Review of Violet Evergarden

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Two weeks ago I signed up for a Netflix trial, in order to watch Castlevania season two. When posting my review of said series I asked readers what else I should check out on Netflix. My followers have good taste, so I was certain they would leave some excellent recommendations. A few of you suggested that I stream Violet Evergarden. Plot twist – I had already seen the series a few months ago, via less legal means. The series is so good however that I didn’t mind re-watching it again. On this occasion, to freshen things up, I decided to try out the dub version. For those of you who are unaware, Violet Evergarden is a thirteen episode anime based off an award winning light novel trilogy of books. Since its broadcast an OVA has been released and a movie is scheduled to come out early in 2020.

OVERVIEW

Violet Evergarden is a battle hardened orphan girl who was picked up by navy officer Dietfried Bougainvillea during one of his missions. He recognized that anyone who resembles Saber (from the Fate franchise) must be a kick ass warrior. Dietfried ends up gifting Violet to his younger brother Gilbert on his birthday. Gilbert is a major in the army and has recently been ordered to tour the front lines. Dietfried hopes that Violet will serve as his sibling’s bodyguard during the dangerous operations that are to follow. Unlike his bro, who treats the protagonist like a tool, Gilbert showers Violet with kindness. He teaches her how to speak, buys her gifts and makes the ultimate sacrifice in the war’s decisive battle. When Violet is placed in peril, Gilbert saves her and sadly perishes in the process.

Miss Evergarden didn’t escape from the incident unscathed. She lost both arms and had them replaced with mechanical appendages. After recovering from her injuries, Violet is placed in the care of Gilbert’s pal Claudia Hodgins (who is a bloke, despite what his first name may suggest.) Hodgins runs a post office and eventually hires Violet for the position of Auto Memories Doll. In the nation where this anime takes place, Auto Memories Doll is a title given to females who specialize in writing letters for others. Violet seems suited for the position because, as Ghost in the Shell has taught us, women with robotic hands are speedy typists. She hopes that putting people’s feelings into words will teach her more about human emotions. Eventually she may even learn what Gilbert’s final words to her “I love you” meant.

VERDICT

I am awarding Violet Evergarden a score of five stars. This series is a strong contender for best anime I have watched in 2018. Whether others agree with that assessment or not will depend on their patience levels. The early episodes are slow paced affairs that chronicle how Violet learned the tools of the trade and how she bonded with her new coworkers. After that the show settles into a more episodic format. Violet’s reputation rises, attracting work from across the land. She travels far and wide to help scholars transcribe ancient texts and assists royalty with the composition of love letters. Although there are moments that are sweet and funny, I would advise anyone who watches this anime to keep a handkerchief close by. Scenes of grief are never too far away in this show. The episodes about the sickly mother and the one about the drunken novelist, who is writing a play, will summon the onion cutting ninjas who we last encountered in Clannad.

Some critics have complained that Violet isn’t a likable lead, as she is someone who struggles with expressing emotion. That surprised me, given anime’s history. Last time I checked Rei Ayanami and Ruri Hoshino are very popular with audiences, despite having cold personalities. Violet’s demeanor is understandable given that she grew up as a battlefield slave. One of the show’s highlights is seeing how she begins to open up more, thanks in part to her interactions with others. Another positive in the anime’s favor is the stellar animation and artwork. That should go without saying though, given that beautiful imagery is something we all have come to expect from a production by Kyoto Animation. Whether it’s a blonde typist trekking across the picturesque countryside or half naked guys swimming in a pool, they really know how to make things look pretty onscreen.

 

 

Review of Pokémon Let’s Go

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I wasn’t always a big fan of Pokemon. Back when the original game came out in Europe I was close to twenty years of age. Based off clips I had seen, of the wholesome cartoon series, I dismissed Pokemon as being something that was just for kids. Twelve months later Final Fantasy IX awakened my passion for RPGs. Eager to try other titles in the genre, I decided to be less close-minded and give Pokemon Blue a chance. Turns out that the series, developed by Game Freak, can be enjoyed by youngsters and adults alike. At the time of writing I am fast approaching forty and have just beaten the twenty three hour story mode of Pokemon Let’s Go.

OVERVIEW

One of the reasons I was looking forward to this release is because it is set in the Kanto region – the same setting as the above mentioned Pokemon Blue. When it comes to Pokemon, just like Transformers, I am most familiar with generation one. It was a simpler time, when completing a Pokedex only required that you catch 151 critters. These days I hear that the species list of Pokemon surpasses over eight hundred! Some of the new Pokemon look cool, but others suffer from uninspired designs. When a developer starts to create Pokemon that resemble ice cream cones and key chains you know they are running low on ideas.

Technically speaking Let’s Go is a remake of Pokemon Yellow. Were the two differ is the manner in which you catch Pokemon. Yellow had players capturing Pokemon by weakening them first in combat. Let’s Go adopts a simpler approach, inspired by the mobile game it is named after. Catching a Pokemon is just like nabbing a woman. You throw your balls at them and hope they don’t run away. I personally liked the new system, as it spared me from suffering the frustration of accidentally killing Pokemon I was trying to recruit. My opinion would be different though, were I not someone who plays handheld mode exclusively. Switch owners who play docked on the TV will have to catch Pokemon with fiddly motion controls, rather than buttons. Nintendo thinks it is cute to simulate the action of hurling a Pokeball. If you prefer a traditional controller or are disabled tough luck.

GOT TO CATCH EM ALL

What makes capturing Pokemon in Let’s Go a blast is that you can see the buggers roaming through the bushes (like a creepy stalker). Gone are the days of random encounters. Yay! I no longer have the patience to battle Zubats every time I take a step forward. Should you spot a Pokemon that you want to add to your collection just walk up to them. If you have no desire to tangle with yet another Rattata, give them a wide berth. The option of targeting Pokemon by sight allows trainers to build up combos. Catching several Pokemon, of the same type, in a row rewards you with increased odds of finding rare Pokemon and Shinies (mutant Pokemon who have been born with a different pigmentation). Some Twitch channels make an income by streaming hunts for Shinies, which amounts to trapping the same Pokemon, over and over, for hours at a time. Man, I think I am in the wrong line of work.

For those of you worrying that Pokemon Let’s Go only involves throwing spheres at woodland creatures fear not. Turn based battles still exist in this game. In order to finish the story players need to defeat eight gym leaders, the Elite Four and any other trainers/children/fishermen who get in your way. Winning a Pokemon duel rewards you with cash and experience. When a Pokemon accumulates enough experience they level up, which may cause them to unlock new abilities or evolve into a new form. Another way of powering up your team is to exchange duplicate Pokemon for stat boosting candy. Yes, that is right. Candy makes you stronger. Those doctors who warned you that sweets will rot your teeth are liars. Devour confectionery and one day you too shall bulk up like The Rock.

VERDICT

My rating for Pokemon Let’s Go is a four out of five. Some hardcore fans won’t approve of how Let’s Go dumbs things down, by removing features found in other modern Pokemon titles. For a casual player, such as myself, the game is however fun. Many people have commented that Let’s Go is a tad easy, which I would have to agree. That said, I did lose a few matches during the course of my adventure. My losses were mostly due to my terrible sense of direction, rather than the opponents being tough. Somehow I ended up facing the Sixth Gym Leader, before beating the fourth and fifth one, as I took a detour leading to the wrong town. Oops! Perhaps I can also blame the losses on buying the Pikachu edition? I hear that the Eevee version is a bit easier, as the adorable pup has a better move set. As a superhero fan I couldn’t resist going on a journey with Pikachu though. He sounds a lot like Deadpool after all.

Review of Dragon Pilot

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Back when I was a kid, I grew up watching several cartoons that featured transformable planes. In a way, Dragon Pilot is similar to those classic shows from yesteryear. The key difference is that instead of robots in disguise we get giant lizards, which morph into fighter jets. Dragon Pilot: Hisone and Masotan is a twelve-episode anime created by studio Bones. At the time of writing it is available to stream exclusively on Netflix. I haven’t seen many bloggers write about this series. That’s a shame because the anime is rather good. Perhaps some viewers were put off by the art style Bones went with? Beauty is in the eye of the beholder though. I rather like the retro/moe aesthetics. The dragons are cute and their human pilots somewhat resemble Mako from Kill la Kill.

OVERVIEW

Hisone Amakasu is a girl who has no goals in life. When deciding on what career path to follow she elected to join the Air Force. The reason? She spotted a plane zooming across the sky, from her classroom window, whilst in the middle of filling out a job survey. When the series begins Hisone is stationed at the Gifu Air Base, where she works in an office. One day she is asked to deliver some paperwork to a nearby hanger, by her commanding officer. There she encounters the titular Masotan, who happens to be a giant dragon. It turns out that dragons are real and their existence has been made secret by the government. To keep dragons out of the public eye they are outfitted with armor, which Hisone likens to cosplay, that is capable of morphing the flying lizards into aircraft.

During this chance meeting it is decided that Hisone should become Masotan’s pilot. Unlike other potential candidates, that Masotan has rejected, he deems the girl worthy enough to gobble up! Don’t worry folks. Aside from being terrified by the sudden ingestion, Hisone is not harmed. Dragon Pilots command their partners from the comfort of the creature’s belly. Once a mission is complete they release the pilot via barfing. Apart from being slimy, dragon gastric juices are capable of dissolving conventional clothing. Hisone is therefore given a protective skintight suit. Getting chosen by a dragon is a rare honor, so Hisone should feel chuffed. It is however later discovered that Masotan only devoured her because of the old school flip phone she carried. Antiquated mobiles are apparently a dragon’s favorite snack.

VERDICT

My rating for Dragon Pilot is three and a half stars. It’s a sweet show that should appeal to viewers who enjoy cute slice of life anime. There isn’t much in the way of story. A good chunk of the series simply chronicles how Hisone bonds with Masotan, her flight training sessions and the cadet’s interactions with other pilots. Her peers include a geek named Lilikos and Mayumi, a chubby gal who likes to spoil her dragon with grub. One problem that Hisone suffers from is that she is a compulsive chatterbox. She cannot control the urge to blurt out what’s on her mind, which sometimes causes unintended offense. Her big mouth plays a factor in angering roommate Nao Kaizaki, who retaliates by bullying Hisone in the early episodes. Hisone also has a strained relationship with a no nonsense pilot named Elle Hoshino. The two clash over how Elle treats her dragon like a tool rather than a partner.

The only reason I am not giving Dragon Pilot a higher score is because of the final three episodes. Although the series ends on a satisfactory, albeit slightly rushed, note I much preferred the earlier content. Like is the case with other animated comedies I have seen, screenwriter Mari Okada felt the need to inject some forced drama into the show’s finale. I personally didn’t care for the change in tone. Much of the humor vanished during the last arc, which sees the girls participate in an escort mission that will determine the fate of the nation. Hisone’s lighthearted romance with mechanic Haruto Okonogi also developed into a love triangle. Upping the ante even further is a last gasp revelation, which revolves around human sacrifice. Dang, that escalated quickly. I would have never vore-seen that the anime, about dragons who swallow live girls, would take such a serious turn.

Review of Looper

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My job sucks. Long hours, tedious work and low pay. I cannot wait for the year 2044 to roll by. When that magical date arrives I can quit my dull office life and become a Looper. These mob assassins have it pretty easy. All you have to do is turn up at a location, wait for a tied up person to materialize and blast them with a Blunderbuss. One second of work and in exchange you get paid loads of silver bars. Who are the victims that appear from thin air you may be wondering? They are folks from the year 2074, who have crossed the mob. In the future time travel exists and the gangsters of that era have decided to dispose of bodies by teleporting their prisoners to the past. Sounds like a needlessly complicated way of destroying evidence. Why hire hitmen when you could just teleport people into an ancient volcano instead?

OVERVIEW

Joe is a Looper who is saving up for retirement. The floor safe, in his apartment, houses a pension’s worth of stockpiled silver that he plans to spend in his later years. Joe’s dream, for when he leaves the Looper business, is to move to China. There he can find a nice Asian waifu and indulge in all the drugs he desires. His narcotic of choice is an addictive eye drop. Gross! I hate applying eye drops. When it comes to illegal substances I’ll stick to snorting powder and injecting myself, thank you very much. Anyways, enough about my hobbies. Let’s get back to discussing the movie. Early in the film, Joe finds himself in a pickle when the target he has been hired to kill manages to escape his clutches. The mob is unlikely to forgive this blunder so, in order to avoid punishment, he’ll have to make amends by tracking down said fugitive.

Unfortunately for Joe, the guy he is pursuing turns out to be his future self. Outsmarting someone who is more experienced (and knows what you are thinking) is not going to be easy. Thankfully, he has a clue as to where the older Joe may be headed. Inspired by the Terminator, old Joe realizes that child murder is a great way of resolving life’s problems. Seriously, give that a try next time a toddler starts kicking your seat on the bus. I guarantee that shooting them is more effective than moaning at their parents. Anyway… if Old Joe can kill the boy, who eventually grows up to become the boss who ordered his execution, history will be rewritten. Thus the stage is set. Young Joe heads to an isolated farm, where a single mother and her creepy kid reside. He’ll have to protect the family from his older self, whilst also evading the gangsters who are hot on his heels.

VERDICT

My rating for Looper is four stars. It’s a movie that I can highly recommend, providing that you are able to turn off your brain. In my case that wasn’t a problem, as I have already revealed that I enjoy dulling my mind with copious amounts of cocaine. Looper is a very entertaining movie, but it does have a fair number of plot holes. That’s to be expected, as it was written by the hack who butchered Star Wars. In defense of Rian Johnson, time travel stories do require a suspension of disbelief. They just don’t work otherwise, due to all the paradoxes. For a science fiction tale I was surprised by how contemporary the setting is. The year 2044 resembles modern times, aside from the existence of hover bikes. Some humans have also developed telekinesis by then, although the ability is only strong enough to levitate small coins.

Quibbles about some aspects of the story aside, Looper is an excellent movie. I didn’t spot a weak performance throughout the two hours it lasted. The supporting cast includes the likes of Emily Blunt and Jeff Daniels. Young Pierce Gagnon deserves a mention too, for being a rare example of a child actor that doesn’t suck. Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis did a good job of playing the two versions of Joe. I don’t think they look alike at all, but thanks to makeup and JGL mimicking Willis’ mannerisms, I was able to buy that they were the same person. Willis is often accused of phoning in performances, but that wasn’t noticeable in this film. He acquitted himself well enough during the brief scenes were his character suffered anguish. If you have a Netflix subscription, Looper is worth checking out. You would be loopy to miss it.

Review of Castlevania (Season Two)

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A year ago I signed up for a seven-day Netflix trial, in order to watch the Castlevania animated series. Fast forward to present day were the second season has just been released. Eager to check out the next installment of Trevor Belmont’s adventures, I went to the Netflix site with credit card in hand. Time to reactivate my account I thought. For some reason however Netflix informed me that there is no account on their database registered under my email address (even though by inbox contains receipts stating otherwise.) Long story short, instead of paying for a subscription I am now on a one month free trial. Looks like I get to watch some shows for nowt and then deactivate the service before they bill me.

OVERVIEW

The first season of Castlevania left most viewers wanting more, as it was only four episodes long. Netflix, emboldened by the success of series one, have thankfully doubled the episode count this time round. The series continues from where it left off. Vampire hunter Trevor Belmont has teamed up with Dracula son’s Alucard and a sorceresses named Sypha in order to prevent the bloodthirsty count from carrying out a genocide of the human race. I expected this season of Castlevania to be an action packed affair, were the heroic trio would journey to Dracula’s mobile fortress slaying any creatures that get in their way. The show subverted my expectations by instead dedicating its opener to the villains. In fact, writer Warren Ellis focuses so much attention on the antagonists that they end up getting more screen time than Trevor and chums.

Dracula’s army is led by various generals, including a viking named Godbrand who lives just to drink blood and to fornicate. He is easy to read, unlike the ambitious seductress Carmilla who is adept in the art of manipulation. Dracula’s minions are mostly made up of fellow vampires, but his ranks also contain two humans who are tasked with gathering the deceased and forging them into demonic soldiers. Just like in season one, Castlevania’s script takes the time to explore the motivations of these characters. No one is evil just for the sake of it. In the case of the aforementioned humans, they both turned their backs on the living due to tragic pasts. Isaac for example is a former slave who was abused by the clergy. Hector meanwhile was exiled and despised by his mother due to his necromancy research. Turns out that mommy doesn’t approve of kids that reanimate dead pets.

VERDICT

My rating for Castlevania (Season Two) is four stars. Netflix have once again proven that video games can be successfully adapted into other forms of entertainment. Fans of the console titles should however be made aware that the cartoon is slower paced than the Konami titles it is based off. Much of the series revolves around vampire politics, as Dracula’s lieutenants squabble over how best to enact their lord’s wishes. Meanwhile the heroes spend a good chunk of time at the library rather than kicking butt. I didn’t mind the dialogue heavy episodes, as the story is well written. Ellis knows how to keep things interesting via character development and by using the more duplicitous characters’ schemes to build up anticipation for the inevitable conflict that is to follow. When the action finally kicks off it is well worth the wait. Episode seven sees Belmont and co finally storm the castle. His battle with the vampire generals is excellent, as is the confrontation between Alucard and his father.

In terms of performances I think that most of the voice actors did an adequate job. My first impression of the bloke who played Godbrand wasn’t great. He grew on me though, as the series ticked along. Visually the show resembles a lower budget Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust. The creature designs were generic and lacked detail. More impressive was the artwork depicting picturesque scenery, such as the shots of Dracula’s castle. On the animation front there were times when I felt a few extra frames here and there would have made things look better. I have no complaints however about the flashy episode seven showdown. Overall I was very pleased with how Castlevania panned out. Season two wraps up the story in a satisfactory manner and also lays down the groundwork for future tales. Whenever season three sees the light of day I will be sure to renew my Netflix subscription to watch it. In the meantime I have a few more weeks of free Netflix access to enjoy. Are there any other Netflix exclusives I should check out? Leave your suggestions in the comments section below.

Angels of Death Review

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A more organized blogger would have posted this Switch review a week ago and called it a Halloween special. I am however not known for planning out site content in advance. Opportunity missed! Instead of reviewing a horror game, on the 31st of October, I ended up writing about a horror-ible Fantastic Four movie instead. Angels of Death has a handicap, when it comes to instilling terror, as it was developed on RPG Maker. Scaring people is far easier with realistic graphics, rather than sixteen-bit pixels. With the right atmosphere it is still possible though, as Corpse Party has proven in the past. To be honest I am a coward at heart, so a horror game that is low on frights is fine with me. Heck, the only reason I braved this six-hour adventure was because some folks, who I follow, have praised the anime adaptation that recently aired.

OVERVIEW

Rachel Gardner is an emotionless thirteen-year old who has been sent to counselling after the death of her parents. When the game begins she awakens in a mysterious building with no knowledge of how she got there. Ray explores her surroundings and soon encounters a bandaged man who wields a scythe. Said mummy look-alike is a serial killer who answers to the name Zack Foster. He chases after Rachel, with the intentions of adding her to his murder tally. The pursuit doesn’t go as planned however. Rather than culminating in homicide, the pair’s meeting ends with them forming a temporary truce. With the aims of escaping the skyscraper that holds them prisoner, Rachel and Zack elect to team up. Can the partnership’s mix of brains and brawn overcome the dangers that await them? Probably. The game isn’t very hard.

Over the course of four episodes Rachel and Zack descend down the edifice. Each floor is littered with traps and is guarded by bloodthirsty lunatics. Despite being coded in a role-playing-game engine, Angels of Death features no turn based combat. Players cannot fight off their assailants and must instead flee from attackers. Getting caught will result in an instant game over, which can be frustrating. Thankfully the game auto saves whenever Rachel is in immediate peril. No significant progress is therefore lost should the heroine perish. Bypassing traps on the other hand requires some basic puzzle solving. Like adventure games of yore, the brainteasers involve using an item in the right location. The inventory Rachel carries is never large so sussing out what object needs to be picked is usually pretty obvious.

VERDICT

My rating for Angels of Death is three stars. The game doesn’t make a good first impression. I was underwhelmed by the rough looking artwork and the early gameplay. Episode one started with me dying multiple times, during a sequence were you are given seconds to evade a fast moving enemy. I suck when put under pressure and fare even worse when a game hasn’t explained that it’s possible to dash by pressing B. Thankfully things improved after that. As the story progressed I got more invested in the game. I dug the colourful cast of characters that Rachel meets and the mystery, of the building she’s trapped in, piqued my interest. Binding it all together is her relationship with Zack. Prior to buying the game who would have known that I would end up shipping a thirteen-year old girl with a guy who slices up people with bladed weapons?

Those seeking horror may leave Angels of Death feeling a tad disappointed. It lacks the creepiness of Corpse Party and is devoid of jump scares. Players, like myself, who appreciate dark humour should however enjoy their time with the game. The cartoon visuals and silly dialogue counterbalance the plot’s more disturbing moments. Episode four’s reveal, in particular, is not for the faint of heart. Speaking of dialogue, keep an “eye” out for a character named Danny should you decide to purchase the game. I challenge anyone to take a sip of their favourite alcoholic beverage whenever he utters the word “peepers.” I guarantee you won’t reach the end credits before your liver gives out. Maybe I’ll give said drinking game a “shot” whenever I get round to watching the anime.