Review of Persona 4: Golden (PS Vita)

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Persona 4 Golden is an enhanced port of a Playstation 2 game that many regard as one of the finest JRPGs of the modern era. The Persona series is actually a spin-off of the hard as nails Shin Megami Tensei games, which would best be described as a mature Pokemon (replacing cute critters with demons.) At the time of writing Persona 4 is enjoying a surge of popularity in the British Isles. Golden has been touted as a system seller for Sony’s Vita, an anime adaptation is currently being released on DVD by Manga Entertainment and it should be noted that the fighting game follow-up Persona 4 Arena was released on current gen consoles, to high acclaim, earlier this year. Despite being a huge RPG fan, I never got the chance to play the PS2 version of Persona 4, but after recently acquiring a Vita I was keen to remedy that gap in my game playing record.

STORY

The story takes place in the town of Inaba, which has recently suffered a spate of murders by a killer who has a knack for leaving corpses dangling on TV antennas. A local urban legend suggests that it is possible to predict who the killer’s next victim will be by watching the fabled Midnight Channel that screens on inactive TVs during the witching hour on rainy days. For a laugh protagonist Yu Narukami and his high school chums decide to investigate the rumor, only to discover that it is actually genuine. Those marked for death are visible on the Midnight Channel as they have been tossed into a shadow world, populated with monsters, which is accessible by literally stepping through a TV screen. As one of the select few able to enter the shadow world it is up to the player controlled Yu to prevent further deaths by saving those trapped in the shadow world whilst at the same time trying to uncover who is behind the series of supernatural homicides.

What’s neat about Persona 4 is that the battles in the shadow world are only a small part of the gameplay experience. The story runs over the course of a year, with each day simulating a high school student’s life. Preventing the actions of a murderer go hand in hand with studying for exams, hanging out with pals at the after school clubs and earning some extra scratch via part time jobs. By interacting with other characters Yu can increase his social links with them, which rewards you with entertaining anime-esque cut scenes and bonuses that will aid you in battle. Forming deep bonds with party members will grant them new abilities as well as allowing you to fuse stronger Personas (the physical representations of your psyche, which are summoned in order to cast magic.) It’s just as well that this is a game and not real life. If a Persona’s power is tied to how social you are I fear the killer would wipe out all life in my town, as I am such a reclusive hermit.

GAMEPLAY

In terms of combat Persona 4 adopts a no nonsense turn based system. Levels entail dungeon crawling through a number of floors before eventually reaching a guardian who has to be vanquished. Bumping into the shadow creatures, that patrol the stages, triggers battles were the aim is to deplete your enemy’s health by attacking, casting spells or using items. In combat the onus is on exploiting elemental weaknesses to knock opponents off their feet. For example, if you strike a monster that is weak to fire, with a flame-based attack they will topple to the ground leaving them exposed. Managing to down all the adversaries on screen permits your team to perform a powerful group attack that will eliminate all but the hardiest of foes.

From time to time winning an encounter will kick off the Shuffle Time mini-game were players can earn some extra goodies by selecting from a random hand of tarot cards. The cards can grant Yu with new Personas, extra coin and restore the party’s health pool. Shuffle Time does however have the potential to break the game by offering permanent stat boosts to your Personas. If you prioritize on picking those particular cards it’s relatively easy to train up an overpowered Persona with capped ratings of ninety-nine across all their attributes. Golden’s newly introduced online functionality can also reduce the game’s difficulty as it allows fellow players to replenish a small amount of your health and mana pool every time you enter combat. Just be sure to be nice and return the favor by tapping on their requests for aid whenever they flash on the screen. Kudos to Atlas for utilizing modern technology to add an unobtrusive sense of community to what is a single player game.

Having not played the original Persona 4 I had to conduct a little research to ascertain what new content had been seamlessly integrated into this iteration of the game. My findings left me gob smacked at the wealth of additional stuff that has been added. There’s a new dungeon, extra cut scenes that flesh out an already rich story, new social links that raise the number of NPCs you can form relationships with to over twenty, not to mention the option of getting a scooter license that eventually allows you to ride to new areas not found in the Playstation 2 version. Other new features grant players customization with respect to their party’s spells and appearance. The skill card system can be used to teach Personas new abilities they would not otherwise learn naturally whilst costumes can be worn should the default attire of your team not be to your liking. If you want to go into combat wearing bikinis and Halloween costumes you can do that. In my game I decided to make the main character go in drag as I felt it would help him mix in better with my otherwise all female team. My psychologist reckons I am using the game to act out on my repressed cross dressing fantasies… but I can assure you he is mistaken.

VERDICT

I could gush all day about how excellent Persona 4 Golden is, but with the word count of this review already exceeding one thousand I better start to wrap things up. Needless to say the whole package is as close to perfection as a game can get, from the stellar gameplay to exceptional presentation. Visually the game looks great despite its age. Even though the graphics have only been slightly polished they still look good, as the wonderful art direction has stood the test of time. The soundtrack is so outstanding that I regularly listen to it on Youtube whilst browsing the web. I can also praise the voice acting, even though I am sure some fans will be disappointed to learn that some parts had to be recast in order to record the new scenes. For what it’s worth, from the brief samples I have heard, I think the newcomers do a better job at conveying emotions than the original cast did.

Persona 4 Golden delivers on everything an RPG fan could want. The dungeon crawling segments are engaging, thanks to the strategic combat that never drags, but it’s actually the story that will hook players in. Trust me this isn’t one of those games were you skip the cut scenes in order to jump straight into the action. There’s lots of lighthearted fun to be had, but the story isn’t shy about venturing into dark territory when the occasion demands it. The cast of characters is one of the most memorable ensembles I have ever seen in a video game. It will be a long time before I forget the likes of Chie the tomboy who loves Kung-Fu movies, Adachi the inept detective who has a habit of blurting out sensitive police information or Nanako a video game child who amazingly isn’t annoying. Given that the Vita’s library of games is sparse there’s no reason why an owner of Sony’s handheld shouldn’t own a copy of Persona 4. Buy it now or I’ll toss you into the TV world were you’ll be forever trapped in an episode of Honey Boo Boo.

Review of The World Ends with You: Solo Remix (iOS)

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Solo Remix is an enhanced port of The World Ends With You, an action role playing game that was originally released on the Nintendo DS way back in April 2008. Despite being a huge fan of RPG games I never gave TWEWY a go as I was put off by the title’s extensive use of stylus controls. Perhaps I am being overly picky, but I have always found the DS stylus to be ill suited for precise gameplay so I have made it a point to avoid titles that make its use compulsory. Thankfully Square-Enix’s decision to release the game on Apple’s mobile devices has given me the opportunity to try out one of their finest products in recent years. It’s good to see that the legendary Japanese developer can still make creative games, whenever they can tear themselves away from whoring out the Final Fantasy name on endless spin-offs and remakes.

STORY

The game sees players take control of Neku, a teenage resident of Tokyo’s trendy Shibuya district. Neku is in a bit of a bind as he was recently killed by an unknown assailant. Fortunately for him entities calling themselves Reapers have given him a second lease on life by inviting him to a contest known simply as the Game. If Neku can emerge triumphant in the Game he will be reanimated. Should he fail to succeed though… well let’s just say that his deceased status will remain permanent. Gripes, as far as contests go that’s way harsher than getting relegated from the Premier League.

The World Ends With You takes place over the period of three weeks and mainly focuses on Neku scrambling around Shibuya trying to complete the tasks set by the Reapers within a strict time limit. For all intents and purposes he is a ghost because although he is roaming around a real life city he cannot interact with living humans, as he is invisible to them. Participating in the Game isn’t Neku’s only concern however. As the story progresses the antisocial adolescent has to piece together his fragmented memories, to deduce who murdered him, as well as dealing with the power struggle being fought between rival Reaper factions.

COMBAT

One of TWEWY’s distinguishing features would have to be it’s high-octane combat system. Forget slow paced turn based encounters as battles are fought in real time with players having to use nimble fingers to guide Neku’s actions. What moves Neku can execute against the Noise (the incorporeal creatures that roam around the city) are dependent on what pin badges you have equipped. Each pin has a special ability attached to it such as restoring health, permitting Neku to swipe at enemies, fire energy blasts at foes or even use telekinesis to hurl nearby objects at the nasties.

Pins have a limited number of uses before going on cool down, forcing you to switch to another attack whilst the depleted one recharges. To activate an ability you’ll have to perform all manner of actions such as tapping the screen, swiping your finger across the display or pressing your thumb down on the area you wish to interact with. The battles feel strangely strategic yet chaotic as you are forced to quickly decide what ability is most effective in a given situation, whilst at the same time trying to weave past the hordes of enemies lunging at you. Given how hectic things can get I was relieved to be playing the game on the iPad’s responsive touch screen. I cannot imagine how much harder things would be if I was confined to the weedier display of a DS, not to mention the handheld’s clunkier stylus controls.

GAMEPLAY

One of the biggest differences between Solo Remix and the original version of TWEWY would have to be the fact that the iPad iteration is limited to one screen. The Game forces competitors to work in pairs so to reflect this the DS version would have Neku fighting on one screen whilst his partner fought on the other. This has been tweaked in the iOS port so you have full control of Neku, reducing your teammate to a summon that can be called in to assist you whenever things get too hairy. This probably makes the iPad version the easier of the two, but I honestly don’t mind. I’m nowhere near coordinated enough to simultaneously control two characters so I welcome the streamlined approach adopted by Solo Remix. Two heads may be better than one, but the same is not necessarily true for two screens.

As mentioned earlier, the use of pin badges is vital in order to survive the skirmishes with the Noise. Winning battles will eventually result in pins leveling up, making them more effective and in some cases pins may also evolve into different forms endowing them with new powers (I wonder if the pins were Pokemons in a previous life.) In addition to donning snazzy brooches, Neku can become stronger in combat by munching on stat boosting snacks and wearing different items of clothing. Just be aware that the effectiveness of attire is linked to the region you are fighting in. The fashion police may not arrest you for sporting a garish outfit, but if the brand of clothes you are using is not popular in the area you are in you won’t reap the full benefits of the apparel. Thankfully you can counter this by setting your own fashion trends, as repeatedly using a make of clothes will gradually make it more popular in that particular zone.

VERDICT

The World Ends With You is a gorgeous looking game thanks to its stylish looking cartoony art style. Visually speaking the iPad version trumps the DS original as the tablet’s retina display has allowed Square-Enix to substantially beef up the resolution of the sprites. Sound wise the game’s music is nothing short of exceptional, treating players to a fabulous mix of electronic techno, J-pop and rock. It’s very different to the orchestral scores we have come to expect from other Square games, but the tunes in question fit the flair of the game to a T. I loved the soundtrack so much that I purchased it from iTunes shortly after beating the game and continue to listen to it on my iPod to this very day.

If you are a fan of JRPGs and missed out on TWEWY the first time round I can highly recommend this improved version. The only gripe some prospective buyers may have is the asking price, which is substantially higher than what most apps retail for. If I recall correctly the game cost me fifteen quid, but that’s not too bad when you consider that the original DS cartridge sold for much higher when it first came out. Given the quality story, exciting gameplay and amount of content on offer one copy of TWEWY is much better value than spending the same amount on five uninspired Angry Bird clones.

Review of Valkyria Chronicles II (PSP)

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I recently became the proud owner of a PlayStation Vita. Although the handheld’s software library, in Europe, is rather sparse I am not regretting my purchase one bit. I never owned a Sony PSP so the Vita has given me the opportunity of sampling some of the gems that were released on that system. One such example is Valkyria Chronicles 2, the follow-up to one of my favorite PlayStation 3 games. What a pity then that Sega decided to transfer the series from the popular PS3 to the more obscure PSP. The resultant drop in sales has denied European fans from ever seeing Valkyria Chronicles 3 on these shores.

The game is set in the fictional continent of Europa, which is modeled off World War II Europe. The tiny nation of Gallia lies sandwiched between two warring superpowers – The Imperial Alliance and The Federation (not to be confused with the organization employing Spock.) Although Gallia has remained neutral in the larger conflict it is presently suffering from a civil war as rebel forces strive to depose Archduchess Cordelia, after events from the original game revealed that her heritage links the monarch to the reviled Darcsen race. The game’s story follows the exploits of Avan Hardins, a plucky cadet, who has recently enrolled at the Lanseal military academy. Over the course of a year it is up to our teenage protagonist to turn his class of misfits into a capable fighting force, maintain the peace in Southern Gallia as well as investigate the mysterious circumstances that surround the death of his older brother.

Like its predecessor, Valkyria Chronicles 2 is a strategy RPG that meshes turn based planning with real time combat. The player and opposing computer forces take it in turns to move their units, presented on a map, by exhausting the limited number of combat points at their disposal. One command point allows you to move a trooper, two points is the cost for moving your tank and there’s also a range of orders (used to heal units, rescue downed soldiers etc) that can be activated by expending a variable amount of CP. When selecting a unit the player takes direct control of the soldier, which is accomplished by switching the action from a map to a third person view of the battlefield. From there you get to maneuver the trooper as he/she weaves out of enemy fire, takes cover behind sandbags and attacks the rebel forces baying for your blood.

One difference between Valkyria Chronicles 2 and the original is that levels are made up of several small maps as opposed to one big battlefield. In order to succeed budding generals will have to order their subordinates to capture enemy camps. This is required not only to stem the flow of enemy reinforcements that spawn from them, but also because camps act as gateways for moving troops from one mini-map to the other. As you would expect, the outcome of combat relies on strategy, specifically on selecting the best combination of soldiers to counter whatever threat you come up against. During a mission you are limited to using a squad of six soldiers who each have a specialized role. Scouts excel at traversing large distances thanks to their mobility, shock troopers are experts in mowing down enemies with their machine guns, lancers specialize in using bazookas to take out armored vehicles, engineers can heal allies and repair your tank whilst technicians can disarm mines and repair damaged fortifications.

Although sacrifices had to be made to condense Valkyria Chronicles for a handheld system, there are some areas in which the sequel surpasses the original. The main one would have to be the improved character customization that allows players to tweak the composition of their battalion to their liking. Coming away victorious from a battle rewards the player with experience points, materials and commendations. Experience points act as the currency used to increase the effectiveness of soldiers via training. Materials on the other hand are used at the Research and Development center to create new weapons and armaments for your squad’s sole tank. The best new feature however is the introduction of commendations that can be traded away to promote units to an advanced class. Using this mechanic a scout can be converted into a deadly sniper, shock troopers can morph into commandoes who torch foes with flamethrowers and technicians can swap their oversized spanners for spears to become fencers who revel in close combat.

Graphically speaking, Valkyria Chronicles cannot compete with the first game, due to hardware limitations, but it is by no means an ugly game. The in-game character models are acceptable as are the level designs. Throughout the story you get to battle in varied locales including woods, cities, a mine, the desert and on a battleship. Each area has a distinct aesthetic design and unique obstacles for the player to overcome. Sadly the game is guilty of reusing maps and presenting them as new levels simply by altering the stage’s mission objectives and changing the position of enemy forces. For the story segments the game uses still pictures and text boxes to bring to life the cut scenes that play in-between missions. Despite the storage restrictions of a UMD the creators were also able to squeeze in well-drawn anime clips that cover key story events.

If you enjoyed the original Valkyria Chronicles I can highly recommend the sequel. Even though it was released on a technically inferior system the gameplay’s quality has not dipped. The only negatives I can think of is that the enemy A.I could be tighter as it sometimes makes odd decisions when moving its forces. Fans of the first game may also not care for the lighter tone of the second game’s narrative. Avan is an energetic dimwit who some may find grating whilst the decision to set the story at an academy has seen the franchise’s wartime tale turn into a high school comedy of sorts. Thankfully the story doesn’t shy away from showing the grim ramifications of war, when it needs to, and if Avan isn’t a hit with you it’s still possible to find characters you like, as all the soldiers under your command have distinct personalities that are fleshed out in optional missions.

At the time of writing you can download Valkyria Chronicles for a mere £5.49 (or less if you are a PSN subscriber) which is tremendous value. It took me fifty hours to beat the campaign and there is plenty of post-game content left for me to tackle. It’s a crying shame that the third game isn’t going to be localized. Please Sega, have a heart and release VC3 in Europe. I bought all those awful Sonic games you put out, so you owe me one.

Review of The Sacred Blacksmith (Vol 2)

Blacksmith vs Flame Demon: Time to Strike Whilst the Iron is Hot - The Sacred Blacksmith Vol. 2 - Isao Miura Comic Book

Volume two of the Sacred Blacksmith manga continues to tell the ongoing adventures of Cecily Cambell, the chesty Knight Guard who is tasked with protecting the Independent Trade City of Housman. In this second book Cecily is still in need of a new sword, to replace her old broken one, but she has made some progress in that regard after convincing the sacred blacksmith Luke Ainsworth to craft her a snazzy new katana. Luke was initially hesitant about forging a weapon for a rookie knight, but he soon changed his tune after Cecily flashed her tits in his face (not intentionally of course, the mishap happened due to a wardrobe malfunction when an ice shard struck her breastplate.) Cleavage will only get you so far though. The business savvy smithy expects payment up front for his services, so Cecily is in for a long wait given her meager salary.

This second installment of the Sacred Blacksmith saga contains one short story followed up by a three-parter ominously titled Demon Sword. The opening chapter’s quickie tale revolves around Luke’s pointy-eared assistant Lisa. All work and no play makes for a dull elf, so with that in mind Cecily convinces Luke to give his overworked helper a day off. Lolita fans will undoubtedly drool over the manga’s pages with glee as we follow the adorable Lisa having fun at the fair and partaking in some clothes shopping. There’s even a topless picture of her slumbering in bed if that sort of thing floats your boat. You may end up hanging your head in shame though as the story later reveals that she is only three years old! Although the story is nothing special it serves its purpose as a lighthearted introduction to this second book and wraps up with a sweet ending showing a tender side to the usually insensitive Luke.

From there we move onto the more interesting Demon Sword, focusing on a newly introduced character named Aria. As the title hints at, Aria is a sentient blade able to switch forms from a beautiful lady in belly dancer garb to an elegant rapier able to fire magical gusts of air that can pierce steel. Cecily’s latest assignment has her acting as the mystical weapon’s bodyguard and her services are called upon when a grizzled old knight gatecrashes the public auction, were Aria is showcasing her talents to prospective buyers. Despite her best efforts Cecily is unable to prevent the elderly warrior from snatching Aria from her grasp, forcing our heroine to beg Luke for help in retrieving Aria from the would be sword-napper. That’s easier said than done though as the knight has the power to morph into a destructive flame entity who may prove to be too hot to handle for a lone blacksmith armed with nothing more than a brittle katana.

In terms of quality this second volume of the Sacred Blacksmith proves to be just as enjoyable to read as the first book. If anything I may actually like this installment a little more as the story is more involved than the simple bandit bashing at the woods we got in the first manga. I appreciated how the author took the opportunity to flesh out the character of Lisa, who up to this point appeared to be nothing more than comic relief. There are a few lines of dialogue hinting at an intriguing backstory for the character, which hopefully will be explored more deeply in the upcoming chapters.

The addition of Aria to the cast was something I also enjoyed and not only because her slender frame is easy on the eyes. Despite having a tragic past, having been born on a battlefield from which point she has been forced to murder others, she has an upbeat outlook on life often serving as a catalyst for the book’s more comedic moments. The friendship that forms between Aria and Cecily is believable and I couldn’t help but giggle whenever Aria teases her chum about the size of her chest or her potential interest in Luke (which she vehemently denies, although only a fool would believe that they aren’t destined to hook up eventually.)

For the second successive book running the Sacred Blacksmith gets a thumbs up from me. Throughout my reading session I was never bored even though I am familiar with the story, as I have previously watched the anime adaptation on DVD. Hopefully the later volumes will maintain this level of quality as the Sacred Blacksmith “forges” on ahead with its blend of crisp artwork and lighthearted fantasy.

About Me

About Me

A cheeky chappy recently liked my blank “About” page, which has prompted me to pull my finger out and actually jot down some info on there. I suppose a blank about page isn’t exactly inaccurate, given how I’m such an uninteresting guy, but for anyone who cares you can now click on this link to learn a little bit more about my anime and video game history.

Review of Waiting In The Summer

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Waiting in the Summer (known in its native Japan as Ano Natsu de Matteru) is a twelve episode romantic comedy brought to us by the creative minds behind Please Teacher and Please Twins. What distinguishes it from countless other anime high school romances is Ichika Takatsuki, the show’s leading lady, who happens to be a red haired, bespectacled alien. Stranded on Earth, after asteroids pelt her spaceship to the point of beyond repair, Ichika decides to enroll at a nearby Japanese school under the guise of a foreign transfer student. Perhaps it would have been wiser to lay low and await rescue, but whatever. If other anime shows are to believed she’ll fit right in as Japan’s student body is already oversaturated with robots, espers and vampires.

STORY

On her first day at school Ichika catches the eye of Kaito Kirishima, a teenager who has a passion for amateur filmmaking. It doesn’t take long for the pair to strike up a friendship culminating in Kaito allowing the homeless Ichika to stay at his oversized country home, which is presently empty as his parents are deceased and his elder sister has just started a new job overseas in Bolivia. Despite the eyebrows raised by the couple’s cohabitation, Ichika ends up integrating well into Kaito’s circle of friends. From that point on the story advances to tell the tale of how the pair and Kaito’s friends (Testuro, Mio, Kanna and Remon) spend their summer vacation recording an amateur movie.

Ironically Ichika, who is trying to keep her extra terrestrial heritage under wraps, gets cast in the leading role as (yes you guessed it) an alien. Love begins to blossom between Kaito and Ichika, but is the relationship doomed for failure? Ichika’s time on Earth is likely to be limited, not to mention that there are others vying for Kaito’s affections. Katio’s posse of chums seems to be made up of numerous love triangles were everyone appears to fancy someone else. Gripes these adolescent courtships are almost as messy as Ichika’s cooking recipes (which amongst other things include a menu of chocolate curry.)

CHARACTERS

Looks wise Kaito Kirishima doesn’t fit the stereotypical mold of a male romantic lead. His bushy hair and thick-rimmed spectacles scream nerd, which would repel anything with a vagina in the real world, but in the wonderful world of Japanese animation his good heart is sufficient to attract the ladies. Kaito is always seen clutching a handheld 8mm camera, which he uses to record real life events as well as movie footage. Being an orphan he regrets the little time he had with his parents and how his memories of them have began to fade over time. With that in mind it’s easy to see why he would be drawn to filmmaking, a hobby that affords him the tools to preserve cherished moments for posterity. In terms of personality Kaito isn’t as colorful as the rest of the cast, but he gets props from me for manning up and pursuing Ichika once they get past their awkward flirting phase (something many other animes fail to do.) One thing I enjoyed about the character were his daydreaming bouts, in the early episodes, that give the viewer a glimpse of his chaotic inner thoughts, which are in stark contrast to his normally composed exterior.

Although Kaito is a geek, the same cannot be said of his friend Tetsuro whose dashing good looks have earned him the reputation of being a ladies man. Even the female schoolteachers go weak at the knees when subjected to his advances. Despite memorizing the name (and erm measurements) of every girl in school, Tetsuro only has eyes for his childhood friend Kanna. Unfortunately for him Kanna is smitten with Kaito. One similarity the two share is their unselfishness when it comes to matters of love. Throughout the series Tetsuro does his utmost to hook up Kanna with Kaito, willing to sacrifice his own desires for the sake of making the one he adores happy. In a similar vein Kanna is guilty of offering words of support to her rival Ichika even if by doing so she is giving ground in the contest for Kaito’s heart.

Should things not work out between himself and Kanna, Tetsuro has a consolation prize waiting in the wings in the form of Mio. Unlike the tomboyish Kanna, Mio is more ladylike wrestling with the shyness that to date has prevented her from revealing her feelings to Tetsuro. One thing I don’t get about Mio is why she is so bashful as it is revealed that nudists raised her! Lets discard those thoughts of nakedness though (like unwanted clothes) and move onto Remon who is my favorite character of the piece.

Despite looking like a minor, as she is vertically challenged, Remon is a senior student in Kaito’s school. She’s an odd character who goes to class wearing a uniform that matches neither the school’s colors nor design. Remon is the first human to befriend Ichika after spying her struggle to adapt to human customs. Remon has a sharp mind and knows how to get her way. In no time at all she effortlessly seizes the movie’s directorial position from Kaito and revels in manipulating the sexual tensions within the group for her own amusement. I always dug how she would creepily snigger after expertly orchestrating things to put the troupe in compromising positions (such as the time she took provocative snaps of the group, after getting them intoxicated.)

VERDICT

Anyone acquainted with my reviews will know that when it comes to anime I usually shun mushy stuff in favor of action, comedy, horror and fantasy. That said I am glad that I gave Waiting in the Summer a chance as I found it thoroughly enjoyable. The amusing slice of life moments early on endeared me to the cast, getting me invested in how things would pan out once the romantic drama started to get into its stride. With a group of two guys and three girls you don’t have to be a math wizard to work out that someone is going to be left disappointed once the dust settles. The narrative really tugs at your heartstrings and thanks to the rapport you build with all the characters you don’t want any of them to suffer. I can’t say that I disliked anyone… heck even the token cute mascot (who looks like a jellybean shaped Tellytubby) didn’t get under my skin.

I appreciated how in a mere twelve episodes the series managed to build up the Kaito/Ichika dynamic in a realistic manner. That’s something many other animes fail to achieve, even with the benefit of a higher episode count. Despite Ichika’s interstellar origins the narrative plays out like a down to earth teen romance, with sci-fi elements only coming to prevalence in the last two episodes (when galactic enforcement show up to forcibly eject Ichika from the planet.) By that point I was so convinced Ichika/Kaito were destined for each other that I was glued to the screen to see how things would play out. The creators manage to keep the suspense going until the very last second in what proves to be a solid climax. Whether it’s a happily ever after ending or one of those bittersweet finales that leave a lasting impression I’ll reserve for you to find out. The series is currently available to buy in the UK from MVM Entertainment, as part of a two-disc set. If animated romantic comedy is your thing it’s well worth checking out.

Review of Blood C

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Blood-C is a twelve episode anime series that is presently available to buy in the United Kingdom as part of a two disc DVD set from Manga Entertainment. The series is the third installment of the Blood saga that started life back in the year 2000 with the animated short Blood: The Last Vampire, which was subsequently followed by Production I.G’s Blood Plus. The show tells the tale of Saya Kisaragi a clumsy bespectacled teenager who, like many other anime heroines, is blessed with a pair of massive… pigtails. What did you think I was going to say you dirty reader you?

At first glance Saya looks like your regular high school girl, enjoying mundane activities like guzzling coffee and sweets at the local cafe, helping out as a shrine maiden at the temple were her dad works and fraternizing with her chums at school (were she often arrives late given how her trips to class are often sidetracked by the irresistible urge to play with stray mutts.) When the sun sets however Saya transforms from a scatterbrained lass into a sword wielding badass who is tasked with protecting the rural town she resides in from the threat of man eating creatures known as Elder Bairns.

For the first five episodes or so the series follows a monster of the week format. We follow Saya as she whimsically skips to school wailing overly cheesy songs that will have you clamoring for the nearest set of earplugs. Once she reaches her destination we are regaled with high school hijinks featuring the class president whose amorous advances towards the protagonist are regularly spurned, the hyper active twins who often speak in unison and the tall dark loner who reeks of romantic interest. From watching the daylight interactions of the uncoordinated lead it is hard to believe how cool and composed she is when dusk hits and she is called upon to slice beasties with a sacred blade.

Once the series reaches the halfway point things however start to get more interesting. The Elder Bairns, who up until that point have been attacking random townsfolk, decide to up the ante by targeting Saya’s friends. The resulting carnage really caught me off guard even though I consider myself to be a veteran of gory cartoons. The manner in which innocents get chewed, impaled, tossed like ragdolls and plastered against concrete walls is truly gruesome. Part of the shock factor comes from the fact that the visual art style is clean and colorful, not the norm as such content is normally reserved for darker/grittier shows. Watching the massacre unfold took me back to the time I first watched Elfen Lied, unaware of the depravity the adorable characters on the box art would be subjected to.

Blood-C’s weakest area would have to be its unoriginal story, which culminates in a twist concerning Saya’s origins. The revelation failed to have any impact on me, as I was familiar with the character having already seen the other Blood cartoons. Given that the Blood franchise is well known in anime circles I expect many other viewers will feel the same way.

Thankfully the action sequences keep things interesting with some satisfying battles. The bouts between Saya and the Elder Bairns are always entertaining as they neither drag on like a Dragonball tussle nor do they end in mere seconds via a quick mortal blow, which is often the case with shows featuring swordfighters. Saya isn’t an unstoppable force so we get to see her trade blows with an adversary before she eventually susses out her opponent’s weakness. All the battles feel special, as every Elder Bairn (modeled off creatures from Japanese folklore) have their own distinct look and unique range of attacks.

The general consensus seems to be that Blood-C is the weak link of the Blood releases. Visually speaking it’s not a bad looking show, but aesthetically it pales to the stunning Last Vampire. Narratively it doesn’t have the depth and substance of Plus either. That said I still appreciated it on its own merits. The action along with the lashings of gore ensured that I was never bored and even if the characterization of the supporting cast could have been better I did enjoy following Saya during the more lighthearted segments. Even if it’s not a bloody good show (excuse the pun) I liked it enough to the point that I am eagerly anticipating the follow-up movie The Last Dusk, which hopefully ties up the loose threads episode twelve’s cliffhanger leave unresolved.