Review of Black Rock Shooter

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Black Rock Shooter is an eight-episode anime series based on the fictional character created by the artist known as Huke (real name Ryohei Fuke.) The titular lady resembles a gothic version of virtual pop idol Hatsune Miku, who ironically sings the show’s opening theme song. Back in May 2014 the folks at Manga Entertainment brought the series over to the UK, as a subtitle only release, which can be purchased on a two disc DVD set that retails for around £15.00. I decided to give the series a go as I recently started playing the Black Rock Shooter video game on the PSP. Unbeknownst to me the game and anime are radically different, with the cartoon version being the inferior of the two.

OVERVIEW

Although the series is called Black Rock Shooter the protagonist of the show is actually a teenage girl named Mato Kuroi. Maoto has just started high school where she meets a reclusive lass named Yomi Takanashi. The pair bond over their shared love for a children’s book titled The Little Bird of Many Colours. Unfortunately for them Yomi’s childhood pal Kagari Izuriha (a nutty girl confined to a wheelchair) doesn’t take kindly to anyone getting close to her only buddy and will stop at nothing to sabotage the blossoming friendship. As the story progresses we learn that Kagari isn’t the only one who is a few sandwiches short of a picnic. Yomi is wrestling with her own inner demons along with the school’s basketball captain who has been recently humiliated by bullies.

These sensitive ladies could use a good shoulder to cry on, but alas the school’s counsellor is a caffeine junky that dishes out terrible advice, which makes anyone seeking her guidance feel worse than when they initially visited her. What’s the solution then? Well, like most people, the gals in question transfer their bitterness over to an alternate dimension where superhuman doppelgangers battle to the death in a post apocalyptic world. Who will emerge victorious when Mato’s gun totting avatar Black Rock Shooter clashes with Yomi’s Dead Master persona? You’ll have to watch the series to find out… oh and if you do check out the anime good luck deciphering its plot because it doesn’t make a lick of sense to me.

VERDICT

Why couldn’t the animators just adapt the PSP game’s story into an anime? A superhuman clone battling against alien invaders may not sound original, but it would have been easier to follow than this incomprehensible mess. I think the studio responsible watched Madoka Magica and figured that they too could pull off a series featuring cute girls, otherworldly combat and dark psychological themes. Alas it didn’t work. Black Rock Shooter should have focused on either being a high school drama or an action packed science fiction slugfest. Trying to gel the two contrasting ideas together sadly didn’t work. It gets rather ridiculous when late into the series a far-fetched explanation is given for the existence of the supernatural dimension and everyone just goes along with it.

My final rating has to be a two out of five. Black Rock Shooter boasts some impressive CG animation during its action scenes, but it’s sadly wasted on this series. The cast are mostly likable until they go off the deep end and lose their minds. Kagari’s mental instability is due to a traumatic childhood event, but the rest of the characters don’t have a good reason for breaking down so readily. Maybe teenage hormones are to blame? For the sake of drama the girls just seem to make mountains out of molehills. Even when compared to other animes Black Rock Shooter comes across as rather bizarre and that’s saying something given how whacky Japanese cartoons can get.

Review of Armored Warrior Iris

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Armored Warrior Iris is an adult visual novel created by Black Lilith, a Japanese developer whose previous offerings include the aptly named Tentacle and Witches (a must own for anyone who appreciates tales of organic appendages that molest practitioners of magic.) The English language version of Armored Warrior Iris is presently available to buy from Dutch company Manga Gamer, who are selling a downloadable version on their website for the lump sum of $24.95. Is the hefty asking price worth it? Possibly… providing that smutty sci-fi yarns, which would make Barbarella blush, are your thing.

OVERVIEW

Set in the distant future – Armored Warrior Iris follows the adventures of the titular blonde bombshell, who happens to be a pilot in the Soviet Security Force’s predominately female Armored Warrior division (their sexually discriminatory employment practices will be their undoing should they ever be sent on a mission that requires parallel parking.) Iris and her elven partner Mei Li specialise in combating intergalactic crime, as evidenced in the novel’s prologue that sees the pair take down a corrupt politician (who strongly resembles the Trade Federation aliens from Star Wars.) George Lucas could sue Black Lilith for pilfering his character designs, but he probably won’t as doing so would reveal that he watches animated porn.

Although the above-mentioned operation goes without a hitch the same cannot be said for Iris’ next mission. Whilst patrolling on an outlaw world, Iris is ambushed by a group of slave traders who sell her off to the owner of a local brothel. Forced to service the establishment’s seedy clientele, by an extra-terrestrial who looks like the offspring of Jabba the Hut and a slug, Iris must find a way to escape from the torrent of abuse before it causes her to capitulate to depravity. The one small consolation about Iris’ plight is that Bozuk, the whorehouse’s benefactor, isn’t that bad of a guy… um gastropod. Sure he punishes disobedience with an electrified collar, but at least he gives readers the option of selecting which clients Iris will bed. Choose wisely, as your decisions will ultimately determine the heroine’s fate.

VERDICT

My rating for Armored Warrior Iris is a four out of five. Compared to other visual novels the writing is pretty good… although complimenting this type of game on its narrative is akin to praising Playboy for its articles. My score however comes with the caveat that the title will only appeal to a very specific niche. Your average gamer would award this visual novel a one star, either because the subject matter is offensive or because they find the concept of an erotic game ridiculous (ironically some of those naysayers may enjoy books like Fifty Shades of Grey.) At the end of the day though there is little point in assessing the game on the grounds of what a mainstream audience finds palatable, because Joe Public is unlikely to cough up $25 to sample the title in the first place.

Although a digital novel’s visuals cannot compete with the production values showcased in the four-episode Armored Warrior Iris anime adaptation, it does compare favourably with other hentai games I have seen (I only looked at those purely for research purposes of course.) The storyline is essentially no deeper than your average adult dojin, but the addition of sound effects, music and light interactive elements do enhance the reading experience. In total there are five finales to unlock, which include two happy endings and a trio of tragic conclusions. Be aware that consulting a guide may be required to view all the endings, as determining what answers lead to which resolution is tantamount to sussing out a safe’s combination.

In terms of titillation, Black Lilith’s script manages to cater to various fetishes. The customers Iris gets jiggy with vary from standard humanoids to more exotic aliens, which range from giant insects to anthropomorphic ducks. There are even scenes featuring body modification, were Iris has the size of her breasts augmented to the level of Chelsea Charms. Another example has Iris undergoing a medical procedure that transforms her into an underage girl. No matter how cute Lolita Iris is be sure to scrub your hard drive clean after finishing this game. Japan’s love of jailbait could land you in hot water with the authorities!

Review of Usagi Drop

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Usagi Drop is an anime series that follows the misadventures of Daikichi Kawachi, a thirty-year-old single guy who has recently become the foster father of his six-year-old aunt. Ah, isn’t anime wonderful? Where else but in Japanese cartoons can you sample such unique tales… well aside from South American soap operas perhaps. The anime series partially adapts Yumi Unita’s manga strip, which back in 2011 was nominated for an Eisner Award (or so the always reliable Wikipedia informs me.) MVM Entertainment is distributing the series in the United Kingdom via a Complete Collection set that presently retails for around twenty pounds.

OVERVIEW

My advice to anyone checking out Usagi Drop is to persevere with it past the first episode, because trust me it gets much better. The opening chapter of the anime adaptation revolves around Daikichi attending his grandfather’s funeral, so things naturally kick off on a more sombre note than the subsequent stories that follow it. Whilst at the wake Daikichi learns of Rin, the adorable offspring of Gramps and the young maid who was looking after him (I guess she serviced him in more ways than one.) The girl’s mother has since gone AWOL, leaving Daikichi’s relatives to squabble over who should look after this embarrassing surprise. When it appears that no one will step up to the plate Daikichi volunteers to become Rin’s guardian, saving her from life at an orphanage.

From that point onwards viewers get to see Daikichi fumble through his inaugural year as a single dad. The show’s eleven episodes have Daikichi handling a spell were Rin wets the bed, overseeing the loss of her milk teeth and nursing Rin through a nasty case of stomach flu. The transition from disorganised bachelor to responsible parent isn’t always a smooth one, but with the support of friends and family Daikichi eventually gets there. His new responsibilities demand certain sacrifices (such as giving up on a promising career to secure a new job with more stable working hours) but it’s worth it when you see how the pair bonds. Rin’s growth from introvert to a cute girl almost makes me want to have a daughter of my own. Later in the series she however befriends an annoying brat who is a prime example of why I can’t stand kids. Thank goodness I’m naturally blessed with looks that repulse women.

VERDICT

My rating for Usagi Drop is a five out of five. Aside from the somewhat dreary first episode, which had the unenviable task of setting up the show’s bizarre premise, I was smitten throughout by the touching father/daughter relationship that the leads share. Given that I have a high opinion of Wolf Children and Clannad: After Story, I am slowly coming to the realisation that I am a big softie when it comes to single parent storylines. My rating reflects the fact that I didn’t have any major misgivings about the anime. The inclusion of an English dub would have been nice, but I can live with having subtitles only. The visuals could perhaps be a bit better, but they are still decent and I thought the watercolour tinge utilized in the opening segments was a nice touch.

It’s a shame that only eleven episodes were produced, as I would have gladly lapped up even more. The short run means that some plot threads aren’t fully explored, such as the hints of romance between Daikichi and a single mom he meets at Rin’s school. Another example is Daikichi’s attempts to reach out to Rin’s scatter brained mother. From the limited screen time she gets I’m not certain what her true feelings are towards her daughter. It’s up in the air whether she abandoned her child to pursue a dream career, or if she is using the job as an excuse to avoid the awkwardness of interacting with Rin’s other family members. Ah well, perhaps it’s for the best that the manga didn’t get fully animated. Apparently the later chapters have a teenage Rin professing her love to Daikichi. Is the writer making a point that daughters often resemble their mothers? Nah, I just think that Japan is obsessed with incest.

Review of One Piece: Unlimited World Red

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One Piece: Unlimited World Red is a third person brawler based on the long running anime series, which at the time of writing exceeds six hundred episodes. Forget about Bastian and his oversized flying mutt – One Piece is the true never-ending story. Published by Bandai Namco, the game is presently available to buy for the PlayStation Vita in addition to the Nintendo 3DS, PS3 and Wii U. Unlimited World’s plot sees a veteran swashbuckler named Red causing havoc on his quest to secure the “King of Pirates” crown. Red has the ability to clone superhuman criminals by scribbling on leaves and the only ones who can stop him are the quirky Straw Hat crew, led by Stretch Armstrong like rubber man Luffy.

OVERVIEW

Unlimited World’s story mode spans across eight chapters that involve traipsing through levels in search of “power words” that will grant you access to the stage’s next area. Booty can be picked up from defeated enemies and spent at the town stores you build using materials littered across each level. When I first spied the game it reminded me a little of the Dynasty Warriors series, but its slower paced combat and light RPG elements make it feel more like a Phantasy Star Online game. By pressing the circle and triangle buttons players can launch a combo of attacks, whilst x is tapped to jump and circle is used to evade. During a mission players take control of one character and are aided by two AI companions, which they can switch between by hitting select.

The Straw Hats roster is made up of nine playable characters that include a couple of chesty gals, a shape shifting reindeer and someone who resembles a skeletal pimp. Each character has their own unique fighting style, which makes them feel very distinct. Sanji the flirtatious cook for example specializes in kicking foes, whilst Usopp the big nosed coward prefers to pelt enemies from a safe distance by utilizing a slingshot. Other fighters you can play as include Zoro (the bandana wearing swordsman who grips a blade in his mouth) and Franky, a cola powered cyborg who fires cannonballs from his robotic arms. I can only imagine what series creator Eiichiro Oda was smoking when he came up with this stuff.

VERDICT

My rating for One Piece: Unlimited World Red is a three out of five. I’m not a big admirer of the cartoon, but I still had fun playing through this game. I’m certain that fans of the franchise will appreciate it even more than I did. Visually speaking I’m not fond of the One Piece character designs, but from a technical point of view the graphics are decent and do a good job of recreating the 2D cast in three dimensions. Like many other Vita titles, hailing from the east, the dialogue is in Japanese with English subtitles. Viewers who watch the anime in its native tongue will be okay with that, but given the show’s prominence I was a little surprised that Bandai didn’t bother to dub the game.

Whether Unlimited World is worth the full retail asking price will vary from player to player. If you are only interested in beating the main story it may be wise to wait for a discount, as I managed to complete the main campaign in just ten hours. If you are the sort of compulsive chap who must platinum every game they own there is however plenty of content on offer. Besting the story unlocks a harder difficulty and there are also a plethora of optional side quests to tackle. Additionally the game includes a coliseum mode where players can scrap in various arenas using the Straw Hat pirates and a few other characters that aren’t playable in the main game. That should keep you occupied for a while… although nowhere near as long as watching the six hundred plus animated episodes.

Review of Attack on Titan (Part Two)

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Manga Entertainment’s second Attack on Titan collection contains the remaining twelve episodes of anime’s hottest property. The series continues to tell the tale of the last vestiges of humanity who are struggling to survive against a constant onslaught from gigantic man eating Titans. When part one concluded protagonist Eren Jaeger discovered that he has the power to transform into a Titan (a parting gift from his father who had previously injected him with a mysterious concoction.) The shape shifting power allowed Eren to repel a Titan invasion by augmenting his strength sufficiently to plug up a breach in his homeland’s protective wall. Being able to enlarge one’s body is a handy skill to have; although Titans don’t possess genitals so Eren is unable to grow where it really matters.

OVERVIEW

Following on from the events chronicled in part one, Eren’s fate hangs in the balance. Rather than being appreciative of his efforts, the army’s higher ups have decided to lock Eren in a cell and deliberate on what is to be done with him. Representatives from the military police want Eren executed out of concerns that he may go out of control and turn into a rampaging monster (much like your average shopper during Black Friday sales.) The army’s Scout division however sees potential in Eren, as having an friendly Titan could aid them in launching a counteroffensive on the gluttonous humanoids, which until now have left mankind cowering helplessly behind oversized walls.

After much deliberation the Scouts’ petition to conscript Eren is accepted, under the condition that the young recruit is able to demonstrate his worth out on the field. With this in mind the Scouts set off for Eren’s old stomping grounds to investigate his father’s cellar, which may house clues on the Titans’ origins. Eren’s transfer gives viewers the opportunity to become better acquainted with some of the supporting cast who were introduced at the latter end of part one. From the Scout’s ranks the enthusiastic Zoe Hange would have to be my favourite character. Her eccentric approach to Titan biology research gives this otherwise dark show some much-needed levity. Scout commander Erwin Smith is also an interesting chap. His tactical acumen lets him deduce story twists faster than his comrades or even the viewer. I bet he wasn’t surprised at all by how the Sixth Sense panned out.

VERDICT

Season one’s remaining episodes cement in place why Attack on Titan has become such a smash hit. A lesser show would have blown its interesting premise by turning the franchise into a gory Ultraman, were Eren protects his city from colossal invaders by transforming into a heroic Titan. Thankfully the ambitious plot keeps things interesting by continually upping the ante, which is no small task when you consider that the opening episodes had more drama than some animes have throughout their entire duration. The decision to shift the present story arc from the confines of a city to the surrounding woods was also wise, as the new setting keeps the action sequences feeling fresh.

The highlight of this set without a doubt is the appearance of a big boobed female Titan (she really puts the tit in Titan.) Unlike the other Titans, who are mindless zombies who act on instinct, this new adversary possesses intelligence and is able to crystalize her skin (thereby rendering the use of conventional weapons against her ineffective.) Given her cognitive reasoning it’s speculated that this new threat could be a shape shifter not unlike Eren. The ensuing hunt for a Titan spy masquerading as a human ends up being the focus of part two. Although her identity is eventually revealed the same cannot be said for other unresolved mysteries. Waiting for Studio Wit to animate more of the on-going manga is going to be most excruciating. Don’t blame me if I succumb to impatience and end up seeking out the source material in the interim.

FINAL RATING: FIVE STARS

Review of Freedom Wars

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It’s time to don your kilt and swab on some blue face paint because FREEDOM!!! Wars has just arrived on the Vita. This sci-fi themed Monster Hunter clone takes place in the distant future, were Earth’s limited resources can no longer sustain its bloated populace. In order to survive the globe’s major cities have transformed into prison states that battle amongst themselves, to salvage materials from the planet’s surface (the inter-city conflicts are almost as vicious as my family squabbling over the last Rolo.) In this new society brainy chaps, who can advance civilisation with their smarts, are given citizenship whilst everyone else is branded a Sinner and incarcerated. Let us hope that these fictitious laws never become reality or I am certain to go into the slammer, given how academics was never my strong suit.

OVERVIEW

When the game begins players adopt the role of a Sinner who has been given a one million year prison sentence for the crime of suffering amnesia (ouch, that’s harsh when you consider that shooting a girlfriend only nets you five years behind bars.) In order to reduce your sentence and ultimately earn a swimsuit reward (because this is a Japanese game) players will have to go on a series of dangerous missions were you’ll face rival Sinners, unmanned drones and giant bots known as Abductors. Like with many Monster Hunter inspired titles farming for materials is the order of the day. Weapons looted from defeated enemies and components harvested from smashed automatons can be repurposed to upgrade your arsenal and fabricate new gear. Alternatively you can donate your spoils to earn points that can be traded in for new perks (such as the privilege to sleep lying down without getting reprimanded.)

Each level takes place in small urban areas that host third person battles featuring a group of allies (either AI controlled characters or fellow players should you manage to connect online.) The bevy of weapons you can wield is impressive ranging from oversized blades, which put Cloud Strife’s sword to shame, to web spewing guns that can stun foes. Freedom Wars’ catalogue of weapons has something for everyone, although outfitting yourself with the right tool for the job is probably the most effective strategy you can employ. In a stage littered with infantry it may be prudent to brandish an assault rifle whilst packing a beefy rocket launcher is probably more sensible when contending with giant Abductors.

In addition to regular weapons Sinners also have access to Thorns, which are glorified grappling hooks that deploy from their wrists. Using these babies it’s possible to scale buildings like Peter Parker or engage in some Attack on Titan shenanigans, were you latch yourself onto an oversized enemy with the aims of whacking them or causing the blighter to topple over. Thorns come in three flavours – healing ones that replenish an ally’s life bar, defence ones that temporarily reduce the damage you suffer and offensive thorns that can entangle opponents. Hmmm, I should invest in one of those for my BDSM sessions.

VERDICT

Like my battered girlfriend, Freedom Wars and I have a love/hate relationship. Initially when I first started the game I wasn’t impressed, as the controls felt clunky and the plot kicks off with a tedious fetch quest that drags on for too long. Once I got a better feel for the combat and unlocked a few more missions things however improved. Blasting Abductors to smithereens is most satisfying and farming for materials, to bolster your weapons, has an addictive quality to it that few RPG fans can resists. Overall Freedom Wars has the right elements to be one of my favourite Vita games, but sadly a few avoidable niggles soured my opinion of it.

My chief gripe would have to be the uneven difficulty. For the most part the mandatory story missions are a doddle (even the stealth ones which normally give me headaches in other games.) I however found the final boss to be nigh on impossible. Difficulty spikes always infuriate me and to rub salt into the wound tackling said boss requires the completion of two prior levels, without the option to save in between. Another problem I encountered was the inability to play online. Connecting to the Freedom Wars servers informs me that I have a NAT type 3 connection, which prevents me from grouping with other people. I’ve tried researching for a fix for the issue, but it’s beyond my feeble computer illiterate mind. Thus I am denied access to an enjoyable facet of the Freedom Wars package, which makes little sense, as I have no problems playing multiplayer on other Vita/PS3 games.

My final rating is a three out of five. In the Monster Hunter charts I would rate Freedom Wars above Soul Sacrifice, but below Toukiden: Age of Demons (which I have previously awarded four stars.) Despite my complaints I would still class Freedom Wars as a worthy purchase, for anyone who is a fan of the Monster Hunting genre. Unless you are unfortunate enough to be plagued with the network problems afflicting me there is plenty of online fun to be had. Destroying Abductors is so entertaining that serving that million-year prison sentence will fly right by.

Review of The Devil is a Part Timer

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When it comes to culinary careers working for McDonalds must be pure hell. Ironic then that The Devil is a Part Time revolves around Satan’s employment at a fast food chain synonymous for its coronary blocking burgers. The aforementioned evil overlord once presided over a mighty demonic army, but when an angelic hero thwarts his conquest of the Ente Isla kingdom he is forced to flee for his life by jumping into an inter-dimensional rift. The portal plumps Satan in modern day Japan and drains him of his magical powers, effectively transforming the powerful devil into a weedy human named Sadao Maou. Devoid of qualifications Satan is forced to eke out a living at “MgRonalds” whilst his faithful lieutenant Ashiya researches a method to replenish his master’s dwindling mana reserves.

OVERVIEW

The Devil is a Part Timer is a thirteen episode anime series based on the light novels penned by Satoshi Wagahara. The English language version of the show is presently available to buy off iTunes, but if you prefer a physical release Manga Entertainment have you covered with their UK region DVD and Blu-Ray sets. After reading the show’s synopsis you may have gathered that this is a fish out of water comedy, although it doesn’t play out quite how I envisioned. Depowered and stuck in a foreign land I expected Satan to provide laughs by acting like a complete buffoon. Instead he proves to be rather resourceful and within the space of an episode secures lodgings, acquires a job and becomes fluent in Japanese.

Satan’s demotion from ruler of a demonic horde to a burger jockey also had me surprised. Instead of wickedly tormenting the MgRonalds patrons and staff he is in fact a model employee. His enthusiastic work ethic earns him the admiration of his fellow workers – including a teenage part timer named Chiho Sasaki. It’s clear from the offset that Chiho has the “hots” for Satan… and I’m not referring to the heat emanating from the fiery flames of Hell. Is Satan’s unexpected docile nature a charade? Emi Yusa, the hero who vanquished him in Ente Isla, suspects so. She pursues Satan to Japan with the intentions of monitoring his Earthly activities. Much like Satan, the journey strips Emi off her powers forcing her to settle down in Tokyo earning a modest wage at a call centre.

VERDICT

After watching The Devil is a Part Timer I can safely say that it is a contender for funniest anime of 2014. The antics of the cast had me consistently chuckling, aside from the superfluous final episode were a crooked salesman swindles Satan. Chiho’s bouts of jealousy, whenever a girl gets too close to the lead, are cute and I found it amusing when onlookers mistakenly presume that Satan and Emi are dating (much to her annoyance.) Ashiya has his moments too. His attempts to manage Satan’s meagre salary persuade him to consume inexpensive noodles leading to a nasty case of diarrhoea. His fondness for menacing capes also causes him to go AWOL at the most inopportune times. His dramatic entrances are regularly foiled, by arriving tardy, after he takes a diversion to acquire a flashy cape.

In addition to comedy The Devil is a Part Timer also features some light action sequences, prompted whenever assassins from Ente Isla turn up hunting for Satan. The battles are reminiscent of Dragon Ball due to their flying combatants and explosive special attacks. Despite being magically neutered Satan manages to triumph over sadistic angels by using fear from innocent bystanders to temporarily fuel his powers (hurrah for convenient plot devices.) Yes that’s right, in this anime the devils are courteous whilst holy cherubs are wicked. The show’s story hints that the Ente Isla’s clergy are guilty of political skulduggery, but sadly that interesting subplot isn’t explored too deeply. My final rating is four stars. I’m off to engage in some devil worship. Hopefully that will summon some competent staff at my local McDonalds. Those chumps never get my drive through orders correct.