Yona of the Dawn (Part One) Review

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Yona, the sixteen year old protagonist of Akatsuki no Yona, is the only daughter of Kouka Kingdom’s peace loving monarch. Blessed (or should that be cursed) with a head of ginger locks, she lives a pampered life at the palace where she spends her days swooning over cousin Soo-won. Their potential romance ends one fateful night however when Yona visits her father’s chambers only to discover that Soo-won has assassinated the king, with a well placed sword blade through the chest. After witnessing the murder Yona flees the castle pursued by forces loyal to Soo-won, who are eager to silence the royal teen – lest she pose a threat to their master who has now taken over Kouka’s throne.

OVERVIEW

Based on Mizuho Kusanagi’s manga, Yona of the Dawn is a fantasy series set within a world modelled after ancient Korea. The twenty-four-episode anime has been adapted for the small screen by Studio Pierrot, whose previous work includes the filler-tastic Bleach. Yona stars the titular princess turned fugitive who is on a quest to recruit the aid of four Dragon Warriors (not to be confused with the deck currently dominating Hearthstone.) She hopes the fabled fighters will help her oppose Soo-won’s rule, although only time will tell if that is a wise move. Despite being guilty of a despicable act there are hints suggesting that Soo-won’s actions may be motivated by justifiable revenge and a desire to protect his impoverished homeland from the threat of neighbouring nations.

The dozen episodes collected in Part One deal with the aftermath of Soo-won’s coup d’etat and the start of Yona’s countrywide journey. Accompanying the princess is her protector, childhood friend and potential love interest Son Hak; a mighty general who (even under the effects of poison) can singlehandedly decimate an entire battalion worth of troops with a single swish of his spear. The pair eventually team up with an orphan named Yun who happens to be an accomplished cook, apothecary and sandal maker. For fashion’s sake I hope that Yun’s patrons refrain from wearing socks with the shoes he weaves – if you ask me there’s nothing more ghastly than someone who sports a sandals/socks combo on their feet.

VERDICT

My rating for Yona of the Dawn (Part One) is a four out of five. Thus far the show has been a treat to watch thanks to its entertaining cast of characters, which includes a strong female lead (who on the DVD box art resembles Himura Kenshin.) Yona starts the series off as a spoiled rich girl, but as the storyline progresses she matures into someone who no longer wishes to be dependent on the generosity of others. She has even acquired a bow, during one of the later episodes, which she intends to use in battle. How much assistance she can offer her companions during combat remains to be seen though. Due to a lack of training Yona is unable to hit stationary objects with an arrow, much less kill living targets; be they enemy soldiers or adorable woodland creatures for food.

Hopefully the show’s quality won’t dip in the second half. One concern I have is that the plot has slowly begun to transition away from a character driven political tale to a goofier reverse harem, focusing more on the antics of the effeminate hunks who have banded with Yona. For the most part I am okay with the comedy provided by Hak’s banter, but I could have done without some of the silly slapstick. Another complaint, which may dissuade buyers from picking up the series, is that Amazon is selling the Blu Ray/DVD combo pack for a little over £40. That’s rather extortionate for a half season set containing a mere twelve episodes. I pray that future Funimation UK releases will be more generously priced. Much like Yona’s hair colour, over costed anime makes me see red.

Gal*Gun: Double Peace Review

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House of the Dead fans rejoice because a new on the rails shooter has just arrived on the PS4 – although this time instead of blasting zombies you’ll be aiming at cute Japanese girls! Gal Gun: Double Peace is the follow up to a shooter that never reached Western shores, though that is to be expected given its subject matter. In this age of Social Justice Warriors publishers tend to avoid titles that may court bad press. Thankfully for lovers of niche games (and anime waifus) the folks at PQube have decided to localize this Alchemist developed sequel. Best of all the company has shown courage by not censoring potentially controversial content – how I wish that NIS America would follow in their example.

OVERVIEW

In Gal Gun: Double Peace players assume the role of a teenage student named Hodai. The hapless chap has just become the most popular boy in school after a cupid in training accidently shoots him with an attractiveness enhancing ray gun. Suddenly the girls in Hodai’s class cannot resist throwing themselves at him, which may sound like bliss were it not for the fact that in twenty four hours time the gun’s effects will make him irresistible to guys and animals too. In order to lift the curse Hodai will have to find his one true love before midnight strikes. Not an easy task and made all the more difficult by the appearance of a mischievous demon who possesses an enchanted spear capable of turning women into masochists.

To survive each level Hodai must use his pheromone powers to repel the amorous advances of his classmates. Basically you have to halt the horny ladies by inducing orgasms. Sending a girl into ecstasy requires that you hit their weak spot, which varies depending on their fetish. Unlike traditional shooters headshots aren’t necessarily more effective than a well-placed projectile to the chest, legs or nether regions. In addition to regular attacks players can defend themselves by activating Doki Doki mode, which allows Hodai to defeat multiple femmes via a fondling mini-game. The perversion doesn’t stop there though. Gal Gun’s camera comes equipped with a zoom in feature that bestows Hodai with X-Ray vision. Being able to see through solid objects is invaluable for locating hidden items… and revealing what undergarments the female enemies wear.

VERDICT

My rating for Gal Gun: Double Peace is a three and a half out of five. Shooters are not usually my bag but I still managed to enjoy this one thanks to its fun gameplay, humour and heaps of fan service. Aiming with the analogue stick was a doddle thanks to the responsive controls and I liked how the often-neglected PS4 touch pad was incorporated into the groping mini-games, as it gives those sections a much more hands on feel (no pun intended.) Each playthrough only takes a couple of hours to clear, but fear not as the game has a ton of replay value. Some levels have alternate paths to explore, there are numerous collectibles to find and the cast list contains a bevy of beauties to romance. How the story ends depends on how the player responds during the inter-level dating sim like segments.

If you are undecided on what version of Gal Gun to pick up I would advise avoiding the handheld port, as I hear the Vita edition suffers from arduous load times. The PS4 version is thankfully free of technical hiccups although I did encounter some cut scenes that were devoid of subtitles, which sucks as the spoken dialogue is exclusively in Japanese. Still who cares, I doubt most people will play Gal Gun for its plot. Speaking of plot, I kind of wish that the story would have been set at a university instead of high school. Some of the female characters look dangerously underage. Oh well, if the prudish members of PEGI awarded Double Peace a sixteen-age rating I’ll assume that the game is not infested with jailbait. That’s my excuse and when Chris Hansen pays me a visit I am sticking with it.

 

Mirai Nikki (Collection Two) Review

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After a five-month wait the battle royale between deity candidates, who own cell phones that can predict the future, has finally resumed – let’s hope that in the interim they didn’t replace their soothsaying mobiles with newer models! Seriously Kaze, can’t you do something about the protracted gap between DVD releases? I have been waiting since February to see how Mirai Nikki concludes. My goldfish like memory means that I struggle to remember what I ate for dinner last night. Do you really think that after almost half a year I can still recall the events of Future Diary’s convoluted plot? Oh well, as they say, good things come to those who wait.

OVERVIEW

The second and final DVD collection of Mirai Nikki (also known as Future Diary) begins from where the last volume left off. Yuki Amano’s possessive girlfriend Yuno Gasai refuses to share her main squeeze with anyone, which leads her to drug Amano and keep him hostage within the confines of a derelict motel. Thankfully for the protagonist, Yuki’s resourceful chums eventually rescue him from Yuno’s clutches. It doesn’t take long however for Yuki and Yuno to reconcile their differences and reunite. Sure, Yuki may have misgivings about being partnered with a homicidal maniac – but there’s no denying that Yuno’s gift for manslaughter comes in handy when repelling the other Future Diary owners who are after his head (plus she is rather cute.)

How effective Yuno will be remains to be seen though, given that her upcoming adversaries have her grossly outnumbered. First up she finds herself in a two v one clash versus a pair of lovers and things only get worse when Yuki is challenged by a competitor who commands an entire orphanage’s worth of lackeys. Also waiting in the wings is the elusive eleventh diary user, a follicly challenged chap who has the resources of city hall at his disposal. Surmounting those trials won’t be easy and even if Yuki and Yuno survive what will happen next? Much like Highlander, in the end there can be only one. The stalemate must be broken before the fabric of reality unwinds, but how will Yuki/Yuno decide who should triumph in the end? I vote for a game of rock, paper scissors!

VERDICT

My rating for Mirai Nikki (Collection Two) is four and a half stars. Along with Haikyu this is without doubt one of the better series that I have watched in 2016. Future Diary’s second instalment maintains the levels of gore and skulduggery, which made the previous collection so engrossing to watch, plus it also succeeds in fleshing out the character of Yuki. Up till now Yuki was nothing more than a Shinji Ikari crybaby, but when personal tragedy strikes he eventually mans up. Motivated by the prize of godhood, Yuki transforms from a pacifist to downright ruthless – justifying his actions with the promise that omnipotence will permit him to undo the horrors he is forced to commit.

Despite enjoying the series I am unable to award Collection Two full marks, as the final few episodes got a little too whacky for my taste. Series creator Sakae Esuno does however deserve credit for keeping his audience guessing right until the end. His knack for adding narrative twists, whenever you think you have the story sussed, makes me wonder if he owns a future diary that forecasts what his fans are thinking. The show’s eventual finale is both happy and bleak – in keeping with the tone of an anime that contained both gruesome murders and hilarious after credit skits. If episode twenty-six’s conclusion isn’t to your liking please note that an OVA epilogue titled Mirai Nikki: Redial exists, which fleshes out the original ending. I can’t predict if the OVA will win over detractors though, as my personal future diary is currently recharging due to Pokémon Go’s appetite for battery power.

Review of Zero Time Dilemma

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It’s a massive relief to see that Zero Time Dilemma managed to wrap up the Zero Escape saga in a satisfactory manner. For a while it seemed like the franchise was doomed (much like a Fox commissioned TV show) for cancellation, leaving its ongoing tale unresolved. Thankfully the trilogy is now complete – even if most people won’t care, as the previous games sold poorly in spite of the critical acclaim they received. It always sucks when quality is not rewarded in terms of sales figures… just ask Okami.

OVERVIEW

Despite being the final chapter of the Zero Escape triad of titles, ZTD chronically takes place between the events of 999 and Virtue’s Last Reward. Once again a group of hapless victims has been kidnapped by the mysterious Zero and are forced to compete in a life or death game (think the Saw movies, only with less torture porn and more plot.) Zero, who now sports a creepy plague doctor’s outfit instead of a gas mask, has this time trapped nine science experiment volunteers inside a bomb shelter that has been decorated to simulate a Mars base. The only way of vacating the compound is to input six passwords, but unfortunately for the participants codes are only revealed when someone dies.

Players are tasked with guiding the nine hostages who, at the start of the game, have been split up into three man teams. The roster of characters includes some Zero Escape favourites such as Phi, Junpei, Akane and Sigma. New faces making their debut in this third instalment include Carlos the fireman, an amnesiac boy named Q (sadly not voiced by John de Lancie) and a busty lady called Mira – because it’s impossible to have a Zero Escape game devoid of cleavage.

Just like in 999 and VLR, in order to advance the narrative players are expected to clear the occasional puzzle room by using their handheld’s D-Pad and touchscreen. Scouring the environment for clues and useful tools is the order of the day, as is deduction of logic puzzles, sliding block brainteasers and mathematical conundrums. Wait, did someone say math problems? Yuk, I can now see why the previous games sold so poorly.

VERDICT

My rating for Zero Time Dilemma is a five out of five. Thank goodness that director Kotaro Uchikoshi secured sufficient funding to complete the game, because the end result is one of the finest trilogies I have ever played/watched. Why creative projects cannot attract cash whilst potato salad Kickstarters drown in thousands of dollars is beyond me. It’s a real shame that the series hasn’t courted more attention. Anyone who enjoys smartly written sci-fi really should give Zero Escape a shot; even if puzzlers or games with limited interactivity are not usually your bag. Looking online it seems like some other reviewers have been lukewarm on Zero Time Dilemma, although reading between the lines I think we can attribute those views to expectations being unrealistically high due to the quality of Dilemma’s predecessors.

Bibliophiles may disapprove of the contentious decision to replace the visual novel format of previous titles with fully animated cut scenes, but it worked for me as it gave ZTD the feel of an anime themed Telltale game. All that said the animation was a bit ropey during certain clips. Akane’s pigtail in particular looked like it was possessed by a demonic entity, which would at times cause it to pass through solid matter or defy the laws of gravity. Visual niggles aside, I really enjoyed the twenty hours I spent unlocking ZTD’s numerous endings. I highly recommend the game, although be aware that the story is inaccessible without knowledge of the previous titles. Europeans interested in checking out Zero Escape should ideally start with 999. A puzzle free remake of the DS original can presently be bought on iOS devices. Alternatively you can wait for the PC port to come out. Play now or wait? That’s quite the time dilemma.

Aldnoah.Zero (Season One) Review

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Transformers, Robotech, Voltron and the often-ridiculed Gobots (they had a spin-off movie featuring Rock Lords who turn into um boulders.) Those are the cartoons I grew up with as a wee lad, which may explain why into adulthood I remain a devout fan of all things mech. With that in mind, I was really looking forward to Aldnoah Zero’s UK release. Not only does this A-1 Pictures show feature plentiful scenes of giant robot action, but Gen Urobuchi (who is responsible for creating stellar shows such as Psycho-Pass) also scripted it. A little over a year after its Japanese TV airing, the series is now available to purchase on DVD starting with this collection containing episodes one to twelve.

OVERVIEW

Aldnoah Zero takes place in an alternate version of Earth, where back in the late sixties astronauts uncovered advanced alien tech on the lunar surface. The discovery allowed mankind to eventually build settlements on Mars, leading to the birth of the Verse Empire. As any Gundam fan knows, Terrans and space colonists rarely get on – so it should come as no surprise that years later the Verse led Martians declared war on Earth. The conflict ceased after a fierce battle resulted in the Moon getting obliterated. Ouch that sucks, but on the plus side I guess we won’t have to worry about werewolves anymore!

Fast-forward to the year 2014 and after a brief armistice Princess Asseylum Vers Allusia of Mars decides to visit Earth with the intentions of brokering a permanent peace treaty between both planets. The diplomatic mission fails however when Earth led terrorists assault the royal motorcade. Incensed by the unprovoked attack, Verse’s nobility order an immediate invasion of Earth. Thus the stage is set for a titanic tussle between Earthlings and Martians (not to be confused with the big headed aliens who die when exposed to musical tunes.) Time will tell who will emerge victorious and whether the Mars conquest is nothing more than a ploy to secure natural resources. Terrorism being used as an excuse to take over a nation? That could never happen (cough, 911, cough.)

VERDICT

My rating for Aldnoah Zero (Season One) is a four out of five. The series strikes me as something that Code Geass fans would enjoy due to its combination of political conspiracy and mech fuelled carnage. Just like Geass, the cast’s motivations are clearly defined and the narrative does a good job of showing how the war affects both sides of the conflict. At this stage my favourite character is Slaine Troyard, a downtrodden Terran who serves the Verse Empire. Slaine has been put in the uncomfortable position of fighting against his homeland but he dare not protest, as he owes his life to Princess Asseylum. I can forgive his betrayal of Earth because who wouldn’t pledge their allegiance to a cutie who resuscitates you with some steamy mouth to mouth?

Although I like Aldnoah Zero’s supporting cast the same cannot be said of protagonist Inaho Kaizuka, an emotionless student who has been drafted by the Earth army. A tactical genius that possesses no people skills, his personality borders on autistic savant. Inaho’s deadpan demeanour can be grating, but on the plus side his presence makes the CG enhanced action sequences a treat to watch. Despite piloting an antiquated Kataphract it’s fascinating to see how Inaho outwits enemy bots that can wield beam weapons, strike from afar with rocket punches and seemingly absorb all damage. Against the odds Inaho always finds a way to triumph, so I am keen to see how episode twelve’s cliffhanger will play out. Unfortunately for me the next DVD collection is two months away. What should I watch until then? I know, the Gobots movie! Who cares what the critics say, I think that film “rocks.”

Review of Teeny Titans

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Unlike most of the planet, I have thus far refrained from dabbling in Pokémon Go. Is it because I fear joining the casualty list of players who have been struck by traffic, walked off cliffs or been assaulted by muggers masquerading as Team Rocket? Nah, I just don’t own a mobile – and even if I did there’s the small matter of me being an antisocial hermit who detests venturing outdoors. What I have been playing instead is Teeny Titans, a Pokémon clone based on the animated show some of you may have watched on Cartoon Network. Screw Pikachu and Jigglypuff – as a superhero fan I’d rather battle with figurines modelled after famous DC comic book characters.

OVERVIEW

Set in the Teen Titans Go universe, this Grumpyface Studios release sees players guide Robin on his quest to become the Teeny Titans world champion. What’s that mam? A hoodlum is robbing you? Sorry, Batman’s apprentice can’t save you today because he has abandoned crime fighting in favour of collecting Amiibo knockoffs. Needless to say, unlike a brooding Warner Bros superhero flick, this game doesn’t take itself too seriously. As an example, one of the more ridiculous missions on offer has Robin disguising himself as a pooch so he can participate in a Teeny Titans contest being held at a pet shop. Holy canine cosplay Batman! I never knew that Dick Grayson was a furry.

Battles in Teeny Titans are fought using a team of three characters. At the start of a match you summon one hero onto the field, leaving the other two in reserve. At any time it’s possible to swap your active fighter with a substitute – be it to save them from harm or to capitalize on another teammate’s abilities. To unleash attacks players need to wait until the action bar has filled up sufficiently. Each Titan has three moves at their disposal, with mightier attacks requiring a bigger chunk of the bar to activate. Encounters are both fast paced and strategic, although most opponents aren’t overly tough as the enemy AI is only slightly smarter than the Ghostbusters’ male receptionist.

VERDICT

My rating for Teeny Titans is a four out of five. I can highly recommend this title to iOS owners who like superheroes or Pokémon in general. The combat system is fun, the dialogue is humorous and the colourful character designs are pleasing to the eye. Another plus is that it only costs a couple of quid to download the complete game off the Apps Store. That’s very generous when compared to other titles, which claim to be free only to then tempt players with costly micro-transactions. No, I’d rather not spend all my life savings on hundreds of Poké Balls Nintendo. Why should I? You’ll just squander the cash on censoring western releases rather than paying for stable servers.

My only real gripe with Teeny Titans would have to be with its interface. Traversing the map can be a chore at times, due to its zoomed in perspective and fiddly touchscreen controls. I also wish that the main story were a bit longer, as the omission of a multiplayer mode does hurt the title’s shelf life. On the plus side there are optional quests to tackle and seventy Titans to collect, which should keep completionists occupied for a while. Now that I have finished the game I must ponder what to play next. Perhaps I should succumb to peer pressure and check out Pokémon Go after all? I loathe going outside, but then again I could mimic those chaps who play Go by hooking up their phone to a remote control drone. Those flying contraptions evidently can do more than just spy on Middle Eastern nations.

Haikyu!! Collection Two Review

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Due to the ineptitude of the England national soccer team, who were eliminated by puffin eaters Iceland, my interest in Euro 2016 has all but subsided. It therefore falls upon the wonderful world of anime to satisfy my sport cravings. Good thing then that Animatsu Entertainment have just released collection two of the awesome volleyball show known as Haikyu. This long overdue DVD set (I watched the first instalment way back in March) contains the final eleven episodes of season one, which focus on Karasuno Highschool’s exploits at a national qualification tournament. Thanks to an injection of new talent the team has improved dramatically, but only time will tell if the current Karasuno squad have what it takes to compete with their prefecture’s finest.

OVERVIEW

Owing to an unrelenting tournament schedule, which asks teams to play two matches per day, season one’s conclusion focuses mainly on volleyball action and much less on character development. Karasuno High have entered the competition hoping to avenge the recent loss suffered at the hands of rivals Nekoma, but if they wish to secure a rematch they will first have to get past other formidable opponents. Standing in their way is Dateko (a team with a mighty defence nicknamed the Iron Wall) and Aoba Johsai, whose roster contains a supremely talented setter named Tōru Oikawa. Not only does Oikawa possess a knack for pinpoint passing and a mean serve, but the smug git can also claim to have more fan girls than Justin Bieber.

Even if Haikyu is a bit of a sausage fest the guys don’t get to hog all the limelight in this DVD set. Team manager Kiyoko Shimizu has a cute scene were she shows her support for the boys and there are several comedic moments were the bespectacled beauty evades the amorous advances of Tanaka and Nishinoya. Karasuno’s female volleyball team also make an appearance in this cour, although a lack of dedication for training ensures that they won’t be emulating the success of their male counterparts. The inevitable heartbreak of defeat that follows reduces female team captain Yui Michimiya to tears. Aw. Let’s hope that childhood pal Daichi can console her. Romance between the two would be nice, as the series may be too testosterone rich for some viewers.

VERDICT

My rating for Haikyu (Collection Two) is a four point five out of five. Based on what I have seen thus far Haikyu is shaping up to be my favourite sport anime of all time. The wait for this collection was well worth it, although if I were to nit-pick I would have to say that I enjoyed the last DVD a smidgen more. Due to a congested fixture list personal storylines are jettisoned in favour of match day drama and the finale was a tad underwhelming, as it’s essentially setup for season two. It also doesn’t help that the final game’s result is a forgone conclusion, once you realize that the series doesn’t have sufficient episodes to cover every round of the inter high school tournament. Anime sport results are so easy to predict – what a shame that my local bookie doesn’t accept bets on fictional Japanese contests.

Abovementioned quibbles aside, I really enjoyed the time I spent watching Haikyu. None of the matches dragged, which is surprising given that each game spans across several episodes. Kudos to Production I.G for animating such exciting rallies and series creator Haruichi Furudate for crafting a narrative that will have you hooked, even if the appeal of real life sports doesn’t resonate with you. Needless to say, I eagerly anticipate the arrival of season two. When the next series will get localized, much like a volley ball, is up in the air. I suspect we won’t be in the EU by the time those DVDs hit local stores. First we had the Brexit referendum and then Euro 2016. How many more times can England get kicked out of Europe?