Thirty Day Anime Challenge: Days 13 to 17

FMAbrotherhood

Earlier this month I was reading Matt Doyle’s excellent blog. He had just completed a Thirty Day Video Game Challenge. That reminded me that I had yet to finish the anime challenge I started way back in July. Oops! I better make some long overdue progress on that by answering a few more questions today. For those of you who only subscribe to this site for reviews, and therefore have no interest in this series, I recommend that you check out these reviews penned by other bloggers instead…

Anime: Sword Art Online (Season Two)
Manga: Black Butler
Movie: Aquaman
Video Game: Pokemon Red/Blue

DAY 13: CHARACTER I AM MOST SIMILAR TO

I pretty much resemble any anime character who is a stereotypical geek. Perhaps you could compare me to a male version of Moriko Morioka, as I stay indoors all day, am terrible with face to face interactions and often play characters of the opposite sex in video games. I once asked a friend what animated personality I remind them of. They said Master Roshi, as I am a bald headed pervert. Can’t argue with that logic!

DAY 14: ANIME THAT NEVER GETS OLD NO MATTER HOW MANY TIMES I REWATCH IT

These days I don’t have enough free time to re-watch shows. Just keeping up with the current season’s anime (and older stuff that I want to check out) is a big enough struggle. Many moons ago however, when I limited my anime viewing to DVDs, I wasn’t averse to watching a series multiple times. One particular box-set that got a lot of mileage was Full Metal Alchemist. No matter how many times I watch FMA it never gets old.

DAY 15: FAVORITE ANIMAL SIDEKICK, PET OR SUMMON

I had to rack my brain to come up with an answer for this one. Generally I am not a fan of mascot characters. You can blame eighties cartoons for that. Back when I was a kid, the cartoons I watched often featured comic relief mascots who were super annoying. Anime critters aren’t all bad though. I recently had fun traveling with Pikachu in Pokemon Let’s Go for example. After much thought I am going to pick Taromaru, the pup from School-Live. He’s very cute and played a big role in the show’s emotional finale.

DAY 16: ANIME WITH THE BEST ANIMATION

There were many contenders for this category. Garden of Words has some exceptional visuals, as does anything that has Studio Ghibli’s name attached to it. The last Madoka movie is also worth mentioning, due to a particularly impressive fight sequence. All those nominations however have the benefit of a motion picture budget backing them up. With that in mind my vote goes to Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works. Who knew that a TV production could look so amazing? One could say that Ufotable’s artists brought their A-game to the (ufo)table in that series.

DAY 17: FAVORITE SUPPORTING MALE CHARACTER

I had to think long and hard for this one. Nothing immediately came to mind. Most of my favourite male characters, from the world of anime, are protagonists. Although I suspect a better answer will come to me later, I’m going to go with Akio Furukawa from Clannad. His childish antics make me laugh, as do the scenes were he gives Tomoya a hard time. Akio isn’t a one note comedic character though. During tough times he acts as a second father to Tomoya and is selfless when it comes to his family. This is evidenced by the reveal that he abandoned a career in acting in order to support his daughter. Instead of the stage he now works as a baker. The family business depends on him because his wife hasn’t got a clue when it comes to recipes. Octopus tentacles and bread do not make for a tasty combo.

 

Review of Aggretsuko

Aggretsuko

Sanrio is a company that specializes in cute merchandise. Even if you haven’t heard of them, I am sure that you at least recognize one of their creations – Hello Kitty. Unlike the South Park character Butters, who enjoys playing Hello Kitty Online, I can’t say that I am a fan of said feline. It’s just too girlie and wholesome for a degenerate such as myself. From the Sanrio stable of characters Aggretsuko is much more to my liking. This ten-episode anime series has the adorable visuals of Hello Kitty, but is more geared towards an adult audience. It follows the misadventures of a twenty-five year old red panda, named Retsuko, who struggles to survive the drudgery of office life. When the stress of it all gets too much, she vents out her frustrations by rocking out to death metal tunes at the local karaoke parlor.

OVERVIEW

Retsuko is a character that I imagine most of my older readers can relate to. Every weekday, in order to pay the bills, she makes the rush hour pilgrimage to work. After escaping the packed subway she has to endure hours of tedium sitting behind a computer screen, number crunching balance sheets. Her boss is a literal sexist pig who does little at the office, other than practice his golf swings and pester Retsuko for cups of tea. I sympathize with her plight, although I can’t say that any of my co-workers ever bug me for a cuppa. When it comes to beverages the only thing I can muster is black coffee from the machine. Anyone foolish enough to ask me for a brew soon learns to never make such a request ever again. Evidently I am terrible at judging the precise amount of milk/sugar dehydrated members of staff want.

Perhaps life would be more pleasant for Retsuko if she had a backbone? Unfortunately for her she is too darn nice. She is the type of person who will visit a clothing store and buy a token pair of socks, rather than suffer the guilt of leaving the establishment empty handed. At work when things get hectic, rather than speak up for herself, she retreats to the restroom. There she counts up to ten, in order to regain her composure. Over the show’s ten instalments Retsuko makes passive attempts to flee the horrors of her company’s accountancy department. She tries to line up another job and also gets her buddies, from yoga class, to report Retsuko’s boss for harassment. When neither plan bears fruit she decides instead to find a man. Getting hitched will presumably unlock the shackles of full-time employment and reward her with a cushier housewife existence.

VERDICT

My rating for Aggretsuko is four stars. If you are on the fence, on whether to give this series a watch, I would suggest that you take the plunge. Aggretsuko isn’t a big time commitment, as its episodes clock out on the fifteen minute mark. The show’s sense of humour was right up my alley, as it is rather dry and sarcastic. I wasn’t expecting that from an anime whose visuals are so colourful. Viewers who work corporate jobs are likely to recognize characters who resemble folks that they know in real life. Examples include Tsunoda the gazelle, who is the stereotypical beauty that kisses up to the boss. There’s also Kabae – a hippo who spreads gossip and bores anyone, who will listen, with stories of her family. My favourite character is Fenneko the fox. She stalks co-workers on social media and has a delightful laugh, which she blurts out whenever her pals find themselves in compromising situations.

Despite loving the gags, art style and supporting cast I was a bit disappointed with Aggretsuko’s protagonist. Her meek personality makes Retsuko an easy person to pity, but I can’t say that I approve of someone who seeks romance just to secure an easy meal ticket. From a male perspective I had to cringe when she turns down nice guy Haida the hyena. He made the cardinal sin of mentioning that it would be nice to work with his hypothetical future missus, rather than become the couple’s sole bread winner. In the later episodes Retsuko instead opts to date an inconsiderate pretty boy who has zero charisma. Aggretsuko’s writers clearly know how the world works, be it office politics or the dating game. No wonder red pandas are an endangered species. When it comes to boyfriends they make terrible life decisions.

 

Review of Violet Evergarden

violetevergarden

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 Dragon Pilot

dragonpilot

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 Castlevania (Season Two)

castlevaniaseason2

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.

Thirty Day Anime Challenge – Days 11 to 12

bowsette

Time to answer some more anime questions, as it has been seven days since I last wrote a blog post. What a week it has been by the way. The Internet has gone gaga over Bowsette – a female version of Bowser who, via the power of the recently revealed Star Crown, is able to morph into a sexy Peach lookalike. If you ask me Mario should dump the Mushroom Kingdom’s ungrateful monarch (players who completed Odyssey will know what I am talking about) and hook up with someone else. I have always been a fan of Rosalina and Pauline, but if neither are interested in dating a plumber perhaps Mario should consider patching things up with his unexpectedly attractive arch nemesis.

Another thing that has happened since my last blog post is that Cells at Work has finished airing. The thirteen-episode anime, based on Akane Shimizu’s manga, reminds me a little of Once Upon a Time… Life. Who says that cartoons cannot be educational? By watching this series viewers can learn about the human body’s inner workings. Even those employed in the medical profession have been impressed by the show’s content. Below is a video, uploaded by a doctor, who reacts positively to the anime’s premier episode. If you don’t care about biology fear not because there are other things to enjoy including visceral action, cute Platelets and two main characters that will have you shipping haemocytes.

Okay, enough with turtle and cell romance. Let’s answer some questions…

DAY ELEVEN: Favourite mech anime

I have a soft spot for the mecha genre, as it played a part in moulding me into an anime fan. Nowadays I indulge in anime that feature mechs sparingly, but years ago I grew up watching loads of giant robot shows. My favourite mech series would have to be Code Geass. The show offers more than just exciting bot battles and cool Knightmare Frame designs. A smartly written political plot, likable characters on both sides of the conflict, drama mixed with comical moments and many cute waifus make Code Geass one of my favourite anime of all time. Fingers crossed that the upcoming movie and third season don’t tarnish the legacy of a franchise that is perfect as is.

DAY TWELVE: Saddest anime death

Caution. This response is a spoiler for Trigun. You have been warned! The saddest death I have witnessed in anime would have to be the demise of Nicholas D. Wolfwood. His passing sucked because he is arguably the best character from that series. The manner in which he goes out makes his death all the more painful. It wasn’t quick or your typical heroic sacrifice. Wolfwood’s chapel confession makes it clear that he doesn’t want to die. He leaves the world full of regrets. Raised to be a killer, he feels like his life has been a mistake. Cruelly he is mortally wounded just after finding companions who have shown him a better way to live. Milly and Vash’s reaction to the news makes the scene all the more heart wrenching.

Man, what a depressing note to conclude this post on. It will take many Platelets clips and gender-bending King Koopa artwork to improve my mood.

Thirty Day Anime Challenge – Days Nine & Ten

killlakillse

Before I answer a couple more questions from The Thirty Day Anime Challenge I’d like to take this opportunity to comment on the breaking news regarding Telltale Games. It’s sad to see this company of interactive storytellers go bust. A talented studio dies, due to poor sales, whilst the likes of EA continue to prosper. Maybe instead of buying FIFA packs we gamers should have purchased Telltale episodes instead. So many people moan about greedy micro-transactions, but yet they don’t support the more consumer friendly content creators. We pinched pennies waiting for Telltale stuff to go free on PS Plus and this is the end result.

I wish the two hundred plus staff, who lost their jobs without getting any severance pay, all the best with finding new employment in the industry. Commiserations also go out to anyone who bought The Walking Dead season pass. Looks like the game is deader than a zombie, so those remaining episodes are unlikely to ever get released. A former “Game of the Year” winner deserved a better finale than this. For anyone unacquainted with Telltale I recommend giving their back catalogue a look. Tales from the Borderlands is hilarious and arguably more fun than the mainline Borderlands games. Telltale’s rendition of Batman is excellent too. Puts some of the Caped Crusader’s cartoons to shame.

Okay, enough with the doom and gloom. Let’s answer some anime queries…

DAY NINE: Favourite Anime Villain

I am going to pick Light Yagami, from Death Note, even if it feels weird to brand the protagonist of a series a villain. Like other memorable antagonists, from fiction, Light has a creditable motivation for his actions. By harnessing the Death Note’s power he schemes to rid the world of crime. Fair enough. If I owned a killer tome I too might feel compelled to punish rapists and animal abusers. Murder is however illegal and Light is eventually forced to commit heinous deeds in order to escape arrest. His transgressions only grow worse when he develops a God Complex. A model student eventually transforms into a villain who can even make the act of snacking on potato chips look wicked.

DAY TEN: Favourite Fighter Anime

Back when I was a teenager Dragon Ball Z would have easily secured my nomination for best fighting anime of all time. Now that I’m older and wiser I have however realised that DBZ is more of a yelling show than a fighting one. My pick for this category therefore goes to Kill la Kill. Just like Akira Toriyama’s best-known work, this series is packed with action and even has an arc set in a fighting tournament arena. Another connection worth mentioning is that Kill la Kill features garments called “Goku” uniforms. Kill la Kill is worth watching for the wackiness, intense battles and superb soundtrack. Out of the many fighting cartoons I have seen this Studio Trigger production, about a girl who wields a “scissor” blade, stands out as a “cut” above the rest.