Review of Amagi Brilliant Park

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Today I am reviewing an anime set in an amusement park, which is rather sweet. Some of my fondest childhood memories involve theme parks. The best vacation I ever had for example was a family trip to Florida. Mornings would begin with a game of TMNT: Turtles in Time, at the hotel arcade, followed by an afternoon in places such as SeaWorld and Universal Studios. I also have good memories of playing the business management sim Theme Park on Sega Genesis. Said title taught me that companies boost their drink sales by coating their fries with thirst inducing salt. How sneaky!

MAGIC KINGDOM

Most teenagers would be ecstatic if the big-breasted transfer student, in their class, invited them on a date to the local amusement park. That’s exactly what happened to Seiya Kanie when well-endowed Isuzu Sento approached him one fateful day. The date however was actually a tour of the park’s facilities. Sento, who is employed by the titular Amagi Brilliant Park, has coerced Kanie to visit the establishment with the aims of appointing him the new park manager. It’s an offer he can’t refuse… mainly because declining would result in Sento blasting him with an enchanted musket, which despite being non-lethal is very painful.

Kanie assumes control of Amagi because the park’s owner, a sickly princess named Latifah Fleuranza, is far too ill to meet the demands of her position. All that Latifah can do, to help Kanie revitalize the struggling park, is lend morale support, feed him with tasty croquettes and plant a smooch on his lips that bestows Kanie with mind reading powers. Princess? Magic powers? Oh yeah. I forgot to mention that most of the staff at Amagi hail from the fantasy kingdom of Maple Land. They work in our world because human happiness is the sustenance that keeps them alive.

FAIRY TALE

Over the course of thirteen episodes (and one OVA) Kanie is tasked with rescuing Amagi from closure by attracting half a million customers to the park by the end of July. Aiding him is royal guard Sento, his overly serious secretary, who develops feelings for her new teenage boss, over the course of the series. The potential romance doesn’t go beyond awkward blushing though, because when it comes to flirting anime characters have less game than me. A countdown that appears at the end of each episode indicates how close Kanie is to reaching his goal.

Amagi Brilliant Park has a huge cast of quirky supporting characters. The lineup includes numerous mascots who appear to be guys in costumes, but in actuality are humanoid animals. Moffle a feisty chap, who resembles Bonta from Full Metal Panic, is the park’s most popular entertainer. Other stars of note include a ram named Macaron and a flirtatious doggie called Tiramy. Amagi’s workforce also includes a quartet of dancing elemental fairies, whose ranks contain a yaoi connoisseur and a redhead who is constantly using her phone. Reminds me of one of my pals. He’ll invite me over for drinks, only to then spend the evening texting and ignoring me in favour of catching critters on Pokémon Go. How rude!

VERDICT

My rating for Amagi Brilliant Park is a three out of five. The series showed potential early on, but in the end was nothing more than a chain of whacky one-off storylines. Amagi’s fate only takes centre stage in the final few episodes, where Kanie is forced to depend on the success of one big event to meet the 500k-visitor target. There isn’t much in the way of character development, aside from Kanie’s growth. In the first episode Kanie is portrayed as a narcissist. Responsibility however moulds him into a capable leader who values the worth of camaraderie. Although the series is a by the numbers light novel adaptation it looks very pretty thanks to KyoAni’s high production values.

The series may not have met all of my expectations, but it was still fun to watch thanks to the jokes. I liked the comedy and the eye candy wasn’t bad either. The prancing fairies look nice, as did the scenes of Sento in the tub. I don’t think that the plot holds up though. Attracting half a million patrons can’t be all that tough if you employ the Bender (Futurama) strategy. All you have to do is build a theme park with Blackjack and hookers. In fact forget about the park and Blackjack. The hookers will suffice, especially when episode one reveals that Amagi is situated next to a love hotel!

Review of Wonder Woman

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After listening to my boss wax lyrical about Gal Gadot’s beauty, for an entire shift, I decided to corroborate his claims by taking a rare trip down to the local cinema. The screening of Wonder Woman was my destination – Warner Bros’ latest attempt at getting moviegoers to love their DC cinematic universe. I was expecting a stimulating experience given that the film stars a former beauty pageant winner who is playing a heroine created by a chap who apparently was into bondage.

SYNOPSIS

Anyone who has had the misfortune of watching Batman versus Superman knows that Wonder Woman looks great for her age. A photograph uncovered by Bruce “Caped Crusader” Wayne revealed that the supermodel crime-fighter hasn’t aged a bit since she made her debut in World War I. This 140-minute flick chronicles how the Amazonian warrior got involved in the conflict. It all started one fateful day when a Yankee spy named Steve Trevor (played by Chris Pine) crash-landed on the secluded island of Themyscira.

The isle’s inhabitants rescued Steve from a platoon of German soldiers, who were after the clandestine notes in his possession. Armed with just bows and arrows (Themyscira is populated solely by women so they are understandably primitive) the island’s defenders prove their girl power by defeating the gun totting Krauts. After interrogating Steve they learn of the Great War being waged across the sea. Hoping to stop the atrocities Themyscira native Diana (Wonder Woman) decides to leave her paradise homeland and escort Steve back to Britain.

ACTION & COMEDY

One of the reasons why Wonder Woman is the best DC movie, post the Dark Knight trilogy, is because it isn’t overly serious. There are plenty of chuckles to be had when Diana reaches the UK. Some humorous moments include Diana shopping for a new wardrobe and Steve recruiting colourful allies at the pub. Many of the jokes revolve around Diana’s obliviousness to local customs, such as how women are treated like second-class citizens. Be aware that the story is set during a time when women hadn’t secured voting rights. How unjust! Both genders should be permitted to participate in elections. Youngsters however should be barred. Just look at all the mischief they caused during recent polls.

Apart from the comedy I also enjoyed Wonder Woman’s action. It was fun seeing the dainty Israeli hurl panzers at enemies, deflect machine gun fire with her bracelets and bash German skulls. Serves them right for being sore losers over the Brexit outcome! The villains Wonder Woman battles are hard to take seriously though, as they are so cartoonish. Main antagonist Erich Ludendorff is so evil that he not only shoots subordinates, but he also cackles with glee when trapping rivals in a room containing an airborne toxin. For the lulz he tosses a gas mask into the chamber just to see the group scrap for survival.

VERDICT

My rating for Wonder Woman is a 3.5 out of 5. Back when the casting was announced I wasn’t sure that Gal Gadot would be up to the role, but she proved me wrong. The only times her lack of acting chops were noticeable occurred during moments were she had to convey anguish or fury. She does however look ravishing in Amazonian attire and the more modest garb of a 1918 lady. Unlike Henry Cavill’s Superman, this version of Wonder Woman does come across as a true hero. Even when ignoring the plight of others would be advantageous Wonder Woman has no qualms about leaping in and protecting the weak.

The only reason I am not awarding the movie four stars is because of the ending. Just like Man of Steel, the studio went for an explosive climax that dragged on for way too long. It didn’t help either that Wonder Woman’s final adversary looked ridiculous, due in part to some ropey CGI. Other than that I was impressed with Wonder Woman. A deserved hit for Warner Bros and I appreciated that (unlike an SJW Marvel comic) the heroine wasn’t used as a vehicle to shove feminism down our throats. Fingers crossed that Wonder Woman signals the advent of more female superhero blockbusters. If done right they don’t all have to turn out as bad as Electra or Cat Woman!

Review of Gantz: O

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Whenever I hear that an anime is going down the CGI route I cannot help but shudder. Although there are computer-generated movies out there that look gorgeous, my pessimistic mind always fears the worst. We may have another Berserk on our hands or even worse Appleseed XIII, which looked like a PS2 game. Thankfully in the case of Gantz: O the artists at Digital Frontier have done a sublime job with the movie’s visuals. I’d argue that the feature’s photorealistic graphics rival the art of Square-Enix’s Final Fantasy films. Yes, there are a few scenes were the character models venture into the uncanny valley and resemble sex mannequins, but I don’t mind. Who wouldn’t buy a sex doll if their pricing weren’t so prohibitive? I would, but for now I’ll have to make do with my inflatable sheep.

OVERVIEW

It’s been thirteen years since we last saw an adaptation of Hiroya Oku’s manga on our screens (gripes, I suddenly feel ancient.) This ninety-minute flick, which premiered in Japan back in October, loosely chronicles the comic’s Osaka arc. For those of you not acquainted with the franchise, Gantz is a black sphere that rents a modest Tokyo flat. Using advanced technology it reanimates deceased humans and forces them to battle against hostile extra terrestrials. The people resurrected by Gantz are armed with ray guns and garments that bestow the wearer with superhuman might. Said skin-tight outfits resemble the gimp suits I wish I could afford. Alas, latex is pricey so I have to make do with whipping blow up farmyard animals during my lonely evenings.

The plot of Gantz: O is pretty straightforward. After getting stabbed at a train station high schooler Masaru Kato is revived by Gantz and teleported to the city of Osaka. There he is ordered to slay a legion of monsters that are running amok, within a strict two-hour deadline. Aiding our hero is an old fogey, a busty celebrity and a cocky teenager. The group struggle to survive at first, but their plight improves when they cross paths with a local Gantz team who are equipped with armaments of mass destruction. For a while it seems like Kato can focus on protecting innocent bystanders and leave the heavy lifting to the other group. That all changes however when the end of level guardian shows up. It murders most of Kato’s allies before setting its sights on him. Defeating the bugger won’t be easy because the creature has more forms than Persona 3’s final boss.

VERDICT

My rating for Gantz: O is three stars. Action packed from start to finish – the movie is good fun, providing that you can turn off your brain and permit yourself to be swept away by the spectacle of explosive CG battles. The plot however is wafer thin and suffers from a predictable ending, which is telegraphed by an earlier scene that details how Gantz rewards participants who amass 100 points worth of kills. I was also disappointed by how Gantz: O lacks many of the elements found in the 2004 anime. The tension of forcing people with different viewpoints to tackle a life or death situation was absent from this adaptation, as Kato’s party are a cooperative bunch. I also feel that the movie is less intense than the series. The carnage isn’t as gory and there was virtually no sexual content to be found. Horny fellows such as myself won’t be amused. Thank goodness that my faithful ewe is on hand to satisfy my urges.

Review of A Silent Voice

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Bullies are universally reviled and rightly so because they are cowards who ruin lives through the use of physical abuse and intimidation. Given that most people hate bullies, more than David Leavitt, it’s surprising to see that A Silent Voice tells the story of someone who picked on a disabled girl. Back in elementary school Shoya Ishida played cruel pranks on deaf transfer student Shoko Nishimiya and even went as far as destroying several of her expensive hearing aids. The tormenting got so bad that Shoko eventually moved away to another school. Shoya soon learnt that payback is a bitch, because in retaliation for the cruelty he committed his classmates severed all ties with him.

OVERVIEW

Years after the events described above Shoya contemplates suicide. He has nothing to live for, as his notoriety has left him friendless in high school. Even worse he had to sell off his entire manga collection to pay off the bill for the hearing aids he damaged. Life without comics just isn’t worth living! At the eleventh hour Shoya however decides against leaping off a tall bridge. Rather than give up on existence the repentant teenager decides instead to learn sign language, so he can track down Shoko and communicate to her how much he laments his past misdeeds.

As someone who has been the victim of bullying I didn’t expect to have any sympathy for Shoya, but somehow A Silent Voice made me feel empathy for its protagonist. A lifetime of isolation is a harsh punishment for crimes he committed as a child. We all have done stupid things in our youth after all. Unlike some bullies, who stubbornly remain jerks, Shoya feels genuine guilt for his past behaviour and puts the effort into making amends. Learning sign language, just so he can apologize to Shoko, is admirable. It’s not something I could do. As my poor grammar suggests, I haven’t even mastered English yet! I cannot imagine how much dedication it takes to train in a second form of communication

Forgiving Shoya is easy for the audience because the victim in all this harbours no ill will towards him. Shoko is a sweetheart who would rather become friends with Shoya (and maybe something more) rather than hate him. Even during the midst of his bullying Shoko tried to protect her harasser from other students, who had decided he should suffer a taste of his own medicine. In a way Shoya is just as much of a victim as Shoko is. He was made the fall guy for Shoko’s departure, despite not being the sole person to treat her poorly. Some of the girls in elementary school for example resented how having a handicap classmate was hindering their chances of winning a choir contest. Musical tournaments are serious business, as Sound Euphonium will attest to!

VERDICT

My rating for A Silent Voice is four stars. I feel that the movie deserves that score purely from a technical standpoint. The animation and artwork is gorgeous, as one would expect from a Kyo Ani production, and I liked the stylistic choice of masking the facial features of people who shunned Shoya behind an X. The story and characterisations are all strong too, which is no surprise as the movie is based on Yoshitoki Oima’s award winning manga. I can’t say however that I liked the movie to the level of other reviewers. Were I to grade the film on how much I enjoyed it I would consider awarding it a three out of five.

I watch anime for the amusing hijinks of draconic maids, the hypnotic jiggle of bouncing cat girls and the action packed battles between a geek and parasitic organisms. A Silent Voice doesn’t tick any of those boxes, although I will concede it is a beautiful work of art. The narrative’s pacing is glacial and downright depressing at times. I thought things would liven up once Shoya overcame Shoko’s overprotective relatives, enabling him to patch things up with her. Instead what we get is two hours of people feeling miserable. Shoya feels like he isn’t worthy of a pardon and Shoko feels equally bad because Shoya would have been spared from much hardship had the two never met.

Perhaps reading the manga would have been more to my liking? Pausing in between volumes, to recuperate from the gloom, would have been more palatable than 129 straight minutes of misery. Anohana: The Flower We Saw That Day deals with similar themes of childhood acquaintances coming to terms with a past tragedy, but resonated more with me as it balanced out the melodrama with humour. A Silent Voice is a movie that I would recommend, although I do so with the caveat that you have to be in the right mood for it. The feature may be too much of a slog for viewers who enjoy lighthearted skits about band mates drinking tea. Those who prefer their Kyo Ani with a bit more substance will however find much to admire in this Naoko Yamada directed flick.

Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia

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It looks like Fire Emblem is no longer Nintendo’s most neglected franchise (that dishonour has now been passed down to Metroid.) There was a time when the strategy RPG’s days seemed numbered, but the popularity of Awakening changed all that. In recent times we got three different versions of Fire Emblem Fates and Heroes brought the fantasy series over to mobile devices. It’s barely been a year since the last 3DS game came out in Europe and we already get a new instalment to play in the form of Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia.

NORTH AND SOUTH DIVIDE

Shadows of Valentia is a remake of Fire Emblem Gaiden, a nineties NES title that never got a western release. Players take control of two armies led by childhood friends Alm (country bumpkin turned warrior) and Celica (a crimson haired priestess.) During the five-act campaign, which runs for around thirty hours, our teenage heroes march their troops across the war torn continent of Valentia. The region is currently in the midst of a North versus South feud akin to the current Korean conflict, only with less nukes and more dragons.

Like in past titles, battles are turned based affairs fought on grid-based maps. On one side are the human forces and on the other hostile AI minions consisting of soldiers/undead. The game’s mechanics are similar to other Fire Emblem titles, with a few minor differences. Firstly the infamous weapon triangle (swords beat axes, axes beat lances, lances beat swords) is absent from this instalment, which does reduce the level of strategy somewhat. Archers still inflict bonus damage to aerial units though and it’s possible to gain an edge over cavalry/armoured knights by learning special skills from weapons picked up during your travels.

NOW THAT’S GOOD EATING

Another change of note is that spell casters need to sacrifice a portion of their health in order to activate their magical abilities. I guess the penalty is in place to curtail the destructive power of sorcerers, who are by far the mightiest class in the game. Thankfully vitality can be replenished by calling upon the services of a healer or snacking on the grub found on village floors and musky dungeons. Gross. What’s the deal with these unsanitary video game diets? This reminds me of my Streets of Rage days, were players ate chicken found inside garbage cans.

One feature that I miss from this remake is the option of playing matchmaker with your militia. It’s still possible to build up the relationships between certain characters, via bonus boosting support conversations, but you sadly have no influence over what friendships lead to marriage. That may be for the best though, as the romance in Echoes is flat out bizarre. Alm and Celica are smitten with each other for example, despite only knowing each other briefly during their prepubescent days. The game also stars a yandere villager named Faye and a vestal who has a thing for older men.

VERDICT

My rating for Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia is a four out of five. It’s my least favourite of the 3DS Fire Emblems, but a fine handheld strategy game all the same. I suspect Echoes would have been more to my liking were it not for the pesky summoners, who annoyingly flood certain levels with endless waves of monsters. The low hit rate of my fighters was frustrating too and I also despised how enemy witches would sometimes warp behind my front line, leading to unexpected casualties. Thankfully it’s possible to negate friendly losses by disabling perma-death or rewinding back the action via a feature dubbed Mila’s Wheel.

As far as Fire Emblem remakes go Echoes is far superior to 2009’s Shadow Dragon. Intelligent Systems have put a lot more work into this project, as evidenced by the inclusion of gorgeous 3D cut scenes and voice acting. The developer also added some third person dungeon crawling to the mix, which is a nice change of pace from the constant tactical warfare. Exploring the labyrinths may unearth treasure chests containing weapons, accessories and shields. Coinage can also be procured by smashing the jars found in the catacombs. First we had Zelda and now Fire Emblem. Nintendo seem to have a thing for storing valuables in pottery. What’s wrong with using a good old-fashioned piggy bank?

Review of Amagami SS

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Junichi Tachibana is not fond of the festive season. Does he loathe the December period because buying presents wrecks havoc with his bank balance? Nope. Perhaps he hates listening to those cheesy Xmas tunes the radio stations play ad nauseam every single year? Nah. His disdain for the holidays stems from painful memories of that one time a girl no showed for their agreed upon Christmas Eve date. Thankfully for the heartbroken teenager Junichi has been a good boy this year, so Santa is going to reward him with the gift of six potential girlfriends!

LEWD CONDUCT AT THE LIBRARY – BOOK HIM DANNO

Amagami SS is a twenty-four-episode anime based on a Japan exclusive PS2 dating sim. The series is broken up into four part story arcs, which each chronicle what would happen if Junichi hooked up with one of his academy’s eligible bachelorettes. MVM’s six disc DVD collection begins with Junichi courting Haruka Morishima, who happens to be the most popular girl in their high school. She’s well liked by the student body for some unknown reason. After rejecting all suitors to date and dropping out of every club she has ever joined you’d think the capricious minx would have annoyed enough people to lose her popularity title by now.

The second tale of romance stars classmate and part time waitress Kaoru Tanamachi. Junichi and Kaoru have been nothing more than platonic pals for many years, but that all changes when a trip to the library ends in a spot of belly button smooching. Once he’s done with extracting the navel fluff from his mouth, Junichi moves onto bashful freshman Sae Nakata. After rescuing the timid girl from a vicious puppy, Junichi agrees to help Sae overcome the social anxiety that is preventing her from landing a job. The trick to beating embarrassment is to picture everyone in their underwear… or in the case of this anime, pretend that everyone is a vending machine.

DATE A FAT GIRL? I DON’T THINK IT WILL “WORK OUT”

Next up is swimmer Ai Nanasaki. The pair met one fateful day, at the park, when Junichi got a glimpse of Ai’s panties. Sexual harassment led to love and the rest is history. Right, let’s move on. You can’t have a rom-com without a childhood friend so enter Rihoko Sakurai, the obese chum who weighs a staggering 60kg. Yep, what one would deem borderline anorexic in the States is classed as fat in Japan. Different cultures. Different standards. Anyways, the Rihoko arc deals with the clumsy lass battling against her inability to both diet and confess her true feelings to Junichi. Can she slim down and get her man or will Junichi say “no fat chicks?”

Last but not least is Tsukasa Ayatsuji, who at first glance appears to be a polite and responsible class representative. When Junichi volunteers to help Tsukasa with organizing the end of term Christmas Festival he however learns that Ayatsuji’s courteous exterior is nothing more than a facade. Away from prying eyes Tsukasa reveals herself to be an ill-tempered schemer. Most guys would abscond at this point, because you shouldn’t put your dick in crazy, but Junichi ends up falling for her. The question is whether he is attracted to the sweet Tsukasa everyone knows or her evil alter ego.

VERDICT

My rating for Amagami SS is a four out of five. Romantic comedies are not usually my thing, but I must admit to liking this one. It’s got the right mix of humour and romance to appeal to audiences of both genders. Lonely girls, who wish to vicariously experience love through the eyes of animated women, will find plenty of mushy stuff to enjoy by watching these DVDs (with their cats.) Macho guys, on the other hand, can justify purchasing such an unmanly series by pointing out that the gags are rather funny. In terms of jokes my favourite part of Amagami SS came during the Sae arc, which is narrated by a sarcastic fourth-wall breaking commentator.

In terms of structure Amagami SS is reminiscent to Photo Kano. Rather than have Junichi pick one true love from all the available candidates, every girl gets her own story and happy ending. I like this format for storytelling and it was better executed in Amagami thanks to its higher episode count. Every girl gets four episodes, rather than just one, resulting in deeper storylines and better character development. Apart from the main series MVM’s collection also includes two OVAs. One of these features a stalker and the other revolves around Junichi’s little sister. In case you are wondering, no there isn’t any incest. Prudes and perverts will be relieved and disappointed respectively.