Category: Reviews

Review: Gundam Build Fighters

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Mobile Suit Gundam and its tie in line of model kits have always marched in lockstep. If the anime gets a cool new giant robot it wasn’t long before you were able to buy a kit and build the model of it. At this point Gundam has been around so long that the models, now being sold under the unified “Gunpla” brand, have taken on a fandom all their own independent from the anime franchise. Gundam Build Fighters is a transparent method to get kids and fans of Gundam anime into the culture of Gunpla and it certainly worked on me: after watching build fighters I’ve spent almost $300 on Gunpla.”

In the world of Gundam Build Fighters a new technology was created that reacts with the plastic in Gunpla and enables a person to control their plastic model with holographic controls. The Plavsky particle changes a flat service into one of a number of battlefields and gives power to the Gunpla’s weapons and propulsion systems. So when the Gunpla battle is occurring it’s no different from when mobile suits fight in the regular show… except in Build Fighters they are made of plastic and four inches tall. These particles have real effect on the world and Gunpla that loses in battle are physically destroyed.

The main protagonist is Sei Iori whose father took second place in the Gunpla Battle world championship five years earlier. Sei is an expert model builder but is horrible at battling. This is illustrated in the first episode when a punk kid who brings his own poorly made model into Sei’s store and is able to defeat Sei’s custom, beautifully built Strike Gundam. The kid wants to fight for Sei in the upcoming world tournament but Sei doesn’t believe that he will treat his Gunpla with enough respect. So there comes on final challenge, if Sei loses to, he has to let him fight for him in the tournament.

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Video Game Review: Wonderful 101

Japanese games used to dominate the western market. There was a time when Nintendo, Sega, and later Sony were the only names in mainstream games. As the PS2 and Xbox era matured Western games quickly overshadowed their Eastern counterparts and since then they have not been able to impact the market like they had in the past. In ways, Wonderful 101 is a beautiful reminder of why Japanese games are fantastic and at the same time why they will probably never have the impact in the west that they used too.

 

Wonderful 101 has its roots in a Super Sentai style aesthetic and narrative. A group of normal citizens transform into powerful Super Heroes called the Wonderful 100. Each individual hero has their special powers and weapons but when they come together and unite their powers multiply and lead to more powerful and effective attacks. The game starts you off with “Unite Hand” and “unite sword” but as the game goes on they add whip, hammer, bomb, boomerang, and more. Specific abilities are required throughout the game to defeat monsters and solve puzzles.

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Review: Silver Spoon

Fish out of water stories are fairly easy to construct. You take a person and drop them into an unfamiliar situation and then each episode going forward features this character exploring the world they previously knew nothing about. It automatically accomplishes two tasks: giving the audience a compelling world to explore and a character to grow while exploring them. Silver Spoon follows this formula to the letter, and that might be its greatest strength.

The story follows Yugo Hachiken an overachiever at academics but a dispute with his parents convinced him to move to a boarding school as far away as possible. He is accepted to Oezo Agricultural High School where he is surrounded by the children of farmers who already are adept at most of the lessons. At Oezo, normal academics take a backseat to learning how to tend livestock, harvest crops, and all manner of the menial labor of farm life. Hachiken is forced to adopt to his new lifestyle and learn the skills of working on a farm in order to pass High School.

Hachiken’s adjustment to the life on the farm is where most of the drama is focused. The show goes over the standard facets of farm life and how Hachiken is completely unprepared, while his classmates handle most of the tasks with ease and precision. The audience watches as Hachiken becomes accustomed to everything from waking up early to learning how to clean and care for the animals.

The heart of the show lies in Hachiken becoming estranged from his parents, which is only talked about briefly during the show. Hachiken ran away from his previous life where he shut out everything except for academic advancement and in the process completely lost sight of himself. Arriving at Oezo he learns quickly that his classmates all have clear paths in their life and he feels like he doesn’t know where he is going. What his parents demanded of him was pure academic achievement but he had no goal in mind, no idea why he was striving for academic perfection other than to please his parents. While most of his classmates goals are that they will take over the family farm he envies them for having some direction while he floats around aimless.

However, the show is clear that this aimlessness isn’t fruitless. Hachiken accomplishes some amazing advancements in his own personal skills and in bringing people together at Oezo. Hackiken’s classmates, whom Hachiken is jealous of, become envious of his ability to unite people and succeed at his short-term goals. While they know where their lives are going to take them after High School that actually limits them from trying new things. Hachiken has no limitations and so he makes an effort to go around just trying as many of the skills Oezo has to teach. In doing so Hachiken’s aimlessness forms him into a well rounded person. 

 The chef among those skills Hachiken tries is raising a pig. Early in the show he falls in love with a small piglet and takes care of it throughout. The way Hachiken comes face to face with the slaughter and preparation of animals also works to change him. His first few days on the farm he is disgusted at where an egg comes from but as the show goes on and he learns more about the process of preparing meat and the farmers relationship with animals, he gains a respect for the entire process. If Hachiken had never come to the country he would have continued to enjoy meat in blissful ignorance for the rest of his life, but now he carries with him a new respect for where his food comes from, and that completely changes the way he approaches food.

Silver Spoon ended abruptly and with a lot of questions unanswered. The final scenes of the anime were bittersweet because they hinted at things that were to come such as Hachiken’s budding romance and him finally confronting his parents, among a lot more stories still untold. Luckily, a second season has already been announced so Silver Spoon is ultimately an unfinished piece, there is more coming and hope that these loose ends will be tied up with the expertise that they were opened.

Grade: B

Review: From the New World

The start of From the New World might be the most unsettling and interesting opening scene in recent memory, on par with Serial Experiments Lain. The quick images of children, blood, chaos quickly shows the start of events that lead to the utopian like society scene in the rest of that first episode. Mystery, irony, and pulling the curtain back to reveal the larger picture are what make From the New World a compelling piece of fiction.

From the New World is about a group of children growing up in a seemingly idealized society based on feudal japan, except with some comforts of a technologically advanced society. We experience and see the world through the eyes of these children as they grow up from middle school aged to adults working as productive members of their community. The main tactic the show employs is using these children to guide the narrative forward. The audience is slowly introduced to the details of the world as these children, who are mostly ignorant of how their society works, grow up and experience the price humanity had to pay for living a peaceful life.

The show asks one question: what would the world really be like if people developed physic powers. The opening scene is what happened in the immediate aftermath and the children learn quickly that in the era following the emergence of “power” war, slavery, and chaos followed. The utopia the show opens in is a result of figuring out how human beings can co-exist when everyone has god like powers. The main element of which is called the “Death of Shame” which causes any human who harms or kills a fellow to suffer terrible physical pain and most likely die. Only by altering the way human physiology works were they able to build and maintain a peaceful society.

That is one of a dozen serious moral questions the show addresses and forces the audience to struggle with, it effectively takes all of the horrible elements human society had to implement and presents them in a sinister light, but when more is revealed about the reasons for the setup of the world all the elements that originally came off as abhorrent take on a shade of gray. The show runs through a constant cycle of revealing something to make the audience mortified and then, a few episodes later, finds a way to justify it. This cycle is amazingly effective in keeping the audience on the edge of their seats while simultaneously providing a thoughtful moral dilemma that continuously evolves throughout. 

A large portion of the show focus’ on humanities interactions with the “Monster Rats” a race of intelligent mole rats that have taken over as the dominant species on the planet and view the powerful humans as gods. Early in the show Saki and her friend Shun get caught up in a war between two Monster Rat clans and are forced to use the blunt of their power to defend themselves. This is when the audience is treated to the full force that humans have been able to wield using Power, and the result is terrifying. The Monster Rats themselves continue along the same path as the rest of the show. As we live with the Monster Rats and witness their lives and their conflicts we get a thought-provoking shade of gray. Even though the humans have these destructive powers why and when they should get involved in the politics of this “lesser” race is a consistent question throughout the show and these decisions have lasting effects on humanities future.

The only unfortunate aspect of the show is that it does feel a little truncated at times. Adapted from light novels the series does quickly pass over a large section of romance that is introduced, flashed quickly, then is mostly ignored except for a few key plot points. In fact, most of the characters feel a little hollow and interchangeable, with the exception of Saki Watanabe. Ultimately they are used as a way for the audience to get exposed to the world and develop how the politics of new human society work. It’s not a huge fault, as From the New World is a pretty dense show, but it would have given the show a bit more of a personal feeling if I care more about the characters.

The real terror the show presents to the audience is that we are all capable of doing these terrible things and that there are consequences for trying to do the right thing. In “From the New World” the peace that humanity finally one is fragile, and if not maintained properly will crumble quickly. The gift of ultimate power comes at a startling cost and the show illustrates these facts beautifully. While it lacks individual compelling characters the driving force behind the show become the moral questions it asks and the horrifying realization the characters as a group experience when they realize that aspects of their society they wanted to rebel against are necessary for humanities survival.

Grade: A

 

Review: Chūnibyō Demo Koi ga Shitai!

Chūnibyō Demo Koi ga Shitai!, known in English as Love, Chunibyo & Other Delusions, is a coming of age love story like so much anime that has come before. But the slight tilt that Chunibyo takes on the formula is placing the main love interest in a period of adolescence known as “Chunibyo” in Japan, where a person begins to believe their own delusions of having magic powers or being from another dimension, or any of a long list of like delusions. Yuta Togashi is a boy who has decided to leave his delusions behind and live a normal life, and to that end goes to a high school far enough away as to guarantee no one who remembers his previous life will attend. On his first day he meets and becomes connected with Rikka Takanashi, who is lost deep in her own delusional world.

The show builds on the relationship between Yuta and Rikka with the tension comes from Yuta being sympathetic to Rikka but wanting to attempt to live a normal life. Yuta ends up helping Rikka set up a club, which he then unintentionally joins, and the two become friends despite Yuta’s constant annoyance at Rikka’s actions. Yuta falls into this trap where he likes Rikka and wants to help her but doesn’t ever want to be too close to her because of the fear of being labeled. The odd part is no one in his class seems to care that much about Rikka being a bit weird, other boys response to his relationship with Rikka is jealousy at getting attention from any girl. It quickly becomes apparent that most of Yuta’s fears are completely his own, created by his own insecurities. That factor plays in and forms the central theme of the show, which is not only to accept who you are but to accept others for who they are. It is a beautiful theme, one often seen in adolescent and adult romances alike but including it with the delusion hook of Chunibyo gives the message all the more power.

This comes to ahead when it’s unveiled at about the half-way point, the reason for Rikka’s delusions and the reasons why she immediately attaches herself to Yuta. There is no real surprise as to where the narrative goes, from the start of the show it’s clear this is a story about a broken person, it’s the depth at which she is broken and the fact that the show does seed reasons for her delusions and obsessions. Even pulling back from the tragic reasons for Rikka’s delusions, the flashback for when Yuta’s delusions began show a young boy with friends who are starting to be interested in girls and moving away from the games and stories of their childhood. In that moment is when Yuta’s delusions began, it was a coping mechanism for feeling different. Being out of place.

In the entire show the theme of delusion keeps coming back, from the obvious ones of Rikka but even in the character of Shinka Nibutani. I struggled with the purpose of this character for a good part of the show but she is there as a thematic anchor. She suffered from delusions as deep as Rikka’s when she was younger but now, attempting to break out of them, her new set of delusions are formed around her idea of a “normal high school girl.” She acts the way she believes she should, and she joins the cheerleaders only because that is what she thinks is expected of her. In reality she ends up hating her club and struggling to even know how she is supposed to act. The message of the show is that all of us suffer from delusions. Some of them are like Rikka where it manifests as a borderline personality disorder but most of them are much simpler than that. Delusions could come from acting how you feel you are expected to act, putting up a shield around your own personality because you fear being rejected.

While the show becomes profound and compelling, the first few episodes I found Rikka more annoying than endearing, there is a trend in Moe anime where the early episodes relay on a hook in order to bring people in and Chunibyo definitely falls into that pattern. There was a moment into episode two where I felt the show was moving towards fetishizing the mentally ill. I think that might have been a rush conclusion, based the fact that Rikka was just being weird, but Rikka being weird that was the entire show for the first three or four episodes.  Also, most of the side characters fall flat for me. In the middle of the show half an episode focus’ on Yuta’s friend Isshiki who gets caught ranking the girls in his class. This just didn’t fit with the themes of the show. The anime only side character Dekomori gives Rikka someone to play off of, but she is ultimately redundant.

The most troubling feeling I got while watching the show is it seems overly abusive to Rikka. There is a slapstick trope in anime that when a character is acting overly silly, the other characters react by hitting them. When Yuta hits Rikka, mostly taps on the top of the head, an awful lot. Combine that with the feeling in the early episodes that she was seriously mentally ill and it started to make me feel uncomfortable. This comes to a head when Rikka faces down the wrath of her sister, whom she is living with. The first time the audience sees her sister she approaches Rika menacingly carrying a large spoon, Rika becomes visibly frightened and tries to fight back.

Then there is the second to last episode, where something occurs between Rikka and Yuta that made me want to stop. To give up. To write off the entire series. Yet even with all that which made me uncomfortable the series does end on a high note, lessons learned. Does it justify the emotionally traumatic and physically abusive moments in the show… absolutely not. Some of it I can forgive just because they are common anime tropes added without thought to how it would affect tone. But the event in the second to last episode nearly completely undid everything positive the show had accomplished up to that point. I’m not disappointed I watched to the next episode, but that may prevent me from ever going back and re-watching the series.

Chūnibyō Demo Koi ga Shitai ends up being an above average love story with a nice character arc between the two protagonists set on a backdrop of overcoming a part of adolescence which, ultimately, prevents young teenagers from progressing to the next stage of their lives. It has a sincere and effective message which carries serious weight. Unfortunately the early episodes end up being Moe non-sense with a feeling of fetishizing the problems of poor Rikka. Mix that with a lot of useless characters and subplots, slapstick comedy that is skewed by the serious tone of some of the scenes, and an upsetting event in the second to last episode the series was difficult to watch. There is a good narrative, a good theme, and great characters in this show. Unfortunately, they are buried under some of the more tedious aspects of Moe.

Grade: C

 

Review: Tamako Market

Kyoto Animation is known for creating the most popular anime among the serious, hard core Otaku in Japan. It’s hard to believe that they haven’t attempted to create an original work before Tamako Market. They’re success has come from taking already popular work among those handful of hardcore fans and applying their animation ability to it. Tamako Market represents their attempt to apply what they learned from their adaptive works and try to create something without the need of outside licenses.

Tamako Market is about Tamako Kitashirakawa the daughter of a Mochi seller at a shopping district. The show mainly follows Tamako and her family as they go about their lives in the shipping district. The one odd thing the show tosses in is the introduction of Dera, a talking bird who is on a quest to find a bride for the prince of an island nation.

Dera acts as the viewpoint character, and is constantly making comments about the situations he finds himself in. His role goes from being the central focus of the narrative to a sideline character to the normal routines of the Shopping district. The show is structured with a breakneck pace with an entire year taking place during the twelve episode series. The show covers favorite Moe anime tropes, including a valentines and beach episodes but moves far too quick for any structured narrative to develop. Instead the show focus’ in on it’s characters. Tamako herself represents the idealized Moe heroine, always cheerful and always optimistic. The side characters are far more interesting from her eccentric carpenter friend, the rivalry between the two Mochi shops in the district, or the beatnik café owner, their brief moments on the screen spoke miles as to their personalities and their roles in the tight nit community of the shopping district.

So while Tamako and friends play through their typical Moe storylines a richer experience is developing just under the surface, the background characters that are encountered briefly in each episode start to snowball so that the entire make up of this shopping distract begins to come to life. This group of individual stories about cute girls shopping or building a haunted house is united by a rich theme of community and what it means to live and grow around a group of people. There is a speech Tamako gives towards the end that makes it clear that the show is not about Tamako herself, but about the market. The year the audience gets to live through is only a tiny bit of its history, Tamako has lived and grown with these people in this place her entire life and the rich assortment of personalities and professions leads to a greater whole than a family living a secluded suburban life style.

There is also a second thread that runs through the show and that is the theme of change. My main complaint with the show is nothing really seems to happen, it ends one year after starting and it might as well have been the same day. Tamako has learned very little and no major event changed anything about the Shopping District. Then the question of Dera, the talking bird, left a bad taste in my mouth. Why a talking bird?

Dera I believe represents a major change that happened to the market. A normal family gets visited by a talking bird and while at first it’s focused on, soon after it becomes folded into routine. The characters go about their daily lives as if the bird was always there, they learned to adapt to the weirdness of the situation. The opposite side of this coin is when a major even threatens Tamako’s life in the Shopping district it turns out to be a false alarm. The show’s message here is that sweeping, drastic change doesn’t really happen. Even when major change happens, like a talking bird flying into their lives, they simply adopt their lives around it and continue on.

This simple message addresses one of the biggest holes in Tamako’s life, her mother. She died a few years before the show begins and throughout the series it becomes clear that while the absence is left, one particularly touching scene with Tamako’s father drives that point home, that the characters do not dwell on the absence. The change is eventually accepted and folded into the new reality of their lives, just like a talking bird quickly stops being novel and folds into reality.

The more I think about Tamako Market the more I start to see the subtle brilliance of the show. However, I would have liked Tamako to be a bit more of a character and many of the side characters who are interesting don’t get nearly as much time as I would have liked. A lot of the threads and build up established early on don’t go anywhere. Tamako’s love interest, established in the first episode, barely plays into the narrative and it’s barely referenced even in the final episode. Even though I managed to find a deep theme running through the show that doesn’t excuse some of the boring and poorly executed ideas and characters. But it’s cute, and it has a lot to say about community and how strength can be found as a group of people live and grow around each other. Moe fans will find a lot to like in this show but it won’t be converting anyone not already invested in the genre.

Review: Tsuritama

Japan being an island nation with a long and rich fishing tradition I’m surprised that fishing hasn’t snuck into more Japanese animation. At least, few anime that have made it over to the United States. Looking at the synopsis, a show focused around fishing didn’t sounds appealing but what I got was less a show about someone fishing but a science fiction adventure with a sweet message of friendship.

The colors in Tsuritama are incredibly vibrant, a fantastic looking show which captures the whimsical nature of Haru, an alien who arrives on Enoshima and befriends the island’s new transplant Yuki. Yuki has moved around with his grandmother and has never had the chance to make friends. Haru immediately latches on, to Yuki’s dismay, to the loaner and recruits him for a task that requires fishing. 

Tsuritama is really two shows in one. The first is an enjoyable show about friendship, family, and how spending time and bonding between people brings out the best. The bonding is seated in Natsuki Usami, a prodigy fisherman whose life is in turmoil following the death of his mother and his father’s second marriage. Through fishing, the three characters learn what it is to be friends, and learn to express themselves in healthy and natural ways. It is part coming of age story and in part a story of broken people becoming whole again. The relationship between Yuki and Natsuki is the highlight of the series. Their uneasy beginning evolving into a strong, bonded friendship is a joy to watch.

Most of this friendship is built as Natsuki teaches Yuki and Haru how to fish. This part of the show is executed about as well as could be; remaining technically accurate while building in small bits of accomplishment to keep the audience interested and to illustrate the progress the protagonist is making. There are a lot of details and time spent on the fishing aspect of the show but the true purpose of those scenes are to build the relationship between our four main characters, which it accomplishes well.

The detractor is Haru, the alien who needs a skilled fisherman for some mysterious reason. He is playing the same role that any alien or mysterious stranger would play. He is an awkward ball of energy that is played mostly for comic relief. In the moe era I’m surprised it wasn’t a female character, but that would hurt the core themes of the narrative. It isn’t until the series is halfway over that Haru calms down and stops being bouncy and weird and actually has a few touching scenes as his actual purpose becomes known. Unfortunately, if there is anything that made me want to stop watching during the first half of the series it was Haru acting like a generic anime weird-alien. I’ve seen it played out a million times in anime and it severely clashes with the otherwise honest and memorable character moments between Yuki and Natsuki.

The second half of the show involves Haru’s real purpose for coming to earth. There is a mysterious sea monster that is, apparently, from his planet and he is tasked with attempting to fish it out of the ocean and return home with it. So Haru brings Yuki and Natsuki into his plan because of their fishing skills. At the same moment Duck, a secret organization that fights aliens, has been mobilized to try and take Haru down and use force to stop the monster in the ocean. This half of the show builds on and uses the bonds forged in the first half of the series.. There are some genuinely suspenseful moments during the climax of the series. The real fun of the second half is watching the ridiculously dressed “DUCK” operatives move in and take over Enoshima, evacuate the island, and then pursue Haru and the monster in the ocean. While the tone remains deathly serious the previously noted color scheme, turned a bit grayer due to an oncoming storm, and the duck shaped water right suits keep the whimsical tone of the show high even during some truly dark moments. 

Tsuritama is an enjoyable, beautiful anime about the affect of friendship and how it can help through personal issues and life threatening events. Most of the characters are interesting enough to carry the series alone but the second half morphs into an above average epic science fiction monster anime. The character work built during the fishing scenes certainly aided in making the monster-movie pieces far more memorable and enjoyable because of how much genuine time the audience had spent with the characters. However, Haru remains a blot on an almost perfect ensemble of characters as he represents the generic, annoying fish out of water anime character. While the show represents some best-in-class character work, specifically because of the relationships built during the show and a monster-movie second half that balances both being hilarious and gripping, finding those elements behind the intolerable Haru is going to be tough even for the most seasoned of anime fans.