s probably supposed to be the audience surrogate. He has a couple of heroic moments and saves the day in the end, but he’s still kind of boring.

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You know, the kind of guy who would take his date to an Asda.

From an art standpoint, the series is very bright and colourful, and characters look quite good. The real star is the world itself, but it often feels as though they could do more with the setting. I don’t know, I see dragons pulling cars and yet all we’re shown tends to be magic TVs and microwaves. Spoilers, they look exactly the same.

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A fantastical world indeed.

The series also seems to have that oddly inconsistent animation that affected The Fruit of Grisaia – some scenes evidently have far more effort put into them than others and flow nicely, but it feels more like a nice surprise when it happens, rather than a disappointment when it doesn’t.

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Oh, and in case you were wondering: yes, there’s fanservice in this series. What, were you expecting a gif or something?

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I would never be that tacky.

While for the most part a comedy series, Yuu-Shibu does become a lot more serious towards the end, and while some may argue that it’s somewhat jarring, I feel that it works surprisingly well. The villains have a decent motivation and reason to be there, and are suitably menacing, but they do come at the expense of some plot threads that are introduced but end up as red herrings.

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Like that time Raul silently vowed to murder Fino in her sleep while she ate a sausage, that was weird.

Overall though, I feel like Yu-Shibu is a fun little series that introduces some interesting ideas, populates itself with an interesting, likeable cast and doesn’t wear out its welcome.

NOT GUILTY

Charming, easy-going and funny, Yu-Shibu is a perfect anime to watch in between more serious shows. It’s a little disjointed towards the end, but the concepts will strike close to home for anyone who has ever worked a job they didn’t enjoy.

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Too real!

Food Wars review

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my time here on this planet, it’s that food rules. Stews, pastas, pizzas, pies; the list goes on. And anime rules too. But…what if they combined?

Soma Yukihira is just your average everyday teenager, pulling shifts in his dad’s diner between bouts of high school. He’s popular, his food is good, and his dad is a cool, if eccentric, guy. But one day, his life is shattered when his dad decides to travel the world cooking in fancy restaurants.

Soma, on the other hand, is sent to a new school. Not just any school though, he’s sent to the most prestigious culinary academy in Japan, if not the world.

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Though he initially faces harsh criticism and fierce competition – especially from the beautiful “God Tongue” Erina Nakiri – his charm and optimism see him through arduous challenges on his quest to become The Best There Ever Was™.

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Many a sumo wrestler has tried, and many failed… miserably.

Yes, yes, it’s hardly an original concept when you put it like that – but much like Ben-To!, Food Wars takes a classic concept and injects it with a fresh angle. Instead of battling with swords and shields, the conflicts of Food Wars are settled by Shokugeki – formal cook-offs with high stakes to play for.

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And it’s not like the regular school work is any less intense – regular gruelling tasks quickly separate the wheat from the chaff, and some chefs-in-training struggle to keep their heads above water, like innocent Megumi Tadokoro, who begins to learn and adapt with Soma. It’s a very natural friendship that works really well within the story.

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“Wow, my face is really soft!”

Soma’s living quarters are the Polar Star dormitory, which he shares with Megumi and a bunch of other zany chefs-in-training, all of which are too interesting to describe in a single paragraph – though special mention must go to Satoshi Isshiki, who just refuses to wear anything but an apron for no real reason.

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Pls no

They’re all very charming and likeable, but the real star of the show here is the food itself. If there’s one thing Food Wars does with a passion, it’s food porn.

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Don’t be ashamed if you start to drool, that’s perfectly natural.

Approaching the kitchen with an anime mindset results in a scenes that combine semi-educational recipes with ludicrous spectacle. Cooking is never a simple affair in Food Wars, oh no. Characters cut meat like samurai, toss dough like acrobats and chop vegetables at warp speed, flinging ingredients to and fro.

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I too like to cook stuff while playing an invisible keyboard.

And when the meal is completed, its never just a matter of eating – the food of Food Wars is quite literally orgasmic. Characters recoil and melt into hazy fantasies at the slightest whiff of the dishes in this series, from the sublime…

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To the ridiculous…

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And all places in between. But none of this serves to weaken the series – it’s refreshing to see such a bright, breezy series with its head held high, revelling in the stupidity and using it to its advantage.

It’s also got some pretty sweet fanservice, just sayin’.

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Ahh, nothing like a hot bath of… rice?

Food Wars is a rare example of excess leading to success. There are dozens of characters throughout the series, but they’re mostly given enough screen time to appreciate their individual traits and specialities. There’s a lot of needless fanservice, but it never feels too obtrusive. The series is 24 episodes long, but it doesn’t feel flabby. The art is bright and very “shonen” but never feels too juvenile. It’s pretty much the full gamut.

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SPEED LINES! CHIBIS!

That being said, if I have one complaint about the series, it’s the final arc. Taking place during a cooking tournament, the last four or so episodes are just a stream of dishes shoved under the judges noses and foodgasms. It gets a little wearing as you wait for less interesting characters to have their turn and get to the main characters. And Nikumi.

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Because I favour practical cooking attire.

So all in all, I had a great time watching Food Wars. It made for a good palate cleanser after the god-awful My Wife is a Needlessly Long Title and means I can now safely approach something much darker in tone…

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…Or not! Time will tell.

NOT GUILTY

Food Wars is a delectable experience from starter to dessert. Hilarious comedy, fun characters and a creative concept elevate this series above the rank and file. Bon appetit!

And because I realise I can never truly get across the insane magic of Food Wars through words alone, here’s a clip of one of the first recipes in the series:

My Wife is the Student Council President review

There comes a time in every human’s life where they have to stop for a moment, kick off their shoes and ask some deep questions.

What am I doing? Where am I going? Am I a good person? What’s next? Am I ready to take on a life full of responsibilities? Am I really okay with spending two hours of my life watching an anime series that isn’t very good?

No, no I’m not.

My Wife is the Student Council President is the story of a guy whose wife is the student council president. I know, surprising, right?

Well, technically they’re engaged. Well, actually their parents arranged their marriage. And our heroine moves in with him. And they have to hide the fact they stay together (really poorly) because reasons. God, doesn’t this sound like the best series?

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What can I even say about this? I watched it literally hours ago and can barely remember anything about it. There’s very little build-up, and practically zero backstory to any of the characters – who, I might add, blow onto and off screen like a paper bag in an updraft.

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Pictured L-R: Protag Onist, Hoosy McWhatsit, Ui Somethingororher, Karen Yknowthatoneguy

I remember the main girl’s name is Ui, and the head of the school’s disciplinary committee is Misumi (I think), but hell if I know the main dude’s name or the other members of the student council. Karen, I think, was one of them. The blonde one with quad tails. And a snaggletooth.

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I couldn’t even find a good picture of Karen, she’s in the show so little!

What I’m trying to say is that there’s really nothing holding this show together. How could there be, when the story is told in twelve 8-minute bursts, each one a different situation? Everything feels rushed, characters act and overreact to absurd degrees – “How can I marry this girl? Damn parents! I’m going to lick your breasts now!” – and there’s so many absurd choices and situations at play it makes my head spin.

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Pictured: A guy who totally does not want to be in a relationship with this girl.

You’ve got the disciplinary committee leader who is utterly against relationships between boys and girls of the school (even in their time outside of school, which is a draconian strategy if ever I’ve heard one) but secretly has the mega-hots for Protag Onist; her sister, the school nurse, who practically rapes him in his sleep in one episode; Protag himself, who is so totally against the idea of relations with Ui but finds himself groping and… ahem… massaging her at least once per episode; and Ui’s mother and father who are both around 40 but look about 10 and who appear in TWO episodes.

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BUT SHE’S NOT, THOUGH

Sometimes it feels like Yamada’s First Time

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And sometimes like the creators were out of their minds when they made this show.

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Sometimes it’s genuinely funny…

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And sometimes it’s just weird and absurd.

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Sometimes it’s surprisingly romantic…

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And sometimes it’s just not.

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Ui herself is the strongest link in the series, but again her character design is kind of all over the place. Her voice actress seems almost a little too deep for the character they’re portraying (which I actually like better than if they’d given her a squeaky voice) and her design incorporates her own snaggletooth, which seems vaguely out of place. She’s at least likeable, if a bit of an oddball – but everything unique about her character (that of an advocate of “free love” at the school) is abruptly thrown out of the window after the first episode. We barely even see her doing anything AS a student council president!

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Except tossing condoms out to the entire student body YES THAT DOES ACTUALLY HAPPEN

It also makes me mildly uncomfortable that they don’t play coy with the character’s age, considering we see many, many upskirts, cleavage shots and more besides before we are informed the character is, in fact, 15. Also, who gets made president of the student council in their first year of high school?

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This girl, apparently.

The art is nice, if not exactly ground-breaking, and there are a couple of funny scenes hidden away in there, but when your fanservice is borderline pornographic and STILL mediocre, you’ve got problems. Avoid.

GUILTY

My Wife is the Student Council President is about as emotionally and mentally stimulating as a Garfield comic. A mild smattering of funny jokes and at least one decent episode can’t save the series from bland, uninteresting characters, unremarkable fanservice and frankly preposterous circumstances. If there’s any consolation, it’s that that while it may be a waste of time to watch this series, at 8 minutes an episode it’s not a waste of MUCH time.

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This show was greenlit for a second series.

VNVDVD: The Fruit of Grisaia

Hello all!

Today I’m going to be starting a new category of review, which I like to call Visual Novel versus DVD (or VNVDVD for short). For this, I’ll play a visual novel – or game of whatever genre – and then see how it measures up to its anime adaptation.

This time, we’re going to be tackling The Fruit of Grisaia.

The Fruit of Grisaia is the story of Yuuji Kazami, a high school student with a dark past newly transferred to Mihama Academy, a prison-like school attended by only five other people. And they’re all girls.

As Yuuji’s normal-ish high school life goes on, he gradually uncovers the reasons why these girls are attending the school. The branching routes of the visual novel consist of Yuuji wining, dining and refining them, romancing them and solving their problems along the way.

It’s a fascinating slow burn in each case, with each route skilfully blending heartbreaking, dark themes with uplifting, inspiring redemption. To say more would be a spoiler, but suffice to say I was impressed with the quality of writing and likeability of the main cast.

Amane Suou, the token boobie girl, treats her friends like family, acting as the mother of the group. She cooks for Yuuji, constantly makes passes at him, and is notably tall for a Japanese girl, at 5’6”. The game constantly mentions this.

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Sachi Komine, the loyal-to-a-fault girl who dresses like a maid, is lovable in her mousy yet determined way, and gets some of the best lines in the game.

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Makina Irisu somehow manages to avoid the “baby-faced and baby-talking girl” annoyances and actually ends up being a totally serviceable character, particularly when Yuuji takes her under his wing.

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Yumiko Sakaki, daughter of the man who built the school, is also surprisingly likeable despite the her tropey “icy rich girl” manner, and some of the best sight gags and moments in the game are directly tied to her, like any time her not-so-secret internet porn habits are brought up, or she tries to kill someone with a box cutter.

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And Michiru Matsushima – aka Best Girl™ – is 100% comic relief. She’s dumb, clumsy, obnoxious and absolutely hilarious to watch. Her sub-plot of being a fake tsundere with bottle-blonde hair is one of my favourite character traits ever.

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Yuuji himself is also an interesting character. It’s clear from the get-go that he is not an ordinary student, with his encyclopedic knowledge of military protocol and extensive combat training, but despite being the badass that saves the day in most cases, the game manages to avoid making him an omnipotent Gary Stu. He’s arrogant, blunt and generally unpleasant to be around, but manages to knuckle down when the time is right. And hey, he’s the protagonist, so you gotta like it or lump it.

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That’s him in the back, looking all cool and stuff.

Even Yuuji’s guardian/superior JB and the principal of the school, Chizuru Tachibana, are fun characters, though I find Chizuru falls on the “annoyingly squeaky” side of things. JB, aka Julia Bardera, aka Yuria Harudera, is apparently German-Italian but speaks fluent Japanese, which is about as “anime” a character as it gets.

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But hey, German efficiency.

Now, to the important details. The Fruit of Grisaia, taken as a visual novel, is extremely lengthy. Like, 50+ hours lengthy. I started reading it on the 22nd of December, and finished it around the 26th of January – and that’s reading it at least a couple of hours every day. That’s around 70 hours worth, likely more, that I spent going through every route.

The anime adaptation is 13 episodes long. Ohh boy.

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So, it’s time for the key question. How does the anime measure up? Well…

Not great, if I’m being honest. This was never going to be a perfect adaptation by any stretch of the imagination with so few episodes to cover so much. And yet, even knowing this, it’s a bit of a disappointment.

Let’s break down the series into component parts and see just how fairly it was constructed:

Episodes 1, 2 and 3: The “common route” of the game, introducing the main cast and some slice-of-life comedy.

Episodes 4 and 5: Michiru’s story.

Episode 6: Yumiko’s story.

Episode 7: Sachi’s story.

Episodes 8 and 9: Makina’s story.

Episodes 10, 11, 12 and 13: Amane’s story.

See the problem emerging here? In the game, pretty much every route is equal in length and complexity. In the series, Yumiko and Sachi have their stories told in roughly TWENTY MINUTES.

And if that doesn’t sound too bad – maybe they just cut out a lot of fluff? – then here are a few pictures, created by DeadlyFatalis for his own take on the series. Using Best Girl™ Michiru as an example, here is a list of all the scenes in her route of the game, marked with all the scenes they included in episode 4 of the anime:

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Twenty five scenes, and the series covers three in one episode. To do this, it skips eleven.

And in skipping all this content, Yuuji basically becomes the perfect human being who helps these girls through their problem for no real reason other than the plot demands it. In the game, the reason is slightly different.

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Yeah, something like that.

What’s more, the series adds an ungodly amount of unnecessary fanservice at seemingly random intervals. Now, I don’t have much of a problem with fanservice in general, but there’s a time and a place for such things, and it’s not “clumsily inserted whenever”.

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In this scene, Michiru grabs a bag from Sachi. There are two pantie-shots for absolutely no reason.

At this point, I don’t really know who the anime adaptation is for. It doesn’t feel like it’s for newcomers, because so much is left out that the plot and characters feel incomplete and rushed.

It’s also evidently not for people who played the game, because all it does is make me annoyed by how much I know they left out.

Now, I’m being extremely harsh on the series. I acknowledge that it would have been exceptionally difficult to adapt this game, especially in thirteen episodes. But there were some things that I actually think it did pretty well! It’s kind of a “sweet sour” stance.

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But mostly sour.

Firstly, the art in the series is great. They very faithfully recreated the characters and locations from the game, and it helps to be able to clearly see some scenes that were not fully shown in the game, such as Michiru before she was blonde, some fight scenes, and JB’s control room. Though I suppose “good art” is a prerequisite considering the source material, which included one CG I literally stopped to stare at for a couple of minutes, in awe of how pretty it was. And totally not because of what was happening in the picture.

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What are you doing get out of there she’s gonna eat youuuuuu

All the original voice actors returned to play their parts in the series, and music from the game is used effectively, giving the series a comfortable, familiar feeling.

The animation itself, while mostly relatively basic, has some moments of impressive fluidity, and everything is presented in letterboxed widescreen. I’m not really sure how I feel about the letterboxing, but it does lend things a cinematic feel. I suppose with the game constantly using Dutch angles, it was only fair.

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No seriously, look at the other pictures, 90% of them are at this crazy angle.

The series also takes several artistic liberties in order to tie together all of the stories, resulting in several scenes completely different from the game. Yumiko’s route in particular is almost completely changed – though I suppose they’d have to, to make it fit into one episode.

Now, here’s the most impressive and disappointing part of this analysis. Angelic Howl, the final arc of the series, which focuses on Amane’s story, is the longest by far and easily the best part of the series.

Spoilers are ahead, so be warned.

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“Get back, spoilers! Back, I say!”

Amane’s backstory is that she was part of a high school basketball team who, while on a trip, crashed their bus off a cliff, leaving them stranded in the wilderness. The team band together in order to survive, but with help nowhere to be found slowly begin to succumb to starvation and madness. Amane is the sole survivor of this incident.

It’s an extremely long, detailed part of the game, but astonishingly the series manages to adapt it effortlessly, cutting out all the unnecessary fluff while still telling the story properly. It even surprised me by leaving in certain unpleasant details, such as the various skin afflictions, wounds and bodily functions the girls have to endure while stranded. Even the most shocking scene of all – in which the sole teacher and the captain of the basketball team, in a fit of madness, have sex in the forest surrounded by corpses, is left in, and the scene is all the more effective for it.

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No, I’m not showing that. Principal Tachibana would be upset.

The finale of the series, loosely adapted from Amane’s route’s ending, while perhaps not as well written as the game’s, manages to tie together every heroine’s routes in such a way that is arguably better than the source material. It even manages to set up the characters for the sequel in a way the game could not. So my question is this:

Why wasn’t the rest of the series given so much attention?

I don’t like to throw out hyperbole, but The Fruit of Grisaia would undoubtedly have benefited from a 26-episode runtime. Angelic Howl proves that with the proper amount of care and time, the stories can be told efficiently without sacrificing important details.

But in the end, we got a Majikoi rather than a Steins;Gate. Sigh.

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VERDICT

While The Fruit of Grisaia remains an excellent and exemplary visual novel, the anime adaptation is a rushed jumble of scenes which only comes into its own in the final arc, too little too late. While a serviceable companion piece to the game, it only serves to highlight what could have been achieved with just a little more time and effort.

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There were far too few Best Girl images in this article, so here’s one to end on. Aww.

 

Blood Lad review

Like a vampire from the crypt, I rise again! To talk about vampires! And ghosts! Blood Lad!

Blood Lad is the story of Staz Charlie Blood, lazy vampire gang leader and owner of the most 90s name in existence.

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Along with Trent Reznor and Will Smith.

Staz is the leader of a section of the Demon World, a parallel universe to our own which all supernatural entities call home. Staz occupies his time giving little thought to the management of his realm, instead opting to indulge his obsession with humans – specifically the Japanese, because of course – playing video games, watching anime and dreaming of meeting a real human.

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I really liked Dra-Gumball, but I preferred the second sequel, Dra-Gumball GP.

As it turns out, his wish is granted, when Japanese high-schooler Fuyumi Yanagi unexpectedly finds herself in the Demon World. Staz, naturally, is overjoyed, but when an assassin attempts to murder him, accidentally killing Fuyumi in the process, Staz vows to bring Fuyumi – now a ghost demon herself – back to life, mainly so that he can be enthralled by her again. Because let’s face it, ghosts are pretty boring compared to humans, and they wear stupid triangles on their heads.

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Now, now. Nothing to be embarrassed about – you can’t help fate’s cruel fashion sense.

Thus begins a tale of magic, mystery, sibling rivalry, and over-the-top fanservice the likes of which have… well, actually, all those things have been seen before. A lot. This is anime we’re talking about here.

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Look, here’s one now!

Though it would be inaccurate to call Blood Lad a totally original series, it has enough personality that it is still very endearing to watch. Staz (played magnificently by Bryce Papenbrook) is lethargic, sarcastic and generally hilarious to watch, and Fuyumi (Xanthe Huynh) is entertaining as the viewer surrogate, reacting to the weird and wonderful events of the series as an outsider would. She’s also one half of the token fanservice team, usually finding herself in skimpy costumes because apparently we’ll lose attention otherwise. Oh, and she needs to keep consuming Staz’s magic-rich blood or she’ll disappear, leading to scenes like this:

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Fuyumi’s failed audition for Mysterious Girlfriend X.

But the real strength in Blood Lad lies in the supporting cast. Staz and Fuyumi work as a main pair, but they’re not big contenders for a favourite character. Bell Hydra (Kira Buckland), who can control space and time to a certain degree, is a cheeky laugh riot, even if she does fall into cliché “unrequited love with the protagonist” territory, and some of the most creative moments in the series are directly tied to her. Most notably, she can teleport anywhere as long as she has a frame to pass through – and if she makes one with her fingers, she can spy on anyone from anywhere.

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No, no – more like a director sizing up shots.

Staz’s relatives are also entertaining. While his brother Braz (Johnny Yong Bosch) is a bit vanilla, delivering most of his dialogue in a bored drawl, sister Liz (Sherry Lynn) is the token adorable character, who forms an instant bond with Fuyumi. The episode focusing on their fledgling friendship is easily one of the best in the series.

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YOU DON’T MAKE FRIENDS WITH CHILDREN BY GETTING NAKED, FUYUMI

Then again, it’s not exactly hard to pick out the good episodes in the series, because there aren’t that many of them. At ten episodes (plus one OVA), Blood Lad‘s length presents its own set of problems. Many characters go undeveloped, like Staz’s rival, Wolf (Ben Diskin), and the bubblegum-blowing demon cop (whose name I can’t even remember, she was in the show so little).

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Yeah, her. Beros, I think? Also, what would you call those? Shrousers? Trorts?

Worse yet, the series has no ending. Seriously, the show ends seemingly out of nowhere leaving several important plot threads hanging, and while the OVA episode begins immediately after the end of episode 10, it still doesn’t resolve any loose ends, and even serves to create more! In fact, the OVA episode ends teasing a fight between two characters, before rolling credits as if to say “Screw you, buy the manga.”

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Staz watches the last episode of Blood Lad.

All in all, though, I can’t say that what we did get of Blood Lad was bad. Like a cheap advent calendar chocolate, it satisfies for a short time but leaves you wanting more. Animation studio Brain’s Base clearly put the work in – everything is colourful and flows nicely, and I especially like the scenes where the colours invert for emphasis.

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Which I couldn’t find a picture of, so here’s one of Bell instead.

But in the end, it all just feels like an extended advert for the manga, which makes this series incredibly difficult to rate. While I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of watching Blood Lad, I can’t recommend seeing it without a hefty preface warning: this series is an incomplete story, and will leave you wanting more. In fact, this has happened so many times that I’m going to revamp my rating process. So behold, the first ever rating of:

RELEASED ON BAIL

While Blood Lad impresses with its strong visual style and interesting characters, the extremely short ten episode runtime leaves many plot points left unresolved and taints the series with a generally slapdash feel. However, viewers who understand this should be able to enjoy the series for what it is.

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Though it might still be a hard pill to swallow…

Yamada’s First Time review

What would you do if you were 15 and a virgin? Probably shrug and enjoy life, because not everything revolves around the acquisition of poontang, right?

Sure, if you’re a loser.

And Yamada isn’t a loser. This is her story.

Yamada’s First Time (aka B Gata H Kei) is the story of Yamada, a vain high school girl whose beauty is only matched by her popularity with both sexes. But there’s a problem.

She’s a virgin.

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And you call yourself an anime character.

Seeking to rectify this clearly inexcusable situation, Yamada vows to have sex with 100 guys over the course of her high school life. Unfortunately, every time someone asks her out, she turns them down because she’s afraid they might be more experienced than her.

To combat this, Yamada preys on Takashi Kosuda, her classmate and “cherry boy”, with a passion for photography and zero defining characteristics.

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Yes, Kosuda is so normal that everyone thinks of him as completely unremarkable – boring, even. And yet, he and Yamada are drawn together through the tides of fate.

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You see what I did there, tying the text and the image together? That’s journalism right there.

Will Yamada finally realise Kosuda is the only one for her?

Will Yamada’s best friend ever stop putting up with her outbursts?

Will Kosuda ever take the perfect photograph?

FIND OUT NEXT TIME ON—oh wait, this is a review.

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Damn, and I forgot the part about the moustache clone wizard.

So yeah, that’s your basic premise, and it’s a pretty unique one. It’s refreshing to see a series revolving around a female protagonist, especially one as complex and interesting as Yamada. Most of the series revolves around her zany schemes to get into Kosuda’s pants which inevitably backfire until she realises that being herself is more important and sex isn’t the be-all and end-all and blah blah blah. Trust me, you can tell where it’s going from minute one.

Basically, it’s like a far less depressing version of Watamote.

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Callbacks!

That said, Yamada’s constant misguided teasing of Kosuda can get a bit wearing, as she constantly gets close and then flips around and acts like she hates him. It serves a purpose in the plot and character development, but when something feels like it’s getting a bit old over the course of 12 episodes, that’s probably not a good thing.

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However, I don’t want this to be misconstrued – Yamada is a likeable, fun character with very human flaws. We’re supposed to be annoyed at her ineptitude.

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Flaws that are a bit too human.

Of course, Yamada and Kosuda do not exist in a bubble – the supporting cast is equally as fun and engaging as the two leads.

Yamada’s best friend Miharu is brilliantly dry as the foil to Yamada’s ravings, a girl thoroughly secure in herself and in a stable relationship with a college student.

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Their relationship in one image.

I also enjoyed the light tension that came from Kosuda’s nerdy childhood friend Mayu and rich girl Kyoka. Mayu (of course) has a massive crush on Kosuda but is too afraid to show it, and it’s interesting to have a secondary character who arguably deserves a chance with Kosuda more than Yamada herself.

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I mean look at her, she’s got it all: deep expressive eyes, silky smooth hair, a pulse…

Kyoka, on the other hand, is a different kettle of fish. She is essentially the perfect girl: beautiful, popular, athletic, beautiful, talented, beautiful and BEAUTIFUL. She’s so perfect that when they inevitably reveal her to be a conniving, horrible weirdo I said aloud, “Oh, thank god she’s a bitch!”

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Don’t be fooled, behind those sparkles is a jealous witch!

A title and concept like Yamada’s First Time might seem like it would give way to truckloads of fanservice, but surprisingly this isn’t the case. Nudity in the series is used very sparingly, and when it eventually happens, it feels earned and genuine, rather than a cheap excuse for life and hometown.

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And even if there was no nudity at all, the series is legitimately funny as hell, but more than that, it has a lot of heart. Yamada and Kosuda’s awkward fumbling relationship is very sweet, and their missteps never become too cringey. Like the opening theme of the series, it keeps the tone light and silly throughout, which in my opinion is the best way to do it.

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Relationships: A Diptych

The characters are brought to life by a talented, if not hugely well known English cast. Yamada is voiced with aplomb by seasoned veteran (and blog favourite) Brittney Karbowski, while Kosuda is played admirably by Scott Freeman. Jad Saxton, Cherami Leigh and Alexis Tipton, as seen many times in my reviews, are all present and accounted for, as are Eric Vale, Ian Sinclair and Greg Ayres.

Yamada’s First Time also seems to adopt a retro art style in much the same way as Mysterious Girlfriend X. Aaaand that’s pretty much all I’ve got. Seriously. What, you think I have to give detailed criticism all the time? It’s pretty. Look at the pictures. Wheeeeeee

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S’byoutiful.

And… that’s about it. Seriously, there’s nothing left here to say but “go watch it.”

NOT GUILTY

Raunchy and outrageously funny, Yamada hits all the right notes, even if one or two might need a bit of tuning. Maybe not suitable for the young’uns, but if you fancy a naughty comedy with genuine heart and intelligence, this is the pick of the bunch. The cherry bunch.

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Durarara!! review

Honey, I’m home!

Durarara!! follows a collection of very different people and their interconnecting lives in the Ikebukuro district of Tokyo. It’s a story of friendship, love, life in the big city and HOLY CRAP HEADLESS PEOPLE.

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Where do I begin with a series like this? Durarara!! adopts the unusual tactic of not focusing on one particular character or group of characters – instead opting to tell an interconnected story through seemingly isolated incidents and an ensemble cast, so I’ll try to give a very basic rundown.

The story begins with high-schooler Mikado Ryugamine arriving in Ikebukuro to begin his new school life. He meets up with his best friend Masaomi, who takes him on a tour of the city and introduces us to our main cast of characters.

Now, here we (very quickly) arrive at one of my gripes with the series. Let me run down the list of the ‘main’ characters:

Mikado Ryugamine

Masaomi Kida

Anri Sonohara

Celty Sturluson

Shizuo Hewajima

Izaya Orihara

Shinra Kishitani

Simon Brezhnev

Kyohei Kadota

Walker Yumasaki

Erika Karisawa

Saburo Togusa

Seiji Yagiri

Namie Yagiri

Mika Harima

Saki Mikajima

And that’s just the reoccurring parts. Got all that? Good, because now you need to know that around 70% of the characters on that list get their ‘own’ episode.

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“Keeping up?”

So, to summarize, you have to remember ALL the characters, along with ALL their motivations and ALL their voices, then remember where they ALL fit in the grand tapestry of the plot. Add to that the fact the characters have secrets and double-cross and triple-cross and…

Well, in the end let’s say Izaya’s ongoing board game sums it up pretty well:

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“Knight to black 7. Yahtzee!”

Anyway, in Ikebukuro there’s the ongoing story of the headless rider trying to get her head back, the mystery of the anonymous Dollars gang, the rivalry between Izaya and Shizuo, the gang war between the Dollars and Yellow Scarves, the friendship between Mikado, Masaomi and their classmate Anri, and the mysterious slasher attacks going on around the city. Often, most of this is happening all at the same time!

So really, I can’t tell you what the overall plot is, because there’s about 5 million plots happening at once. Now, surprisingly, the series keep these all in check for the most part, but at times it’s very difficult to keep track of all the moving parts. The first few episodes of the series take place on the same day, but are told from different perspectives, which can be a little hard to wrap your head around at first.

That said, when the plot is engaging, it’s riveting. Without a clearly defined approach to the series and its genre, the tone shifts wildly from episode to episode, but in a way that doesn’t feel out of place. Otherwise humorous episodes can be punctuated by brief scenes of shocking violence, a reminder of the underlying danger of the city and its denizens.

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But there’s love too!

The characters, thankfully, are able to support this approach. Irish dullahan Celty, the headless rider, is the closest thing there is to a framing narrative in the series, and the hunt for her missing head is used as a driving force for many of the characters. She’s well fleshed out, with a lot of thought put into her character. I particularly like how because she has no head she has to communicate by tapping out messages on her phone, which is holstered in her sleeve (why hasn’t anyone made that into an actual thing?).

Oh, that’s why.

My personal favourite characters are Shizuo and the crazy duo of Walker and Erika. Shizuo is the bodyguard of Tom Tanaka, a debt collector. However, he just so happens to be basically indestructible and possesses superhuman strength whenever he gets mad… which is all the time. His origin story is one of the best episodes of the series, in my opinion.

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He’s basically the Incredible Hulk in cool sunglasses and a waistcoat.

Walker and Erika are members of a small gang who drive around in a van all day and help out some of the more major characters. They’re also hardcore lovers of anime and manga and seem to live a carefree, almost childish existence while still being giving off hints of darkness at times, which was really interesting to see.

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“Wanna go torture someone after this dance?” “I thought you’d never ask.”

On the other hand, some characters fall a little short of the mark. Seiji Yagiri is essentially a one-note weirdo of a character, and his sister Namie is no more inspiring. She starts off as an antagonist… kind of, but once her arc is dealt with (in an inconclusive way), she just hangs around at Izaya’s house and looks at books. She’s in almost every episode, but rarely actually does anything.

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“Yeah, well blame the writers for that.”

The English dub, in much the same way as the characters, is mostly strong, with a couple of weak links. In particular Mikado’s voice actor, Darrel Guilbeau, has a number of lines that feel over-pronounced and stilted, as if the editor used his first practice take in the final product. You know the type of reading: “I can-not be-lieve this is hap-pen-ing. What could it pos-sib-ly mean?”

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“I can-not be-lieve you would say some-thing like that. That is the ru-dest thing I have e-ver heard!”

But aside from that, there’s some big names in the VA world doing their bit in the series. Bryce Papenbrook and Michelle Ruff round out Mikado’s friends, but there are also appearances by Kari Wahlgren as Celty, Crispin Freeman as Shizuo, and the always fun Johnny Yong Bosch as the slimy but charming information broker Izaya.

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Perhaps what surprised me most was that the AAA members of the cast (such as Yuri Lowenthal, Liam O’Brien, and Steve Blum) were mostly relegated to minor roles, meaning that no matter which character you are hearing, there’s quality at all times.

From an artistic standpoint, Ikebukuro is well realised, though there are a lot of environments you end up seeing over and over again. Then again, it is a big city, so maybe they just look the same. Either way, I feel a little more variety would have been nice. It’s still pretty, though!

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I also really enjoyed the series’ soundtrack – a strange mix of jazzy incidental music, Celtic-esque folk, and a rocking opening. I can’t think of any times it was really out of place or obnoxiously repetitive. Personal highlights include “Ikebukuro West Exit Five-way Intersection”, “The Sought-after Extraordinary” and “Green Memories” if you want to check out some of the arrangements. Tracks like these and “Bottled Angel” add a really mysterious aura to Ikebukuro – and with all these supernatural and outlandish elements converging on the city, it fits really well.

I finished watching Durarara!! somewhat conflicted. In much the same way as Jormungand, I was left feeling a little numb. While there was plenty I enjoyed, there was a lot about Durarara!! that felt problematic – some of which I can’t even articulate into something that makes sense. In the end, upon realising that I would like very much to see the currently airing second season, I figure that’s as positive an opinion as it gets.

NOT GUILTY

An interesting, if a little disjointed and convoluted, experiment in anime storytelling, Durarara!! combines likeable characters and a stellar soundtrack with surprising plot twists to create a riveting series, though some viewers may be put off by the complexity of the ever expanding web of plot threads.

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Ben-To! review (Video Special)

Well, it all comes down to this – the fruit of many weeks of recording, editing and procrastinating. We have fought technical annoyances, computer deaths and the power of laziness but at last we have come out on top.

My friends, I give you…

A big dumb video review of Ben-To!

YOU CAN’T STOP THE SIGNAL.

The first upload was taken down by Bandai, but here is a freshly re-uploaded version, now available on Dailymotion – get it while it’s hot!