Review of She-Ra (Season One)

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For the honour of Grayskull! Time to review another cartoon that I have watched on Netflix. In spite of the unimpressive trailer, which has received much ire online, I recently decided to check out the thirteen episode She-Ra reboot. Although I wouldn’t consider myself a fan of the original show, I was curious to see how the series would turn out, due to its connection with Masters of the Universe. Back when I was a kid I dug watching the adventures of She-Ra’s brother He-Man, and I also owned several of the Mattel toys. He-Man was an awesome superhero who protected the fantasy world of Eternia. Just like Superman, I never understood how he managed to preserve his secret identity. When prince Adam transformed into He-Man the only things that would differentiate the two was a tan and fewer clothes.

OVERVIEW

She-Ra and the Princesses of Power follows the exploits of an orphan girl named Adora. The first episode establishes that she is a rookie soldier serving the Evil Horde empire. Adora is a model officer and has recently been promoted to the rank of force commander. Her allegiance to the Horde ends however when she witnesses first hand the atrocities they commit on Etheria’s peaceful populace. Who could have possibly predicted that the Evil Horde is evil? Adora defects to the Princess Alliance, a group made up of mostly female warriors who possess a range of elemental and magical powers. Not to be outdone Adora soon acquires a special ability of her own, courtesy of a magical sword she discovered in the nearby Whispering Woods. By lifting up the blade and yelling out her catchphrase, Adora is able to morph into the titular Valkyrie who is blessed with enhanced strength.

Most of the series follows Adora as she travels across the land with her new pals Glimmer (a teleporting royal) and Bow the archer. The trio are tasked with securing aid from neighbouring kingdoms, in the hopes they can all band together to repel the invading Horde. Instead of Sylvanas, this Horde’s leader is a scary chap named Hordak. He only makes fleeting appearances in season one though. Adora’s chief antagonists are characters from her past. The first of these is the person who raised her – a witch named Shadow Weaver. She-Ra’s other rival is childhood chum Catra, who feels hurt that Adora decided to abandon her in favour of joining the Princesses. Although too proud to admit it, Catra starts the series off wanting to bring Adora back to her side. Later however, when Catra’s achievements begin to gain recognition, the relationship sours. Catra begins to view Adora as someone who has always held her back.

VERDICT

My rating for She-Ra and the Princesses of Power is three stars. I went into the series with low expectations, but was pleasantly surprised by how entertaining it was. That said, I still prefer the reboots of Thundercats and He-Man over this Netflix production. I would say that those shows were more to my liking, as they had better action and were less goofy. On several occasions She-Ra’s dialogue and gags made me cringe (now I know what He-Man’s cat Cringer felt like). Although the individual storylines of each episode were nothing special, I dug Etheria’s lore. Hopefully next season will delve deeper into the sci-fi origins of She-Ra’s power. Rather than sorcery, it’s hinted that her sword is linked to an ancient race of interstellar travellers. Another thing I am looking forward to, from future episodes, is how the Adora/Catra dynamic develops. Can the pair patch things up or has the cat girl gone past the point of redemption? We will have to wait and see.

One thing that will put off many potential viewers, from giving She-Ra a chance, is the hideous artwork. It’s hard to believe that DreamWorks were behind the creation of this series. They used to produce films that were on Pixar’s level. I would blame the TV sized budget, for the lacklustre visuals, but the studio’s work on Voltron proves they are capable of much better. Another stylistic choice that won’t go down well with old school She-Ra fans are the character redesigns. Virtually all of the cast have had their race or skin colour altered. Depending on where you stand this may be a triumph for diversity or an example of SJWs trying to indoctrinate young kids via children’s programming. Apart from those changes, some characters have had their body sizes tweaked too. Glimmer has gone from being a super model, in the eighties series, to a plus size teen. I blame her powers for that. Maybe if she walked more, instead of teleporting everywhere, she would lose a few pounds.

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

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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 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.

Review of Kakegurui

Kakegurui

I have never understood the appeal of gambling, which makes me wonder how I have managed to survive a decade working for online casinos. Gambling isn’t like playing a video game, were you part with cash in exchange for a good story or fun entertainment. In my experience gamblers only derive satisfaction from a big win. Why then trap yourself in a loop of spending cash to make cash? If you want to accrue money, squandering savings on games (were the odds are stacked heavily against you) is illogical. Watching a character stake everything on the roll of a dice can make for tense situations though, which is something that works of fiction like Kakegurui thrive on.

OVERVIEW

Hyakkaou Private Academy is the school where the wealthy elite sends their offspring to study. When you are set for life there isn’t much incentive to earn qualifications, so the students there spend much of their time gambling against each other. I thought that gambling was illegal in Japan, but I guess when you are rich the law doesn’t apply to you. In the words of Seto Kaiba – “screw the rules, I have money.” Those who get lucky at Hyakkaou will prosper financially and make connections that will serve them in good stead later in life. Unfortunates, who go into debt, however are branded pets and condemned to an existence of humiliation at the hands of their peers.

Kakegurui is a twelve-episode anime based on Homura Kawamoto’s manga. The series follows transfer student Yumeko Jabami, as she competes in games of Poker, Concentration and Janken. At first glance Yumeko appears to be a sweet and courteous young lady. Whilst in the midst of a match however her dark side manifests. Games of chance are her biggest pleasure in life and she is darn good at them, thanks to an exceptional memory and ability to read people. Her success catches the attention of the student council who proceed to challenge Yumeko for control of the gambling den that masquerades as a school. Will her luck hold or will she “bust” out… and no I’m not referring to the chest she exposes in the ED.

VERDICT

My rating for Kakegurui is four and a half stars. When it comes to gambling anime this series is leagues ahead of something like Rio: Rainbow Gate. Both those shows have a fair amount of fan service, but Kakegurui stands out because it has substance to go along with the aesthetically pleasing visuals. The encounters between Yumeko and the student council are thrilling affairs filled with suspense, strategy and mind games. The outcome of a match is never certain. Perspective Yumeko triumphs sometimes, in a rigged game, by noticing how her opponent cheats. Other times however Yumeko loses and is only able to recover by courting the aid of rivals that she has previously vanquished.

The eccentric cast is another reason why I enjoyed Kakegurui. Hyakkaou’s student body, for example, contains a one-eyed gunslinger named Midari Ikishima. She doesn’t care one iota about currency so when it comes to wagering she elects to stake her life in games of Russian roulette. The student council’s ranks also include a loli gamer, a pop idol and a masked vice president. Ryota Suzui, who Yumeko liberates from bankruptcy in episode one, is the only character I would describe as plain. In any other show he would be the dull male protagonist, but thankfully in Kakegurui he is just a sidekick. Enigmatic Yumeko is the star of the show and the chief reason why I eagerly anticipate the release of season two. This show’s gambling sequel bet-ter arrive soon.