Review of School-Live!

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Warning: Be aware that this review contains spoilers. I don’t like giving too much away in my posts, but it’s impossible to discuss this series without spoilers given how episode one concludes with a “twist” that is bigger than Godzilla dancing to a Chubby Checker tune.

At first glance School-Live appears to be another “cute girls doing cute things” anime, albeit one about an unusual club. Rather than dance Yosakoi, perform music or hunt espers the members of the School Life Club spend all their time at Megurigaoka High. Even when classes have ended for the day Yuki, Kurumi, Yuri and Miki stay inside the academy building. They even sleep there! Are they a rare breed of student who can’t get enough of school? Nah. The group is barricaded in there because the surrounding area is infested with carnivorous zombies! Oh man, why can’t shambling corpses switch over to a more peaceful vegan diet? Grains are tastier than brains after all.

OVERVIEW

The first episode of School-Live is both terrible and brilliant. I wasn’t too impressed watching protagonist Yuki Takeya attend lessons and chase after a cute puppy for almost twenty minutes. Not too original and more Moe than a Simpsons bartender. The payoff was however worth the tedium. Just before the end credits roll it is revealed that viewers have been watching events through the perspective of a distressed girl, who is deluding herself to cope with the trauma of living in a zombie apocalypse. The classrooms she sits in are vacant, aside from the imaginary pupils in her head. Megurigaoka’s pristine looking halls are in reality blood stained corridors.

Now I was invested. A sweet story transforming into a complete nightmare is one sure fire way of grabbing my attention… reminds me of the time I lost my head over what occurred in Madoka Magica. The series never abandons the lighthearted elements found in the inaugural episode though. Instead the script bounces between comedy and horror, which should be tonally jarring but somehow works. Given how heart wrenching School-Live’s narrative can be I welcomed the respite afforded by Yuki’s hijinks. Her friends seem to be of the same opinion. Rather than finding Yuki’s behaviour odd, they appreciate how her carefree spirit wards off the doom and gloom.

Speaking of friends, let’s segue into talking about Yuki’s chums. First up is the buxom club president Yuri Wakasa. She gives the air of unflappable leader, although deep down is suffering from stress. If Yuri is the brains (watch out dear, zombies love brainssss) then Kurumi Ebisuzawa is the brawn. She is always seen gripping her trusty shovel, which Kurumi uses to crack undead skulls. The newest member of the School Life Club is a Stephen King reader named Miki Naoki, who the group rescued from a zombie-ridden mall. Last on the list is club advisor Megumi Sakura. Despite being a teacher no one gives her much respect. The girls refer to her as Megu-ne, instead of Miss Sakura, much to her chagrin. Even worse, everyone always ignores her suggestions.

VERDICT

My rating for School-Live is five stars. I’m probably overrating the series slightly, but bear in mind that I am a cowardly wuss who normally avoids scary movies. As a result zombie yarns still feel fresh to me, which may explain why Walking Dead was my favourite game of 2012. I think School-Live was at its strongest during its flashback episodes. Miki under siege at the mall, how Kurumi became proficient with a shovel and the origin of Yuki’s fantasies will make anyone root for their survival. The comical present day tales weren’t as good, but still enjoyable. After witnessing their tragic backstories, it was nice seeing the girls enjoy life for a change.

I seldom mention OPs/EDs in my reviews, but will make an exception for School-Live. The ending theme titled Harmonize Clover is a beautiful ditty, whilst the opening’s animation was cleverly put together. Episode one’s overly saccharin opener gets darker with each passing instalment; mirroring Yuki’s state of mind, as she begins to question the make believe world she has hidden herself in. Other highlights include Taromaru, the pup that Yuki pursued in episode one. Said doggie is my new favourite anime mascot (sorry Pen Pen.)

Viewers seeking an alternative to Highschool of the Dead may want to give School-Live a try. They both tick the girls versus zombies box, even if stylistically they are very different. HOTS is mostly action and eye candy whilst School-Live is psychological yet humorous. That’s not to say that School-Live is free from fan service though. Shower scenes, posterior close ups and swimsuits are all present. Even when characters are trapped in a decrepit building, anime finds a way to shoehorn a bikini episode. I wish I was kidding about that, but like a zombie I am dead serious.

Review of One Punch Man

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Some people think that Superman is a boring hero, because he is so powerful. I can only imagine what they would make of Saitama, the bald headed protagonist of One Punch Man. The Man of Steel is at least weak to Kryptonite and magic. Saitama on the other hand is nigh on invulnerable and can down any foe with a single thump. As it turns out boredom is a two way street. Easy victories are not only dull for viewers to watch, but also for the hero as well. A crime-fighting career may sound exciting, but it really isn’t when evildoers take less effort to dispatch than earning a platinum trophy on a Telltale video game.

IT TOOK ME A FULL 3 YEARS TO GET THIS STRONG

One Punch Man is a thirteen-episode anime based on the manga created by the chap responsible for Mob Psycho 100. This comical take on the superhero genre stars a caped crusader who possesses herculean might. Forget super soldier serums, mystical mallets or getting zapped by lightning. Saitama earned his strength by following a strict daily regime of squats, push-ups and ten kilometre jogs. Sounds exhausting and not worth the hassle when you consider that the physical strain will make your scalp resemble the chrome dome of Captain Jean-Luc Picard.

The series takes place in City Z, a metropolis that is routinely harassed by giants, humanoid chimeras and effeminate sea dwellers. You’d think the citizenry would appreciate how Saitama protects their homes from danger, but alas his efforts seldom get noticed. It’s tough to make the local news when you reside in an area boasting an overabundance of vigilantes. There’s so many of the buggers that a union has been established to coordinate their activities. Media coverage is normally reserved for S-Rank guardians of justice. Saitama meanwhile is a lowly C list hero, because he flunked the written portion of the Hero Association exam.

I’M JUST A GUY WHO’S A HERO FOR FUN

Despite the lack of recognition Saitama manages to earn the admiration of a teen cyborg named Genos, who he eventually takes under his wing. Genos is for all intents and purposes the show’s Vegeta. He’s a powerful fighter in his own right, but more often than not gets beaten up by the villain of the week – in order to illustrate how mighty the antagonist is. Saitama can then step up to the plate and save the day with one uppercut, whilst the scrap pile that is his protégée looks on in awe. Over the course this collection Genos is “killed” so many times that he may as well wear a parka and start calling himself Kenny.

If the series was nothing more than a cour worth of one joke tales, were Saitama knocks out baddies, it would quickly lose its lustre. Thankfully the script is consistently funny thanks, in part, to the quirky support cast. Characters of note include an arrogant esper named Terrible Tornado, a high-speed ninja called Sonic and Puri-Puri Prisoner the camp strongman. Most of the heroes are goofballs, although I have to say that Mumen Rider succeeded in earning my respect. He may just be a regular Joe who travels to crime scenes on a BMX, but his heart is in the right place. Wow. It’s not often that someone with a driver’s licence has a good word to say about a cyclist. You should be proud of yourself.

VERDICT

My rating for One Punch Man is four stars. One of the funnier UK anime releases of 2017 and the opening theme song is a contender for manliest OP of the year. Given the current popularity of Marvel movies I imagine this satirical take on superheroes will be a big hit with many viewers. Action plays second fiddle to comedy in this series, but the fisticuffs we get are decent. Akira Toriyama clearly influenced Studio Madhouse both in terms of enemy character design and the high-octane nature of the show’s brawls. Unlike DBZ, One Punch Man does however resolve conflicts in a speedy manner. Evidently the duration of a fight is directly proportional to the length of the hero’s locks.

Review of Castlevania (Netflix)

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Greetings and salutations everyone. The Otaku Judge here with another animated series review. Usually I focus on anime from Japan, but this time round my critique is on Castlevania – a U.S produced cartoon based on Konami’s video games. Scripted by comic book scribe Warren Ellis, Castlevania’s four-part first season is presently available to view on Netflix. After finding success with superhero adaptations, the popular streaming service is now tapping into console games for TV show ideas. Whether the experiment works out remains to be seen, but at the very least Castlevania convinced me to finally take advantage of Netflix’s free trial. I like trials… and I’m not just saying that because I am a judge.

A BETTER LOVE STORY THAN TWILIGHT

One thing that surprised me about Castlevania is that it dedicates all of episode one to Dracula. The inaugural chapter, of this series, explains why the legendary vampire hates humanity. Years ago a doctor named Lisa Tepes braved the bloodsucker’s mansion in search of medicinal knowledge. She found what she sought and a new husband in the process, as Lisa tied the knot with Dracula shortly thereafter. Unfortunately the couple’s romance ended in tragedy, when the church learned of Lisa’s research. Mistaking the drugs Lisa concocted for witchcraft, she was burned at the stake. Dracula vowed revenge against mankind for his beloved’s execution. The evil clergy have doomed us all! Religious folks may want to avoid Castlevania, as it doesn’t paint priests in a good light.

The only man who can save us from Dracula’s demonic army is monster slayer Trevor Belmont. He has however given up on the family business, after the pope excommunicated his clan. These days Trevor is more likely to fight drunkards than creatures of the night, as he drifts from town to town looking for booze. Episode two for example sees Belmont brawl at a tavern, whose patrons include a family of goat fuckers… I “kid” ye not. Trevor cannot escape his destiny though and eventually gets embroiled in the Dracula conflict. In search of grub our whip-wielding hero stumbles into the city of Gresit, which is presently under siege by Count D’s legion of winged fiends.

DRACULA I AM BACK-ULA TO SMACK-ULA

We don’t get to see Trevor go all out until episode three, when he allies himself with a sect of mystics known as the Speakers. Much like Trevor, Gresit’s religious leadership hounds the spell-casting faction. Although benign, Speakers are reviled by the populace as their sorcery is deemed to be dark magic. One of the group’s members has vanished inside the local catacombs, where a fabled saviour is said to slumber. Trevor enters the crypt in search of the wayward Speaker only to find a Cyclops guarding the mausoleum. A battle ensues between Belmont and the hulking beast, which possesses a petrifying stare. Those unfortunate enough to get caught by the monster’s gaze will get more stoned than Snoop Dogg.

In terms of action, Trevor versus the Cyclops is an appetizer of things to come. The season finale is twenty minutes of non-stop carnage, as Belmont attempts to liberate Gresit from the clutches of tyrannical holy men and protect the citizenry from a horde of gargoyles. Blood and dismembered body parts rain down from the sky, reminding viewers why the show carries a sixteen plus age classification. Once the dust clears one more opponent remains for Trevor to overcome, although I will keep their identity a secret for the sake of spoilers. My lips are sealed, although I will divulge that ladies who admire shirtless pretty boys will approve of the final adversary. Hey can’t you spare some fan service for us guys too? We deserve a consolation prize after losing the gender war for Dr Who.

VERDICT

My rating for Castlevania is a three and a half out of five. Some reviewers are overrating the series slightly, but I can’t blame them given how rare watchable video game adaptations are. Overall I was impressed with the script, voice work and visuals – although the animation could have been stronger in places. The stiffness of Trevor’s cape is especially noticeable in certain scenes. When the end credits rolled I was left wanting more, partly due to the low episode count and partly because of its abrupt conclusion. Netflix are promoting Castlevania as “season one” but they aren’t fooling anyone. This is clearly a movie chopped up into four parts. Based on this impressive showing I can’t wait for season two. Like a Sesame Street vampire I will “count” the days until Dracula return.

Review of God Eater (Volume 1)

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Gods are tasty, but I couldn’t eat a whole one. I mean, just look at Thor. That guy is huge! In all seriousness though, no divine beings were consumed during the creation of this show. God Eaters are the warriors who protect Japan, in the year 2071, from creatures known as Aragami. These guardians of humanity charge into battle wielding God Arcs – a transformative weapon that can don the shape of a bazooka or colossal blade, depending on the needs of its user. Based on Bandai Namco’s video games, this first collection contains seven of the anime’s thirteen episodes.

OVERVIEW

Fans of the God Eater games are probably wondering how faithful this anime adaptation is to the source material. The answer to that question is I don’t know. Although I own God Eater 2 on PS4 I haven’t played it much. Monster hunting games sound like fun on paper, but I usually lose interest in them pretty quick. The endless cycle of farming bosses, for a 1% chance of acquiring materials I need to upgrade my gear, gets old really fast. One thing I can say however is that God Eater is one of the better shows based on a console title… even if admittedly the competition isn’t fierce in that genre.

Lenka Utsugi is the show’s protagonist. Over the course of this DVD set we see how he grows from a hothead rookie to a member of the elite First Unit. There’s action aplenty, as Lenka fights to protect his city from attack and participates in hunting missions. God Eater’s battles are visceral and gravity defying, but in terms of visuals the CG effects lack the polish of other Ufotable works. Sometimes character models look off and on other occasions there are noticeable animation blips. For instance, free flowing locks turn rigid in certain scenes. That’s what happens when you use concrete as a hair gel substitute I suppose.

Another thing that’s distracting about the series is the fashion sense of its cast. Lenka works for an organisation named Fenrir, who employ guards that dress in sensible military garb. The same cannot be said for the God Eaters though. All the guys look like they purchased their attire at Hot Topic. The ladies meanwhile have opted to go into combat braless. Russian beauty Alisa Illinichina Amiella has no shame, as she somersaults across the battlefield with no undergarments and a tiny top that barely covers her breasts. Given the proportions of anime women you’d think they would be well versed in the benefits of adequate chest support.

VERDICT

My rating for God Eater (vol. 1) is a three out of five. First impressions weren’t good, as the series is really generic. An insubordinate male lead that defends a walled city from carnivorous giants has been done before and done better. Thankfully it gets more interesting as it goes along. Regular flashbacks, which drip feed lore, helped to flesh out the narrative whilst the episodes featuring the plight of defenceless refugees succeeded in getting me emotionally invested. Alisa also surprised me by being more than mere eye candy. Her debut presents the character as an arrogant badass, but when denied medication in episode six it’s revealed that she suffers from Shia Labeouf levels of mental instability.

I had high hopes for God Eater, as the makers of Fate/Zero animated it. Sadly the series lacks Fate’s substance. All things considered though it is entertaining enough, especially when you consider its chequered production history. Back when God Eater aired on Japanese TV the release schedule suffered from more delays than a London Underground train. Not ideal, but somehow Ufotable have managed to salvage the anime. If volume two continues to improve with each instalment my hunger for a good video game cartoon will be satisfied, just like how a snack of Odin’s son satiates my appetite.

Review of Spider-Man: Homecoming

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After a hat trick of subpar Spider-Man flicks New York’s favourite wall crawler returns with a reboot that successfully revitalizes the franchise. Sony’s partnership with Marvel Studios is sure to make some serious bank at the box office. Let’s hope that the alliance doesn’t come to an end with the release of Homecoming’s sequel. Prior to watching the movie I was concerned by how heavily Tony Stark featured in the trailers. Was the marketing team using Robert Downey JR’s wit to prop up another uncharismatic Peter Parker? Nope. Tom Holland nailed the role and is by far the best live action Peter Parker yet.

CATCHES THIEVES JUST LIKE FLIES

Viewers will be relieved to learn that Homecoming isn’t another rehash of Spider-Man’s origin. When the movie begins Spider-Man is already an established costumed crime fighter, who is on the cusp of securing a place on the Avengers team. His adversary, in this 133-minute feature, is a chap named Adrian Toomes (better known to comic fans as Vulture). Early scenes reveal that Toomes developed a flying suit by repurposing the alien tech left behind on Earth by the invaders who appeared in Avengers Assemble. Michael Keaton plays the chief antagonist. Birdman and now Vulture – Hollywood has seemingly typecast him as an airborne talent for superhero movies.

The majority of Homecoming’s story revolves around the Spider-Man versus Vulture feud. Can the masked protector of Queens stop Toomes from arming local hoodlums with extra-terrestrial weaponry? It’s a tough ask for anyone, let alone a rookie vigilante who has many personal commitments to juggle. Compete in a national quiz. Find a date for the homecoming dance. Help a bud with constructing a Lego Death Star. Peter has a packed itinerary, along with the added headache of keeping his superhero persona hidden from the gorgeous Aunt May (played by Marisa Tomei.) What a beauty. Her husband Uncle Ben is one lucky guy… well apart from the whole getting murdered thing.

Spider-Man: Homecoming is a great film that captures the spirit of the classic comics. For better or worse, modern Marvel books also influence the movie when it comes to the subject of diversity. Every student in Peter’s school seems to come from a unique ethnic background. Parker’s love interest is black, his best friend is Hawaiian and Peter’s decathlon team includes an Asian. I’m not too bothered by the cultural variety, but it is worth mentioning. Right now Marvel is haemorrhaging readers in response to the company changing the gender/race of popular characters. If that sort of thing bothers you be forewarned that All-American meathead Flash Thompson is now a poindexter of Guatemalan descent. See what happens when you don’t build a wall?

VERDICT

My rating for Spider-Man: Homecoming is a four and a half out of five. On the web-head totem pole, Homecoming is right up there with Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2. It’s great to finally see Spidey portrayed by someone who gets both sides of the character. Tom Holland has no problem rattling off funny quips in the spandex, whilst also giving off the air of an uncomfortable nerd when out of costume. When it comes to visual effects Homecoming is easily the best looking of all the Spider-Man films. The action sequences are jaw dropping and even small details like the design of the suit impressed me. I think the expressive eyepieces are a nice touch. Thanks to them Spider-Man can emote without the need to unmask every few seconds (cough, Tobey Maguire, cough).

Usually I would conclude a Marvel cinematic review by lambasting the weak villain, but not so on this occasion. Unlike other MCU antagonists, Adrian Toomes is a well fleshed out character. In a similar vein to Dr Octopus and Sandman I can sympathize with his actions. Toomes isn’t motivated by greed; he just wants to provide for his family and employees. Dabbling in the underworld does however turn him into an intimidating crime boss who, when push comes to shove, will cross the line to safeguard his interests. The sad thing is that Toomes would have never gone down the illegal path had bureaucrats not ruined his company. All this could have been avoided had the government allowed Vulture to “carrion” doing business.

Review of Himouto! Umaru-chan

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Forget about fake news, what about fake people? You know the ones, folks who pretend to be someone else to fit in with the cool crowd. I am useless at hiding my geeky credentials (what with my stereotypical specs, acne encrusted skin and poor social skills) but the same isn’t true for everyone else. Your strict boss could be a closet brony for example! Umaru Doma, the star of Himouto Umaru-chan, happens to be one of those social chameleons. In public she portrays the role of model student – beautiful, great at sports and top of the class when it comes to grades. Away from prying eyes however she is a hardcore otaku who loves games, manga and unhealthy snacks.

SIBLING RIVALRY

The only person privy to Umaru’s secret identity is her long-suffering elder brother Taihei Doma. Anime fans know that parents do not exist, in the wacky world of Japanese cartoons, so the aforementioned siblings cohabitate alone in a modest studio apartment. Life at home is filled with feuds over Umaru’s refusal to do chores or anything else constructive for that matter. Taihei tries to lay down the law, but more often than not capitulates to Umaru’s tantrums. A few tears and some guilt tripping is all that’s required to coerce bro into buying her hamsters, the latest comic or a new console game.

On paper I should despise Umaru, for being a selfish brat, but somehow the series manages to make her likable. It’s tough to hate the protagonist, as her egoistic personality is the catalyst for much of the show’s hilarity. I also have a soft spot for the lead as her hobbies mirror my own. We look nothing alike though. She might be able to maintain a slim figure by guzzling carbonated beverages and sitting in front of a PC all day, but I certainly can’t. Perhaps her trim waist is the result of shape shifting powers? Whenever Umaru reaches home she transforms from a regular girl to a hoodie wearing chibi cutie.

CHARACTERS

Normally when an anime character shifts into an ultra deformed look no one acknowledges the change, but in Umaru’s case it appears that she genuinely does morph into a midget. Case in point – the time her shy classmate Kirie Motoba turned up at the Doma abode. When Kirie spotted the diminutive Umaru she was easily convinced into believing that Chibi Umaru is a made up little sister named Komaru. Then again none of the cast are sharp when it comes to identification. Umaru’s academic rival Sylphyn Tachibana for example doesn’t suspect that the buddy she hangs out with, at the local arcade, is Umaru sporting an eye mask!

Speaking of buddies, Umaru’s best friend is a buxom gal named Nana Ebina. Nana has a crush on Umaru’s brother, stemming from the time she migrated over from Akita to the big city. Taihei garnered her admiration, as he was the only person to make eye contact with her. Miss Ebina is oblivious to the fact that the locals aren’t mean; they just weren’t making eye contact as their gaze was squarely focused on her knockers! Other characters of note include Taihei’s trio of office co-workers. Takeshi the slacker with an Afro, German born Alex who browses for anime girls on work computers and Kanau the flirtatious manager.

VERDICT

My rating for Himouto Umaru-chan is a three and a half out of five. I wasn’t too impressed with the first episode, but the series gradually grew on me. Each instalment introduces a new character to the mix and it was fun watching them bounce off each other. In terms of structure the anime reminds me of The Comic Artist & His Assistants. Each episode is a chain of skits, which are low on story and high on amusement. I dug the funny anime references and could relate to the Doma brother/sister dynamic. Like most siblings they bicker a lot, but occasionally you’ll glimpse moments that show how much they value each other’s company. Their animated relationship is more genuine than the fake news CNN peddles.