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Final Impressions: Myriad Colors Phantom World

Apr 12 // Nick Valdez
One thing I could never fault Phantom World for, thanks to Kyoto Animation's style and love of fluid animation, was its visuals. Regardless of where the story didn't go, the show remained watchable due to how pretty everything was. KyoAni isn't necessarily at the top of the production game, but most of the time their style is a saving grace. For example, one of the main gags was how many times Haruhiko found himself flung across spaces. A common trope, for sure, but these throws rarely looked the same twice. It's just a shame that the fights never quite lived up to their potential. Phantom World was never really focused on fights, so when some of them end up looking super great I was starved for more. But in the same breath, anime adaptations can't rest on visuals alone.  For the entirety of its run I couldn't quite figure out what Phantom World wanted to accomplish. At some times it seemed like a show that wanted to tell a story about kids dealing with Phantoms (and to a lesser extent, deal with the destinies unwantingly placed upon them), then it became a monster of the week show, then a few episodes focused on a singular gag, and then in some sort of last ditch effort, it tried a serious and emotional arc toward the end. Like I had been fearing all along.  In the final three episodes, a super phantom named Enigma began attacking ability users and stealing their powers. Since phantoms weren't successfully built into a credible threat through the season, it seemed weird to suddenly ramp up the tension this way. It's a clearly rushed endgame ringing hollow as we're told that this particular phantom poses a threat when others were clearly treated as jokes before. But the major through line of this final arc was Haruhiko's missing mother. Apparently she walked out on him years before and suddenly Haruhiko's depressed. Even when the show had multiple opportunities to bring up this backstory (such as the episode where Izumi was afraid of what her parents might think of her phantom hunting) or invest any time in Haruhiko at all (so he could at least develop beyond the guy who delivers exposition). Anyway, as Enigma wreaks havoc across the town she accumulates all sorts of neat abilities. Including the ability to pose as Haruhiko's mother.  In the midst of all this, as the rest of the phantom hunting club believes they're talking with Haruhiko's mother, they reveal they all had a bit of a crush on Haruhiko. Once again, there was very little build up to this little development but thankfully that never quite becomes the focus. In fact, the series ends without any of those cliched romantic entanglements anyway. The final battle itself passes by without much fanfare and Haruhiko saves the day by fully summoning the cutesy phantoms he's used in the past. So I guess all the character evolution I've wanted from the series was saved for Haruhiko himself. I'll admit I'm being a bit harsh since KyoAni is at least trying to salvage the series at the end, but it's such a disappointing foray overall. Each week things just kind of happened. It's even hard to summarize the final couple of episodes because there's not much more than a logline's worth of material in each. Everything is so hollow, it's like the series wanted to embody the textbook definition of "Phantom." A lingering spirit of a good premise.  When all is said and done, there's no real reason to search out Myriad Colors Phantom World for yourself. It never quite figured out what kind of series it wanted to be and that confusion kept it from becoming something truly engaging. You can try and argue that it's some sort of "turn off your brain" entertainment without a real message, but it was clearly trying to tell a story at its end.  Besides, why would you seek out a form of entertainment that offers you nothing but background noise? If you're looking for cheap entertainment there are plenty of anime that provide that already. Shows that know you're watching them because of stuff like cool visuals and do their best to provide just that. We as an audience deserve something better than a show with an identity crisis every week. 
Phantom World photo
Myriad of rushed conclusions
If you've been following along with my occasional thoughts on Myriad Colors Phantom World, you've no doubt noticed how many times I've gone back and forth on the series as a whole. While folks in the comments suggested that I...

Annotated Anime: Myriad Colors Phantom World episodes 7-9

Mar 15 // Nick Valdez
Episode 7 Each episode of Phantom World starts with Haruhiko elaborating on the episode's central idea. Some episodes it's a scientific theory, and others it's some sort of philosophical idea. As he explains Schrodinger's cat experiment (where a cat is stuck in box with poison and is technically both alive and dead until someone confirms otherwise), subtly all but goes out the window as a loose phantom turns everyone in the school into cats. Well, anime cats (so just cat ears and tails) anyway. As the series amplifies its cute premises and character designs, the stakes aren't as huge. And while this was a negative at first, it ends up being a comfortable groove for the series to settle into. All these cat ears also tie into the mission of the week, finding a little girl's lost cat. The Phantom Hunting club then heads into an abandoned school building where cats used to hang out in search of the Phantom and then Kyoto's affinity for crazy visuals kicks in. Crazy hallucinations, the myriad of colors the title's been promising since inception, and an awesome Phantom design (leading to a literal interpretation of "house cat"). Then the episode ends with none of the characters growing or learning anything. But that's okay for now.  Episode 8 When a hot spring suddenly appears in the middle of the school, we get a continuation of the fun from last episode. Instead of weighing itself down with things like story or character development, Phantom World decides to amp up everything that's actually working. Unfortunately that comes with a bit more perverse jokes (and finally dipping into the harem trappings), but to balance it out we finally get a look at something I've wanted from the beginning. When the show started, it said the new generation of kids got powers through mutation and I've wanted to see more of those powers since then. As student after student fights the phantom-of-the-week (a gang of perverted monkeys), it's both visually interesting and humorous. Some of the jokes were clumsy, but I laughed quite a bit. It's a shame that it took eight episodes for me Phantom World to finally feel like a complete show.  Gags were influenced by character quirks, and I finally got a good grasp of who each of these characters were. It's not a lot, to be honest, but I'm happy to even have something here. With all of that, however, Mai is developing feelings for Haruhiko and that's what I didn't want. The show's been avoiding this stuff entire series and has been great for it, so don't drop it on us now.  Episode 9 Continuing the trend of using the monster-of-the-week formula to its fullest and just having fun with it, a girl we've never seen before says she needs the Phantom Hunting Club's help with the drama club's latest play (a samurai tale). As they practice, they realize that a phantom's been lurking by. On the day of their performance, the new girl suddenly reveals she's a phantom and transforms the stage into the actual Edo era. The gang figures out they have to successfully finish the play in order to satisfy the Phantom completely. The gang finishes the play, and everything kind of goes back to normal. No big developments here like in the last few episodes, but it's still and entertaining enough story. It's just not as gripping as the past two episodes. That's alright, but we can't really afford to waste time anymore. If KyoAni wants to swing for the fence, they've got to land it. We've gotten some good examples of a lighthearted, fun romp so I definitely want more of it. Either way, it's been okay so far. 
Annotated Phantom World photo
Myriad of actually interesting stuff
I've been hard on Myriad Colors Phantom World since its inception because I went in expecting more from Kyoto Animation's effort. Their past shows have been great when they work, so I was hoping this too would be one of the b...

Annotated Anime: Myriad Colors Phantom World episodes 4-6

Mar 01 // Nick Valdez
Episode 4 So after some complaining over how light on story the first three episodes were, the fourth finally has some character development. Unfortunately for us, it's not very compelling. In this episode we learn that Reina's parents don't really approve of her fighting phantoms in her down time (although it doesn't make sense since we were first introduced to the character in the middle of a phantom fight), and that's caused her to act a bit weird. Thus leading to the phantom of the week, a ghost bus that takes Reina to a house with bunny parents. After some shenanigans, it turns out Reina genuinely connected with these faux parents and has a tearful goodbye. Then, all of a sudden, everything's resolved by episode end as Reina says her parents are okay with everything after all. It's sloppy and lazily handled. For one, we never actually meet her parents (which is probably a good thing since the show can't even handle getting its core characters right) and it's not really developed. This plot doesn't have any threads moving forward into future episodes, and I still don't feel like we know Reina all that well. But I guess if you wanted to see her in bunny ears, you've got your wish. It just left a bad taste in my mouth overall.  Episode 5 To follow the pattern from the last episode, the fifth episode is trying to do some character work with the fourth member of the phantom hunting club, Koito. She's a derivative character you've seen many times in the past: a stoic loner who's power isolates her. But Phantom World refuses to be dark enough to make this whole plot work. You see, the reason she's been so alone and weird to everyone else is because she once fought a phantom as a kid and caused a bunch of damage. Rather than make the stakes highly emotional, or at the very least heavier (i.e. her fight causing injury or worse), nothing really has any narrative worth. Just like the previous episode, everything feels resolved too easily. And while the show's been doing its best to avoid typical harem traps (which is why I was drawn to the series initially), it plants the seeds of one here. As Haruhiko refuses to leave Koito alone (which a typical anime protagonist is want to do), he somehow makes some kind of impact on her. You can't really tell given the episode has very little development on this end, but apparently he's done something other than cause her harm. Seriously, the two times he jumps in to help only makes it worse for her. By the end of the episode, Koito joins the group full on but she really shouldn't have. There's no evidence supporting that she'd do better with a group than without at this point.  Episode 6 During the events of the previous episode, the fifth member of the phantom hunting club revealed herself. The fourth grader, Kurumi Kumamakura, with the ridiculous name and the ability to turn her teddy bear, Albrecht, into a giant monster fighter. This episode chooses to develop her as Haruhiko and Kurumi end up stumbling into Kurumi's fantasy world of talking bears and war. Since Kurumi has been anxious about fighting the phantoms (y'know, since she's a child), she retreats to this fantasy world where her bear can talk. It's not a particularly engaging character story here either, but the episode is saved by its stylistic choices. By just being generally weird and different than the rest of the series, this is definitely a stand out episode. Mixing in this series' love of colors with Kyoto Animation's love of fluid movement and weird character design, it all came together into a pleasant package. It's hard not to love how cute all of this is, and I appreciate that Kurumi doesn't get involved with the Phantom club at the end because of a crush on Haruhiko or something.  Once again Haruhiko finds himself inexplicably involved with a character's story, but doesn't really add much of value. I have loved how the female characters are much more valuable to the series overall, and none of them seem to be pulling along because of the male protagonist. In fact, he's basically a harem protagonist without all of the skeeviness that comes along with it. So he's pretty dopey and useless, but not really perverted or even attracted to any of these girls around him or vice versa.  I may have been hard on how light on content the series is, but if this trend continues and all these characters just go on a monster hunt week after week then I'll be fine with it. The only problem is its time frame. It's not like this show is scheduled to go on forever. And with an end imminent, Myriad Colors Phantom World needs to find a reason to exist quickly.  Also, Kyoto Animation needs to work on some kind of magical girl series. Could you imagine how good that'd look?  [You can stream the myriad of colors of Crunchyroll and Hulu]
Annotated Phantom World photo
Myriad of problems
To tell you all the truth, I've been drafting and deleting this article for awhile now. The more I write recaps, and the more I start watching anime (I just finished Netflix's Seven Deadly Sins a bit ago, too), the more I sta...

Impressions: Dimension W episodes 1-6

Feb 16 // Nick Valdez
Dimension W takes place 20 years in a future where mankind has discovered a fourth dimension, the titular "Dimension W" (as it lies across from the X,Y, and Z axis), that's full of usable energy. Harnessing that power through little devices called "coils," society eventually became consumed by their use until 2070-something and the New Tesla Energy conglomerate eventually monopolizes the devices. In response people have started making their own bootleg versions, and that led to the rise of "Collectors," people who shut down the use of illegal coils. The story follows one collector in particular, Kyoma, who hates the coils and refuses to use any of their technology as he stumbles one a young robot girl Mira whose father was some former big wig at New Tesla who commits suicide to avoid capture. Now that they're both at a loss, Mira joins Kyoma in his hunt for illegal coils.  Now there's quite a bit of jargon in that synopsis, and unfortunately that's one of the key issues early on. There's so much world building shoved into the first couple of episodes, and at such a rate, that it's kind of difficult to digest everything. That's also why W does that classic anime thing where it has a brief summary of its premise before its opening credits those first three episodes. It seems tedious at first, but by the third episode (with two weeks or so inbetween) I definitely needed a refresher on some of the world's key elements since they were kind of blazed through before. I'm also sure W has another season planned since there are plenty of loose threads that won't get satisfying resolutions within its slotted 12-13 episode run. For example, there's still the weird magical thief Loser, Kyoma's past as a super soldier, why Mira is as advanced a machine as she is, and what a certain group of powerful coils (known as the "Numbers") have to do with anything. Regardless of its early pace issues, Dimension W eventually settles into a groove. It eventually uses its science fiction premise to evoke a pretty unique style. All of the pieces form a nice package, too. The art style is slick and has a nice fluidity while character designs range anywhere from strong to middling. Kyoma's is particularly notable since he reminds of Samurai Champloo's Mugen and even moves in the same fashion. Mira's yet another robot girl, but her schtick is her cat like tail and ears. The opening and closing themes are fine, if inconsequential rock music. But all of that converges into W's intriguing world. There's a two part episode early on about some kind of ghost mystery, and for a few minutes the show becomes this odd, supernatural body horror anime complete with a nearly naked Mira hanger from the rafters by chains while a bunch of ghost monsters growl beneath her (and of course, this is also an episode where a collector who uses robotic bats and wears a gothic lolita outfit is introduced). It's a weird tone but it's a nice technological spin on stuff we've seen before. The plot itself made no sense, however.  Unfortunately, that's the issue overall. Even after watching six episodes, I really have no idea where Dimension W is going. Unpredictability is great for a series, but there has to be a rooted idea to keep folks coming back. With as stylistically weird W is, it feels like it's all over the place. You know how I mentioned it became a supernatural horror earlier? Yeah, the tone shifts like that from episode to episode. In particular, this show is one of those "gut punch" shows where every episode most likely hides some kind of darkness halfway through without really building up to it. Episode five in particular has an unusual amount of murder, sexual violence, and just all around depression atmosphere. It's all too sudden to be either enjoyable or comfortable. It's just "Oh, that guy definitely killed that guy" and we move on. It's not like the show pretended to be something other than serious, it's just a little off putting when it's so sudden.  Regardless, I'll be keeping an eye on Dimension W. I'm already halfway through the season and felt strong enough about it to write on it here, so what's the harm it watching it through the end? This definitely feels like Dimension W was trying to find its footing, and whatever its setting up next might be fun to watch.  Now that it's got all of its world building out of the way and it's found a tone to work with, it'll hopefully be less confusing going forward. If you've followed along well enough, tell me about it. Maybe there's something I missed in all the madness. 
Dimension W  photo
Dimension what?
Anime with a futuristic, science fiction setting are always a toss up. For example, another science fiction series this season, Luck & Logic, ended up being awful halfway through its second episode. So I was really nervou...


First Impressions: Myriad Colors Phantom World

Jan 30 // Nick Valdez
Based on a novel by Soichiro Hatano, Phantom World takes place in a future where a mysterious virus outbreak accidentally allows humanity to see outerdimensional beings that have always existed beside them. Think of any fantasy creature (like Jinn, ogres, yokai, and the like) and you've gotten the idea. Thanks to the virus, some children developed powers capable of fighting and sealing away some of the more wily phantoms. Haruhiko can draw phantoms and seal them away, but he's full of mostly useless facts since he's got a library in his house. Together with his phantom hunting club mates Mai, who uses martial arts and elemental powers she channels with her body (water from her kidneys, air from her lungs, etc.), and Izumi, a girl with a phantom absorbing stomach, they fight phantoms for sandwiches or something. First things first, Phantom World is absolutely gorgeous. KyoAni's high quality is still up to task here. There are great uses of color, the phantoms all have an interesting technological spin on them (think of them as kinda like Digimon when they appear in the real world and glitch in and out), the actual phantom sealing is beautiful as it takes on this swirling watercolor effect, the opening theme is kinda good, and the characters move with a pleasant fluidity. The character designs themselves are a bit uninspired, but everything moves well in motion so it kind of balances itself out. And despite all of Phantom World's (and my) jokes about boobs, it really lets off after the first episode. But there are a loooot of them. Almost to the point where I have to believe they gave one of their characters a large chest just to poke fun at her. That brings me to my issue with the first three episodes overall.  Unlike Kyoto Animation's tighter premises, there's a distinct lack of focus for this series. It doesn't really know what kind of show it wants to be. Is it an action show? A comedy? Because of this confusion, the pacing of each episode suffers quite a bit. With the series' set 12 or 13 episode run, any sleights are even more egregious. For example, the show has a monster of the week formula. This would be fine had there been at least some character development going on in the background or the phantoms themselves been any interesting, but so far nothing quite has any real depth. The first episode's phantom, telephone poles that force the gang to limbo (thus resulting in Mai's boob bounce weirdness), was goofy enough to work but that brought the episode to a halt. It was an encounter that didn't move the plot forward, and it was super weird seeing as how the first half of the episode dealt with so much world building. You'd figure the premiere would capitalize on it, but maybe they're trying to tell the audience they have a different type of story in mind. Although it sounds like I'm being harsh, I'm pretty sure I'm going to hang around for the rest of the series. By the end of the third episode it doesn't feel like Phantom World is any closer to finding a focus, but there were some positive developments. Episode two introduces Minase, a cool headphone wearing girl who fights phantoms by singing, Haruhiko's ability to summon super cute things, and episode three introduces a kid who probably fights using her teddy bear or something. Basically, there are enough tidbits here and there to keep me hooked through the rest of the series. If not, I'm hoping the show nails its pacing better down the line. At least it seems like its getting better at melding the comedy with the action by the end of the third episode. There's even a little bit of character development!  Myriad Colors Phantom World is definitely off to a rough start. It may be stunning to look at, but right now its best qualities are surface level. Since we're a quarter of the way into the story, it's a bit troubling there's yet to be something of true substance. But if you don't mind just looking at pretty animation and want some kind of new distraction, there certainly are worse options out there.  It's slick, some of the jokes land, and it's pretty cute. So maybe it'll get better over time? I certainly hope so.  [You can stream the myriad of colors of Crunchyroll and Hulu]
Phantom World Impressions photo
Myriad of boobs
Animation is a fantastic medium. With it you can do all sorts of otherworldly things like outlandish hair colors, crazy stories full of physical feats you can't do in the real world, and most importantly, you can really nail ...

Review: Gravity Rush Remastered

Jan 16 // Josh Tolentino
Gravity Rush Remastered (PS4)Developer: SCE Japan Studio and Bluepoint GamesPublisher: Sony Computer Entertainment Japan and AsiaReleased: December 10, 2015 (Japan/Asia), February 2, 2016 (NA/EU)MSRP: $29.99 [Note: This review is based on the English-language version of the game released in Asian regions on December 10, 2015. We expect that there will be few if any significant differences between this release and the upcoming North America/EU releases.] The most striking part of Bluepoint's work on Gravity Rush Remastered is on the technical side. The game runs at a smooth, uninterrupted 60 frames per second, at a native 1080p resolution. Higher-resolution textures sport additional detail and sharpening while improved lighting and antialiasing brings out the color in the game's unique cel-shaded aesthetic. No one's going to mistake Gravity Rush Remastered for a "native" PS4 game, but it does look much like the way I (fondly) remember the Vita original, which is high praise considering that I can compare the two side-by-side and see just how much work went into the porting job.  While Bluepoint has made some considerable improvements to Gravity Rush Remastered's graphical quality and performance, it was more conservative in terms of content, opting just to add the original's three downloadable content packs as standard, and a gallery mode to check out concept art, character designs, and unlocked cutscenes. This may dilute the game's value proposition somewhat for existing Gravity Rush owners on the fence about double-dipping since the game is identical in content and design to the Vita version. [embed]34700:5357:0[/embed] If there's anything about the game that qualifies as "bad news," it's rooted in the fact that the content itself is unchanged. As such, the criticisms raised by Jim Sterling in his review of the original do stand, to an extent. The game's mission design never really lives up to the sheer joy of its central gravity-shifting mechanic, and no amount of frame rate improvement or antialiasing can change that. Combat and control in stressful situations can still be a little squirrely, though the better "feel" of a DualShock 4 controller, combined with the extra awareness afforded by a larger screen, makes it easier to compensate. Even players who enjoyed the tilt- and touchscreen-based features of Gravity Rush are accommodated, thanks to the DualShock 4's own motion sensing and touch panel (though these can be turned off if desired). The narrative is also much more proficient at establishing atmosphere and personality than at answering the questions it raises, and by the end of the campaign it can feel like has read  an incomplete set of obscure foreign comic books, not knowing when or where the next issue will turn up. That said, I'm of the opinion that these rough edges are not nearly as serious in their impact as some may think, and to players in the right mindset, even add to Gravity Rush's considerable charm. The writing, dialog and story all emphasize Kat's character as a somewhat hapless amateur superhero (think "anime Ms. Marvel with a different power set") just getting started in her crime-fighting career, and she's exactly the kind of person who might whiff on landing a gravity kick and go flying into a pile of boxes. Just in the way that deliberately "slow" controls can improve the atmosphere of a horror game like Amnesia,occasional finickiness and flubs reinforce Gravity Rush Remastered's sense of character (albeit unintentionally). In the end, Bluepoint deserves credit for managing to bring out the best in an already-pretty-good game, allowing PS4 owners the chance to experience the charm of Gravity Rush unhampered by the limitations of its original platform.  [This review is based on a retail copy of the game acquired by the reviewer.] [embed]34700:5357:0[/embed]
Gravity Rush Remastered photo
Falling with style
Gravity Rush is and remains one of the coolest games on the PS Vita, even three years after its original 2012 release. Unfortunately for fans of cool games, the PS Vita didn't get into nearly as many hands as Sony was ho...

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...

Annotated Anime: Food Wars! Shokugeki no Soma episodes 21-23

Sep 29 // Nick Valdez
Episode 21 After waking up from his brief nap teased at the end of last episode, Souma reveals he's been cooking some kind of rice and spice dish, but that's all we really see before the episode cuts to Group B and Tadakoro. As the crowd begins to turn on her due to her nervous demeanor, she pulls out her cout de grace, a difficult monkfish she showfully butchers. She learned how to cut it back home in order to help her family, and seeing them here in support has given her the confidence to nail it. But the brunt of this episode was devoted to the fierce rivalry between Erina Nakiri's aide, Arato, and her creepy stalker introduced two episodes ago, Nao. The judges in Group B have been especially tough as no chef has gotten over 20 points, but Nao and her super smelly laksa and kusaya curry manages to get 84 points (resulting in the header image). But Arato, with her focus in medicinal herbs and spices, manages a healthy curry which cleanses the judges of all previous flavors and basically got the taste of Nao's curry out of their mouths. She scores 92 points as the episode's close draws attention to the Aldini brothers.  It's a shame the show's going to end soon because I'm loving the anime's adaptation of the reactions. They're the best thing from the manga, but seeing them play out on screen adds an entirely new level.  Episode 22 As we join Group A's proceedings, Miyoko Hojo (the character who hates Tadakoro for relying on men and feels she needs to be stronger than all the men in order to succeed in the field) has started things off with a strong Chinese and pineapple infused curry and nets 87 points, Polar Star Dorm resident Yuki nets 86 points for her wild game curry, but then the Aldini brothers take the stage. Both present Italian inspired dishes with the younger Aldini, Isami serving a curry calzone scoring 87 and the older Aldini, Takumi serves a pasta curry and gets 90 points thanks to his putting cheese inside the pasta noodles. then Alica Nakiri blows the judges away (and shows her chops) with her science cooking as her deconstructed curry gets a hefty 95 points. Then, finally, we have the best girl Tadakoro. After everyone hilariously forgot about her, she serves the result of her hard work and love of her town, monkfish dobu-jiru curry.  Tadakoro manages to score 88 points (earning her new rival Hojo's respect) and earns her place in the top eight along with Alice Nakiri, Hisako Arato, and Takumi Aldini. Yay Tadakoro! Episode 23 We're back in Group A as the judges continue giving low scores (with some giving no score at all). But Ryo Kurokiba, Alice's aide with his shifting personality, manages to break that rhythm with a lobster and cognac curry (which he tells the main judge to slurp like a savage, hilariously) and 96 points. But none of the other chefs let that get to them as Polar Star residents Ryoko, Marui, and Ibusaki all net 86 and 88 points respectively with their dishes as Nikumi gets 86 with her meat don (which she's crafted thanks to her early shokugeki with Souma). But as the episode draws to a close, the arguably strongest student (since we really haven't seen his skills yet) Akira heads up to serve his dish and directly challenges Souma with his taste. As Souma begins to eat, he realizes there's a delicious scent pouring out.  Well, that's it. The final episode is up next and this is what I mean about terrible sequel series. Now we're stuck here until Food Wars 2 or something like that comes out. Hopefully it's gotten enough support overseas to warrant a second season. But until then, I totally recommend the manga. It's pretty good. But this show's been pretty entertaining in its own right (and I'll get into that with the final impressions after I see the last episode), and I can't help but love the exaggerated world. I hope there's more. 
Annotated Food Wars! photo
Sexy curry
I hate how some shonen series are handled. If a shonen manga doesn't have the audience or allotted budget of a big Shonen Jump property like One Piece or Gintama, then its anime adaptation is doomed to "seasons." Instead of c...

Annotated Anime: School-Live! episodes 7-11

Sep 25 // Nick Valdez
Episode 7 After a few episodes of flashback, we're back in the series proper. When Yuki brings up their mall outing, Miki briefly forgets she's supposed to lie about Megu-nee and Yuki nearly cracks her delusion as brief images of a grisly scene flashback. Miki thinks it's time to stop lying to Yuki since it's not really healthy, but Yuri simply states that she'll tell her soon. After Yuki stumbles on some stationary, the girls decide to take their mind off things for a bit and write some letters to folks on the outside. During all of this, Miki stumbles on a key leading to some place in the staff room but hides it from the other girls. After some shenanigans involving carrier pigeons, the girls send their letters through the sky and we find that Miki's written one for her lost best friend, Kei (the one who abandoned Miki at the mall in search of a better kind of survival).  Kei's probably a zombie, folks. It's usually how these things turn out.  Episode 8 Miki gives the key she found to Yuri as the two start searching the staff room for clues as to what it leads to. But before all of that, the girls start talking about the future. Naturally since Yuki is still stuck in her weird state of mind, all she can think about is graduation and potentially getting a job in the adult world. It's a sad conversation as the girls try and look positively toward their futures (Kurumi wants to be wife, Yuri wants to do something I forgot about already, sorry), but this all feels like it's leading up to something big. In fact, that's one of the most impressive parts of this show. Every episode feels like we're inching closer and closer to some kind of terrible end. Starting with the opening credits (which have been slowly getting more and more violent as the show progresses), helped along by the heavy amount of foreshadowing (each episode someone notes how more and more zombies are gathering outside of the school), and with happier moments like this, I'm just waiting for the other shoe to drop.  And it does. The girls discover that Megu-nee's key led to a lockbox containing an emergency manual for the school when a biological weapon is released.  Episode 9 As the girls fret over the manual, which details why the school has multi-tired facilities and stuff like solar panels and gardens, Yuki takes their minds off of it with a suggestion: to turn the ugly water tank into a pool area for a pool day. Then it's a super happy, fan service heavy episode. I wouldn't think we'd get an episode like this in the series, but it sort of makes sense. It's something Shakespeare made famous. You see, back when Shakespeare was a big hit, people used to sit and watch plays for several hours. Naturally people would get bored if you kept the entirety of the play the same tone, so he'd add bits of levity every few acts in order to accomplish two things. First, it's to keep interest. If a program remained a flat, dreary tone throughout its duration, people wouldn't pay attention. Secondly, it's to make the coming bits of drama hit that much harder. And I think that's what's going on here. This episode is our last breath of fresh air before everything starts coming down. And if the episode's tag is anything to go by (as Taroumaru escapes downstairs to the basement and sees something tragic), it's going to be a doozy.  Episode 10 So here's a little trick as to how I write these annotations: I write these blurbs as I watch each episode rather than try to summarize them all at once. I only open with this because I want you to know that I was not ready for all of this chaos. At the end of last episode, we saw Taroumaru escape from his leash and run through the school so the girls wake up and go looking for him. As Kurumi follows his tracks downstairs into the basement, she finds an infected Taroumaru trying to bite her face off. After managing to lock him up in a room, she stumbles on the truly messed up thing: Megu-nee's zombie. Failing to stop Monster-nee's advance, Kurumi's bitten. As the girls try and figure out what to do now, Kurumi's condition worsens (and leads to an awful amount of screaming as the infection spreads) and the girls are split up as zombies break their way into the school. Yuki is locked in a room after zombies attack, Yuri's sitting with Kurumi and slowly breaking, and Miki is in search of the medicine (and possible antidote) the manual claims the school has but breaks down at the thought of losing Taroumaru. As the episode closes, and everything is traumatic for everyone, Yuki starts remembering the tragedy that sparked her mental breakdown.  Episode 11 Ugh, I need a breather. Deep - breath -, okay. As Yuki runs to Miki and gives her strength to go and search for the antidote, lightning strikes the school's generators and cuts off the power while starting a fire. So there's yet another thing to worry about as Yuri comes to grips with possibly losing Kurumi to the infection. We've seen Yuri as the slightly older girl who's acted as a rock, so this is the first time she's truly shown emotion. It's quite interesting watching her slowly break as she decides whether or not to kill her friend before she turns into a zombie. Then we shift back to Miki, who's fought her way down to the school's basement. As she comes face to face with Megu-nee's zombie (who still retained her memories of the other girls and evidenced by her zombie writings), she assures her they're doing fine before giving her peace. But Miki is soon cornered by zombies when she finds the medicine. Then we cut back to Yuki, who's slowly breaking free of her delusion. After some emotional resolution (and Megu-nee guiding her to the broadcasting room), she finally accepts Megu-nee's death and says goodbye. It's too much.  What started out as a cute series became far more emotional than I would've guessed. Looking at the premise of the show should've given it away, but I never thought it'd hit that hard. Maybe it's because it's so sudden. It's not a revolutionary story or anything like that, but there's so much care put into the buildup, the payoff is fantastic. The final episode's sure going to be something. 
Annotated School-Live! photo
:(
I've got a complicated relationship with zombambos. I've gotten tired with the genre, but I can't help but stay invested in how different characters are effected in different medias. Each media provides unusual takes, and ani...

Annotated Anime: MY Love STORY!! episodes 19-23

Sep 18 // Nick Valdez
Episode 19 Takeo's mom has been pregnant on the sidelines, and it finally comes to a literal head in this episode. Takeo's been concerned with his mom's health ever since she told him about it (even if he's the one who's always reckless with his body), but she's maintaining a high level of activity despite his wishes. She's tough, and Takeo knows it, but he can't help but worry. After saving another pregnant woman from a fall, his mother feels a pain in her side and ultimately goes to the hospital. Takeo understandably freaks out and after running frantically and carrying his mother to her hospital room, Takeo's left to worry on the sidelines. After some consoling for Suna, he calms down and after retrieving a charm from Yamato wishing a safe delivery, Takeo's mom gives birth to the adorable giant baby you see above. In case you were wondering the show wouldn't crack a joke about that, Suna notes that she's the biggest baby in the room. It's actually the cutest and funniest thing.  Episode 20 This is my favorite episode to date. When Takeo laments that he never gets chocolate from a girl on Valentine's Day (and notes that Suna always receives tons of chocolate along with one from a secret admirer each year), he remembers Yamato and suddenly freaks out. Beaming with happiness, his friends corner him and ask if there's a way they could hang out in a huge group with Yamato's friends like they did at Christmas. During the group date, Yamato gives everyone chocolate cookies and Takeo's constantly wondering when he's going to get his special Valanetine's chocolate from Yamato. He's depressed when he thinks he won't get one, suddenly realizes he should've appreciated the cookies, and he acts like a giant, adorable idiot the entire episode. Of course, Yamato shows up with some kind of giant chocolate mountain and Takeo blows a super kiss from a couple of floors up. It's a good year for them both.  Ugh, this show is so cute I can't stand it.  Episode 21 During my last recap, I noted how Sunakawa is not only disinterested in women, but romance in general. He's clearly in tune with emotions as the show's proven that he cares about Takeo (going so far as to not date any of the girls who secretly joked about Takeo behind his back), but he's never pursued anyone for himself. It's a forward thinking asexual person that I hope wasn't the writer's happy accident. Anyway, the first person to challenge this and show a definite romantic interest in Suna is Yukika, a girl who's had a crush on him for ten years now. Her major flaw, however, is her crippling shyness that keeps her from actually approaching Suna in any way. the only way she's expressed her love is through Valentine's chocolate throughout the years with a note reading "I don't need anything, I just want you to love me back" or something to that effect. When Takeo and Yamato finally convince Yukika to approach, she suddenly blurts out a confession and Suna oddly agrees to go out on a group date.  While this episode tests my theory, it also posits that none of the girls were unique enough to have a relationship with a main character. Yukika's got all of the design of a new main character (silver hair, personality traits, uh, love?) but I never quite dug her. I actually found her quite annoying and way too stalkery to actually lead to a healthy relationship. Regardless, this episode's hilarious because Takeo's radar like senses always spotted Yukika.  Episode 22 While the last episode challenges Suna's bachelor lifestyle, this episode highlight's Suna's greatest quality and, potentially, his biggest flaw. You see, he's such a nice guy that he's willing to put everyone else's happiness ahead of his own. While that may be an anime staple, Suna's is actually kind of tragic. You see, as the group all go out to the zoo, Suna's just humoring Yukika the entire time. He doesn't really react to anything (except to Takeo, which Yukika points out later as a sign that he's truly interested in someone), and rather than it resembling traditional shoujo love interests, it actually adds to Suna's mysterious nature. We're never really sure what he's thinking and in fact we don't really find out till episodes end when he ultimately (and understandably given that she watched him from the shadows for ten years) declines Yukika's love. He gives her a notebook, and she loves that she even got to spend some time with the object of her affection. Of course, there was some weirdness in the middle when she freaked out on Suna since he had no interest in her. That only cemented how annoying she was. I'm glad it didn't really work out.  Episode 23 As a sort of palette cleanser, this episode is a light affair that returns to Takeo and Yamato's relationship. When Yamato gets a job at a bakery in order to better learn how to craft desserts, Takeo gets jealous for the first time in the series. When a handsome looking patisseire, Ichinose (always a hilarious ring of a traditional shoujo protagonist), mistakes Yamato's interest in cakes for an interest in him, he eventually challenges Takeo's relationship. He runs to Takeo and asks if Takeo really belongs with Yamato and states that she deserves someone more alike to her. Takeo, for the first time in the series, doubts himself and thinks Ichinose might've had a point. The episode ends as Takeo stands on shaken ground for the first time. Will Takeo actually give up on his relationship with Yamato? Nah, probably not. But this is an intelligent way to bring Takeo's untraditional nature and design in the genre to light. And it'll most likely bring about a good end to the season, and more likely, the series.  I'm not ready for this show to end, but as no sequel season was announced, I'm pretty sure the next episode is the last. I'm not sure what I'm going to do when it's over.
Annotated Love Story!! photo
I love this show so much
Have I told you that My Love Story!! is my favorite anime of the season? Although I jumped into these annotations majorly late, I've been glued to the screen each week just waiting on the latest release. It's the most fun I'v...

It's time to celebrate Kaixa Day!

Sep 13 // Salvador GRodiles
Happy Kaixa Day by killaf 913の日 by じゅ 仮面ライダーカイザ by ナンプラー カイザの亡霊 by レドル お誕生日by シバケン•ザ•スタンPド オルフェノク~は粉々さ~♪ by 葵野 EXCEED CHARGE!!!! by 茶っぱ ビッキー誕生日おめでとう! 響カイザ by ゆめはる by 初 カイザの日 by nene カイザ(草加 by 小林 913 Day by 大村@変身!!8/東5ア03a Kaixa fan art by Tofu Plus Beast カイザフォン by ふうじゅ 2015年913の日by  紋助 呪われた流星塾 by 紋助 カイザの日2015 by ダイ々 特撮ワンドロ by tsurugiRX 913の日!by 白玉 913の日 by 木宮 913 2015 by あのよろしぃ 2015年913の日by 番茄帝 カイザの日2015 by 白鷲 仮面ライダー913倶楽部 by trope Kaixa and Faiz fan art by emcee 呪われた流星塾
Kaixa Day photo
Standing By
Ladies and Gentlemen. The numbers have aligned for us to open our eyes for the festivity known as Kaixa Day. As always, Kohei Murakami, the guy who plays as Masato Kusaka/Kamen Rider Kaixa from Kamen Rider 555, has updated h...

Annotated Anime: Food Wars! Shokugeki no Soma episodes 17-20

Sep 09 // Nick Valdez
Episode 17 When Souma goes back home to the Yukihira Diner for Summer break, he finds out his hometown has been struggling a bit thanks to a super shopping center, Mozuya, opening close by.  After re-reuniting with his childhood friend Mayumi (who has a crush on him, of course), Souma learns a little bit more about the Mozuya shopping center. Thanks to its specialty karaage (a type of meat chunk covered in different spices and sauces) recipe and ability to cater to tons of different people by the train station, Mozuya has been stealing his hometown's business. Mozuya's manager, Kinu, realized they were scoping the competition and completely revealed the recipe to Souma since she was so confident that they'd never be able to beat out her karaage. Seeing her so cocky, Souma directly challenges Kinu and states that not only will Yukihira make better karaage, but his hometown's shopping district will take back all the business.  Souma enlists the help of Ikumi Mito since she's the meat master, and must figure out a recipe that not only grabs traveler's attention but represents his shopping district as a whole.  Episode 18 After going through several types of karaage types and delivery systems, the trio devise a way to wrap the karaage into some kind of mobile burrito. The shopping district beats Mozuya and gets all the business. That's really all there is to the episode. The "Karaage Wars" arc is short, lame, and only serves to introduce a new key player, Eizan Etsuya, the ninth seat of Totsuki's Elite Ten and his mastery of the business world. It also serves to completely introduce the Autumn Elections as Souma's told he was one of the sixty chefs selected.  As you can probably tell by how brief this is, I really don't like this arc. It felt unnecessary then, and it's unnecessary now. Makes even less sense in an anime adaptation since there's very little progress involved. Characters don't move forward, the ninth seat isn't at all interesting, and Souma's just being Souma so he succeeds with little challenge. Let's just move on.  Episode 19 The Autumn Elections finally begin! Totsuki's Elite Ten sat down and handpicked sixty students, separated into two groups of thirty, to compete in front of the culinary world's elite. All of the main characters are obviously selected along with a few new rivals: Miyoko Hojo (who forms a rivalry with Tadakoro based on the news of her Shokugeki and disappointment that she was helped by Souma), Nao Sadasutka (a creepy girl who stalks Erina), Kurokiba Ryo (Alice Nakirki's right hand), and Akira Hayama (a chef with a specialty nose who can cook just be scent alone). Only the best eight dishes will make it to the next round, and with the task of making a curry dish, Souma and Tadakoro seek out the help of someone his dad recommended, Professor Shiomi, since she's good with spices. After some hilarious introductions and posturing, Hayama pretty much becomes Souma's biggest rival to date.  I love how Food Wars! pokes fun at the genre. It constantly interrupts big posturing (and has made ridiculing Takumi Aldini's rivalry a running gag) and undercuts a lot of the show's serious tone. You never forget how ridiculous all of this is, and I'm glad the anime has embraced all of this. Sure the constant chibi reactions reek of a smaller budget, but it's still good.  Episode 20 After taking a month studying different spices and curry techniques, the Autumn Elections finally, finally start up. Students are separated into two groups of thirty and only four from each group will advance. Group A includes hopefuls like Souma, Hayama, and Kurokiba, while Group B has the Aldini brothers, Alice Nakiri, and best girl Tadakoro. Nothing much else happens since this is also pretty much filler, but we at least get introduced to the judges, the Sendawara sisters, who're huge in the curry business, and there are some spots of notable prep work that'll come into play later on (like Nao's super toxic brew and Kurokiba's personality shift). It also pushes Hayama into the spotlight again since he's labeled as the strongest contender. It's a bit of a lark considering we haven't met him until now, and all this pushing rings false but whatever. It's such a shonen trope I just can't stand it sometimes.  Finally, finally, the good stuff is picking up. Next chunk of episodes we'll find out why Souma was asleep, see some crazy dishes (and their reactions), and the tone of the entire series is about to shift to something a bit quicker in pace. Can't wait. 
Annotated Food Wars! photo
Spice of life
In the last annotated recap, I couldn't stop talking about how great the next arc, the Autumn Elections, was going to be. It's the manga's best to date, and if the anime plays its cards correctly, it's going to be the show's ...

Annotated Anime: MY Love STORY!! episodes 15-18

Aug 27 // Nick Valdez
Episode 15 Although I've conceded the fact that MY won't have the kind of big emotional breaks I'd see in a more nuanced romantic story, that doesn't mean there's a lack of tension. It's kind of nice to watch something that's so low stakes, every molehill seems like a mountain. The latest stake is the introduction of a new love rival, Saijou, a classmate of Takeo's who's really bad at athletics. When she gets swept up in a relay, she asks Takeo to help train her. In classic Takeo fashion, he's super cool and supportive (and eventually wins the relay with no problems) and Saijou falls for him. All the while Yamato (thanks to input from her friends) catches on to Saijou and is constantly worrying over Takeo. But good ole' simpleminded Takeo sees Saijou as nothing more than another classmate. As Saijou calls him out after school in order to confess, she chickens out and asks Takeo to be her teacher instead.  Episode 16 Since this is as close to a conflict as I'd expect between the two of them, it has to be mined for as much as it can. Thankfully, the whole thing only lasts two episodes as a lesser anime would've stretched it out to at least three. That's sort of the show's best quality and biggest flaw. There's just nothing getting in the way of Takeo and Yamato's burgeoning relationship, so there really isn't any room for outside development. While that leads to some great decisions like having them form a relationship in the first episode, it's a greater effect of the Shoujo genre's flaw. In this episode Saijou is still trying to make advances on Takeo after she tells him she likes him just as a "person," and as pure hearted as Takeo is, he takes it literally and completely ignores her advances. Yamato is worried, but Takeo tells her not to worry because he's not popular with girls (instead of saying he really loves Yamato). When Saijou confesses again (during a particularly well crafted shot), Takeo turns her down and realizes why Yamato was so worried. After a pleasant scene, the two reconcile.  Best part of this episode? Sunakawa comforting Saijou. He always seems so cool and collected (and a great flip on a traditional Shoujo protagonist), but he's in touch with people's emotions. He seems asexual himself, but that doesn't mean he's checked out. It's pretty neat.  Episode 17 Even though I just went into this whole thing about the story not allowing for outside character developments, here comes "My Christmas." As Takeo and Yamato's friends Kurihara and Nanako confess their feelings to their respective friends, the two decide to cheer their friends on and take a back seat in this episode (even if it's their first Christmas as a couple). Since Kurihara is not used to talking with women, he ends up pushing Nanako away with constant jokes. Basically, he's trying the kindergarten tactic of picking on the girl you like in order to get attention (this doesn't work, gentlemen) and it's failing hard. After Nanako is finally fed up and Takeo gives a rousing speech, Kurihara climbs a giant Christmas tree in order to grab its top star (that's said to instantly make two people a couple, or something like that). Then the two reconcile and it's all back to normal.   I didn't quite like this episode. I may complain that the show doesn't explore others well enough, but if the other character's lives aren't engaging, I don't really care.  Episode 18 I'm a little sad it took so many episodes to get to this point, but it's finally happened. Takeo and Yamato kiss! It's also my favorite episode up to this point. It's Takeo's birthday (and also New Year's Day), so Yamato makes it her goal to make it Takeo's best yet. After hearing from Sunakawa that Takeo doesn't want to kiss until Spring (and calling back to one of the best gags of the series, Takeo stealing a kiss from Sunakawa), Yamato decides to push forward and kiss Takeo sometime on his birthday. This episode's full of romantic and well crafted scenes, and has a particularly deft hand with the lighting. It's all so well done, Madhouse just knocks it out of the park here. Story wise, not much happens other than Yamato and Takeo furthering their relationship a bit, but it's just so damn cute. It reminds me of why I fell in love with this in the first place. It's a return to the awkwardness, and I can't help but revel in it.  Truth be told, it just brings up a lot of memories for me. I'm 6'4, so I've always towered over girls I've dated and I've had to take the position above a few times. Just seeing it here warms me up inside.  I hope MY Love Story!! runs for more than 24 episodes, or announces a second season soon, because I don't want this to end yet. 
Annotated Love Story!! photo
Takeo x Yamato forever
I'm a sucker for romantic comedies. But it's been such a long time since I've been drawn to a romantic anime since they've all pretty much become the same thing. It's either an inappropriate relationship, an appropriate but b...

First Impressions: School-Live!

Aug 11 // Nick Valdez
School-Live! follows the School Life Club, four girls who are living within school grounds named Yuki, Yuri, Kurumi, and Miki. The show opens with Yuki, a bright and optimistic young girl who's the typical anime protagonist. She's a bit airheaded, lazy, but genuinely enjoys school. But there's also something very special about Yuki, and that's what sets the show in motion. You see, the girls are victims of a zombie apocalypse. After an outbreak, the girls were forced to live in the school in order to survive. Within the first couple of episodes, we don't know the extent of the outbreak other than its damaged the entire school and the four girls (and their teacher, which Yuki refers to as "Megu-nee") are the only survivors. The awesome thing is that you wouldn't know all of this from the outset.  As the first episode follows Yuki, everything seems fine. There are other students, the school is pristine, and like as mentioned before, everything about Yuki screams "typical." But that image shatters fast when you realize Yuki's just living in a huge daydream. When the apocalypse is revealed halfway through the first episode (so I'm not spoiling it for you), it's actually shocking. This show's pretty good about hiding things. Although some of the hints are heavy handed (like how Miki refuses to acknowledge anyone other than Yuki during the classroom scenes), there's an attempt to save most of it for an emotionally charged finale. Seeing the delusional Yuki talking to herself in a bloodstained classroom makes for a terrifyingly gripping image. The series also adds a bit of darkness into its opening CV from episode two on. You'll have to see it just to absorb how truly jarring it is.  Like the better zombie media out there, Live! is more about the survivors dealing with a changing world rather than the zombies. It's just in place of adults, it's little anime girls. I thought the art would push me away at first (since I'm still not used to the sexualization of young girls in these shows), but the use of bright color awesomely clashes with the gritty material. It's entirely unique to the series, and I don't think I can find that aesthetic anywhere else. That's most likely why Yuki's world looked so inviting at first. There's a sense of displacement seeing these girls interact with the zombies. For the first time in a while, the zombies feel more disturbing than not because they clash so much with the character design. Seeing the cutesy frames of these characters twisted in a dark fashion is an accost to the viewer. Live! is just full of great little design choices like that.  As for the story itself, the setting is at least groundbreaking if nothing else. I'll give a lot of credit for skewing the age of these survivors (it's been a long time since I've seen zombie media focus on a child's perspective), but it runs the risk of growing stale. Yuki's delusional state is definitely the anchor of series, and the first three episodes explore this, but I want to learn more about why she ended up that way. I'm waiting for the inevitable fallout where Yuki's forced to accept that zombies are real, and that'll either be thanks to an attack or someone close to her finally breaking the news to her. I'm also curious as to how far her delusions extend. Is Megu-nee real? Does no one listen to her as a joke or is she made up in Yuki's mind as well?  I guess the overall darkness of the show took me by surprise. Although I knew it was going to be a heavier type of show going in, seeing it in action is something else all together. I got to hand it the production team, Sentai Filmworks, on this. Since this is adapted from a manga I'm sure the story's pretty much the same, but I've been taken aback by the visual choices here. It's changing opening CV, the girl's designs, the zombies highlighted by shading rather than blood, it's all so wonderful to take in.  School-Live! looks so good, it's got me interested in the story. That's never happened to me before. This is all new territory for me. 
School-Live Impressions photo
Life with the afterlife
Zombies are played out at this point. Numerous movies, television shows, comics, manga, and anime have been churned out each tackling the genre but failing to do anything interesting for a long time. Each piece of zombie medi...

Annotated Anime: Food Wars! Shokugeki no Soma episodes 13-16

Aug 03 // Nick Valdez
Episode 13 For the final day of Totsuki's survival camp, students are challenged to serve some kind of egg dish to 200 people within 2 hours at an all you can eat buffet. The major push of this episode goes toward introducing two new rivals, Alice Nakiri and her henchman Ryo Kurokiba. Since Alice is related to Erina, they have quite a fierce family rivalry (which leads to some funny introductions between the two and Souma), but Souma pays them no mind and ends up developing an egg souffle. But Erina quickly looks down the idea and notes Souma is making a huge mistake, When Souma gets placed next to Erina in the serving area, he's quickly dominated by Erina's eggs benedict dish covered in dry fish egg powder. The other students seem to be faring well, but Alice's egg dishes are completely ignored since they look like plain eggs served different ways. But Souma's dish is also struggling. No one seems to be choosing his souffle and they're collapsing fast.  Episode 14 Finally realizing what Erina was talking about the episode prior, Souma stumbles when he sees his egg souffles crumbling and ignored (since buffet goers usually don't eat every food when they're prepared, a souffle was a bad idea since they don't hold form for long). After taking a brief pause, Souma decides to draw in 190 customers within the final 30 minutes of the task. Jumping into this impossible task, Souma decides to live cook each of the dishes in order to draw attention. This episode had the slickest cooking animation I'd seen yet. To reflect his massive task, and how fast he was going, Souma was accent with speed lines, quick edits, and it was the right kind of flashy. This show has trouble at times since it wants everything to look slick (since cooking isn't exactly full of action), but thanks to this sequence we get all the action we need. Souma was able to complete his servings barely before the buzzer sounds. As we check in with the rest of the students, we learn Erina served something like 400 dishes, Alice (whose egg dish actually was meticulously calculated through science cooking) served 300, and everyone else managed to make it through the task. After some celebration of the final task of camp, about 2/3 of the students who first attended camp made it through the week. Souma then realizes he's glad he came to Totsuki Academy in the first place.  Episode 15 With the Totsuki survival camp over, it's time to head into the next arc, The Autumn Elections. After Souma and Erina miss the bus home, they have a chat about the Autumn Elections which will serve to get their name known to restaurant owners and chefs. That's also why the survival camp exists as sort of a preliminary exam for the Elections. But as the gang returns to the Polar Star dorm, an unexpected guest shows up, Souma's dad Joichiro. Souma then learns some interesting things about his dad: he travels worldwide and cooks, he was a former Elite Ten member at Totsuki (the ten best cooks in the school), and he and Dojima were once members of the Polar Star dorm and their Shokugekis helped expand the dorm to what it is today. At the end of the episode, Joichiro challenges Souma to a Shokugeki in order to see how much Souma has/hasn't grown.  And with a new direction for the series, we also get a new opening sequence. Highlighting some folks we haven't met yet, and playing around with how wacky its visuals get, this opening is fun and intense at the same time. But I think I prefer the first opening's song. Also, maybe because the show's spent a huge chunk of its budget, there were plenty of shortcuts here. The animation surely taken a hit, but that's okay given that it's not necessary until we get to bigger scenes.  Episode 16 As Souma and his dad enter a new super early morning Shokugeki, they get the household caretaker Fumio, the nudist Isshiki, and a poor sleepy Tadakoro to be the judges. To reflect how early it was, Fumio decides the challenge will be a breakfast dish that invigorates the three for the day ahead. Souma creates an apple risotto, an interesting choice given that apples would be hard to cook within a risotto. But thanks to some apple juice, the risotto is filled with the right kind of flavor and ultimately leads to the image above. But Joichiro unleashes his worldly strength and produces an all vegetable ramen (one he perfected working with a vegan monk), and resoundingly wins the challenge. Which makes that 0/490 for Souma, and it also explains why Souma's never nervous for anything since he's been trying to overcome his dad's strength all these years.  Remember when I mentioned how action lines can be used weirdly two episodes above, that happens a ton here. Have fast moving backgrounds clash with the static characters in an attempt to make them feel like they're being adequately animated is a cheap ploy. And it's certainly a lack of budget seeping through. I hope it's being saved for the Elections themselves. If it's anything like it is in the manga, it's gonna be sooooooooooo good.  I'll try to keep these closer together once the Elections start, so hope you'll keep reading! 
Annotated Food Wars! photo
Eggcellent
Shokugeki no Soma is quickly turning into the highlight of my week. The only problem with covering a Shonen-type series like this is that each episode isn't very substantial on its own, but the overall package is compelling e...

Nintendo photo
Iwata was 55
[Update: Developer legend and Nintendo General Manager Shigeru Miyamoto issued a statement in reaction to Iwata's death, saying that he was "surprised at this sudden news and overcome with sadness."] In a brief statement issu...

Annotated Anime: Food Wars! Shokugeki no Soma episodes 9-12

Jul 06 // Nick Valdez
Episode 9 Since the Aldini Bros did so well in the test (and used duck as their main ingredient rather than fish like the rest of the students), this motivated Souma to try something completely off the wall. Exploiting the rule that they could use any ingredient in the area, Souma decides to use Chef Inui's bag of chips. After some ingredient rummaging, Souma and Tadakoro (the best) make up some fish using the chips as breading. But as Chef Inui proves to be slightly absent minded, the two never find out whose dish was better. After some levity, we find out everyone from the Polar Star Dorm made it through the first day but then a harsher challenge appeared. Each student was tasked with serving fifty bodybuilders within an hour or they'd be instantly expelled. Souma naturally finishes the task quickly (thanks to all the experience of serving in his family restaurant), and ends up colliding with Nakiri as they both were humming along with the anime's ending theme. I love when shows break the fourth wall like that. It was a good sequence all around.  Episode 10 The first half of the episode dealt with fallout from the first day's challenges. The entire Polar Star dorm survived the evening test, and everyone is trying to rest a bit. Tadakoro's (the best) not confident in herself, so she's always afraid she'll mess up the dishes. We also learned a bit more about God Tongue Nakiri from Chef Doujima (who Souma meets in the bath), as we learn her skill is setting her out to be the top of the school. The second half kicks off Day 2 with Chef Shinomiya, the harshest of the Totsuki alumni judges for the camp. He's already expelled 30 students, and even expelled a student for using a scented shampoo on the first day. He's assigned them a recipe they have to duplicate, a highly technical French dish called the Terrine of Nine Vegetables (with nine veggies stacked on top of each other in a little cube with the same kind of texture).  He also forces them to work alone (and think of each other as "enemies") which hurts Tadakoro even further since she's relied a bit of Souma to this point. So she's left with some cauliflower that's begun to oxidize and fixes it with wine vinegar. But because she's changed the recipe (even if it tasted great), Chef Shinomiya fails her. When Souma calls him out on the poor ingredients, Shinomiya admits that he purposefully added spoiled ones to limits the students that'd pass. Then Souma challenges Shinomiya to Shokugeki and it gets mad intense! Ugh, Tadakoro is so cute though.  Episode 11 Although Tadakoro will always be my number one, Chef Inui is strongly vying for that top spot. Essentially a more evolved Tadakoro, she adorably argues Shinomiya's decision. As Chef Doujima hears of the Shokugeki, he forces Shinomiya to accept and now Souma and Tadakoro have to cook for their lives in an unofficial cook off to keep Tadakoro in school. As per Doujima, the Shougeki is set at two hours using leftover ingredients from Day 2's challenges with the Totsuki alumni deciding the victor. And more importantly, Tadakoro is made head chef who will decide the recipe. After some panic, Souma was able to calm her down and Tadakoro decided on a recipe. Thanks to some much needed levity (as the other alumni pick on Shinomiya) we learn a bit more about him too. After graduation he went to France and opened several restaurants and earned the moniker "The Magician of Legumes" because of his good use of vegetables.  Shinomiya serves his dish first, and it's a basic cabbage roll with high end ingredients. It's so good it leads to this week's header image. The last few episodes have been tense, and this one follows suit, but there's a good balance of comedy here. I laughed much more thn I have in the past. It's this kind of episode that brings me back week to week (and keeps me writing these chunks of summaries, haha).  Episode 12 Tadakoro serves her dish, a rainbow terrine (in order to show off her terrine recipe) with seven different combinations of vegetables and flavors. The alumni all like her dish so much, they alike her to a household yokai that delivers vegetables (since Shinomiya is the "Magician of Legumes") but unfortunately vote in Shinomiya's favor. But Doujima convinced Shinomiya to try Tadakoro's dish in order to understand why they favor her so much. Because her cooking comes with heart, which is something Shinomiya lacked and caused him to stagnate in his growth. So basically, the Shokugeki was all crafted by Doujima in order to give Tadakoro some confidence and to show Shinomiya that he can't continue coldly ignoring others if he wants his cooking to improve. It was a nice, light hearted ending to the arc.  Although Souma really didn't appreciate the loss. He hasn't lost anything to this point and it got to him. But seeing as how Tadakoro was happy, he'll let it slide.  That's it for this chunk! Next heap of episodes continues the camp and the start of Day 3. You know how we always have a few screencaps of each episode for you? Funny thing was that since I like Tadakoro so much, and that these episodes had a heavy focus on her, these were almost all Tadakoro faces. She's so adorable and the team always gives her good reactions. As for the little things, I don't notice them as much anymore. Now that the show has settled into a nice arc, everything seems more focused. The background noise isn't as wily, the characters are more developed, and there's far less intrusive fan service bits. Food Wars! Shokugeki no Soma has definitely come into its own. 
Food Wars 9-13 photo
Tadakoro now, Tadakoro forever
Last time we left off, Souma and the other chefs were taking part in an annual Totsuki Academy camp where they have to pass a few tests. We're currently in the middle of the first test as Chef Inui wants pairs of chefs to coo...

Shaft photo
I'm sooo happy right now
Shaft has to be one of my favourite anime studios just because they made the Monogatari Series. I love that anime to pieces; from the extremely witty dialogue to the contrasting colour art style. The studio is coming up to it...

Review: Ressha Sentai ToQger

Jul 03 // Salvador GRodiles
Ressha Sentai ToQgerStudio: ToeiRelease Date: February 16, 2014 Focusing on the ongoing battle between light and darkness, ToQger is about Right/ToQ 1, Tokatti/ToQ 2, Mio/ToQ 3, Hikari/ToQ 4, and Kagura/ToQ 5's quest to find their hometown known as Pleiades Shore. During their travels, the group joins forces with the Rainbow Line, a railway that protects people's imagination, to battle the Shadow Line, an opposing railroad that spreads their darkness across the land. As the team works hard to protect the various stations scattered across the region, they hope that they'll encounter their home as one of their stops. While the series' premise showed potential, its execution turned the program's early episodes into a trainwreck. Instead of introducing the viewers to the cast, ToQger hurled the main characters at the audience's face. Because of the lack of a proper introduction, it felt that we were missing an important segment that would make the gang more interesting. Sure, GoGo Sentai Boukenger followed this format, but the main difference is that the group's actions and conversations contributed to the audience wanting to learn more about them. Sadly, ToQger failed to accomplish this aspect-- even if the five heroes are childhood friends who lost their memories. Even though the show's cast gave off a fun vibe, their childish personality made them a bit annoying. Right was too scatterbrained and the other heroes felt like they were trying too hard to be silly. Not that I have anything against immature characters, but it takes a special touch to make these type of archetypes work well in a title. Despite ToQger's issues making its viewers care about the stars, Tokatti's shy characteristics and Mio's willingness to look out for everyone were both two examples of elements that could improve the series' quality. While we’re on the topic of childishness, I didn’t expect ToQger to justify their decision to have the team act immature (in a slightly annoying way). Even though the team’s personality got better as the show neared its second half, it felt strange to witness a group of young adult act more childish than the usual folks who exhibit child-like habits. In fact, this twist and their true backstory improved the show’s emotional moments that took form during the show’s second half. To an extent, it even manages to act as a decent way to convey the importance of needing to become more mature in grave situations. Separated from their home and family, the ToQger had to go through great extremes to find their town. It was this sense of maturity that helped the series up the ante after its quality was going up. Sadly, this change didn’t result in Right becoming a more likable character. Nonetheless, his role in the team was important since he’s basically that one slightly annoying guy who somehow prevents the group from falling apart. I guess his inner conflict during the final arc was a decent way to have him grow since he was willing to sacrifice his childhood to help preserve the happiness of his friends. As an adult who has an active inner child, I found the team’s struggle to be relatable because it covered the foundations of learning to be more responsible in certain situations. Even though life can be tough at times, that doesn’t mean that we can’t spice things up while we’re at it. That’s where ToQger’s imagination theme comes to play since it acts as a tool to help the gang stay positive during any difficult task. In the end, I commend the show’s staff for doing a decent job in conveying this message during the program’s stronger segments. ToQger's major twist may have been a great way to push the series forward, but the program's viewers had to reach episode 31 to witness this element first hand. Even though it was foreshadowed earlier in the series, it was hard for many folks to notice this element since there have been a few Sentai heroes who have childish personalities (in an enthusiastic way). Based on the shift in quality between the title's two parts, there’s a good chance the show changed in direction style. In the third part of my interview with Bueno (Gun Caliber’s Producer, Director, and Star) of the indie toku studio Garage Hero, the guy said that the folks in the tokusatsu industry go about making tokusatsu in the two following styles: Either they think that slapping a well-known brand's name on a product is enough to have it sell toys, or they take advantage of the toy’s designs and create an awesome show that uses these products in a cool way where it makes people want to buy them. Since the show’s plot, robots, and action scenes felt a bit lackluster, it was obvious that the staff was following the former. Even though ToQger had Yasuko Kobayashi (Kamen Rider OOO and Garo: The Carved Seal of Flames’ Writer), a writer known for adding creepy elements to her toku shows, on the writing staff, her contribution to the series didn’t bloom until the second half. Because of the sudden increase in quality, one can assume that the production staff’s attempt to ride on the easy merchandising express didn’t help them much since the later episodes felt like they were putting more effort into the show. From there, the staff used the imagination angle to focus on fleshing out the ToQger, along with introducing new machines with improved designs. On top of that, Kobayashi’s dark elements complimented the show’s more enjoyable second course. If there’s one thing that stayed consistent throughout the whole series, it’s the show’s main villains. The main group consisted of General Schwarz, the guy in charge of the Shadow Line's train division; Madame Noire, the classy lady that wishes the best for her daughter; and Grita, Noire's daughter who has a crush on Schwarz. Each elite villains had their own special moments, which placed the program's viewers on their toes as they're left guessing about their final fate. Whether it was Schwarz’s hints of ulterior motives or Noire's special plans for Grita, the series’ adversaries rarely stuck to the basic role of conquering humanity. Honestly, it was the evil cast’s personality and motives that kept me interesting in seeing how the show developed early on. In a way, they were the only thing that felt like Kobayashi’s signature aspects when the show was off track. Perhaps the best villain of them all was the Emperor of Darkness himself. One thing that made the Shadow Line's ruler great was that he wasn’t your run-of-the-mill evil villain who wants to bring destruction to the world. Throughout the series, the guy only wanted to exhibit his own ‘shine.’ In a way, the Emperor of Darkness’ situation symbolizes the concept of people expectations on certain individuals. Because of his status, the Shadow Line’s top rulers expect him to be a ruthless lord who’s intent on bringing despair to the entire planet. At the same time, his methods exhibit the characteristics of a deprived child who would go through great lengths to get what he wants. Thanks to the way how he was depicted in the show, the staff did a good job in placing the villain in a position where he could switch sides at any given point in time. Speaking of great villains, the Shadow Line’s top member featured some solid designs. The main generals were demonic Victorian/High-Class Wild West creatures that had slight bits of Steampunk and Zed looked like he would be a Devil Trigger Form in the Devil May Cry series. Hell, the great craftsmanship placed into each costume was another great factor that gave me hope that ToQger would improve. Again, this was one of the few things that the show had going for it when it seemed that the show was trying to sell toys based on the Super Sentai name alone. As the program started to improve, we started to see a jump in the robot designs as well. ToQ 6's machine and the other combining mechas were all cool-looking robots since the train features were distributed better across their bodies-- unlike the ToQ-Oh’s Total Recall train chest. For a franchise that’s known for showcasing some fun fight scenes, ToQger fell flat in its early half. While the imagination-based powers sounded like a nifty gimmick, the show’s heroes exhibited clumsy movements that lacked the exhilarating feeling that comes from most Sentai shows. Normally, this sort of style would work great for a good laugh (such as the Go-Onger losing some of their early fights in their show) but the program’s failure to establish its characters properly prevented it from succeeding in this matter. Luckily, the action sequences improved as the series’ quality went up. Part of it likely had to do with the team gaining more experience in battle, along with ToQ 6 changing up the program’s format. Even when ToQger was its worse, the series had a great array of voice actors at its side. Jun Fukuyama (Code Geass' Lelouch, Assassination Classroom's Koro-sensei), Noriko Hidaka (Gunbuster's Noriko and Ranma 1/2's Akane), and Aya Hisakawa (Sailor Moon's Ami/Sailor Mercury, Cardcaptor Sakura's Kero) all did a wonderful job with voicing Nero, Noire, and Grita. Of course, their great performance contributed to the Shadow Line being a great group to follow. For the good side, Kappei Yamaguchi (One Piece's Ussop and Persona 4's Teddie) and Yui Horie (Persona 4's Chie and Golden Time's Koko) both hit the park with their roles as Ticket the puppet and Wagon. With the Conductor by their side, they were the Rainbow Line's best characters during the show's first half.  ToQger may have had a weak start, but the show easily gained the title of the Little Engine that could when it ended its run. ToQ 6's silly backstory and Emperor’s story were two key ingredients that threw the series back on track. Combined with the various power uprisings happening among the main adversaries, the program started to become more entertaining than before. Of course, the program’s theme about children learning to be responsible while retaining their imaginative creativity was another factor that improved the title. Unfortunately, one would have to sit through 12 or 13 mediocre episodes before the train-themed Sentai title picks up; therefore making it a difficult series to recommend to people. However, if a person can endure the darkness that plagues the series early on, then he/she might come out with a smile that’s powered by imagination and rainbows. Once you reach your final destination, there’s a small chance that you’ll reconnect with your inner child. Depending on your experience, you might have a better appreciation of the term ‘IMAGINAAAATION!’ [This review is based on a broadcast of the program obtained by Japanator] If there’s one thing that ToQger shares with Goseiger, it’s that both shows have a weird-looking Super Form for their Rangers. While the team’s Hyper Express Mode looks better than the Goseiger’s Miracle Mode, I feel that it’s lacking since the armor doesn’t complement the suit much. Nonetheless, the new transformation worked well in pushing the story forward as the Marquise Mork entered the scene. In this case, it shows us that an average power-up can improve a program’s plot when used right. It also helps that Zed remains as one of the series’ best villains. One thing that made Zed great was that he wasn’t your run-of-the-mill evil villain who wants to bring destruction to the world. Throughout the series, the guy just wants to exhibit his own ‘shine.’ In a way, the Emperor of Darkness’ situation symbolizes the concept of people expectations on certain individuals. Because of his status, the Shadow Line’s top rulers expect him to be a ruthless lord who’s intent on brining despair to the entire planet. At the same time, his methods exhibit the characteristics of a deprived child who would go through great lengths to get what he wants. Thanks to the way how Zed was depicted in the show, the staff did a good job in placing the villain in a position where he could switch sides at any given point in time. While we’re on the topic of children, I didn’t expect ToQger to justify their decision to have the team act childish (in a slightly annoying way). Even though the team’s personality got better as the show neared its second half, it felt strange to witness a group of young adult act more immature than usual folks who exhibit child-like habits. The idea behind Right and his friends being children who were turned to adults to fight the Shadow Line added to the show’s emotional moments that took form during the show’s second half. To an extent, it manages to act as a decent way to show the importance of kids needing to become more mature in grave situations. Separated from their home and family, the ToQger had to go through great extremes to find their town while fighting the Shadow Line’s forces. It was this sense of maturity that helped the series up the ante after its quality was going up. Sadly, this change didn’t result in Right becoming a more likable character. Nonetheless, his role in the team was important since he’s basically that one slightly annoying guy who somehow prevents the group from falling part. I guess his inner conflict during the final arc was a decent way to have him grow since he was willing to sacrifice his childhood to help preserve the happiness of his friends. As an adult who has an active inner child, I found the team’s struggle to be relatable because it covered the foundations of learning to be more responsible in certain situations. Even though life can be tough at times, that doesn’t mean that we can’t spice things up while we’re at it. That’s where ToQger’s imagination theme comes to play since it acts as a tool to help the gang stay positive during any difficult task. In the end, I commend the show’s staff for doing a decent job in conveying this message during the program’s stronger segments. While the show’s major twist was a great way to push the series forward, the show’s viewers had to reach episode 31 to witness this element first hand. Even though it was foreshadowed earlier in the series, the franchise’s status as a children’s program made it hard for most folks to notice this element since there have been a few Sentai heroes who have childish personalities (in an enthusiastic way). Based on the shift in quality between the ToQger’s early and later episodes, there’s a good chance the show changed in direction style. In the third part of my interview with Bueno (Gun Caliber’s Producer, Director, and Star) of the indie toku studio Garage Hero, the guy said that the folks in the tokusatsu industry go about making tokusatsu in the two following styles: Either they think that slapping a well-known brand name on a product is enough to have it sell toys, or they take advantage of the toy’s designs and create an awesome show that uses these products in a cool way where it makes people want to buy them. Since the show’s plot, robots, and action scenes felt a bit lackluster, it was obvious that the staff was following the former. Even though ToQger had Yasuko Kobayashi (Kamen Rider OOO and Garo: The Carved Seal of Flames’ Writer), a writer known for adding creepy elements to toku shows, on the writing staff, her contribution to the series didn’t bloom until the second half. Because of the sudden increase in quality, one can assume that the production staff’s attempt to ride on the easy merchandising express didn’t help them much since the later episodes felt like they were putting more effort into the show. From there, the staff used the imagination angle to focus more on fleshing out the ToQger and the newer machines featured improved designs. On top of that, Kobayashi’s dark elements complimented the show’s more enjoyable second course. If there’s one thing that stayed consistent throughout the whole series, it’s the show’s main villains. Aside from Zed’s situation, the other big villains had their own special moments. Whether it was Schwarz’s transition from conquering the Shadow Line to avenging Grita or Noire’s attempt to make Grita the head of the group, the series’ adversaries rarely stuck to the basic role of conquering humanity. Honestly, it was the evil cast’s personality and motives that kept me interesting in seeing how the show developed early on. In a way, they were the only thing that felt like Kobayashi’s signature aspects when the show was off track. Speaking of great villains, the Shadow Line’s top member featured some solid designs. The main generals were demonic Victorian/High-Class Wild West creatures that had slight bits of Steampunk and Zed looked like he would be a Devil Trigger Form in the Devil May Cry series. Hell, the great craftsmanship placed into each costume was another great factor that gave me hope that ToQger would improve. Again, this was one of the few things that the show had going for it when it seemed that the show was trying to sell toys based on the Super Sentai name alone. As the program started to improve, we started to see a jump in the robot designs as well. The Build Dai-Oh, Super Duper ToQ-Oh, Hyper Express Emperor, and ToQ Rainbow were all cool-looking robots since the train features were distributed better across their bodies-- unlike the ToQ-Oh’s Total Recall train chest. For a franchise that’s known for showcasing some fun fight scenes, ToQger fell flat in its early half. While the imagination-based powers sounded like a nifty gimmick, the show’s heroes exhibited clumsy movements that lacked the exhilarating feeling that comes from most Sentai shows. Normally, this sort of style would work great for a good laugh (such as the Go-Onger losing some of their early fights in their show) but the program’s failure to establish its characters properly prevented it from succeeding in this matter. Luckily, the action sequences improved as the series’ quality went up. Part of it likely had to do with the team gaining more experience in battle, along with ToQ 6 changing up the program’s format. ToQger maybe had a rough start, but the show easily gained the title of the Little Engine that could when it ended its run. ToQ 6 being a former Shadow Line member and Zed’s story were two key ingredients that threw the series back on track. Combined with the various power uprisings happening among the main adversaries, the program started to become more entertaining than before. Of course, the program’s theme about children learning to be responsible while retaining their imaginative creativity was another factor that improved the title. Unfortunately, one would have to sit through 12 or 13 mediocre episodes before the train-themed Sentai title picks up; therefore making it a difficult series to recommend to people. However, if one can endure the darkness that plagues the series early on, then they might come out with a smile that’s powered by imagination and rainbows. Once you reach your final destination, there’s a good chance that you’ll reconnect with your inner child. Depending on your experience, you might have a better appreciation of the term ‘IMAGINAAAATION!’
Ressha Sentai ToQger photo
Imagining Victory!
When it comes to TV shows that run for a year, it’s hard to imagine that a long series could improve when its early segments failed to impress most viewers. In many cases, if you can’t grab the audience during the...

Japanator supports love!

Jun 27 // Josh Tolentino
Artist credits to: Minako Komahara wwtwj Yoshinaga Masahiro  
Japanator supports love! photo
#LoveWins
In a historic decision Friday, the United States Supreme Court ruled that state barriers to same-sex marriage were unconstitutional, effectively legalizing the institution for same-sex couples nationwide. Naturally, social me...

Japanator Party photo
Let's party hard!
If you happen to be in Chicago this weekend, make sure you swing by Mitsuwa Marketplace at 1PM CST, as Japanator is hosting a cosplay party, in preparation for Japan Day Chicago next month! We are official sponsors of the eve...

Yo-kai Watch photo
This is your warning
This is a fair warning to your wallet in advance now. Yo-kai Watch is on its way, prepare your wallet. The anime and video game phenomena that has swept through Japan and emptied the wallets of many Japanese parents is set t...

Attack on Titan photo
Convinced yet?
I'm still not ready to say wether I'm excited for the live action adaptation of Hajime Isayama's ridiculously popular Attack on Titan series yet. The film has a lot going for it, a decent budget and good actors should help m...

Annotated Anime: The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-Chan episode 4

Jun 22 // Anthony Redgrave
An eastern tradition that is swapped over here in the west is; girls will give chocolates to the guy they fancy on Valentine's day, so this episode is mainly Nagato trying to make and give chocolates to Kyon. A side story is Kyon hanging out with Haruhi and doing what Haruhi likes doing best; looking for weird shit around town and bantering with the nonchalant high schooler. In the side story especially there are a lot of visual references to the old series that are sure to please the fans. Kyon's only male friends make an appearance too although their role can be best described as cameos. Leading up to the finale of the episode, each of Nagato's friends gives her a bit of advice when it comes to confessing. Each one of them is unique to their personality and doesn't feel like the generic "just be yourself" BS that you hear waay too many times in contemporary romances. Mikuru also has a really nice scene with Nagato in this episode that encompasses the series's romantic comedy style; high school sweet with just the right amount of wacky playfulness. The ending does add some spicy drama into the mix but will probably be due to an unfortunate misunderstanding that plague so many anime high schoolers when it comes to romance. 
Nagato Yuki photo
Love in the air
So we're hitting the Valentine's day episode early in this rom-com anime. Usually, I'd expect these episodes to be in the second half of the season at least after we have gotten to know the characters a bit more. But since th...

Japanator Interviews: Cristina Vee

Jun 17 // Anthony Redgrave
Japanator - How many times do your friends pester you for impersonations of their favourite character? Cristina - My immediate friends don't really ask me for impersonations, but I usually force them on them anyway! The worst is actually at conventions; I've been asked multiple times at panels to give a sample of Riven or Homura Akemi and their response after the fact is sometimes "....pretty close", or "....that was okay". It's hard to maintain a voice after air travel and speaking all weekend, haha! Japanator - Out of all the characters you have played from anime and video games; which one had been the most interesting to get into the mind set of? Cristina - If you take a look at my resume, you might notice a trend. Many of my characters are emotionally damaged or just completely broken. It's awesome. I really loved voicing Homura Akemi in Madoka because of everything she goes through. I don't think I've seen a character as well developed as her in the last ten years of anime. That being said, I really enjoy completely throwing myself off the deep end. I voiced Four in Drakengard 3 and I had such a blast because she is completely nuts. She is past the point of redemption. Japanator - Veecaloid Pop is a game that was made for you Cristina, is this a rarity, or do you get a lot of fan made games? Cristina - I don't know of any other voice actors who have their own video game-- correct me if I'm wrong! I feel so lucky to have the amazing, talented friends who put me in this unique position. Adam Tierney, James Montangna, Lindsay Collins, and Andrew Lim are as passionate about games, art, and music as they come. Japanator - Will we see a duet between Cristina Veecaloid and Milky in the near future? Cristina - I think a duet might be crossing the streams a little too much! Milky's next single is coming along beautifully though. I'll give you one hint: it's about corgis. Japanator - Which one would you rather be in real life: a cosmic idol or a magical girl (sans contract of course!)?  Cristina - I think it's very telling about my personality that I became a voice actor. I don't really enjoy being in the limelight, but I love being part of a team and making an impact. I'm going to go with magical girl! I'm thinking more along the lines of Sailor Moon and not Madoka Magica. I'd love to save the world without the mental anguish, thank you very much!   How many times do your friends pester you for impersonations of their favourite character?
Cristina Vee Interview photo
Voice Idol, Game Star
Cristina Vee is becoming one of the most prolific voice actresses in the English dub anime industry. Her sweet vocals can be heard in K-On giving life to the scaredy cat bassist, or as the hot-tempered shrine maiden Sail...

Annotated Anime: The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-Chan episodes 1-3

Jun 15 // Anthony Redgrave
This anime is a lot different from its ancestor The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya. Taking centre stage is the stoic blunt alien Nagato Yuki. Except in this version, she is a regular girl that likes food, her PSVita, food, the new member Kyon and did I mention food? If you've seen The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya then you'll be already acquainted with this bizarro world. Not only has the lead changed but so has the genre and mood. These first few episodes are about the literature club preparing for a Christmas party in the club room and fulfilling Yuki's secret desire for turkey because she likes food. Each episode has a strong romantic overtone with a comedic smothering. It places itself firmly in the romantic comedy genre completely eliminating the supernatural mystery of the former series. That is to say, it's not good. Nagato Yuki, although not my ideal lead, is a lovable girl that you root for and Kyon is the same nice on the surface, sarcastic underneath high schooler as before. Ryoko Asakura has a bigger role in this series as the motherly mentor of Nagato. The gags she's involved in are absolutely brilliant making her my new number one! Other SOS Brigade members trickle into the show although not a lot of time are spent on them. Haruhi and Koizumi are part of a different school so they are only introduced in episode 3, and Mikuru is permanently stuck to Tsuruya. Their personalities and thankfully original English dub voice actors are intact which helps the transition from Haruhi to Nagato Yuki-chan. Reuniting with the familiar voices has the same feeling as seeing old friends, they may look a little different, but they are the same person underneath. This doesn't apply to Nagato Yuki as she has a completely new personality. I find it really jarring when I hear the voice actress flit between the familiar monotone speech pattern to her new emotionally volatile identity.  The bottom line is that fans of Haruhi will be split on this one. The change in genre, mood, and art style may be too much of a departure from the previous series, but the familiar voice cast and characters may be enough to pull you through. I'm in the latter camp. It's not what I was expecting, but I'm enjoying the light-hearted tone of the series so far. A large part of the experience is missing without Kyon's snide remarks peppering the chaos but this is Nagato's show now, and I'm excited to see where it goes from here. [Watch the disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan on FUNimation!]
Nagato Yuki photo
We're not in Haruhi's Universe anymore
Boo hoo hoo! Woe is me and my fellow Haruhi followers. Why hath she forsaken us? We had endured the endlessness of endless eight, the confusing broadcast order, and she had shone her blessings on our torture with a stell...

Annotated Anime: One Piece episode 697

Jun 15 // Anthony Redgrave
Working backwards, the episode concludes with Law and Luffy finally making it to Doflamingo's now destroyed throne room. The pink Warlord states that he is disappointed at the revelation that the pirates have arrived to kick his ass. After placing a bounty on Law and Luffy's heads, why wouldn't they want to kick his ass? Does Doflamingo think they want to negotiate after he had put them through hell!? This all points towards the Dressrosa arc finally wrapping up, unless Luffy gets horribly injured then we will have to sit through the recovery and journey stages all over again a la Impel Down. On the outside Usopp's commission to Kanjuro is finally complete after a few episodes in the making. While this was happening, bounty hunters scale the wall on Kanjuro's crudely drawn ladder. King Riku, Tank, Hack, or Kin'emon don't do anything to stop them from reaching the top showing that One Piece characters are really really dumb if the camera is not on them. This rule in universal unless you're Sanji. The rest of the episode focusses Usopp struggling to make one of the most pivotal shots in the whole arc. Previously, the show made these feats appear easy for Usopp since he is gifted at sharpshooting. It was like his version of Zoro's swordsmanship or Nami's navigation skills. But this episode takes time to explore his doubts and anxieties if he misses, even going as far as to do a fake out to throw off viewers. It does an excellent job at showing Usopp's psyche when he's under pressure and has a great pay off. The revelation near the end is absolutely priceless.  I won't divulge anymore in fear of spoiling one of the best episodes of One Piece I've seen in a while. It's a return to blending intense butt clenching action with comedic breaks in-between that made me fall in love with One Piece.  [One Piece streams weekly on FUNimation]
One Piece photo
Mainly filler but still good
Nope that's not a typo. It's a word I just made up now to describe this episode of One Piece. Friller (adjective) def. To be mainly filler but is still entertaining to watch. May not be limited to the thriller genre. Portmant...

Annotated Anime: Stardust Crusaders episodes 46-47

Jun 14 // Josh Tolentino
Indeed, I was right, and we are forced to bid a fond farewell to the greatest JoJo of all, old Joseph Joestar. Yeah, I said it! Joseph was the best JoJo. He had the right combination of bravado and valor that few heroes since have been able to match. I'll qualify that statement by admitting I haven't read Diamond Is Unbreakable, which a friend tells me contains some surprises, so this opinion is subject to change. But still, Joseph's my favorite. Of course, his grandson is no slouch, either. In fact, after Dio takes out both Joseph and sadly murders poor Kakyoin (who only in death got the character development he needed), it's practically Jotaro's show all the way through. And he acquits himself with aplomb, being the only one of the whole quintet to press Dio, despite The World's seemingly unbeatable time-stopping power. In fact, the fight quickly changes from a straight power contest - exemplified by Jotaro and Dio's dueling punch barrages - to a game of cat-and-mouse, as Jotaro struggles to cope with The World's power and find an opening to attack Dio through. For his part, Dio actually comes across as far more vulnerable than he's usually made out to be. It's fitting, given that it was Dio's hubris and overconfidence that did him in back in Jonathan's day, so he's in full "twice-shy" mode during this first half of the fight. Taken by surprise that Jotaro can move - if only a little - during The World's time stop attack, Dio takes few chances, standing off from range with throwing knives and trying his damnedest to make sure Jotaro isn't just playing possum. Again, the classic Joestar cleverness manifests, with Jotaro's hilarious magazine armor, because of course he would choose magazines as armor, he's such a street punk. Between that and Dio's cautious probing, the fight takes on the character of a true high-level duel, where the real challenge is less in executing techniques than it is in predicting which techniques your opponent will use. Fighting game enthusiasts call it the metagame, and here it's in full play. The first round goes to Jotaro, who goes above and beyond with the possum-play and scores a Mortal Kombat-style X-ray attack on Dio's head. Which would've ended the fight right there if not for a timely escape, right back to where the pair left Joseph's body, and right on time for Dio to top off out of the elder Joestar's jugular. This is where the real Dark Souls Stardust Crusaders begins. [Watch JoJo's Bizarre Adventure on Crunchyroll!]  
Stardust Crusaders photo
No country for old Joestars
I really didn't want to have to do this recap, because we're right up against Stardust Crusaders' endgame, which means that the bodycount has to rise. And really, who likes to watch people die? Don't answer that!


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