Review of Onimonogatari

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One thing I have gathered from watching Onimonogatari is that protagonist Koyomi Araragi has a knack for attracting two things in this world – apparitions and prepubescent girls. If lolis are your thing (you sick pedo) this penultimate story arc from Monogatari season two is sure to be right up your alley. It features the spirit of an elementary school girl, a vampire who resembles an eight year old and an equally youthful looking lady who sports turquoise coloured pigtails. Jimmy Savile would approve of this cartoon, were it not for the fact that the aforementioned trio are much older than they look. Shinobu the bloodsucker for example has been on this earth for over five hundred years!

OVERVIEW

Onimonogatari begins with Araragi, the teenage slayer of all things supernatural, returning to modern day Japan after an impromptu trip to the past. Upon arriving in his native era Araragi bumps into Mayoi Hachikuji who is missing her trademark backpack. The adorable poltergeist requests a visit to the Araragi residence, in order to retrieve the satchel she left there – at which point things begin to get interesting. A swirling vortex suddenly appears and pursues the pair with the aims of erasing them from existence. Araragi and Hachikuji flee the scene via BMX, but it soon becomes apparent that furious peddling is an ineffective means of escape. In the end the two only just evade being absorbed by the black maelstrom thanks to the timely intervention of former rival Yotsugi Ononoki.

After the “fast and furious” bike chase outlined above (I suddenly have the image of Dwayne Johnson riding a bicycle) Onimonogatari episode two slows things down with a flashback tale told by Shinobu. The cute vampire, who resides rent-free in Araragi’s shadow, discloses to the group that she has previously tangled with the sinister whirlpool that is pursuing them. Apparently centuries ago, after a pilgrimage to the Antarctic turned sour, Shinobu visited Japan where the locals mistook her for a goddess. Her life masquerading as a deity didn’t last long however, as the above-mentioned vortex manifested in the region and proceeded to spirit away all her worshippers. Shinobu reveals that she was almost consumed by the mysterious phenomena, forcing her to retreat from the nation. If even a mighty Nosferatu is powerless against the vortex how will Araragi and chums manage to vanquish it?

VERDICT

After the slightly disappointing Kabukimonogatari I am pleased to report that Onimonogatari heralds a return to form for this anime based on Nisio Isin’s light novels. The quartet of episodes contained in this DVD release are jam packed with the snappy dialogue and stylish visuals the series is renowned for. Viewers seeking an action packed show should look elsewhere, but if you are someone who appreciates puns and clever wordplay this collection of episodes should leave you satisfied. It’s an essential purchase for fans of the franchise as it uncovers some of Shinobu’s backstory. The touching finale also shows that the series author has no qualms about sacrificing marketable characters for the sake of developing the main cast and advancing the grander story.

One complaint I have with Onimonogatari would have to be the sequences were it dabbles in fan service. Readers may know that I am not averse to eye candy, but I do draw the line when it comes to exploiting underdeveloped girls. One creepy scene in particular had Araragi peeking up the skirt of an unconscious Hachikuji. The pair is known to partake in friendly teasing, but surely that doesn’t excuse Araragi from groping a minor during a life or death instance. Another gripe I have with the release (and season two in general) is the lack of on disc content. I personally find that Monogatari works best when you can marathon several episodes at once. Only being able to consume four episodes and then having to wait for the next instalment can be frustrating. Alas this cannot be helped, as MVM Entertainment has to follow the wishes of the show’s greedy Japanese licensor. Why can’t the dark vortex swallow up those corporate bigwigs? Maybe then I could get an affordable full season set.

FINAL RATING: FOUR STARS

Review of Bloodborne (PS4)

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May 2015 will go down in history as the date when I embraced the next gen of gaming. After much stalling I finally decided to purchase a PS4, which came bundled with Bloodborne – the spiritual successor to the infamously challenging Demons/Dark Souls games. Created by Hidetaka Miyazaki (a surname popular with talented directors) this latest RPG by From Software sees gamers journey away from the medieval/fantasy world of the Souls series to a creepy Victorian city named Yharnam. Players assume the role of a Van Hellsing like hunter who is tasked with ridding the settlement of the monsters roaming its streets.

OVERIVEW

If you are the type of gamer who gets easily frustrated by the words “Game Over” then Bloodborne may not be the game for you. Not only is it brutally punishing, but it also doesn’t have the decency to ease you into the action with a tutorial level. When the story begins you awaken in a clinic having just received a blood transfusion. Slowly you rise from the gurney you are lying on and head to the exit where you’ll encounter a werewolf chomping down on a rotting cadaver. If you are anything like me you’ll soon become the creature’s dessert… the first of many deaths I suffered over the course of my Lovecraftian adventure.

Veterans of the Souls series will be better placed to face Bloodborne’s challenges, as the game’s mechanics are pretty much identical to those of its predecessors. Like in previous From Software titles killing enemies rewards you with blood echoes, which can be spent on levelling up your character or purchasing equipment from the beasties that bathe in bird fountains situated in the Hunter’s Dream hub area. Exercising caution, whilst exploring Yharnam, is recommended because perishing will result in you dropping all of your hard earned souls… um echoes. The only way to retrieve the echoes you lost is to journey back to where you died, which is no easy task given that enemies re-spawn whenever you revisit a location.

Despite the similarities, there are some subtle differences that make Bloodborne a more action-focused experience than the Souls titles. The biggest change is that Bloodborne’s inventory of gear contains no worthwhile shields, so the days of cowering behind an impregnable defence are well and truly over. Replacing the shields are an assortment of firearms, which don’t deal too much damage, but can momentarily stun a target should you manage to blast them at the right time. To compensate for their lack of defence, hunters also get an ability that allows them to regain health by striking an opponent. It’s a useful skill, but nowhere as overpowered as you may think given that some enemies can kill you in a couple of blows.

VERDICT

Although the PlayStation 4 has been selling gangbusters, its competitors arguably have a better library of exclusives. Sony will therefore be pleased to have Bloodborne associated with their platform, as it is easily one of the better video games released in 2015. It’s a gorgeous looking title with expansive environments filled with secrets to discover. One complaint I have with the visuals is that the characters do not move their lips when speaking, which looks a little odd. Surely animating someone’s mouth wouldn’t be too tough for a talented team who lavished so much detail upon the clothing characters wear and the gruesome design of its monsters. Perhaps Yharnam is just populated with ventriloquists?

The only real gripe I have with Bloodborne is that its arsenal of gear and weapons is rather limited when compared to those of the Souls games. On the plus side however many of the weapons you procure can transform, which is rather cool. As an example, I started my quest against Yharnam’s lycanthropes brandishing a walking stick that can change into a whip. Later on in my adventures I switched over to a blade that can morph into a massive mallet. It’s good to see that (despite Michael Bay’s best efforts) things that transform can still be awesome.

My final rating for Bloodborne is five stars. It’s worth a punt even if you have previously not enjoyed From Software’s other games. I’m not sure if it’s the horror setting or the more generous amount of healing items you can carry, but I found this title to be more accessible than the Souls games. Yes the game can be tough, but it is fair. Once you memorize trap locations and enemy attack patterns you’ll find traversing levels to be much more manageable. If all else fails you can also purchase a snazzy bell that summons fellow players to aid you against the game’s tougher foes. Don’t let Bloodborne’s sadistic reputation put you off from trying this gem. Perseverance will win you the day. I struggle with Kirby games and still managed to complete Bloodborne so it can’t be THAT hard.

Review of Who Moved My Cheese

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Hi guys, just writing a quick post to apologize for the lack of reviews lately. I am currently working a long stretch of 4pm to midnight shifts, which makes it difficult for me to find enough time to scribble something. What little free time I have had lately has been spent catching up with friends, who recently flew in from abroad, and playing Bloodborne on my newly purchased PS4. Souls games tend to make me rage quit, but I am enjoying this one thanks to its horror setting and more generous amount of healing items.

I have a couple of days off this weekend so keep an eye out for an anime centric review then. In the meantime, to tide you over, I am pasting a book review I wrote below. It’s not anime or gaming related, but perhaps you will find it entertaining. The review originally appeared in Ciao. You can read it over there if you prefer the site’s formatting or if you would like to see my hideous face (I can’t imagine why.)


Ah, what bliss! Today is my day off, meaning that I have enough free time to pen a new review. Time off work is something to be cherished, especially now that office morale is at an all time low. What is the root of my discontent? Staff cuts – a phenomena that is all too common in these times of economic strife. You know the drill. Company posts dire financial results. Company excises loyal staff to reduce expenditure. Bigwigs who orchestrated the mess depart for more lucrative posts (taking with them lavish severance packages that add to business’ deficit.)

I should be overjoyed about surviving the redundancy process, but sadly that is not the case. The aftermath to the company restructure has created a rather stressful work environment. Management berates its underlings for not meeting targets. Gasp, who could have ever envisioned that reduced manpower and increased workload is a recipe for disaster? To cope with this period of change it was recommended that I peruse Who Moved My Cheese written by Dr Spencer Johnson. Yes, I’m sure that a patronizing self help book will succeed in satiating my inner turmoil. Those paperbacks claiming to cure shyness did after all transform me into the extrovert I am today (this sentence’s sarcasm levels are through the roof.)

OVERVIEW

Who Moved My Cheese is set in a labyrinth populated by two rodents named Sniffy and Scurry along with a pair of diminutive humanoids (think the Borrowers) named Hem and Haw. The aforementioned quartet spends their days navigating the intertwining corridors seeking cheesy nourishment. Wow this reminds me a lot of Pac-Man (a game were a ball of cheddar patrols a haunted maze.) One day our heroes discover a room housing an inexhaustible amount of Stilton. All is well with the world – they’ll never need to worry about finding a meal ever again. Months later however the cheese stockpile vanishes without a trace.

Sniffy and Scurry, being the simple-minded creatures that they are, do not dwell on the disaster. They accept the situation and set off to explore the depths of the maze for new rations of cheese. Hem and Haw on the other hand are distraught. They turn the room upside down, convinced that the cheese must be hidden somewhere nearby. Their dairy sleuthing detective skills however fail to uncover the missing coagulated milk. Depressed they stay in the room convinced that the unseen force responsible for nabbing their snacks will return the cheese to them some day.

Hunger sets in and eventually Haw accepts his plight. He abandons the stubborn Hem, who refuses to leave the room, and joins the mice in their quest to find new sources of cheese. Getting away from his comfort zone allows Haw to rediscover the thrill of mapping out the maze. In the end he finds new areas filled with cheese, which are even more scrumptious than his previous haul. He realizes that he was a fool for fearing change. Rather than nostalgically reminisce about the past he should have embraced life’s new challenges from the offset. The moral of the story is almost as cheesy as its McGuffin.

VERDICT

Like a lactose intolerant person trying to consume cheese, my cynical mind was unable to digest the contents of this book. Its message relies on all change being positive, which certainly does not hold up to scrutiny. Anyone who has upgraded to a newer version of Windows will attest to that. Why change from your stable OS to a newer version that is full of bugs? Change can be good in some cases, but sometimes the saying “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” certainly applies. There are numerous examples of successful companies going bust after changing their business model without thinking things through.

My rating for this book is two stars. It did nothing for me personally, but awarding it one star would be harsh. The parable’s optimistic outlook has helped some people get through tough times so there is some merit to it. The book isn’t a huge time investment either, so even if you gleam nothing from the experience you’ll still have the rest of your evening free to spend on more productive pursuits (such as masturbating to animated porn.) I could’ve done without the needless epilogue featuring a group of office workers who discuss the story though. They comment how colleagues who refused to adapt to change got sacked and ridicule anyone who resists change for being daft like the inflexible Hem. Change is good because the majority say so. If you have a different mind-set and do not go along with the crowd you are stupid. Sorry, I don’t agree. Making a point by resorting to peer pressure comes across as weak.

Dr Spencer Johnson has sold millions of books so maybe change is good after all. Perhaps I should consider changing jobs. Change from being a dreary office worker to a writer. Evidently there is good money to be made off writing brainwashing pieces for companies looking to quell rambunctious staff.

Review of Puella Magi Madoka Magica: Rebellion

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WARNING: The following review contains spoilers. Cease reading if you intend to watch the film with all its secrets preserved.

I finally got round to watching Puella Magi Madoka Magica: Rebellion – the final chapter in the animated movie trilogy starring Japan’s favourite magical girl quintet (in your face Sailor Moon!) Despite being a huge fan of the twelve-episode Madoka anime I skipped the first two movies, as they merely retell the events covered in the original series. Japanese studios, for whatever reason, seem to enjoy squandering feature film budgets on abridged rehashes. Attack on Titan for example is presently releasing a bunch of movies, which do nothing more than recycle season one’s plot. I guess something needs to come out to tie fans over during the protracted wait for season two. Rebellion thankfully is a new tale, which takes place some time after episode twelve’s finale.

OVERVIEW

Rebellion begins its two-hour long adventure with a sequence that is guaranteed to bring a smile to the face of Madoka fans everywhere. The colourful opener sees the show’s five heroines battle a nightmarish entity, which was conceived moments earlier by the negative emotions of an underappreciated girlfriend (guys be sure to cherish your partner or else not getting laid will be the least of your worries.) Seeing the former rivals work in unison against a common foe is a real treat, as are the visuals on display. Just like the original show, the confrontation between the girls and their monstrous nemesis is brought to life via a trippy collage reminiscent to those eerie Eastern European cartoons of yesteryear. Do a quick search on Youtube to see what I mean, although I make no apologies if the images you find rob you of sleep tonight.

Once the smoke clears and the excitement of seeing the Madoka gang back onscreen dissipates a myriad of questions will begin swirling through your head. What exactly is going on? If you have watched the original series or the two recap movies (and you really should or else Rebellion’s convoluted plot won’t make a lick of sense to you) it should be apparent that the magical girl team enjoying a celebratory post battle cuppa shouldn’t be together. One of the ladies in question perished during the psychological series’ run, not to mention that the titular Madoka ceased to exist after transcending humanity. The discrepancies don’t end there however. Anyone acquainted with the anime will “lose their heads” when they see the adorable mascot that is accompanying Mami.

As it transpires, the movie’s audience aren’t the only ones privy to something being amiss. Madoka’s closest confidant (and yuri lover in many a saucy fan fic) Homura Akemi suspects that things aren’t exactly what they seem. Upon delving deeper into the matter she finds evidence pointing to the fact that the group’s memories may have fallen victim to indoctrination. Homura also discovers the existence of a mystical barrier, which prevents the girls from traversing the boundaries of their hometown. It’s up to the pigtailed manipulator of time to unearth who is responsible for the phenomena in question, even if the disturbing truth may ultimately pit her against the people she cherishes the most.

VERDICT

Puella Magi Madoka Magica: Rebellion is suffering from a bad case of Mass Effect 3 syndrome and it really breaks my heart. For the most part the movie does an exemplary job of mimicking the formula that brought the series so much acclaim. Things start off under the semblance of a cheery magical girl romp, but once the first act concludes the jovial exterior is peeled away exposing a dark and twisted conspiracy. The main plot of being trapped in an illusionary world isn’t particularly original, but it matters not thanks to Gen Urobuchi’s exceptional script writing and the visual flair that delivers one of the finest anime duels I have ever witnessed. My jaw dropped during the sequence where Mami and Homura square off under a hail of revolver and musket fire.

The movie is on the cusp of perfection and then the ending hits. Much like the aforementioned Bioware RPG, an unsatisfactory resolution soils the whole experience and possibly the franchise as well. To be honest Puella Magi Madoka Magica didn’t need a sequel, but to its credit Rebellion was shaping up to be a fine accompaniment to the series. The Homura centric yarn was bringing closure to her emotional journey, or at least it would have had an out of character plot twist not scuppered the whole thing at the last second. With Madoka Magica generating oodles of cash in Japan the studio was unwilling to end things here, so they instead opted to leave the door open for future follow ups. Retconning and creative writing will undoubtedly be used to justify how things panned out, but for me the damage is done.

My rating for Puella Magi Madoka Magica: Rebellion is a low three stars. A contrived ending, that cruelly throws one of its most beloved characters under the bus, ultimately destroys an otherwise fine movie. To make things worse the film effectively hits the reset button on the whole series, thereby erasing everything that happened in one of the most critically acclaimed animes of all time. In the end Studio “Shaft” live up to their name. The bait and switch ending they pulled left me feeling just as bad as the magical girls Kyubey duped through his deceptive contracts.

Seraph of the End (Vol. 1) Review

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Despite what you may think, not every vampire is a sparkly metrosexual who has a thing for stone faced girls. The bloodsuckers featured in Seraph of the End for example are a lot less amorous. Written by author Takaya Kagami, this ongoing manga series is set in a world were Dracula’s kind have unleashed a deadly virus that has eradicated most of the adult population. The surviving kiddies have subsequently been captured by the malevolent Nosferatu and are kept as cattle that are milked for their tasty blood. Using germ warfare to kidnap children in order to satisfy their own desires? I hope catholic priests don’t get wind of this nefarious scheme.

OVERVIEW

Yuichiro Hyakuya is the protagonist of this book and one of the unfortunate youngsters who have been sequestered by the vampires. Sick of being nothing more than a plasma-giving cow, he decides to lead his fellow captive orphans on a mission to escape their subterranean prison. The plan doesn’t go well however resulting in the party suffering heavy losses. In the end only Yuichiro is able to reach the surface and secure his freedom. There he discovers a metropolis populated by surviving humans who are presently waging war against the vampire race. Eager to avenge his fallen comrades, Yuichiro decides to join the ranks of the Moon Demon Company – an army of warriors who battle the un-dead using cursed weapons.

This opening volume in the Seraph of the End series can roughly be split in twain. The first half focuses on showing readers how terrible life is for the kidnapped children. Seriously, their living conditions mirror the inhumane working conditions of a Walmart employee. It’s a dark tale that isn’t averse to showing minors getting slaughtered. Things get goofier however once Yuichiro escapes the vampires’ clutches. He’s determined to eradicate the race that killed the only family he has ever known, but unfortunately for him vampires are physically superior to humans. He’ll be unable to exact his revengeance (Metal Gear claims that’s a real word) unless he can attain one of the army’s mystical demon weapons. What’s goofy about that? Conscription requires that he attend high school to prove to his superiors that he can be a team player.

VERDICT

My rating for Seraph of the End (Volume One) is four stars. From what I have read thus far Takaya Kagami comes across as a solid writer. Likewise, Yamato Yamamoto does a good job with the book’s artwork. The well-illustrated panels make the comic’s action easy to follow. My positive rating can be predominately attributed to the story’s strong opener. I am however concerned by the direction the plot takes in the later pages. The book suddenly shifts from a brooding tale of humanity being oppressed by vampires to whacky capers revolving around moody Yuichiro settling into high school life. The change in setting feels really forced. Why are the majority of animes and manga compelled to make their lead a teenage student?

Fingers crossed that the subsequent volumes won’t stray too far from the tone of the earlier chapters. Using comedy to alleviate some of the book’s darker themes is fine. Silliness smothering the plot’s intriguing premise would however be a shame. I’m also hoping that future releases will flesh out the supporting cast. The spotlight thus far has been squarely on Yuichiro who comes across as your typical angsty hero. I’d like to see more pages dedicated to his classmates Yoichi Saotome (dweeb sidekick with a tragic past) and Shinoa Hiragi (female wind up merchant who is destined to become the love interest.) Yuichiro’s relationship with his commander Guren Ichinose also shows promise. The two are constantly butting heads, which is reminiscent of the entertaining Roy/Al exchanges in Fullmetal Alchemist.

Time will tell whether Seraph of the End will live up to it’s potential or if it will turn out to be nothing more than a generic Blue Exorcist clone. From what I have read thus far I can at least recommend volume one. If perusing manga isn’t your thing you’ll be glad to know that an anime adaptation exists and is available to stream in the UK thanks to Anime Limited. Not sure why I am plugging their site though, because they still haven’t replaced my defective Durarara discs (grumble, grumble.)