Review of Gatchaman Crowds Insight

gatchainsight

Brexit, Trump’s presidency and the recent elections in France. Right now it is impossible to turn on the TV without getting swamped by politics, and not even Japanese animation can provide respite from the horrors of government. Take the second season of Gatchaman Crowds for example. Subtitled “Insight” this thirteen-episode follow-up to Tatsunoko Production’s 2013 hit deals with the Japanese electorate picking a red-faced alien to be their leader. Wow, talk about a bizarre plot. Gatchaman sure has changed a lot from the days were science ninjas beat up transgendered mutants in the seventies. Um… okay never mind. This franchise has always been weird.

OVERVIEW

Gatchaman Crowds Insight commences in the aftermath of the last series, which saw Japan’s populace adopt the use of Crowds. By tapping on an app people can now summon digital avatars to do their bidding. Crowds are employed to lend humanitarian aid during disasters and to help out with less important tasks such as scrubbing away graffiti. Not everyone is so benevolent though. A terrorist group called VAPE is using Crowds to commit acts of vandalism that would make an ANTIFA mob blush. Rizumu Suzuki, who leads VAPE, believes that the civil disobedience he orchestrates is making a point. It’s dangerous to give the masses control of advanced technology, because only twenty percent of the country is smart enough to use it responsibly.

The heroic Gatchaman eventually defeat VAPE, but the collateral damage caused by their battle is enough to convince Japan’s citizens that Crowds are a menace. A snap election is promptly held resulting in the abolition of Crowds and the crowning of a new prime minister. Gelsadra, an extra-terrestrial who recently landed on Earth, ends up securing the post of PM thanks to his charm and mind reading powers. By absorbing a person’s thought bubbles Gelsadra can instantly determine what the majority desire. More doctors, lower taxes and the sacking of corrupt senators are all approved in answer to Gelsadra’s daily referendums. Less tax? Sounds like my type of candidate… even if his bright skin and suspect hair remind me a little of Trump.

Despite his high approval rating Gelsadra laments how he is unable to make everyone happy. No matter how popular his policies are there is always a minority that vote against the proposed new laws. Human beings are individuals who each have their own set of values. With that in mind how can someone get an entire nation to agree on an idea? One solution is to eliminate the few dissenters who disagree with mainstream public opinion. Enter the Kuu – a race of entities who appear to be affiliated with Gelsadra. These carnivorous beasties patrol the streets on the lookout for contrarians. If you voice a viewpoint that goes against the grain watch out or else they will gobble you up. Gulp! I better think twice next time I argue that Makoto isn’t the best waifu in Persona 5.

VERDICT

My rating for Gatchaman Crowds Insight is a four out of five. Whether you end up enjoying the show or not should be pretty obvious. Anyone who liked the first season will lap up Insight, as it is more of the same. If you loathed Crowds, because it is radically different to seventies Gatchaman, you should probably give this series a miss. Based on my score you can ascertain that I am in the former camp. The story is clever and the aesthetics appeal to me. Insight’s visuals are vibrant, the use of cardboard cut outs in the opening is stylish and I dig the CG designs of the characters when they transform. The computer generated robotic armour looks way more badass than the campy bird suits worn by Ken Washio’s team back in the day.

One gripe I have with Insight is that heroine Hajime Ichinose continues to be a Mary Sue that can do no wrong. Her cheerful personality can be annoying at times, but on the plus side she has great knockers (which the camera zooms in on whenever she bickers with the evil alien trapped inside her body.) Thankfully Hajime doesn’t detract from the storyline’s message, which warns that mindlessly going with the flow is unwise. People should think for themselves and resist the influence of social media. One thing Insight taught me is that online voting is a terrible idea for general elections. Then again that much should be obvious based on Internet polls of the past. Anyone else remember when “Hitler Did Nothing Wrong” won the ballot to decide Mountain Dew’s new flavour?

Review of Busou Shinki

busoushinki

Konami has received a lot of flack lately due to their poor treatment of Hideo Kojima and the company’s decision to focus more on non-gaming projects. The criticism is unfair when you consider that businesses are out to make money. Metal Gear Solid V cost an astonishing $80 million to make and if perfectionist Kojima had gotten his way he would have spent even more cash on extra content, so he had to go. Video game development is pricey and a huge financial risk if your triple A title flops. With that in mind Konami have sensibly decided to pursue other ventures. Gamblers who like playing with balls can try Konami’s pachinko machines. Meanwhile geeks who lust over plastic waifus can play with their balls whilst ogling Konami’s Busou Shinki line of female action figures. Said toys were popular enough to spawn an anime spin-off, which I am reviewing today.

OVERVIEW

In the Busou Shinki animated universe humanity has cracked the secret of artificial intelligence. Age of Ultron has taught us that bestowing machines with sentience can be perilous, so just to be safe the Japanese decided to make their androids a paltry six inches tall. That’s tiny enough to render them harmless. High school student Rihito, who has recently migrated back to Japan, happens to be the proud owner of four Busou Shinki bots. He’s not a morning person and is inept at housework so it falls upon his diminutive ladies to clean the apartment and wake Rihito up during school days. Once their master has set off to school the pint-sized quartet go on various adventures. The series is basically Toy Story with form fitting plug-suits. Over the course of thirteen episodes the Shinkis battle thieves, compete in a grand prix and even prevent airline terrorism.

Rihito’s four Shinki are named Ann, Ines, Lene and Hina. Ann is the sensible one and arguably Rihito’s favourite (due to the fact that he has owned her for the longest time.) Just like parents with their kids, the first one always gets the most affection. I can attest to that because I am an eldest child. On the off chance that she is reading this… in your face sis! Moving on, Ines is the tomboy who loves drinking oil. Her fondness for robotic beverages may be a crutch for coping with the realization that she has a small bust. Lene is the clumsy blonde who has a passion for tailoring. The latest addition to Rihito’s collection is a no nonsense swordfighter named Hina. Due to Rihito’s disinterest in the Shinki battle circuit Hina frustratingly has no outlet to show off her fighting skills. I suspect she would be a happier gal if someone from Angelic Layer owned her instead.

VERDICT

My rating for Busou Shinki: Armoured War Goddess is a three out of five. I liked the series for the most part, but wouldn’t recommend buying it on DVD at the current RRP of twenty-four quid. The series is ultimately one of those disposable shows that you watch just once, negating the need for a physical copy. It’s a pity that you can’t legally stream the anime because the standalone episodes are ideal for when you have thirty-minutes to kill and are in the mood for a good chuckle. The comedy is decent and doesn’t resort to the harem trope of having the female heavy cast feuding over the show’s lone guy. Rihito’s relationship with the Shinki is platonic, as one would expect given that it’s physically impossible to romance anime merchandise… even if some zealous body pillow collectors would have you believing otherwise.

Compared to other shows Busou Shinki’s fan service is rather tame and more the side effect of replicating the toy designs rather than a conscious effort by the studio to titillate. Although the storylines skew more towards humour than action there are occasional scenes were the heroines battle against rival Shinki. The duels in question have each character donning power armour and taking to the skies in CG sequences. If that sounds familiar it should because the aerial dogfights resemble Infinite Stratos, which the folks at 8-Bit are also responsible for animating. For a series created to shamelessly peddle figurines Busou Shinki is more entertaining than it deserves to be. Is it enough to make people forgive Konami for their past transgressions? Nah. They’ll have to revive Silent Hills and Castlevania if they ever hope to restore their tattered reputation.

Review of Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid

dragonmaid

We’ve all had nights were one too many drinks get consumed and before you know it you attract an obese whale who follows you back home for some um “coffee.” In the case of Miss Kobayashi however an evening of overindulgence resulted in the bespectacled programmer cohabitating with a dragon, rather than a marine mammal. After a strenuous day at the office Kobayashi unwinds with a few brews leaving her completely plastered. Due to her drunken stupor she misses her stop and ends up taking the train all the way up to the nearby mountains. There she finds an injured dragon named Tohru who she saves from death by extracting the holy blade protruding from her scaly torso. Smitten by her saviour, Tohru decides to permanently migrate over to the human realm and become Kobayashi’s servant.

OVERVIEW

Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid is a thirteen-episode anime based on the manga created by Coolkyoushinja (whose previous works include the amusingly titled I Can’t Understand What My Husband Is Saying.) This charming slice of life comedy follows the reserved Miss Kobayashi as she settles into the routine of living with a reptilian maid. As one may expect Tohru’s housekeeping is unconventional to say the least. She cleans Kobayashi’s unmentionables by shoving them down her gullet, dusts the apartment by using sorcery rather than a broom and when mealtime rolls along she serves dishes of roasted dragon tail (I’m guessing it tastes like chicken.) Kobayashi’s once quiet life is turned upside down by Tohru’s antics and things only get livelier when other magical lizards relocate from their fantasy world to Japan as well.

The first visitor is a petite dragon named Kanna Kamui, who Kobayashi later adopts. Kanna resembles a cute kindergartener and is for all intends and purposes this show’s Renge Miyauchi (Non Non Biyori.) After a while Tohru’s pals Fafnir and Lucoa show up to pay their friend a visit. Fafnir initially dislikes humans, but that gradually changes when he boards with Kobayashi’s geeky co-worker Makoto Takiya. Under his roof the wicked dragon is seduced by the allure of MMOs and manga. Lucoa also ends up finding a human roommate in the form of underage mage Shōta Magatsuchi. The bashful wizard mistakes Lucoa for a succubus, as she appeared before him during a demon summoning ritual. Lucoa’s skimpy attire and tendency to motorboat the youngster, with her ginormous breasts, does little to quash Shōta’s assumptions.

VERDICT

I am awarding Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid a score of four and a half stars. Usually when I watch anime I limit myself to a couple of episodes per sitting, but with this series I couldn’t resist marathoning the first ten. Early on I was hooked, as each instalment would introduce an interesting new character to the mix. Once the full cast was established the series retained my undivided attention thanks to the consistently funny humour and heart-warming moments that revolve around the Kobayashi/Tohru/Kanna family unit. The last two episodes don’t quite match the quality of the previous eleven, but they aren’t terrible by any means. For me the twelfth episode was a bit slow, as it dealt with Tohru’s backstory. Episode thirteen on the other hand suffered from fewer gags due to the necessity of concluding the season with some domestic drama.

One creative choice that elevates Dragon Maid over other anime would have to be the gender of Miss Kobayashi. Had the series been titled Mr Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid we may well have gotten a less appealing harem show were the sexy dragons bicker for the protagonist’s affections. That’s not to say that Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid is devoid of fan service though. Miss Kobayashi may be sensibly dressed and realistically proportioned, but the same cannot be said of the other girls. Tohru’s rival Elma for example is stacked (no guessing where the fat from her calorie rich snacks ends up.) Lucoa as previously mentioned is blessed with massive mammaries and Tohru herself is no slouch in the chest department. I had to chuckle when Kobayashi asked what Tohru’s bra size is. “D” she replies, “It stands for Dragon.”

Guardians of the Galaxy Review

guardians of the galaxy

Welcome to The Otaku Judge, your best source for reviews on the latest movies. Today I am critiquing Guardians of the Galaxy, which um… came out almost three years ago! Yeah I am a little behind on the Marvel cinematic universe, but what better time to watch this film than now when Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 has just hit cinemas? Featuring a group of lesser-known superheroes, the titular Guardians of the Galaxy comprise of five intergalactic misfits led by Peter Quill aka Star-Lord. Quill (played by Chris Pratt) is the team’s sole human. He grew up amongst the cosmos and became a rogue after being abducted by space pirates at a young age. Yarr.

OVERVIEW

Guardians of the Galaxy begins with Star-Lord pilfering a mysterious orb right under the noses of some unfriendly aliens. Unbeknownst to him the sphere houses a powerful Infinity Stone, which Kree fanatic Ronin the Accuser desires. When Star-Lord attempts to sell off the orb he is intercepted by Ronin’s underling Gamora and a pair of bounty hunters named Rocket and Groot, who are after the price on outlaw Quill’s head. The ensuing battle royale that follows is eventually quelled by the Nova Corps police force, culminating in the rowdy foursome getting incarcerated. Whilst serving time at the Kyln penitentiary Star-Lord, Gamora, Rocket and Groot encounter an inmate named Drax whose sole purpose in life is to kill Ronin, as payback for the murder of his family.

The above mentioned quintet patch up their differences and agree to team up in order to escape prison, cash in on the lucrative Infinity Stone and give Ronin a good kicking. Thus the Guardians of the Galaxy are born. Star-Lord shuns modern technology in favour of listening to music on a Walkman. Zoe Saldana plays Gamora. After being Uhura in Star Trek she now assumes the role of a green skinned beauty (the kind that Kirk likes to bang.) Drax is the humourless strongman who takes everything too literally. Rocket is a crotchety racoon that uses his gift for tinkering to construct weaponry. His best pal is the humanoid tree named Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel.) Out of the entire cast Diesel had the easiest time memorizing lines because his character’s vocabulary is limited to the phrase “I am Groot.”

VERDICT

My rating for Guardians of the Galaxy is a four out of five. The movie wasn’t the tour de force that word of mouth had led me to believe, but overall it was above average when compared to other mindless popcorn flicks. I appreciated seeing Marvel expand their horizons outside of Earth for a change and even if the plot is nothing special there’s never a dull moment thanks to the brawls, spaceship dogfights and moments of hilarity. My favourite Guardians were Rocket and Groot, which probably doesn’t say a lot for the live action acting given that they are both CG characters… and one of them can barely speak! That said I think Dave Bautista acquitted himself well in the role of Drax. Compared to other wrestlers turned actor, he may lack Dwayne Johnson’s charisma but he still made me chuckle by playing the straight man very well.

Tradition decrees that I close off a Marvel Studios movie review by lambasting the villain, so here goes. Just like Malekith in the Thor sequel, Ronin is nothing more than a generic baddie coated in makeup. The motivation for his evil acts is barely explored, so it feels like he is only there to give the heroes someone to beat up. In one brief cameo appearance upcoming Avengers antagonist Thanos exuded more personality than Ronin did in two hours. Thanos gives the air of someone not to be trifled with, even if he has trouble keeping his lackeys under control. Over the course of Guardians of the Galaxy’s story Ronin double crosses him and the same goes for his two adoptive daughters. Man, it’s so difficult to find reliable henchmen these days!

Review of Full Throttle Remastered

fullthrottleremastered

Remasters are a wonderful thing. Not only do they allow younger gamers to enjoy classics on a modern system, but they also serve to remind me how unreliable memory can be. Full Throttle Remastered once again sees Double Fine Studios resurrect a LucasArts point n click adventure, by giving it a new lick of paint and a director’s commentary. At any time players can switch from the new hand-drawn graphics to the game’s original pixel art. The contrast between the two styles is quite the eye opener. Just like watching a cartoon from my youth, it’s shocking to see how garish the blocky 1995 visuals are. The artists of the 2017 backgrounds and character models have somehow managed to make the game appear like how my brain mistakenly recalls it looking.

OVERVIEW

Full Throttle Remastered stars Ben Throttle, the no nonsense leader of the Polecats biker gang. Players guide Ben on a quest to clear his name after he is framed for the murder of Corley Motors’ chairman Malcolm Corley. The real culprit is the company’s vice-president Adrian Ripburger, who is plotting to take over the business. If Ripburger gets his way Corley Motors will abandon production of Ben’s favourite choppers and will instead manufacture lame minivans. What a fiend! The game is the brainchild of Tim Schafer, the talented designer whose other works include Monkey Island, Grim Fandango, Costume Quest and um… Sesame Street: Once Upon a Monster. I can’t say that I have ever played that last title. Cookie Monster may be cool, but I cannot stand Elmo.

Unlike some earlier LucasArts titles interacting with the environment does not involve clicking on a menu’s assortment of text commands. Full Throttle instead uses a skull shaped ability wheel. By selecting the eyes, fist, boot or mouth it’s possible to examine objects, pick up items, kick ass and chat with the game’s cast of colourful characters. Speaking of conversing, Full Throttle has a great voice cast. The legendary Mark Hamill for example plays the role of Adrian Ripburger. If it weren’t for the end credits I wouldn’t have known because Ripburger doesn’t sound anything like Luke Skywalker or the Joker, which is a testament to the versatility of Hamill’s vocals. Roy Conrad’s gravelly speech also deserves a mention, as it is perfect for delivering Ben’s gruff dialogue.

VERDICT

My rating for Full Throttle Remastered is a three out of five. The game isn’t quite as good as I remembered it, but overall is still worth a purchase if you happen to be a fan of the point n click genre. Back in the day I loved Full Throttle because, when compared to its contemporaries, the puzzles on offer are easy to suss out. I could actually solve some of the brainteasers without resorting to a guide, which can’t be said of some other LucasArts releases. During my four-hour playthrough I couldn’t help comparing the game to the fairly recent Day of the Tentacle remaster. Out of those two remakes I would have to say that Day of the Tentacle is better. The gags are funnier and the conundrums you are pitted against are more cleverly designed.

In some ways Full Throttle is a bit like a Telltale game, because it is more concerned with delivering a good story rather than stumping players with head scratchers. That’s a design choice I can get behind, but the same cannot be said of the tedious highway combat segments that occur around the game’s midway point. During those battles players have to guess what weapon is effective against their randomly selected opponent and press the attack button at the appropriate time. It’s somewhat similar to Monkey Island’s swordfights, but less enjoyable because instead of selecting humorous jibes all you do is pick an object from Ben’s inventory. In the words of Guybrush, the biker duels “are a pain in the backside sir.” To which I would counter “your haemorrhoids are flaring up again eh?”

Avengers: Age of Ultron Review

ageofultron

What a shame that Tony Stark didn’t use his vast wealth to purchase a DVD copy of Terminator 2. If he had the billionaire philanthropist playboy would have learned what a bad idea it is to develop AIs. When the Avengers wrestle away control of Loki’s sceptre, from the clutches of Hydra, the genius also known as Iron Man uses the Asgardian staff to complete his Ultron programme. Stark hopes to delegate the responsibility of protecting Earth to machines. Unfortunately for him the plan backfires when Ultron gains sentience and a powerful robotic body. In a twist you can see coming a mile away, Ultron determines that the best course of action for saving the planet is to eradicate the globe’s biggest threat… namely the human race!

OVERVIEW

I am starting to suffer a little from robot fatigue. After watching the first two Iron Man films I have had my fill of superheroes battling evil versions of Tony Stark’s armour. Ultron and his army of replicas regrettably has Marvel reusing that idea yet again. Given the rich selection of comic book villains available to choose from, I can’t help but wonder why some other antagonist wasn’t picked instead for a live action adaptation. On the plus side Ultron has some flesh and blood underlings assisting him in the form of Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver. The enhanced humans (don’t call them mutants or Fox will sue) have made a pact with Ultron as they blame Stark Industries for their parents’ deaths. Scarlet Witch has the power of boobs, energy projection and mind manipulation whilst Quicksilver is a speedster who is less cool than his X-Men movie doppelganger.

Given that the synopsis outlined above is fairly straightforward you might be wondering how the writers stretched out the plot into a 140-minute feature. The answer to that question is dull side stories. After being relegated to the role of indoctrinated lackey in the first Avengers flick, Hawkeye is given more screen time courtesy of some family scenes. What’s this? Clint has kids and a wife? Wow, how riveting… not. Another sub-plot that I didn’t care for was the crowbarred romance between Black Widow and Bruce Banner. If Banner was still played by dreamy Ed Norton I could understand why Widow would be physically attracted to him, but it’s more of a stretch when Mark Ruffalo is playing the part. Perhaps the Beauty and the Beast love story was inserted to give geeks, who flock to these films, hope that poindexters can indeed attract supermodels.

VERDICT

My rating for Avengers: Age of Ultron is a three out of five. Thanks to the flashy action and funny one-liners the movie is entertaining. Avengers Assemble was more enjoyable however, as it was better paced and had the novelty factor of being the first A-list superhero team up. It’s probably for the best that director Joss Whedon has since left the Marvel cinematic universe, because the MCU releases that followed his departure have been more to my liking. When compared against Age of Ultron I found Ant-Man, Civil War and Doctor Strange to be wittier, smarter and more original respectively. Whedon relies on quips and character deaths too often when it comes to filmmaking. The end result is stories that are fun at first, but lack substance the longer they go. Maybe that explains why all his shows end up getting cancelled?

Blaming Whedon exclusively for Age of Ultron’s faults would be unfair though. Regardless of who was sitting in the director’s chair, there is no escaping how the source material hamstrings Age of Ultron’s script. The tale of a mechanical protector who turns on his creators is fine for a sixties graphic novel, but comes across as cliché in 2015. Ultron’s portrayal doesn’t help matters either. Despite appearing sinister in the trailers, thanks to James Spader’s vocal delivery, in the movie itself the character comes across as goofy. Like a teen with daddy issues, he is prone to outbursts whenever Stark is mentioned. Poor Tony. Everyone hates his guts. I still don’t get why Quicksilver wants him dead. It’s not Stark’s fault that someone used his weapons to kill mummy. That’s akin to hating the Volkswagen CEO, instead of the driver, when an automobile squishes your cat.

Review of Atelier Firis

atelierfiris

When it comes to video games I am a hypocrite. In the past I have chastised Activision for uncreatively releasing Call of Duty games every single year, but I myself buy Atelier titles on an annual basis. 2017 proved to be no exception with me purchasing Atelier Firis: The Alchemist and the Mysterious Journey back when it came out in March. This latest entry in Gust’s long running JRPG series has players guiding teenager Firis Mistlud on a yearlong pilgrimage to the city of Reisenberg. Our heroine has 365 days to reach her destination and pass the exam held there in order to fulfil her dream of becoming an accredited transmutation expert. Should she fail to graduate before the deadline elapses Firis can kiss her tan goodbye, because she will be forced to spend the remainder of her days prospecting ore in a subterranean mining town.

OVERVIEW

Atelier Firis is in a way the Dark Souls of cutesy anime role playing games. The mysterious journey that Firis has set off on involves harvesting materials, confrontations with monsters and periodically resting at campfires. Unlike said FromSoftware game Firis doesn’t however consume the souls of her victims. Campfires are where the young alchemist replenishes her life points and plies her craft. Due to the nomadic nature of her quest, Firis doesn’t have a workshop located in town so she makes do with a portable atelier. From outside the atelier resembles a modest tent, but once you step inside a spacious building is revealed housing a bedroom, cauldron and quarters for Firis’ travelling companions. Just like a time lord’s Tardis! The innards are roomier than the exterior would have you believe.

The objective of Atelier Firis is to arrive at Reisenberg within the allotted time. Along the way Firis also has to secure recommendations from three licenced alchemists, in order to prove that she is capable of challenging the city’s alchemy exam. At first Firis is a novice who can only craft a limited number of things. By battling creatures, exploring the land, gathering ingredients and reading books she will however become more proficient – enabling her to create more items. Completing quests also rewards Firis with idea points, which can be spent on unlocking new alchemy recipes. In no time at all players will be able to fashion weapons, snacks and decorations for their abode. Alchemy is easy to master and so powerful. Perhaps I should recommend it to my pals Edward and Al, as a means of resurrecting their mom. What’s the worst thing that could happen?

VERDICT

My rating for Atelier Firis is four stars. It’s one of the better Atelier games I have played and a substantial improvement over its predecessor Atelier Sophie. The game’s biggest highlight would have to be its expansive open world. Unlike previous titles in the series, navigation does not involve teleporting between zones via the use of a board game like map. The journey from Firis’ birthplace of Eltona to Reisenberg will involve a lot of walking, so get your hiking boots on! I found the trek to be highly enjoyable, even if the sightseeing would have benefitted from stronger graphics. The game’s turn-based battle system is rather basic, but never mind because in Atelier RPGs combat usually plays second fiddle to crafting and funny cut scenes. If Firis were an anime it would be a slice of life show rather than an action packed shounen series.

One thing that is contentious amongst the Atelier fan base is the use of time limits. There’s a faction that likes the challenge of meeting a deadline whilst the other side abhors playing under that pressure. If you happen to fall in the latter camp don’t worry because Firis’ time limit is very generous. During my playthrough I reached Reisenberg with ample days to spare (over one hundred in fact.) In hindsight I should have taken some detours rather than hurry straight to the finale. Once the end-credits roll players have the option of completing unfinished quests at their leisure in the post game, so there is no need to fret over the story’s countdown. Don’t rush because, like a wise man once said, the journey is more important than the destination. Well, unless your name is Phileas Fogg. If it is getting to the finish line ASAP is kind of a big deal.