Review of Kamisama Kiss

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Kamisama Kiss is a thirteen episode anime series based on the on-going comic book franchise created by manga artist Julietta Suzuki. At the time of writing MVM Entertainment’s DVD set, which collects the show in its entirety, can be purchased from Amazon UK for around £22.00.

STORY

The series stars a teenage girl named Nanami Momozono who is the daughter of a compulsive gambler. When dad decides to skip town, after amassing a sizable debt, poor Nanami is left unable to pay the family creditors and is subsequently evicted from her flat. Homeless, she finds herself ambling around a local park where she bumps into a bespectacled man named Mikage. Mikage learns of Nanami’s plight, after the energetic gal rescues him from a not so ferocious pooch, and suggests that she stay at his former home which is presently vacant. Taking him up on his generous offer, Nanami ventures forth to the specified address only to discover that the home in question is a shrine maintained by Yokai (spirits from Japanese folklore.)

It appears that the gullible lass has been duped by the shrine’s Land God into replacing him as the temple’s deity. She must now balance her high school life with duties such as maintaining the dilapidated sacred building and attending to the wishes of worshippers. Thankfully she is not alone as the shrine comes complete with a pair of ghostly servants and a pretty boy familiar who is part fox. The trio of underlings are able to show her the ropes in addition to protecting their human master from malevolent Yokai, who would like nothing more than to snack on an adolescent girl.

As is to be expected from a romantic comedy, love begins to blossom between Nanami and Tomoe (the aforementioned foxy familiar) even though they spend much of their time butting heads. The setup is almost like a reverse of Inu X Boku, only that in this show the female master is the one who is vocal about expressing her feelings whilst the canine protector is the one refuses to admit what his heart truly desires. Rivals for Nanami’s affections appear, as the series progresses, in the form of other bishi Yokais. The suitors in question include a pop idol that attends Nanami’s class and a serpent Yokai who is smitten with the protagonist after she rescues him from a tight spot.

VERDICT

My rating for Kamisama Kiss is a three out of five. It was an enjoyable series to watch, although it’s not something I expect to revisit any time soon. For me the show’s strongest points would have to be its comedy and bubbly leading lady, who bounces well off the other cast members. Given that the franchise is targeted towards a female audience, Nanami is thankfully spared from the over sexualisation that often befalls many a female appearing in a harem show. Ironically enough I would have to say that Kamisama Kiss’ weakest area would have to be its romance, which to me felt rather forced.

Nanami’s realisation that she likes Tomoe is very sudden and comes out of left field when you consider that the two are constantly bickering. Tomoe’s hostility toward a relationship with a human are explored in the series, although his true feelings for her are a bit of a stretch given that in the first episode he seemed rather amused at the prospect of his master getting gobbled up by monsters. Perhaps I am being too harsh though as similar mood swings are not uncommon in other anime shows or real life teen girls for that matter. Overall the series is worth checking out. Despite being based on an on-going manga the anime has a sweet ending, so you won’t feel short-changed once you finish watching it. If your opinion of the title is greater than mine it should prove to be a nice appetizer to tempt viewers into checking out the source material.

Review of Atelier Rorona Plus (PS3)

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What’s that dear gamer? Testosterone levels too high after a marathon session of God of War? Fear not, I have the antidote for you. Atelier Rorona Plus – a video game were you play as a pink haired girl who spends most of her days stirring alchemy ingredients bubbling in a cauldron. As you may have ascertained from the word “Plus” this is a remake of the 2010 Atelier Rorona, spruced up with nicer graphics and a smattering of extra content. The question on everyone’s lips is whether the game is any good or just a cynical cash grab by developer Gust. Remaking a game on the very same console it originally appeared on seems a bit much. Do these guys think they are Capcom (endless editions of Street Fighter) or EA Sports (yearly FIFAs) by any chance?

STORY

If you are seeking an epic JRPG where you save the world from a villainous silver haired swordsman you are looking in the wrong place. The Atelier games forgo dramatic tales, featuring spikey haired warriors, in favour of managing a quaint alchemy workshop. In this particular title fourteen-year-old (seventeen in the Western versions because Europeans fear Pedo Bear) Rorona is tasked with keeping her store open. Arland’s governmental bigwigs have set her a three-year ultimatum to prove the shop’s worth or it will face closure. Although Rorona’s master Astrid is an exceptional alchemist she prefers to snooze all day, rather than concoct potions, so it falls on her clumsy apprentice to save the shop from a Blockbuster Video like death.

The game’s story spans over three years, which are broken down into twelve assignments. In order to progress onto the next objective players are expected to complete whatever task the Arland Kingdom have assigned to them. In most cases you will be required to deliver a certain quantity of alchemically created goods by a certain date. Items can be crafted at the workshop, but in order to make them you will first have to venture out and harvest ingredients from the nearby land. That’s easier said than done though as the region of Arland is infested with bloodthirsty creatures, malevolent spirits and ruthless bandits. To even up the odds Rorona can team up with two friends when gallivanting across hostile areas. The pals in question include her childhood friend Cordelia and a young cook named Iksel. Two underage girls and a boy armed with a saucepan versus a giant golem? That’s not going to end well.

GAMEPLAY

When you first begin to play Atelier Rorona Plus the first thing that will strike you are the improved visuals. The game no longer looks like a title that could have appeared on the Playstation 2. The game retains its trademark anime aesthetics, but the character models are now more detailed and realistically proportioned. The combat system remains a turn-based affair, which is initiated whenever you bump into the nasty creatures patrolling the various levels. I was pleased to see that in this remake the creators opted to use MP for powering special abilities. The original Rorona used health points to activate special moves, which was rather silly. Casting a healing spell for example would drain your life. How daft is that?

Another addition to Plus are the bingo like stamp cards that were first introduced in the Atelier sequels. Stamps can be acquired by completing optional quests and are worth pursuing. Questing earns you decent rewards and encourages you to level up various skills, which will be required to best the upcoming compulsory challenges. Atelier Rorona Plus also includes an additional “overtime” year, which features some very challenging bosses. The overtime year sees Rorona team up with heroines from other Atelier titles and is a nice incentive for players who already own the original game. It’s basically new content designed to test the transmutation skills of expert players to their fullest. How is Rorona joining forces with Totori and Meruru who appear in the later games you may ask? In the words of the Doctor, it can all be explained via timey wimey nonsense.

VERDICT

My rating for Atelier Rorona Plus is a very high four stars. I had a blast playing it although it gets a tad repetitive during the later assignments. If you have enjoyed the newer Atelier games and want to experience the first Atelier PS3 title I highly recommend getting Plus over the original, as it is much more polished. Whether the game is worth repurchasing, if you already own the original, will vary from person to person. I imagine for most people it isn’t worth double dipping, as the story is pretty much identical, but it was worthwhile for me as I have a goldfish like memory. I can’t remember what I did yesterday let alone what I played four years ago, so revisiting Rorona felt like playing a brand new game.

Rorona Plus is also available to buy on the Vita. If you are an Atelier fanatic, who commutes regularly, getting the handheld version may be a preferable investment. Saved games can be transferred between the PS3 and Vita versions, but unlike some other titles you will be expected to purchase the PS3 and Vita ports separately to take advantage of that feature. That’s surprising in this age of cross buy play. Gust your greed has “blown” me away.

Review of Jormungand (Season One)

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Jormungand is a twenty four episode anime series based on Keitaro Takahashi’s comic books. Manga Entertainment has recently released a two disc DVD set collecting the first season and has plans to bring out season two (dubbed Jormungand: Perfect Order) during the tail end of August. That’s convenient given that my birthday happens to fall around that same time. Given how impressed I was with Jormungand’s first dozen episodes I’ll be sure to purchase Perfect Order as a gift to myself. In case you are wondering, I share the same birthday as The King of Pop. Free virtual cookies and high fives if you can deduce my D.O.B.

The series follows the business dealings of Koko Hekmatyar (not to be confused with the chocolaty cereal promoted by a cartoon simian.) Koko is the daughter of a wealthy businessman and an entrepreneur in her own right, after establishing herself as one of the globe’s prominent arms dealers. Selling weapons can be a risky venture so Miss Hekmatyar has assembled a formidable squad of bodyguards to protect her pasty hide from dissatisfied customers and hostile business rivals alike. The group she has hired, whose ranks include ex-military and law enforcement agents, are so skilled that they could give the A-Team a run for their money.

When the show kicks off viewers are introduced to Koko’s newest underling named Jonah, who happens to be a child soldier of Arabic descent. After being raised in a war-torn region Jonah has a deep hatred for guns, but is forced to serve under Miss Hekmatyar after being blackmailed by Koko’s scary brother. Despite being polar opposites, Koko is gradually able to win over her young protector’s admiration, as there is something captivating about the way she carries herself. Her angular features, skill at manipulation and insane personality make her sound like a villainous character, but she is nothing like a stereotypical weapons merchant. Rather that strive for profit it’s implied that she is using her position to orchestrate world peace. An arms dealer who wants to cease world conflict? What’s next? Microsoft to stop selling software at exorbitant prices?

The set’s twelve episodes range from adventures were Koko is pursued by assassins to stories were she uses her wits to trump rival dealers. I liked how a good chunk of the set’s content included two parters, as it gives the plot lines ample time in which to develop. Although Koko’s team is fairly large in size some effort is made to give all the cast screen time, whether via flashbacks or by tying their current mission to some aspect of a character’s past. From the group I especially liked Lutz (a sniper who refuses to harm girls and often suffers buttock injuries) and Valmet the one-eyed knife expert who morphs from a cold-hearted killer to a giddy schoolgirl whenever in the presence of her attractive boss.

My rating for the first season of Jormungand is five stars. It’s a darn sight smarter than the likes of Dragonball and One Piece, which Manga are presently bringing out, but sadly I doubt it will sell anywhere near as well. If you enjoyed Black Lagoon this show should be right up your alley, as it features plenty of brutal violence dished out by a cast of quirky characters. Jormungand also reminds me a little of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex as the manner in which Koko’s team competently tackle their missions is very similar to what you would find in a story featuring Public Security Section Nine. There’s no excuse for missing out on this show, especially as buying the DVD from Amazon is much less risky than purchasing arms from a pale psychotic lady.

Review of Familiar of Zero (Season One)

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Familiar of Zero is a four season long anime based on Zero no Tsukaima – a light novel series penned by Noboru Yamaguchi, a talented writer who sadly succumbed to cancer on April 2013. The show originally aired in Japan back in the year 2006 and is finally available to buy in the UK courtesy of MVM Entertainment. At the time of writing the season one DVD set, which contains the show’s first thirteen episodes, can be purchased for around £20. Cancer, expensive DVD prices and a massive wait for the UK release? Jeez, this review has kicked off on a bit of a downer.

The show’s heroine is Louise Francoise Le Blanc de La Valliere, a second year student at the Tristein Magic Academy (so in a sense she is like Harry Potter only with pink hair and minus a penis.) Sadly for Louise her studies in spell casting are going as well as my efforts to pass A-Levels with respectable grades. All of her attempts at magic end up backfiring in an explosive manner, which has earned her the nickname “Louise the Zero.” Her latest failure in the mystical arts occurred during the familiar summoning ceremony were sorcerers are expected to call forth an animal companion. Instead of summoning something cool, like a dragon or salamander, Louise summons up a teenage boy from Tokyo named Saito.

For the most part the series deals with the pair’s volatile relationship. Louise is of noble blood and therefore expects her servants to obey her every whim without question whilst Saito, who has no interest in becoming a slave, regularly disobeys his master’s commands in favour of seeking a way back home. The clash of personalities leads to many comedic moments, such as Louise horsewhipping Saito for being tardy in scrubbing clean her undies. Thankfully the pair’s squabbles are not the only thing the series has going for it. Over the course of season one Louise and Saito will be tasked with confronting a thief who commands giant golems, performing covert missions at the behest of the royal family and even protecting the kingdom from an invading army.

Predictably, despite the antagonism between the two, romance does eventually blossom between Louise and Saito. It’s hard to believe, given the constant physical abuse she subjects him to, but hey who am I to question their love? Some viewers might even find their sadist/masochist relationship to be touching. This wouldn’t be an anime though if we didn’t throw a love triangle (or should that be square) into the mix. Even though the Louise/Saito partnership seems to be destined there are some bustier alternatives coveting Saito’s heart. The first of these is a maid named Siesta who happens to be one of the few people to befriend Saito upon his arrival in Tristein. The other love rival in question is Louise’s crimson haired classmate Kirche. She’s adept at casting fire magic and how should I put it… is a complete slut.

My rating for the first season of Familiar of Zero is a four out of five. Anime fans who like romances featuring a tsundere will get a kick out of it, whilst other viewers can still enjoy the show thanks to the setting, which offers plenty of Slayers like fantasy themed comedy with some light action. Anyone investing into the DVDs should however be aware that the series dips in quality after this promising start. From what I recall the show has a satisfactory finale, but to get to it you will have to wade through a lot of frustrating fan service and harem hijinks. Is this a trend with J.C Staff produced cartoons? I remember the same thing happening with Shakugan no Shana, whose excellent first season was soiled by disappointing follow-ups.

Review of The Wolf Among Us

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The Wolf Among Us is a video game created by Telltale – a developer who rose to prominence back in 2012 thanks to the award winning Walking Dead. Much like The Walking Dead, The Wolf Among Us is a five-part adventure game based on a popular comic book (William Willingham’s Fables in case you are wondering.) Players can choose to purchase each of the game’s episodes separately or pony up the cash upfront to get the whole saga at a slightly reduced price. How I envy anyone who waited for the whole thing to come out before buying it. Due to my impatience, I opted to grab each chapter as soon as it came out, which was an excruciating experience. Part one was released back in October 2013 whilst the finale hit us in July 2014. Waiting several months to see how a cliffhanger would pan out is no fun.

STORY

Set in the mid-eighties, The Wolf Among Us takes place in Fabletown, a New York borough populated by fairy tale characters that have abandoned their mystical roots to settle down in the USA. Why they have relocated is beyond me, as dwelling in a magical land sounds preferable to putting up with the Big Apple’s traffic. Perhaps they cannot resist those delicious American doughnuts? Anyway, players take control of the Big Bad Wolf who is best known for tormenting Little Red Riding Hood and the Three Little Pigs. “Bigby” Wolf has been appointed Fabletown’s sheriff and is tasked with maintaining the peace despite being known for having a short fuse. Regular folks don’t question why a canid is patrolling the streets thanks to an enchanted glamour that morphs him into a humanoid (although it is prone to failing whenever he gets mad and hulks out.)

The game’s story begins with Bigby mediating a financial dispute between a prostitute and his old nemesis the Woodsman. Things then gradually escalate to Bigby investigating a murder were the unfortunate victim has lost her head (and I don’t mean that they lost their composure.) The case ends up exposing the corruption plaguing the upper echelons of the Fabletown government, in addition to unveiling the community’s seedy criminal underbelly that preys on the most desperate. Sounds like a tough job. Life was much simpler when Mr Wolf only had to worry about devouring the elderly and knocking down poorly constructed houses.

GAMEPLAY

Despite being an adventure game The Wolf Among Us is for all intents and purposes an interactive movie. Unlike adventures of yore, the game is lacking the puzzles you would find in something like Monkey Island or Sam & Max (the latter which also features a Telltale canine investigator.) For the most part gameplay consists of nothing more than walking down linear paths and tapping on highlighted areas to examine objects. None of that matters however as Telltale are the masters of crafting engaging storylines that are influenced by the choices you make. Just like in Mass Effect, the most fun part of The Wolf Among Us is interacting with the characters you come across. Thankfully, unlike Bioware, Telltale has the writing chops to pen a satisfactory ending.

Visually speaking The Wolf Among Us is a gorgeous game. The graphics look just like an American graphic novel brought to life via animation and excellent voice acting. The aesthetics are however hampered by a few incidents of choppy frame rate during some of the action sequences. Whether these issues stem from the lowly iPad trying to power a PC level game or due to the programmers being sloppy with the port is anyone’s guess. The graphical fluidity didn’t annoy me much, although the quick time events that occur during combat did. As I have mentioned in other reviews I am not a fan of QTEs, especially when I fail them due to the touchscreen not registering my finger swipes. Well that’s my excuse… it’s always possible that my snail like reflexes were to blame for those failures.

VERDICT

My rating for The Wolf Among Us is four stars. It narrowly misses out on top marks due to the above-mentioned technical hiccups. It also feels like Telltale is just emulating Walking Dead’s winning formula instead of innovating. If I had to compare the two, I would say that Walking Dead made more of an emotional impact on me. The Wolf Among Us however edges out the contest for most colourful characters, thanks to its cast of fairy tale stars. Story wise I would say that TWAU is the better of the two, as its mystery yarn is more interesting than a zombie apocalypse tale. TWAU also has a powerful ending, which trumps Walking Dead’s “fishing for a season two” finale. Should Telltale ever abandon video game production they should consider entering the marketing business instead. Just like The Walking Dead, after finishing The Wolf Among Us I am interested in sampling the comic it is based off. They are in effect making interactive adverts that I am happy to buy!

Review of The 3rd Birthday

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The 3rd Birthday is the latest chapter in Square-Enix’s Parasite Eve franchise. The title’s rebranding coincides with a change in gameplay that sees the series morph from a role playing Resident Evil like survival horror adventure to a more action packed third person shooter. That’s not to say that the series has completely abandoned its RPG roots though. Blasting the hideous monsters you come across rewards you with level ups that strengthen your character, in addition to BP that can be invested into purchasing and upgrading firearms. Isn’t it odd how in games were you work for a government agency you are expected to buy your own weapons? These defence budget cutbacks are getting ridiculous!

STORY

Set in present day New York, players take control of Aya Brea – a blonde bombshell who is tasked with protecting the Big Apple from sinister entities known as the Twisted. Sadly the Twisted do not live up to their name and therefore have no interest in resolving their grievances with mankind over a friendly game of Twister. Perhaps they bat for the other team, as the prospect of contorting one’s limbs all over Aya on a spotted mat sounds most appealing. To save the day Aya has been authorised to use the CTI agency’s Overdrive System, which allows agents to travel back into the past and possess the body of any soldier who happened to be battling the Twisted at the time. It’s a bit like a more violent version of Quantum Leap.

GAMEPLAY

During a gunfight with the Twisted players will have access to a selection of four weapons. Aya will wield whatever gun her host is holding in addition to a pistol, which despite dishing out weedy damage has the advantage of having infinite bullets. The other two weapon slots can be occupied with BP purchased guns that include rifles, shotguns and grenade launchers. One neat thing about Aya’s ability to switch between the soldiers she possesses is that if her host runs out of bullets she can change over to a colleague who is better stocked in the ammunition department. Teleporting between bodies also adds a strategic element to the combat, as you can warp over to an unhurt fighter who is not low on health or do sneaky things like appearing behind an adversary to shoot them in the back. Not very sporting, but it gets the job done.

Control wise the game handles okay, but there is certainly room for improvement. The L & R buttons allow Aya to aim and fire, the x button permits her to dodge whilst triangle is what you press to swap bodies. In addition to teleporting into friendly forces Aya can also temporarily inhabit an enemy to inflict massive damage, but doing so requires that you weaken your target first. Although this is a PSP game I played 3rd Birthday on my Vita, which left me longing for an option to map the camera controls to the second analogue stick. That would have been more comfortable than using the D-Pad. The D-Pad is also used to switch targets, as most of the guns you brandish auto aim on enemies. Great in theory, although in practice I often found myself frantically pressing the pad to cycle between foes until I was eventually facing my desired target.

VERDICT

My rating for The 3rd Birthday is a four out of five. Fans of Parasite Eve may be disappointed by the more action-oriented direction the series has taken, but I personally enjoyed it. Visually the in-game graphics and CG clips are very impressive for a PSP release. I especially enjoyed the damage effects for clothing that permit us to catch a glimpse of Aya’s bare buttocks. The only real fault I can levy at the title is that it does a poor job of explaining Aya’s DNA powers, which resulted in me neglecting them during my play through. The story also doesn’t make a lick of sense. That may be partially due to the fact that I haven’t played Parasite Eve, but the non-linear time travel plot and wacky twists didn’t help matters either.

The 3rd Birthday took me around eight hours to complete, but given that I only paid £7.99 for it I am not complaining. The short duration is actually a plus, as I am more likely to revisit the title to tackle the harder difficulties and acquire the unlockables on offer. Overall I would say The 3rd Birthday is a great game. It’s almost as much fun as playing Twister with a smexy lass.

Review of Outlaw Star

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Outlaw Star is a twenty six episode anime series based on Takehiko Ito’s manga comic, which I have not read as it has never been officially translated into English. The series is one of the better sci-fi cartoons I have watched, although it is somewhat underrated by the general anime community as the legendary Cowboy Bebop, which also aired during the late nineties, overshadowed it in the television ratings. If for some reason you haven’t already imported the region one DVDs, viewers in the United Kingdom can finally purchase a UK copy from Anime Limited who are selling the complete series set for a bargain £23.

STORY/CHARACTERS

The show follows the adventures of Gene Starwind (cool surname) a gun for hire who is presently stuck doing odd jobs on a backwater planet named Sentinel. Gene is a breath of fresh air when compared to most anime protagonists, as he is a big hit with the ladies thanks to his roguish charms. He’s not shy about flirting with maidens, which is in stark contrast to the slew of teenage virgins that headline the majority of present day Japanese cartoons. Although Gene has no fears about asking the fairer sex for a date, he isn’t quite as courageous when it comes to space travel. The poor lad has a phobia of interstellar voyages after his old man perished whilst journeying the cosmos.

After a routine bodyguard job goes awry, Gene comes into possession of the Outlaw Star (a state of the art grappler spacecraft) that comes complete with an advanced android navigator named Melfina. Gene first discovered Melfina after finding her packed buck naked in a suitcase. It’s just as well that Mr Starwind has his own flying ship for travel, as I don’t think British Airways would approve of bundling a nude girl in your luggage. Getting past the X-Ray machine would be most awkward and I would imagine that her weight might incur excess baggage charges. Anyway, moving back on subject, Gene sets off in search of the fabled Galactic Leyline in the hopes of amassing fortune and fame. Hot in pursuit are the Space Pirates that Gene pilfered the Outlaw Star from. I guess they are not amused at being on the receiving end of looting yarrr.

Joining Gene on his merry star trek are Gilliam (the Outlaw Star’s sarcastic computer) and Jim Hawking the prepubescent tech whiz. Despite being considerably younger than Gene, Jim is the brains of the outfit and is often forced to compensate for his partner’s reckless antics. Along the way two lovely ladies named Aisha Clanclan and Twilight Suzuka supplement the Outlaw Star’s crew. Thankfully their appearance doesn’t signal the show’s descent into harem nonsense. Aisha is the comic relief cat girl whilst Suzuka is a badass assassin who is able to dispatch foes using a mere wooden sword. I’m not sure that a blunt weapon is the most effective thing to use against adversaries wielding ray guns, but whatever. Star Wars taught us that there is nothing cooler than sword fights in space.

VERDICT

My rating for Outlaw Star is a very high four out of five. Back when I originally viewed the show I would have ranked it as a five star release, but having re-watched it recently I find myself having to knock off a star, as it hasn’t aged as gracefully as I recalled. Although the artwork is still decent, the show doesn’t have the high production values of Cowboy Bebop so it hasn’t stood the test of time as well. There are a few parts were the animation is a little rough and the script has its moments of cheesiness that I managed to overlook in my youth, but notice now. The poor narrator in particular is tasked with delivering some cringe worthy dialogue during the episode introductions.

I can highly recommend Outlaw Star to anyone who enjoys action packed science fiction. The series has a nice blend of thrilling gunfights, humour and some touching moments too. Outlaw Star’s universe is a joy to experience thanks to its fun cast of characters and a world that combines the sci-fi western genre with a touch of magic. I especially enjoyed the unique technology used by the characters such as Gene’s Castor pistol (that fires spell charged shells) and the grappler ships, which in addition to blasting craft with lasers can also use their metal appendages to engage in hand to hand combat. Hopefully this UK release will result in more viewers discovering this nineties animation gem. Even if the Outlaw Star does not shine as brightly as Cowboy Bebop it is still well worth checking out.