Review of Parasyte: The Maxim

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Does anyone remember Midori Days? It’s an anime series about a teenager whose hand gets changed into a cute girl. Parasyte: The Maxim is just like that show, only that instead of an adorable gal the protagonist’s hand has been transformed into a hideous Cyclops from another world. Given the choice I’d rather get a hand job from the former. This twenty-four episode series is actually an anime adaptation of a late eighties manga (penned by Hitoshi Iwaaki) that finished its run back in the mid-nineties. What’s that? A show based on a completed work? Goodness, what a novel idea. Perhaps if more studios adapted finished classics, instead of ongoing comics, we wouldn’t have so many animes that conclude in unsatisfying cliffhangers.

OVERVIEW

Parasyte begins with a swarm of extra-terrestrial worms landing on Earth. The icky larvae, from outer space, are parasitic creatures that survive by infecting unsuspecting humans and taking over their host’s brain (reminds me of the nineties horror The Faculty.) Possessed victims lose their free will, turning into cannibals who can mutate back and forth from regular humans into gruesome monstrosities capable of slicing up prey. High school student Shinichi Izumi is one of the poor sods targeted by the invading maggots, but he manages to protect his cranium from capture via the creative use of a headphone cord. Unable to occupy Shinichi’s brain the parasite squirming within him instead settles inside the palm of Izumi’s hand.

An uneasy truce is thus formed between the two sentient beings that inhabit one body. Shinichi needs to keep his symbiotic relationship a secret from the public, partially to protect his loved ones from danger and partially to avoid becoming a lab rat for curious scientists. Meanwhile the parasite named Migi (Japanese for right hand) takes the role of bodyguard, protecting his dorky partner from harm. Will his alien powers be up to the task though? Unfortunately for the pair their neighbourhood is infested with peckish parasites that would love nothing more than to dine on them both. Are humans really that appetizing? A Big Mac is probably tastier, not to mention less greasy than your average teen.

VERDICT

Unless you are the squeamish sort who avoids gory shows, Parasyte: The Maxim is a must watch. It’s gripping plot, which blends sci-fi with horror, doesn’t feel dated in spite of its source material’s age. The visceral action sequences are captivating to watch, especially as battles hinge on how the heroes outsmart their opponents rather than being contests of who can dish out the most powerful special attack. Speaking of the show’s heroes, the relationship between Shinichi and Migi is what really drives the show. The odd couple who are tethered at the hip (um wrist) evolve thanks to their close-knit alliance. Over the course of the series Shinichi matures and overcomes his oversensitive nature – so much so that he questions if he is losing his humanity. Migi who starts out as a logical creature, solely motivated by survival instinct, slowly begins to accept human concepts such as friendship.

I think I enjoyed the series as in a warped sort of way it reminded me of Spider-Man’s origins. Essentially it’s the tale of a nerdy kid who gets super powers after getting bitten by a bug. When a family tragedy strikes the hero begins to use his newfound abilities to protect the public. The show’s later episodes also push an environmental message, which questions if parasites hunting humans for nourishment is any more heinous than mankind’s ill treatment of nature. I guess this should be expected as the manga’s original run was during a period when shows like Captain Planet were all the rage. Green haired anime characters I can stand, but ivy haired superheroes who battle Jeff Goldblum and Meg Ryan is where I draw the line. Thankfully the show’s subtle ecological theme doesn’t come across as preachy.

Parasyte’s only weakness (and I am really nit picking here) is that the female supporting cast could have been better. Both of Shinichi’s potential love interests are infuriatingly daft at times. The only lady I liked was the feminine parasite Reiko Tamura. Unlike her simple-minded brethren she is intelligent enough to explore the possibility of coexisting with humans. I am also left in awe by her efficient parenting skills. She is the only mom I know who can command a sobbing baby to cease bawling merely by telling them to shut up. Child-rearing silliness aside, Parasyte: The Maxim is an awesome show I cannot recommend highly enough. Madhouse has done a stellar job modernizing the manga for a contemporary audience. I have to “hand” it to them – they really know how to produce quality anime.

FINAL RATING: FIVE STARS

Review of Freedom Planet (PC)

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Despite being a former Megadrive fan boy I really hate Sega. In recent times the pioneers of the Dreamcast have incurred my wrath as they have refused to localize awesome games such as Valkyria Chronicles 3 and Phantasy Star Online 2. Worst of all is what they have done to Sonic the Hedgehog. Under Sega’s inept management, the spikey blue speedster has gone from being one of gaming’s most beloved mascots to becoming the poster child of shovelware. From what I hear Sonic Boom was woeful, but I wouldn’t know as I have given up on the character since playing Sonic 2006. That game’s excruciatingly long load times and plethora of glitches makes the PC port of Arkham Knight look competent.

Sega have seemingly forgotten what made Sonic such a big hit during the 16-bit era, but thankfully their bad case of platforming amnesia does not extend to Stephen DiDuro. The founder of indie studio Galaxy Trail, thanks to the wonders of Kickstarter funding, has managed to deliver a high-octane platformer that encapsulates the spirit of Sonic’s adventures from the early nineties. If you seek a fun 2D platform game, akin to the days when collecting emeralds with the aid of a twin-tailed fox was all the rage, I recommend rummaging through Steam and giving Freedom Planet a download. If console gaming is more your style fear not, as a Wii U release is due out imminently.

OVERVIEW

Freedom Planet takes place on an alien world populated by anthropomorphic critters (it’s a furry’s wet dream come true.) The game’s three playable characters are Lilac (a dragon who resembles a cat-girl), Carol (a green wildcat who looks like a chameleon) and Milla (a humanoid hound whose long ears give her the appearance of a bunny.) The heroic trio are on a quest to stop the nefarious Arktivus Brevon who has recently crash-landed on their home world. Brevon leads an army of interstellar invaders who seek to nab the Kingdom Stone (a precious relic that is responsible for powering the entire globe’s technology.) What a heartless fiend! If he succeeds in pilfering the stone how will the cute bipedal animals recharge their video game handhelds and smartphones?

Like in the Sonic classics of yore, Freedom Planet sees players traverse from left to right across fast-paced 2D stages that are guarded by an assortment of mechanical monstrosities. The lengthy levels, which can take twenty minutes to complete, offer various routes to explore plus an assortment of obstacles to overcome. Some sections for example have you scouring for key cards that unlock sealed doors whilst other locations will have Lilac and chums swimming through underwater tunnels (keep an eye out for air bubbles or you may well drown.) One difference between Sonic and Freedom Planet is how damage is handled. Freedom Planet is a more challenging game as it employs a traditional health bar. Take one too many hits and you will lose a life, unlike Sonic who is nigh on indestructible whilst in the possession of a power ring.

VERDICT

Perhaps I am influenced by nostalgia, but I have to say that Freedom Planet is a blast to play. It’s creative level designs, colourful pixel art and catchy soundtrack remind me of the fun times I had as a teen crushing Dr Eggman’s robots. Whether you are someone who desires a retro Sonic like experience or a player who appreciates good platformers I can highly recommend giving Freedom Planet a go. A single play through will take you around five hours to complete and there is plenty of replay value given that the three playable characters all handle very differently. Beginners should start off with Lilac, as she is the easiest to control thanks to her Sonic-esque spin attack and speed dash. Carol is fun to play as given that she can climb walls, ride a Harley and smack enemies with Chun-Li like kicks. Milla is the character I had the toughest time with. Her ability to fly over pitfalls, by flapping her elongated ear lobes, is neat but on the offensive side of things I found it hard to target enemies with her energy beam or the gelatinous blocks she can summon.

Aside from the gameplay I also have to say that I enjoyed Freedom Planet’s story and the performances of its voice cast. The tone of the narrative is reminiscent of the 1993 Sonic cartoon (the good one – not Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog.) The story segments are well worth watching, but if you’d rather not be interrupted by inter-level cut scenes there is a classic mode available that skips them. Being able to tinker with the game’s settings is always welcome. In addition to turning the cut scenes on and off it’s also possible to adjust the game’s difficulty. Crank it up to max for some challenging boss fights or switch to casual for a relaxing run that bestows you with regenerative health.

If Sega had any sense they would hire Galaxy Trail to develop the next Sonic game. Freedom Planet is exactly what fans of the franchise have been clamouring for and it easily surpasses any of the recent Sonic releases. I doubt that Sega will change their ways however. Like a red echidna the company seems to be run by a complete “Knuckles” head.

FINAL RATING: FOUR AND A HALF STARS

Review of Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works

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Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works is a twenty-six episode anime series, which takes place a decade after the events chronicled in the exceptional Fate/Zero. Once again a septet of rival mages must square off in mortal combat to determine who shall claim the fabled Holy Grail – a magical artefact capable of granting its owner any wish they desire. In line with the competition’s rules each participant is permitted to summon a heroic spirit to act as their servant/bodyguard. These mighty familiars take the form of legendary warriors who, depending on their preferred fighting style, are classed as either saber, archer, caster, assassin, berserker, lancer or rider (the last one on that list is so attractive that most guys would gladly ride-her.)

OVERVIEW

Unlike its predecessor, which covered the Holy Grail War from the perspective of all seven challengers, Unlimited Blade Works’ narrative focuses mainly on Shirou and Rin. The two teenage magicians have formed a temporary alliance in order to take down their mightier/less scrupulous rivals. Shirou Emiya is inept when it comes to spell casting (his powers are limited to incantations that enhance an object’s durability) but thanks to a strong sense of justice (and healthy dose of plot armour) he is able to overcome the odds whenever push comes to shove. His partner/love interest Rin Tosaka on the other hand is an accomplished magus who specializes in techniques that store mana within shiny gemstones. In case her twin tails hairdo hasn’t given it away already, she is a tsundere.

Studio Ufotable, who also worked on the show’s prequel, have once again succeeded in dazzling audiences with their pristine artwork. Although it may only be July, I very much doubt that any other show scheduled to come out in 2015 will surpass Unlimited “Budget” Works’ visuals. The sublime animation and CG enhanced particle effects make every Heroic Spirit duel a true marvel to behold. The spectacular action set pieces don’t however come at the expense of story. Fate/Zero may have delivered a more cerebral plot, but Blade Works is no slouch in the storytelling department either. Twenty-six episodes is pretty lengthy, by modern anime standards, but it’s barely sufficient to accommodate this rich visual novel inspired tale. To squeeze it all in a couple of episodes end up running for over forty minutes.

VERDICT

I am pleased to report that Unlimited Blade Works is a worthy successor to Fate/Zero, which is high praise indeed given that I awarded Zero the runner up spot in my Top 5 animes of 2014. Unlike Studio Deen’s subpar 2006 rendition of Fate/stay night, Ufotable have done the source material justice. Not only are the production values superior, but the narrative is vastly more intelligent too. The most prevalent example I can cite is how do-gooder Shirou Emiya is portrayed. I found Studio Deen’s take on the character to be insufferable whilst the Unlimited Blade Works version comes across as a decent protagonist. Of course one’s opinion of a character can only be enhanced when the script doesn’t have them spouting nonsensical lines such as the infamous “people die if they are killed.”

Despite all my praise Unlimited Blade Works does have some minor flaws. The biggest one would have to be how the story’s pacing dips during the segments that deal with Shirou and Archer’s rivalry. It would have been nice if some of the exposition could have been annexed in favour of longer fight scenes or giving more screen time to the supporting cast (particularly as a number of prominent Fate characters failed to do much in this route of the visual novel.) For a series based on an adult title I was also unimpressed by the manner in which the novel’s more intimate moments were circumvented. I wasn’t expecting porn, but what’s wrong with a tasteful fade to black that cuts to the morning after? Forget the birds and the bees… in the world of Fate/stay night it’s all dragons and dolphins.

FINAL RATING: FIVE STARS

Review of Re-Kan!

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Re-Kan is what you would get if The Sixth Sense starred a cartoon girl from Japan instead of Haley Joel Osment. This thirteen episode anime series, based on the four panel comic strip created by Hinako Seta, follows the exploits of Hibiki Amami – a high school student who has the power to commune with the dead (and cats.) The show is animated by studio Pierrot+ who have previously worked on other cheery properties including Midori Days and um… Tokyo Ghoul. British viewers who enjoy slice of life animes will eventually be able to purchase the series on DVD, as MVM Entertainment have acquired the rights to distribute the show in the UK.

OVERVIEW

Hibiki Amami is a teenage girl who has inherited her mother’s ability to see poltergeists. It’s the type of power that would creep out most people, but thankfully she attends a high school where most of the student body aren’t overly fazed by the presence of spirits. Perhaps they have grown accustomed to the undead because a deceased girl haunts one of the academy’s loos? That said, not everyone who attends the school is comfortable around the apparitions that stalk Hibiki. Amami’s best friend Narumi Inoue (a tsundere identifiable by her pigtails) is terrified of ghosts. She must however brave her fears to stay close to the one she loves. Well, not really. The pair’s friendship is purely platonic – although the show’s creators do seem to revel in teasing audiences with hints of a potential yuri romance.

Joining the abovementioned heroines in their supernatural adventures are a bevvy of classmates. Kana Uehara is the daughter of two journalists and an avid blogger who frequently uploads snaps depicting the spooks that hound Hibiki. Kana is best friends with Kyōko Esumi, an ex-street fighter who used to pummel street punks under the moniker Red Haired Messiah (a nickname that she abhors.) Kenta Yamada is the class doofus and the show’s only notable male character. He is the younger brother of Masaki Yamada, a copper who admires Kyōko due to her crime fighting past. Last but not least is Makoto Ogawa the perky ditz who thinks that zombies are cute. I guess that makes her the female equivalent of Sankarea‘s Chihiro Furuya.

VERDICT

Although the series hasn’t garnered the attention it deserves, Re-Kan has proven to be one of the more enjoyable shows I have watched from the 2015 spring anime season. It’s the perfect antidote for a bad day at the office. Sit down, watch a couple of episodes and smile because your mood is sure to improve thanks to the light and fluffy comedy on display. There’s plenty of good banter between Hibiki’s group of pals and also the ghosts she befriends. How can one not crack up at the sight of a phantom samurai bickering with the spectre of a ganguro girl? The show’s cast of characters even includes a perverted cat that loves panty shots more than a can of Whiskers.

If Re-Kan does not grab your attention from the offset I would advise that you give it time to win you over, as the anime does improve as it goes along. The second episode is arguably the show’s lowest point (it was too wacky for my tastes) but if you persevere with the series you will eventually be rewarded with a number of tender tales. The episodes were Hibiki reunites the departed with loved ones never failed to tug at my heartstrings. Episode eight in particular, which deals with the ghost of a young girl who died in hospital, had me wondering if someone was peeling onions near my TV. Overall Re-Kan’s combination of funny gags and emotive moments made me feel like a ghost riding an elevator… it really lifted my spirits.

FINAL RATING: FOUR STARS

Review of Super Sonico: The Animation

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Super Sonico: The Animation is a twelve-episode anime series starring Nitroplus’ pink haired mascot. The Japanese developer of visual novels debuted the character back in 2006 during a musical concert they were sponsoring. Her resultant popularity has since seen Sonico appear in a multitude of games, comics and other merchandise (the bikini clad figurines are supposedly a big hit with male collectors.) Basing a series on a mascot character may sound like a bit of a stretch, but if anyone can pull it off the Japanese can. They are after all the nation where virtual idols can sell out stadiums and the country where television shows featuring anthropomorphic battleships never cease to register decent ratings.

OVERVIEW

Don’t let Sonico’s stunning good looks fool you – she is the crazy cat lady of anime. The show’s first episode reveals that the titular character owns a quintet of moggies. Every morning the adorable pets do their best to awaken their master, as the array of alarm clocks strewn across Sonico’s apartment are ineffective at raising her from her slumber. You can’t blame Sonico for being exhausted though, given that she leads such a busy life. Not only does Sonico attend college, but she also works three different jobs! Helping out at her gran’s restaurant is fair enough, but her other choices of employment are somewhat odd. Despite being presented as a bashful girl, Sonico is a swimsuit model and also the lead guitarist for a rock band that performs in front of large crowds.

Although Sonico’s shy demeanour should disqualify her from a career in bikini modelling she certainly has the body for it. The only thing that rivals the size of her chest are the headphones she is never seen without (she doesn’t even remove them when taking a shower.) Thankfully for Sonico her protective manager doesn’t permit photographers to take any pictures of her that are overly risqué. Kitamura the manager is pretty much what you would expect from a Japanese businessman. He dresses in a smart suit, is a consummate professional and he um… also wears a demon mask for some reason. The mask covers most of his head, aside from Kitamura’s Saiyan like spikey hair, and it emits smoke whenever he gets mad. Weird.

Moving away from gravure modelling, let’s touch upon Sonico’s true passion in life – music. The headphones wearing beauty is a member of a rock group named First Astronomical Velocity. The other members of the band are Fuuri Watanuki and Suzu Fujimi. Fuuri is a bit of an airhead who reminds me a little of Rail Wars‘ Sho Iwazumi (they both have ginormous appetites.) Suzu is an avid cosplayer who performs onstage dressed in a nurse’s uniform. To drum up concert attendances she regularly encourages her chums to wear all manner of revealing outfits. One episode for example has her asking Sonico to don an ice cream themed costume that is designed to melt whenever the wearer perspires!

VERDICT

Prior to watching the DVD, I didn’t have high expectations for Super Sonico: The Animation. Based on the character’s design I was expecting a shallow ecchi show or even worse a glorified Nitroplus commercial. In the end however I was pleasantly surprised by the anime. The series may not be memorable, but it is good fun to watch nonetheless thanks to its quirky sense of humour. Sonico does on occasion pose in skimpy attire, due to her career, but in terms of fan service the eye candy on display is rather tame. Props must go to the scriptwriters for making Sonico an affable protagonist rather than a ditzy bimbo. No matter how packed her schedule is she is willing to make time to aid those in need.

Despite the limited material they had to work with White Fox has managed to deliver a comedy series that has heart. Then again I shouldn’t be surprised as the studio has previously worked on some excellent shows including Jormungand and The Devil is a Part Timer. Intermixed with the wacky episodes are a few sweet stories, such as the penultimate Christmas caper were a disillusioned girl is reunited with her papa. Super Sonico may not win any awards for its plot, but as a piece of light entertainment it succeeded in putting a smile on my face. If you decide to watch this anime I’d recommend going with the subtitled option because Jessica Nigiri voices Sonico in the dub. She looks the part, in terms of bosom size, but the way she delivers lines exposes her lack of voice actress credentials.

FINAL RATING: THREE AND A HALF STARS

Review of Love, Chunibyo & Other Delusions

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Love, Chunibyo & Other Delusions once again sees Kyoto Animation pluck one of the light novels that scooped a honourable mention in their Animation Awards and turn it into a fully-fledged anime. This time round the books penned by Torako are the basis for a twelve-episode series that has spawned an anime movie, follow-up season and a smattering of short OVAs. As alluded to by the title, the show deals with characters suffering or recovering from chunibyo complex – a condition were youngsters act as if they have been endowed with special powers. Hmmm, that reminds me of the days when I would rush home from school at top speed pretending that I could morph into a car (yes I was a big Transformers dork.) Nowadays the only power I believe I possess is an aura that repels attractive women.

OVERALL

Yuta Togashi has just commenced high school marking a new stage in his life. During middle school Yuta was an outcast, as he would scare people off by proclaiming that he was actually “The Dark Flame Master” a supernatural entity proficient in various mystical arms. Yuta has since grown out of that embarrassing phase and would now like nothing more than to cover up his cringe-worthy past. The new educational setting, populated with students who are unaware of his goofy history, should theoretically allow him to make friends and live out a normal life. Unfortunately for Yuta that won’t be easy as one of his new classmates is a fervent chunibyo who is aware of his Flame Master persona.

The delusional girl in question named Rikka Takanashi (aka True Eye of the Evil King) will not be easy to avoid. Not only is she Yuta’s new neighbour, but she has also managed to convince him into joining her newly established after school magic club. Perhaps she brainwashed him into enlisting with the fabled “wicked eye” she usually keeps under wraps (in actuality a gold coloured contact lens.) The other member’s of Rikka’s club include her faithful servant Sanae Dekomori (a wealthy girl who believes that her pigtails are Mighty Mjolnir’s Maul), Kumin Tsuyuri (a sweet girl who loves a good nap) and Shinka Nibutani (the beautiful class representative whose responsible facade hides the fact that she is a former chunibyo who specialized in posting online incantations.)

VERDICT

Love, Chunibyo & Other Delusions is pretty much what you would expect from a Kyoto Animation release. Much like Clannad and Beyond the Boundary, the series uses it’s high school location to deliver plenty of chuckles in addition to some heart warming moments. Many of the laughs come at Yuta’s expense. He’s trying his best to distance himself from his chunibyo origins, but more often than not he’s put into compromising positions by Rikka’s silly antics. Speaking of Rikka, I really dug the scenes were she squabbles with her sister. When the two feud you see the action from Rikka’s perspective. From her point of view Rikka is blasting her sibling with prismatic rays and she is performing all manner of flashy acrobatics. In reality however she is just making silly poses and swinging a parasol (which she claims is a sword that can transmute into a shield.

My rating for Love, Chunibyo & Other Delusions is four stars. My only concern with the anime is that some viewers will dislike the script’s change in tone, which happens around the midway mark. Those watching purely for the comedy may not appreciate how the gags run dry once the plot begins to focus on the root cause of Rikka’s eccentric behaviour. On the flip side audiences who’d enjoy the romance that develops between the leads may not get that far into the story if over the top jokes are not their thing. For me however the show’s structure worked. The funny skits got me attached to the cast so I had no problem rooting for them once the emotional drama began to surface. Overall I can recommend the series for both its humour and message. Chunibyos are branded as childish for pretending to be something they are not, but is that any different to what adults do? To fit in we pretend to be what society expects from us. Screw maturity, I still want to be Optimus Prime!