Review of Ben-To

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One thing I have learned from observing the U.S media, during Black Friday, is that shoppers have no qualms about using force to take advantage of a good deal. The barbaric shopping habits that occur post Thanksgiving Day are however not limited to the States. In Ben-To (a twelve episode anime series based on Asaura’s light novels) viewers get to spectate the violent Bento Brawls, which occur in Japanese supermarkets when they discount their bento meals one hour before the store shuts. The sales attract ravenous fighters from around town who square off in mortal combat to determine who will nab one of the limited half price snacks on offer. Although I understand the allure of a cheap dinner, wouldn’t it just be easier to pop out for a takeaway?

OVERVIEW

Ben-To stars a skint high school student named Yo Sato, whose financial situation is so dire that in this age of PlayStation 4s he continues to game on an obsolete Sega Saturn. One evening, in search of inexpensive nourishment, Sato decides to visit a local store hoping to grab a reduced price bento. The shopping trip ends with him getting his face pounded, as the protagonist is painfully introduced to the world of Bento Brawls. Unperturbed by the ass kicking, Sato elects to compete in the nightly contests for bargain grub – I guess all those years of playing Virtua Fighter have conditioned him to enjoy a good bout of fisticuffs. Eventually he joins the ranks of the “Half Priced Food Lovers Club” who are led by a veteran Bento Brawler named Sen Yarizui (aka the Ice Witch.) She’s a no nonsense gal whose passion in life is filling up a scrap book with half price stickers acquired from the spoils of the supermarket based battle royales.

As you may have gathered from the show’s setup, Ben-To is a rather silly cartoon even if the bento competitors treat their sport extremely seriously. Joining Sato and Yarizui in their adventures is a bunch of oddball characters, which include Sato’s cousin Ayame Shaga (a flirtatious blonde who specializes in inflicting pain with chopsticks.) One of my favourite characters is Hana Oshiroi, a germaphobe author who likes to pen gay love stories loosely based on Sato’s exploits. Wherever Hana goes student council president Ume Shiraume follows. Ume is very possessive when it comes to the scribe of homosexual tales. One of Ben-To’s recurring gags has the jealous Shiraume slapping the bejesus out of Sato whenever she spots him hanging out with her beloved Hana.

VERDICT

My rating for Ben-To is a four out of five. Despite its goofy premise the anime is blessed with impressive gravity defying fights that put some traditional action shows to shame. Although the punch-ups are far from realistic the animators at David Production (Inu X Boku and JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure) make an effort to show the consequences of the onscreen violence. In the aftermath of a brawl poor Sato is regularly seen bandaged and covered in scrapes. On the comedy side of things the cast of characters, although nothing but clichés, play well off each other and deliver plenty of humorous banter that had be chuckling consistently.

Looking online I note that opinions on the series are divided, with the deciding factor being the show’s fan service. Although Ben-To never reaches the nudity levels of Sekirei it certainly isn’t shy about flaunting eye candy. Many shots linger on jiggly breasts and there’s even an episode set at a waterpark, just as an excuse to display the predominately female cast in swimsuits (they justify the change in setting by explaining that the establishment ridiculously places cut price bento in their pool atop floating containers.) In the interest of fairness there are a number of occasions were Sato is humiliated in his birthday suit, but I doubt that will appease those of a feminist persuasion. Thankfully I have no issues with innocent titillation so the show gets a thumbs up from me. If you hunger for wacky action and plenty of laughs Ben-To is worth checking out – it will satisfy your cravings just like the show’s titular meals.

Review of Reel Fishing: Master’s Challenge

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Reel Fishing: Master’s Challenge is the latest title in Natsume’s long running sports franchise. I believe that hunters of all things aquatic have been enjoying the series since the days of the Sega Dreamcast. At the time of writing Master’s Challenge is available exclusively for the PlayStation Vita. There isn’t a retail version of the game to buy so if you want the oppor-tuna-ity to catch some digital flounders you’ll need to download a copy off the PSN store. Is the game a stinker (like a month old skate) or a brill-iant fishing simulator? Read on to find out.

STORY

Surprisingly, for a fishing game, Master’s Challenge has a story mode that spans across fifty levels. Rather than go with the obvious “player taking part in a contest” yarn the melodramatic plot follows an expectant father who is reminiscing about the times when pop taught him how to fish. The narrative is rather dull, although there are moments when I found it unintentionally funny. Even if it’s a tad cruel, I couldn’t help but chuckle when it’s revealed that the protagonist’s parents split because his father would abandon his sickly mother in order to go off fishing. Needless to say, you won’t miss much if you tap start to skip the text introducing each stage. Its all just setting up a finale were you must capture a zombie like albino fish that only emerges on foggy days. This is the Silent Hill of fishing games folks!

GAMEPLAY

Reel Fishing is easy to master, which is a welcome relief as my previous fishing endeavours on the Vita have not always been pleasant (due to a poor tutorial and inability to catch anything I gave up on 2013’s Let’s Fish: Hooked On.) The aim of each mission is to reel in a specified number of fish. The early levels are a doddle although as the story progresses the objectives get trickier (sometimes you’ll be required to hook fish of a certain weight for example.) Even so failure seldom happens aside from the levels that impose a five-minute time limit. Success in those missions can boil down to luck, which is frustrating. Seriously, how many anglers do you know that restrict their fishing sessions to a mere three hundred seconds?

To snag a fish you must first select your desired target from the tackle menu and then purchase some bait. With the shopping complete it is time to cast off, which is accomplished by pressing circle. Once that is done the waiting game begins. There’s not much to do aside from watching your bait float on the surface or sink to the seabed (depending on what type of lure you picked.) Tapping on the D-Pad lets you wiggle your hook, which may tempt nearby fish to take a bite (much like waving a Mars Bar in front of my face.) Upon snagging a blighter you’ll be required to reel them in by holding down one of the face buttons. Keep a close eye on the power gauge because reeling in Nemo when the bar is full will result in your line snapping (much like my belt after the consumption of a large meal.)

VERDICT

My rating for Reel Fishing: Master’s Challenge is a three out of five. I actually enjoyed the game a lot, but then again I’m the sort of weirdo who spends hours of time in MMOs playing the fishing mini-games (every guild has one.) I can’t give the game a higher score because the asking price is steep when you consider that the gameplay on offer is no deeper than what you would find in an inexpensive mobile title. The missions all play out the same with the only difference being the background graphics and the design of the fish swimming in the area. If your tastes mirror mine however Reel Fishing is a good handheld time waster. Aside from the story mode there are various rods to unlock, optional quests to complete and purchasable decorations to pimp out the aquarium that houses your catches. Okay that’s enough typing for today. I am fin-ished with this fishing review.

Review of Kamisama Dolls

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Kamisama Dolls is an anime series based on the manga created by Hajime Yamamura. The show is distributed in the UK by MVM Entertainment who have released the cartoon’s thirteen episodes on a two-disc DVD set. The series follows a university student named Kyohei Kuga who is currently based in Tokyo. Kyohei moved into the big city to get away from the stifling village he was raised in, but try as he may he cannot escape from his past. When Kyohei’s former pal Aki Kuga turns up in town controlling a murderous automaton our hero is forced to confront his village’s dark secret – the mechanical gods known as Kakashi.

OVERVIEW

One thing you cannot accuse Kamisama Dolls of is lacking unique ideas. At first glance it may resemble your typical anime featuring mechs, but to Yamamura’s credit the series adds a unique spin to the genre’s usual conventions. The titular “dolls” are neither your sister’s kind of Barbie nor are they the oversized bots you would find in something like Gundam. The Kakashi are in fact floating golems fabricated using wood harvested from a mind reading forest. If that’s not novel enough for you, the Kakashi sing whenever they are in motion and are operated telepathically by gifted individuals known as Seki. They remind me a little of RahXephon’s Dolems – both in terms of their design and the manner in which they warble during combat.

The show revolves around Kyohei coaching Utao (his little sis) on how to control a powerful Kakashi named Kukuri. The siblings initially have to halt Aki’s homicidal rampage and afterwards have to tangle with other Seki who hail from a rival village. In terms of tone this anime is one of those shows that flip flops from downright silly to depressingly dark at the drop of a hat. There’s a lot of silly banter and ridiculous storylines (one of the villains for example is motivated to partake in kidnapping just because she has an unrequited crush on the protagonist) but when you least expect it the narrative will throw in some gruesome kills or a heart-wrenching tale featuring rape. The humour/drama dissonance may put off some viewers, but for me it worked (I do appreciate shows like Trigun and Code Geass after all.)

VERDICT

My rating for Kamisama Dolls is a four out of five. I went into the show with low expectations, after reading some lukewarm reviews, but after checking it out I have to say that I was impressed with what I watched. The series has some good production values and the confrontations between the Kakashi more than satisfied my action cravings. The interactions between the show’s characters are also amusing, even if the cast list is packed with anime clichés. Kyohei is the male lead no girl can resist, Aki is the silver haired bad guy with a tragic past, Utao has an incestuous lust for her oni-chan and Hibino Shiba is the well-endowed love interest that is regularly caught out wearing nada.

Given my admiration for the series it’s disappointing to see that episode thirteen ends with many plotlines left unresolved. The finale teases a second season, but I am not convinced that another series will ever see the light of day. Kamisama Dolls finished airing back in 2011 and since then I haven’t heard of any news about a potential follow-up getting green lit. Supposedly the Japanese DVDs didn’t sell in sufficient quantities to justify animating more episodes. That’s a shame, especially when you consider how many inferior programmes manage to run for multiple seasons. Fingers crossed that someone will licence the manga in the west so fans over here can at least see how the remaining story pans out.

Atelier Shallie Growth Bug Patched

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Last week, budding alchemists in Europe were left disappointed when it was discovered that Atelier Shallie had been released with a crippling bug. The conclusion to the Dusk trilogy was shipped with a glitch that would cause a player’s console to freeze whenever they accessed the game’s growth system. Thankfully, as from yesterday, a patch has been released that remedies the issue. I’m not sure how such a catastrophic error got past testing, but thankfully it is all sorted now. One could say that I am “blown” away by how quickly developer “Gust” fixed the problem.

Hyperdevotion Noire Censored (Sort Of…)

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Eagle eyed gamers have spotted that the box art for Compile Heart’s strategy RPG Hyperdevotion Noire has been censored. If you squint at the picture above (click on the screenshot to zoom in) you’ll notice that the Western release’s cover has been tweaked to conceal some of Lady Black Heart’s cleavage. The silly modification must rank up there with Nintendo needlessly giving Kirby angry eyes (because presumably Western players like angsty heroes.) Although the change doesn’t have any impact on the game itself I must say that I am a little disappointed. Out of the two images I personally prefer the one on the right breast… um best.

Review of Hyperdevotion Noire

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Hyperdevotion Noire: Goddess Black Heart is a strategy RPG available to buy exclusively for the PlayStation Vita. Developed by Compile Heart and Sting, the game is published in the West courtesy of Idea Factory International (NIS America used to handle Compile Heart releases, but the companies have since fallen out over a staffing dispute.) Set in the popular Hyperdimension Neptunia universe, this spin-off title sees Noire (aka Lady Black Heart) wrestle the protagonist mantle away from Neptune, which is fine with me. Although I am a fan of the HDN franchise I must say that I find Neptune’s hyperactive antics to be rather annoying. Given the choice, I’d pick Noire’s adorable pigtails and tsundere tendencies over Neptune any day.

OVERIVEW

Set in the kingdom of Gamarket, which is inspired by the video game industry, Hyperdevotion Noire chronicles the eternal struggle that is the Console War. The game’s opening cinematic sees Noire take over the world after defeating her rival Goddesses (Neptune, Vert and Blanc) in a duel. Her reign as overlord is short lived though, as a gothic chick named Eno deceives the titular character into activating a power sapping crystal. Noire must now reclaim her empire by venturing across the land defeating the rebellious generals who once served under her. Amusingly the enemy commanders in question are all based on video game characters. Lee-Fi for example is the splitting image of Chun-Li, Ein AI resembles a female Tidus and the perpetually hungry Lady Wac is based on Miss Pac-Man.

Unlike the traditional HDN releases, Hyperdevotion Noire is a strategy game not a turn based RPG. Battles are waged atop maps akin to Final Fantasy Tactics or Fire Emblem. The objective of most levels is to defeat the enemy forces or their leader. Sometimes however you’ll be asked to protect an ally, defuse bombs within a certain number of turns or pick up items that have been strewn across the landscape. The player’s seven (wo)man army is made up of Noire and any recruits she manages to coerce to her cause over the course of the story. Like many games of its ilk, the combatants under your command each have their own unique special attacks, which can be strengthened by um… kissing. Yes that’s right, if you perform a special move friendly warriors within the vicinity will smooch their compatriot – empowering the strength of her attack. If animes with lesbian undertones are your thing then Hyperdevotion Noire is the game for you.

VERDICT

Rather unsurprisingly, given my taste in games, Hyperdevotion Noire gets five stars from me. Much like peanut butter and jelly it combines two of my favourite things – namely HDN’s humorous satire of video games and fun tactical strategy RPG gameplay. It’s a pity that this game is only a spin-off because I prefer both its protagonist and combat system to the lead and mechanics found in the mainline Neptunia titles. Hyperdevotion Noire also gets a thumbs up from me on the visual front. The chibi character designs are adorable whilst the anime images used during the story segments are of a high standard. Some of the cut scenes feature shameless eye candy, but given that the appeal of the game is leading an army of waifus I doubt that HDN’s target audience will be too unhappy about the inclusion of feminist angering fan service.

My only gripe with the game would have to be some of the later levels, were you are expected to emerge victorious from a series of battles. Those particular missions don’t give you an opportunity to save between encounters, which can be frustrating if your team is under levelled. I also didn’t care for the maps that feature high walls. To traverse those obstacles you’ll have to spend several tedious turns positioning crates in front of the barriers, in order to erect a makeshift stepladder. Damn it Compile Heart, why are you making me partake in boring construction when all I want to do is watch my harem smack monsters? Don’t let those minor gripes put you off though. Hyperdevotion Noire offers many hours of enjoyment and is well worth the asking price.

Review of Sankarea (Vol. 1)

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Everyone loves a good bit of necrophilia. Sadly in the entertainment world there aren’t many literary examples of romance tales that feature cadavers. What is one to do if smooching someone that has no pulse makes your own heart race? I propose that you check out Sankarea – a manga created by artist Mitsuru Hattori. This romantic comedy series was originally published within the pages of Bessatsu Shonen Magazine and is available to buy in western markets courtesy of Kodansha Comics USA. The paperback version of volume one, which contains chapters one to four, can be presently purchased from Amazon for around £7.00.

OVERVIEW

Sankarea stars a high school student named Chihiro Furuya whose passion in life is watching horror movies of the zombie variety. I guess he caught the zombie bug after watching the Walking Dead… or ogling High School of the Dead’s rather jiggly cast. Either way, his obsession with all things undead has resulted in Chihiro procuring an ancient manuscript that purportedly details how to whip up a potion that can reanimate the departed. After Chihiro’s dear moggy Babu gets turned into road kill the book’s protagonist decides to test if the scroll’s recipe is authentic. The concoction he subsequently brews up does succeed in resurrecting his kitty… and someone else.

Rea Sanka is the book’s titular character and the second recipient of Chihiro’s restorative tonic. The two met at an abandoned building where Chihiro practices his potion making skills. Rea frequents the area to vent her repressed frustrations by yelling down a nearby well (I find that playing Call of Duty is a good way to unwind, but I guess that screaming down a hole works too.) Despite hailing from a wealthy family and being the most popular girl in school Rea is deeply unhappy. Her repulsive father holds a complete stranglehold over Rea’s social life in addition to having an incestuous fixation on his offspring. Things are so bad that he even hangs a nude portrait of his daughter in his study. Rea perishes when a squabble with daddy dearest results in her plummeting down a cliff. Fortunately Chihiro’s elixir resurrects her as (yes you guessed it) a zombie!

VERDICT

I have to say that I rather enjoyed this first instalment of the Sankarea franchise. Thanks to his zombie fascination Chihiro is a bit more interesting than the usual bland protagonist found in romantic comedy mangas. He’s also far more relatable than the company he keeps, given that his best friends include a spineless dweeb and a horny teen that constantly salivates over women (even though he never gets any action.) Despite Rea’s plight the tone of the book is light hearted, helped by the fact that Ms Sanka is rather chuffed about her new undead status. As she is presumed deceased Rea has managed to escape from the clutches of her father and is now residing at Chihiro’s place where she is having a blast.

My rating for this book is four stars. It accomplishes everything you would want from a first volume – namely setting up the story, introducing you to the characters and leaving the reader wanting more. The artwork is excellent too, although it is clearly pandering to a male audience. There are a number of panels showing off Rea’s cleavage and even nipple shots of Chihrio’s cousin in the tub. Although there is a danger that things could get silly in the later chapters right now I am invested in the series. I’m keen to see how the relationship between the leads develops. Rea clearly has a crush on Chihiro and now that she has transformed into an attractive ghoul will the zombie fanatic be able to resist her advances? Perhaps her odor will put him off, as she appears to be suffering from the early stages of decomposition. Volume two should prove to be interesting and if reading isn’t your thing there’s an anime adaptation to check out, which is due out in the UK soon.