My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU Too! Review

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After a seven-month hiatus, the members of Sobu High School’s Service Club are back to aid their classmates with whatever matter ails them. In case you don’t remember (and I wouldn’t blame you given the lengthy gap between DVD releases) the Service Club is made up of a diverse trio of teenagers. Yukino Yukinoshita is the group’s pragmatic leader, Yui Yuigahama is the troupe’s beacon of bubbliness and Hachiman Hikigaya is the sullen faced problem solver who was forced to enlist at the behest of his still unmarried language teacher. This season’s thirteen episodes have the Club playing matchmaker, rigging the student council elections and organizing a Christmas event – all amidst the backdrop of strained relations that threaten to wreck the triad’s friendship.

OVERVIEW

One thing I enjoyed about My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU Too is that it isn’t a rehash of the first season. A lazier writer would have simply churned out more amusing adventures were the Service Club save the day thanks to Hikigaya’s sardonic schemes. What we get instead is a cour dealing with the ramifications of Hikigaya’s actions. The catalyst of this turmoil is the first story arc’s resolution, were the club is requested to help a student ask out the love of his life. Unfortunately for the budding Romeo the object of his affections is a fujoshi who doesn’t want a boyfriend (she is content enough fantasizing about homosexual romances.) To resolve the deadlock Hikigaya assumes the mantle of martyr, which doesn’t go down well with Yukino or Yui.

Despite being the most unpopular guy in Sobu, Yui and Yukino have grown fond of Hiki and don’t want him to sacrifice his reputation so recklessly. Hikigaya pays them no heed however, culminating in a spat that sees Hikigaya go off on his lonesome. Without the support of his female club mates, Hikigaya agrees to assist the student council in arranging an Xmas shindig. It soon becomes apparent that Hikigaya has bitten more than he can chew, because the event’s organizers resemble my office’s upper management. They spew out buzzwords and waffle ad nauseam during meetings, but fail to make any concrete progress. Will the Service Club be able to reconcile their differences and together beat the bureaucracy before the festive deadline elapses? Will I remain employed when my boss reads the earlier remarks on work conferences? Time will tell.

VERDICT

My rating for My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU Too is four stars. The score reflects my opinion that the second series is a slight improvement over the first. Not only have the visuals/animation received a boost, but the writing is superior too. The end result is characters that are more fleshed out and interesting. For example, Yukino who previously was portrayed as a model student endowed with sarcastic wit is revealed to suffer from insecurity issues. Burdened with the pressures of living up to her family’s expectations she now struggles to make important life decisions for herself. Hikigaya meanwhile is forced to grow past his cynical phase and open up to others. It’s nice to see his gloomy face crack a smile for once and register other emotions too. One touching moment even sees him weep manly tears.

Looking back at my season one review, I previously described My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU as being an amusing show that contains a smidgen of drama. Too is the reverse – rich in dramatic scenes and peppered with light comedy. As mentioned earlier the shift in tone worked for me, but I imagine fans of the previous instalment’s goofiness may not welcome Too’s more sombre narrative. One thing that all viewers will agree on however is that the finale is unsatisfying. Studio Feel have done a fine job adapting Wataru Watari’s light novels for the small screen, but have shown no foresight in picking a good cut off point. The manner in which episode thirteen concludes leaves many plot points unresolved. Let’s hope a third season eventually sees the light of day, or else Hikigaya won’t be the only person around sporting a glum expression on their face.

Valkyrie Drive: Bhikkhuni Review

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What’s this? A new game for the PlayStation Vita? I thought the Internet told me that Sony’s handheld died years ago. Let that be a lesson to us all. You can’t believe everything you read online… except when I proclaim to have the physique of Chris Hemsworth. That statement is entirely true and not a fictitious delusion. Anyway, the point is that the Vita is alive and well if you happen to like niche games from Japan. Before 2016 concludes I intend to add six upcoming Vita titles to my collection, funds permitting. Sorry family, I may not be able to afford Xmas gifts for you this December. The latest Vita game I bought was Valkyrie Drive: Bhikkhuni, which is produced by the maker of Senran Kagura. You know what that means. Lots of hack n slash fun and lots of busty ladies.

OVERVIEW

Valkyrie Drive: Bhikkhuni takes place in a world that is suffering from a VR virus epidemic. Said disease, which only seems to target buxom teenage girls, causes sufferers to transform into weapons such as swords, bows and oversized gauntlets. Gripes, that illness sounds almost as bad as man flu! Anyone afflicted with the condition is whisked off to Bhikkuni Island for treatment, which involves vigorous physical exercise. Patients are expected to follow a strict martial arts regime and periodically participate in duels against fellow students plus their tutors… who happen to be robots. Sounds ridiculous I know, but let’s be honest here. Back in our youth haven’t we all had teachers who possessed the charisma of an emotionless automaton?

Gameplay wise Valkyrie Drive is reminiscent of Senran Kagura. Levels involve dashing to the exit and smacking anyone who gets in your way, be they female fighters or mechanical guards. Square and triangle are used to dish out combos, which gradually fill up your Drive meter. In each stage you must select a Liberator who fights and an Exter companion. When the Drive bar is sufficiently filled Liberators can order their partner to morph into a weapon, which awards a damage boost and permits her to execute special moves. Clearing a zone will reward players with bounty points that can be spent at the store. The shop sells useless stuff like health potions and invaluable items such as lingerie. Don’t get too attached to the skimpy garments you buy though, because clothing has a nasty habit of ripping off in the midst of battle.

VERDICT

My rating for Valkyrie Drive: Bhikkhuni is four stars. It’s a fun third person brawler that will appeal to fans of the Senran Kagura series. Aside from some minor combat system tweaks and the inclusion of gigantic bosses, both games are virtually identical. Out of the two I slightly prefer Senran Kagura, as it has a larger roster of playable characters. Valkyrie Drive has a measly seven heroines to control, unless you opt to pay extra for DLC. I’ll pass because I don’t see the point of spending coinage on digital women, when I could spend those savings at the strip club instead. Senran Kagura also trumps Valkyrie Drive in terms of story. Bhikkhuni’s plot drags at times, especially when the lengthy cut scenes are regularly interrupted with loading delays. Thankfully the narrative gets more interesting in the later chapters, courtesy of an unexpected twist.

At the time of writing I have sunk nineteen hours into Valkyrie Drive: Bhikkhuni. That playtime has allowed me to get the normal and true endings, which only amounts for forty percent of the game’s trophies. With many secret areas to unearth and survival/challenge modes to tackle, I expect to be entertained for many more hours to come. As was the case with Gal*Gun, the folks at PQube have done a stellar job localizing a potentially controversial title for Western markets. From what I can tell the game has not been subjected to needless censorship, which is always a bugbear for me. Some typos seem to have sneaked past their QA checks, but I will overlook that transgression. With so much cleavage on display I can somewhat understand why the translators may have been distracted when typing up the English language script.

Soul Eater NOT! Review

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What an aptly titled anime. This series is just like the original Soul Eater… Not! That’s what Soul Eater fans would exclaim because, aside from the supernatural school setting, this series feels like a radically different show. Or so I am told, as I have yet to watch Soul Eater – mostly because I have an aversion to Shonen properties that run for over fifty episodes. We can blame Bleach’s limitless amount of filler for that. The way Bleach dragged things out made me want to down several litres of the aforementioned chemical disinfectant. Studios should refrain from animating episodes until the source material has sufficient chapters to adapt. I do however reserve the right to whine endlessly in the interim. It’s been three years already Studio Wit, give us more Attack on Titan already!

OVERVIEW

Soul Eater NOT takes place at the Death Weapon Meister Academy, which teaches pupils how to battle against witches (because Dorothy’s escapades have taught us that soluble magic users are bad news.) The DWMA’s students are categorized as Weapons (who are humans that can transform into um weapons) and Meisters who brandish said shape shifters in combat. NOT’s protagonist is a young lady named Tsugumi Harudori who has enrolled at the academy after recently discovering that her legs have a nasty habit of involuntarily morphing into halberds. Tsugumi wishes to learn how to control her powers, although her first term is plagued with doubts. Not only does Tsugumi miss her old tranquil lifestyle, but she also feels inferior to her more talented classmates.

Despite her lack of confidence Tsugumi is in great demand with two Meisters, named Meme Tatane and Anya Hepburn, vying for the right to become her official partner. Anya is a shopaholic princess who is weary about being pampered by servants and therefore decides to move abroad where she can mingle with commoners. Meme is a capable fighter who we learn in episode one can literally kick your ass in her sleep. The contest for Tsugumi at times resembles a lesbian love triangle, although the show’s fifteen-age rating denies us any steamy moments. Yuri fans looking for smut will have to make do with a dream sequence featuring a near kiss between a flamethrower Weapon and the pink haired bully that she has the “hots” for (no pun intended.)

VERDICT

My rating for Soul Eater NOT is three stars. It’s a well-produced “cute girls doing cute things” series from Studio Bones, which reminds me a little of Scientific Railgun as it’s based in an institution populated with superhuman kids. The banter between the show’s leading ladies is the thing I enjoyed the most. Anya likes fraternizing with regular folk, but her tsundere instincts compel her to act like a haughty royal. Meme’s absentmindedness made me chuckle on occasion, as she will routinely forget what she did five minutes ago or even her own name! I’m glad an explanation is eventually offered for her memory deficiencies, because for a spell I was worried that she may be suffering from advanced Alzheimer’s.

I am uncertain how NOT will be received by fans of the original Soul Eater, as stylistically they are two very different shows. Soul Eater fanatics may enjoy the cameos that offer insight into the origins of Sid, Kim, Patty and Liz, but the lack of action may not sit well with them. NOT is first and foremost cute and fluffy entertainment. If I didn’t know better I would guess that writer Atsushi Okubo wanted to make a K-On clone, but had to affix the profitable Soul Eater label on the cover to appease his editor. Those insecure in their masculinity need not worry though, because this prequel’s dozen episodes aren’t all girly. The finale for example has the heroines tackling a witch who uses venom to brainwash victims. High schoolers afflicted with the poison become aggressive and function on little to no sleep… they are just like any other teenager then!

Review of Planetarian

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Have reviews ever discouraged you from watching an anime or playing a video game? They have for me and not necessarily because their assessment of the product was negative. Many moons ago I was perusing Steam for a new visual novel to read when I came across a kinetic book titled Planetarian: The Reverie of a Little Planet. The buyer comments section was brimming with thumbs up, but I gave the game a pass as many remarks mentioned that the narrative was laced with feels. No thanks, I thought, why subject myself to depression? Jump ahead two years and news reaches me that Planetarian has been adapted into an anime. Oh what the heck, let’s give it a watch. My tear ducts could use some exercise and thanks to Funimation’s dub I needn’t worry about waterworks in my eyes blurring out the text.

OVERVIEW

Planetarian: Chiisana Hoshi no Yume is set in the not too distant future, were Earth is reeling from the effects of atomic war, over population and a lack of natural resources. See! I knew electing Hilary Clinton/Donald Trump (amend after November eighth’s polls) to the Oval Office would end in disaster! The story begins with a junker named Kuzuya infiltrating the confines of Sarcophagus City in search of technology, booze and weapons that he can salvage for cash. After a run in with some hostile sentry bots, Kuzuya is forced to flee into a dilapidated department store where he encounters a blue haired female android named Hoshino Yumemi. The adorable automaton incessantly pesters Kuzuya to visit the building’s rooftop planetarium, which three decades ago she was programmed to maintain.

Apart from a few minor characters, Planetarian has a modest cast of two people. Kuzuya is presented as a gruff survivalist who somehow can subsist on a daily diet of just one biscuit. Initially he finds Yumemi’s babbling to be a pain, but an overnight stay at the planetarium makes him warm up to her. In recompense for sheltering him, Kuzuya even agrees to repair the establishment’s busted projector. Yumemi is delighted by the starlight projector’s restoration, as her sole purpose in life is to teach humans about the cosmos. The fact that Sarcophagus City is now rubble and that no customers have visited her in thirty years hasn’t wavered Yumemi’s passion for astronomy lessons. Yumemi’s brain is a fountain of knowledge, although her mechanical body is weak. Any strenuous activity causes her to trip and overheat… in a way she’s like a walking Xbox 360!

VERDICT

My rating for Planetarian: Chiisana Hoshi no Yume is, no pun intended, four and a half “stars.” It’s a nice story that manages to concisely tell its tale in just five parts. The creators resisted padding out the short visual novel into a cour long show and in most cases the episodes don’t even reach the twenty-minute mark. Aside from the likable characters I was impressed with Planetarian’s artwork. David Production has put a lot of effort into the visuals, for what is an original net animation. When compared to a clunky looking web series like RWBY, Planetarian is leaps ahead in terms of aesthetics (time to activate the flame shield because angry Rooster Teeth commenters are incoming.) The finale that pits Kuzuya against an autonomous tank stood out in particular. Said scene wouldn’t have looked out of place in something like Ghost in the Shell.

One complaint that could be levied at Planetarian is that the script is emotionally manipulative. Viewers should however go into the show expecting this, as the series is based on a ten-year-old Key visual novel. Since the late nineties that company has been breaking our hearts with bittersweet tragedies featuring big eyed cute waifus. These are the guys after all who worked on tearjerkers such as Clannad and Angel Beats. Planetarian doesn’t deviate from the established Key formula, which may be a plus or a minus depending on your tastes. If you enjoyed Planetarian be aware that a similar visual novel named Harmonia was released on Steam a month ago. Will I be buying it? After reading the reviews, probably not. My sensitive feelings can only withstand so many “onion cutting simulators” per year.

Sweetness and Lightning Review

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This meat is so rare that I threw a Master Ball at it! That’s what Gordon Ramsay would yell at me, should our paths ever cross, as I am useless in the kitchen. When it comes to cooking I can add milk to a bowl of cereal for breakfast, place some ham between two slices of bread for lunch and nuke a Ready Meal in the microwave for dinner. Anything else is outside of my wheelhouse. The same can be said of high school teacher Kohei Inuzuka who, between not being a big eater and working a busy schedule, left meal preparation in the hands of his beloved wife. Unfortunately for the bespectacled math professor his missus passed away six months ago. After subjecting his daughter to yucky convenience store grub for half a year, the time has come for Kohei to master the art of cookery.

OVERVIEW

Sweetness and Lightning is a twelve episode anime series, which can presently be watched on Crunchyroll (how ironic that a site named after crisp bread should happen to stream a food centric cartoon.) Based on the manga created by Gido Amagakure, this slice of life show chronicles Kohei’s gastronomical adventures, as he does his best to learn various recipes over at a restaurant owned by a student’s family. Each episode typically begins at Kohei’s school or the kindergarten his daughter Tsumugi attends, before concluding with a culinary segment at the eatery belonging to Kotori Iida’s mom. Over the anime’s dozen episodes we see how bitter peppers can be transformed into a tasty dish, what goes into making crepes and serving suggestions for fresh fish. If you are planning to go on a diet watching Sweetness and Lightning may be a bad idea. Just typing out this synopsis is causing me to drool all over the keyboard!

Like many male protagonists Kohei is a bit on the plain side, but his personality deficiencies are easy to forgive when you see what a loving parent he is. Unlike her pop, magical girl fan Tsumugi is brimming with character. Everything about Tsumugi screams cute – from the squeaky noise her footsteps make to the adorable chants she sings. Watching her lovable antics makes me want to have children… although those feelings soon subside as my sister’s noisy spawn remind me why I don’t get on with kids! Completing the Sweetness and Lightning cast trinity is Kotori Iida, who is the teenage offspring of a celebrity chef. Using her mother’s notes, Kotori guides Kohei on how to prepare each episode’s dinner. Despite her parentage Kotori isn’t very hands on during the gourmet scenes because a childhood accident has left her with a serious phobia of knives.

VERDICT

My rating for Sweetness and Lighting is four Michelin stars. The anime delivers a three-course menu of heart warming family moments as a starter, a main course of informative cooking sequences and for dessert a single parent plot that fans of Usagi Drop should appreciate. After consuming the series my appetite for anime entertainment is well and truly satisfied. I was however a bit disappointed that Kohei and Kotori’s relationship didn’t develop into something more. Pupils fraternizing with educators may be taboo, but in this instance the age gap isn’t so vast that it would be creepy. Some romance would have been sweet, as the fortnightly restaurant trips have enriched the lives of the Inuzukas whilst lonely Kotori has benefited from companionship, which is nice given that she has few friends and her mother is often absent due to job commitments.

One thing that I found surprising about Sweetness and Lightning was how enjoyable the gastronomic scenes were. As a novice chef it was rather educational seeing first hand how to best peel an onion or the techniques one should employ when filleting a fish. Learning more about Japanese cuisine was also a welcome and tasty bonus. If nothing else, Sweetness and Lightning has made me hunger for more cooking shows. Much to my surprise there appears to be a multitude of anime out there marketed at foodies. Hmmm, which one should I check out next? Many bloggers that I respect have recommend Food Wars and who am I to argue? Those infamous clips of girls driven to ecstasy by calamari and succulent slabs of meat are certainly stimulating!

Review of Orange

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What would you do if Bermuda had an undersea post box that allowed senders to mail letters back to their past selves? I for one would warn the younger Otaku Judge not to waste forty quid on Duke Nukem Forever! Naho Takamiya, the protagonist of Orange, is however much less selfish. Using the powers of reverse chronological postage, she dispatches a message to a decade ago hoping that it will undo her life’s biggest regret. The plan is that her high school self will read the note and use its contents, which details future events, to avert the death of a close friend.

OVERVIEW

Based on the manga created by Ichigo Takano, Orange is a thirteen-episode anime, which is presently available to stream on Crunchyroll (should you be fortunate enough to live in a nation that they cater to.) The series begins with Naho receiving a letter, which seemingly foretells what is set to transpire in the upcoming days. Despite initially doubting the envelope’s claims, she is forced to accept its authenticity after several of the note’s predictions prove to be correct. Sadly the older Naho didn’t jot down winning lottery numbers to aid her past self with some extra scratch. The letter does however help teenage Naho win a softball game and encourages her to form a relationship with Tokyoite transfer student Kakeru Naruse.

Unfortunately it isn’t always easy to follow good advice, even when you know that the wise words come from someone who has ten years of hindsight. Shyness dissuades Naho from getting too close to Kakeru, which she soon laments after a fellow student asks him out on a date. Missing out on a potential boyfriend, who has a dreamy smile and is great at soccer, is the least of Naho’s concerns though. If what the letter says is true Kakeru is fated to die in a tragic accident. There’s only so much one girl can do, so to prevent disaster from striking Naho will have to rely on the aid of her closest confidants Suwa, Takako, Azusa and Hagita.

Hiroto Suwa is the kind-hearted jock that is willing to sacrifice his feelings for Naho in order to save Kakeru. He’s a true bro. From the aforementioned group Takako Chino gets the least screen time, but her Amazonian presence does at least come in handy for protecting Naho from bullies. Spunky Azusa Murasaka and bespectacled manga reader Saku Hagita provide the show’s comic relief by constantly bickering with each other. One of the funniest scenes has Hagita trying to emulate Suwa’s muscular torso by drawing fake abs on his gut. Why waste time at the gym when you can get identical results with a permanent marker?

VERDICT

My rating for Orange is a four out of five. It’s a great tasting citrus fruit packed with nutritious vitamin C. Um, I mean it’s a heart-warming anime that combines slice of life moments with cute romance. Even if the time travel elements were to be removed from the script, I would have still been entertained watching the cast hang out in class and competing at their school’s sport festival. The love story between Naho and Kakeru is sweet, although it did test my patience at times. Let’s just say that when it comes to matters of the heart Naho’s naivety rivals Sawako from Kimi ni Todoke.

Part of the reason for my high rating is that Orange reminds me of other stellar anime. A teenager using knowledge from the future to change things for better is reminiscent of The Girl Who Leapt Through Time. I also got an Anohana: The Flower We Saw That Day vibe from the series, as the story deals with a group of friends coming together to make peace with the loss of a childhood chum. I was also impressed by how the narrative highlighted the dangers of depression. Behind Kakeru’s forced smile is an individual struggling to cope with family grief. Orange shows its audience what a big impact having supportive friends can be for persons suffering with such issues. Never turn a blind eye to a buddy in need, or years from now you could be tormented by regret… just like me when I squandered money on that god-awful Gearbox console game.