2014 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for my blog. Thanks for supporting my site pervs. It seems like hentai games and fan service animes are amongst my most popular reviews 🙂

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 15,000 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 6 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Review of Ghost in the Shell: Arise – Borders 1 & 2

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Ghost in the Shell is one of the most renowned properties in the world of anime. The G.I.T.S 1995 movie, based on Masamune Shirow’s manga, is often cited as being one of the contributing factors in getting Western audiences hooked on Japanese animation (along with Akira and um… the demonic porn Legend of the Overfiend.) Following on from the movie’s success a sequel titled Innocence was released along with the Stand Alone Complex TV series, which is my favourite rendition of the franchise. Moving ahead to 2014 and Ghost in the Shell is back courtesy of a four part OVA christened Ghost in the Shell: Arise. Manga Entertainment is presently selling a DVD containing the first two instalments for around £20. In this age of nickel and diming customers I’m relieved to see that they aren’t selling each episode as a full priced “stand alone” release.

OVERVIEW

Arise is a prequel/reboot penned by sci-fi author Tow Ubukata, whose impressive cyberpunk credentials include Mardock Scramble and Psycho Pass season 2. The two tales contained in this set chronicle how cyborg beauty Motoko Kusanagi established the elite law enforcement team that would later be known as Public Security Section 9. Things open up with the OVA titled Ghost Pain, which has “The Major” using her impressive hacking skills to investigate the murder of her mentor – a military commander who has been posthumously indicted for fraud after perishing under suspicious circumstances. The case pits Kusanagi against her army colleagues in a story were technological wizardry results in a number of surprising twists.

Next up is Ghost Whisperers, which deals with a war criminal named Kazuya Soga who is still managing to cause mischief despite being incarcerated. Using the computational power of Japan’s traffic network, Soga plans to hack into the Pandora database that houses the nation’s dirty little secrets. Gripes it’s just like North Korea assaulting Sony with a mix of traffic congestion that almost rivals the London rush hour. The highlight of this action packed adventure is that Soga’s subordinates include several familiar faces from the Ghost in the Shell franchise. Although they will eventually become comrades, for the duration of this mission Kusanagi is forced to square off against man mountain Batou, computer wiz Ishikawa and Saito a treacherous sniper who amusingly switches sides whenever someone offers him a better pay cheque.

VERDICT

I am happy to report that Ghost in the Shell: Arise is excellent. As a staunch fan of Stand Alone Complex I was disappointed when I originally heard that the franchise was getting a reboot. Thankfully that discontent has since been quelled by what I have seen thus far. Ubukata’s intelligent scripts are on par with Stand Alone Complex’s offerings and with Production I.G in charge of animation the whole thing looks gorgeous. Arise is one of those shows that successfully meshes CG effects with two dimensional designs and the action sequences are always spectacular. I just hope that Kusanagi hurries up in assembling a team to assist her in battle. She could use an extra “hand” as she has a habit of losing her arms during combat.

My final score has to be five stars, as I cannot find any major faults with either OVA. Perhaps a feature length running time would have been beneficial to flesh things out more. Each episode is just under an hour long, which is more than the twenty minutes most animes get, but even that isn’t sufficient to fully explore subplots such as Kusanagi being treated like property due to her synthetic body. Speaking of Kusanagi, I liked Arise’s slightly more emotional take on the character (ironic given that in this version she has been a cyborg since birth) but I can’t say that I approve of her horrendous new haircut. Yeah, that’s a petty complaint to have. Given that I am follically challenged I really shouldn’t split “hairs” about the appearance of anime characters.

Review of Braveland

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Braveland is a turn-based strategy game created by fledgling software developer Tortuga Team. The iOS version is presently available to buy off the Apps Store for around two pounds and I believe that a PC edition can be downloaded from Steam for a similar price. Braveland is possibly named after the motion picture Braveheart, given that the game’s protagonist resembles Mel Gibson portraying William Wallace. Instead of disliking those of the Jewish faith, Braveland’s hero instead harbours an intense dislike for bandits, which is understandable given that looters have previously raided his village. Players are tasked with guiding the haggis-loving hero on his quest to bring the murderous criminals, who attacked his home, to justice.

OVERVIEW

When the game begins players are presented with a view of the world map, which can be traversed by tapping on your desired destination. Most of the time you’ll be traveling down a linear path, battling any enemies blocking the road, but occasionally it is possible to take a short detour. The diversions normally lead to settlements, where you can purchase equipment and hire troops, or statues that will confer the hero with stat boosts. Who knew that marvelling at sculptures could be so beneficial? Based on all the pigeons I see defecating on statue heads, I always presumed that stone representations of man were nothing more than glorified avian toilets.

The combat system reminds me of the King’s Bounty series, which is by no means a bad thing given that those particular games are lots of fun. Conflicts start with both forces positioned on opposite sides of a battlefield that has been broken up into hexagonal grids. The player and AI commander take it in turns to move their units until one of the factions has been decimated. The troops at your disposal include spell casters, peasants brandishing pitchforks, armoured knights and archers who look like they have just emerged from a Robin Hood fancy dress party. Whenever one of your soldiers suffers harm your fury meter builds up, which is used to power special abilities that can turn the tide of battle.

VERDICT

My rating for Braveland is three and a half stars. It’s an ideal purchase for anyone seeking a fun and relaxing strategy game. Hardcore generals need not apply though, as it is clear that Tortuga Team designed Braveland with casual players in mind. The difficulty is seldom challenging, battles can be completed in a few minutes, the script is peppered with comical lines and the visuals are cartoony in nature. Overall I had a good time playing through the campaign for the five hours it lasted me. That might not sound like a lot of gameplay for your buck, but I wouldn’t penalise the title for its duration given that it only costs two quid. That’s roughly the price of a haggis, which I am sure a seasoned Scottish warrior could consume in well under three hundred minutes.

Review of WataMote

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No Matter How I Look at It, It’s You Guys’ Fault I’m Not Popular (better known as the mercifully quicker to type WataMote) is a twelve episode anime series based on Nico Tanigawa’s manga strip. The show is animated by Silver Link (the studio behind Dusk Maiden of Amnesia) and is presently available to buy in the UK, thanks to MVM Entertainment, for around twenty pounds. The anime stars a teenage girl named Tomoko Kuroki who, as alluded to by the show’s elongated title, is one of the most unpopular kids at her high school. Tomoko can attract any man she desires when it comes to dating sims, but her virtual smooching skills are for naught in the real world where she struggles to attract friends let alone the affections of the opposite sex.

OVERVIEW

If one were to analyse WataMote they’d soon come to the realisation that it’s a rather cruel show. Strictly speaking I would categorize the series as a comedy, although much of its humour relies on viewers laughing at the poor protagonist’s misfortune. Tomoko entered high school with high aspirations, but her hopes for a blissful time have sadly been sabotaged by a crippling case of social anxiety. Unable to bond with others, Tomoko has transformed into a bitter recluse who spends her days plotting crazy schemes, which she hopes will get her noticed by the more jolly classmates she jealously resents.

Despite her chronic shyness, there are a couple of characters Tomoko can interact with. First up is her younger brother Tomoki, who has little patience for his sibling’s bizarre antics. Unfortunately for him Tomoko has a habit of making frequent uninvited visits to his bedroom. Tomoko theorises that chatting with her bro for an hour a day will improve her dire conversational skills, so for now Tomoki will have to put up with his sister’s inane ramblings. The other person Tomoko can confide in is her sole friend Yu Naruse. The pair were the best of chums during middle school thanks to their shared love of manga. Although the two remain good pals, Tomoko is exasperated by how seamlessly Yu has metamorphosed from a dorky middle school student into a popular high school lass who has a boyfriend.

VERDICT

Remember how I said that WataMote is a cruel show because it generates giggles by tormenting its lead character? Well, I guess I am a horrible person because I found its gags to be hilarious. The awkward predicaments Tomoko gets into are a hoot, as are the manner in which her hair brained schemes backfire. All that said I cannot bring myself to award the series more than three stars. Although the first few episodes had me in stitches, I found that the show loses steam by its halfway point. Story wise WataMote is lacking, as its episodes are nothing more than slice of life skits strung together. Even though we get a dozen episodes chronicling a year of her life, I was a little disappointed to see that by the end Tomoko has made little progress in attaining her popularity dream or growing as a person.

Reception towards the series has been mixed, so it is tough for me to recommend WataMote to others. Depending on your sense of humour, the cartoon’s jokes may cross the line that divides funny from sad. Although the show has many fans that find it hilarious there are some viewers who cannot stomach it, as they feel sympathy for the lead. Perhaps the subject matter is striking a nerve with anime fanatics who are stereotypically portrayed as lonely introverts? I personally can relate to Tomoko’s condition, which causes her to get tongue tied when dealing with strangers, but I can’t say that I ever pitied her. The over the top reactions she displays ensure that, however uncomfortable things get, I never regarded the narrative as a serious exploration into the effects of social phobia. Take a chill pill Tomoko. Real world popularity is over rated. Stick to enjoying games and manga. That works fine for me… sniffle I wish I had friends 😦

Review of Theatrhythm Final Fantasy Curtain Call

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When one thinks of the Final Fantasy games two things come to mind – epic RPGs and spectacular soundtracks. The Final Fantasy scores are so renowned that concerts performing their songs manage to attract sell out crowds across the globe. Composer Nobuo Uematsu even managed to claim a top three spot on the BBC classical music charts for his work on the series (in your face Beethoven.) Due to the franchise’s acoustic pedigree I was excited to try out Theatrhythm Final Fantasy Curtain Call, which on paper sounds like an inspired idea. A rhythm game packed with tunes from Square-Enix’s flagship series? Awesome. Sign me up.

OVERVIEW

Curtain Call is a follow-up to Theatrhythm Final Fantasy, which appeared on the Nintendo 3DS and iOS platforms back in 2012. At its core both games are exactly the same. Players listen to Final Fantasy melodies whilst racking up points by pressing the button prompts indicated on screen. Curtain Call is however superior to its predecessor thanks to its greater selection of songs and support for multiple control schemes. If you ask me rhythm games and touch screen interfaces are a match made in heaven, but for anyone with a stylus phobia (if such a condition exists) fear not because Curtain Call also allows you to play using the D-Pad and face buttons.

The songs on offer are broken down into Event, Battle and Field music stages. Battle and Field levels have you assembling a quartet of Final Fantasy Characters to smack waves of enemies or set off on a lengthy hike. In either case the aim is to survive until the song’s fruition, which is accomplished by tapping/swiping the touchscreen in harmony with the icons scrolling across the 3DS display. Perfect timing earns you points whilst fumbling your inputs will result in damage from enemies or painful trips (akin to a jogger who has forgotten to tie their laces.) The more rare Event stages play a memorable tune whilst displaying vintage cut scenes that veteran FF players will recognise. I dare Square-Enix aficionados to tackle those stages without drowning in a wave of nostalgia.

VERDICT

My rating for Theatrhythm Final Fantasy Curtain Call is a four out of five. I’m not normally a fan of rhythm games, but I managed to enjoy this one thanks to the stellar Final Fantasy music on offer. Curtain Call’s library boasts over two hundred songs so you won’t feel compelled to buy additional DLC tracks, as was the case with the original game. On the visual side of things I also dug the game’s graphics, which transform the roster of sixty plus characters into adorable hobbits with oversized cartoony heads. Perhaps my midget fetish is showing, but don’t you think that miniature Rinoa looks cute?

Curtain Call is an ideal handheld game as it’s the sort of title you can pick up, play for a few minutes and then put down. Aside from retrying songs, to best your high scores, the game motivates you to keep on playing by regularly rewarding you with unlockable goodies. Some new features added to this sequel include a Versus mode, were you can challenge friends or AI opponents to a match, and Quest Medley were your party advances through dungeons made up of numerous songs (in search of treasure such as stat boosting collectable cards.) Regardless of your skill level I can highly recommend Curtain Call. I’m terrible at these type of games but still managed to do well on easy and normal. I wouldn’t recommend hard mode though, unless you have the digit dexterity of a harpist jacked up on Red Bull.

Review of Nekomonogatari White

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Nekomonogatari White is the opening chapter of Monogatari Season Two (the on-going anime series adapting Nisio Isin’s witty light novels.) From a financial/shelf space point of view it’s a shame that we aren’t getting the complete twenty six episode series in a single DVD set, but alas MVM Entertainment is contractually obliged to follow the release strategy of the show’s U.S distributor. Aniplex of America is sadly known for exploiting passionate anime fans; so breaking up a series into several volumes is to be expected. This is after all the company that demands one hundred dollars for a ninety minute Persona 3 movie, which isn’t even dubbed. No wonder then that some fans resign themselves to watching anime via less than legal means.

OVERVIEW

What’s fascinating about Nekomongatari’s five-part story arc is that Monogatari protagonist Koyomi Araragi is absent from proceedings. The focus of this particular tale is Araragi’s high school class rep Tsubasa Hanekawa. Viewers of the franchise’s previous instalments will know that Tsubasa suffers from an unusual ailment, which transforms her into an energy sapping cat girl whenever she gets overly stressed. With all the things happening in her life it’s no surprise then that Tsubasa’s feline alter ego has resurfaced. Not only is she coming to terms with her romantic interest dating another girl, but she also has to deal with unloving parents who won’t even give her a bedroom. The poor lass is forced to nap on the hallway floor, where every morning she gets rudely awoken by a Roomba on vacuuming duty.

Turning into a seductive cat girl isn’t the only kitty themed headache Tsubasa has to contend with however, as another hot pussy (cat) has just arrived in town. Kako the fiery phantom tiger demonstrates his passion for arson in the opening episode were he reduces Tsubasa’s abode to ash (hopefully the Roomba escaped from the blaze unscathed.) With Araragi, vanquisher of all things supernatural, currently missing it falls on Tsubasa to stop Kako from striking again. Thankfully she can call upon the aid of an unlikely ally, in the form of Hitagi Senjogahara (the girlfriend of Tsubasa’s secret crush.) Despite being rivals in love Senjogahara is surprisingly friendly towards Tsubasa, to the point that she gropes her breasts in the shower. Cat girls… teenagers frolicking in the bathroom… would you believe that I watch Monogatari solely for the snappy dialogue?

VERDICT

My rating for Nekomonogatari White is a four out of five. It gets a thumbs up from me, although that should come as no surprise given that I am a big Monogatari fan. Even if some of the script’s Japanese puns get lost in translation, I’m more than content with having the opportunity to spend more time with the show’s likable cast of characters. Araragi’s presence wasn’t missed too much, as a number of other Monogatari regulars make cameo appearances throughout the five episode run – including the Fire Sisters, Shinobu the Lolita vampire and the perpetually lost Mayoi (who humorously breaks the fourth wall by proclaiming that she will star in season two’s upcoming episodes.)

Compared to the other Monogatari releases I would rank Nekomonogatari White above Nisemonogatari and below Bakemonogatari. The solid story has Tsubasa confronting her inner demons, which really helps her grow as a character. Some detractors accuse Monogatari of dragging out its storylines, but I personally had no issues with the pacing. The show’s punchy banter and visual flair succeeded in keeping me glued to the screen. One sequence that I thought was especially “sweet” had the characters assembling a cat’s face by stacking up sugar cubes. If anything I wouldn’t mind if the creators took their foot off the accelerator, as keeping up with the rapid subtitles and all the stuff onscreen can be a struggle. Overall I highly recommend Nekomonogatari White. Five episodes instead of a full season set is not purr-fect, but the combined running time is the length of a feature film so it isn’t a complete swindle.

Review of Muramasa: Rebirth

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Muramasa: Rebirth is a Vita remake of the 2009 Wii title Muramasa: The Demon Blade. Rebirth is arguably an improvement over the original, as players enjoying the game on Sony’s handheld will gain the benefit of high definition graphics (albeit on a tinier screen) in addition to a better control scheme. Apologies to any Nintendo fans out there, but I am not keen on the Wii’s motion controllers. Vigorously waggling that glorified dildo once caused me to suffer a strained wrist, which put a dampener on my partaking in other pleasurable activities. Yes, I enjoy playing tennis on a regular basis… if you were thinking something else please take your mind out of the gutter.

OVERVIEW

When the game loads up, players are given the opportunity to play as either princess Momohime or an amnesiac warrior named Kisuke (whether it’s video games or anime, it seems like Japanese tales cannot resist the urge to include a cast member who is suffering from memory loss.) Although the game world remains unchanged, regardless of whom you pick, each protagonist has their own unique story that comes complete with a distinct selection of foes. Kisuke’s quest involves uncovering his past whilst fending off the assaults of ninjas that have been hired to assassinate him. Momohime’s chapter deals with her body being possessed by a wicked spirit named Jinkuro, who is seeking a cursed blade that will permit him to transfer his consciousness into a manlier host.

Gameplay wise, Muramasa: Rebirth is a 2D hack n slash romp set in post-feudal Japan. Using an assortment of swords, players travel across the land slaughtering any samurais, beasts or yokai that get in their way. Weapons range from nimble katanas to long blades, which are slower to swing but pack a stronger punch and have the added bonus of a greater reach. During combat it is possible to alternate between a trio of swords, which is handy as blades can temporarily shatter should a character sustain too much damage or get overzealous with durability sapping special moves. Over the course of their adventure players can bolster their armoury by forging over one hundred demonic weapons. New swords can be fashioned by harvesting souls from defeated enemies and consuming spiritual energy from food (no wonder Rosie O’Donnell has such a “spirited” personality.)

VERDICT

My rating for Muramasa: Rebirth is a five out of five. As expected from the developer behind Dragon’s Crown (aka busty sorceress simulator) the game’s visuals are simply gorgeous. The backgrounds are brimming with detail and the animation is so fluid that at times it feels like you are manipulating an actual cartoon. On the audio side of things, the game’s spoken dialogue is delivered entirely in Japanese with the aid of English subtitles. The lack of a translation works in Muramasa’s favour, as it feels more authentic given the game’s setting. The same can be said of the title’s soundtrack, which has a very Japanese flair to it.

From beginning to end I had a lot of fun playing through Muramasa: Rebirth. My only complaint would have to be that Vanillaware is guilty of padding out the story by forcing players to revisit areas that they have previously cleared. Completing Momohime’s campaign took me around six hours, but Rebirth is by no means a short game. There are two stories to experience, multiple endings and plenty of swords to unlock. If you are willing to fork out on inexpensive DLC the content on offer can be supplemented even further with a quartet of new playable characters. It’s well worth checking out for anyone who owns a Vita. Okay that’s enough typing. I need to preserve my wrist as I am off to watch Showgirls… um I mean play some Badminton.