A Place Further than the Universe Review

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If money were no object, what distant land would you like to visit? Let me know in the comments section below. Perhaps a trip to the sunny Bahamas, where you can soak up the rays, would be nice? Maybe you would elect to go on an anime merchandise-spending spree in Japan instead? If so please buy me some body pillows as a souvenir! For high school student Shirase Kobuchizawa her destination of choice is Antarctica. She dreams of seeing the South Pole as her late mother vanished there during an arctic expedition. It’s either that or she just wants to hang out on a continent where cute penguins are bountiful.

OVERVIEW

A Place Further than the Universe is a thirteen-episode anime produced by Madhouse. To be clear, that’s the veteran animation studio… in case some of you think that the show was created inside a loony bin! Anyways, the series chronicles how Shirase teams up with three other ladies to make her chilly dream a reality. The first person that joins her cause is fellow Tatara West High School student Mari Tamaki. In the first episode viewers learn that Mari wants to go on adventure, as she hasn’t done anything memorable during her young life. She has a history of backing out of things. So much so that she doesn’t even have the courage to skip class.

Convenience store clerk Hinata Miyake is the next person to sign up for the Antarctica trek. She opts to tag along after overhearing Shirase and Mari discuss their journey during one of her shifts. For her, the voyage sounds like a fun distraction before she has to knuckle down with college entrance exams. The problem is that going to Antarctica isn’t something you can book at your local travel agent. Shirase is aware of a scientific expedition that is going to the region soon, but persuading the crew to take three untrained girls with them won’t be easy. Neither bribery nor awkward flirting can convince the researchers to give Shirase and company passage.

Thankfully for the determined trio the impasse is broken when they befriend teenage idol Yuzuki Shiraishi. It’s revealed that Yuzuki has been hired to go on the abovementioned expedition, where she can broadcast news reports relating to the trip. She isn’t keen on the assignment though, as she despises the cold. In the end she only agrees to accept the job under the condition that Shirase, Mari and Hinata accompany her. Like many actresses, Yuzuki is lonely. Constant travel and a packed itinerary have prevented her from making friends. She hopes that Shirase’s group will fill that void. Her craving for chums is so strong that in one episode she even begs the girls to sign a friendship contract with her!

VERDICT

My rating for A Place Further than the Universe is a four out of five. On the surface this appears to be another generic “cute girls doing cute things” series. In actuality the anime has more substance than that. The show is blessed with good production values and well written characters. I expect that many viewers will relate to the heroines’ struggles with bullies, shyness and loneliness. For the most part the tale is a lighthearted coming of age affair, packed with moments that will make you smile. On occasion it does however manage to tug at the heartstrings. Episode twelve in particular is guaranteed to make sensitive types blubber. Even on a frozen land there is no escaping those onion-cutting ninjas!

Review of Citrus

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Citrus is the long awaited sequel to Orange. Hehe. Just kidding! This twelve-episode anime, from the studio that gave us Rail Wars, is actually based on a Yuri manga. The story stars a trendy teenager, named Yuzu Aihara, who has transferred to an all girls academy after her mom remarried. Unfortunately for Yuzu, her first day at school doesn’t go well. Yuzu’s fashion sense earns her a tongue lashing, from those in charge, as it violates the high school’s strict dress code. To make matters worse Yuzu has her mobile confiscated by student council president Mei Aihara. Unlike best friend Harumi Taniguchi, Yuzu doesn’t possess the cleavage necessary to smuggle portable phones inside her bosom.

OVERVIEW

Eagle eyed readers may have spotted that Yuzu and Mei share an identical surname. In episode one it’s revealed that they are in fact stepsisters. Can the polar opposites cohabitate in their new home? Well, despite being at loggerheads in public they get surprisingly close. So much so that one evening, without warning, Mei plants a kiss on Yuzu’s lips. Despite her icy exterior, it appears that Mei is starving for affection. No surprise, given that her father neglects her in favour of foreign orphans. Deprived of wang at school is it a wonder that Mei turns out to be a lesbian? In hindsight Yuzu’s mother doesn’t help matters. She thinks that two hormone-fuelled teens sharing a double bed is a good idea!

Thus the stage is set for Mei and Yuzu’s hot/cold relationship. At times Mei is flat out rude to her sibling and on other occasions she forcefully locks tongues with Yuzu. I am amazed that Mei has romantic feelings for her new sis, given that Yuzu’s misbehaviour literally gives her grandfather a heart attack in one episode. Then again Mei is a very forgiving person. For example, she harbours no ill will towards Yuzu’s childhood friend Matsuri Mizusawa. During one story arc a jealous Matsuri tries to break up Yuzu and Mei. Her scheme involves using a compromising photo to blackmail Mei into a life of prostitution. Ah no biggie. Sex slavery is nothing major in Mei’s mind. Let bygones be bygones.

VERDICT

My rating for Citrus is a three out of five. It’s a decent series that should appeal to Yuri fans. Some viewers may however get frustrated with the script. Aside from the far-fetched melodrama mentioned above, the way that Citrus teases its audience can get grating. The writers routinely bait you with smut, but never deliver anything more than tame smooches and heavy breathing. Can’t romance anime find a happy medium? I don’t expect a hentai, where people bang after just five minutes of meeting each other. On the flip side however, is it really necessary to prolong things out for a dozen episodes? It takes months for Yuzu to confess her feelings and even then she needs the support of friends to do so.

It’s a shame that this cour didn’t cover the aftermath of Mei/Yuzu’s courtship. Given that love between stepsisters is taboo I am curious to see how their parents would react to the news. Would the pair try to conceal their status or be open about it? The relationship could also have some serious ramifications for Mei. I imagine the scandal may prompt her highly conservative school to remove Mei from the student council. Due to the anime’s slow pacing that question shall remain unanswered, unless you are willing to delve into the later chapters of the source material. That makes me feel sour… just like a lemon. Perhaps that’s where the title Citrus originates from?

Review of The Ancient Magus’ Bride

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The Ancient Magus’ Bride is a series that I recently finished watching, after spotting it in the “popular” section of Crunchyroll’s App. It’s based off an ongoing manga created by Kore Yamazaki, which began its run back in 2013. Crunchyroll crowned this show the Best Drama of 2017. The anime spans across twenty-four episodes and Funimation has already dubbed the vast majority of them. Studio Wit, who are best known for Rolling Girls, produced the cartoon. Much to my relief, unlike some other animated adaptations based on a comic that is still being published, I am happy to report that TAMB ends on a satisfactory note.

OVERVIEW

Finding love can’t be easy when you have a buffalo skull for a face. Like many ugly chaps, magic user Elias Ainsworth’s search for a spouse ended with him having to purchase a bride. Rather than picking the Russian variety, often advertised in the e-mails situated in my spam folder, Elias acquires a redheaded wife via an auction. Chise Hatori is the lucky girl in question. Apart from getting hitched, Chise has the honour of becoming Elias’ apprentice. She has a knack for spell casting, as she was born a Sleigh Beggy – a human who can generate bountiful quantities of mana. Her magical gifts come at a high price though.

Early on it’s revealed that Chise’s power is taking a toll on her lifespan. If a remedy cannot be found she is expected to perish within the next three years. Elias vows to save his missus, but doesn’t seem to be in a rush to do so. The Ancient Magus’ Bride is a leisurely paced slice of life affair, were the couple spend most of their days doing chores at their countryside abode. Occasionally they’ll take a trip down to London, for some shopping, or visit Iceland’s dragon sanctuary to fashion a wand. Character interactions are given more prominence than story in this series. Just like Haley Joel Osment, many of the folks Chise converses with are invisible to regular humans. Instead of poltergeists, Chise’s “sixth sense” allows her to see members of the Fae race.

VERDICT

My rating for The Ancient Magus’ Bride is a five out of five. The series is certainly deserving of the accolade Crunchyroll bestowed upon it. Fans of fantasy and the supernatural are sure to enjoy the world Yamazaki has crafted. It’s populated with a diverse cast of characters who are brought to life thanks to Studio Wit’s beautiful artwork. Mischievous fairies fly through the air, along with adorable woolly bugs (I really desire a plush toy of the latter.) In the village where Elias resides spirits are abundant. His housekeeper is a banshee and one of his neighbours unknowingly cohabitates with a half naked Succubus. Sigh. Why can’t my own home be haunted by a cute waifu?

I am certain this series will be a contender for my annual anime top five, as it is rich in emotional moments. Some scenes will make you laugh and others will invoke tears. Surprisingly the romance is subtle. Don’t expect too much mushiness, as Chise is recovering from a tragic childhood whilst Elias is a creature who struggles to comprehend human emotions. Slowly however a bond does form between the pair. The blossoming love exposes how Elias isn’t the majestic sorcerer he initially appears to be. When others court Chise’s attention he isn’t above immature bouts of jealousy. He wants Chise’s affection all for himself. Old buffalo head is quite the horny devil… in more ways than one.

Review of Occultic;Nine (Volume One)

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The suspect placement of that semicolon tells me that Occultic;Nine is created by the chap who is behind Steins;Gate. To be exact, this anime is based on the light novels written by Chiyomaru Shikura. Unlike the titles that make up the Science Adventure series, Occultic;Nine focuses on the paranormal. This adaptation spans across a dozen episodes, but due to licensor demands Manga Entertainment is releasing the show across two six-episode collections. Ouch! Slowly but surely we are regressing back to the bad old days, when box sets were a rarity and most anime DVDs would contain a mere three episodes.

OVERVIEW

Yūta Gamon is a teenage blogger who operates a website that specializes in the supernatural. Motivated by the promised riches of ad revenue, he spends his days linking to articles that talk about the occult. Ha, good luck with making cash online. My blog has been around for five years and to date has yet to generate a single penny! Anyways… Yūta gets embroiled in a murder mystery when he stumbles across the corpse of Professor Hashigami, an esteemed researcher who abandoned science in favour of studying unexplained phenomena. The only clues found at the crime scene are the word CODE (scribbled in blood) and a key lodged inside the professor’s jaw.

Despite not attracting much website traffic, Yūta’s blog has a knack for catching the attention of oddballs. Over the course of these six episodes Yūta ends up interacting with a streamer who is famous for fortune telling, a youngster who cosplays as a gumshoe and an author of Yaoi comics. The zaniest person in Yūta’s life is his sidekick Ryoka Narusawa. She is hyperactive and prone to zapping her chum with a Taser that resembles a ray gun. I suppose that she keeps an electric deterrent at hand to keep perverts at bay, as she has a ginormous pair of breasts. Even by anime standards, Ryoka’s knockers are unrealistically proportioned.

VERDICT

My rating for Occultic;Nine (Volume One) is a two out of five. At the show’s midway point I find myself completely disinterested in the story. That by itself wouldn’t be a deal breaker, if the characters were good at least. Steins;Gate for example managed to hold my attention, during its slow paced opener, because the antics of Okabe’s group were amusing to watch. None of Occultic;Nine’s cast makes an impression though. Characters like reporter Tōko Sumikaze and son of the deceased Sarai Hashigami lack personality. On the other end of the scale we have people who are annoyingly eccentric – the breast example in that category being Ryoka.

Perhaps the series can redeem itself in the next volume. I am sceptical though, as the script is juggling way too many subplots with just six episodes remaining. Apart from the murder mentioned earlier there is a mass suicide to investigate, a girl who is haunted by a ghost and a clandestine organization who appear to be engaged in nefarious activities. Will I stick around to find out how it all ends? The answer to that question is (Occultic) Nein. That’s the problem with splitting a series in twain Manga Entertainment. If the first half doesn’t impress don’t expect viewers to remain for the conclusion.

Review of Kirby Star Allies

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The only person more gluttonous than myself is Kirby. Nintendo’s pink puffball devours enemies akin to me scarfing down Easter Eggs. The only difference is that Kirby’s overeating is beneficial, as it allows him to mimic the powers of the foe he consumed. I on the other hand only suffer a trip to the loo, whenever chocolate overindulgence takes its toll. Sitting on the can, with indigestion, isn’t so bad though. Thanks to handhelds I can still game whilst in the restroom. Years ago I would play Kirby’s Dreamland on the Gameboy. Nowadays I repeat the stomachache ritual with Kirby Star Allies on the Nintendo Switch.

OVERVIEW

Kirby Star Allies begins with a hooded figure performing an occult ceremony, which causes dark hearts to rain down from the sky. Anyone who comes into contact with these black organs becomes evil… or eviler as is the case when King Dedede and Meta Knight get corrupted by their influence. Kirby, the adorable protector of Pop Star, sets off to free his rivals from the shackles of dark heart possession. Hampering his progress are three generals (Francisca, Flamberge, and Zan Partizanne) who command elemental magic. This wicked trio are stockpiling the hearts, with the aims of using them to resurrect their dark lord.

If you seek respite from hardcore games, which revel in violence and difficulty, Kirby Star Allies is a good choice. The cute graphics and cheerful soundtrack are the antithesis of something like Dark Souls. Its casual gameplay differentiates it from other platformers, such as Super Meat Boy, which punish those who lack superhuman reflexes. Even an inept player such as myself was able to best Star Allies within six hours. I attribute my success to Kirby’s floatation gifts that allow him to soar over pitfalls. By hurling hearts at an opponent, Kirby can also convert adversaries into loyal bodyguards. This significantly lowers the challenge, as your companions can do much of the work when it comes to combat.

VERDICT

My rating for Kirby Star Allies is a three and a half out of five. Although it is far from Kirby’s greatest adventure it is still a lot of fun to play. What most people will criticise Star Allies for is its longevity. Kirby games are known for being short, but even so it is disappointing that developer HAL Laboratory didn’t use the Switch’s beefier hardware to include some more content. Aside from the story mode you can tackle a couple of mini-games. Once the end credits roll a boss rush mode is unlocked. You’ll also get the option of playing through the story again with different characters.

I suspect the game would have been more enjoyable for me had I opted to play co-op with friends, rather than depend on AI partners. Alas, it is awkward to invite friends over for a multiplayer session when I am playing Kirby in the bathroom (curse that painful belly and those delicious Easter treats.) What I liked best about Kirby Star Allies is copying powers to defeat enemies and solve puzzles. There are close to thirty powers on offer and some of them can be combined. Kirby can pretend to be Link with the sword skill, masquerade as Ness with the ESP ability or role-play a woman courtesy of the cook and cleaning powers. I kid! I kid! Please don’t flame me too hard in the comments section 🙂

Review of Star Wars: The Last Jedi

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Mark Hamill turned up at my hometown the other day to open the “Sky Walk” bridge (just like me, the locals love a good pun). I decided to commemorate the event by watching Star Wars: The Last Jedi. As someone who enjoyed The Force Awakens and Rogue One, I have to say that this film is the weakest of Disney’s post Lucas efforts. Hopefully Solo will put the franchise back on track, although I am pessimistic on that prediction due to the film’s well-publicised production troubles. Replacing directors, partway through filming, sounds like a recipe for disaster. It certainly didn’t save Justice League from being a disappointment.

OVERVIEW

Following on from The Force Awakens’ conclusion, Rey has located Luke Skywalker on an isolated alien world. She hopes that the legendary Jedi will teach her the ways of the Force. Unfortunately for her, Luke has become a reclusive hermit who is opposed to mentoring new apprentices. Skywalker would rather spend his retirement alone drinking green milk, which he harvests by pinching a hideous extra terrestrial’s nipples. Believe me, the image is even more grotesque than my written description. Meanwhile the Resistance is on the run and begin the film pursued by a First Order fleet.

X-Wing ace Poe Dameron earns the good guys a reprieve by leading an attack that fells a First Order dreadnaught. The assault however comes at the cost of many casualties. In the battle’s aftermath, the surviving Resistance craft find themselves low on fuel and still hounded by their enemy’s armada. Perhaps they can flee if someone infiltrates the First Order flagship and hacks their computers, with the aplomb of a Cambridge Analytica Facebook App. Ex-Storm Trooper Finn volunteers to find a code breaker who is up to the task. He begins his search on a casino world, ably assisted by his new yandere girlfriend Rose.

VERDICT

I am awarding Star Wars: The Last Jedi a two and a half out of five. Despite the lengthy 152 minute running time I can’t say that the movie ever bored me. I was however underwhelmed by how the script squandered the potential set up by its predecessor. Director Rian Johnson inherited a story packed with juicy mysteries, but chose not to explore any of them. The question of Rey’s parentage was answered in a most anticlimactic manner. Meanwhile audiences hoping to learn of Snoke’s backstory will find nothing here. Just like Darth Maul, this villain looks sinister but doesn’t have much substance. I suppose the character’s origins will be left for novels and spin-offs to expand.

Just like The Force Awakens, this movie recycles material from the original trilogy. AT-AT Walkers on a snowy battlefield, a protagonist training under an eccentric master and heroes ending the movie on the ropes all harken back to Empire. One thing that really bugged me was Luke’s portrayal. I understand that people get grouchier with age, but Skywalker’s personality shift was too much. He’s completely apathetic to the plight of his friends and family, just because he discovered that his nephew is a bit emo. Let’s hope that J.J. Abrams can salvage this mess in Episode IX. Otherwise, I too may join the despondent ranks of Kylo Ren by moping about, dressing in black and listening to Simple Plan tunes.

Review of The Longest Five Minutes

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Let’s start off this review by clearing one thing up. The Longest Five Minutes takes considerably longer than 300 seconds to complete. I estimate that my playthrough, of this retro style RPG, lasted for around ten hours. That’s lengthier than the title suggests, but still shorter than your average JRPG. I’m not complaining though, because these days I just don’t have the time to finish a Witcher sized adventure. My long shifts are partially to blame and my age is a factor too. Once I hit my mid-thirties I lost the energy required to stay up all night playing games. Then again, my ex-girlfriends would argue that I never had much stamina for “night time activities” to begin with.

OVERVIEW

The Longest Five Minutes sees players assume the role of a hero named Flash Back. When the game begins Flash is in the midst of a five-minute tussle versus the tyrannical Demon King. How Flash got into this predicament is a mystery because he is suffering from amnesia (an ailment common amongst RPG heroes and anime characters alike.) In effect TLFM commences at the finale and gradually reveals how the story got to that point via memory fragments, which are essentially short levels chronicling Flash’s journey from his home village to the overlord’s castle. Joining him along for the ride are a bashful cleric, a Kung-Fu tomboy and a spoony mage who aspires to be a bard.

Gameplay wise The Longest Five Minutes feels like a 16-bit title, due to its turn based combat and pixel graphics. Ah, the 16-bit era. Those were the days! Final Fantasy was still fun, Sonic hadn’t lost his coolness and I could stay up past 10pm without feeling sleepy. What distinguishes TLFM from other RPGs is that the story is broken up into bite-sized chunks, which can be completed in a sitting. That’s great for busy folks, but may be less appealing for gamers who like to grind. Every stage is its own self-contained quest, were your party begin at an appropriate level and with suitable gear to best the challenge ahead. There’s no point in farming for gold/EXP because nothing carries over between stages.

VERDICT

My rating for The Longest Five Minutes is a three and a half out of five. It’s a game I would recommend to those seeking a casual JRPG experience. Perfect for anyone who needs a break from the constant game overs in Bloodborne (currently available to download off PSN for free.) The game doesn’t offer much, in the way of challenge, but I didn’t mind as the charming characters and exceptional soundtrack were enough to keep me invested. I dug the unique “reverse order” storytelling structure. The cut scenes are mostly humorous, as one would expect for an NIS America release, although it must be said that some of the endings on offer are surprisingly emotional.

Right now The Longest Five Minutes can be purchased on Vita, Switch and PC. I went with the Vita version, as the short levels make this RPG an ideal portable experience. Buyers who opt for the PC version can acquire the soundtrack, via DLC, which is a nice perk. Despite enjoying the game I think the £35 asking price is steep. The production values don’t justify that cost nor does the campaign’s length. Overall though, I enjoyed the game. The Longest Five Minutes looks like a game from my youth, but its streamline design makes it ideal to play on an adult’s busy schedule. Why does work consume so much time? The true “longest five minutes” is when I glance at my watch, counting down the end of my shift.