Akame ga Kill (Collection Two) Review

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Brexit, countless celebrity deaths and No Man’s Sky failing to live up to the hype – by all accounts 2016 has been a rather depressing year. In case those aforementioned news stories haven’t soured your mood enough, worry not because Animatsu Entertainment has just released collection two of Akame ga Kill in the UK. Get ready to put the Samaritans on speed-dial, because this three-disc DVD set is saturated with despair inducing moments. Much like the first collection, which came out half a year ago, this anime adaptation of Takahiro’s manga isn’t shy about killing off its cast of likable characters. Why must you subject us to such cruelty Takahiro? The answer to that question is a mystery, just like why the show is named after a heroine who barely gets any screen time.

OVERVIEW

Collection two begins with Night Raid’s assassins and The Jaegers temporarily ceasing their hostilities to combat a common threat – namely murderous mutants who are running amok, after their creator met his untimely demise back in episode eleven. During the Death Beast purge Tatsumi and General Esdeath cross paths, before ending up on an uninhabited island courtesy of a third party’s portable teleporter. The unplanned trip gives the unlikely couple some quality alone time, much to Tatsumi’s discomfort. It’s always a laugh watching the sadistic ice queen lust after Tatsumi, even if the script never adequately explains why she is so attracted to him. I guess Tatsumi, like all male anime protagonists, oozes harem magnetism.

After the romantic getaway concludes Night Raid launches an assault on the capital. Standing between them and the nation’s corrupt leaders are the superhuman Jaegers. The stakes are high because, as previously established, when two Imperial Arm users meet one is certain to perish. Several scores are settled in the ensuing duels. Hoping to avenge the death of Sheele, sharpshooter Mine takes on cyborg (anti-social) justice warrior Seryu Ubiquitous and her canine companion Koro. Akame also gets the opportunity to confront her equally gluttonous sis Kurome, who we learn resents her sibling for joining the rebel forces. In a battle between the wielder of a poisonous blade and a warrior, who possesses a sword imbued with necromancy magic, who shall emerge victorious?

VERDICT

My rating for Akame ga Kill (Collection Two) is three stars. Just like the previous instalment, the highlight of the show has to be its action set pieces. Blood soaked Shonen goodness that isn’t padded out with superfluous filler or fifteen minutes of power-up yelling (forget Senzu Beans, give me a lozenge because my throat hurts from all that shouting.) I especially appreciated how cunning/skill determines the victor of confrontations and the importance given to the outcome of each brawl. Unlike Dragon Ball, fatalities matter because there are no golden spheres around to resurrect the slain. If your favourite character is decapitated deal with it, because they aren’t coming back. Shame then that Akame ga Kill’s body count is so ridiculously high.

The excessive carnage made the final stretch a real chore to watch. Eight successive episodes have characters meeting their maker, which cheapened the impact of each death. After a while the writer’s attempts to fish for audience sympathy becomes painfully transparent. Whenever a hero has a sentimental moment they may as well don a red Starfleet uniform, because the Grim Reaper is coming! Years from now people will remember Akame ga Kill’s anime original ending for its repetitive mortality cycle, which is a pity as the show trumps other adaptations by finishing on a conclusive note. With the source material just a few chapters away from wrapping up, it will be interesting to see how Takahiro’s manga will compare to Makoto Uezu’s screenplay. Perhaps the comic will surprise us all with a happily ever after? We exited the EU, David Bowie left us and Sean Murray lied. Please manga, don’t add to 2016’s gloomy legacy.

Samurai Flamenco (Box 1) Review

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Samurai Flamenco is a superhero show, which is rather ironic because much like a costumed vigilante the series could be accused of having dual identities. Comic book fans have often speculated whether the real Bruce Wayne is a billionaire playboy or the solemn protector of Gotham. After watching the first half of Samurai Flamenco I have a similar question. Is this Manglobe series an animated clone of Kick-Ass or a zany Power Rangers parody? The opening seven episodes suggest the former, but after an unexpected twist the latter is probably more accurate. Subverting audience expectations can be a risky game. Puella Magi Madoka Magica hooked in viewers by pretending to be a cute magical girl show before morphing into something deeper. In the case of Samurai Flamenco however I am uncertain how well the switcheroo in tone will be received.

OVERVIEW

Masayoshi Hazama is an up and coming male model, who grew up idolizing all things Super Sentai. Back when he was a kid Masayoshi dreamt of becoming a superhero, until someone explained to him that masked crime fighting is a completely fictional profession. To pay the bills Masayoshi settles for a job posing in fashion magazines, but his aspirations of protecting the innocent still remain. After dark Hazama transforms into Samurai Flamenco and battles the evil forces of drunken jaywalkers and loitering teens. Unfortunately for the fledgling hero people don’t appreciate being lectured at by a pink costumed goofball, often resulting in Masayoshi getting walloped. It falls upon police officer Hidenori Goto to rescue Masayoshi whenever things get too dangerous. Goto’s pleas that Masayoshi leave law enforcement to the cops fall on deaf ears.

Despite a rough start things take a turn for the better after Samurai Flamenco apprehends a brolly thief, turning him into an overnight Internet celebrity. With fame comes the support of an action star and a stationary manufacturer, who each bestows Masayoshi with self-defence training and non-lethal weapons respectively. Masayoshi’s exploits even inspire a copycat “Flamenco Girl” to take to the streets and aid him in smacking hoodlums. Their goals are the same, even if their personalities aren’t. Masayoshi is motivated by justice and is useless in combat. Flamenco Girl just seeks an excuse to kick ass, which she is proficient at (her favourite move involves stomping on a fallen foe’s crotch… ouch!) The duo manages to reduce the city’s crime rate, but how long will the peace last? From the shadows a deranged villain named King Torture prepares to strike.

VERDICT

My rating for Samurai Flamenco (Box One) is three and a half stars. I have always been fond of superhero comics and films, so it should come as no surprise that I enjoyed this anime. Even when episode seven rolled by I was still on board with the show, although I suspect the shift from realistic street level crime-fighting to battles with super powered enemies will be too jarring for some viewers. I am however concerned by what the future has in store for the series following on from the final battle with King Torture. Episode eleven introduces a new nemesis for Samurai Flamenco to tangle with and ratchets up the absurdity to levels I am not comfortable with. I’m okay with characters wielding oversized staplers, but I have to draw a line when a giant who has a perfume dispenser for a head shows up!

It’s a shame that this collection ends on such a whacky note, because I much preferred the more tranquil moments found in the earlier episodes. The bromance between Masayoshi and Goto starts the show on a high note and things only improve when Flamenco Girl appears. Her sadistic temperament and lust for guys in uniform elicited numerous chuckles from me. Aside from the DVD set’s zany finale my only other complaint would have to be with the artwork. Samurai Flamenco isn’t a bad looking show, but there are times when the visuals and animation could be better. Perhaps this is a sign that back in 2013 Manglobe studios was already feeling the financial pinch that would ultimately spell their demise? Either way, I am sufficiently attached to the characters that I will check out the second instalment once it hits UK stores. At the very least I am morbidly curious to see how much more insane things can get.

Log Horizon (Season Two) Part One Review

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Just like a lapsed World of Warcraft player, who only plays Blizzard’s MMO when an annual expansion comes out, I have returned to Log Horizon after a yearlong hiatus. Based on Mamare Touno’s novels, Log Horizon is yet another anime following the exploits of players who are trapped within the confines of an online RPG. Unlike Sword Art Online, were Kirito inexplicably wishes to flee a game were every female lusts after him, the player base of Elder Tales has accepted their new fantasy way of life. Season one chronicled how protagonist Shiore “the villain in Glasses” opened up diplomatic relations with the world’s NPC populace (called People of the Land) and how he secured control of Akihabara City… because even when dealing with magic and goblins it is good to live in a place where stores peddling Otaku products are plentiful.

OVERVIEW

Despite purchasing the Akiba Bank, in the last series, it has become apparent to Shiroe that his guild and allies are ill equipped to afford the expenditure associated with running a city. Christmas is fast approaching so funds are desperately needed to buy gifts and settle any outstanding bills. To alleviate Akiba’s financial woes, the bespectacled enchanter sets off on a pilgrimage for monies. His destination is the ominously named Abyssal Shaft, which houses an infinite supply of gold. Protecting said treasure are numerous traps and high-level creatures, which will require a raid group to clear. With this in mind Shiroe recruits the services of Silver Sword’s warriors and an ill-tempered monk named Demiquas. Viewers who recall the events of season one will remember that Shiroe and Demiquas aren’t the best of pals, so it will be interesting to see if they can bury the hatchet long enough to best the dungeon’s many challenges.

Back in Akihabara, the diminutive ninja known as Akatsuki is feeling glum because her beloved Shiroe has skipped town to go on the abovementioned spelunking fundraiser. In his absence she begins to suffer from low confidence. Unfortunately for Akatsuki her morale gets even worse when she suffers defeat at the hands of a serial killer who is presently targeting Akiba’s citizenry. The identity of the murderer is quite a mystery, as Elder Tales’ rules forbid combat within a settlement’s walls. Normally when a malefactor runs amok inside a safe zone they get dispatched by the town guard, but for some reason the authorities are turning a blind eye to this assassin’s activities. Are the police scoffing doughnuts rather than patrolling the streets or is there another explanation? Either way, if Akatsuki intends to restore order she will have to learn some new fighting skills and for the first time in her life accept the aid of others.

VERDICT

My rating for Log Horizon (Season Two) Part One is four stars. Prior to watching this collection I was worried that the show’s quality would dip, as Satelight are no longer animating the series. Thankfully, based on these thirteen episodes, I am pleased to report that this second chapter in the Log Horizon saga mirrors its predecessor when it comes to entertainment value. In terms of visuals I recall the original series having higher production values, but I can’t say that the less polished aesthetics affected my enjoyment of the anime. After a few episodes I adjusted to Studio Deen’s artwork and became absorbed in the storylines/characters. It’s good stuff, although perhaps a bit too wordy. There’s plenty of humour and debates about inter-kingdom politics, but when it comes to battles the action is mostly limited to Shiroe using his smarts to determine how best to conquer the giant guardians standing in his party’s way.

I liked that the script delved more deeply into the memory loss penalty slain heroes have to pay. The mechanic is explored during a sequence were Shiroe and Akatsuki converse in limbo whilst awaiting resurrection. The scenes reveal how emotionally fragile both characters are, even if they appear to be unflappable adventurers in Elder Tales. It’s something many MMO junkies can relate to. Success in those games demands questing for hundreds of hours in front of a PC. No surprise then that elite players often comprise of people who use digital worlds to escape real life troubles and social interactions. William (the guild master of Silver Sword) alludes to as much when rallying his comrades for battle. In real life, he exclaims, people may call his guildies losers but in Elder Tales they are legends. I hope Chris Patton got a bonus for dubbing that particular speech, because it ran for twenty minutes! See, I told you Log Horizon is a bit wordy.

Stardust Galaxy Warriors: Stellar Climax

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Like an irate student, who lives in a country where owning a firearm is legal, there’s nothing I enjoy more than going on a shooting spree. If you are of the same opinion, and own a current gen console or home computer, I highly recommend checking out Stardust Galaxy Warriors. This sci-fi themed shooter takes me back to the days when I would get a sore trigger finger blasting away enemies in titles such as R-Type and Parodius. Developed by the team at Dreamloop Games, this action packed download has players controlling the titular Galaxy Warriors, who are responsible for interstellar law enforcement in the year 2087. Patrolling the galaxy involves disintegrating anything that moves – be it hostile spaceships, a giant disco ball or an asteroid wearing a baseball cap.

OVERVIEW

The main appeal of Stardust Galaxy Warriors has to be the arsenal of weapons on offer plus its multiplayer mode, which allows up to four buddies to travel through the cosmos inside giant wannabe Gundams. Before commencing one of the main campaign’s ten stages, budding mech pilots are able to choose two weapons of mass destruction. The armaments on offer include flamethrowers, grenade launchers, triple beam laser rifles and heat seeking rockets. If all else fails however you can also ignore projectile damage in favour of swiping foes with a sword. Getting into melee range can be risky, but the dangers are offset by the thrill of emulating classic anime bots like Voltron, who would always vanquish evil with a swish of his giant blade.

Aside from picking what two weapons to brandish, players also need to select whom to control from the Stardust Galaxy Warriors’ roster of five playable characters. If you are the type of indecisive chap, who struggles deciding what to order from a restaurant menu, this may not be the game for you! Each pilot, whose codename is part colour and part furry critter, comes equipped with his or her own special skill. Black Bear for example can protect herself with energy barriers that redirect bullets back at opponents. Red Tiger on the other hand can easily evade harm by slowing down the fabric of time. I think my high school chemistry teacher also possessed those same chrono altering powers. His dull thirty-minute classes seemed to drag on for hours.

VERDICT

My rating for Stardust Galaxy Warriors is a four out of five. It’s probably the best shoot-em-up I have played since Deathsmiles. The electronic soundtrack is top notch and I dug the humorous dialogue that bookends each level. Players who lack godlike reflexes shouldn’t be discouraged from giving the title a bash, because the onscreen action is far less intense than other bullet hell shooters I could mention. The adjustable difficulty means that players of all skill levels can enjoy Starduct Galaxy Warriors and if survival is a concern worry not, because the controllable mechs can be upgraded with improved damage and defence capabilities in between stages. It’s great to play a shooter were you can soak up some damage for a change. One thing that irritates me about other games in the genre is how a tiny pixel grazing your little toe can result in instantaneous death.

In terms of content Stardust’s main campaign can be cleared in one or two sittings, but it matters not as the game is something I am likely to replay multiple times. For less than a tenner you also get a challenge mode to playthrough and high score hunters can tackle the Gauntlet, which pits you against an endless wave of foes. The only gripe I have with Stardust Galaxy Warriors is that the multiplayer is limited to couch co-op only. In these days of high-speed interwebs I much prefer gaming online, even if it means teaming up with random strangers (which is a roundabout way of saying that I have no real life friends.) All that said, even if your PS4 sessions are strictly a solo experience I can highly recommend Stardust Galaxy Warriors. It’s got giant automatons, epilepsy triggering particle effects and even a Jigglypuff reference. What more could you ask for?

Review of Hanayamata

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Fourteen-year-old Naru Sekiya is a timid girl who doesn’t stand out much, preferring instead to hide her face behind the cover of a good fairy tale book. Naru has shunned the spotlight for most of her young life, but that all changes when she crosses paths with a pintsized blonde named Hana Fountainstand. Due to her short stature, Naru mistakes Hana for a pixie – although if you ask me the girl’s fangs make her look more like a loli vampire. Instead of Neverland, Hana is in fact an American transfer student hailing from the far less magical land of New Jersey. Smitten with Japanese culture, Hana dreams of starting up a Yosakoi club. After much pestering she convinces Naru to join her cause, giving the shy teenager a chance to finally dazzle in front of others.

OVERVIEW

Based on Sō Hamayumiba’s manga, Hanayamata is a twelve-episode anime revolving around the exploits of an after school club. When compared to other “cute girls doing cute things” programmes the series stands out as it revolves around Yosakoi, which isn’t well known over here in the West. A series featuring an obscure Japanese dance, were participants groove to the beat of rattles called Naruko, is certainly more novel than cartoons centred on pop idols or rock bands. The activity being performed is the only original thing Hanayamata has going for it though, because the storylines feel like they are lifted from Love Live and K-On. In Hana’s defence though, her chums actually practice their craft rather than waste time scoffing down tea and desserts.

Over the dozen episodes the Yosakoi club expands from a duo to a quintet. Tami Nishimikado signs up because every Moe show needs an affluent lady like girl, although before joining she struggles with getting her pop’s approval. The second recruit is Naru’s best friend Yaya Sasame. Despite already being occupied with other hobbies (she plays drums in a band) Yaya enlists to help Hana’s posse meet the minimum student quota necessary to be sanctioned as an official club. Yaya constantly feuds with Hana, as she is jealous of how the diminutive Yank monopolizes Naru’s free time. Last, but not least, is student council president Machi Tokiwa who is initially opposed to the club’s unauthorised use of school facilities. Machi’s change of heart could be considered a spoiler were it not for the fact that she appears dancing with the others in the show’s OP! The title HaNaYaMaTa also gives the game away, as it is a construct of each girl’s name.

VERDICT

My rating for Hanayamata is three stars. I enjoyed the series thanks to Hana’s hyperactive antics and the adorable moments provided by Naru’s bashful displays. Come to think of it, most of the girls blush when complimented by their fellow club-mates. Should you seek ships there are more here than in your average port. I do however wonder if other viewers will share my positive opinions. People, who watch more slice of life anime than I, may have a lower tolerance for Hanayamata’s lack of originality. Naru overcoming stage fright, Hana’s quest to find a club advisor and one of the dancers leaving at the eleventh hour have all been done to death in other properties. If you ask me Hanayamata shines when it tries to be sweet/funny, but flounders when it feels the need to inject drama via the appropriation of borrowed plotlines.

Complaints about recycled ideas aside, I can’t accuse Hanayamata of being a lazy cash grab that is hoping to capitalize on a popular anime genre. The artists at Madhouse Studio have clearly put a lot of effort into adapting the source material. Backgrounds are gorgeously drawn and the animation is fluid, which is always a plus when dance choreography is a big part of the show’s appeal. I also found the characters to be charming, even the adult supporting cast. I especially liked Sally Tokiwa the absent minded homeroom teacher who has a weakness for cute outfits. Like most anime senseis she laments not having a boyfriend. Any single guys looking for love should purchase an airline ticket to Japan post haste. Evidently the country has an abundant number of unmarried female educators.

Lord Marksman and Vanadis Review

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Tales of political intrigue and fantasy warfare are all the rage these days thanks to Game of Thrones’ popularity. Not even anime can escape the inspirational grasp of George R.R Martin’s books. Just like the aforementioned novels, Lord Marksman and Vanadis is rich in medieval battles, dragons, rulers who partake in skulduggery and boobies (the real reason why most blokes tune into the HBO television adaptation.) Set in a magical land, loosely modelled off historical Europe, Lord Marksman and Vanadis chronicles the adventures of Tigrevurmud Vorn – a young count who must use his archery talents to protect the tiny nation of Alsace from foreign invaders.

OVERVIEW

In Lord Marksman and Vanadis’ opening episode viewers are able to observe Tigre’s pinpoint accuracy with arrows, as the army he fights for clashes against forces loyal to a War Maiden named Eleonora Viltaria. Unfortunately for the crimson haired bowman, the side Tigre is on is powerless against both Elen’s troops and the enchanted blade she wields. When the dust settles Tigre is captured, but he need not worry because like all male anime protagonists he is irresistible to members of the opposite sex. Elen is so smitten with the count that she even agrees to help her prisoner defend Tigre’s homeland after word reaches them that Alsace is about to be attacked by a hostile neighbour.

At first the plan is simple enough. Tigre, with the assistance of his beautiful captor’s soldiers, fends off the attackers before taking the fight to their home turf. Actions however have consequences and it isn’t long before the Tigre/Elen alliance is targeted by other kingdoms, whose leaders are wary of a foreign military marching within close proximity of their borders. Complicating matters even further is the poor mental health of the monarch Tigre is loyal to. The king is nuttier than Charlie Sheen and therefore is easy to manipulate by corrupt advisors who conspire to have Tigre assassinated. The fate of the entire region will rest on the outcome of Tigre’s campaign, which spans across thirteen action packed episodes.

VERDICT

My rating for Lord Marksman and Vanadis is a four out of five. I must say that it is refreshing to see a series were the guy is a bowman and the female companion brandishes a sword. It’s usually the reverse, especially since movies like Brave and Hunger Games have made female archers so fashionable. This animated take on Tsukasa Kawaguchi’s light novels is enjoyable thanks to the epic cavalry battles and the harem comedy that occurs in between skirmishes. Vanadis’ action sequences are brought to life using CG effects, which don’t look too bad as the combatants are decked out in full plate armour. A narrator explains the tactics of each assault, detailing things like formations and flanking – although in the end strategy matters little. Much like a game of Dynasty Warriors, what the regular grunts do is inconsequential. Victory is usually determined by who triumphs whenever the super-powered heroes and villains duel.

One thing I disliked about Lord Marksman and Vanadis is the wafer thin plot, which boils down to endless battles. Although I haven’t read the books, I suspect that a substantive amount of content must have been annexed to squeeze five novels worth of story into a single cour. Some extra scenes of diplomacy would have been nice, but we at least get humour to break up the continuous moments of slaughter. Most of the jokes are of the fan service variety featuring Tigre and the well-endowed War Maidens who pledge their allegiance to him. Accidental boob grabs and walking in on bathing ladies is the order of the day, along with a clip were Tigre needs to save one of Elen’s lieutenants by sucking out the poison from her chest! Hmm, I suddenly have the urge to visit Australia. The country is saturated with venomous creatures and gorgeous women. If you’ll excuse me, I’m off to give Elle Macpherson some lip-based first aid.

Review of Oxenfree

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It’s a good thing that I was an unpopular kid who never left the house during my teenage years. One thing that horror movies and Until Dawn have taught me is that going out to party is a recipe for disaster. Case in point Oxenfree, which is presently available to download off the PlayStation Store. In this indie-developed adventure, a group of five schoolyard chums catch a ferry bound for Edwards Island – an uninhabited isle where they plan to spend the night partaking in some unsupervised beachside drinking and potential hanky panky. Unfortunately for the aforementioned quintet, their decision to play a radio inside a creepy cavern awakens a sinister entity that is capable of possessing bodies and distorting the fabric of time.

OVERVIEW

Oxenfree is a walking simulator created by Night School Studio, whose development team includes staff that has previously worked at Disney and Telltale Games. The creators’ background should come as no surprise given that most of Oxenfree’s gameplay, much like a Telltale title, revolves around influencing the story through dialogue choices. Despite the script’s spooky premise the game is also relatively kid friendly, akin to a Disney product. Sure, some chilling moments do occur during Oxenfree’s five hour long running time, but thanks to the cartoony visuals things are nowhere near as terrifying as they could be had the programmers opted to use photo realistic FPS graphics instead. Just as well, because I am too much of a coward to play stuff like Slender.

Players assume the role of a high school girl named Alex, who is coming to terms with the recent divorce of her parents. Joining the pigtailed teen on her journey are Ren, Jonas, Nona and Clarissa. Ren is Alex’s childhood friend, the comic relief and a gluttonous devourer of hash brownies. He has a crush on Nona that may or may not develop into romance depending on what actions the player takes. Go on play matchmaker, it will make you feel warm and fuzzy… plus you’ll get a trophy as a reward. Jonas, who is Alex’s new stepbrother, accompanies his new sis for much of Oxenfree’s trials and tribulations. The least friendly of the bunch is Clarrisa who is constantly at loggerheads with the protagonist. There is hostility between the two, stemming back from the time when Clarissa dated Alex’s brother. Can the two patch things up or will Clarissa get what she deserves? It’s all in the hands of the person holding the controller.

VERDICT

My rating for Oxenfree is five stars. Despite the limited gameplay, which boils down to hiking across terrain and using a portable radio to overcome obstacles, I couldn’t help but get absorbed by the story. What exactly is stalking Alex’s group? Aliens? Spooks? Perhaps a military experiment that went awry? I became so invested in the mystery that I couldn’t resist going on a scavenger hunt for clues, which is surprising as I usually have no patience for optional collectibles (I’m looking at you Assassin’s Creed.) Thankfully the layout of Edwards Island ensures that unnecessary ambling is kept to a minimum and to be honest the treks are fun thanks to the constant chatter between characters. Writer Adam Hines (who has previously worked on the excellent Tales from the Borderlands) should be commended for penning such convincing adolescent banter.

Given that the conversations are so great it is somewhat annoying when they prematurely stop due to player input. Be forewarned that selecting a reply or walking ahead too quickly may cause an interesting discussion to cease. Thankfully that is my only gripe with what is an otherwise marvellous game. At the time of writing I have completed Oxenfree twice and I am planning a third run to snag a platinum trophy for my digital collection. Repeated playthroughs are encouraged, as there are multiple endings on offer, and I like how the new game plus mechanic is incorporated into Oxenfree’s timey wimey narrative. Let the cool kids go off on their life threatening shindigs I say. As long as quality video games like Oxenfree keep coming out I am content to be the shunned chap who stays indoors where it’s safe.