Thirty Day Anime Challenge: Days 13 to 17

FMAbrotherhood

Earlier this month I was reading Matt Doyle’s excellent blog. He had just completed a Thirty Day Video Game Challenge. That reminded me that I had yet to finish the anime challenge I started way back in July. Oops! I better make some long overdue progress on that by answering a few more questions today. For those of you who only subscribe to this site for reviews, and therefore have no interest in this series, I recommend that you check out these reviews penned by other bloggers instead…

Anime: Sword Art Online (Season Two)
Manga: Black Butler
Movie: Aquaman
Video Game: Pokemon Red/Blue

DAY 13: CHARACTER I AM MOST SIMILAR TO

I pretty much resemble any anime character who is a stereotypical geek. Perhaps you could compare me to a male version of Moriko Morioka, as I stay indoors all day, am terrible with face to face interactions and often play characters of the opposite sex in video games. I once asked a friend what animated personality I remind them of. They said Master Roshi, as I am a bald headed pervert. Can’t argue with that logic!

DAY 14: ANIME THAT NEVER GETS OLD NO MATTER HOW MANY TIMES I REWATCH IT

These days I don’t have enough free time to re-watch shows. Just keeping up with the current season’s anime (and older stuff that I want to check out) is a big enough struggle. Many moons ago however, when I limited my anime viewing to DVDs, I wasn’t averse to watching a series multiple times. One particular box-set that got a lot of mileage was Full Metal Alchemist. No matter how many times I watch FMA it never gets old.

DAY 15: FAVORITE ANIMAL SIDEKICK, PET OR SUMMON

I had to rack my brain to come up with an answer for this one. Generally I am not a fan of mascot characters. You can blame eighties cartoons for that. Back when I was a kid, the cartoons I watched often featured comic relief mascots who were super annoying. Anime critters aren’t all bad though. I recently had fun traveling with Pikachu in Pokemon Let’s Go for example. After much thought I am going to pick Taromaru, the pup from School-Live. He’s very cute and played a big role in the show’s emotional finale.

DAY 16: ANIME WITH THE BEST ANIMATION

There were many contenders for this category. Garden of Words has some exceptional visuals, as does anything that has Studio Ghibli’s name attached to it. The last Madoka movie is also worth mentioning, due to a particularly impressive fight sequence. All those nominations however have the benefit of a motion picture budget backing them up. With that in mind my vote goes to Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works. Who knew that a TV production could look so amazing? One could say that Ufotable’s artists brought their A-game to the (ufo)table in that series.

DAY 17: FAVORITE SUPPORTING MALE CHARACTER

I had to think long and hard for this one. Nothing immediately came to mind. Most of my favourite male characters, from the world of anime, are protagonists. Although I suspect a better answer will come to me later, I’m going to go with Akio Furukawa from Clannad. His childish antics make me laugh, as do the scenes were he gives Tomoya a hard time. Akio isn’t a one note comedic character though. During tough times he acts as a second father to Tomoya and is selfless when it comes to his family. This is evidenced by the reveal that he abandoned a career in acting in order to support his daughter. Instead of the stage he now works as a baker. The family business depends on him because his wife hasn’t got a clue when it comes to recipes. Octopus tentacles and bread do not make for a tasty combo.

 

Review of Death Mark

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Screenshots can be deceptive. Based on Death Mark’s promotional images, I expected this horror title from Aksys Games to be a first person dungeon crawler. In actuality it is a visual novel with point and click adventure segments. Over the course of five chapters, which took me around six hours to finish, players take control of an amnesiac whose wrist has been branded with the titular Death Mark. At first glance said marking looks like a cool tattoo. Early on in the story however it is revealed that the Death Mark is a curse placed on the protagonist by a vengeful spirit. Unless he is able to rid himself of it, our hero is fated to die within the next few days. Regrettably for him, erasing the Death Mark will prove to be more painful than enduring a session of laser tattoo removal.

OVERVIEW

Death Mark’s hub world is a mansion that once belonged to a paranormal expert. The player controlled character is based there, as he is searching the estate for clues on how to cure his condition. His investigation hasn’t uncovered much, but on the plus side he does find a cute talking doll that resembles a character right out of Rozen Maiden. At the start of each chapter more victims, who have been cursed, show up at the mansion’s doorstep. They seek help with escaping the fate that has befallen them. Unlike the main character, who has no memory of his past, the visitors have some idea of where they got marked. They take the protagonist to said location, hoping that he can defeat the spectre that roams there. In theory, exorcising the ghost should purge the hex it cast on them.

By using the d-pad players can navigate each area. The levels available to explore include a sewer, an abandoned school and a forest frequented by suicidal folk. Crikey, this game is starting to sound like a Logan Paul simulator! Via the use of the analogue stick players can aim a flashlight, which is used to examine objects and pick up items. The inventory procured is in turn used to solve puzzles. Pretty standard stuff. Open a locked door with a key, use bug spray to kill bees that block your path and um, repair an elevator with condoms. Wow, I don’t recall MacGyver ever doing anything like that. Items are also required to defeat the phantoms you encounter. Every now and then the player is placed in perilous Life or Death situations. These come in the form of timed events, were an action needs to be selected from a multiple choice list of options. Picking the wrong response will result in damage and potential death.

VERDICT

My rating for Death Mark is a four out of five. If you enjoyed Corpse Party: Book of Shadows I imagine you will like Death Mark, as they both have similar gameplay. Don’t expect much in the way of animation, as this is one of those titles that relies on text and still pictures to tell its story. The main campaign has two endings to unlock. How each chapter concludes is determined by the choices made during the end of level boss fight. Overall I liked the cast of characters you partner up with, over the course of the adventure, and the game’s plot. Aside from the main mystery, of who cursed the protagonist, each chapter serves as a stand alone ghost tale. It’s interesting to discover the tragic origins responsible for birthing the creatures you are pitted against.

Anyone who is left wanting more, after the end credits roll, can purchase the two-hour DLC for a bonus chapter. This applies to the Vita version only. For some reason the other console releases come complete with the extra chapter. That may seem harsh, for long suffering Vita fans, but it all evens out, as the edition on Sony’s handheld is the cheapest to buy. In terms of scares Death Mark isn’t too terrifying. The developers try to make things creepy with sound effects and the odd jump scare, but none of it phased me. I only had to change my underwear two times. All that said, I would only recommend Death Mark to gamers who are in their late teens or older. Apart from the occasional gruesome death the game includes a few kinky images. These include a bondage scene involving plant vines, a picture of a naked woman who is covered in serpents and a spirit possession that causes one of your female partners to strip. Maybe that’s what Ray Parker meant when he said (ghost) busting makes me feel good.

Review of She-Ra (Season One)

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For the honour of Grayskull! Time to review another cartoon that I have watched on Netflix. In spite of the unimpressive trailer, which has received much ire online, I recently decided to check out the thirteen episode She-Ra reboot. Although I wouldn’t consider myself a fan of the original show, I was curious to see how the series would turn out, due to its connection with Masters of the Universe. Back when I was a kid I dug watching the adventures of She-Ra’s brother He-Man, and I also owned several of the Mattel toys. He-Man was an awesome superhero who protected the fantasy world of Eternia. Just like Superman, I never understood how he managed to preserve his secret identity. When prince Adam transformed into He-Man the only things that would differentiate the two was a tan and fewer clothes.

OVERVIEW

She-Ra and the Princesses of Power follows the exploits of an orphan girl named Adora. The first episode establishes that she is a rookie soldier serving the Evil Horde empire. Adora is a model officer and has recently been promoted to the rank of force commander. Her allegiance to the Horde ends however when she witnesses first hand the atrocities they commit on Etheria’s peaceful populace. Who could have possibly predicted that the Evil Horde is evil? Adora defects to the Princess Alliance, a group made up of mostly female warriors who possess a range of elemental and magical powers. Not to be outdone Adora soon acquires a special ability of her own, courtesy of a magical sword she discovered in the nearby Whispering Woods. By lifting up the blade and yelling out her catchphrase, Adora is able to morph into the titular Valkyrie who is blessed with enhanced strength.

Most of the series follows Adora as she travels across the land with her new pals Glimmer (a teleporting royal) and Bow the archer. The trio are tasked with securing aid from neighbouring kingdoms, in the hopes they can all band together to repel the invading Horde. Instead of Sylvanas, this Horde’s leader is a scary chap named Hordak. He only makes fleeting appearances in season one though. Adora’s chief antagonists are characters from her past. The first of these is the person who raised her – a witch named Shadow Weaver. She-Ra’s other rival is childhood chum Catra, who feels hurt that Adora decided to abandon her in favour of joining the Princesses. Although too proud to admit it, Catra starts the series off wanting to bring Adora back to her side. Later however, when Catra’s achievements begin to gain recognition, the relationship sours. Catra begins to view Adora as someone who has always held her back.

VERDICT

My rating for She-Ra and the Princesses of Power is three stars. I went into the series with low expectations, but was pleasantly surprised by how entertaining it was. That said, I still prefer the reboots of Thundercats and He-Man over this Netflix production. I would say that those shows were more to my liking, as they had better action and were less goofy. On several occasions She-Ra’s dialogue and gags made me cringe (now I know what He-Man’s cat Cringer felt like). Although the individual storylines of each episode were nothing special, I dug Etheria’s lore. Hopefully next season will delve deeper into the sci-fi origins of She-Ra’s power. Rather than sorcery, it’s hinted that her sword is linked to an ancient race of interstellar travellers. Another thing I am looking forward to, from future episodes, is how the Adora/Catra dynamic develops. Can the pair patch things up or has the cat girl gone past the point of redemption? We will have to wait and see.

One thing that will put off many potential viewers, from giving She-Ra a chance, is the hideous artwork. It’s hard to believe that DreamWorks were behind the creation of this series. They used to produce films that were on Pixar’s level. I would blame the TV sized budget, for the lacklustre visuals, but the studio’s work on Voltron proves they are capable of much better. Another stylistic choice that won’t go down well with old school She-Ra fans are the character redesigns. Virtually all of the cast have had their race or skin colour altered. Depending on where you stand this may be a triumph for diversity or an example of SJWs trying to indoctrinate young kids via children’s programming. Apart from those changes, some characters have had their body sizes tweaked too. Glimmer has gone from being a super model, in the eighties series, to a plus size teen. I blame her powers for that. Maybe if she walked more, instead of teleporting everywhere, she would lose a few pounds.

Review of Aggretsuko

Aggretsuko

Sanrio is a company that specializes in cute merchandise. Even if you haven’t heard of them, I am sure that you at least recognize one of their creations – Hello Kitty. Unlike the South Park character Butters, who enjoys playing Hello Kitty Online, I can’t say that I am a fan of said feline. It’s just too girlie and wholesome for a degenerate such as myself. From the Sanrio stable of characters Aggretsuko is much more to my liking. This ten-episode anime series has the adorable visuals of Hello Kitty, but is more geared towards an adult audience. It follows the misadventures of a twenty-five year old red panda, named Retsuko, who struggles to survive the drudgery of office life. When the stress of it all gets too much, she vents out her frustrations by rocking out to death metal tunes at the local karaoke parlor.

OVERVIEW

Retsuko is a character that I imagine most of my older readers can relate to. Every weekday, in order to pay the bills, she makes the rush hour pilgrimage to work. After escaping the packed subway she has to endure hours of tedium sitting behind a computer screen, number crunching balance sheets. Her boss is a literal sexist pig who does little at the office, other than practice his golf swings and pester Retsuko for cups of tea. I sympathize with her plight, although I can’t say that any of my co-workers ever bug me for a cuppa. When it comes to beverages the only thing I can muster is black coffee from the machine. Anyone foolish enough to ask me for a brew soon learns to never make such a request ever again. Evidently I am terrible at judging the precise amount of milk/sugar dehydrated members of staff want.

Perhaps life would be more pleasant for Retsuko if she had a backbone? Unfortunately for her she is too darn nice. She is the type of person who will visit a clothing store and buy a token pair of socks, rather than suffer the guilt of leaving the establishment empty handed. At work when things get hectic, rather than speak up for herself, she retreats to the restroom. There she counts up to ten, in order to regain her composure. Over the show’s ten instalments Retsuko makes passive attempts to flee the horrors of her company’s accountancy department. She tries to line up another job and also gets her buddies, from yoga class, to report Retsuko’s boss for harassment. When neither plan bears fruit she decides instead to find a man. Getting hitched will presumably unlock the shackles of full-time employment and reward her with a cushier housewife existence.

VERDICT

My rating for Aggretsuko is four stars. If you are on the fence, on whether to give this series a watch, I would suggest that you take the plunge. Aggretsuko isn’t a big time commitment, as its episodes clock out on the fifteen minute mark. The show’s sense of humour was right up my alley, as it is rather dry and sarcastic. I wasn’t expecting that from an anime whose visuals are so colourful. Viewers who work corporate jobs are likely to recognize characters who resemble folks that they know in real life. Examples include Tsunoda the gazelle, who is the stereotypical beauty that kisses up to the boss. There’s also Kabae – a hippo who spreads gossip and bores anyone, who will listen, with stories of her family. My favourite character is Fenneko the fox. She stalks co-workers on social media and has a delightful laugh, which she blurts out whenever her pals find themselves in compromising situations.

Despite loving the gags, art style and supporting cast I was a bit disappointed with Aggretsuko’s protagonist. Her meek personality makes Retsuko an easy person to pity, but I can’t say that I approve of someone who seeks romance just to secure an easy meal ticket. From a male perspective I had to cringe when she turns down nice guy Haida the hyena. He made the cardinal sin of mentioning that it would be nice to work with his hypothetical future missus, rather than become the couple’s sole bread winner. In the later episodes Retsuko instead opts to date an inconsiderate pretty boy who has zero charisma. Aggretsuko’s writers clearly know how the world works, be it office politics or the dating game. No wonder red pandas are an endangered species. When it comes to boyfriends they make terrible life decisions.

 

Review of Violet Evergarden

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Two weeks ago I signed up for a Netflix trial, in order to watch Castlevania season two. When posting my review of said series I asked readers what else I should check out on Netflix. My followers have good taste, so I was certain they would leave some excellent recommendations. A few of you suggested that I stream Violet Evergarden. Plot twist – I had already seen the series a few months ago, via less legal means. The series is so good however that I didn’t mind re-watching it again. On this occasion, to freshen things up, I decided to try out the dub version. For those of you who are unaware, Violet Evergarden is a thirteen episode anime based off an award winning light novel trilogy of books. Since its broadcast an OVA has been released and a movie is scheduled to come out early in 2020.

OVERVIEW

Violet Evergarden is a battle hardened orphan girl who was picked up by navy officer Dietfried Bougainvillea during one of his missions. He recognized that anyone who resembles Saber (from the Fate franchise) must be a kick ass warrior. Dietfried ends up gifting Violet to his younger brother Gilbert on his birthday. Gilbert is a major in the army and has recently been ordered to tour the front lines. Dietfried hopes that Violet will serve as his sibling’s bodyguard during the dangerous operations that are to follow. Unlike his bro, who treats the protagonist like a tool, Gilbert showers Violet with kindness. He teaches her how to speak, buys her gifts and makes the ultimate sacrifice in the war’s decisive battle. When Violet is placed in peril, Gilbert saves her and sadly perishes in the process.

Miss Evergarden didn’t escape from the incident unscathed. She lost both arms and had them replaced with mechanical appendages. After recovering from her injuries, Violet is placed in the care of Gilbert’s pal Claudia Hodgins (who is a bloke, despite what his first name may suggest.) Hodgins runs a post office and eventually hires Violet for the position of Auto Memories Doll. In the nation where this anime takes place, Auto Memories Doll is a title given to females who specialize in writing letters for others. Violet seems suited for the position because, as Ghost in the Shell has taught us, women with robotic hands are speedy typists. She hopes that putting people’s feelings into words will teach her more about human emotions. Eventually she may even learn what Gilbert’s final words to her “I love you” meant.

VERDICT

I am awarding Violet Evergarden a score of five stars. This series is a strong contender for best anime I have watched in 2018. Whether others agree with that assessment or not will depend on their patience levels. The early episodes are slow paced affairs that chronicle how Violet learned the tools of the trade and how she bonded with her new coworkers. After that the show settles into a more episodic format. Violet’s reputation rises, attracting work from across the land. She travels far and wide to help scholars transcribe ancient texts and assists royalty with the composition of love letters. Although there are moments that are sweet and funny, I would advise anyone who watches this anime to keep a handkerchief close by. Scenes of grief are never too far away in this show. The episodes about the sickly mother and the one about the drunken novelist, who is writing a play, will summon the onion cutting ninjas who we last encountered in Clannad.

Some critics have complained that Violet isn’t a likable lead, as she is someone who struggles with expressing emotion. That surprised me, given anime’s history. Last time I checked Rei Ayanami and Ruri Hoshino are very popular with audiences, despite having cold personalities. Violet’s demeanor is understandable given that she grew up as a battlefield slave. One of the show’s highlights is seeing how she begins to open up more, thanks in part to her interactions with others. Another positive in the anime’s favor is the stellar animation and artwork. That should go without saying though, given that beautiful imagery is something we all have come to expect from a production by Kyoto Animation. Whether it’s a blonde typist trekking across the picturesque countryside or half naked guys swimming in a pool, they really know how to make things look pretty onscreen.

 

 

Review of Pok√©mon Let’s Go

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I wasn’t always a big fan of Pokemon. Back when the original game came out in Europe I was close to twenty years of age. Based off clips I had seen, of the wholesome cartoon series, I dismissed Pokemon as being something that was just for kids. Twelve months later Final Fantasy IX awakened my passion for RPGs. Eager to try other titles in the genre, I decided to be less close-minded and give Pokemon Blue a chance. Turns out that the series, developed by Game Freak, can be enjoyed by youngsters and adults alike. At the time of writing I am fast approaching forty and have just beaten the twenty three hour story mode of Pokemon Let’s Go.

OVERVIEW

One of the reasons I was looking forward to this release is because it is set in the Kanto region – the same setting as the above mentioned Pokemon Blue. When it comes to Pokemon, just like Transformers, I am most familiar with generation one. It was a simpler time, when completing a Pokedex only required that you catch 151 critters. These days I hear that the species list of Pokemon surpasses over eight hundred! Some of the new Pokemon look cool, but others suffer from uninspired designs. When a developer starts to create Pokemon that resemble ice cream cones and key chains you know they are running low on ideas.

Technically speaking Let’s Go is a remake of Pokemon Yellow. Were the two differ is the manner in which you catch Pokemon. Yellow had players capturing Pokemon by weakening them first in combat. Let’s Go adopts a simpler approach, inspired by the mobile game it is named after. Catching a Pokemon is just like nabbing a woman. You throw your balls at them and hope they don’t run away. I personally liked the new system, as it spared me from suffering the frustration of accidentally killing Pokemon I was trying to recruit. My opinion would be different though, were I not someone who plays handheld mode exclusively. Switch owners who play docked on the TV will have to catch Pokemon with fiddly motion controls, rather than buttons. Nintendo thinks it is cute to simulate the action of hurling a Pokeball. If you prefer a traditional controller or are disabled tough luck.

GOT TO CATCH EM ALL

What makes capturing Pokemon in Let’s Go a blast is that you can see the buggers roaming through the bushes (like a creepy stalker). Gone are the days of random encounters. Yay! I no longer have the patience to battle Zubats every time I take a step forward. Should you spot a Pokemon that you want to add to your collection just walk up to them. If you have no desire to tangle with yet another Rattata, give them a wide berth. The option of targeting Pokemon by sight allows trainers to build up combos. Catching several Pokemon, of the same type, in a row rewards you with increased odds of finding rare Pokemon and Shinies (mutant Pokemon who have been born with a different pigmentation). Some Twitch channels make an income by streaming hunts for Shinies, which amounts to trapping the same Pokemon, over and over, for hours at a time. Man, I think I am in the wrong line of work.

For those of you worrying that Pokemon Let’s Go only involves throwing spheres at woodland creatures fear not. Turn based battles still exist in this game. In order to finish the story players need to defeat eight gym leaders, the Elite Four and any other trainers/children/fishermen who get in your way. Winning a Pokemon duel rewards you with cash and experience. When a Pokemon accumulates enough experience they level up, which may cause them to unlock new abilities or evolve into a new form. Another way of powering up your team is to exchange duplicate Pokemon for stat boosting candy. Yes, that is right. Candy makes you stronger. Those doctors who warned you that sweets will rot your teeth are liars. Devour confectionery and one day you too shall bulk up like The Rock.

VERDICT

My rating for Pokemon Let’s Go is a four out of five. Some hardcore fans won’t approve of how Let’s Go dumbs things down, by removing features found in other modern Pokemon titles. For a casual player, such as myself, the game is however fun. Many people have commented that Let’s Go is a tad easy, which I would have to agree. That said, I did lose a few matches during the course of my adventure. My losses were mostly due to my terrible sense of direction, rather than the opponents being tough. Somehow I ended up facing the Sixth Gym Leader, before beating the fourth and fifth one, as I took a detour leading to the wrong town. Oops! Perhaps I can also blame the losses on buying the Pikachu edition? I hear that the Eevee version is a bit easier, as the adorable pup has a better move set. As a superhero fan I couldn’t resist going on a journey with Pikachu though. He sounds a lot like Deadpool after all.

Review of Dragon Pilot

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Back when I was a kid, I grew up watching several cartoons that featured transformable planes. In a way, Dragon Pilot is similar to those classic shows from yesteryear. The key difference is that instead of robots in disguise we get giant lizards, which morph into fighter jets. Dragon Pilot: Hisone and Masotan is a twelve-episode anime created by studio Bones. At the time of writing it is available to stream exclusively on Netflix. I haven’t seen many bloggers write about this series. That’s a shame because the anime is rather good. Perhaps some viewers were put off by the art style Bones went with? Beauty is in the eye of the beholder though. I rather like the retro/moe aesthetics. The dragons are cute and their human pilots somewhat resemble Mako from Kill la Kill.

OVERVIEW

Hisone Amakasu is a girl who has no goals in life. When deciding on what career path to follow she elected to join the Air Force. The reason? She spotted a plane zooming across the sky, from her classroom window, whilst in the middle of filling out a job survey. When the series begins Hisone is stationed at the Gifu Air Base, where she works in an office. One day she is asked to deliver some paperwork to a nearby hanger, by her commanding officer. There she encounters the titular Masotan, who happens to be a giant dragon. It turns out that dragons are real and their existence has been made secret by the government. To keep dragons out of the public eye they are outfitted with armor, which Hisone likens to cosplay, that is capable of morphing the flying lizards into aircraft.

During this chance meeting it is decided that Hisone should become Masotan’s pilot. Unlike other potential candidates, that Masotan has rejected, he deems the girl worthy enough to gobble up! Don’t worry folks. Aside from being terrified by the sudden ingestion, Hisone is not harmed. Dragon Pilots command their partners from the comfort of the creature’s belly. Once a mission is complete they release the pilot via barfing. Apart from being slimy, dragon gastric juices are capable of dissolving conventional clothing. Hisone is therefore given a protective skintight suit. Getting chosen by a dragon is a rare honor, so Hisone should feel chuffed. It is however later discovered that Masotan only devoured her because of the old school flip phone she carried. Antiquated mobiles are apparently a dragon’s favorite snack.

VERDICT

My rating for Dragon Pilot is three and a half stars. It’s a sweet show that should appeal to viewers who enjoy cute slice of life anime. There isn’t much in the way of story. A good chunk of the series simply chronicles how Hisone bonds with Masotan, her flight training sessions and the cadet’s interactions with other pilots. Her peers include a geek named Lilikos and Mayumi, a chubby gal who likes to spoil her dragon with grub. One problem that Hisone suffers from is that she is a compulsive chatterbox. She cannot control the urge to blurt out what’s on her mind, which sometimes causes unintended offense. Her big mouth plays a factor in angering roommate Nao Kaizaki, who retaliates by bullying Hisone in the early episodes. Hisone also has a strained relationship with a no nonsense pilot named Elle Hoshino. The two clash over how Elle treats her dragon like a tool rather than a partner.

The only reason I am not giving Dragon Pilot a higher score is because of the final three episodes. Although the series ends on a satisfactory, albeit slightly rushed, note I much preferred the earlier content. Like is the case with other animated comedies I have seen, screenwriter Mari Okada felt the need to inject some forced drama into the show’s finale. I personally didn’t care for the change in tone. Much of the humor vanished during the last arc, which sees the girls participate in an escort mission that will determine the fate of the nation. Hisone’s lighthearted romance with mechanic Haruto Okonogi also developed into a love triangle. Upping the ante even further is a last gasp revelation, which revolves around human sacrifice. Dang, that escalated quickly. I would have never vore-seen that the anime, about dragons who swallow live girls, would take such a serious turn.