Review of Accel World (Part One)

Image

Accel World is a twenty-four episode anime series based on the light novels penned by Reki Kawahara (author of the smash hit Sword Art Online.) When it comes to storytelling it appears that Mr Kawahara follows the old adage of “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.” Both the aforementioned shows feature characters playing virtual reality games, although Accel World’s setting is futuristic whilst Sword Art Online caters to fantasy/medieval fans. At the time of writing UK viewers can purchase the first part of the series, courtesy of MVM Entertainment, for the sum of seventeen British pounds (or ten thousand Zimbabwe dollars.)

STORY

The show takes place in the near future, where Internet technology has advanced to the point were users can communicate telepathically and play virtual reality games using a portable Neuro-Link. Wow I am so envious. VR games are a pipe dream for me. My net connection is so bad that I can’t even play Farmsville without suffering serious lag. Moving back on-topic, Accel World’s protagonist is a high school student named Haru Arita who is lacking in the height department, but more than makes up for it in the girth of his waist. As you can imagine Haru is a target for bullies so he likes to retreat from the real world into the sanctuary of online games.

Despite his unpopularity with the student body, Haru’s gaming prowess catches the eye of the beautiful Kuroyukihime who invites him to participate in a multiplayer fighting game dubbed Brain Burst. Unlike Call of Duty players, whose intelligence regresses the more they play that detestable shooter, Brain Burst supercharges a participant’s intellect to the point that they can ponder sixteen minutes worth of ideas within the space of mere seconds. Using said cerebral ability however costs burst points, which are only obtainable by beating opponents in a Brain Burst duel. Clearly Electronic Arts didn’t design this game, as their greedy corporate ways would demand that players cough up cash to buy points via online transactions.

ROMANCE??

Haru ultimately decides to aid Kuroyukihime in her quest to become the first ever level ten Brain Burst player. Kuroyukihime’s dreams of glory won’t be easy to achieve though, as losing battles depletes a player’s reserve of points. Any fighter whose score dips to zero will be permanently barred from Brain Burst. Ouch! That makes Brain Burst almost as unforgiving as Dark Souls.

Intermixed with the virtual reality scrapping, Accel World also features some implausible harem antics. Somehow every female Haru meets ends up falling for him despite the fact that he is an obese dwarf. One example of unlikely love is Haru’s childhood friend Chiyuri who gets jealous whenever Haru interacts with another girl. What makes this scenario even more unbelievable is that Chiyuri already has a dashing boyfriend, who happens to be a kendo champion that attends a prestigious school. I may not be an expert in what women desire, but out of those two choices I am sure Haru would not be a lady’s first pick for a romantic fling.

VERDICT

My rating for this first part of Accel World is a four out of five. I really enjoyed the twelve episodes contained in this collection and was especially impressed by the show’s visuals. The only area where the artwork stumbles would have to be the design of Haru, who looks out of place when compared to the other characters. It’s akin to watching Ghost in the Shell only to then spot that one of the cast is drawn like a character from Dexter’s Laboratory. Yes I get that Haru has low self-esteem and his appearance is a contributing factor, but the artists went a little too far in making him unattractive. I think drawing him like the rest of the cast, but making him a bespectacled nerd would have better achieved the effect they were aiming for.

Undoubtedly, given their similarities, comparisons will be made between Accel World and Sword Art Online. Out of the two I slightly prefer Sword Art Online, as it focuses more on character relationships. Viewers who prefer balls to the wall action over mushy romance may however favour Accel World in the battle of the Reki Kawahara creations. Overall Accel World is good fun, providing that you can suspend your disbelief. Brain Burst is a video game that in effect freezes time? Yeah, I can buy that. A gluttonous midget makes the hottest girls in school moist? Nah. Sorry that’s way out of the realms of possibility.

Review of Aesthetica of a Rogue Hero

Image

Aesthetica of a Rogue Hero is a twelve episode anime series that is presently available to buy in the UK courtesy of Manga Entertainment. At the time of writing the two disc DVD set is priced at around seventeen pounds from all good online retailers (and some bad ones too.) The series is based on the light novels penned by Tetsuto Uesu and is one of those shows that are notorious for its copious amounts of fan service. Viewers seeking ginormous animated breasts will be pleased with this release, although be warned that the show’s attempts at humour often fall flat (no pun intended.)

The show’s leading man is Akatsuki Ousawa, a roguish hero who recently saved the kingdom of Alayzard from the machinations of the sinister Demon King. After vanquishing said demonic liege, Akatsuki returns home to our world via an inter-dimensional gate and enrols at Babel Academy – an institution that trains students in the art of magic. Joining Akatsuki in his spell casting studies is Miu Ousawa, who happens to be the teenage daughter of the now deceased Demon King. Apparently, with his final breath, the Demon King asked Akatsuki to look after his little girl, which sounds like a marvellous idea. Give custody of your daughter to your murderer? What could possibly go wrong?

Aesthetica’s dozen episodes consist of brawls with assassins, a fighting tournament, Akatsuki’s conflicts with the student council and a trip to the mall where Miu tries to find undergarments that can contain her voluptuous breasts. As far as anime protagonists go Akatsuki is a bit of a sleaze ball. He regularly uses his superhuman speed to strip girls of their undies and he has no gripes about groping Miu’s boobs, despite being her appointed guardian. Viewers are expected to forgive these perverted antics as when the chips are down Akatsuki does the right thing and helps those in need. Hmmm, I’m not sure that will wash with the judge when he inevitably gets charged with sexual harassment.

Fleshing out the cast list is a triple threat of beauties named Kuzuha, Haruka and Izumi. Kuzuha is a class rep who has been allowed to skip ahead a few grades thanks to her intellect (and because every anime needs underage jailbait to appease the pedos who flock to Japanese cartoons.) Haruka is the vice president of the student council and holds the unfortunate record of having the most panties pilfered at the hands of Akatsuki. Last but not least is Izumi whose sole character trait is being a lesbian. We are first introduced to her in a scene were she is caught sprawled atop a semi-naked girl on the floor of the school gym. Giggity giggity.

My rating for Aesthetica of a Rogue Hero is a lowish three stars. I didn’t dislike it enough to score it lower, but in all honesty it is mediocre at best. As I alluded to earlier, the puerile gags are seldom funny and action wise I didn’t find the onscreen battles to be all that exciting (due to the fact that Akatsuki outmatches all of his opponents by a wide margin.) The show’s finale merely sets up a potential second season, which is rather disappointing. For a series that prides itself on eye candy I have to say that the artwork isn’t particularly titillating as the animation lacks polish. If you are a sucker for saucy animation, with a dose of humour and action, I would recommend spending your pennies on something like High School DxD instead.

Review of Hyperdimension Neptunia: Producing Perfection

Image

Hyperdimension Neptunia: Producing Perfection is a spin-off Vita game based on Compile Heart’s popular JRPG series. The title sees Neptune and pals forego their dungeon crawling antics in favour of starring in a genre that seldom appears in the West – namely an idol simulator. It’s a bit like combining Football Manager with a visual novel, only that instead of coaching players you are tasked with leading a budding pop star to glory. Why can’t I manage both simultaneously? Anyone remember Diamond Lights? Glenn Hoddle and Chris Waddle prove that sporting superstars can storm the music charts too. Okay… maybe that wasn’t a great example.

Producing Perfection is set in the world of Gameindustri, which is ruled by four goddesses (Neptune the quirky heroine, Noire the mate-less tsundere, Blanc the angsty bookworm and Vert a compulsive gamer with massive jugs.) The quartet of female deities is presently in a pinch, as their fame is being supplanted by MOB48 (a pop group formed by their enemies.) This is bad news for the goddesses as the might of their powers is directly linked to their popularity. In order to remedy the situation it is decided that they must fight fire with fire. Each goddess sets off to pursue a singing career, which will hopefully see them become as popular as Justin Bieber, Lady Gaga or whatever star the kids listen to these days.

Players are summoned into the world of Gameindustri were they are employed to act as a producer for one of the gals. Once hired the aim is to eclipse MOB48 in the music charts and ultimately turn your girl into the most popular idol in the land. In order to accomplish this goal you get to select what daily activity to perform from the in-game menu. You could for example increase your fan base by participating in promotional activities or improve your dancing/singing skills by rehearsing. Be sure not to overwork your client though or she may become overly stressed and go off the deep end. It would be a terrible shame if Neptune snapped and turned into the next Britney Spears.

A good way to bolster the prominence of your goddess is to throw concerts, but be aware that the gigs in Producing Perfection are nothing as advanced as what you would find in rhythm games like Project Diva. When your idol takes to the stage all you can influence is the look of their attire, the design of the set they are performing on, what song they sing and the position of the camera recording their act. Some players may be disappointed by how basic the concert mini-game is, but I personally didn’t mind it. The five J-pop tunes on offer are catchy and watching Vert shake her booty beats the spectacle of Miley Cyrus twerking any day.

My rating for Hyperdimension Neptunia: Producing Perfection is a three out of five. Although I enjoyed the game it is strictly for fans of the franchise only. Your average player is unlikely to be impressed by the sparse gameplay, which pretty much boils down to selecting options from a menu. Although the game lacks the RPG battles of the mainline series, Neptunia fanatics should still enjoy the title as it is packed with humorous cut scenes. In terms of longevity the game can be bested in a few hours, but anyone wanting to 100% the story with all the goddesses will find there is plenty of content to keep them occupied. All in all Producing Perfection may not have the X-Factor of a five star game, but I wouldn’t give it a Simon Cowell scathing critique like other reviewers have.

Review of Monster Monpiece

Image

Monster Monpiece is a digital card game created by Compile Hearts (makers of JRPGs such as Mugen Souls, Sorcery Saga and Hyperdimension Neptunia.) To be perfectively honest, the prospect of playing yet another video game involving cards isn’t particularly exciting. I have had my fill of Hearthstone, Guardian Cross, Yu-Gi-Oh and Solitaire (the infamous Windows time waster that ensures I never get anything done at the office.) Oh wait what’s this? Monster Monpiece’s decks are composed of cute anime girls? Hmmm interesting. Huh what’s that? You upgrade your cards by using the touchscreen to rub clothing off said gals? Awesome! Now you have my attention.

SYNOPSIS

The game’s story is set in the mystical world of Yafanir, which is populated by monster girls and humans. Monster Monpiece’s heroine is a young lass named May who is training at Kunaguvu Academy to become a Monster Master (basically a Pokemon Master, only that instead of using Pokeballs to summon critters you use cards to manifest cute girls.) When May’s best friend is brainwashed, by a masked deity who wants to shatter Yafanir’s peace, she is forced to venture forth on a quest to collect magical crystals in order to save the world. This may not be the deepest plot ever written, but as far as card games go it is pretty epic (it trumps Snap’s storyline any day.)

Gameplay involves travelling along the world map towards whatever city is marked with an exclamation point. Every time you venture into a new area there is a chance of acquiring new cards, getting gold from sacks that have been recklessly discarded by some unknown billionaire or triggering an encounter with hostiles who will challenge you to a card game. In order to triumph in the card duels you will need to reduce your opponent’s health to zero, which is accomplished by summoning feminine monsters onto the field and getting them to successfully assault your rival’s headquarters.

GAMEPLAY

The battlefield you play on is made up of three rows, which are each seven tiles long. Monsters can be summoned onto any of your home tiles by spending the required amount of mana. Players begin a match with three mana points and earn more points with each passing turn. Whenever your turn concludes your summoned monsters advance one square until they either hit your opponent’s headquarters or they bump into one of your rival’s creatures. When two opposing monster girls clash they engage in an epic catfight until one of the vixens emerges victorious. Clashes between opposing forces involve the use of swords, wands, magical tombs, bows and surprisingly no hair pulling (unlike when two slappers tussle at my local on a Friday night.)

I found Monster Monpiece to be enjoyable, as the matches are tactical without being overly complex. The cards at your disposal come in four types. Melee cards are generally the strongest whilst ranged monsters are weaker but have the ability to attack foes positioned two or more squares away. Supportive cards come in the form of healers and boosters that raise the attack power of allies. When choosing a move players are encouraged to chain a series of cards, of the same colour, to receive aura bonuses that award you extra mana and buff up your summoned creatures. Fusing two of your warriors together will strengthen them even further, which should come as no surprise to anyone who has watched the latter episodes of Dragonball Z.

VERDICT

My rating for Monster Monpiece is a four out of five. I found the game to be a lot of fun aside from the weak AI, which is easy to beat once you assemble a decent deck. That wouldn’t be too bad if you could challenge human players to a game, but alas the multiplayer lobbies are quite deserted. That’s a shame; especially as a number of the game’s trophies require winning an exorbitant amount of online matches. Why is no one playing this game? I was under the impression that sex sells. If so gamers should be flocking to this title in droves given that it features a mini game where you coerce monster girls to strip by rubbing their erogenous zones. Needless to say I would advice against playing this game in public. Furiously rubbing the Vita resembles masturbation (although I can only dream of being endowed with a Sony handheld sized phallus.)

Review of K: The Complete Series

Image

K is a thirteen-episode anime that is presently available to buy in the UK courtesy of Manga Entertainment, who is distributing the series on behalf of Kaze. The show is set in the futuristic city of Shizume whose population includes a number of super powered humans known as Kings. When the first episode begins viewers are introduced to the Red and Blue Kings’ warring factions. Mikoto Suou (Red) leads a street gang called Homra and as you may suspect they don’t see eye to eye with Reisi Munakata’s (Blue) Scepter 4, who are tasked with enforcing Shizume’s laws. Whether it is a game of Ludo or a Halo cartoon, it seems like Red and Blue are always destined to clash.

The show’s protagonist is a carefree high school student named Yashiro Isana whose life is turned upside down when he is framed for murder. Yashiro, who has seemingly been recorded killing one of Homra’s members, must now flee for his life and attempt to clear his name. Proving his innocence won’t be easy though as he is being hunted down by Homra who are seeking vengeance, Scepter 4 who want to bring him to justice and a skilled swordsman named Kuroh Yatogami who suspects that Yashiro is responsible for murdering his mentor. On the plus side Yashiro has an ally in the form of Neko, a silver haired cat girl who has an aversion to clothes. Sensitive viewers fear not. Even though Neko spends much of the early episodes prancing around in the nude, censorship ensures that we never get a glimpse of the cat girl’s pussy (no pun intended.)

On paper K has all the ingredients to be an enjoyable anime. The show boasts high production values, can be amusing at times and features a naked feline lady. What’s not to like? For whatever reason however K’s many ideas never coalesce into anything more than a mediocre cartoon. Despite the flashy onscreen action I was bored for the majority of episode one. Thankfully things pick up after that, once Neko is introduced. The injection of fan service and comedy, courtesy of her quirky antics, are a welcome sight to behold as I didn’t warm to the remainder of the cast. K’s roster of characters aren’t terrible per se, but for the most part they are just clichés that you have seen in a multitude of other shows.

Overall I would say that I enjoyed the script for its murder mystery and I also found the origin of the Kings’ powers to be interesting. Shame then that the writers didn’t delve deeper into that aspect of the story. All we get is a brief flashback forcing viewers to fill in the gaps themselves. On the action front K has some good super powered duels although all the featured confrontations are guilty of ending prematurely. When a battle reaches its climax faster than I do watching Neko bounce up and down you know something is wrong. My rating for the series would have to be a three out of five. In the end K lives up to its name. It’s not terrible yet it’s not great. The show is simply o-K.

Review of Conception 2: Children of the Seven Stars

Image

When it comes to weird and wacky ideas the Japanese have everyone beat. Case in point is Conception 2: Children of the Seven Stars, a Vita game were you procreate with teenage girls and enlist their offspring in your battle against dungeon dwelling monsters. Screw safe sex I say! Why waste money on contraception when the fate of the world depends on amassing an infantile army?

STORY

The game’s protagonist is a teen boy named Wake, who attends an academy where students are trained in combating the malevolent entities that spawn out of Dusk Circles. As Wake carries the brand of the Star God he has been bestowed with copious amounts of ether allowing him to “class-mate” with similarly gifted girls. When a daddy and mommy love each other very much they “touch” each other in church and create a Star Child that emerges from a Russian Matryoshka Doll. Did you think that Storks deliver Star Children to this world? That would just be plain silly.

At its core Conception is part dating-sim and part JRPG. Whilst at the academy Wake can interact with the title’s seven heroines, who range from the shy class president (who has massive jugs) to an aspiring pop idol (who is actually Wake’s teacher.) To produce powerful Star Children Wake ideally needs to have a strong relationship with the girl in question (so whacking her for talking too much and then blaming the bruises on falling down the stairs won’t yield good results.) In order to increase Wake’s bond with a girl he needs to pick the best of three answers during the dating-sim segments. If all else fails you can also improve the mood by presenting your target with a gift, because when it comes to dating flaunting cash is the best way to get laid.

GAMEPLAY

Conception’s JRPG elements are reminiscent to the Persona series (if you are going to rip-off someone you might as well plagiarise from the best.) In order to destroy a Dusk Circle Wake needs to venture through randomly generated labyrinths, traversing each floor until he eventually reaches the level’s guardian. Combat is strictly a turn based affair and triggered whenever our hero bumps into one of the enemies patrolling the mazes. To triumph players are encouraged to exploit elemental weaknesses and chain attacks, which will delay when an opponent can execute a command. Before striking a foe you are also given the option of positioning yourself in front, behind or on the flanks of a monster. The direction from which you strike determines how much damage you inflict given that most enemies are vulnerable to attacks from a specific side.

One thing that I like about Conception 2 (aside from amassing a harem of cute waifus) is that you get a plethora of options in customizing your party. The squad you take into battle is made up of four small teams. The first team is Wake and a heroine of your choice, whilst the other teams are comprised of three Star Children. At birth you get to choose what class your child should be (thief, magician, paladin etc.) This all means that depending on your play style you can tinker with your party formation to create well rounded groups, that have a wide range of abilities, or you can specialise in certain areas. I for example had a team of spell casters, another who dealt physical damage and a final team who support the party.

VERDICT

My rating for Conception 2 is a four out of five. It’s a good JRPG that misses out on being great due to some poor design decisions. I enjoyed the dating-sim segments for example, as they were often funny and helped to flesh out the characters. Unfortunately there are only a finite number of events you can have with each girl, so after a while you end up repeating the same cut scenes over and over. Unlike Persona, were a ticking countdown limits how often you can interact with characters, you can easily max out all of the girls’ relationships in a single play through. There isn’t enough story content to compensate for this more generous dating system, resulting in the repetitive cut scenes. After a while I began to tire of flirting with the gals. Our relationship had gone stale. Maybe we should start seeing different people?

In a similar vein the JRPG portions sound good on paper, but are less stimulating in practice. Dungeon exploration becomes a bore, as all the levels look very similar. Combat wise the plethora of tactical options are wasted as the game is seldom challenging. The only difficulty I encountered was when I first met a boss that dealt area effect attacks. Once I noticed that the city stores sold potions, that heal all your characters simultaneously, that particular obstacle was easily overcome. Despite its drawbacks I still stand by my score as the game has given me many hours of entertainment. Raising virtual kids is much more fun (and less messy) than real fatherhood any day.

Review of Fate/Zero (Collection 2)

Image

MVM Entertainment’s second collection of the Fate/Zero anime brings us the epic conclusion to the fourth Holy Grail War. The final twelve episodes contain the continuing battles between seven powerful mages and their summoned servants, in a contest to decide who should attain the mystical relic that can grant any wish (if I won it I’d ask for a pony.) The first of the set’s two DVDs follows on directly from the last collection, featuring Saber in a battle against Caster’s giant tentacle monster. My what a brave knight she is. Isn’t she aware how perilous it is for animated girls to approach such a creature?

Call me bloodthirsty perhaps, but after complaining in my last review that Fate/Zero’s combatants were unusually merciful against their rivals, I am pleased to report that the kid gloves are now finally off. From the offset the cast of characters, we have previously grown to love and despise, begin to drop like flies. This second half of the series really ramps up the visceral action and if you are a female character you may want to vacate the premises, given how more than one of the show’s heroines ends up being subjected to strangulation. If you are a sadist those violent scenes are sure to take your breath away (no pun intended.)

The increased action doesn’t however come at the expense of the exemplary character development found in the show’s last instalment. Zero’s script continues to explore the strained allegiances between the mages and their servants. Two prime examples are the chivalrous Lancer and Saber who wish to settle the Holy Grail War through honourable combat. Unfortunately for them they are forced to serve less than noble masters, who will employ any underhanded method at their disposal to secure victory (if they were cyclists they would be Lance Armstrong.)

On the character development front it is the gun toting spell caster known as Kiritsugu Emiya who ends up getting the most screen time, courtesy of flashback episodes that reveal his backstory. After witnessing the traumatic adolescence he went through I cannot help but feel sympathy for the guy, although I can’t condone how ruthless he is in the pursuit of his dreams. He perfectively embodies the tone of the show that deals with morals in shades of grey. There are a couple of downright evil characters in Fate/Zero, but for the most part the majority of the cast have just motivations for coveting the grail. Unfortunately for the participants it is impossible to succeed without getting your hands dirty… just like taking part in The Apprentice.

My final rating for Fate/Zero is five stars. It’s an exceptional series with a script that is smarter than your typical anime release. The animation and CG effects are consistently stellar throughout the show’s twenty-five episode duration. Although some of the battles end too abruptly for my liking, for the most part they are exciting to watch. I especially liked Saber’s final duel versus Berserker and Kiritsugu’s bullet time showdown with Kotomine (which puts Neo to shame.) The bittersweet finale may not go down well with viewers that like happily ever after endings, but I personally found it to be both powerful and satisfying. As a prequel the show succeeds in adding depth to the Fate franchise in addition to setting up its follow-up. What a shame then that Fate Stay/Night fails to meet Zero’s high standards.