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Final Impressions

Final Impressions: Ultraman X

Jan 12 // Salvador GRodiles
From day one, it was obvious that Ultraman X was going to go down a full circle, as the return of the villain that X knocked into Earth’s Sun ended up being a huge thing. Despite, the final villain Greeza resembling a random tokusatsu grunt character, the gang at Tsuburaya made sure to turn this guy into a menacing entity. From the moment it stepped foot on our planet, we were treated to a hopeless scenario where many defense facilities fell to this powerful entity. Like with many giant monster shows and movies, all we heard was a creepy screech that when an area was about to go bye bye. Throw in a major loss for the home team, and we’re taken back to the most of the franchise’s intense finales (such as the original Ultraman series). Going back to Daichi’s character, I was surprised by how much is defeat affected me during the show’s last moments. Yes, his character comes off as a bit of an avatar for the viewers to witness the situations around them, but his will to see his dreams come true shined through the image that his presence gave off. Despite my slight issues with how they didn't give Daichi’s personal dilemmas the spotlight too much, this didn’t stop me from being affected from his defeat. That being said, this shows that Tsuburaya added enough spices to make us feel this way. Going back to a thing I said in a previous post, the thing that made Daichi’s character great for me was his ideals and the way how he bonded with the entire cast. For a guy to gain the trust of a giant dinosaur monster deserves a huge freaking medal. Through his role as a scientist at Xio, we grew to love Gourman and Rui’s antics. In combat, we saw him bring out the best out of Asuna, Hayato, and Wataru. On top of all that, his pact with X helped the giant learn more about Earth customs and mannerism, which is something that a bland character could never achieve. While the series mostly centered on the random monster attacks caused by the Ultra Flares, the amount of screen time that each character was given gave us that wonderful sense of family and teamwork that XiO uses during each big crisis. The science division gave us Rui’s huge obsession with nonhuman lifeforms and the amazing timing behind Dr. Gourman’s random appearances, which made them one of the great representations of the show’s concept of being able to live alongside other creatures. With segments like Tachibana's dilemmas as a parent and Wataru having to accept that he might not get to date his childhood friend, the show’s brief character-focused episodes brought life to the cast, as we see them deal with other issues outside of protecting the city from danger. Everyone’s working towards the same goal and the contributions of each member play a role in saving the day— regardless of the size of their task. Aside from the gang’s teamwork skills and dilemmas, X’s segments where humans bonded with the franchise’s monsters were some of the most heartwarming segments of the series. The Houlinga and the Pigmon episodes were two moments where one can’t rely on stereotypes to judge the world around you. In this case, the common misconception was that almost all creatures want to obstruct everyone’s way of life. This also goes back to the franchise’s idea that most of the show’s giant monsters are like animals. You have your vicious territorial creatures and you have those who tend to be peaceful around others. In the end, I found these segments to be the ones that express the show’s coexistence theme the most. Despite Tsuburaya’s tendency to cut corners on certain segments (such as reusing older monsters from the franchise), Ultraman X’s new angle shined well through in through, as the potential shown from day one continued to go higher each week. The Mons Armors allowed for the crew to experiment with different action scenes and attacks, an element that helps many of the Heisei Kamen Rider shows in promoting their toys. This also allowed for X to use a variety of moves outside of the Ultra Warriors' usual beams and wrestling moves that they're known for. Since each form had a cool gimmick, I’m hoping that this could evolve into a new trend for future Ultra titles— as long the gang continues to show the same passion that went into X’s different transformations. With the few original designs that entered the show’s realm, the team didn’t hold back with these arcs. These segments mostly gave off a ridiculous finale type of feeling, as they ended up being played during the key points in the series. Overall, Gargorgan, the Gua Army’s updated look, and Greeza’s final form all had some neat designs that gave off that menacing feeling that many major adversaries from giant monster titles exhibit. Other than the powerful bad guys, Demaaga, Rudian, and Houlinga were some other great examples of some nice costume work that was put into the franchise’s new characters. as a guy who loves great-looking monster suits, the costume team deserves some praise for their work on the X-exclusive creatures. When I first decided to watch Ultraman X, I came for the fierce giant warrior on monster action. However, I ended up staying with a fun tale about a group of people who fight to protect the peace while doing their best to turn the world into a place where all types of life forms can live together. Sure, the story with Daichi’s parents was never resolved, but we can only hope that the show's upcoming film will give our hero the ending that he deserves. With Tsuburaya doing some interesting things with the series, let’s hope that this is a sign that they’ll keep this rainbow strong with their later installments. In the meantime, X got me more interested in the Ultra franchise, so I plan to dive further into it in the future. Thanks to its fun run, I guess you could say that it’s one of my favorite tokusatsu shows from last year. [You can unite with Ultraman X one last time at Crunchyroll and Tsuburaya’s YouTube channel]
Ultraman X photo
Somewhere over the rainbow
This might just be me, but 2015 felt like an average year for tokusatsu. The usual stuff ranged from average to enjoyable, and only one of them was consistently fun. However, things weren’t too bad, as I discovered the ...

Final Impressions: Attack on Titan Junior High

Jan 06 // Soul Tsukino
I don't care if the plots to most of the episodes are cliché and following numerous anime tropes. I don't care if the show's writing can get predictable at times. And I don't care if it's not the deeply written psycho shockfest of the source manga or show. It's a fun parody of a popular show that isn't supposed to be taken seriously. It's not trying to drive home a lesson on mortality or finding my own strengths in adversity, it's about me sitting down for 15 minutes and watching a group of big-headed chibified kids running around and getting into goofy situations all the while under the threat of large naked giant people stomping in to steal their lunches. No deep thinking required and that's just what I wanted. Visually I enjoyed the show as well. It's not Miyazaki, I got that before I started. But I love the way the characters expressions are done and the visual gags are presented during the course of the series. I would prefer something done in this kind of art style over some of the eps of Naruto, Bleach, Space Dandy, or One Piece that were animated in that crappy style where they were trying to save time and money by skimping on the details. If there is a knock I have, and it's one I mentioned before, is that once you get past the episode where Jean has a crush from a Titan, Eren and Hange's actions during the rest of the eps come off in a totally different light. Hange start coming off as some weird psycho dominatrix the way she "experiments" on Sawney and Beane, and Eren talking about destroying the titans and how much he hates them comes off as really hateful and downright mean coming from a first-year junior high kid. But I think I'm over-thinking the whole thing.   This isn't the best anime ever. Hell, even I'll concede it's not even the best anime this season. But while a lot of people complain that it is worthless and why is this being made when the original series has so much left to tell, I sit back, take in the goofiness, laugh for a while and enjoy myself. So here's to you, you chee-burg bastards for giving me 12 reasons to laugh this anime season! I don't care if the plot's to most of the episodes are cliché and following numerous anime tropes. I don't care if the show's writing can get predicable at times. And I don't care if it's not the deep written psycho shockfest of the source manga or show.   It's a fun parody of a popular show that isn't supposed to be taken seriously. It's not trying to drive home a lesson on mortality or finding my own strengths in adversity, its about me sitting down for 15 minutes and watching a group of big headed chibified kids running around and getting into goofy situations all the while under the threat of large naked giant people stomping in to steal their lunches. No deep thinking required and that's just what I wanted.   Visually I enjoyed the show as well. It's not Miyazaki, I got that before I started. But I love the way the characters expressions are done and the visual gangs are presented during the course of the series. I would prefer something done in this kind of art style over some of the eps of Naruto, Bleach, Space Dandy, or One Piece that were animated in that crappy style where they were trying to save time and money by skimping on the details.   If there is a knock I have, and it's one I mentioned before, is that once you get past the episode where Jean has a crush from a Titan, Eren and Hange's actions during the rest of the eps come off in a totally different light. Hange start coming off as some weird psycho dominatrix the way she "experiments" on Sawney and Beane, and Eren talking about destroying the titans and how much he hates them comes off as really hateful and downright mean coming from a first year Junior high kid. But I think I'm over thinking the whole thing.   This isn't the best anime ever. Hell, even I'll concede it's not even the best anime this season. But while a lot of people complain that it is worthless and why is this being made when the original series has so much left to tell, I sit back, enjoy the goofiness, laugh for a while and enjoy myself.   So here's to you, you chee-burg bastards for giving me 12 reasons to laugh this anime season!
Attack on Titan: Jr high photo
Sad to see the little guys end
I'm in the minority here. I'm not following what seems to be the popular opinion. I'm not following what as an anime fan I am supposed to like this season.   I loved Attack on Titan Junior High. I'm in the minority here...

Final Impressions: One Punch Man

Dec 26 // Josh Tolentino
I am, of course, kidding. Now that One Punch Man is done for the time being, I have to admit that I was feeling not deceived, but relieved. The reason for that is episode eleven, which largely functioned to deliver the setup for episode twelve.  Why would that get me stressed, you ask? It's because episode eleven simply didn't look quite as good as the rest of the show. It's a little thing, true, but for a program that's made its name by looking utterly gorgeous without breaking the bank, a few too many of the seams peeked out while Saitama infiltrated the Macross-sized alien flagship, and while Genos, Tornado, Atomic Samurai and the rest tangled with the alien Melzargard on the ground below. To be fair, even on an off day, One Punch Man puts to shame the finales of many lesser series, but I couldn't help but feel a twinge of worry whenever the camera cut to a featureless shot of the alien ship's underside, or lingered too long on Melzargard's telepathic bickering with the octopus-like Geryuganshoop. Tiny frays in the hem of the production like that spoke of cost-cutting, leading overly sensitive fans like me to worry that the money or time had run out somehow. Had Madhouse run into production problems? Would this be a repeat of The Rolling Girls finale episode, or worse? Hey, don't call me Chicken Little, but I've seen Shirobako. Shit hits the fan all the time, man!  Thank goodness I was dead wrong. And let me tell you, I've never been happier to eat my words, because the finale of One Punch Man is quality animation of the highest order. Utterly enthralling as a work of craft and visual excess, Saitama's fight with Boros even manages to top the rest of the series in ways I wouldn't have thought possible, and certainly not on the reportedly modest budget Madhouse worked with the whole way through.  Also, Saitama gets kneed into the moon. Then he comes back. When shit that amazing is going down, it doesn't even matter how many times he ended up having to punch Boros before the fool finally went down. Ultimately, the only thing that matters is that he got serious, pulling out his final trump card: A Serious Punch. There's even a little more to it than that in translation, because the way Saitama names his attack is so casually blunt, bordering on rude, that it absolutely fits his "don't-give-an-eff" attitude. For a strike of such biblical scale, its name is literally as casual as saying "Hit a guy and mean it". The man has no sense of drama whatsoever, which might even play a part in why he can't do anything but win. And though the fight ends with a punch that splits the clouds and rustles daisies on the other side of the world, perhaps the most surprising thing about this finale is that the episode itself doesn't even end for another twelve minutes. That's right, the triumphal score and second verse of JAM PROJECT's theme all took place in the first half, before even the commercial break. The rest is an extended aftermath, covering the heroes, Amai Mask's dressing down the S-classes, and a teaser for more of Genos' subplots. While it's more than a little odd for the series to end on such a mundane note after the utter triumph of the first twelve minutes, it makes absolute sense as a way to get fans slavering for a second season, which has yet to be announced. Folks hoping to see something next year might be disappointed, as the current manga content following Boros isn't quite up to supporting a full season, but given the reception to the show so far, I have no doubt that it'll happen eventually. Besides, this is exactly the kind of program I'd rather not rush. For a show that's ostensibly about a guy who wins too much, it's quite gratifying to see that this adaptation of One Punch Man has been nothing less than a victory on almost all fronts. I don't say this out of particular affection for the source (though I do like it), but out of appreciation for the craft Madhouse managed to bring to the task. You could even say it was a real knockout blow for the season, and for the year in anime. [Watch One Punch Man on Daisuki!]  
One Punch Man photo
Endless Combo
Hey, wait a minute! I think he punched that guy, like, three times! At least!  I feel deceived.

Final Impressions: Food Wars! Shokugeki no Soma

Oct 07 // Nick Valdez
Leading into the finale, the Autumn Election preliminaries were nearly over. Group B finished their turn and Alice Nakiri, Arato Hisako, Takumi Aldini, and Megumi Tadakoro are the first four to advance to the actual competition. When we last left Group A, Ryo Kurokiba made his mark by taking first place with 93 points and the rest of the Polar Star dorm, while good, struggled to reach that height. At episode's end Akira Hayama stepped up to serve his dish,  weird curry souffle looking thing that spewed all sorts of tantalizing scents when punctured (that he called a "fragrance bomb"). And with the finale, we learn why it's so effective. Thanks to a mix of holy basil and yogurt (to balance out its pungent nature) his curry throws the judges for a loop. After some reaction shenanigans, they give his dish 94 points, with two of the judges giving a max score of 20 (it's important to note the spread was 18/20/18/20/18). But right as Akira was celebrating his win, Soma revealed that he too worked on a "fragrance bomb" type of meal.  Learning from his past losses and mistakes (such as losing to his Dad a few episodes back and nearly failing the buffet task with his omelets during the boot camp), Soma slyly combines the two efforts as a way to get back at his past self. Serving curry rice inside of an omelette pocket, he's managed to learn all about spice from the few days he learned about curry from Akira. Like how Akira balanced his spice with yogurt, Soma made a mango chutney in order to give it a bit of sweetness. Unfortunately, the dish wasn't enough to earn the top spot and Soma nets 93 points. But three of the judges rated his dish higher than Akira's, however (so it's 19/18/19/18/19) thus deepening their rivalry. That brings Group A to a close, and seven students are confirmed for the finals. Then the kids all celebrate, though Soma vows to work harder in order to claim victory. There's an eighth student to be revealed later (though the episode doesn't say this), and he's such a huge part of the semifinals, I'm sure they're saving his reveal for the next season. If there is one.  Although I had a lot of fun with the series overall, I'm pretty worried about the future of the show. Community members MSJ and RoboYuji pointed out that my complaint of cutting everything short was unfounded, and I'll admit that I didn't consider that the show would need filler in order to give the manga time to get further ahead. I'd hate to see what a filler arc would like since the official filler here (whatever the heck the "Karaage Wars" was) was pretty garbage. But since the manga has gone far past the Autumn Elections already (and has a more natural endpoint) it feels like we've been shafted since we're cut off before the actual fun of the show starts. But then again, that's just me being greedy. I just like the premise so much, I wanted more of it. I mean, what's the point of having two completely different title sequences if you're going to cut it off now?  There are bigger elements at play here since the show most likely didn't have the biggest audience (and a sequel season rests entirely with secondary sales), it's been rife with budget problems from the get go (as lots of shortcuts were taken with the animation and sound design was particularly spotty early on), but the property's so much fun. It just feels like Food Wars is ending right when it hit its groove.  But given my biggest problem with Food Wars! Shokugeki no Soma was there wasn't enough of it, I guess it wasn't so bad after all. 
Final Food Wars  photo
"Happy to serve!"
I first found Food Wars! Shokugeki no Soma through manga. Although I fell out of touch with the anime for several years, I've been periodically reading manga through that time. One of my favorites turned out to be Food W...

Final Impressions: MY Love STORY!!

Oct 06 // Nick Valdez
Leading into the finale, Yamato got herself a part time job at a bakery over spring break, hoping that she'd be able to pick up some tricks of the trade. But much to Takeo's chagrin, the head patisserie Ichinose (who, as the show likes to point out, has all the qualities of a traditional shoujo protagonist) has a crush on her and vows to Takeo that he'll tell her after taking first place at his big baking competition. So Takeo spends the first half of the final episode dejected, and this is entirely a new feeling for Takeo. As he questions whether or not he should actually be with Yamato, he gets steady reassurance from all of their friends that Yamato chose to date him because he's so great. And it's not like the audience needed reassurance as we've seen his greatness throughout the entire series. It completely makes sense for the kind hearted (but not completely pure hearted, as I'll discuss later) Yamato to fall in love with Takeo, a guy who'd happily sacrifice his own well being to help someone else find happiness. And that's put to the test here in the finale, as well.  When Ichinose realizes he's forgotten his baking tools, Yamato asks Takeo for help. Being the big goof that he is, he runs all the way to the bakery and to the contest without a second thought (only reflecting on helping Ichinose win after all the craziness settles), catching Ichinose by surprise. After Ichinose wins, he confesses to Yamato (right in front of Takeo like a damn goob) but Yamato rightfully turns him down. She explains that she's never really felt the same way (thus clearing up the only major problem with this beat as we never really know what she's thinking during all of this) and genuinely loves Takeo. After some loving awkwardness, Takeo calls Yamato by her first name, Rinko, and the two clumsily shuffle off into the future.  I didn't enjoy this final arc since it was the first time it was about Takeo alone, rather than the two working out relationship stuff, but I won't really let it hinder my enjoyment of the overall package. As community member John Seiler helped point out, this show is one of the few available that reveals different types of love. My Love Story!! is technically everyone's love story as I'm sure there's any type of relationship you can cling to. There's the fast developing Kurihara and Nanako, the already established of Takeo's parents, the teacher student dynamic between Saijou and Takeo, the crippling shyness leading to idolization between Yukika and Sunakawa, the unrequited love of Suna's sister and her admirer, and the nearly asexual Sunakawa who just wants to avoid all of that together. While the focus is given to Takeo and Yamato's central relationship, we're always given little peeks into these outside loves so no one feels left out. And it's all just so it hammers the main message home, that there's never one right way to love.  My Love Story!! felt more personal than not, because for the first time, I legitimately felt that a show was trying to tell my story. As a towering man of 6'3 and 300 pounds, any girl I've ever been interested in has been smaller than me so I know all too well what Takeo went through. His awkwardness that made him stand out from his friends, his inability to believe that someone would actually have feelings for him, and being so hilariously inept at relationships that he couldn't figure out how much Yamato wanted to take their relationship further. That's also a great part of this series too. Although Yamato's meek demeanor would perceive otherwise, she's always been the more active one. You'd expect her to be fall into the shoujo traps of the "pure hearted maiden," but that hilariously went to Takeo. Neither character ever acted the way they were expected to, and that's what makes a great watch.  Couple that with the show's use of color, outrageous reactions to things (as Takeo's many faces and forms led to quite a few laughs), and its ability to hit that sweet spot of romance and comedy on more than on occasion, My Love Story!! was the best anime of the Spring and Summer seasons. It's a love story everyone'll love. 
Final Love STORY photo
"Suki da"
Forgive me for sounding like a broken record, as I'm sure I've said this in the past, but I'm a sucker for good romantic comedies. While there isn't exactly a big list of films I could point to, there are definitely a boatloa...

Final Impressions: School-Live!

Oct 05 // Nick Valdez
When we last left the School Living Club, they were caught in quite a predicament. As zombies flooded the school, the four were separated and feeling pretty hopeless. Yuri was dealing with an infected Kurumi and whether or not she had to kill her, Miki was trapped in the basement after tracking down a possible vaccine, and Yuki was trying to fight her way through the school after finally breaking out of her delusion and coming to grips with losing her teacher, Megu-nee. When Yuki reaches the school's broadcasting room, she's nearly attacking by zombies herself before zombie Taroumaru comes to her rescue. When she realizes the zombies still retain some of their memories (and as evident from the last episode when zombie Megu-nee is seen writing the girls' names), she broadcasts that school is out of session and all the students are to return home. And this surprisingly works! As the zombies clear out, Miki is able to vaccinate both Kurumi and Taroumaru. Unfortunately, Taroumaru's been sick for too long so he loses his life in his weakened state (but after giving Miki some closure). I've never been good with dog death in media, so this hit me pretty hard. I know it's a cartoon and all, but he was such a cute puppy!  When the girls realize the school's no longer habitable after the attack (as the generators have been fried and most of the building has been damaged by fire), they decide to leave the school toward either a university or corporate building. Either way, the girls know that the people they deal with may not be friendly. But before all of that, to bring closure to this chapter in their lives, the girls hold a makeshift graduation ceremony and it's the most heartfelt scene of the series. I guess it's because I fell so hard for the premise (and it admittedly won't appeal to everyone in the same way since I'm so fond of cutesy things), but it as great seeing the girls finally grow up. Just like a real graduation into the real world, these girls have finally accepted that their lives have changed. There's no longer a lingering grief over the past, and each of the girls have accepted their own flaws. That's a major part of growing up, and the show absolutely nailed it. The greatest thing is the show didn't have to directly say all of this. Through silent moments and great art effects that truly show how much these girls' optimism clashes with the world's darkness, the finale brings a sense of closure to the viewer as well.  But looking at the episode's ending tag, there's more planned for these girls. I'm just not sure if I want more of this. This graduation episode brought everything full circle and tied up most of the loose ends (including the fate of Miki's lost friend, Kei), but I'm not sure I care about the rest of the stuff still open. For example, one of the bigger things is probably going to be investigating how much their high school knew about the pandemic beforehand and potentially finding a cure, but that's like so much generic stuff out there already. At this point, I'm content with what we've gotten. From the opening episode, this show's been building up to a end with its tight, twelve episode arc. The girls got a happy-ish ending with one of those "driving into the future" closers, the opening theme was reused for the final scene (as is expected from an anime finale), and lots of the tricks it employed here (like the surprising clash between its bright colors and dark monsters or its slowly changing opening credits sequence) won't hit as well the second time.  School-Live! was compelling, interesting, and most importantly unique. If it ever does get that second season, it'll be ruining what makes it so special. There's nothing else out there like it right now, and it should stay that way. 
Final School-Live! photo
I hope you had the time of your life
School-Live! (or Gakkou Gurashi!) nearly slipped under the radar. If you had no idea of the more sinister plot afoot, you'd probably skip the series thinking it's yet another show about four young girls doing young girl thing...

Final Impressions: Garo: Gold Storm Soar

Oct 05 // Salvador GRodiles
When you look at the big picture, it makes sense that Garo: Gold Storm Soar was going to have the heroes win earlier than before. Not that it’s a bad thing, as the show has been doing a great job in handling the segments that made way for Zinga becoming the owner of Ladan. Since each episode served its own purpose, the whole thing didn’t feel like it was rushed. One moment, Ryuga and the gang are trying to save Rian. Then we see them get ready to confront the show’s main adversaries in a fight that’ll determine the fate of humanity. Also, we had a scene with a guy protecting the city with a massive magical electric guitar; therefore making this finale an exciting moment for the series. Compare to Garo: The One Who Shines in the Darkness’ Zedom battle, the staff pulled no punches with Ladan’s designs, as we’re treated to a giant castle with Gothic architecture that’s fused with a grim reaper. All in all, it managed to recapture the magic that makes from the franchise’s final fights worthwhile, which shows that they were able to make it up to the viewers for how they used the program’s budget in the third installment. Even though Ryuga didn’t get a one-time Super Form, it was still cool to see his use his Dark Armor again. If anything, this probably makes him the second Makai Knight in the Garo toku franchise to be able to fly. Again, the staff’s decision to bring back this design was a fine way to give folks the suit that they missed out on during the series’ third installment. In a way, it almost cancels out the lack of him having a special transformation that’s exclusive to this installment. I guess the giant Garo that's made of people's lifeforce counts as something too, so there's that. If there was one issue to be had with the show’s resolution, it’s that we didn’t get a proper closing to the cast’s story. Yes, the city was saved and everyone went back to their normal lives, but I felt that we were deprived of a proper closure to Ryuga and Rian’s relationship. Then again, you have to give the show some props for having the girl focus on her other priorities, which implied that she’s saving her big move after she accomplishes her dream— especially with the way how the two main characters interacted towards the end. Come to think of it, Gold Storm Soar's ending was almost similar to the original series. Our heroes walk off into the horizon while they prepare for their next journey. In the end, this segment tends to work well since a Makai Knight and Priest’s job never ends. As long as people with malevolent intent exist in our world, the Horrors will continue to terrorize society. When this happens, the Makai Knights and Priest will always be there to protect the planet’s citizens from their danger. That being said, it might be a while before Ryuga and Rian’s journey ends, so there’s a chance that they could return in a new series, special, or movie. Part of the thing that made the series fun was how each episode slowly unraveled the mystery behind Zinga and Amiri’s plans for awakening Ladan. Even though it was obvious that they were meant to be a Ryuga and Rian’s evil opposites, the Destroyer of Worlds alone was enough to make the bad side interesting. Whether it’s his psychotic expressions or his tendency to taunt his opponents, Masahiro Inoue nailed his role well in Gold Storm Soar. At the same time, it shows how much he’s evolved from when he played as Tsukasa/Decade from Kamen Rider Decade. While Garo: Gold Storm Soar’s quality felt like a step down from Garo: Makai no Hana, the series somehow showed us that it had what it took to dominate the spring and summer season. The small amount of Horrors-of-the-Week comprised of people in creepy suits may have been smaller than its preceding live-action installment, but there was still a great amount of variety between the CG creatures and the costumed ones. That and we had not one but two Makai Knights that weren’t 3D models, which is a step in the right direction. Because of these elements, this shows that the franchise is at its best when its creator, Keita Amemiya, is part of the show’s staff; otherwise, the team might have issues if they’re working with a smaller budget than usual. Of course, the only downside of this scenario is that in exchange for the guy being involved with the franchise, Amemiya ends up being stuck in the Garo loop again. Hopefully, there'll come a time when the staff could pull off a great show without his involvement. That way, he could focus on his own projects— just like the time when he worked on Shougeki Gouraigan. Since the first Garo anime did well without his supervision, the tokusatsu side of the franchise might achieve this goal one day. At the end of the day, I think it's safe to say that this year’s live-action Garo installment was still a fine treat for fans of the franchise. Considering that Sho Aikawa (Kamen Rider Decade and Eureka Seven AO's Writer) and Toshiki Inoue (Kamen Rider 555 and Kamen Rider the First's Writer) are part of the second Garo anime's staff, this is a sign that it’ll be a disaster. On a more positive note, we can rest assure that Garo: Gold Storm Soar left us on a good note; therefore leaving us satisfied until the next set of Garo-related goodies. When you look at the big picture, it makes sense that Garo: Gold Storm Soar was going to have the heroes win earlier than before. Not that it’s a bad thing, as the shows been doing a great job in handling the segments that made way for Zinga becoming the owner of Ladan. Since each episode served its own purpose, the whole thing didn’t feel like it was rushed. One moment, Ryuga and the gang are trying to save Rian. Then we see them get ready to confront the show’s main adversaries in a fight that’ll determine the fate of humanity. Also, we had a scene with a guy protecting the city with a massive magical electric guitar; therefore making this finale an exciting moment for the program. Compare to Garo: The One Who Shines in the Darkness’ Zedom battle, the staff pulled no punches with Ladan’s designs, as we’re treated to a giant castle with Gothic architecture that’s fused with a grim reaper. All in all, it managed to recapture the magic that comes from the franchise’s final fights, which shows that they were able to make it up to the viewers for how they used the series’ budget. Even though Ryuga didn’t get a one-time Super Form, it was still cool to see his use his Dark Armor again. If anything, this probably makes him the second Makai Knight in the Garo toku franchise to be able to fly. Again, the staff’s decision to bring back this design was a fine way to give folks the suit that they missed out on during the series’ third installment. In a way, it almost cancels out the lack of him having a special transformation that’s exclusive to this installment. If there was one issue to be had with the show’s resolution, it’s that we didn’t get a proper closing to the cast’s story. Yes, the city was saved and everyone went back to their normal lives, but I felt that we were deprived of a proper closure to Ryuga and Rian’s relationship. Then again, you have to give the show some props for having the girl focus on her other priorities, which implied that she’s saving her big move after she accomplishes her dream— especially with the way how the two main characters interacted towards the end. Come to think of it, Gold Storm Soar almost ended like the original series. Our heroes walk off into the horizon while they prepare for their next journey. I guess this segment is perfect since a Makai Knight and Priest’s job is never over. As long as people with malevolent intent exist in our world, the Horrors will continue to terrorize society. When this happens, the Makai Knights and Priest will always be there to protect the planet’s citizens from their danger. That being said, it might be a while before Ryuga and Rian’s journey ends, so there’s a chance that they could return in a new series, special, or movie. If not, then we can still rest assure that Gold Storm Soar ended on a fine note for the entire cast, which resulted in a great year for the franchise. Part of the thing that made the series fun was how each episode slowly unraveled the mystery behind Zinga and Amiri’s plans for awakening Ladan. Even though it was obvious that they were meant to be a Ryuga and Rian’s evil opposites, the Destroyer of Worlds alone was enough to make the bad side interesting. Whether it’s his psychotic expressions or his tendency to taunt his opponents, Masahiro Inoue nailed his role well in Gold Storm Soar. At the same time, it shows how much he’s evolved from when he played as Tsukasa/Decade from Kamen Rider Decade. While Garo: Gold Storm Soar’s quality felt like a step down from Garo: Makai no Hana, the series somehow showed us that it had what it took to dominate the spring and summer season. The small amount of Horrors-of-the-Week comprised of people in creepy suits may’ve been smaller than its preceding live-action installment, but there was still a great amount of variety between the CG creatures and the costumed ones. That and we had not one but two Makai Knights that weren’t 3D models, which is a step in the right direction. Because of these elements, this shows that the franchise is at its best when its creator, Keita Amemiya is involve is part of the show’s staff; otherwise, the team might have issues if they’re working with a smaller budget than usual. Since the latest Ryuga series was an improvement over the third Garo TV show, this year’s live-action installment was still a fine treat for fans of the franchise. If the second Garo anime’s writing staff is a sign that it’ll be a disappointing title for the brand, the viewers can rest assure that Garo: Gold Storm Soar left us on a good note. 
Garo: Gold Storm Soar photo
It never hurts to smile
Have you ever had that feeling where a show that you’re keeping up with ends sooner than expected? In my case, it feels stranger for the latest Garo toku series to end at episode 23, since each installment of the franch...

Final Impressions: Unlimited Blade Works

Jul 16 // Josh Tolentino
Except here, by virtue of Unlimited Blade Works' big reveal, we know that the journey of Shirou Emiya has only just begun. Here, after the world has been saved from a big hole spewing red jelly, and a jerk with blond hair's been taken down a few notches, only here is where Shirou Emiya continues down the path to becoming his ideal self.  It's worth pointing out that that self, not even a day before, had been hell-bent on killing him, but Shirou doesn't care. He doesn't care that Archer, the man he would become, wanted nothing more in the world than to un-become, to kill his younger self before he could suffer the pain of learning the true cost of sticking so doggedly to his ideals. That's a price that, here in episode 24, Shirou Emiya is willing to pay. But we knew that already. Shirou's heroic resolve here isn't in question, and it's been the true ending of this scenario since its time as a visual novel. The boldest thing about 2015's take on Unlimited Blade Works is the very last episode, which is an epilogue, and as far as I can remember, is almost entirely new material.  Set months after the final battle, the last episode explores the rest of the "True End" scenario, where Rin and Shirou have graduated from high school and are studying at the Clock Tower in London, headquarters of the Mage's Association. There we catch up with Shirou's not-so-great fashion sense (ew, green cardigan?!), Rin's new hair, and Luvia Edelfelt, a side character from the not-quite-canon spinoff/expansion, Fate/hollow Ataraxia. Brief words are exchanged with Fate/Zero survivor Waver Velvet, and a visit is paid to the alleged grave of King Arthur himself at Glastonbury Abbey. That's all well and good, and frankly not enough anime series actually have a decent denoument, preferring to end things right after the climax and saving the cooldown for the credits. But the most important thing here is hearing Shirou opt out of enrolling at the school, instead opting to do...whatever it is he planned to do next in his quest to become a Hero of Justice. Rin not only expects, but supports the decision, allowing him to drag her around for a change. It's a Big Development because at the traditional end of Unlimited Blade Works, we're filled with hope that the future can be changed, that Shirou would grow up differently, and become someone other than the Archer that would die for his beliefs and spend a purgatory enslaved to an unfeeling cosmic force, every moment confronted with the impossibility of his dreams.  And yet here, we see him consciously, deliberately, rejecting that potential outcome. Here, he's choosing to take another step down the road to becoming the white-haired, dark-skinned, red-clad cynic that seemed to hate everything that he became. At the same time, though, that's where all the difference lies. Shirou himself, through the crucible of confronting his own future, has chosen to accept it, judging the consequence to be worthwhile. He knows how impossible his dream is: A world where no one will ever have to suffer. But he's judged the struggle to put it into being to be worth the pain it will cause him, and possibly the compromises he'll be forced to make. That might sound fatalistic, but contrast his self-awareness here to the essential tragedy of his father, Kiritsugu. All his life, Kiritsugu made those compromises while searching for a miracle with the power to undo the need for sacrifice. Finding out that that miracle didn't exist was what broke him. Shirou faced the same challenge, but thanks in part to seeing - and fighting - his own future, as well as knowing how it turned out for dear old dad, chose to accept that cost. It's an interesting contrast to other, similar stories, especially once you try reading it - as so many other anime can be read - as a parable on growing up and learning to live with the hypocrisies and compromises of adult life. So many heroic stories reward protagonists for never compromising on their ideals. The takeaway for the teenaged Japanese audiences is to highlight the virtue in sticking to one's own guns, and never to accept the old men who undermine one's resolve with platitudes about "how the world works".  Here, though, Unlimited Blade Works, and more specifically this particular adaptation of it, shows another side of that resolve, acknowledging the truth about ideals: That they come at at price, and are often impossible to achieve, and that the true heroism lies not in simply holding those ideals, but to seek them all the same in the face of that impossibility, and to judge the price worth paying. 
Unlimited Blade Works photo
The Life After
And so the hero's journey begins. That's actually the weird thing here, as in these kinds of stories, most heroes are "born" at the beginning of the tale. A Link To The Past's hero is born when a green-clad youth leaves ...

Final Impressions: Plastic Memories

Jul 09 // Josh Tolentino
Unfortunately, I've got my critic hat on here, and Plastic Memories ending well (more on that in a bit) doesn't exactly excuse an almost infuriatingly bland middle. Indeed, the would've been a much tighter, more riveting experience as a six- or eight-episode miniseries, but the need to push things out to twice that length has left the show stretched thin, both emotionally and narratively.  Therein lies the good news, though: Plastic Memories' ending almost wipes out the bad feelings of before because it's honestly a lovely piece of bittersweet (emphasis on the sweet) closure. It helps because the show, early on, put the kibosh on any idea that Isla's fate could be avoided somehow. There's no bargaining with death in this story, which makes what little time she has with Tsukasa all that much more precious, even when it feels like it's being squandered on teenage blush-antics (see episode 7). That aside, though, it pays off, as the last several episodes see Isla's true importance being revealed. No, she's not some kind of ultimate weapon, nor is she special or destined in the way someone like Chobits' Chii was. She's just a Giftia with a gift for empathy and a way of bringing people over to her way of thinking. As it turns out, it was Isla's compassion and love both for the Giftias she retrieved and the people who owned them that changed this branch of the Terminal Service. It's established that they're the only ones who go full-in on the therapy and touchy-feely side of separating a Giftia from its owner, and that's because Isla convinced Kazuki and the others to that philosophy. That's why it works in Plastic Memories' larger context. Isla may have only had 9-ish years in the world, but her legacy lives on in the compassion and empathy of the Terminal Service branch she worked with. She's made her mark on the world and the people around her. That goes for Tsukasa, especially. It's not often that a show that opens with something as cliche as "love at first sight" pays off, but it does here. Well, sort of. It works here thanks again to the inevitability of Isla's passing. Seeing Tsukasa force a smile and watch his resolve start to crack, as he spends their final date trying to bargain with fate, makes up for the fact that this love story started with her seeing her moping in an elevator.   Lastly, it works because it knows when, or rather, how, to quit. Let's take another series about letting go: Anohana. That show's characters spent almost the whole story in varying states of denial, none of them able to get over the loss of their friend, and finally saying goodbye by screaming it out to the heavens. It's over-the-top, and while it did work for some folks, it left others cold for the intensity of that melodrama. There's no screaming at the end for Plastic Memories. Only a girl who gets to spend her last moments with the boy she loves, knowing that everything's alright in the world, and perhaps hoping that someday they might be reunited.  That's all well and good, but as I mentioned earlier, it doesn't quite wipe out Plastic Memories' other structural problems. Narratively, the show was about as clumsy as Isla was in her android dotage. In fact, the last two or three episodes were accompanied by no less than four different montage sequences. And let's not even get into the fact that the show would've been much more interesting earlier on if it had explored things from a less tiresomely teenage point of view. But, perhaps that's not the point anymore. Plastic Memories is about going out with the good bits in mind, and the ending certainly makes a much better impression. And if that's to be Isla's legacy, it'll be all good.
Plastic Memories photo
Remember She
Plastic Memories ended well. For a show that's all about what people leave behind, about legacy, about leaving the world with a lot of good memories, and about literally ending on an up note, that's the best outcome one could ask for. 

Final Impressions: Sword Art Online II

Apr 15 // Salvador GRodiles
When Phantom Bullet’s final battle transitioned into the real world, I was a bit skeptical on how the show would resolve the situation, since it might place Shino in the sideline while Kazuto played the role of the hero during the last part of the confrontation. Because of this situation, SAO II was in a scenario where episode 14’s resolution would make or break the program’s third arc for me. Luckily, the former occurred, as Shino role in the showdown was greater than I expected. While she didn’t resort to using a firearm-like weapon, her finishing blow was a nice final topping in the sundae that made up Shino’s development. Aside from Shino’s story, it was a big surprise to see that A-1 took their time to get viewers acquainted with Gun Gale Online’s setting, along with throwing in some dialogue segments to set up for the show’s big events. This actually helped strengthen the main moments in the series, (such as the key events leading up to the final confrontation against Death Gun), since it gave us the time to absorb each scene in the program. If it wasn’t for this format, we might’ve not cared too much about Shino’s struggle or break into joy after she and Kazuto defeated their adversaries. Hell, none of this would’ve been meaningful if they chose to recreate the Aincrad Arc’s quick pace, since we might’ve missed out on the key moments compliment Reki Kawahara’s improved skills. Overall, A-1 were able to wrap up Sword Art Online II’s Phantom Bullet nicely. We got to see Shino slowly recover from her trauma and the show did a decent job in explaining the process behind Shinkawa and his older brother’s evil scheme-- even if their scheme had some far-fetched elements. To top it all off, they were able set things up for the next big storyline in the series, which might be covered when the show’s inevitable third season gets green lit-- assuming that this’ll be a thing. While SAO II’s first half came to a satisfying conclusion, the program’s second arc felt a bit underwhelming. Compare to Phantom Bullet’s progression, Caliber felt like a random filler arc from a long shonen anime series. While I don’t mind side episodes that develop the show’s characters, the events in the program’s fourth storyline didn’t move the plot forward. If there’s one thing that’s relevant to SAO, it’s the weapon that they found during the quest, since it might play a big role in the later arcs to come. Sadly, Caliber lacked that special ingredient to get many viewers to care about the group’s quest this time around. Thankfully, this story wasn’t the last thing that SAO II had to offer, as the second season’s final saga left us with some emotional moments that made up for its earlier fumble. The first thing that sets Sword Art Online II’s Mother’s Rosario Arc from the other storylines is that Kirito sits back while Asuna takes the lead. Due to this change, the show’s final arc was a breath of fresh air, since it lets us learn more about a character who was mostly stuck as a supporting character. Nothing against Kazuto, but his story felt complete after he saved his girl from a crazy madman who wanted to use virtual technology to control individuals; therefore fulfilling the requirements of a fully developed character. Seeing that Asuna wasn’t too involved in the previous storyline, this direction gave viewers the chance to view the series through an entirely different angle. Combined with the girl’s situation with her mother trying to control her life, Mother’s Rosario had the right ingredients to spice things up for the viewers. While it was neat to Asuna as the star of the show, one of Mother’s Rosario’s strongest segments was the situations with Yuuki. Considering that SAO mostly dealt with dangerous situations that occur in virtual gaming, it was hard to expect the series touch upon a character who was suffering from HIV. Surprisingly, Yuuki’s inclusion in the plot didn’t feel forced, since the entire storyline did its best to build up the reveal without making it feel so sudden. Because of A-1’s handling of the source material, the meat of Mother’s Rosario ended up being one of the most depressing parts (in a good way) of Sword Art Online to date. For a character who’s meant to exist in once in the series, the series did a great job in getting the viewers invested in her situation. At the same time, her situation is relatable to many viewers, since the concept of losing someone at an early age is very devastating. Seeing that I lost a friend back in December, watching Yuuki experience her final moments on Earth hit me right at home. Coincidentally, my friend was also a fan of MMORPGs, which shows how a series can strike one’s emotional cords from time to time. Even though this arc didn’t feature a big threat to the virtual gaming world, Mother’s Rosario was able to give us an interesting adventure that covers the series’ theme about life in an online game. Not only that, the arc managed to remind us why Asuna’s a force to be reckoned with, which is a great plus for anyone who was a fan of the character. In regards to the things wrong with Sword Art Online II, the problems with the series weren’t the various shots of Sinon’s butt or Kamen Rider Kirito RX stealing the show, but the way how A-1 adapted the source material this time around. The whole Laughing Coffin story felt like it came out of the blue, since the anime’s first season implied that Kirito overcame his trauma from SAO when he gave it his all to rescue Asuna during the Fairy Dance Arc. Unfortunately, this is an outcome that can occur when a studio decides to leave out certain monologue segments that were present in the original story. However, once the show got passed this conflict, SAO II was able to get back on track, which prevented Phantom Bullet from becoming a disaster. Other problems include the show’s bad habit of changing its progression speed during SAO II’s Phantom Bullet Arc, which was likely the result of the team trying to avoid passing the program’s 24-episode limit. Perhaps if the series ran for 25 or 26 episodes, then the show could’ve moved at a steadier pace. That, or they do what Shaft did with Bakemonogatari and air the rest of the episodes online. Then again, that sort of privilege might be rare among studios, so it might be an impossible for A-1 to take this route. As for Sword Art Online II’s animation, it had its ups and downs. The show’s major battles utilized the right angles and timing to ensure that each shot and/or slash would feel fulfilling. However, this doesn’t apply to the minor segments in the series, since there were a few moments where A-1 would draw the animation frames with a zoomed out or side shot, which would make the characters' attacks and/or movements feel underwhelming. Nonetheless, the studio was able to bring Gun Gale Online’s world to life with the way how they drew and colored the title’s post-apocalyptic setting. When you weigh in all of the positive and negative outcomes, the show’s visuals and character movements were handled decently in the long run. Even with its issues, Sword Art Online II managed to be an enjoyable installment in the series. While Phantom Bullet hit a slight bump before the big tournament, the real treat was watching everything unfold as we watch Shino overcome her fear of firearms. Thanks to A-1’s decision to throw in some more exposition into the story, the series managed to shed light on the new game’s mechanic, along with expanding on the characters themselves. On top of that, it improved the show’s pacing, which made up for the first SAO season’s tendency to move at a quick pace. Despite the weird execution with Kazuto’s own issues and the underwhelming Calibur storyline, the rest of the program still had its entertaining moments. Combined with a final tear-jerking segment, I think it’s safe to say that SAO II ended nicely. However, the show still doesn’t come close to the quality found in titles like the .hack franchise and Log Horizon. Then again, does it need to? When viewed on its own accord, the Sword Art Online series is equivalent to a random snack found at a convenient store. It’s not going to fully satisfy your need for delicious anime, but you might like what you find in the bag’s content. Since the show’s taste was enjoyable, there’s a good chance that it’ll get better if a new season comes around. Who knows, A-1's inevitable adaption of the next SAO arc might be more consistent than before. [Catch Sword Art Online II on Crunchyroll and Daisuki]
Sword Art Online II photo
Preemptive Tears!
There’s something wonderful about having a show make you feel emotional-- especially when you were certain that the series couldn’t top its first half. One moment you’re expecting the program to fall apart w...

Final Impressions: Gundam Build Fighters Try

Apr 06 // Josh Tolentino
Really, Build Fighters may have the scrappy, underdog attitude, but the loud, proud commercials for the HGBF line of new plastic models, carefully timed to come after every opening theme and every credit roll, speak to the depth of support the show actually has. Hell, the first season was the Gundam show of its season, with no other "name" to share the slot. It wasn't a one-off, never-to-be-repeated side journey. This was Bandai doing what Bandai does with Gundam, and growing a new limb in the series' ever-branching fictional universes. The Build Fighters universe stands as an equal peer along the siblings that birthed 00, SEED, and the rest. Heck, in a meta sense, it might even last longer, since some of the modularity and universality introduced with the Build Fighters models is sure to trickle into future lines, long after the series have come and gone. But back to the thing I said about scrappy attitudes and such. Regardless of how much of a sure thing Sunrise and Bandai did or didn't believe it would end up, Build Fighters went in like a show with something to prove. It never let up and reaffirmed that the most important thing about Gundam in this day and age isn't sudsy ruminations about war and peace, or about pretty boys getting angry with each other, or even the sci-fi applications of large robots and the mysterious particles that power them. Don't get me wrong, that's all pretty important, but most important thing is having a love of plastic models (especially Bandai's many Gundam-branded plastic models) and the buying, assembling, and customizing thereof. As in the case of Reiji, a love of the Gundam fiction isn't even required, just a love of Gunpla and Gunpla Battle, which represents the prime good and ultimate virtue of joyful competition.  In a sense, then, it's all the more fitting that Build Fighters Try ends at the Meijin Cup, a thinly veiled reference to the yearly Gunpla-customization contest that Bandai holds, though of course, the Build Fighters-verse's Meijin Cup is a contest held with all the pageantry of the Oscars or Golden Globes, all to celebrate some hot-ass customs of all your favorite plastic robots.  The Meijin Cup is right where everyone loves Gunpla for what it is in both this and other worlds: a lovely little modelling hobby. It's where models are judged not on their battle prowess but build quality, where a young Sazaki brother can build a budding bromance with the sickly little kid that never used the stickers, and where you can put together designs as conventional as a Zeta reinterpretation of the Lightning Gundam to...a horrifically embarrassing tribute to everyone's favorite Try Fighter, Fumina. Side note: The designer for Super Fumina is none other than than Fumikane Shimada, known to girls-with-robot-bits-on-'em connoisseurs as the guy behind Strike Witches and more than a few Kantai Collection Fleet Girls. And he did a pretty good job, too, referencing Fumina's first Gunpla, her Powered GM Cardigan, in the design. Anyway, the episode's basically a long victory lap, waxing eloquent about how transformative Gunpla fandom can be, or more philosophically, being a fan, and engaging (positively, of course!) with the subculture that fandom provides. It makes a best-case scenario for when subcultures conquer the world (though to be fair, Gunpla is mainstream "over there" in ways it will never ever be in our universe), and treasures the joy that can only come from experiencing the deeper aspects of fandom for the first time. That said, for as much thematic weight as this last episode carries, structurally it falls prey to the same weaknesses that doom Build Fighters Try to live in the shadow of its predecessor. With the drama all over last week, this week's episode feels weightless, as inconsequential as it is in truth. It's quite similar to the "Gunpla Fair" episode in season one, as it features lots of downtime, low-stakes dustups, and friendly, "let's all be Gunpla Battle fans together" character dynamics. And like season one's version, it would've been much better before the final fight. It's all well and good that Build Fighters Try is striking out for itself, and building its own mythology and stable of original designs. Frankly, I'm not that big a gunpla fan, so I don't even care that most of the biggest stars of the show couldn't possibly be reconstructed using stock parts, the same way that the Star Build Strike, Zaku Amazing, or Wing Fenice were "based" on something "real" to the Gundam fiction. It doesn't really matter that Sekai had to have had access to a 3D printer or nanomachines to have made his Kamiki Burning Gundam a reality, because this is a show where magic fairy dust makes the dolls move like they do in the cartoons. Ultimately, the problems with Build Fighters Try were more in the narrative than in its world-building. Chief among these is that unlike the previous season, the kinds of rivalries and friendships that got built up over the whole series didn't get the room they needed to breath, grow, and establish themselves. In part this was due to the team structure. Many of the most compelling rivalries were between people who would never end up fighting each other. I'd have loved to see how Fumina could match her Star Winning against Sekai or Yuuma's Gunpla, and the series itself acknowledges as much when it refers to Wilfrid and Adou's never-to-be dream duel. But that's small change compared to the way earlier competitors were muscled out of the way once the Nationals started. I can guess that the creators were intent on giving the Try Fighters good opponents from the get-go, to avoid the stint of mook-victories Sei and Reiji went on on their road to the World Championship, but that only makes the pain of seeing Gyanko and Simon Izuna sit on the sidelines for episode after episode more acute. Sure, the Gunpla Academy, Sekai's senpai, and even the SD-R triplets were more compelling adversaries, but it's impossible not to imagine how much better those matches would've been had we, the audience, been nursing a desire to see them fight for realz on the promised day. We cared about the fight between Fellini and Reiji because Fellini had spent most of the series mentoring Reiji - it was a classic master-student showdown. We cared about the fight between Sei and Mao because Mao had been so friendly and helpful every other time, and this was finally were the gloves had to come off. And so on. Build Fighters Try needed to let those relationships grow to bear that sweet emotional fruit, but sadly the show planted the seeds halfway through, instead of at the start. That aside, Build Fighters Try's only crime is in being less impressive than its forebear, and being slightly less awesome than something that's pretty awesome is a decent enough failure to live with. I for one, can't wait for the planned OVA to surface later this year. 
Build Fighters Try photo
A Good Try
In my mind, in the story I've built for myself for lack of genuine information, Gundam Build Fighters is The Little Gundam That Could, a show and concept that someone in the bowels of Bandai or Sunrise had to fight ...

Final Impressions: Shirobako

Mar 28 // Josh Tolentino
Honestly, there's not that much more to say: After the director and Aerial Girls creator Nogame worked out their compromise in the previous episode, the only hurdle remaining was to actually produce the episode and get it under three weeks. Of course, animating five hundred cuts and ten thousand tween frames at a quality needed to cap off a popular series is a monumental task in and of itself, but at least there's no crisis like the wrath of "God" affecting production as last week. Nevertheless, it's an all-hands-on-deck effort, as pretty much everyone at the studio, and many more beyond, are pulled in to work on the Aerial Girls finale. Even Segawa transfers to the office proper, resulting in much strange awkwardness from Endou and fueling the imaginations of a thousand fanfic authors. There's even a hilarious reference to Nichijou, another anime series which I'm positive was as much a "passion project" for Kyoto Animation as Shirobako is for P.A. Works. Even the show's final challenge, an epic six-way cross-country scramble to get the final on-air tapes to broadcasters out in the boondocks, feels almost perfunctory. Fun as it is to watch it's little more than a way to hark back to Aoi's drifting talents in episode one, and see their roots in office manager Yuka Okitsu's past career as a legendary production assistant. Then again, the train ride home from Hiroshima serves as a way to tie up Aoi's character arc, in its own way. Viewers paying attention will note that Aoi's been struggling to find her own "reason to fly", and trying to find out why she perseveres. In that respect, the creative and technical types like Midori, Ema, Misa, and even the long-suffering Shizuka have it a little easier: They've tailored their skills towards making anime, so that's naturally what they'd try to do. By contrast, Aoi's experience in production is more managerial, only rarely interacting with the final product. The episode even implies that with enough time, Aoi's future career could mirror Okitsu's, with even less involvement with the things Musani makes. Given how much anime and manga life advice tends to hinge on finding one's niche and leaning into it - seriously, how many times have you read a line like "This is something only you can do!" - that's a tough challenge for a generalist like our Oi-chan. And what it takes is a bit of soul-searching and deciding, for realz, that making anime is what she wants to do. That might not seem like a big step, but consider how many people go through life only thinking about getting to the next day. Aoi declaring, with confidence, that this is what she wants to do, is probably the most important thing she could ever do at this stage in her life. Good on her. As to the "why" of it, that's covered in her speech at the after party. Honestly, it's almost cringe-inducing in its earnestness. Hell, if you replaced the references to anime-making with stuff about ninjas and "The Will of Fire" you'd be able to slide her comments into a chapter of Naruto without missing a beat, it's that sappy. And I still effin' adore it, and her, for saying it. This is because, as I said last week, Shirobako is not a documentary. It's an ideal, a love letter, and a statement of intent. It celebrates the making of anime and the people who make it, and hopes and prays that everyone's doing it because they love doing it. That's not the same as "whitewashing" away the industry's many, many problems, though. There's no question that the show is light at its core, and never intended to be the kind of tough wake-up call that some think is needed. But that's sort of the point, in a way. Shirobako's intent is to put the spotlight on the people who "make it happen", and focuses on the good. But the bad's still there, lurking in the margins. Heavy drinking, bad food, worse pay, and lengthy hours are all more than evident, enough that anyone paying enough attention might actually be scared away. No one is going to come away from the show thinking that any of it is easy, and that's all that really needed to be said. And so ends a lovely little series with a whole lot of heart, about how tough it can be to do a good job, but how wonderful it can be to see it through all the same.
Shirobako photo
(Do)Nuts About Making Anime
Spoiler alert: Shirobako ends happily.  Of course, that's really only a spoiler to the most stubborn and obnoxious of curmudgeons. There was really no other way for this show to end. And to be frank, it ended as it should have: Full to bursting with sappy, sentimental, idealistic, feel-good cliche. I love it. 

Final Impressions: Garo: Makai no Hana

Dec 24 // Salvador GRodiles
For a franchise that’s known for staying away from saving people from death, Garo: Makai no Hana loves to find ways to protect its main cast from harm. Not that it’s a bad thing, since Amemiya and his crew always managed to justify their action for saving certain characters. While it might feel weird for Crow to overcome Eiris’ possession, the series’ rules state that only individuals who give off a large amount of Karmic Energy (a.k.a. people who’ve done terrible deeds or have corrupt desires) can be taken over by Horrors. This aspect also prevented characters like Kaoru from losing their humanity when they were placed in a dangerous situation like this. That being said, it seemed that Amemiya intended for this moment to be a shout-out to the first season’s finale, due to the similarities between both events. At the same time, it served as a nice way to get the viewers concerned over Crow’s well-being, since he was a great member of the show's main cast. Speaking of returning elements, Amemiya made sure to utilize various aspects from the original Garo series into the finale. From the giant topless woman to the Golden Knight's Soul Loss Form, Garo: Makai no Hana’s last two episodes didn’t hold back from bringing back the major moments that Raiga’s dad experienced during his adventures. Despite the similarities between both final battles, the battle between Raiga and Eiris still had its own unique moments, due to the Makai Flower’s ability to manipulate the vines in her body, along with Raiga’s one-time special form. Overall, the battle itself was another fine spectacle for the series, due to the great effects, action scenes, and dynamic camera work that was present during the finale. One interesting thing about Garo: Makai no Hana's story was the fact that Raiga and Mayuri’s roles were a reversed take on Kouga and Kaoru’s relationship during the original series. While Mayuri didn’t exhibit any of Kouga’s heartless intentions (such as using an innocent person as Horror bait), she basically had the same tendencies as him where she had trouble expressing her true feelings to people. Since Raiga was a better at showing people his kind side than his father, this helped create a neat chemistry between the two characters, as it brought us back to the original series’ format. Combined with Mayuri learning to adapt to human life, Makai no Hana managed to bring some cute moments to the series, which acted as a fine element to go with the story’s dark tone. While it was neat to see Garo: Makai no Hana deliver a new take on the original series’ main aspects, the show failed to wrap up the situation with Raiga’s parents. Because of this decision, the series felt like it ended on a sudden note, which disregarded the story elements that were foreshadowing towards Raiga learning about Kouga and Kaoru’s whereabouts. Perhaps if the series left us with a cliffhanger or teaser to hint at Raiga’s quest to find them, then Garo Season 4 could’ve had a more satisfying conclusion. Nonetheless, this didn’t prevent the show from being an enjoyable installment for the Garo franchise. In exchange for the lack of Kouga and Kaoru-related elements, Mayuri’s story came to great close, since the series did a good job on developing her into a character that started to feel real emotions. Of course, this aspect made Raiga's final task a difficult scene to watch, as it made us worry over Mayuri's well-being. Due to this event, the show's finale was still a wonderful closing scene for the franchise's fourth season. Unfortunately, this angle didn’t help the show’s progression, due to the series having a few side episodes that weren’t that great. Sadly, this was one of the downsides that came with the series returning to its roots. That being said, it's a shame that the team didn’t take notes from Garo: The One who Shines in the Darkness’ structure, a series where that mostly focused on the main story and characters, since it would've strengthened Garo: Makai no Hana's quality. Thankfully, there were a few interesting Horrors in the series (such as the Horror that loved scary movies), and the character-focused episode were always a nice touch (such as the segment with Gonza trying to make the best soup for Mayuri). That being said, Garo: Makai no Hana was still an entertaining series when you compare the good episodes with the decent ones. Even when the show had its decent episodes, the return of the insane-looking Horror costumes and Makai Knight Armors helped turn a majority of the show’s scenes into great segments for people who love detailed horror movie-like creatures and armored warriors. With the team being at their top game again, the series’ visuals and special effects returned to being a wonderful treat for the eyes. If anything, the show’s team has shown us that they were able to manage their budget better this time around, since the differences between Garo: Makai no Hana and their previous project, Zero: Black Blood, weren’t too major. In fact, the one of the major budget issues that the series faced was when they did the spirit beast episode, since it didn’t feature an updated version of the creature that was shown in Garo: Makai Senki. Either way, the series’ visuals were still an improvement from the third season, which means that the franchise’s staff’ll come up with some great costumes during the next series. Also, having the an improved 3D model of the Golden Knight's Soul Loss form and a special transformation with a giant golden howling wolf sword is a fantastic way to please its viewers during the final showdown. Despite Garo: Makai no Hana’s minor hiccups and issues with the usual format, the franchise’s fourth season was still entertaining. Even though the story wasn’t as good as Garo: The One who Shines in the Darkness, the exchange is that we were treated to a hero who inherited Kouga’s dedication as a Makai Knight and Kaoru’s kindness towards others, which resulted in a person who ended up being a skilled and lively character from the get-go. While it was unfortunate the series didn’t wrap up all of its loose ends, we can only hope that the upcoming Garo movie with Raiga’ll focus on the guy’s quest to be reunited with his parents. Nonetheless, the series was still an enjoyable delight, due to the features that made it feel like the Garo that we all know and love. On top of that, the team continued to show us why the Garo franchise has some of the best action sequences and special effects in tokusatsu-- well done, Tohokushinsha and Omnibus Japan. Since the fourth Garo season is a step in the right direction for the franchise, there’s a good chance that the upcoming series with Ryuga will continue this trend. One thing for sure, it’s great to have Keita Amemiya back as the show’s Director, as there are certain things that only his touch can accomplish. If anything, I guess that he following phrase could apply to this situation. Yet by the blade of knights, mankind was given hope.
FI: Garo: Makai no Hana photo
Like father, like son
When Keita Amemiya decided to return to the Garo franchise, this gave the show's fourth season the opportunity to go back to its roots, as the detailed costumes made a triumphant return. Despite the great callbacks ...

Final Impressions: Kamen Rider Gaim

Nov 19 // Salvador GRodiles
After Roshuo and Redue faced their demise, it was hard to determine the next direction that Gaim’s story was going to take. The main threat was gone, and there wasn't anything that could get in Kouta’s way-- at least that’s what Urobuchi made us think. Because of this deception, Kamen Rider Gaim’s transition towards the true finale was a wonderful experience, as the show’s loose ends with Micchy, Kaito, and the rest of the cast lead to a surprising turn of events. Despite Micchy’s downward spiral towards becoming one of the most hated characters in the series, Urobuchi did a fantastic job in his development. Honestly, it was surprising to see that he survived in the end, since it seemed to be the fate that most viewers wished for the character. In a way, this decision signifies that Micchy’ll have to live his life with the regrets of his previous actions, which made his punishment a better fate than biting the dust. Thanks to Mahiro Takasugi's great work in expressing the character's empty state, Micchy's story during the last part of the series was a solid way to bring joy to those who hated the guy with a passion, due to it fulfilling Urobutcher’s tropes that involves making a character regret their path in life. To an extent, this new level of satisfaction helped strengthen Gaim's quality in the end, as the drama made way for some great smiles and shocked expressions on the audience's faces. Of course, Kaito’s evolution towards becoming Kouta’s final obstacle was brilliant on its own behalf. Never did I expect for Ryouma to play such a big role in this event, since his kill-switch maneuver was something that caught us of guard in a clever manner. Overall, this action helped make Kaito’s transformation into an Overlord Inves a satisfying moment when a certain scientist paid the price, due to Urobuchi placing the character in a hopeless situation. At the same time, it helped show how dedicated Kaito is when it came to gaining strength, due to the delicious ingredients that were used in the transition. While the guy’s special ability felt a little far-fetched, the Butcher managed to throw in an element that justified Kaito’s power, as it complemented his determination to change the world; thus turning him into a great endgame adversary. With these aspects put into play, Gaim’s final countdown flowed in a manner where the drama and twists continued to astound the viewers as the intensity went up constantly. This was thanks to the biblical references that were thrown during the last stretch, as Urobutchi fully utilizes his ability to create philosophical statements to the fullest. One of the most interesting parts of the segment was how they connected episode 1’s first scene. Did anyone expect to see time traveling elements in Gaim?! I don’t think so. Either way, the truth behind the alternate Mai was a well-written twist, as it pieced the previous events together. Even though she was turned into a prize towards the end, it was a nice surprise to see that Mai was given a bigger role outside of being the girl who wanted everyone to survive the destruction, since it lead to some great reactions. Combined with Sagara’s true identity, the series knew how to surprise its viewers when it came to revealing certain things. All in all, the show’s staff did a fine job with playing with our expectations, and payoff worked out nicely after the big decisions were made. It’s also worth mentioning that the Butcher was able to give hope to all female Riders everywhere, as Minato/Kamen Rider Marika movie or special exclusive character. While she wasn’t part of the surviving group, her lifespan set a new record for the franchise. Despite her unfortunate death, it was great to see that she received plenty of screen time throughout the show's story-- take that, Mayu/Kamen Rider Mage from Kamen Rider Wizard. Sure, her desire to follow those with great ambition remained the same throughout the series, but she at least managed to play a good supporting role during the post Yggdrasill episodes. That being said, Minato showed us that there was more to her character outside of her preference, which made her an interesting Rider in the long run. Aside from the major twists and plot direction, it was amazing to see a good chunk of Gaim’s cast drop like flies. Even though the series is geared towards children, this didn’t stop the Butcher from unleashing his knives on the unsuspecting fruits that rest within the bowl. While the Kamen Rider franchise is no stranger to human deaths, Kamen Rider Gaim might have the most deaths in regards to important characters in the story. Perhaps the best part out of these moments was the fact that they weren’t done in the typical toku manner, as we see many Riders get knocked out of their transformations before they met their doom. On top of that, there are even some scenes that featured characters back-stabbing each other and using explosives or traps to kill off others; thus giving each confrontation a special element of surprise. In the end, these decisions intensified each death scene, as the shots and executions left us with a shocked expression. In a way, you could think of it as a Disney death taken to the extreme. Obviously, the deaths weren’t the main thing that made Gaim a solid show, as Kouta’s struggle to bring hope to everyone made way for a story that tested his resolve. Even though the guy was just a good person that desired to find a job to support his sister, his will to grow in the face of danger was expressed in the same manner how Urobuchi writes most of his main protagonists, as Kouta had to suffer on multiple occasions. From accepting his responsibility for Yuuya’s death to fighting for control of the Fruit of Knowledge, Kouta’s development was one of the great things that made his journey worthwhile. To an extent, his decisions were similar to the challenges that an adult faces, since making sacrifices is related to many real life situations. Speaking of growth, another one of Gaim’s strengths is how each story arc represents the different stages of growing up. The Beat Riders Arc focused on the teenage phase when people are discovering themselves while living a carefree life, the Yggdrasill and Helheim Saga symbolizes the perils that people face when they have to come to terms with reality after high school, and the Overlord Saga covered the importance of finding one’s resolve in the heat of crisis. Lastly, the Forbidden Fruit Storyline is all about accepting one’s path while moving forward in life. To an extent, these elements were represented through the way how the characters overcame the big players in the series (such as Pierre calling out the Beat riders on their skills, or Kouta’s opposition to Yggdrasill’s ultimate solution for saving humanity). Overall, this concept was one of the main factors that allowed for Gaim to tell a story where the Monsters-of-the-Week weren’t dominating the stage, which made the plot's progression a feel more natural this time around. In regards to the designs that appeared towards the end of the show, Kaito’s Overlord Inves Form gave off a nice Fangire vibe, since body had a stain glass-like pattern. Even though it felt like something that would fit better in Kamen Rider Kiva’s universe, Overlord Baron’s appearance was still a good choice in the end, as it suits Kaito’s fancy/royal theme that his team shows off. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said about Ryugen Hell Fruit Arms, due to it being a fusion between Grape and Kiwi Arms. Seeing that Micchy’s Final Form grants him the power to use the Overlord Inves’ weapons, you’d think that it would look like a hellish warrior. Instead, the current look lacks that powerful feeling that the Gaim’s Triumphant and Zenith Arms gives off. At least the other Riders make up for the poor design, since the fusion between the fruits/nuts and the actual armors managed to create a cool look instead of looking downright ridiculous. While Gaim’s main story ended on a satisfying note, one of the show’s downsides was how the real final episode wrapped things up. For a segment that was supposed to act as an epilogue, the entire segment left a rotten stain in the exquisite fruit that Urobutcher diced up, due to Micchy’s characterization in the series. While it’s understandable for most programs to redeem a despicable character, I felt that it was too early for Mitsuzane to be accepted by everyone else-- even if Takatora was there to help him. This element alone tarnished the build-up that lead to the character becoming an empty shell filled with regret, since a seven month time skip isn’t long enough for the rest of the surviving cast to forgive him. Seeing that Urobuchi didn’t write this episode, the segment suffered from the same issues that were in the ToQger x Gaim special, as the tone didn’t go well with the way how the characters were written. If there was one positive aspect about this segment, it’s that we got to see what the rest of characters were up to after the shows ending, which added some minor satisfying aspects to Gaim's finale. Most importantly, the show’s biggest issue is that Pierre didn’t get the spotlight that he deserved. Seeing that the guy didn’t get a Soda or Ultimate Form, Gaim missed their chance to turn the pastry chef/former military personnel into a powerful warrior that would make Team Durian proud. Worst of all, they took away the man’s power-- I call shenanigans! This travesty shall continue to haunt the series for many generations to come; thus turning Gaim into one of the worst toku shows in existence. In all seriousness, while Bravo didn’t become the strongest Rider in the series, his role after the Beat Riders Arc changed him into a person who uses his expertise to help Kouta and his group instead of ridiculing them. This change allowed for us to experience a different side of the character while seeing him use his expertise in a new way. Not only that, he gave us fabulous Jonouchi, and his contribution to Zack’s plan during the final storyline was a solid event for the series. Even though Gaim’s epilogue left us with a bad taste in our mouth, this doesn’t change the fact that Urobuchi brought us an great Kamen Rider series. Thanks to the show utilizing a more organic storytelling format, the program’s event flowed more naturally than many recent Rider shows, as each segment would get resolved while opening up for more juicy bits to pull the viewers in. On top of that, Gen the Butcher’s style brought us back to the era when the series used to feature mature themes, which showed that the franchise is willing to go back to its roots from time to time. Considering that the man was a fan of the franchise before becoming the series’ Main Writer, his efforts have shown us that he cherished this position throughout the show’s run. If anything, the guy deserves a huge round of applause for his hard work on his first toku show, as he left us with a great Rider series that made up for Kamen Rider Wizard’s bland flavor. In other words, Gen the Butcher has shown us that bittersweet fruits are a way better than plain sugar doughnuts.
FI: Kamen Rider Gaim photo
Now thats how you make a Fruit Salad!
Back when it was announced that Urobuchi would become Kamen Rider Gaim’s Main Writer, it was certain that 2013’s Rider series was going to be an interesting tale. Despite Gaim being a children’s show, t...

Final Impressions: Kanpai Senshi After V

Sep 03 // Salvador GRodiles
In many toku shows, one never questions the team’s state after they defeat their main adversary, since they tend to have a happy life after their show ends. However, when you take into account that the After V gets paid for being heroes, one starts to wonder what'll happen to their career when they take out the Commander. Would they move on to the next threat, or will our heroes have to consider a new line of work? Thanks to this situation, After V’s final three chapters managed to transform into an emotional experience, as we’re given many segments that made us concerned for the heroes and the villains' well-being. Speaking of which, After V’s new direction was pure genius, since it conveys the saying where “you can’t have good without evil” in a simplistic yet funny manner. On top of that, the show's staff lays down the proper ingredients for the viewers to care for the Commander and Kee. Hell, the moments that involved the show's main villains were some of the most emotional segments that the series had to offer, since there was a slight chance that the program would end in a depressing manner. Part of the final arc’s success was the fact that we all grew to care about the show's heroes and villains throughout their bar-hopping adventures. Prior to this event, the main thing that made After V great was the interesting chemistry between the team's members. While the running gag with Red trying to keep the team together didn’t last too long, part of the show’s entertainment factor was watching the main cast develop when they had to overcome certain obstacles that could hinder the team’s ability to work together (such as Green's inability to hold his liquor). These challenges showed that the team’s hangout sessions were no different from the ones that regular people experience. As a person who tends goes out with his friends every week, I was able to connect with the After V’s scenarios, since they were a few moments where my buddies and I faced a few obstacles before we became close comrades. While the New Yellow episodes were After V’s weakest segments, it’s understandable that the character’s purpose was to show how the team would act when a cute girl interferes with their usual routine. Honestly, these segments weren't that great, as New Yellow didn’t contribute to the show’s comedic aspects. Nonetheless, the series managed to restore its honor when they showed how the Commander’s struggles would affect the rest of the team. In a way, this build-up worked as a great way to show how the show’s heroes and villains are similar when it comes to making a living. Even though After V lacked the campy/flashy action sequences that make toku shows entertaining, the series still managed to hold its own with the dialogue between the characters in the two bars. From the various expressions to the timing between lines, the show held its own with the way how the wacky conversations were handled. To an extent, the costumes helped make the show look like a Sentai series from the 70s, which made the show's cheesy designs feel right at home. With all said and done, After V showed us that you don’t need flashy fight scenes and explosions to make a costumed hero show fun. As long as we’re treated to a program with a premise where we can connect with the characters through serious and/or humorous moments, then there’s a good chance that the audience won’t be disappointed. While After V isn’t on the same level as other toku parody shows like Akibaranger, the show’s sitcom-like presentation gave it the strength to win people's hearts regardless. On top of that, the series brought us a great take on the endless battle between good and evil that managed to change our outlook on evil organizations. On that note, let’s give one last toast to After V for being an enjoyable sitcom that made us laugh and cry. Since the show’s team did a great job with this series, let’s hope that they’ll bring us another interesting project down the road, as I’d like to see what they’ll do next. For now, show's team deserves a drink on the house for their great efforts in creating the wonderful concoction known as Kanpai Senshi After V. Cheers, everyone!
FI: After V photo
Its time for one last drink
Back when After V premiered during the Spring Season, I couldn't help but to be excited over the fact that we were getting a sitcom about a Sentai team that spends their time in bars after battle. While the show’s premi...

Final Impressions: Mekakucity Actors

Jul 06 // Dae Lee
Having not read or seen the source material in depth, Mekakucity Actors really knows how to toy with expectations to the point where predicting the next episode becomes impossible. The fact that I was actually surprised that the cliffhanger story thread of the previous episode was followed through in the following one shows how gleefully these short narratives like to trade off without your knowledge, without any regard to sequential storytelling. As a result, it's been a wild ride. As effective as Shaft's toolbox of visual tricks are, Mekakucity Actors stands out as a spotty production to say the least, ranging from horrifying CG to beautifully composed shots. The strong voice cast and art design do a good enough job of masking imperfections overall.  The final conclusion finally brings all the players into one space to face off against the snake which has plagued Mary's family and her friends all their lives. With the last entry of this season wrapping up, there are still a fair amount of character development and glaring questions to be answered. Like any good mystery, much of the fun is in the journey. Being given fragments and speculating on how they fit together was satisfying, and each small revelation motivated me further. Even if the conclusion was rather hastily put together and merely ties up the ensuing dilemma, the main elements that stick with you are the characters. Well realized and eccentric, the Mekakushi-dan stand out as a great ensemble cast full of lovable goofballs.  Having just finished watching the series, there's still plenty of things left for my head to wrap around; maybe a little too much. With all the quick cuts leaping forward and back, even existing in different ethereal planes, it has a perplexing "End of Evangelion" styled sequence of events that I'll probably need a few re-watches to piece together my own interpretation. This will undoubtedly be a massively divisive series. Not only is it an adaptation of a wildly popular collection of various mediums, but Shaft's signature style is its own small controversy by itself. If there's anything to take away from this, it's that there's a plethora of material out there -- more songs, music videos, books, and manga that will further piece together the mythos and stories of the Mekakushi-dan and its strange characters.  It's a flawed show with production and pacing issues, but it still comes across as a bold, confident show that tackles and tough project and somehow managed to scrounge together a entertaining series in its own right.  [Watch Mekakucity Actors on Crunchyroll!]
FI: Mekakucity Actors photo
Is this the real life? Is this just Mekakucity?
To take a collection of narratively contained songs, light novels and manga and spin it into a television series makes this show a anthology about a unique group of characters connected to each other in the same (and perhaps multiple) universe(s).  

Final Impressions: Is the Order a Rabbit?

Jul 05 // Dae Lee
This is not for those who want manic comedy, or grounded realism. This is a classically laid-back and relaxed show that skips along at its own pace and provides a series of stand-alone episodes with very little continuity that matters. Straddling the balance between comedy-heavy and character-heavy episodes, Is the Order a Rabbit provides a strong library that endears you to their protagonists and pronounces their strengths with comedy sketches. We are given an ensemble of baristas who work in a variety of cafes and tea houses, each carrying themselves in a distinct way that doesn't feel too closely married to well-worn tropes. The show happily subverts your expectations, mostly with comedic effect, making the humor lie in the characters themselves, and not solely on situational comedy. We have Rize -- a girl with a militaristic background, Chino -- a reserved but blunt individual, Sharo -- a teacup fanatic with a myriad of complexes, Chiya -- a Japanese tea traditionalist, and Cocoa -- the kind-hearted extrovert that acts as the glue that holds everyone together. The enthusiasm generated by Cocoa is often the catalyst for all the best bits in this show, and her voice-work is truly stand-out. I also can't stop admiring and praising the art. This could possibly be the best drawn show of the season, as this is the only show I've seen where every single frame is as flawless as it can get. There's something to be said about visual consistency and strong art design, and this anime excels in both. From the dark pools of their eyes to the frill cut of their sleeves, this show sweats the details to great effect. Depending on your taste some episodes may be more lacking than others, but variety is this show's strength, providing an enticing trail mix of skits and comedy routines that never stretches out a gag longer than it needs to. Add in the unique coffee blend conceit, and you have yourself a nice brew of guilt-free slice-of-life. In my mind this will undoubtedly stand among the greats of the genre like Minami-ke and K-ON in the way they execute characters and make sure that every comedic bit and story progression aids in making the protagonists stronger characters. The joy of slice-of-life shows is watching the cast of misfits discover more about themselves and each other, and that's a concept Is the Order a Rabbit understands and gets down pat. I think it speaks to the quality of the show when I say this eventually became my single most anticipated show every week when it was airing, even beating out Ping Pong and Mushishi. I found myself executing a pre-show routine of brewing myself a mug of my favorite coffee and preparing some snacks for my weekly dose of Is the Order a Rabbit. The tone and comedic stylings feel like they were specifically tailored for me, melting away any stress I harbored throughout the week, happily indulging me in my 20 minutes of moe therapy.
FI: Is the Order a Rabbit photo
Follow the white rabbit
Having completed this season, I have no reservations whatsoever when I say this is the best slice-of-life offering I've seen in years. Drama-free, happy-go-lucky, no-strings-attached episode after episode of fun characters and exceptionally great art.

Final Impressions: One Week Friends

Jul 05 // Dae Lee
The switch in format from modular stand-alone episodes to a continuous, serialized drama seems to have split the original fan base and I can see why. The light-hearted bittersweet flavor of the earlier episodes were simple and heart-warming in their own right. When it came time to tackle Kaori's problem head-on, it had to abandon that format which everyone was enjoying. While I feel like the dramatic developments were perfectly telegraphed from the earlier episodes and not at all arbitrary or contrived, I have to admit that I was sorely missing the everyday shenanigans with no strings attached. Luckily the last episode wrapped up the ensuing dilemma and puts Kaori and Hase back on the right track, and brings with it the same warmth and happiness that we fell in love with in the first place. The last episode seeks the rectify much of the complications set earlier, with everyone able to clear any doubts and speak clearly to each other. Some ongoing strings wrapped up very nicely, especially with Hase and Kaori finally able to get crepes from the new shop that eluded them for so long. The far more entertaining side-couple of the show, Kiryu and Saki, also get their moment together as they amend their own awkwardness towards each other and continue to be adorable. There's easily more episodes to be had with the cast, especially since everyone is on the same page for the first time; a second season would definitely be a welcome sight. The visuals and music are beautifully rendered and quite powerful, but understated in a way that this show could easily be overlooked --  which would be a mistake. My biggest worry with this show was how it was going to sustain a relatively fast-burning premise into 12 episodes, but now I'm left with the feeling of wanting more; a fairly miraculous turn of events. It speaks to how well the series was composed and written, and with its execution being spot on in every category, this will stand as one of my favorites.
FI: One Week Friends photo
"I would like to be your friend"
Our lovable cast was in some trouble the last time we checked, but luckily for everyone, Kiryu is around to knock some sense into our protagonists. One Week Friends proved to be one of the strongest shows of the season, even if it doesn't have the flash or draw as other offerings.

Final Impressions: Selector Infected WIXOSS

Jun 25 // Dae Lee
WIXOSS wears its core influence on its sleeve, using the basic conceit of Puella Magi Madoka Magica as a foundation, right down to our protagonists' character motivations or lack thereof.  Sure it's a "Madoka clone" and you can't capture the same lightning in a bottle that a different studio already accomplished, but it's a damn good effort and has its own set of original contributions.  The series folds out in a very deliberate pace, starting out with a slow burning wick, but ultimately snakes its way towards the dynamite finale. Every episode plants little seeds of intrigue and invites speculation the entire way through, even if some beats are very predictable.  With a second season slated for this fall, this season ends at a natural climactic stopping point, but it's not without its share of unfulfilled sub-plots and secondary character arcs. I'm very curious to see if this series will have built up enough steam from the anime watching community to form a sizable community by the time the second season rolls around. What this show accomplishes incredibly well is creating a slickly designed, oppressive and dark atmosphere that manages to simmer just under the boiling point for an extended period of time. The darkness never feels contrived in its execution nor does it try to capitalize on the contrast between cute girls and sadistic scenarios in a off-putting way, like so many "dark magical girl" genres.  Extra kudos has to be given for writing a diverse cast of characters who are all fairly interesting in their own right. All the characters are written in a way that feels consistent and remains honest to their own motivations and actions throughout. There are no cop-outs of manipulative writing to create simple drama out of nothing, and even the incest trope that became so trendy recently is handled with the weight and shades of grey that is needed. The explosive finale stills lingers in my mind. The studio clearly budgeted so that they could create the most impactful visuals in the last couple episodes, and it pays off. The end could be considered predictable, but it still toyed around with my expectations and set itself up in a way that fulfilled my expectations, while also building a direct bridge to the next saga that will continue with our core characters. While I feel that the art is attractive and appropriately dripping with dark visuals, the animation and overall blocking did leave much to be desired. Many of the shots were deadpan and boring, relying solely on the interesting developments to keep you watching; it's not necessarily a bad thing that I thought the show was compelling from a narrative standpoint, but as a visual medium I would have liked some more creativity and variety in how they composed and animated the series.  WIXOSS isn't without it's occasional stumbles, and its very premise and pacing may turn away a lot of people. But I found sticking with the show ultimately rewarding and satisfying in the way they paid off many of the mysteries, even though they still have plenty left to show in the upcoming season. I would recommend it to those who want a show that's a bit different from the usual action or comedy fare, because a show like this doesn't appear all too often. [Catch this show on Crunchyroll!]
AA: WIXOSS photo
The beginning of the end.
So, Selector Infected WIXOSS: a anime about a commercial card game. Does it sound like a show you would watch? Me neither. Yet somehow, WIXOSS has become one of my biggest surprises, beating out many of what I considered to be the safe bets of this season.

Final Impressions: Saki: The Nationals

Apr 12 // Jeff Chuang
At the same time, the pace and structure of Saki: The Nationals sometimes feels like that we're just going through the paces. By bringing back everyone from the original TV series in some way, we spend a lot of the time in the series rekindling back plots and old memories. It's important, but I think that takes away from learning more about the two teams that are now eliminated. They were interesting as players and characters, and while the series tries its best to build a narrative for the losers, in the end the results are mixed. Well, maybe that's just my bias as to who I like. For example, the Eisui girls, for one reason or another, never really exploded with the kind of play that they were most notable for. While the other teams did well to neutralize it, at the same time it felt as if they were hardly better than someone without supernatural powers. Their back stories were interesting, but we didn't have a lot of emotional attachment to them. I'm not sure if this is just a fault of an anime that tries to give speaking lines to dozens of characters every week, but something had to give. With the two losing teams out of the way, Saki: The Nationals episode 13 focuses on the ultimate thing that everyone cares for: the reunion of Nodoka and her Achiga friends, and Saki and her sister. We revisit a couple scenes that played out during Achiga-hen, and Yuki continues to float around her red mantle as the semifinal begins (and continues through the ending montage). Meanwhile, Eisui and Miyamori teams delivers the seaside fanservice, albeit only for a few seconds. With that, we say goodbye to the third installment of the Saki saga. In some ways, all of this is just formality now, with the eventual meeting of Saki, her sister, and team Achiga set. Side "B" remains the only unknown -- which other team will survive the semifinals? I guess we'll find out next season, hopefully. [Watch Saki: The Nationals on Crunchyroll]
FI: Saki photo
See you next season?
The final episode of Saki: The Nationals doesn't really feature much in terms of climatic wrap-up. The series end with a giant standing nod to the other half of the story: the Episode of Side A. And maybe that's for the best....

Final Impressions: Nagi no Asukara

Apr 08 // Karen Mead
Well, pacing is probably the easiest culprit to identify, as it often is. If Engaged to the Unidentified was a 12-episode show that felt like it had maybe 6-8 episodes worth of content, NagiAsu was a 26-episode show that had maybe 18 episodes worth of story. The show reached a high point right after the end of the first cour -- when the time skip threw viewers for a loop and turned many of our expectations upside down -- but it started to drag noticeably towards the end. Also towards the end, the show began to suffer from what I consider a frequent weakness of writer Mari Okada's work: people talking about feelings all the time, instead of actually showing their feelings through action. Don't get me wrong; feelings are important. I'm not trying to minimize the importance of interpersonal drama, and feelings can certainly be a valid topic of conversation. But later episodes of the show started to sound something like this: "Aren't you concerned that Manaka has lost her feelings?" "I'm very worried about Manaka's feelings. I'm more concerned about her missing feelings than my own feelings." "But do you understand what Manaka-san has lost, now that she's lost her feelings?" "I both do and do not understand what Manaka must be going through, because I don't feel what she doesn't feel." "But still, what kind of feelings will Chisaki have if you confess your feelings over Manaka's missing feelings?" "I'm very concerned about Chisaki's feelings, but I'm more concerned about Manaka's feelings, since at least Chisaki has the ability to feel her own feelings." "What about the feelings I am feeling for you right now?" "Why are you changing the subject to your feelings? I thought this was about getting back Manaka's feelings about my feelings for her!" Pow: you just got Mari Okada'd. Then there was the fact that thematically, the series had some good things to say but didn't seem to know quite how to express them through the narrative. The main message I took away from it is that just because something seems set in stone romantically, that doesn't necessarily mean anything; just because a boy and a girl have a big "dramatic moment," like Manaka and Tsumugu's first meeting, that doesn't mean they're fated to be together for life. Everything is in flux, and our actions will effect how people feel about us; there is no "fate" where love is concerned. I found this to be a refreshing viewpoint -- especially considering how often anime seems to take the opposite view -- but it comes off as kind of an afterthought. Instead, a lot of the show's energy is taken up communicating a trite "It is better to have loved and lost, then not to have loved at all," moral. This was a series that actually had things to say about love, unrequited and not, and how people's perceptions of what love is can affect their behavior -- which, in turn, effects how the objects of their affections view them. But it all got very muddled somehow, and a lot of the various plot elements involving the sea, hibernation and climate change seemed to just add clutter instead of thematic resonance. Basically, the whole story just seemed to lack elegance; a more streamlined narrative could have communicated these themes better. I will say one thing though; at least the show was interesting enough that the lack of underwater physics ceased to really bother me after a while. Not every anime is interesting enough to allow me to overlook major suspension-of-disbelief-killers like that, so at least NagiAsu offered some food for thought if nothing else. As it stands though, I feel like I can only give it the most tepid recommendation; patient, generous viewers may find a lot to like here, but those who value plot, smartly-written characters and narrative economy had best steer clear.
Nagi no Asukara photo
Love me like the ocean
Nagi no Asukara was a show featuring intriguing ideas and frequently beautiful imagery, but it never quite gelled into a cohesive experience for me. For the show's entire 26-episode run, I kept feeling like the story was just...

Final Impressions: Sakura Trick

Apr 07 // Brittany Vincent
Sakura Trick  photo
A weekly dose of yuri lovin'
Too often, romance anime is relegated to tsundere girls and beautiful bishounen. Where's the yuri representation? True, we've got plenty of harems and beautiful boys, but there's a huge dearth of relationships between women i...

Final Impressions: Soni-Ani: SUPER SONICO the Animation

Apr 05 // Karen Mead
First of all, let's talk about Sonico herself. Yes, she's a big-breasted mascot character, but for once, the character design reflects what curvy women often actually look like, rather than the standard skinny-stick-figure-with-big-boobs design. Instead of just being busty, Sonico is proportionate, meaning the animators took the risk of giving her big hips and thighs as well. Female characters in anime usually don't have much in the hip department because that look can register to some as "fat," and God-forbid a female character not be perfectly thin! So even though the series is propped up by Sonico's hotness to a large degree, she's actually a healthier representation of a "hot" woman than we usually see in anime, and I think there's something to be said for that. Really, between Sonico and Kobeni from Engaged to the Unidentified, this was "The Season Where Big Butts Became Okay," but I think that's another article. More importantly, the show somehow managed to present Sonico as one of those naive-and-incredibly-good-hearted female characters that anime loves to peddle, yet without making her annoying. All too often, we're told over and over again how sweet and good-natured the female lead of a show is, only for her actions to be selfish and immature; this often leads to a backlash where a lot of the viewers outright hate the character they're expected to love. In contrast, while Sonico isn't a particularly deep character, we do see her go out of her way to help people in her neighborhood regularly. Instead of being told how caring she is, we see it first-hand. Plus, she also helps out when it's called for without being an insufferable busybody, and tends to take responsibility for things. It's much easier to like her when we're being shown her good qualities rather than lectured about them. However, despite making Sonico likable, the writers wisely realized that as a mascot character, there's a limit to how much she can grow and change. Instead, the show often focuses on secondary characters who can and do change, and it's satisfying to watch a show where people's lives are actually changed by their experiences -- especially on a slice-of-life-show that's typically all about maintaining the status quo. Sonico's life becomes a kind of prism through which to view more interesting people, and because we get to know those interesting people, we don't resent Sonico for her idealized nature. What's also really nice is that the show presents a more mature, multi-generational world than we're used to seeing in most anime -- or hell, most entertainment in general. Elderly characters are often relegated to comic relief if they're seen it all, yet Sonico's grandma is a grade-A badass; she rocks the electric guitar even better than her granddaughter does. The customers at the family restaurant, despite being largely older men, respect Sonico and see her as a friend first and foremost; there's no tiresome "all the guys are just trying to get into her pants" nonsense. In fact, for a show about a model who frequently wears skimpy outfits, Sonico is rarely seen as a sex object by the other characters; it's just understood that she can be sexy, even pose as a sex object for magazine shoots, yet be a person with entirely different goals and dreams at the same time. Some people will see screenshots of Sonico busting out of her tiny white bikini and write off the possibility that the show is as progressive as I'm making it sound, and that's okay; you don't have to find the show ground-breaking in any way to enjoy the humor, or the pleasant slice-of-life antics. Even when the show fails, as the zombie-themed episode did, the ED usually provides a silver lining -- in that case, an amazingly ridiculous music video of a chainsaw-wielding Sonico doing the Thriller dance. Even in the weakest episodes, there's always something that brings a smile to your face. The people who were making this were clearly having a blast, and it shows. In a weird way, I see this show as being like the flip side to Wizard Barristers: the latter was a very ambitious show that failed spectacularly, whereas Sonico is a show with a super-pedestrian premise, yet the creators nailed every aspect of it. It's weird: I like to think that I'm a viewer who rewards ambition, but of the two, I know which show I'm going to miss far more. In fact, I miss it already.
Soni-Ani photo
Why was this so good? Anybody?
It was patently obvious we didn't expect much from Soni-Ani: no one on Japanator even bothered to write up a First Impressions for it at the start of the season. We figured it would be a vapid, 12-episode long commercial for ...

Final Impressions: Engaged to the Unidentified

Apr 05 // Karen Mead
At the time I wrote my First Impressions of this show, I was unaware of the fact that there was going to be a supernatural angle to this tale; I thought the "Unidentified" part of the title referred to the fact that Hakuya, the surprise fiance, was such a cypher as a person that he may as well be a UFO. The early reveal that Hakuya and his family weren't just mysterious, but in fact, supernatural, opened up a lot of interesting territory for the show to explore. In the end, I think my degree of disappointment with this show comes from the fact that most of that territory was left untouched. After 12 episodes, what kind of supernatural creatures are Hakuya and his sister Mashiro? We don't really know. What kind of powers do they have? Well, we know they can turn into some kind of animal form, jump really high, and apparently cast spells that allow them to "blend in" to various environments, but it's kind of a laundry list of unrelated powers; there's no general sense of what they can and can't do. Is Hakuya's fixation on Kobeni due to the fact that he magically imprinted on her, much like a duckling does on its mother, or does he just really like her for more typical reasons? No idea. Do Hakuya's people live in houses, or are they some kind of forest spirits who don't need most human comforts? We spent a whole episode in Hakuya's hometown, and we still don't know anything about that. What do we know? That Kobeni's sister Benio is really, really fixated on little sisters and won't shut up about it. While I won't say that Benio's schtick is never funny (especially because Mashiro's reactions to her doting often make it work), her siscon act gets tiresome early on and seems to exist to fill time so the show can drag out the actual plot for as long as humanly possible. Thank goodness, the show does end with some kind of acknowledgement that Kobeni and Hakuya are a real couple, which puts it on a rung above most anime romantic comedies. But still; the early episodes led me to expect certain things, and I was left unfulfilled. I think this begs a larger question of how much is fair to expect from a 12-episode anime series. Presumably, the creators want to get a second season, and you can't expect them to use up all the cool stuff from the entire series in the first cour, right? But if the first 6 or so episodes prompt the reader to ask a lot of questions, isn't it poor storytelling to just leave them hanging on most of the answers? Ultimately, I think I would be okay with how much Engaged left unexplained if I felt like these 12 episodes were packed full of goodness anyway, but I don't think they were; too much time, especially time spent on Benio, felt like filler designed to drag out what little plot the show was prepared to cover. I think the show still worked as a pretty good romcom, but I think if the creators had been less stingy with plot elements, it could have been really, really special; and for that, I'm a little mad at it. All that said, the show has super-likable characters (err, with the possible exception of Benio), some pretty clever jokes, and visually is a pleasure to watch; the show isn't an animation tour-de-force, but I never felt like the animation was lacking when it counted. If it does get another season, I will tell you right now that I'm totally on board with that; I think I'll always just be a little haunted by what could have been. Because at one point, I felt like this could have been an all-time great.
Engaged to U photo
Secret engagement and UFOs
As much as I enjoyed watching Engaged to the Unidentified, the end of the series left me feeling more than a little conflicted. Seriously, I haven't felt this conflicted at a series conclusion since, er...Golden Time. Which w...

Final Impressions: World Conquest Zvezda Plot

Apr 05 // Jeff Chuang
Well, let's get that lowest-hanging fruit: World Conquest Zvezda Plot is a great show if you want to just check out your brain and enjoy the antics. It's not Animaniacs level of crazy, but I could see Kate and Natasha guesting in an episode. The smoking ban episode was top notch, and in some ways if you've enjoyed Darker than Black's November 11th, that alone might make Zvezda Plot worth your time. But Zvezda Plot is a lot more than just references, humor, or cutting social commentary. The final episode is a good example of how it's got something more going on, like how the various nonsense things Kate conquered throughout the series come back and help her beat the so-called boss battle. Thanks to Yasu's selfishness, the magical doll Kate uses to summon her conquering fist remains intact, and it comes back to haunt the bad guys. In one way or another, Roboko, Natasha and Goro all return to active duty from various state of imprisonment, dismemberment, or death. A final battle between Asuta's dad upon his cigar-smoke-powered evil giant robot and the Zvezda team resolves in a somewhat expected manner, but nothing sensible happens between the start and the end of the battle. As such, Kate conquers Tokyo, or whatever Udogawa is now called, as the next foes from North America make the first move -- to be (ever) continued? There is more than a hint of intelligence buried in even the way Zvezda Plot explores the back stories and how that ties everything together. The way Itsuka's childhood memory connects Kate with Goro and Kaori's relationships is not only poignant but charming. Or how about dropping the bomb that Goro might serve as some kind of vague father figure for Itsuka? This is the great ploy to get you to forget that Kate, somehow, is an immortal little girl who was born to conquer the world. Just like her magical transformation that is half magic, half man-power, Zvezda Plot is half clever, and half stupid, just so it can seem even smarter than it may be. In the end, I'm not sure what else to make of this show other than to enjoy it. It did leave me with a smile on my face by the time the video stopped playing; on those terms, it was a smashing success. World Conquest Zvezda Plot made me want to think about it, so that's also a plus. It just pains to me to try to make sense of all this nonsense. If you are okay with this, or don't want to attempt to have a deeper connection with the show, maybe that's for the best? [World Conquest Zvezda Plot is on Crunchyroll and Daisuki]
Zvezda Plot photo
All hail the loliarchy?
I don't have a good grasp as to how to truly enjoy enjoy an anime like World Conquest Zvezda Plot, where clever writing and smart world building paint an internally consistent story, but what happens in this story about a lit...

Final Impressions: Kill la Kill

Apr 03 // Elliot Gay
Rather than summarizing the events of episode 24, I'd much rather jump straight into the thick of things.  I think ultimately, Imaishi and his team have crafted a satisfying conclusion to a series that was always operating at high speed levels. A lot happens in this final episode, and the direction is strong enough that it's never difficult to keep track of things. We move from beat to beat, but the pacing is smooth. On the one hand, this means there's very little time to breathe. On the other hand, it makes for a super entertaining 24 minutes of television. Starting with the villains, I know Nui has been a very divisive figure for many. She's as evil as she is annoying, and her troll-ish nature is frustrating. However I think this final stretch of episodes has succeeded in making her a significantly creepier character, one who is so wholly and utterly devoted to Ragyo that she's willing to cut her head off and end her own existence at the drop of a hat. It's ironic to me that one of the characters that most deserved an ass kicking ended up getting exactly what she wanted. Nui merges with Ragyo, becoming a part of the person she loves deepest. Arguably there could be no better a happy ending for this character. Ragyo's end is also relatively fascinating to me. Arguably, she's not even defeated in battle in the traditional sense. Ryuko and Senketsu simply rob her of her primary weapon, destroying her ambitions in the process. Rather than live to fight another day or receive the beating she probably deserves, Ragyo calmly ends things herself to little fanfare. There's no pain, there's no freak out. There's only the chilling words of a mad woman who nearly annihilated her whole family, never mind the world itself. Romi Park really hit a home run with her performance, making Ragyo one of the most memorable villains in recent years. It's been a long time since a baddie has been so captivating yet chilling.  One of the reasons I came away from Kill la Kill episode 24 so satisfied is that despite all the power ups, climactic duels, and ass kicking, the heroes didn't win via some dramatic punch to the face. Ryuko and Senketsu's hot blooded speech about people being people and clothes being clothes nicely tied together the themes of the series, allowing things to come full circle. Ragyo rejects this ridiculous concept, but the two of them declare that in the end, there's nothing to understand here. Kill la Kill was anything but subtle, yet I think that worked to the show's favor. Plenty of crazy things happened, but all of it was within the show's internal logic. As our heroes said, it's all about not making any kind of sense. There were tons of cool moments in this final episode, but specifically I loved Gamagoori's "death" and the subsequent sequences. There's a few shots of Mako rescuing Aikuro after the fact, and the look on her face is of absolute devastation. Likewise, Gamagoori's revival leading up to the destruction of the tower was a fun moment for the character. He's a personal favorite of mine, and seeing him come so far was a nice payoff. I also have to give a shout out to the entire ending sequence, which was all kinds of adorable. Satsuki catching Ryuko was a sweet moment that shows how far things have come, matched nicely with the ED theme playing over it. On the animation side there are still some fairly typical shortcuts here and there, but on the whole, TRIGGER pulls out all the stops with some lavish cuts and layouts. Animation direction was handled by Sushio for this final episode, and it shows. Lots of big character movement, thick lines, and even some good ole' black and white sequences. Out of all the episodes of Kill la Kill, this one feels most like a team Imaishi production.  No, TRIGGER's first original series might not have been the animation powerhouse that many had hoped for, but I think much of that slack was picked up by the expert layouts, fun cuts, and sense of speed that the drawings often created. According to the documentary included with volume 3, most of Kill la Kill was hand-drawn and animated on paper, with the backgrounds being hand- painted by in-house artists. I think that kind of effort shows through in the production, lending it a cinematic feel even when things aren't moving super smoothly. I've spoken of my less-than fond-attitude toward Hiroyuki Sawano's compositions in the past, but I think I may have been caught with my foot in my mouth this time. I'm still not crazy for some of the tracks on the Kill la Kill OST, but for the most part I think this ended up being a very strong score. A great deal of that likely has to do with the timing in which tracks were used, but nonetheless, there was some good work here. Ragyo's theme in particular, Blumenkranz, gets a lot of play time on my iTunes playlist. Still, a part of me can't help but wonder what would have happened if Taku Iwasaki had been brought onto the production team. I understand the desire to try and compare Kill la Kill to Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann. So much of the staff is the same across both shows that it's easy to fall into that mindset. For me, this series was a refreshing take on the typical shounen fight formula, this time with a primarily female cast capable of taking care of themselves. My concerns about fanservice ultimately ended up being washed away by the approach to nudity within the show itself. Much of it reminded me of '70s/'80s era animation, with plenty of Go Nagai references that I'm sure were entirely intentional.  Looking at Kill la Kill, I find myself unreasonably excited for the next original series that TRIGGER produces. As far as maiden voyages go, this has been one helluva ride. While not without its problems (animation shortcuts, occasionally slow stretched of episodes), Hiroyuki Imaishi and his team have created a high speed, heartfelt, comedic series that kept me entertained for its entire run. Whether people will look back on it fondly is up to posterity to determine, but as it stands, Kill la Kill was a refreshing reminder of how entertaining anime can be at its most madcap and ludicrous. Adios.
Kill la Kill photo
And they all lived happily ever after
The final episode of Kill la Kill has come and gone, with the story of the lone transfer student seeking revenge for her father's death having come to its conclusion.  Things exploded, Gainax references were made, people...

Final Impressions: Wizard Barristers

Apr 02 // Karen Mead
Important note: Since my beloved Stabler is no more (RIP, Stabler), it's not right to refer to Makusu as Daddy Stabler, so I'll just call him Makusu from now on. He's not even worthy of being Stabler's Daddy, quite frankly. Starting off with our favorite "talking to the client from jail" motif, Makusu says that he wants Cecil to defend him because that can be his way of making up to her for all the awful, awful things he's done to her. Now, I know that Cecil is so pure and wonderful that she spontaneously grows angel wings all the time and wants to believe the best of everyone, but she looks incredibly stupid for believing him for even half a second here. I mean, he's not even trying to be convincing about his lies -- you would think he could at least muster up some tears when talking about the son he murdered. He's just like "Yeah, kinda sorry that I killed you, got your mother the death penalty, and tried to kill you again -- my bad, whatever." To her credit though, Cecil is at least somewhat skeptical, but thinks she has to go through with defending Makusu because if he spills his guts in court, that will provide new evidence that could lead to her mother getting a retrial. Okay, so maybe her hands are tied here and she kind of has to go along with it, but I still think it's ridiculous that she looks so surprised when it turns out he was lying all along. The legal segments are even more unbelievable than usual this week for multiple reasons; for one thing, the prosecution agrees to drop most of the charges against Makusu for no apparent reason. I get that this whole thing is a set-up and the prosecution is working for Makusu, but the basis on which they explain dropping the charges is basically, "Well he was a judge, so it would be rude to prosecute him too much." And Super Judge -- who, up to this point, has been reasonable if not necessarily unbiased -- is totally cool with this? What ever happened to the system being biased against WUDs, especially WUDs who pretend to be human and obtain powerful positions through deception? Then there's the fact that you can't forget that Makusu is being defended by his primary victim because everyone in the courtroom brings it up once every five seconds. "Her testimony lacks objectivity because she was a victim!" says the prosecutor. Err, well yeah...she can't be objective because she was kind of emotionally invested in nearly being killed, what do you expect? The prosecution also tries to claim that her testimony isn't credible since she was unconscious at Makusu's apartment, so she can't know what happened -- as if a teenaged girl being found unconscious, against her will, in the apartment of a 50-something-year-old man presents no problems for the court. This episode, I just...this is logic poison. This is logic cancer. But wait, there's more! Turns out that Makusu's plan all along was to pin Stabler's murder on Cecil, because pinning his heinous crimes on other people is what he does. Fortunately, Ageha and Chouno earn their pay this week by producing a witness who reveals that Makusu is a lying bastard: the judge who we thought Makusu shot to death recently. I kind of glossed over it because it didn't seem that important at the time, but Makusu shot a bunch of people who were involved in the conspiracy 6 years ago to keep them from talking. However, once Cecil started sniffing around, helpful precog Sasori (who's the hidden MVP of this show if you ask me) saw that he was in danger and warned him to don a bulletproof vest before Makusu could shoot him. Anyway, having the judge who sentenced Cecil's mother to death admit that the whole thing was a set-up destroys Makusu's plans but good. But wait, there's still more! Even with all this going on, Cecil still faces the problem that she has no evidence that summoning magic was used on her, and that evidence is necessary to substantiate the charges against Makusu. Frankly, I think the giant occult symbol that appeared in the sky at the exact same time the summoning was supposed to have gone down could maybe count as evidence; I mean, they made a big deal that everyone in Tokyo could see it, too, but apparently the writers just forgot. Luckily for Cecil, Stabler's last act was to magically hide the Grimoire 365 inside of the Cell Phone Charm of Conscience and Contrivance, so she had the evidence she needed with her all along! Thanks Stabler! Speaking seriously for a minute, it's pretty lame how little Cecil contributed to the resolution here. Stabler was the real hero for slipping her the evidence in his last act before death, and the Butterfly Law team produced the critical witness without her aid. Given the way Cecil has been for the whole show, it would be out of character if she suddenly came up with a brilliant plan all on her own, but the fact that the tasks that won the day were all carried out by other people is kind of sad; she's seen little to no character growth at all. She's still someone who talks a good game about producing justice, but her own efforts fail and she's reduced to reacting to what the more effective characters do. In our last dumb courtroom fight, Makusu tries to kill everybody before he can be sentenced, apparently forgetting that Cecil is the BEST MAGE EVER and can take him down without breaking a sweat. Makusu is sentenced to prison, where presumably Cecil's Mom will ensure he has a warm welcome, and all's well that ends well. The series ends with the Butterfly girls having a sleepover, with Moyo on the cusp of revealing who she really is to Cecil: stay tuned for the announcement of the Episode 13 OVA, "My Sleepover With Satan." Closing Arguments I've been talking about everything that's wrong with Wizard Barristers for weeks now, so I'll try not to repeat myself too much. Still, this was a series that had a lot of potential that really went awry due to poor writing. For a while, the quality production values were enough to keep the show mostly afloat despite the poor scripts, but even that failed; by the end, production was so strained that the climax was aired with unfinished animation. I really wonder how much of this is due to director Yasuomi Umetsu; between this and last season's Galilei Donna, he seems to have a habit of creating shows with really strong first episodes that disintegrate almost immediately, and become downright embarrassing by the end. Maybe he should just stick to short OVAs, like Kite. Assuming this isn't all Umetsu's fault, I think this show is a testament to how the breakneck production pace of modern TV anime can doom promising shows before they even hit the screen. This was most obvious when episode 11 wasn't even finished in time for airing, but I think this was the problem with this series at its conception. The problem with Wizard Barristers wasn't the concept; the idea of a supernatural law procedural is interesting, and something that really hasn't been done in anime. I didn't like Cecil much, but a lot of the other characters had potential, and the criminally-underused familiars had a lot of charm. With episode 5, probably the high point, we actually got a tiny glimpse of what a smart anime supernatural law procedural might look like...and then, it was all downhill from there. The problem was that it seemed like staff was forced to use the first draft of the story, without any oversight or anything of that nature. If there had been time for someone on staff to actually research real law practices, they could have given the courtroom scenes enough grounding in reality that they wouldn't have taken us out of the story all the time. If they'd had time to refine the scripts in general, they might have caught on to why everything about the whole America/Canada field trip smacked of ignorance. Perhaps most importantly, they might have realized that it doesn't make sense to design 6 or so adorable mascot characters and not give them anything to do for the entire series; this whole thing seemed like a criminal waste of the always-great Norio Wakamoto's time. Still, the one thing I can say for Wizard Barristers was that at least it tried to do something different; it failed, but the attempt has to count for something. I can only hope that other creators will take a look at this show, think "Hmm, you know this could have worked if only they'd taken it more seriously/given it more time," and will be inspired to take on a similar challenge. For now though, it seems like a supernatural law procedural was just too tall an order for a weekly anime series.
Wizard Barristers photo
If this is justice, then I'm a banana
In the final episode of everyone's favorite poorly-written supernatural law procedural, Cecil agrees to defend her worst enemy in court, because no one in this world has ever heard the phrase "conflict of interest." However, ...

Final Impressions: Gundam Build Fighters

Apr 02 // Pedro Cortes
With golden Plavsky Particles shooting all over the place, the adults start evacuating all the audience members. While getting people out, the Arista crystal disappears and turns the entire arena into A Baoa Qu, the legendary location of Zeon’s last stand in the original Mobile Suit Gundam. Most of the cast meets up and goes to leave, but Mashita begs Reiji to do something about the giant crystal. That "something" i tos get every character that has a working gunpla to attack A Baoa Qu and destroy the crystal hiding within. What follows is a glorious orgy of gunpla destruction. Felini, Kirara, Caroline, China, Nils, Aila, just about every character that has gotten their hands on a model jumps onto the battlefield. In case you thought it was going to be easy, the promotional unmanned gunpla that were being held in storage come out to meet everybody. Sei, Reiji, China and Aila go on ahead to penetrate the fortress, leaving everybody else behind to keep back the grunts. Before they can get overwhelmed, they’re saved by Ral and Mao’s master, who wrecks dozens of suits. Back in A Baoa Qu, the base's main cannon nearly fries Sei and Reiji. Saved by China and Aila, they try to save the girls, but the recharging cannon forces them to leave them behind. Enter Yuuki and Takeshi, who save the girls and allow the boys to go further into the base. The two make into the core and use the RG system to destroy the Arista crystal. The attacking suits deactivate and A Baoa Qu dissipates. With the crystal gone, Mashinta teleports back to Arian with Baker in tow. With limited time left, Sei and Reiji challenge the clear-headed Yuuki to one last fight. They engage in a forest and truly enjoy the thrill of fighting with plastic robots. Interestingly enough, Sei finally realizes that his fear of harming his suits is what was limiting his piloting capability. Reiji gives the Star Build Strike’s controls to Sei and lets him finish the fight against Yuuki. Right before he can land the final blow, the system powers down and Reiji teleports back to Arian…with a certain meat bun lover along for the ride. The credits roll and show that a year later, Sei has entered the Gunpla World Championship on his own with the goal of one day facing his old buddy on the gunpla battlefield In complete seriousness, this is one of the best final episodes I’ve ever seen. It manages to not only give viewers a huge final battle with epic scope, but wrap up character arcs and loose ends. Hell, everybody has a happy ending here, even jerk-face Mashita and Baker. Funny thing is, it didn’t bother me. Normally I’d want Mashita’s head on a platter, but ending up as a gunpla peddler in Arian doesn’t seem like an awful fate overall. The last scene between Sei and Reiji was handled quite well, not devolving into sappy goodbyes, but into a promise for the future. Sei has grown quite a bit since the first episode, and being able to pilot on his own shows that he can truly enjoy his hobby without reservations. Then there’s the copious amounts of robotic fanservice. In a show that was completely based off of pleasing fans of Gundam, this last episode pulls out all the stops by introducing several new suits at the end and dropping a couple of surprises. Having A Baoa Qu serve as the location of the final battle was perfect, especially as it was jutting out of the ruined stadium. We also got a chance to see the vets strut their stuff. In particular, seeing Ral kick some ass was pretty sweet, as was seeing Mao’s master rock the Master Gundam. It wasn’t the God Gundam, but I’m beyond pleased to see G Gundam get some more love in the last episode. As a whole, Gundam Build Fighters was a massive success. It took a concept briefly touched on in a brief three-episode OVA and expanded into a full series. The pacing for the show was great, no doubt helped by Sunrise’s choice in keeping Build Fighters at a lean 26 episodes instead of the usual 52. There was little to no fluff and any sort of non-action material either built up character personalities or gave us some great references to past shows. While Build Fighters probably wouldn’t have the same effect on those that haven’t experience a ton of Gundam, this show is an absolute must-see for anybody that loves seeing a white, blue, red and yellow robot flying in the sky and kicking other machines in the face. This show is pure joy. [You can watch Gundam Build Fighters over at!]
Gundam BF photo
Boyfriend/Best Friends/Bro Fist/etc
It’s finally at an end. After 25 episodes of unfiltered Gundam love, Build Fighters has reached its climax. Starting off as a kid who couldn’t find the right pilot for his beloved gunpla, Sei has gone farther than...

Final Impressions: Recently, My Sister is Unusual

Apr 02 // Brittany Vincent
Furthermore, why is Yuuya so blissfully ignorant of the obvious romantic attraction from all the women he comes into contact with? How many floors are there until Hiyori can get to heaven? And if Yukina can see Hiyori as well as Yuuya, who else can see her? Is there any real point in her character being a ghost if every random person on the street can see her but decides to act nonchalantly and ignore her? If I saw a floating girl in an old lady's nightie with wings on her back just hovering over someone I'd be pretty freaked out. Apparently this is a normal occurrence for people in the world of ImoCho. Maybe my real problem is the show's refusal to commit to what it wanted to be. It tried so hard in the beginning to shock and offend, but by the end of what will inevitably be the first season among many, it had grown into another confusing yet run-of-the-mill little sister story that seemed to have run out of steam. All I have are questions with few answers, and I still really hate Mitsuki. I'm not sure if I'll end up having disliked this show or Pupa more out of the Winter 2014 season, but it's going to be a pretty close match-up. Remind me to stay away from these "quirky" series in the future. 
ImoCho photo
Stop wearing those scary panties
ImoCho has consistently been a source of great confusion and frustration over the short time it's been airing. It started out as a hilariously trashy series I felt a little sheepish about enjoying, then it evolved into someth...

Final Impressions: Pupa

Mar 31 // Brittany Vincent
It's hard to say when the trainwreck began, because for all intents and purposes, Pupa has always been a disaster. From the first horrifically mangled episode all the way up until the "bonus" episode that did zero to offer a satisfying conclusion it's always been a confusing mess, straying so far from the self-sufficient whole the manga offered that it's nearly unrecognizable.  Horrific animation, muted colors, and a wealth of edits mar what could have been memorable scenes in every single way. For a series that relies on shock value and gore to weave its narrative, cutting all of that out for broadcast seems self-defeating, as if the creators simply wanted Pupa to fail. Then, by airing what felt like out-of-order episodes, it completely alienated viewers without the context of having read some of the manga. It never stops to explain a single thing, only offering expository scenes here and there and introducing new characters without any real continuity. If I hadn't read some of the series prior to watching the anime, for instance, I would have never known from the first episode what was going on with Yume and Utsutsu's abusive father, and it's an important piece of information to consider when he appears -- otherwise, he's just a random man who seems to have it out for Utsutsu.  When the story did seem as though it was beginning to stabilize and go in a direction that sought to offer more information to viewers, the very next episode would veer off the figurative road and touch on a completely different subject or what seemed to be another period of time in the show. As a result, major characters were ignored, and plot devices thrown to the wayside. For instance, what happened to Maria, the woman with the cat? She planned on creating some sort of being with cells from Utsutsu and Yume, but what happened to her after the last episode she appeared in? Was she killed in Yume's monstrous wake? Who knows? Who cares? In fact, that just about sums up my entire attitude toward Pupa: who cares? I tried to, but every time I thought I understood what was going on, all of that understanding was taken from me. I couldn't even revel in decent art or spend enough time with the characters to engender any kind of nurturing feelings. The final episode seemed especially out of place, recalling the origin of Yume's hair clip, but bizarrely, featured more smooth and fluid animation than the entirety of the series. It's as if it was pulled straight from another show. [Editor's Note: So true, and the really amazing thing is that show was apparently Hanumaru Kindergarten.] Color me weirded out. It's not that I'm truly surprised, honestly. Once I found out the time constraints of the show and watched the trailer, I had a feeling something like this might happen, but it's a shame this premise was squandered when shows like ImoCho at least get fleshed-out episodes. Instances like this one make me a little ashamed of the genre, but I'm hoping this year's Parasyte might be able to make up for the terrible missteps here.
Pupa photo
TL;DR, it sucked
Pupa has been a long, strange ride. I'd love to say that I enjoyed it, but the truth is I couldn't wait for it to be over. Instead of a gritty, disturbing look at a symbiotic brother-sister pair and the challenges that come w...

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