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Studio Khara photo
The Lawsuit Instrumentality Project
As we continue to wait patiently for Eva 4.0's possible completion, a Studio Khara ends up going through a major turn of event. It turns out that they're suing Gainax for not fulfilling their deal to pay Khara royal...

Rejoice: Cardcaptor Sakura's new anime to premiere in January 2018

Nov 27 // Salvador G Rodiles
Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card Arc's returning cast Sakura Kinomoto: Sakura Tange Keroberos: Aya Hisakawa Tomoyo Daidoji: Junko Iwao Syaoran Li: Motoko Kumai Yukito Tsukishiro: Megumi Ogata Toya Kinomoto: Tomokazu Seki
Cardcaptor Sakura photo
Sounds like a dream come true
Well, folks. It turns out that the previously announced Cardcaptor Sakura sequel anime hits Japan's NHK channel in January 2018. To top off the icing on this exquisite cake, Madhouse and the original anime's di...

Code Geass photo
Lelouch of the Resurrection
Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion was one of the first anime I had ever seen. Its story of one kid mind controlling himself into a political uprising caught my attention and held it throughout its two seasons. In celebrati...

First Impressions: Keijo!!!!!!!!

Oct 11 // Nick Valdez
Keijo!!!!!!!! (from here on out, I'm going to refer to it without eight exclamation points) follows Nozomi, an eighteen year old girl (which the episode hilariously points out before the fan service begins in full) who dreams of being a pro Keijo player because they make a lot of money. Keijo is a sport where girls try to knock each other off of floating platforms without using their hands and feet. Which means, of course, each girl's butt is the weapon of choice in this sport. When Nozomi is accepted into an academy for budding Keijo athletes, she meets several rivals who are out of her skill level. Including her best friend, Sayaka, who has a habit of giving herself a swimsuit wedgie before she competes.  At first glance, Keijo doesn't have much to offer beyond your standard "look at these girls bounce around." Once it gets passed its abrasive opening theme and credits (as it feeds almost too much audiovisual information at once), you'll find that it's basically that. The story and characters don't really have any interesting or new characteristics that'll separate them from other offerings. That'll most likely come out the longer the show runs, but at least there are interesting quirks in the dialogue. For one, Nozomi and another main character speak with an accent and Nozomi pointing it out is a cute moment. When Nozomi says something like "Her butt muscles are incredible!" or one girl declaring "Is that a butt that looks like giant boobs?" the story's serious tone wonderfully clashes with the inanity of its visuals as the animation works with the funky dialogue. But thankfully for everyone involved, the dialogue is not the focal point of the series.  The first episode runs us through a typical Keijo match as it flashes back to the mock trial in the academy's entrance exam. And boy does it pop off. Impressively, Keijo shocks with how competently it animates its movements. If you're unaware of its production company, Xebec, just know they're pretty good when it comes to stuff like this. As seen in shows like Shaman King, Tokyo ESP, or its more fan service fare like To Love-Ru, Love Hina, and Maken-Ki!, Xebec is very good at highlighting a character's movements with stuff like squalls (basically when a character moves really fast and wind is shown flowing around them to accent it) and action lines. So as weird as it is to see these techniques utilized on peaches, it's never truly disorienting. In fact, the surprise of seeing it all in such smooth animation put a giant smile on my face. It's a matter of wondering how far the show will go or how intense these girls' techniques are.  For example, when one girl spins her hip around so fast she knocks others unconscious it's sort of the best idea ever. Then Keijo goes and tops itself when Nozomi counters that move with faceplanting right into her bottom because she realized that girl attacks jaws with her butt power. And then it tops itself once more with the booty guillotine! It's one surprise after another as the "sports" part of this anime begins to reveal itself and becomes as entertaining as say, a good match in Prince of Tennis. But the harsh matter is whether or not Keijo will be entertaining beyond these moments. Because when the dust finally settles and we go back into the story proper, it falls back into the same types of archetypes we've seen before.  In the end, I'm not sure if my ironic love has gotten quite to un-ironic level quite yet. This is one of the better first impressions I've gotten from a series this season, however. On concept alone, Keijo!!!!!!!! earns all eight of its exclamation points. But like all surprises, it's impossible to capture that feeling again once you're aware of what's going on. Whether or not Keijo!!!!!!!!! is a fleeting joy will reveal itself over the next few weeks. But at least there is a joy.  [Keijo!!!!!!!! gives new meaning to "headbutt" on Crunchyroll.]
Keijo First Impressions photo
I found you, Ms. New Booty
Keijo!!!!!!!! has both the best and worst first episode I have ever seen in anime. It's most likely one of the biggest surprises of the Fall season merely for its audacity to exist. In a wonderful maelstrom of fan service, sl...


Kaixa Day is upon us

Sep 13 // Salvador G Rodiles
カーイーザ! by yk ことりとカイザ by お腹すいたにゃ Faiz & Kaixa by 无硫黑火 2016 Kaixa Day by ミクモ 913の日 by Tsukushi 9!1!3!カイザの~日~♪ by ぽん酢 913の日2016 by 木宮@腰痛で作業遅延 カイザの日in 2016 by Anasodariaso ハッピーカイザデー by 英知 カイガン!!カイザ!!! by 朱羅姫( ˘ω˘) カイザの日2016 by Nekohige 913! by 鉄格子 変身 by アイアン芥火 カイザの日 by 神島かのん カイザの日2016 by さふぁ太 913 by cryman 2016 913 by 吉舎和幸 煙草×913 by (mizy) 913の日 by Shouchan -Kaiser- by Mani. 2016.9.13 by 番茄帝 9 1 3 by 床の間 913 by Ranma 南条光バースデー by 若林まこと  紫の視線 by モヤ  カイザの日2016 by 白鷲 9-1-3 by Xian L. Olavarria http://www.pixiv.net/member_illust.php?mode=medium&illust_id=58955878
Kaixa Day photo
Let's awaken our inner jerk
[Update: I added an extra Kaixa piece to the post.] [Disclosure: Salvador is friends with Xian. No relationships, professional or personal, were factored into posting his piece.  Once again, it's time for us to treat eve...

Japanator's Summer 2016 Anime Preview Guide!

Jul 04 // Josh Tolentino
[embed]35116:5717:0[/embed] Berserk Studio: Gemba, Millepensee (Teekyuu, Wake Up, Girls!) Broadcast Date:  July 1, 2016 (Streaming via Crunchyroll) An easy candidate for the most effin' metal anime of all time, Berserk has been adapted quite often. The new twist for this latest, TV series-sized attempt is that this will be the first time an animated adaptation has gone beyond the "Golden Age" arc. In all honesty, I couldn't tell you what all that actually means, as I've never seen or read Berserk. Does admitting that mean I have to hand in my otaku membership card? That dude sure does have a big sword, though. The series is airing now, and...well, there'll be more to say about it in our impressions.   [embed]35116:5718:0[/embed] Mob Psycho 100 Studio: BONES (My Hero Academia, Bungo Stray Dogs) Broadcast Date: July 12, 2016 (Streaming via Crunchyroll) "From the guy that writes One Punch Man" is probably one of the more effective marketing lines you could ask for these days, but in truth, Mob Psycho 100 seems to be a rather different beast than the saga of Saitama. Shigeo Kageyama (nicknamed "Mob" after the Japanese term for movie extras) is a completely unremarkable high school student, bar the fact that he's got prodigious psychic superpowers. Having superpowers can be a real hassle, though, so he keeps his emotions suppressed to force them into check.  Unfortunately, life usually happens in opposition to well-meaning plans, and things quickly threaten to produce emotional reaction in Mob, leading to the "100" in the title. For when his pent-up feelings reach the breaking point, bad stuff's going to happen. Between the sound of things and the deliberately laid-back aesthetic, Mob Psycho 100 seems to be aiming more a more psychological take on superpowers and action show tropes rather than the "sardonic-but-badass" angle One Punch Man typically explores. I'll be giving Mob Psycho 100 a look once it airs.   [embed]35116:5719:0[/embed] Danganronpa 3: The End of Hope's Peak Academy (Side: Future and Side: Despair) Studio: Lerche (School Live!, Monster Musume) Broadcast Date: July 11, 2016 (Future) and July 14, 2016 (Despair) Rejoice, players of Danganronpa, your questions will be answered! Danganronpa 3 arrives not in the form of a game (though an actual new Danganronpa title is in development), but as two simultaneously-broadcast anime series. The first, Side: Future, effectively acts as coda of sorts for Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc, recounting the adventures of star Makoto Naegi and his fellow Hope's Peak survivors as they form the Future Foundation, and framed as a trial for Makoto himself in the wake of the events of Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair.  Side: Despair, on the other hand, promises the secret history of the cast members of Danganronpa 2, and what happened to them before they were thrown into the game. The reason this matters functions as a major spoiler, and both shows seem to presume a familiarity with the games. Both I and fellow Japanator editor Salvador G-Rodiles are big fans of the games. I'll be checking out Future once it hits, and Sal will look at Despair. If you want to catch up, both games are available on PS Vita and on Steam.   [embed]35116:5721:0[/embed] Orange Studio: Telecom Animation Film (Moyashimon, Phantasy Star Online 2) Broadcast Date: July 4, 2016 (Streaming via Crunchyroll) Time loop anime seem to be the new "superpowered highschoolers" anime in terms of trendiness right now, and Orange is exactly one of those. Like the leads of Steins;Gate, Re:Zero, and Erased, Naho Takamiya is given the chance to change her future, thanks to a letter written by herself, ten years from now, and sent to herself in the present. And it seems like many of future-Naho's regrets are tied to transfer student and love interest Kakeru Naruse. It's cool to see the sci-fi twists usually used on mystery and suspense fantasies applied to the more romantic stylings of shojou manga, and Orange seems to have a strong reputation in that crowd. I'm hoping to see a bit more of the show's high-concept sci-fi twist manifest itself among the feels and personal relationships. [embed]35116:5723:0[/embed] 91 Days Studio: Shuka (Durarara!! x2) Broadcast Date: July 9, 2016 (Streaming via Crunchyroll) Who would've thought that a studio whose staffers helped make shows like Durarara!! and Baccano! would go on to make a new show about the weird underground in a bustling, thriving city? I'm being facetious, but there's definitely merit in sticking with what you know. Following the latest seasons of Durarara!! x2, Shuka take on a setting that's new...-ish: Prohibition-era America. In the fictional city of Lorel, a young orphan named Avilo joins up with the local mafia outfit. The twist is that Avilo lost his family years prior in an attack by the same crime ring, so the newly made man is in it for revenge.  With the screenwriter of Joker Game, last season's bit of period fiction, and plenty of experience making multifaceted plots and juggling an ensemble cast, 91 Days looks like it might be a gritty winner.   [embed]35116:5724:0[/embed] ReLife Studio: TMS Entertainment (Actually, I Am..., Zetman) Broadcast Date: July 1, 2016 (Streaming via Crunchyroll) Ever wish you could go back in time and get a redo for your childhood mistakes? Perhaps relive your high school life knowing what you know now as a weathered adult? Lots of anime shows sure seem to think that's what we're after, but not all are as bald-faced about it as ReLife, where Arata Kaizaki, a beaten-down twenty-something stuck in a career and lifestyle rut gets the opportunity to take a magic pill that ages him down to a fresh-faced seventeen-year-old, to repeat a year of high school and refresh his life. It's a tempting premise mainly for the fact that Arata seems like a relatable sort of lead (at least in the mind of this beaten-down thirty-something), and some of the other twists appear to plant the seed for drama to come. I'm just hoping they don't mine the slightly creepy "adult man hanging out with underage kids" angle too hard.   [embed]35116:5727:0[/embed] Taboo Tattoo Studio: J.C. Staff (Selector Infected Wixoss, Flying Witch) Broadcast Date: July 5, 2016 (Streaming via Crunchyroll) Stop me if you've heard this one before, but Taboo Tattoo is about Japanese high school students who have special powers and a penchant for getting into fights with each other.  I am, of course, being hideously reductive, but suffice it to say that it's definitely one of those types of shows (the tattoo motif is particularly reminiscent of last season's Big Order), and while it seems unlikely to change peoples' minds, judgment will have to wait until we see more of it in action. For what it's worth, I'm digging the seeming emphasis on martial arts as opposed to "my power is a gnarly weapon". This might make for some cool action sequences.  There's also the backdrop, which casts the Tattoo powers themselves as developments in an ongoing arms race between America and the fictional nation of Selinistan. This might make for a good world-building opportunity to background the rest of the action, so there's hope for this one, at least.   [embed]35116:5729:0[/embed] Alderamin On The Sky  Studio: Madhouse (One Punch Man, My Love STORY!!) Broadcast Date: July 9, 2016 (Streaming via Crunchyroll) "Alderamin" sounds like the name of a sleeping pill, which makes sense, because the premise sounds like it could be something of a snoozer. Two nations, Katjvarna and Kioka, whose names sound like the noises you make when you're on Alderamin, are at war, and Ikuta, a lackadaisical and passive young recruit who joined the army with no interest in becoming an officer, has become Katjvarna's greatest military commander after a mere few years. The show purports to tell the story of how he got there. That sounds like it could be interesting, and given Madhouse's pedigree, there may be some potential in the visuals and war setting, but otherwise it sounds less like a historical chronicle than another hagiography in the manner of Mahouka. At the very least, I'm hoping this turns out less like that and more like Lord Marksman and Vanadis, a show that was at least enjoyable for its cast, if not for its tedious core principles.    [embed]35116:5730:0[/embed] Qualidea Code Studio: A-1 Pictures (Brotherhood: Final Fantasy XV, Asterisk War) Broadcast Date: July 9, 2016 (Streaming via Crunchyroll) What happens when you lock the authors of light novel sensations Henneko, Date A Live, and My Teen RomCom SNAFU to hash out a multimedia anime project? This thing, apparently, which frankly reads like it could've come from any single one of them. Get this: High-school age kids have superpowers and are now using them to defend the Earth from an unknown threat. Actually, the threat is aliens, which are literally called "UNKNOWN".  Great.    [embed]35116:5728:0[/embed] Sweetness and Lightning Studio: TMS Entertainment (Yowapeda, Bakuon!!) Broadcast Date: July 4, 2016 (Streaming via Crunchyroll) If you've been jonesing for another does of anime parenting to gush over, this season's successor to the likes of Bunny Drop, Barakamon, and the Yotsuba&! anime you'll never ever get looks to be Sweetness and Lightning.  That said, the show does seem to distinguish itself in that the father-daughter relationship here is a literal father-daughter one. No weird non-blood connections to pander to incest fetishists with (Lookin' at you, ending of Bunny Drop!).  It even starts off on a tearjerker, with the father, Kouhei, being recently widowed and struggling to raise his adorable kid Tsumugi without any domestic skills. Enter one of his students, Kotori, who's from a broken home and is looking for companionship, to teach her teacher in the art of domesticity. Sounds heartwarming enough to me, though given the dynamics at work there's some risk of Sweetness and Lightning dodging the incest trap and instead falling into the pothole of winter-spring romance.    [embed]35116:5731:0[/embed] Rewrite Studio: 8bit (The Fruit of Grisaia, Infinite Stratos) Broadcast Date: July 2, 2016 (Streaming via Crunchyroll) If you had the power to "rewrite" yourself, i.e. change your own story to suit your needs or whims (think "Editing your character sheet in D&D to give yourself all the best stats"), what would you do? The answer, if Rewrite has its way, is "have adventures and romance with saucer-eyed waifs and amnesiacs".  Indeed, 8bit and the team behind The Fruit of Grisaia are tackling the biggest Key visual novel adaptation since Little Busters!. I've never been a big fan of Key or Jun Maeda, but Rewrite sounds like it might be a different sort of beast, seeing as it was written not by Maeda but by Romeo Tanaka, writer of the superb Humanity Has Declined. I'm not sure if that will be enough to hook me into watching it, but it should be a bit different from the usual Key fodder.   [embed]35116:5732:0[/embed] The Morose Mononokean Studio: Pierrot (Naruto, Level E) Broadcast Date: July 3, 2016 (Streaming via Crunchyroll) You know what's big in Japan right now? Yokai. The diverse creatures of Japanese folklore have gone mainstream with the likes of Yo-kai Watch and other vehicles, and it's well deserved. I'm of the opinion that having culturally rooted monsters makes for more interesting design and interpretation that trying to come up with new designs from scratch (see how weird Pokemon have been looking lately). But this isn't a Yo-kai Watch preview though, it's one for The Morose Mononokean, which aims to take a daily-life angle on the godly and supernatural shenanigans covered by the likes of Hozuki no Reitetsu and Noragami. The titular Mononokean is a tea room that serves as the headquarters for an exorcist and the high schooler he takes under his wing. As it's based on a webcomic, I doubt we're looking at the next Monthly Girls' Nozaki-kun or something similarly good, but it'll have done its job if it manages to entertain and educate about Japan's supernatural bestiary.   [embed]35116:5733:0[/embed] Amanchu! Studio: J.C. Staff (Shana, A Certain Magical Index) Broadcast Date: July 8, 2016 (Streaming via Crunchyroll) Few anime are better known for being utterly chill than Aria. Set in space-Venice, the show followed the peaceful, if uneventful lives of a troupe of cute girl gondoliers. Now the same team and author are bringing things a little closer to home, by setting Amanchu! in the Tokyo of the present day, as a bunch of cute schoolgirls get really into diving underwater. It's basically ABZU, but with more cute girls and anime.   [embed]35116:5734:0[/embed] NEW GAME! Studio: Doga Kobo  (Plastic Memories, Himouto! Umaru-chan!) Broadcast Date: July 4, 2016 As someone who occasionally writes for Destructoid, I generally know more about game development than I do about anime production. Sadly, I can't say that the previews for NEW GAME! which sounds on paper like Shirobako-but-for-video-games seem all that accurate. But there's still hope, as Shirobako was far cuter and more positive than real-life anime production. Then again, NEW GAME! is aggressive about being cute in a way that I worry might undermine its potential to "tell it like it is". After all, Shirobako was cute and positive, but it also hinged on the kinds of personal relationships and procedural detail that made it so fascinating to watch. Is the crew that gave us Plastic Memories up to that? If they are, we could be sitting on this year's anime of the year. If not...well, it might at least be cute. Sequels, Shorts, and Other Notable Releases: My unfair bias against sports anime and male idol shows continues as I entirely forgot shows like B-Project and Tsukiuta exist. DAYS promises to bring an exotic sport called "Football" to the anime stage, while Battery debuts a sport that must surely be some fictional thing: Baseball. Cheer Danshi! follows around a group of male cheerleaders, which might be unusual had my own high school and university not had their own all-male cheer squads (Blue Eagles the king!). Also, Ouendan exists, so I'm good on that front. On the sequel front, the hilarious but ignored Cute High Earth Defense Club LOVE! gets a sequel, and signifies it by calling the second season Cute High Earth Defense Club LOVE LOVE!. The Seven Deadly Sins is also getting a new season, but may end up ignored if the streaming services lock it down until it's done like last time. After disappointing countless fans looking for the latest from the Code Geass guy, Active Raid shambles into a second offering of frustrating bureaucracy and nonsensical characterization. Barakamon, one of the more adult shows of its season, turns the clock back with a prequel, called Handa-kun. I honestly don't see the point of it, since the whole appeal of Barakamon was in its adult focus, but hey, it's anime after 2008, so high school must somehow be involved, or something. Either that or a raging war between two fictional countries and/or alien invaders. Food Wars, the one Shonen Jump titan you just can't dodge these days, is getting a sequel, and Nick Valdez will be leading the coverage of that. Love Live! hits the reboot button by introducing a gaggle of samefaced girls for Love Live! Sunshine!. Show By Rock! continues in its mission of making catgirls the default for idolatry. Regalia: The Three Sacred Stars is this season's original mecha production, and the fact that I'm giving it the afterthought space speaks to how aggressively generic it is. After duds like Argevollen and others, I'm wondering just what it would take to make non-franchise mecha shows as compelling as they used to be. At least Macross Delta is still running, which would give me the chance to write it up for once. While shows like Taboo Tattoo and Qualidea Code seem constructed to marvel at about how awesome things would be if we had superpowers, Saiki Kusuo no Psi-Nan puts it down for the "mo' powers, mo' problems". Philosophy. The titular character's prodigious abilities are making his daily life miserable, and the director of Cromartie High School is on hand to show everyone just how miserable things can get. I'm definitely down for that. Interestingly, only one overt "boobs anime" made the cut this summer: Masou Gakuen HxH, which doesn't beat around the bush. Its hero literally powers up the fighting girls by getting in close with their chesticles. I imagine a few Hunter x Hunter fans are feeling a bit insulted that this puerile hilarity has taken their beloved acronym while their joy goes on hiatus again. The one sequel I'm angling to watch this season, though, is The Heroic Legend of Arslan: Duststorm Dance. After finally catching up with the show, I already regret not having seen it from the beginning. The animation may have been blah and the quality uneven, but it's as worthy a successor to Legend of the Galactic Heroes as I've found in the last few years. And now this part of the show promises to go to some places of actual consequence. That should do it for our Summer preview. What are you angling to see this season?
Summer 2016 Anime Preview photo
Some like it hot
A happy Monday to you, and a happy July 4th to all our American readers! What better way is there to celebrate American independence than by staying home and watching a buttload of Japanese cartoons? Welcome to Japanator's Su...

Review: Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE

Jun 22 // Nick Valdez
[embed]35079:5680:0[/embed] Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE (Wii U (reviewed))Developer: AtlusPublisher: NintendoReleased: December 26, 2015 (JP), June 24, 2016 (NA and EU)MSRP: $59.99 When shadow monsters known as Mirages invade Tokyo in search of Performa (which is the energy created from singing and acting performances), childhood friends Itsuki and Tsubasa get suddenly thrown into the battle as it changes their lives forever. Uniting their skills with ghosts of characters from the Fire Emblem series (like Chrom and Caeda), the two strive to become pop idols in order to strengthen their bonds with their new friends from Fortuna Entertainment (which is secretly full of other Mirage Masters) and help prevent the world from plunging into darkness. Told entirely through the Japanese VA track, TMS has personality to spare. But those who do not understand the language will miss some of the personality TMS is so proud of. It's not a huge issue, but the characters are always talking to one another during battles and 50 hours in you'll definitely wonder what they're saying.  Complimenting that strong personality are Tokyo Mirage Sessions' equally strong visuals. From the opening title screen to the final battle, it is bursting at the seams with color. The UI is clean and bright (the main menu is graced by a gorgeous spread of all the characters), the character design is typical Atlus fare marrying cuteness with style (enough so that you'll most likely have a favorite cast member), when you clear certain side stories or story chapters the player is rewarded with full cutscene performances animated with the Fire Emblem engine, and there is an overall attention to clean design. Only the battle menu and HUD feel cluttered, but that also alleviates over time the more you play it. The game's design serves to emphasize accessibility, so the over world and dungeons have checkpoints which make it easier to travel back to the home base to craft your weapons and skills and the like. Thanks to the lack of egregious load times, there is no hefty punishment for retreating from a dungeon from time to time which further encourages the player to do so.  Helping with this clean design is Tokyo Mirage Sessions' utilization of the Wii U's gamepad. Acting as Itsuki's cell phone, the gamepad occasionally receives text messages, or "topics," which keep you up to date on the character's reactions to the story (which can be a bit banal, but further build the world's personality), tells you when side missions become available (which are avoidable but help boost a character's stats and skill set), and also serves as the dungeon map. Crawling through the game's laborious dungeons is much easier since you don't have to cut away from the game in order to pull up your map. And when the story forces you to retread through many of its dungeons later in the game, you'll be glad traversal is easy. The dungeons themselves are heavily padded with frustrating "puzzles" which force you to backtrack and do not inspire cleverness. Rather than celebrate when you finally get to the dungeon boss, it's more of a sigh and "finally."  But the major draw of Tokyo Mirage Sessions, is the battle system. This is definitely where all the time and effort was placed. While there is no permadeath from the Fire Emblem series (though the punishment for a game over is having to reload your save), its weapon triangle (a rock, paper, scissors like system where certain weapons deal more damage to others) unites with Shin Megami Tensei's elemental weaknesses (a la Persona or Pokemon) into an obtuse system that takes some time to get used to. But it's a rewarding battle system to learn as there are plenty of options to do damage. Couple that with TMS's Sessions, which are secondary attacks that chain when you hit an enemy's weakness and earn you bonuses, Special Perfomances, which are super skills that deal more damage, Ad-lib Performances, which randomly take effect when you activate a character's skill, and by the end of the game the player can theoretically attack an enemy 19 or 20 times in a single turn. Unfortunately while these attacks are satisfying and stylish the first couple of times you pull them off, eventually the battles will start to feel like they are dragging on rather than engaging.  For example, to compensate for how strong the player can become when they utilize sessions, enemy weakness, weapon crafting, and character switching (which allows you switch your teammate on the fly in exchange for taking their next turn a bit later), TMS suddenly ramps up its difficulty midway through. Enemies suddenly become attack sponges and deal far more damage, so the player not only is forced back through dungeons they have already visited but they are forced to grind for experience in order to stay competitive. It artificially lengthens the game and eventually becomes frustrating since you won't likely be attached to the story enough to push on through. TMS' story just is not compelling enough to keep you entertained for its 40-50 hour length. Like its J-Pop soundtrack, the story is fun but inconsequential until its final set of chapters. Anyone looking for the level of depth seen in both Fire Emblem and Shin Megami Tensei, will find it in its battle system and not much else.  Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE is built with a very specific audience in mind. While its casual and accessible appearance may draw you in, only the truly hardcore RPG fans will dig deep enough into its battle system to fully enjoy everything the game has to offer. But on the other hand, if you do put in that work you are rewarded with a battle system full of so many options that no two people will have the same strategy.  It may be more of a game for Shin Megami Tensei fans than Fire Emblem ones as it's not a complete marriage of the two, but to bring it back to the Reeses analogy, if you like the taste of chocolate and peanut butter, then you will like them together. You just won't like it that much. [This review is based on a copy of the game provided by the publisher.]
Tokyo Mirage Review photo
Like chocolate and peanut butter
When Nintendo first announced a crossover project between their Fire Emblem series and Atlus' Shin Megami Tensei series, no one expected the final project to a videogame where pop idols transform into heroes in order to fight...

Review: Grand Kingdom

Jun 21 // Christian Chiok
[embed]35113:5710:0[/embed] Grand Kingdom (PS Vita [reviewed], PS4)Developer: Spike ChunsoftPublisher: NIS AmericaReleased: November 19th, 2015 (JP), June 17th, 2016 (EU), June 21st, 2016 (NA)MSRP: $49.99 (PS4), $39.99 (PS Vita) Unfortunately, the story is only about 12 story chapters each lasting at least 30 minutes to one hour.  On top of the short story, the game only gets interesting near the end.  It’s unfortunate since some of the characters are likeable as well as the voice acting work. Some of the characters reminded me of the typical ones found in Shonen series so I was really looking forward on seeing more of them. However, all the 36 chapters that were delivered as DLC in Japan are going to be included in the western release, giving you a total of 48 chapters of story from the get-go.  In the DLC chapters, you’ll have the chance to delve yourself in the story of each of the four Great Nations, allowing the player to align themselves with a particular nation and dig deeper into that nation’s motivations and history. Each campaign will introduce you to brand new characters, deeper ties that bind rulers to family and nation, and perhaps even discover something about yourself as you decide which nation tugs at your heart the most. The uniqueness of the gameplay styles with each mission taking place on a large game board in both you and enemies move around in, one turn at a time. Your team will be represented by a silver piece while the enemies’ will be represented by a purple and red piece, the latter being a stronger enemy. Additionally, the game board will have items lying around which can improve your journey. The concept may sound simple from first looks, but there’s a lot more to it. Depending on the mission, there will be a limit of how much you can move your piece, and reaching the limit results in an automatic failure. However, for the most part, you realize that you will have a lot more turns than that mission requires giving you room for mistakes and dawdling. You’ll also encounter invisible enemies in which you can only see their movement every three turns. Once you encounter the enemy, you will be taken to battle in a beautiful and crisp 2D art style similar to the Dragon’s Crown and Odin Sphere. In a way, you can say that the game is similar to Valkyria Chronicles, except in a side-on view with three rows for characters to stand on and move around in. Each turn, you will move your unit to a desired spot until your action gauge is emptied, then you can perform a skill, which can range from melee or ranged attacks as well as heal your comrades.  While on the hub and the quest map, you’re allowed to visit the Party menu in which you can form different formations. The game already has two default ones, however, both Offensive and Defensive in which you can modify.  You can also set shields or even medical boxes, which both are very helpful in battle.  Including DLC, which will be available to western players from the get-go, the game offers over 17 classes including Melee, Ranged, Magic, and Specialist units. You’re only allowed to hire a certain few classes in the beginning of the game but it’s enough to create a competent troop to beat the game. You’re allowed to make up to six troops consist of four units each. When hiring, you can customize your character ranging from their hairstyles, voices, colors, and starting stats. Melee units are characterized by their high attack and defense and specialize in close combat. They also have the ability to Guard, allowing the unit to negate all damage until their guard gauge depletes. Melee units have low magic defense, so it’s best to be careful when facing Magic units. Ranged units can attack from longer distances. With their extended attack range, they can reach enemies at the other side of the map. Unfortunately, Ranged units have low defense, so it's imperative that you place them in places where it’s hard for them engage in close combat or being hit by other Ranged units. Magic units have medium attack range, and use ranged attacks which allow the player to target multiple enemies. Some of their more powerful skills must be charged before they can be used, leaving them vulnerable to an enemy's ranged attack, in which results your attack being disrupted as well. Remember that the game has friendly fire so make sure that your units are out of the way as well. Unlike the Melee, Ranged, and Magic units, Specialist units lack a clearly defined role in battle. These units have individualized abilities that can be a great asset in battle, but their specialized nature affords little room for flexibility. They range from Medics, Challengers and Dragon Mage. Medics heal your units, Challenger places explosives and Dragon Mage allows the player to perform powerful melee attacks. One of my issues when using the Medic is that while angling where you want to throw your potion, it’s never accurate.  There will be times where you accidentally hit your unit with a poisonous potion or accidentally heal the opposing unit. While you’ll eventually adapt to the weird aiming, but this still proves to be a hindrance.   Aside from the story missions which usually consist of going from Point A to Point B, the game also features different side quests with variety of missions such as Stealth Missions and Guarding missions. In Stealth missions, you’ll navigate the world-map in a puzzle-like fashion to avoid encountering any enemies at all. As for the Guarding missions, you’ll be moving around the map to defend certain spots from incoming enemy assaults. Once the enemy reaches the spot, the missions fails. A big letdown with this game is that it doesn’t support cross-save so any progress that you made on the go with your PS Vita won’t be transferable to your PS4. It was a bit bothersome since when I got my hands on the PS4 version, I wanted to continue my journey on a bigger and better screen. At least the game allows cross-play support across both systems, expanding the amount of players you can play with in the online multiplayer modes.  Naturally the PS4 version is the superior version as it runs at 60 frames per second at 1080p. However, that doesn’t mean that the game is less enjoyable on PS Vita as it runs very smooth as well. If you’re looking to expand your Tactical JRPG library on PS Vita, I can definitely recommend Grand Kingdom.  Including the integrated DLC chapters, the game offers many hours of fun with more hours on top if you play the side missions. While the main story is short, it still features likeable characters making the journey worthwhile. With the PS Vita not getting many games lately, you can’t go wrong with Grand Kingdom. It’s an excellent addition on PS4 as well, though. 
Grand Kingdom photo
Fight For Your Grand Nation
Being a fan of the JRPGs, I always look forward to new additions to the genre, especially ones that offer a unique gameplay style that separates itself from other series. While not entirely unique, when first announced, Grand...

Ali vs. Inoki: A look at the Greatest of All Time's crazy trip to Japan

Jun 12 // Soul Tsukino
In the life of a man known for his zany stories, this one may be the craziest. This story starts in April of 1975. Ali was at a party and happened to be introduced to the head of the Japanese Amateur Wrestling Association, Ichiro Yada. Ali famously said, "Isn't there any Oriental fighter who will challenge me? I'll give him one million dollars if he wins". Almost certainly meant to be another of his bragful boasts, Yada took it more seriously and brought the comment back to Japan with him and to the Japanese media. One person who happened to take notice of the quote was Antonio Inoki. Inoki was one of the biggest name wrestlers in Japan in 1975. He had been a star of the JWA promotion in the 60's and had started his own company, New Japan Pro Wrestling, 3 years earlier where he was the big star. He also had trained with Karl Gotch a famous catch wrestler and grappler. So Inoki wasn't just some goof who made himself the star, he could actually handle himself in a real fight. His combining of Gotch's grappling and martial arts style hand strikes and kicks was what invented "Strong Style" in the first place. When he read about Ali's challenge, he and his investors in New Japan put up $6 million for the fight. It took a while for things to be put together. Ali had fights with American Rob Lyle, Englishman Joe Bugner, The famous "Thrilla in Manilla" fight with joe Frazier that damn near killed him, and Belgian Jean-Pierre Coopman before the fight could be locked down by promoter Bob Arum for June 26, 1976, at the famous Budokan in Tokyo. Between March when the fight was finalized and June, Ali kept himself busy. He had two boxing matches, beating American Jimmy Young and Englishman Richard Dunn. He also got himself involved in some tune-up matches with wrestlers. See, once this mixed match was signed, wrestling promoters all over The United States were tripping over themselves to cash in. The fight would be carried via closed-circuit television (the precursor to Pay-per-view) to arenas around the country. So a number of promoters scheduled their own shows, with the advertised main event being able to see the fight on the giant screen. Vincent J. McMahon's WWWF held the second "Showdown at Shea" card that also featured Andre The Giant vs. Chuck Wepener live there in the arena, and the Georgia territory held an event with both mixed rules matches being shown after a card featuring Jack Brisco vs. Dory Funk jr..  [embed]35089:5686:0[/embed] But I'm getting ahead of myself. Ali had picked up famous wrestling manager "Classy" Freddie Blassie for his wrestling foray and made two stops in Chicago for the promoter (and top star of his own territory) Verne Gagne for two matches. First, he fought jobber wrestler "Sodbuster" Kenny Jay, and then he fought "The Hackensack Mauler" Buddy Wolfe.  [embed]35089:5687:0[/embed] [embed]35089:5688:0[/embed]  He also made a stop in Philadelphia and a taping of WWWF Championship wrestling where he ran across Gorilla Monsoon.  [embed]35089:5689:0[/embed] As you can see, these were all a work. Jay and Wolfe were actually sparring partners for Ali to prepare on how to work a fight. He was having the time of his life. Except no one told Inoki the fight was a work. This is where things get a little tricky. There are two sides of what happened in the 2 weeks or so leading up to the fight. One story has it that the match was going to be a work all along. Supposedly the planned finish was to have Ali accidently knock out the ref. Ali would stand over the ref concerned and Inoki would run up and give him his finisher, the enziguri kick to the back of the head, and knock Ali out. The ref would be revived and count Ali out, giving Inoki the win in his homeland, but having Ali save face since it was an illegal move for the fight and that the ref got knocked down. Supposedly Ali balked at this idea and the fight was made into a shoot. The other story goes that Ali thought the match was going to be a work, but Inoki did not. When Ali and his group went to see Inoki's training and saw him using his deadly kicks and strikes, Ali wanted to know when they were going to go over the finish. When Ali's camp learned the fight was going to be a shoot fight, they panicked and demanded that a bunch of rules was placed on the fight or they would pull out. And according to former world champion Bret Hart who was in Japan at the time, The Black Muslims vowed to kill Inoki if their most visible member got hurt. And although he wasn't linked to them (at the time anyway) the Japanese Yakuza probably had something to say about the fight as well. Whatever the case, Ali's camp wanted several rules to be implemented so that their fighter (and cash cow) wouldn't get killed. The rules included: No grapple/submission holds, No tackles, No kicks unless Inoki had one knee on the mat (eliminating the enziguri), and no dropkicks. No headbutts, No knees below the belt, no kicks above the belt, and no open handed attacks to the eyes. These rules were also not to be made public to protect Ali's image. Basically, they were trying to set up Inoki to stand up and trade punches (and some low kicks I guess) with the greatest heavyweight boxer of all time.  Inoki is smarter than that, though. [embed]35089:5691:0[/embed]  As you can see, Inoki literally took the low road and went for the legs with kicks. Ali didn't expect this offense and spent most of the fight avoiding contact.  Ali didn't even throw his first punch until the 7th round. He only threw 6 punches the whole fight. The only bit of excitement for most fans came at the beginning of the 8th round when Ali's trainer Angelo Dundee demanded Inoki tape up his boot because one of the eyelets at the end of his shoelaces had come loose and were digging into Ali's already swollen and bleeding legs. After 15 rounds the match was called a draw. Supposedly Inoki would have won the fight on points but had 3 points deducted after he elbowed Ali in the face during the 6th round. Believe what you will. Fans across the US thought it was a joke and the Japanese fans were pissed (which is an accomplishment considering the usually mellow attitude of Japanese fans). The fallout of the fight was hard on Ali. His legs were massively swollen and he ended up having two blood clots removed from his legs and nearly had to have one amputated when an infection set in. Ali took part in a couple of exhibition boxing matches against doctor's orders and then had his big fight against Ken Norton. He could still punch but his mobility went downhill thanks to this fight and the damage it caused. Inoki on the other had just kept on going. He would have other shoot fights against guys like Willie Williams and even some match that were supposed to be worked matches but ended up going shoot like his infamous fight against The Great Antonio. He would keep on being the big star for NJPW until 1997 and would run the company up until a few years ago. He had a few rounds as an elected politician in the Japanese senate. The fight itself would have its own transformation as well. Considered largely a joke for decades, it wasn't until mixed martial arts became popular that the fight would get another look. Of course,  the details of the rules changes also helped the fight's stature as well. Nowadays MMA experts find the fight to be a huge inspiration fo the sport, and even Inoki's defensive posture during the fight is used a lot nowadays (although most MMA refs would tell the guy to get up after a while). Most importantly Ali and Inoki became friends. All these years later they kept in touch and respected the hell out of each other. Ali was ringside for both Inoki's match with Ric flair in North Korea that drew over 150,000 fans and was at Inoki's retirement match against MMA fighter Don Frye (which really was a work. Frye made a great pro wrestling heel). In the days after Ali's passing Inoki held a press conference to extend his condolences. So while many view this fight as a joke and a lowlight of Ali's magnificent legacy, I'm not completely sold on that. Sure, things came off the rails and the fight itself is hardly any good. But at the same time, he ended up making a lifelong friend and earned the respect of one of the toughest people in the world. How many of use can say that?   Farce? No. It was just another way Muhammad was way ahead of his time. We'll miss you champ.  
Muhammad Ali photo
Mess or Magnificent, you be the judge.
It's now been over a week now since the world lost Muhammad Ali. For a week I've seen all the tributes, all the video packages, and watched the procession through Louisville leading up to the wonderful service where we got to...

Persona 5 photo
See you in 8 months?
If you've been waiting on an English-language release date for Persona 5 before getting hyped up in anticipation, now is your time, waiting on the announcement of an English-language release date, are now at liberty to r...

Review: Odin Sphere Leifthrasir

Jun 01 // Josh Tolentino
Odin Sphere Leifthrasir (PS4 (reviewed), PS3, PS Vita)Developer: VanillawarePublisher: AtlusReleased: January 14, 2016 (JP), June 7, 2016 (NA), June 24, 2016 (EU)MSRP: $39.99 (PS Vita), $49.99 (PS3), $59.99 (PS4) As cliche as the idea of an HD remaster is these days, it's worth pointing out that Odin Sphere Leifthrasir** goes further than the usual performance or resolution upgrades, at least on the PS4 version. Besides running at a consistent, smooth framerate (a far cry from the chugging boss battles of the PS2 original), Leifthrasir tweaks the artwork to look sharper at HD resolutions. And sharp it does look, bringing to mind just how revelatory the game looked back in 2007. Then, as then, Vanillaware seemed to be operating out of a weird alternate dimension, one where 2D graphics only got better and better instead of being supplanted by the 3D polygonal gold rush of the time. The update also adds more depth and breadth to Odin Sphere's various secondary mechanics. The story, though, is unchanged, and remains the strongest aspect of the game. Set on Erion, a fantasy world inspired by Norse myth, Leifthrasir's plot begins simply enough. Gwendolyn, Valkyrie princess of the kingdom of Ragnanival, flies through the battlefield, attempting to retrieve a magical device called the Cauldron, in the hopes of offering it to her father, the Demon Lord Odin. The tale quickly expands, though, growing to cover not only Gwendolyn's tale but that of four other major characters, each with their own hours-long campaign. Oswald is the Shadow Knight, a warrior bearing a cursed power and a crush on Gwendolyn. Velvet is a forest witch with ties to both Odin and Valentine, a kingdom Odin vanquished in the past. Cornelius was once a prince but is now a Pooka, a rabbit-like creature, and seeks a cure for his condition. Mercedes is the young queen of the Fairies, and wants to do right by her people, whatever the cost.  Though framed as a series of storybooks being read by an adorable little girl in her attic, the story is actually more operatic in scope. Characters' plotlines wrap around each other and intersect in places, and the protagonist of one campaign may be the boss battle of another. Each of the five campaigns - with a sixth unlocked at the end to ties it all together and a seventh reserved for true completionists - takes place in the limited perspective of their leads, and shines light on their respective motivations, personalities, and causes. There are few outright heroes and villains among the cast, but rather people working at cross purposes, sometimes to tragic results.  If nothing else, it's the densest narrative Vanillaware has wrought, and stands easily alongside the best JRPGs, a handy feat for what is otherwise a fairly simple 2D brawler. Though possessed of five substantially different combat styles in the form of each character,  the game remains somewhat conventional, mechanically. Players will jump, move, attack, and slaughter mooks by the dozen as they move through various rooms and hoover up cash and loot. Enemies and bosses are plentiful, but don't quite carry enough variety to justify the bevy of additional spells and abilities added by the Leifthrasir update. The new skills are definitely fun to use and master, but never really feel necessary, at least not at the normal difficulty setting. [embed]35050:5667:0[/embed] Vanillaware also doubles down on its food fixation, expanding the game's alchemy and cooking systems to encompass a range of new ingredients and recipes. Smart players will quickly get acquainted with the world's various restaurants and Maury, the traveling Pooka chef. This is because eating delicious, exquisitely illustrated cartoon food is the only way to level up and increase one's maximum health pool. Gathering ingredients and growing additional items to mix into potions also allows for a wide range of beneficial effects. Once again, the relative simplicity of combat doesn't quite make these systems feel as essential as they should be, but their expansion definitely takes the edge off the repetition, a feeling that grew more and more pronounced as one progressed through the original game. Some grinding and revisiting of previous areas to gather ingredients is still necessary, but there's enough to do now that it doesn't feel nearly as tedious as before. With that, Leifthrasir blunts one of Odin Sphere's biggest faults, though players not hooked by the combat may still feel the design is weighed down by that. The interface, though also improved, also isn't quite up to the task of efficiently streamlining the expanded experience. Tabbed windows and shortcuts now make it easier to mix and level up potions, but players will still eventually find themselves pausing every so often to do some inventory management. Still, these flaws are fairly minor in the face of how much Odin Sphere's quality is allowed to shine, thanks to the improvements added by Leifthrasir. It's enough to say that Odin Sphere Leifthrasir is the definitive edition of Vanillaware's best game, and elevates a great-but-flawed title to the classic status it originally deserved. [This review is based on a digital copy of the game provided by the publisher.] **It's pronounced "Leef-thrahs-eer", but don't look up what it means if you want to avoid spoilers. *GrimGrimoire might have been first, depending on where you were in 2007.
Odin Sphere Review photo
Old Story, Good As New
Vanillaware may have been making games for close to a decade now, but for my money, nothing they've made has quite surpassed their first game*, Odin Sphere.  Not to say that their other games are bad. On the contrary, as...

First Impressions: Haven't You Heard? I'm Sakamoto

May 10 // Nick Valdez
In Haven't You Heard? I'm Sakamoto, the entire school is enamored with the super attractive, super athletic, super smart, and most importantly, super cool Sakamoto. All the girls have crushes on him, all the guys want to be his best friend, and all he wants to do is tend to himself. Naturally his aloof attitude causes dissent among some other students who make it their mission to take them down a peg. But since Sakamoto is a super cool genius extrodinaire, he always manages to best them without trying and somehow become cooler each time. And that's it. That's the premise of the entire series. You enjoyment going forward entirely depends on whether or not you find this single joke amusing.  For those that stick around, each episode is broken up into two 12-13 minute segments. These segments usually cover a chapter or two of content, and all hinge on a single joke. Regardless of the set up, the punchline is always the same. And that's definitely going to devalue the series moving forward. For the first six stories, Sakamoto essentially "teaches" a character how to live their life properly (how to stand up to bullies, how not to bully, etc) by doing nothing to help them. The gag is that Sakamoto is so magnetic, that even the most mundane of skills are read as "super skills" and although he's basically doing nothing it seems like the greatest thing in the world. It's all about how each of Sakamoto's fellow students reacts to Sakamoto's magnetism, and in the first episode their reactions are taken to the extreme.  But can focusing on nothing but the ancillary characters make for a good series? I'm not so sure yet. See, the gag worked for the first episode as we're still getting used to Sakamoto's exaggerated and cartoonish characterization (and has made for plenty of good memes online) but it definitely wears thin as the accompanying plots of the follow up episodes follow the same formula. It's visually interesting as Sakamoto's exaggerated motions make for captivating scenes, but there's not a lot of meat on the bones. That's going to be the ultimate struggle of the show moving forward as the show has a main character they can't really develop. Since the gag is his disconnection from reality, it's going to have to rely on these ancillary characters and plots to succeed.  And it seems like Sakamoto is trying its best to do this. As the episodes roll on, the stories are getting odder. As Sakamoto himself is distancing further from reality, it's like he's becoming less human. Rather than the aloof cool guy showing off in the first episode, he's instead a cold and uncaring individual who only does things to satiate his curiosity. He literally looks through people, refers to them as "humanity" (thus confirming his holier than thou personality), and he refers to one character's as an acne face. When he helps Kubota, most likely a recurring character to bounce Sakamoto off of, get a job at McDoodle's Sakamoto is incredibly wrong about this situation. Kubota's being bullied so he needs money, but Sakamoto assumes he just needs money in general. It's a hilarious miscommunication, but Sakamoto is really only doing what he wants and eventually helps Kubota in a roundabout way. If the show can continue to magnify the less "cool,cooler and coolest" aspects of Sakamoto's personality, they just may develop him in the roundabout way he's so fond of.  The unfortunate thing with gag manga and anime is that what you see is almost always what you get. Generally all humor is subjective and surface level, so if you're looking for a show to stay invested in, chances are this isn't it. But in the same breath, Haven't You Heard? I'm Sakamoto is made with the humor in mind. You're supposed to watch it in passing here or there every few weeks. Taking in a new fifteen minute segment every now and again. It's basically like an afternoon cartoon serving as a palette cleanser for the heavier properties you've seen.  I won't be following this show moving forward, but I'll definitely watch it in a few weeks once it's got a few more episodes under its belt. 
Sakamoto Impressions photo
Haven't you heard? It's alright, I guess
I fell really hard into the manga scene about 10-12 years ago. I pretty much checked manga scan sites everyday. They're not so cool now that I can afford to buy whatever volume of manga I want (and, you know, it's still theft...

GET HYPE: Persona 5 launches in September

May 05 // Josh Tolentino
[embed]35000:5590:0[/embed]
Persona 5 release date photo
Also, a new voice for Igor!
It's time, folks! Or rather, it will be time...in a few short months. After months of silence last year's delay and weeks of drip-fed promotion culminating in a final countdown, Atlus has announced the Japanese release ...

First Impressions: Re:ZERO -Starting Life in Another World-

May 03 // Nick Valdez
In Re:ZERO, Subaru Natsuki is an average kid who loves playing videogames and exercising. During a standard trip to the convenience store, Subaru is transported to a fantasy world. After wandering around his new surroundings for a bit. he bumps into a mysterious white haired girl with ice magic. When he realizes her emblem has been stolen (and he saw the blonde haired culprit pass by), Subaru vows to help the girl, who introduces herself as Satella, find it. After some shenanigans, Subaru is killed but soon realizes that he has the ability to reset the day every time he's killed. So it's sort of like a twisted version of Groundhog Day or All You Need is Kill mixed with some of last season's anime like Erased and Konosuba for good measure.  As you may have gauged from the synopsis, there's a lot to unpack in this series. In fact, the series has so many ideas, it needed an hour long first episode. I've never seen an anime company pull that move (given the expensive needs of the industry, hour long episodes are pretty much impossible to maintain on a regular basis) so the show's earned some of my respect for hutzpah alone. But at the same time, I worry there seems to be so much going on, it might be hard to digest the show week to week. In fact, just for the accessibility of this First Impressions post, I'm going to have to narrow down the events of the show to just the current timeline.  In just the first three episodes, there have been three different timelines and Subaru has attempted to get everything he wants three different times with two deaths as a result. The first time, he grew closely acquainted with Satella, the crystal wizard girl who gets her emblem stolen from her before the two are unceremoniously killed in some corner of the slums (which is also why this show's pretty great). The second time he grows closer to Felt, the young thief who stole Satella's emblem in the first place. But in doing so, he doesn't meet Satella and is soon killed in an alleyway (also without grandeur of any kind). And in the final, current timeline, he meets both girls and a third character, Reinhard, who's a super strong knight. The common thread between all of Subaru's lives is a meeting between Felt, and the person who wants to buy the emblem she stole, a mysterious woman named Elsa and also the reason Subaru's died so many times. In Subaru's third life, Elsa is revealed to be a super killer nicknamed the "Bowel Hunter" (for the reason you'd think) and she, of course, is out to kill everybody.  And since Subaru has fought Elsa so much, he does a little better in his third face off against her (due to a combination of his rigorous fitness routine, experience, and knowledge of everyone's abilities at this point). Everyone's hurt, but no one dies in the current timeline (and the show took the pains to show us that each character can and will die) but the risk remains. Re:Zero essentially becomes a show where Subaru is trying to survive not because he doesn't want to die but because he doesn't want to start his relationships from square one all over again. Once he gets over the initial confusion of the first few days (or first few episodes), the show has a variety of options of where to take it. Is it going to be an action show where Subaru learns from death and becomes stronger (as the fight scene in the third episode is well storyboarded)? Is it going to be a show of Subaru's selfishness where he only wants to live to keep from re-meeting his allies? Or is death not an option anymore as the story finally moves forward at the end of the third episode? Either way, I'm pretty interested.  As Reinhard the knight shows up and saves everybody, Subaru learns Satella's real name is Emilia (and Satella is a rude way of acknowledging people with powers). Then Reinhard panics when he sees that Felt has stolen the emblem and now vows to take her back to the castle. So something's up with Emilia's emblem and we're about to find out why it's so important. Unless Subaru dies again and everything resets, of course.  Re:ZERO - Starting Life in Another World - has a lot of ideas, but all of them are interesting rather than debilitating. It's blend of story types and many colors are taking risks with the genre. Overall, it just looks good. It's surprisingly violent, character designs are nice, and I can't wait to see where the story goes. It's going to be a good season. 
Re:ZERO First Impressions photo
- Off to a good start -
Out of all the anime this season, one in particular really stood out to me. Taking two common anime plots and essentially mushing them together into some kind of peanut butter and monster sandwich, Re: ZERO - Starting Life in...

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 G Rodiles
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
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