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Josh Tolentino

Naruto x Steam photo
Naruto x Steam

Now you can get your Naruto anime fix on Steam


Jouki no Jutsu!
Feb 07
// Josh Tolentino
Rejoice, ninja fans, because Naruto has come to Steam! And no, I'm not referring to the bountiful slate of Ultimate Ninja Storm releases, but instead to a raftload of honest-to-goodness anime, courtesy of ...

Annotated Anime: GATE episodes 13-16

Feb 02 // Josh Tolentino
By "malign reputation", I am of course referring to the perception in some circles of GATE as a right-wing wet dream of a fiction, supposedly so radical in its fringe ultranationalism that some commentators were prompted to abuse the term "fascist" in reference to it. For the record, GATE isn't fascistic. Given that the show isn't over, I can't say for sure that it's political themes won't ever mimic the murderous, revolutionary populism and expansionist fervor of actual fascist groups, but with perhaps the exception of the Emperor himself and some of the more sinister factions, GATE is definitely not some kind of fascist treatise masquerading under cover of cute anime girls. Accusations of nationalism and a militaristic bent are harder for GATE to dodge, but those qualities are less problems than simply aspects of its general political stance, and the attention brought to them seems more a result of amazement that an anime would dare hold an overt political stance than concerns about supposed "extremism". Written by an ex-member of the SDF, starring a soldier and bearing a subtitle that is literally: "The Self-Defense Fought In That Place, In This Manner", it's hardly surprising that it would come out with a bit of bias in favor of the military, much as you don't play Call of Duty looking for messaging in favor of gun control or disarmament. If anything, this more overt bias makes the show more complex in a way, particularly now that the second season has seen Japan, via the SDF, get more and more involved in the affairs and politics of the Special Region. Incidentally, it's here where the discussions and subtexts start to appear a little more fraught. In the second season, we see the first formal contacts between the Empire and Japan, with diplomats like Sugawara essentially buying influence among the Imperial elites. The buying ranges from currying favor via lavish gifts and good food to "shock-and-awe" via displays of military prowess. Meanwhile, crafty negotiators write up tax-free trade deals for resources the medieval-level natives don't see the value of. And it's here where GATE seems to look a bit like an idealized do-over of Japan's colonial period, with the Special Region representing a perfect, seemingly consequence-free place for Glorious Nippon to "do it right" this time, the right way, of course, represented by the valiant heroes of the JSDF. I won't lie and say that's not at least provocative, especially these days. At the same time, though, GATE's given much more care characterizing the people and factions of the Special Region, especially compared to the ham-handed portrayal in season one of foreign countries and the SDF's political opponents. Even a character whose main goal is to manipulate Japan into utterly destroying the Empire is sympathetic in her rage, even while she's undoubtedly an antagonist. So far in GATE's second season, there have been few truly irredeemable villains, just people working at cross-purposes and doing what they think they have to. To me at least, that's a really interesting way to regard a program that originally sold its appeal on the idea of shooting rockets at dragons.  [Watch GATE on Crunchyroll!]           Accusations of nationalism and a militaristic bent are harder for GATE to dodge, but those qualities are less problems than simply aspects of its general political stance, and the attention brought to them seems more a result of amazement that an anime would dare hold an overt political stance than concerns for "extremism". There's a healthy discussion to be had about the role a military should play in a nation's affairs, particularly in Japan's case, as their constitution abdicates the right to go to war at all, except in self-defense. 
GATE photo
A Tale of Two Dimensions
The last time we checked in with GATE, A-1 Pictures' chronicle of the Japan's encounter with nothing less than an entire other world, I noted that the show was considerably less, well...controversial than I had been led to be...

MangaGamer Giveaway photo
MangaGamer Giveaway

Answer some questions and win a free game from MangaGamer


Show them your Kindred Spirit
Feb 02
// Josh Tolentino
Are you into lesbian ghosts?  If not, how about a free game? All you've got to do is tell MangaGamer, publisher of far more than lesbian ghost games, about what you want to see from them, by filling out this handy survey...
The Raid Samurai Edition photo
The Raid Samurai Edition

Check out this awesome samurai short from The Raid's director


Getting chanbara all up ins
Jan 28
// Josh Tolentino
The Raid was one of the coolest martial arts films of all time, and a lot of that was due to the expert choreography of director Gareth Evans and his crew. So count me as interested when he puts out a kick-ass samurai-themed...

First Impressions: Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu

Jan 27 // Josh Tolentino
I've actually got a theory as to why the job of adapting this manga fell to Studio DEEN rather than the committee that decides what Shun Oguri or some other hot talent gets to star in each year, but first it'd be best to get into what Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu (which I'll just call Showa Rakugo for convenience) actually is. Set during the 1960s and '70s, the show stars Kyoji, a newly-released convict who wants to take up rakugo, the old-fashioned Japanese art of storytelling. Through sheer passion and puppy-like charm, he prevails upon the reigning master, Yakumo Yurakutei the 8th, to take him in as a disciple. Kyoji meets Konatsu, the daughter of Sukeroku Yurakutei, Yakumo's old friend and fellow disciple under Yakumo the 7th (rakugo performers usually take new names as their careers bloom - think "Meijin Kawaguchi" and you've got the idea). Sukeroku died in an accident, but Konatsu's convinced Yakumo is somehow responsible. That's the gist of things as far as the core "plot" goes, but there's plenty packed into Showa Rakugo's double-length first episode, such as the fact that Kyoji (now working as name of Yotaro Yurakutei) is finding Sukeroku's style of rakugo to be much closer to his own personality and temperament than Yakumo's. And then there's Kyoji's old boss, trying to pull his underling back into the life. There's also Konatsu's own desire to perform rakugo conflicting with both the glass ceiling and her own inability to release her grudge against Yakumo and let him train her. And then there's almost sinister regard Yakumo himself holds for his departed friend. And then episodes 2 and 3 flip the script, rolling into an extended flashback of Yakumo and Sukeroku's youth, back when they were called Bon and Shin, respectively (and then Kikuhiko and Hatsutaro). Exploring their life before, against the backdrop of World War II and the postwar reconstruction, as well as against the changing fortunes of rakugo itself, not only deepens our understanding of both Yakumon and Sukeroku, but also of the mysteries in the present. How did these two guys, so close they're practically the canon pairing, grow apart? Why did Kikuhiko eventually inherit the name of Yakumo when Hatsutaro (who would be Sukeroku) was clearly the more talented and passionate practitioner? And who's the fancy-looking temptress that shows up looking for their master? And where does the "shinjuu" part of Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu, which stands for a "lovers' suicide", come in? It's all tightly packed and doesn't let up or repeat itself unnecessarily, and adds more depth to the cast than whole episodes worth of world-building in a different, more genre-bound show.  That's not to say that Showa Rakugo isn't a genre program. It's definitely a historical drama, no question about that. The thing that makes it stand out from your typical seasonal anime, though, is how grounded it is. The usual thread of absurdity that runs through most anime series - even the good ones - isn't here. What I'm talking about is the way other shows often use some form of contrivance to help their hook. Think about ERASED and its element of time travel, or even Shirobako and its occasional outbursts of drift-racing and group hallucination. By comparison, all Showa Rakugo has are its human elements, and rakugo. That groundedness is why I wondered why this isn't a prestige program in live-action. Which leads to my theory, which is that a live-action show about rakugo would require too much actual rakugo. Y'see, rakugo itself mainly consists of a performer sitting in front of his audience and then reciting a story. Usually comedic, the story always involves dialog between multiple characters, forcing the performer to play every role in it with nothing more than his or her personal skill, and a fan for a prop. Add to that that the stories themselves are often well-known to the audience, and it's all up to each individual performer to put their own spin on the delivery. It's Japanese expressiveness in microcosm. That in mind, any actors seeking to play rakugo performers would have to get pretty good at rakugo themselves just to be convincing. It's easier to animate a person being a good actor, by comparison. That puts the onus on the voice cast, which in Showa Rakugo performs brilliantly. Of particular note are Akira Ishida, who plays Yakumo, and Tomokazu Seki, who plays Kyoji. Both give full-length rakugo performances in the first episode, and pull it off with gusto. Ishida in particular goes above and beyond, as his duties in the flashback include acting like a guy who's bad at acting, getting better.  Of course, it might not be for everyone. Showa Rakugo is ultimately a talky soap about an old-fashioned, arguably tedious form of Japanese performance art. But for the right audience, though, it's a particularly rare gem of an anime, one that reminds folks just what's possible for Japanese cartoons.
Showa Rakugo photo
Stand up for some sit-down
If you've ever held the opinion that the medium of Japanese anime could stand to see more mature stories for adults, you absolutely owe it to yourself to at least try watching Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu.  I'm not...

First Impressions: ERASED

Jan 19 // Josh Tolentino
That said, the concept isn't immediately clear in ERASED's opening scenes. Instead, we're treated to the inner voice of Satoru Fujinuma, a 29-year-old frustrated manga artist who knows exactly where he's going wrong: He's too afraid "to get into the heart of [his] own mind", that is to say, to really dig deeper and see how to put more of his soul into his work. Coming from his editor, that sounds like a load of bull, but since he's saying it himself, I'll give it a pass.  In any case, the source is some rather traumatic occurrences in his past, involving a series of kidnappings, the loss of a childhood acquaintance, and a friendly stranger by the riverbanks. I can't blame the guy for not wanting to open that can of worms. This is where the bit about addressing old regrets comes in. Satoru just so happens to have a power of sorts. Called "Revival", the power resembles a literalized deja vu: When something bad happens that Satoru is in a position to prevent, he gets rewinded back a few minutes, and needs to figure out just what's in the scene that's going to go all wrong. Revival is demonstrated in rather dramatic fashion in the first big scene of the opening episode, but ERASED quickly pulls the rug out from under assumptions that the show would turn out to be some kind of case-of-the-week program, with Satoru struggling to puzzle out the latest incident before it's too late. Instead, after being framed for the apparent murder of his (awesome) mother, Satoru gets rewound all the way back to 1988, 18 years earlier. He quickly figures that solving the case he was involved in way back then, and saving Kayo Hinazuki, the girl who was killed by his kidnapper, would be the key to preventing his mother's own death, which came at the hands of someone who may be the real killer. It sounds a bit complicated, but ERASED plays the tension high, and keeps viewers on the edge of their seats, wondering what'll happen next, and how the hell Satoru will be able to solve the central mystery, with his 29-year-old mind trapped in his 11-year-old body (think Detective Conan and you're on the right track). There's also an element of getting a "do-over" on life's old mistakes in the show, where Satoru gets to bond with the girl that he'd originally dismissed as weird, when in fact she was suffering domestic abuse. In any case, ERASED opens strong, and will hopefully continue on in that vein for the rest of the run.  [Check out more of ERASED via Crunchyroll!]
ERASED photo
You CAN go home again
If there's anything universal to the experience of being an adult, it's probably regret. Or more specifically, regretting the mistakes of childhood. Come on, you've done it before, too, I'm sure. Perhaps you've lost touch wit...

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...

Ghost Dive: Your essential primer to Ghost in the Shell

Jan 14 // Josh Tolentino
The Basics Ghost in the Shell is best known as a 1995 film directed by Mamoru Oshii, but it originated in 1989, as a manga written and illustrated by Masamune Shirow. Since then, several more sequels and adaptations have been produced, including several TV series, manga, and an in-development Hollywood film starring Scarlett Johanssen.  Though never lacking for action-packed gunfights and high-tech mecha designs - particularly the iconic spider-legged "think tanks" - Ghost in the Shell distinguished itself from its "Japanimation" peers by having a philosophical edge. Storylines in Ghost in the Shell frequently tackled larger issues of transhumanism, the nature of consciousness and perception, and the effects of networks and the internet on human society. Even today some of the arguments and dilemmas raised seem timely.  Ghost in the Shell's various works can be organized into four broad categories, corresponding to the original manga by Masamune Shirow, the feature-film adaptations directed by Mamoru Oshii, the Standalone Complex TV series, and the Arise movie series. While not related directly, all Ghost in the Shell works share common themes, and star "Major" Motoko Kusanagi, team leader of Public Security Section 9, a black-ops unit of the near-future Japanese government. The Major and her peers work in a world where cyborg technology is common and "cyberbrains" enable people to access the internet at will, as well as hack everything from senses to memories, giving rise to all manner of new challenges. The Essentials Ghost in the Shell (1995 film) If you're only going to watch one Ghost in the Shell-titled work in your lifetime, you may as well make it the one that made the name popular in the first place. Following the Major and her partner Batou as they solve the case of a mysterious hacker known as the Puppet Master, the film replaced the verbose banter and cheery pin-up character designs with stark visuals and a more realistic style to suit a borderline-dour mood. Director Mamoru Oshii's emphasis on Ghost in the Shell's more philosophical aspects helped solidify anime's reputation as a more diverse, adult medium than the traditionally child-targeted cartoons markets outside Japan.   The Ghost in the Shell (1989 Manga) There's nothing quite like source material, and Masamune Shirow's original manga certainly fits the bill. While its art style and approach to characterization definitely dates it as a product of its era, it's hard not to be impressed by Shirow's attention to detail, conveyed in part through the use of copious footnotes explaining everything from the state of the world to the reason why a gun's barrel is a certain length. Most of the cases, themes, characters and subplots used in future adaptations would also show up in one form or another throughout the series. Ghost in the Shell: Standalone Complex (2002 TV series) For many fans, the 1995 film and original manga exist on opposite ends of the tonal spectrum, with the manga being densely constructed and quickly paced, and the film given over to a more contemplative mode. Standalone Complex, produced by famed studio Production I.G. and directed by Mamoru Oshii's protege, Kenji Kamiyama, took a shot at blending the two approaches, and largely succeeded at it. The result is arguably the best representative yet of what makes Ghost in the Shell unique, portraying the Major and Section 9's adventures as an extended cop show of shorts, and leveraging multiple cases to address a wide swath of themes, including the titular "Standalone Complex". The show also took a more political bent, examining philosophical issues from a pragmatic, grounded position, and developed further plots through its second season, titled Standalone Complex 2nd Gig, and the feature-length Solid State Society.  Standalone Complex also serves as the inspiration for the First Assault Online shooter, with abilities and game systems inspired by the Major and Section 9's feats in the series. Further Study Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence (2004 film) A challenging, divisive entry into the canon, Innocence is regarded by some of its critics as the sequel nobody asked for. Set years after the 1995 film, the story doesn't even follow the Major, but her partner Batou and the then-rookie Togusa as they solve a mysterious case involving rampaging androids and human trafficking. More than the lavish, almost surreal visuals and seemingly inconsequential plotting, some fans disliked the even heavier emphasis on philosophy, with long stretches where characters seemed to interact only by quoting philosophers at each other. At the same time, the film is rich in ideas, if not coherence, and serves as interesting viewing, even if it departs from expectations.  Ghost in the Shell 2: Manmachine Interface (2001 manga) If Innocence tried to tell a Ghost in the Shell story without its ostensible protagonist, the Major, Manmachine Interface tries to tell a Ghost in the Shell story using only the Major. Set five years following the events of the original manga, the story of Manmachine Interface both elevates the stakes of those events, while descending into near-incoherence in terms of storytelling. While it's worth reading for fans of the original manga, it also stands out as the closest Ghost in the Shell comes to "overdoing it".   Ghost in the Shell: Arise (2014 film series) and Ghost in the Shell: The New Movie (2015 film) An attempt to refresh Ghost in the Shell for newer, younger audiences, Arise functions as a spiritual prequel of sorts, focusing on the Major as she goes about forming Section 9 itself, and exploring her personal life in greater detail than was typically alluded to in previous works. Between a younger-looking character design, new involvement from Mardock Scramble author Tow Ubukata, and an all-new voice cast, Arise tried to signal newness at every turn, but struggled to differentiate itself in the face of Standalone Complex, failing to reach the highs of that series despite being enjoyable. The Ghost in the Shell (Manga)
Ghost in the Shell Primer photo
Hack some knowledge into your cyberbrain
It's been more than two decades since the original Ghost in the Shell film came out, and the name still resonates as one of the most well-known examples of Japanese anime around. At the same time, it's been quite a while...

Tekken IRL photo
Tekken IRL

Watch this martial artist bring Tekken's Kazuya to life


Eat it, Evil Ryu!
Jan 10
// Josh Tolentino
Most fighting games may not have an especially strong connection to real-life martial arts, but that doesn't mean they're completely unrealistic or impossible to "do" in meatspace. The trick is in finding the right game to r...

First Impressions: Active Raid

Jan 10 // Josh Tolentino
The answer to the immediate question is "Not quite". Patlabor was always a character-driven comedy first, and a giant robot show second (though the star Patlabor "Alphonse" could definitely be considered a character of sorts). Active Raid is more a straight-faced action title, and in truth, its robots aren't actually that large.  The stars are definitely still cops, at least. But unlike Patlabor, where the Tokyo Metropolitan Police, Special Vehicles Unit, Division 2, were a bunch of misfits regarded as barely competent, Active Raid's Public Security Division 5, 3rd Mobile Assault Unit 8 are more a squad of loose cannons, getting quality results, through a complete disregard of protocol and procedure.  Similarly, Patlabor's 30-foot robots have been traded in for the WillWear, a human-sized battle suit that seems to take its cues less from Gundam and more from Kamen Rider or Super Sentai, with perhaps a bit of The Centurions and Tiger & Bunny thrown in for good measure.  As may be expected of a first episode, our initial outing with Unit 8 accompanies newbie member Asami Kazari, who tends to spout English when stressed, and suffers from delusions of grandeur, somehow led to believe that she's been assigned to Unit 8 to "take control" and reform it as a paragon of the "justice" associated with sticking to the rules and regs. As a result, it sucks to be Asami, as roughly the whole plot is employed in shutting her down at every possible opportunity. Her theories are dismissed, she's interrupted rudely, ignored routinely, and ends up doing it wrong from start to finish. All she gets for her trouble is a face full of hot speedo-clad manservice. That said, I can't say I feel sorry for her because she's super annoying about it. Rather than being a hapless rookie who takes her lack of experience as a challenge, Asami constantly gripes for attention, her delusions about being there to take charge of things looking more baseless by the minute.  Of course, I know that the goal here is to establish the initial conflict, for Asami's uptight manner to eventually loosen as she comes to terms with Unit 8's unorthodox style, but Active Raid may have overdone it a bit. Instead of looking like a fish out of water, Asami comes across as beyond help, the stick up her butt inextricable. With luck, future episodes will give her a fairer shake, but for someone who is ostensibly the viewpoint character for the show and someone the audience is supposed to root for, this isn't a great sign. The other members of Unit 8 are more tolerable but thinly drawn. Takeru and Souichirou are the squad's WillWear users, and make up Active Raid's "ACTIVE" (as their special cop-issue WillWear is the "Armored Combined Tactical Intelligence Vanguard Element"). They're pretty much the Red and Blue Rangers, respectively, with Takeru as the Maverick to Souichirou's Iceman. Section head Funasaka's an old hand who pulls strings to get Unit 8 its operational carte blanche, Kyoukai is the slightly creepy tech guy, Madoka's the computer nerd that doesn't talk, Haruka's into buses, and the Chief is absurdly young-looking. Seriously, she could cosplay as the Professor from Nichijou. Together they're a pack of misfits who have the temerity to see policework as a profession rather than a sacred mission.  Active Raid seems less interested in the crimes being committed than in the way the cops go about stopping it. Case in point: The robbery that kicks off this episode's event is barely contemplated. The show goes out of its way to dismiss the perps' motivations as destructive attention-seeking by a pair of teens, and Asami's speculation of an organized crime connection are dismissed as fanciful, but everything from Unit 8's sweet police train (which reminds me of the Police Express from ToQger) to the three-step transformation process for the squad's WillWear is displayed in detail.  It's also here where Unit 8 is shown to be less of a wild bunch than Asami seems to think (in turn making her complaints seem even less reasonable). They patiently wait for authorization to use their weapons, and even find roundabout solutions when their chase is called off because it could threaten a nearby, politically-connected anime studio. Takeru even grins and bears it while Funasaka twists arms to allow him to use his WillWear's super move. Those sound less like loose cannons and more like a wily group of veteran cops with little tolerance for bureaucratic nonsense.  Active Raid seems to be engaging at first glance, despite some missteps in its characterization. Whether or not it will be this generation's successor to Patlabor remains to be seen. [Catch Active Raid weekly on Crunchyroll!] ACTIVE system (standing for "Armored Combined Tactical Intelligence Vanguard Element")
Active Raid photo
Mighty Morphin' Power Rozzers
If you held a gun to my head and demanded I tell you my favorite anime series of all time (you could've just asked, jeez!), Patlabor: The Mobile Police would definitely be on that list. Though I encountered it relatively...

Look at this jerk photo
Look at this jerk

Try to ignore the d-bag marketing for this neat translator gizmo


Cool device, uncool dude
Jan 07
// Josh Tolentino
Here's a new one to file under "Why We Can't Have Nice Things": Tone-deaf marketing stunts. Like this one, for a neat little thing called the "ili" Wearable Translator. It's a little white slab about a bit smaller than an Ap...

The Japanator Awards 2015: Josh's Top 5 Anime of the Year

Dec 27 // Josh Tolentino
[Note: In order to be considered for the list, a program needs to have ended its broadcast run within the calendar year of 2015. Series that have not yet finished, for whatever reason, are ineligible.] 5. Fate/Stay night: Unlimited Blade Works Despite 2015 being a pretty good year for anime I liked, I had to work pretty hard this year to avoid just nominating Shirobako, JoJo's Bizarre Adventure, and Unlimited Blade Works again, in a repeat of 2014's list. However, I had to make an exception for this, and not just because I'm a Fate fan. Y'see, 2015, for whatever reason, was something of a banner year for shows that took an alternative look at what makes a hero, from the over-strong badass that was Saitama to the everyday heroes of Gatchaman CROWDs. For its part, Unlimited Blade Works was a welcome reminder to everyone that heroism, exemplified by the bravery of people who refuse to back down from their ideals and to do everything that's needed to realize them, has a price. For Shirou, that price might be his very future, for the anime-original epilogue of episode 25 shows him ultimately committing to a path that, in all likelihood will turn him again into Archer, an unfeeling cynic that regrets everything. In light of that, Unlimited Blade Works turns its ending from the typical heroic triumph to a glance at the other side of that coin, and a sober, bittersweet nod to the reality of ideals, and the cost of sticking to them.   4. Blood Blockade Battlefront  If Unlimited Blade Works reminded us of the cost of heroic resolve, and One Punch Man showed us how winning is often the least important part of being a hero, Blood Blockade Battlefront was a triple-rad demonstration of raw-ass heroism in action. Delaying that final episode for a whole three-plus months proved to be worth it, as Bones' epic finale involved nothing less than a battle against Satan himself, while still affirming the show's fundamental, positive message about the grace to be found in being able to live normally in a place as twisted and over-the-top as Hellsalem's Lot. Add to that the combination of Yasuhiro Nightow's seemingly limitless imagination and the inimitable stylishness of Rie Matsumoto, and Blood Blockade Battlefront ended up a glorious (though uneven) gem to watch.   3. Death Parade Death Parade could have gone real wrong, real quickly. Set in what amounts a purgatorial reality show where people compete in games of chance while realizing the depth of their sins is an easy way to make twelve episodes of grotesque revenge fantasy, reveling in the voyeuristic glee of passing judgment on others. Even in a fictional setting, that wouldn't exactly be classy entertainment. Thankfully, though, the show quickly upends that notion, turning around and asking just who we are, or who anyone is, to judge a person's whole life on the few scattered moments and vignettes surrounding their deaths. This might not have been the greatest step for some folks who were looking forward to debating the relative guilt of the people who end up in Quindecim, but it made for a great, ultimately humanistic message, and an infinitely more watchable show.   2. Gatchaman CROWDS Insight Death Parade might have subverted its original, dread potential by adopting an altogether more complex theme, but Gatchaman CROWDS Insight did no less than demolish the thesis set forth in the first season of Gatchaman CROWDS, and in doing so, become perhaps the only anime to successfully tackle the internet and contemporary social media culture.  Far too often, when we talk about a sci-fi anime, we're really just talking about an anime with a mecha in it. For better and worse, most sci-fi anime are really just anime with a futuristic setting, and often exhibit stories that could've easily happened without the sci-fi trappings. Not so with Gatchaman CROWDS, whose thick, thoughtful thematic mix is so potent that it's impossible to watch without ending up thinking hard about the manifold implications of the way we communicate and form relationships in the internet age. Better still, Gatchaman CROWDS Insight refuses to offer simple solutions, instead preferring to provoke thought while emphasizing the importance of empathy, expertise, and the humanity at the center of all this progress. Now that's some good sci-fi.   1. One Punch Man Was there ever really any doubt? There were programs on the air this year that were more thematically complex, thought-provoking, narratively cohesive, and outright "better" by some measures. All the same, I'm damned lucky that One Punch Man concluded its season just a couple of weeks ago, because nothing else in 2015 made me as plainly happy to watch as Madhouse's adaptation of the Shonen JUMP mega-hit, and I'd feel like I was lying if I had to put a different show in this spot because of our new rules.  Maybe it's the gorgeous animation or the rapidly expanding world of Saitama, Genos, and the Hero Association, or the devastatingly effective storytelling or the sheer hilarity of the antics on display. It's hard to pin down besides the simple fact that I had a more rad time with One Punch Man than anything else this year, which is why it's at the top of my list.   Honorable Mentions: JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders Egypt Arc Shirobako Sound! Euphonium GATE Shimoneta: A Boring World Where the Concept of Dirty Jokes Doesn't Exist        
Japanator Awards 2015 photo
A Fistful of Honors
With this year on the wane and a new year imminent, it's time to reflect on what came before: Our life choices, the state of the world, and most importantly: The Japanese cartoons we watched! It's time for 2015's Japanator Aw...

Final Impressions: One Punch Man

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

Jump Festa Cosplay photo
Naruto, One Piece, and more besides
Jump Festa, Shueisha's yearly celebration of all things Naruto, Bleach, One Piece, and whatever else it publishes, happened last week, and our pal Lindo Korchi was on hand to observe the proceedings. You can ch...

Review: Sakura Santa

Dec 24 // Josh Tolentino
Sakura Santa (PC)Developer: Winged CloudPublisher: MangaGamerMSRP: $9.95Released: December 21, 2015 The aforementioned solitary souls seem to be situated smack in the target-audience sweet spot for Sakura Santa's story, as it revolves around Koji, an otherwise unremarkable college student whose main claim to fame is that he'll be lonely on Christmas eve. Yeah, that's really about it. Sakura Santa takes advantage of the fact that Christmas in Japan is more of a romantic holiday than a familial one, and kicks off with Koji visiting a nearby shrine to wish for someone to spend Christmas with. His wish is granted in short order, by fateful run-ins with Itsumi, an old childhood friend, Akina, a local fox spirit, and none other than one of Santa Claus' daughters. Then the only question is: Who shall he spend the time with? Now, before anyone gets any ideas, it's worth pointing out that Sakura Santa is not an adult game. The game's Steam store page takes care to stress that it contains "no sexual content." And they're technically right. There is no nudity, nor are there sex scenes in the whole of the game's two to four-hour runtime. There is, however, plenty to ogle in the form of the three girls' character designs and the event scenes from the four available storylines. The art does stand out as the main draw, given that Sakura Santa has little else going for it. It's shorter and possessed of a much more bland premise than Sakura Spirits, and features a smaller cast to boot. Akina and Santa's stories quickly fall into too-similar "magical/alien girlfriend" templates familiar to anime, and though Itsumi's plotline also veers on the generic side, the story of trying to connect with an old flame after years growing apart is, at least, more inherently engaging. Then again, the other girl has fox ears and a short kimono. A dilemma, to be sure. Ultimately, Sakura Santa fails to stand out from the growing crowd of visual novels on Steam and elsewhere, except in the single respect of being a Christmas-themed story, coming out just in time for the holiday. Unfortunately, one would probably have to be as lonely as the game's protagonist to find a compelling reason to play. Batman: Arkham Knight: Season of Infamy (PC, PS4, Xbox One [reviewed])Developer: WB Games MontrealPublisher: Warner Bros.MSRP: $9.99Released: December 22, 2015 Sakura Santa (PC)Developer: Winged CloudPublisher: MangaGamerMSRP: $9.95Released: December 21, 2015 The aforementioned solitary souls seem to be situated smack in the target-audience sweet spot for Sakura Santa's story, as it revolves around Koji, an otherwise unremarkable college student whose main claim to fame is that he'll be lonely on Christmas eve. Yeah, that's really about it. Sakura Santa takes advantage of the fact that Christmas in Japan is more of a romantic holiday than a familial one, and kicks off with Koji visiting a nearby shrine to wish for someone to spend Christmas with. His wish is granted in short order, by fateful run-ins with Itsumi, an old childhood friend, Akina, a local fox spirit, and none other than one of Santa Claus' daughters. Then the only question is: Who shall he spend the time with? Now, before anyone gets any ideas, it's worth pointing out that Sakura Santa is not an adult game. The game's Steam store page takes care to stress that it contains "no sexual content." And they're technically right. There is no nudity, nor are there sex scenes in the whole of the game's two- to four-hour runtime. There is, however, plenty to ogle in the form of the three girls' character designs and the event scenes from the four available storylines. The art does stand out as the main draw, given that Sakura Santa has little else going for it. It's shorter and possessed of a much more bland premise than Sakura Spirits, and features a smaller cast to boot. Akina and Santa's stories quickly fall into too-similar "magical/alien girlfriend" templates familiar to anime, and though Itsumi's plotline also veers on the generic side, the story of trying to connect with an old flame after years growing apart is, at least, more inherently engaging. Then again, the other girl has fox ears and a short kimono. A dilemma, to be sure. Ultimately, Sakura Santa fails to stand out from the growing crowd of visual novels on Steam and elsewhere, except in the single respect of being a Christmas-themed story, coming out just in time for the holiday. Unfortunately, one would probably have to be as lonely as the game's protagonist to find a compelling reason to play. Batman: Arkham Knight: Season of Infamy (PC, PS4, Xbox One [reviewed])Developer: WB Games MontrealPublisher: Warner Bros.MSRP: $9.99Released: December 22, 2015
Sakura Santa photo
A Christmas Miracle for the Solo Set
[This review was originally posted on Destructoid.] When it comes to holiday traditions, Christmas-themed video games aren't as common as Christmas movies or television specials. For whatever reason, be it development times, ...

Cosplay Excellence at Jump Festa 2016, Part 1

Dec 24 // Josh Tolentino
/ul/34618-cosplay-excellence-at-jump-festa-2015-part-1/Jump Festa 2016 Cosplay Photos Part 1 (12)-noscale.jpg
Jump Festa Cosplay photo
Snaps and shots from the show floor
Jump Festa, Shueisha's yearly celebration of all things Naruto, Bleach, One Piece, and whatever else it publishes, happened last week, and our pal Lindo Korchi was on hand to observe the proceedings. You can check out hi...

Long Lines and Good Times: A Visit to Jump Festa 2016

Dec 23 // Josh Tolentino
Long Lines and Good Times: A Visit to Jump Festa 2016 As my alarm clock goes off at 6:00 am, I'm abruptly taken away from the dream I was in; attending one of the biggest anime expositions in Japan: Jump Festa. “Today's the first day of Jump Festa! I need to grab the train to Chiba now or I'll be late!” I exclaimed. And so, my journey began. But before I continue, I'll briefly go over what Jump Festa is. Since 1999, Shueisha, the creators of the famous Jump magazines, sponsored the event Jump Festa to focus solely on anime, manga, games, merchandise, and alike. In addition, many manga artists also attend the event and have panels along with Q&A sessions. It's difficult to find data revealing the number of attendees for each year of Jump Festa, however, the latest one reported by Mantan-web revealed attendance figures of 145,000 for 2014 – 11,000 more than in 2013 and a bigger attendance size than AnimeJapan. Assuming the trend continued this year, this year's event could have up to 167,000 fans through the doors. Jump Festa having an admission price of just $0.00 (yes, free), definitely adds to those rapid growth prospects. Now that the introduction is out of the way, we can now move on to Jump Festa 2016. As I sprint out the kitchen with a piece of toast in my mouth (I'm in Japan; I had to!), I catch the JR Yamanote Line at Ueno Station to Tokyo Station, then transfer to the JR Keiyo Line to Kaihin-Makuhari Station. After a two-hour journey (which includes the delays I had on the train), I finally arrive at Makuhari Messe, the venue where Jump Festa has been held for over a decade. [embed]34622:5287:0[/embed] “You've got to be kidding me.” I thought as I looked at the excessive lines (yes, that's plural!) leading to the entrance. A little over an hour later, and somehow being able to guide myself towards the front, I was finally in – but then, there were more lines, and it didn't look like an exhibition hall at all. That's when I realized I actually entered the Jump Festa sale zone, where they sell original goods and limited edition items. The area was huge and attendees were separated by groups. Each group was set for a specific anime or manga series, which included the limited edition goods. However, those groups also had lines. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to get a glimpse of them due to the overwhelming amount of people. Interestingly enough, none of the items were on display, instead, attendees were given a piece of paper which noted what was offered (photos of the items weren't on the page; some booths in the exhibition hall displayed photos towards the front or back of the line, though). I attempted to tell staff that I simply wanted to see what they offered, and snap a few photos, but they weren't keen on such. Plus, how would I be able to shoot photos? Unless they were going to bring me to where they actually had the inventory. That wasn't going to happen. Nonetheless, I ventured to find the exhibition hall. Thankfully, I saw Naruto Uzumaki & Sakura Haruno roaming the convention; they were kind enough to lead me to the exhibit hall, where we parted off with a “Dattebayo!” Due to the overwhelming volume of people who lined up for special events, panels, and screenings, I wasn't able to attend any of them. However, it wasn't a problem. My favorite part about any convention is the exhibit hall, I believe it's the heart of it all and either makes or breaks the experience. Most of my time was spent in the exhibit hall, booths, and cosplay corners. Attending an anime convention that's 100% Japanese, 0% English is quite the challenge. But it's the challenge that makes the overall experience an adventure. Jump Festa held an atmosphere that no other convention in America, at least, the ones I've been to, have been able to achieve. As you walk pass the Jump gallery and witness the artworks of recognizable manga artists, such as Tite Kubo, Kazue Kato, and Shun Saek, it becomes surreal. As you look around, you hear the Japanese language flowing in every direction, every piece of content written in hiragana and kanji; you realize that the amazing cosplay you've always thought were semi-fake on Facebook are actually legit as you witness great cosplayers roam the halls. At some point, it finally hits you that you're at the heart of all the original stories, artworks, manga and anime that has captivated you from an early age – that's a special experience and not one that can easily be replicated. Wandering around, I found myself in a new area and was thrilled. “Is that Kakashi-sensei? No way, is that Super Saiyan 4 Goku?! I must've entered the anime zone!” I thought, in excitement. To be frank, it was the dedicated cosplay area. While it's true that I've been to quite a few conventions and am used to cosplay, I'm not exactly accustomed to seeing a lot of high-quality ones, nonetheless gathered in one area. The cosplayers did not only resemble the characters but captured their personality as well. For those who didn't exactly resemble said character, it was just as good because the detail put into their cosplay was clearly shown. The highlight my time there - and my personal favorite cosplay -moment was witnessing a senior in a wheelchair. I noticed that he had some sort of outfit and questioned if he was cosplaying. As I approached him, it was clear that he was cosplaying Akainu of One Piece. It was a special thing to see. Even though he's a senior and must use a wheelchair to get around, he didn't allow his circumstances to limit him from having fun, enjoying life, and preparing his cosplay outfit as the days led to Jump Festa. “Sumimasen. Shashin desu ka?” (Excuse me. May I take a photo?) I asked. The young man who was helping the senior looked surprised, as if no one had asked to take a photo. The senior smiled and nodded his head. As he slowly got up from his wheelchair, he adjusted his cosplay jacket and looked straight into the camera, full of character. After the shot, he was all smiles. He definitely has my respect; it's my favorite shot of the entire event because there's a story behind it. As I walked away, it became clear that it wasn't always about taking photos of the “best cosplayers”, but creating memories of the event and showing all the cosplayers who participated that they're appreciated, just as the senior. It can make all the difference. Just a few of those "unrecognized" cosplayers are in the gallery below. One of the main focus points for Jump Festa was the 20th anniversary of Yu-Gi-Oh! along with the movie, Yu-Gi-Oh!: The Dark Side of Dimensions. But it wasn't just a promotion, it was actually fun. Booths were set up for attendees to have their photo taken and be placed on a Yu-Gi-Oh! card with either Yugi or Kaiba (free of charge). Some areas were dedicated to one-on-one dueling while others pit two teams of five against each other using huge cards as props (similar to the giant chess set). Attendees were also able to get their picture taken, sign their names, and have it displayed in the theatrical version of the movie's ending credits. Large showcases of cards were up for display, along with a Blue-Eyes White Dragon card cosplay. Another cool setup was the special play area for attendees, which included a mini trampoline, a slide, and small ball pool. Many of the booths interacted with the attendees and provided activities, such as Bandai Namco, Square Enix, and PlayStation that let attendees play demo versions of upcoming games, including One Piece: Burning Blood, Dragon Quest Builders, and Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 4. Toho animation held an informative booth, explaining the artwork and how they process the animation. Bandai also held a small musical performance. And, of course, a dedicated area was made for all things Street Fighter. However, I must admit, I was surprised by the lack of non-Japanese fans at Jump Festa. The majority were Japanese, with hardly any westerners in sight. Given that Jump Festa is also a free event, I was baffled. Perhaps it's because Jump Festa isn't really promoted overseas, or at least not to the English-speaking audience. Last year when I was in Japan around the same time, I didn't even hear about Jump Festa. I only discovered it because I was actively searching for anime conventions in Japan for the winter season. I appreciated the fact that throughout the event, the same atmosphere, energy, and hype was still felt, all the way to its final hours. As the event came to a close, I smiled, filled with joy, and looked through the photos I took to recapture the moments. As I took the JR back to Ueno Station, I saw dozens of people on the train with Jump bags. Even though we all didn't know each other, it was our common interest in Jump that brought us together to have a great experience, and that was special. Despite the long lines and lack of English, Jump Festa was an incredible event. They really delivered; the exhibition hall and cosplay area was definitely the heart of the event and were great. The atmosphere, energy, appreciation, and the vibe of being in the home country of Japanese pop culture is a unique experience that cannot be experienced elsewhere. If you ever have the chance to make it to Jump Festa, I'd definitely recommend it. If not, see if you can make it to AnimeJapan, which is held annually in March at Tokyo Big Sight. I'm sure it'll be great as well. What are your thoughts on Jump Festa? Did you attend this year's show, or would you like to see it come to your country? Let us know in the comments, along with your own thoughts on Shonen Jump. For my part, even after the event I found myself learning new things: A number of cosplayers there fans of Tokyo Ghoul, and now I've just got to check out what they were jazzed up enough to dress up for! P.S.: Finally, if there are any Japanator readers in the Tokyo area who's interested in some Jump Festa merchandise, let us know, as well. I came upon quite a bit of swag that I'd love to give away, including manga, stickers, cards, buttons, and other promotional items. Here's a photo of it all:   [embed]34622:5287:0[/embed]
Jump Festa 2015 photo
An event for the best of Shonen Jump
Editor's Note: If you're in Japan and a manga fan, Christmas comes early each year, as Jump Festa, Shueisha's celebration of all things Shonen JUMP, takes place shortly before the big day, promoting manga, anime, video g...

Annotated Anime: One Punch Man episodes 9-10

Dec 12 // Josh Tolentino
Of course, things were already looking rather bleak for anyone that wasn't Saitama. Puri Puri Prisoner, Lighting Max, Allback Man, Snakebite Snek, and others had already been trounced hard in episode 8. Genos gives his best as well, with a devastating opener and a solid effort thereafter, but in classic superhero fashion, the baddie takes advantage of the hero's natural altruism and uses a civilian in danger to gain the upper hand. This leaves everything up to the otherwise powerless Mumen Rider, who suffers the most of all involved, summing up the circumstances in one unfortunate gif:  I'd like to believe that Madhouse intentionally highlighted this particular sequence as a twist on the best scene in The Avengers, because the contrast between the Hulk's cutting short Loki's monologue and the Sea King absent-mindedly pulping poor Mumen Rider is exquisite. The Avengers scene is quick and unexpected and played for surprise and laughs. Here in One Punch Man, though, the same scene is long, drawn out, and with the roles of the two combatants reversed (the "Hulk" is the bad guy, here), almost painful to watch. And yet Mumen Rider gets up, delivering a speech worthy of the best. The soul of heroism isn't in having the power to win, but in having the courage to stand up and do the right thing when no one else is willing or capable. Extra points go to Mumen Rider's voice actor, Yuichi Nakamura, who must have been real tired of playing d-bag male leads like Oreimo's Kyousuke and Mahouka's Tatsuya (who is his own story's "One Punch Man"). Nakamura really sells it, and combined with properly cheesy/uplifting piano music and a well-timed incitement of the crowd, conveys classic heroism in the best traditions of Marvel, DC, and Toei.  And speaking of Marvel, here's a bit of interesting trivia: Nakamura is also the Japanese voice of Captain America in those editions of the Marvel movies. It seems fitting, somehow. Saitama eventually shows up to end the fight, ripping the Sea King a new blowhole with a punch so hard it stops the rain. But that's to be expected. What happens next, though, is more interesting, as Saitama opts to make himself out to be the villain, just as the crowd is about to turn against the fallen heroes for having the temerity to fail where Saitama succeeded. Pretending to have simply cleaned up after Genos and the rest weakened the monster, he helps the heroes who did try their best save face (not that they deserved to lose it in the first place) and honors their sacrifice.  It's a good new revelation of Saitama's character. We've seen his fundamentally selfish desire for a challenge, and we've also seen his "I don't give an eff" attitude towards his public image, solidifying his status as more the savior we deserve than the one we want. But here, he does help show that doing the right thing doesn't always involve standing up against a bad guy, but sometimes taking one for the rest of the team, and giving credit where credit's due. There's no doubting that the real heroes of the day were the guys who got their asses handed to them, after all. If episode nine was a more thoughtful reflection of the soul backing up One Punch Man's more superficial appeal, episode ten is a return to the show's more typical form, capitalizing on gags, light slapstick, and creator ONE's oddball Japanese take on an American-style superhero ecosystem. The Hero Association takes center stage once more, assembling all the S-class heroes (with Saitama tagging along) for an emergency briefing. Characters like Atomic Samurai, Child Emperor (whose Japanese name is a hilarious pun on the slang term for "virgin"), Silver Fang, Metal Bat, and Terrible Tornado (who gets the most screen time of all thanks to a cold-open fight against a Godzilla-sized monster) fill out the ranks, with notable absences in the form of the increasingly sinister-seeming Metal Knight, and someone named "Blast". The reason for the gathering is an absurd guarantee from a late seer that something bad will happen...soon! It's as ridiculous as it sounds, but it seems to be proven true in a matter of seconds, as a massive Macross-sized spaceship shows up and pulls an Independence Day on the city surrounding Hero HQ.  With hundreds of thousands, if not millions annihilated in an instant, such a titanic loss of life would be devastating in a more serious series, but it's a good thing that One Punch Man is not that kind of show. After all, there are cool fights to be had, and now that the best of the best are involved, that's what we'd best care about. [Watch more One Punch Man on Daisuki] If anything, the punishment taken by the heroes in this particular engagement is best summed up in the following gif.
One Punch Man photo
The Bald Man and the Sea (King)
One Punch Man  might be a comedy, but just as even the grimmest, darkest fiction isn't completely free of levity, this satirical send-up of all things superheroic can sometimes swing things straight and earnest. And from the pace of proceedings, the showdown with the Sea King is the place to do it.

Trillion photo
Trillion

Trillion: God of Destruction makes for a game-long final boss fight


Talk about a tough cookie
Dec 08
// Josh Tolentino
About the worst insult one can usually level at an RPG final boss fight is that the boss is nothing more than a "brick" of hit points, a big ol' thing whose primary attribute is having a huge health bar. Such a boss isn't in...
Kizumonogatari photo
Kizumonogatari

The new Kizumonogatari trailer goes back to where it all started


Won't you help a fallen vamp?
Dec 08
// Josh Tolentino
It's finally happening. The now venerable and celebrated Monogatari Series may be coming to a conclusion with Owarimonogatari, but it won't really be over until we return to the beginning with the movie adaptations of K...
FFVII Remake News photo
FFVII Remake News

Final Fantasy VII's remake to get chopped into multiple releases


To be whole, you must divide, apparently
Dec 07
// Josh Tolentino
For the better part of the last decade or so (perhaps even longer), Final Fantasy fans have demanded that Square, and later Square Enix, remake Final Fantasy VII, arguably their most iconic game. And for years they've pu...

Review: Ninja Slayer From Animation

Dec 06 // Josh Tolentino
Ninja Slayer From AnimationStudio: TRIGGERViewed On: ViewsterPremiere date: April 6, 2015 At the time of this review's writing, the International Day of the Ninja has just passed, but there's no recent work that captures the essence of "ninja" more than this, Studio TRIGGER's latest series. Ninja Slayer From Animation makes no attempt to hide its goofy, parodic nature. That should be natural, after all, coming from a show that started life as what was essentially a Twitter prank. "Translated" from nonexistent original sources by a pair of fictional westerners named  "Bradley Bond" and "Philip Ninj@ Morzez", Ninja Slayer accurately portrays ninja culture...as seen by westerners engaged in that second wave of Japonisme that swept the world '80s and early '90s. During that time, the markets were flooded with crass, cheaply-made "ninja exploitation" films like American Ninja, and spiced up by gory, explicit OVAs and films that powered the "Japanimation" boom. Ninja Slayer's cyberpunk dystopia of Neo Saitama reflects the kind of twisted sensibility that resulted from the marriage of genuine enthusiasm and outright ignorance on the part of the outsiders. But Ninja Slayer isn't out to deliver a polemic against cultural appropriation. Bond and Morzez are in on the joke, and know that the best antidote to hotheaded outrage is a tongue planted firmly in cheek. Much to the chagrin of early viewers that didn't realize Ninja Slayer's relation to TRIGGER's own Inferno Cop, the whole thing is played for elaborate, stylized laughs. That's because they know that, played straight, Kenji Fujikido's story of revenge and violence would come across as gravely cliche and unbearably cheesy. That's why Ninja Slayer and his foes constantly introduce themselves to each other like beginning Japanese-language students practicing for a kaiwa test, and why the whole show is in the archaic 4:3 aspect ratio. It simultaneously pokes fun at and commiserates with the "Ken-sama" of the world, and smirks back at a time when Ken-sama's type represented what most people knew about Japanese culture. It's also where TRIGGER works in that ninja magic. Deliberate aesthetic choices in Ninja Slayer, like the neon-drenched pallete and aping of old-school cost-cutting techniques recall back the moments of beauty to be found in that awkward time, while at the same time deflating the nostalgic pomposity some older fans may have for the time. It's as if to say "Yep, cartoons were just as stupid then as you think they are now. But they were also awesome!" The show is hardly perfect, though, and the wild differentials between user ratings in various fan fora serve as testament to that fact. Ninja Slayer may be bold and one of the most creatively distinct anime series this year, but there are times when it's just plain ugly-lookin', beyond what could be excused on style alone. TRIGGER's no longer a scrappy underdog of a studio, which makes the frequent forays into Inferno Cop-style 2D cutout puppetry feel less like a fun diversion and more an unnecessary indulgence.  The storytelling also fails to rise above its B-grade inspirations. This isn't to say it's all bad or that every show should strive to elevate, but there is a difference between homage and mere copy, and there are times when Ninja Slayer skirts too close to the wrong side of that distinction.  Then again, for a viewer in the right mindset, Ninja Slayer is a laugh riot and a friendly wink-and-nod, all rolled into a package that never gets boring. And for a show that's very deliberately not accurate to the real-life ninjas of Japanese history, Ninja Slayer certainly gets being surprising down pat. 
Ninja Slayer Review photo
The Ancient YEEART! of Ninjutsu
DOMO, READER-SAN.  I am Reviewer. NINJA must be slain. 

Naruto Shippuden Ultimate Ninja Storm 4's demo goes big and sparkly

Dec 05 // Josh Tolentino
[embed]34555:5235:0[/embed] The demo itself is fairly lightweight, at under a gigabyte, and contains nothing more than the cold open and title card for the main game. But what a title card it is! Things kick off immediately, flashing back to the epic battle between Madara Uchiha and Hashirama Senju, the progenitors of Naruto's ninja world. History is in the making for fans, as this is the fight that ultimately created the Valley of the End, the massive hole in the ground that serves as a place of dramatic import for many key moments in the series proper.  Madara and Hashirama duke it out with Wood-style jutsu, massive weapons, and huge creatures like the Nine-Tailed Fox and Hashirama's tree giant grappling in the background. For better or worse, Ultimate Ninja Storm 4 looks to be almost unchanged mechanically from previous games. The controls are simple, with buttons for melee and ranged attacks, as well as ones for channeling Chakra magic and dashing around. The Chakra serves as a modifier, supercharging the next action when pressed, turning a regular dash into a chakra dash, and turning a standard attack into a special. So far, so Storm.  The main differences between this year's release and the last are largely presentational. CyberConnect2 largely maintains the games' style of cell-shaded polygons, and if not for the likes Guilty Gear Xrd, this would easily be the best-looking "anime-style" game on the market.  That said, where Arc System Works maintain their lead in detail, the Naruto title wins out on sheer scale. The aliasing present on the polygons is much less pronounced, and the most noticeable addition are veritable founts of glowing particle effects. Dust clouds, debris sprays, and novel takes on fire, both actual and magical, spice up the game's look. It's so intense that framerate issues sometimes crop up in the most intense scenes, such as when Madara fills the screen with burning triple-tornado. The game also doesn't skimp on the Quick-Time Events. Though a hoary old design contrivance at this point, CyberConnect2 has at least mastered the form, using the button prompts in a way that engages with the onscreen insanity, and promising rewards for players with impeccable timing. One can only hope that the team decides to get all meta with the user interface, like they did in Asura's Wrath way back when.  From the looks of things, Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 4 will be off to a promising, if perhaps too-familiar start. Fans of Naruto and of the games themselves can look forward to a game that covers the thrilling conclusion of the Naruto story, while everyone else can expect a good dose of over-the-top anime spectacle. And with luck, CyberConnect2 will have something just as insane, and perhaps more ambitious, planned for the engine they've created here. Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 4 will be released on February 9th for PS4, Xbox One, and PC. [embed]34555:5236:0[/embed]
Naruto Storm 4 photo
Talk to the Thousands Of Hands
Naruto may have ended more than a year ago, but nothing keeps a good franchise down. Between the lagging anime series, books, more manga, and several feature films, Masashi Kishimoto's world of superpowered ninja is far ...

Danganronpa 3 photo
Danganronpa 3

Danganronpa 3 anime series coming, is a real sequel


V3 has come to
Dec 02
// Josh Tolentino
We all knew that the saga of Danganronpa would continue. Though excellent and relatively self-contained, Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair left a few threads from Trigger Happy Havoc dangling. The shooter spinoff...
Dead or Alive Xtreme DOA photo
Dead or Alive Xtreme DOA

Sorry, Nope: Dead or Alive Xtreme 3 still not going west


Now with word from Koei Tecmo
Dec 02
// Josh Tolentino
If you're a Dead or Alive fan who prefers poolside partying to fisticuffs, your fortunes this February will largely depend on your location. That's because Dead or Alive Xtreme 3, the latest in Koei Tecmo's unabashedly ribal...
Metal Gear Solid V photo
Metal Gear Solid V

Metal Gear Solid V opens the race to total nuclear disarmament


Consoles in the lead to Peace
Nov 29
// Josh Tolentino
Metal Gear's never been shy about having an anti-nuclear message (despite arguably glorifying most other types of military violence), but for the most part, the series has put making the world a nuke-free place out of the han...

Annotated Anime: One Punch Man episode 8

Nov 26 // Josh Tolentino
It's ironic, then, that the "realness" of today's big setup comes courtesy of two characters that are practically impossible to take seriously, and for reasons that aren't really funny, in all honesty. I am, of course, referring to the big baddie, the Sea King, and the most powerful non-lead  character we've seen fight, the S-Class Hero Puri-Puri Prisoner. Both are, unfortunately, tremendous missteps in the enduring quest for sensitivity in anime character design, since they act and speak like raging gay stereotypes of that peculiarly Japanese, "Cho Aniki" variety.  For the uninitiated, it's worth pointing out that Japan's conception of gay stereotyping runs slightly differently than in America and the west. Over in (In)Glorious Nippon, the things usually held "suspect" are the hyper-masculine, bodybuilding types, with looks and designs pioneered by the likes of JoJo's Bizarre Adventure, Fist of the North Star, and others. Yup it's not the effete, effeminate fashion-hound of a guy that trips your average Japanese person's gaydar, but the genetic beast lobster.  I am, of course, generalizing, but it's telling that Sonic, who's also in the episode and normally wears an outfit that's more snug than body paint, is the one that gets treated like a hyper-cool male badass. In comparison, Puri-Puri Prisoner is basically a prison rapist. Hard not to look at that and wonder why these S-Class types are still called "Hero".  But, it's not all bad. They may be terrible stereotypes, but Sea King and Puri-Puri Prisoner actually still manage to be pretty cool. Prisoner does it by going way over the top, striking a flamer-hulk performance that recalls the likes of Cars and AC/DC from JoJo's Bizarre Adventure. Sea King does it by being the most powerful and terrifying baddie the show's yet seen.  Unlike the Colossal Titan ripoff from episode 1 or Carnage Kabuto, the Sea King's out to kill, and makes mincemeat of anyone he comes across, eventually breaking into the emergency evacuation shelter in order to slaughter the puny humans inside. This is where things get more intense, as clearly doomed heroes still make a stand, despite knowing they're far outclassed and don't stand a chance. Even a jerk like Snake-Bite Snek gets some redemption. As most folks can agree, heroism isn't about your actions when you're not being challenged. It's about what you do when you're so scared you've soiled yourself. [Watch more of One Punch Man on Daisuki!]
One Punch Man photo
S-Class Went To The Sea Sea Sea (King)
If last week's installment of One Punch Man was about complicating the world of heroism for our man Saitama - and to an extent, for us as observers of the show's world, this week's episode is all about intensifying it. In a word, things get real this week.

Valkyria Chronicles photo
Valkyria Chronicles

Valkyria Chronicles is reborn on PS4!


Now, where's my Valkyria Chronicles 3?
Nov 25
// Josh Tolentino
I'm not always totally wrong about things, but there are times when I am. It's a good thing that this is one of those times, because Valkyria Chronicles is back, baby! Last week I totally ignored the news that SEGA anno...

Annotated Anime: One Punch Man episodes 6 and 7

Nov 22 // Josh Tolentino
But first, an aside: Perhaps the most interesting news to come out of One Punch Man in the last couple of weeks has come from its production team. Chief Animation Director Chikashi Kubota recently revealed that, contrary to lay expectations (mine included), One Punch Man is animated using an "average-sized" budget, and is not the moneyed behemoth many thought it was judging by the high quality of its action scenes and prominence as a Shonen JUMP headliner. It just goes to show how "anime" One Punch Man is, and not merely in adhering to cultural quirks most folks associate with "anime-like" things, but also in a more classical sense. Japanese TV anime developed many of its stylistic and storytelling conventions from the need to make the most of very limited resources. Compared to the Hollywood-led productions of the time, the style of animation pioneered by Tezuka Productions and other postwar studios is filled with cost-saving techniques that directly influenced the way stories are told in the medium today. It's one of the reasons Studio Ghibli and Hayao Miyazaki famously disliked having their works lumped in with "anime", as to them, the term represented something defined by having been made on the cheap. Whatever the case, Kubota's tweet is a resounding affirmation on the talent at work with One Punch Man, that they can "hide the seams" so effectively that people think the show is much more expensive than it actually is. Moving on, the first "hit" of episode six is the one most everyone will be familiar with, regardless of punching strength. After all, few things have more of an impact on a person than a good ol' reality check. In this case, Saitama learns of the world of work, as he realizes that C-ranked heroes like himself need to stop crime on a regular basis to keep from being dropped from the roster. Given that he's always been far too powerful to consider stopping muggers and helping old ladies worth his while, this leads to a mad scramble across town in search of bad guy to take down.  The bad guy in question is Speed o' Sound Sonic, who opens his second appearance in the One Punch Man canon spoiling for a rematch. Needless to say, Saitama provides, absentmindedly filling his quota and inadvertently proving his superiority in one fell chop to the back of the head.  The real meat of the episode, though, is in seeing the Hero Association conduct more investigations into the origins of monster activity in Saitama's hometown, City Z. Besides a cool boardroom sequence featuring reports from various high-class heroes, the task falls to two A-rank ringers, the slingshot-toting Golden Ball and the mustachioed Spring Mustachio. Facial hair is his superpower, alongside a wicked sword thrust that recalls the likes of Bleach's Gin, but somehow cooler. After a cool action scene, the two heroes get plastered by a weird seaweed creature and learn little about the apparent mystery behind City Z (Hint: It's Saitama!), but we do get a further look into the inner workings of the Hero Association, including an early cameo by Tornado of Terror, a petulant, childlike telekinetic diva.  After the period of relative downtime in episode six, things pick up steam in episode seven. Then again, how could they not? A meteor's about to hit the city, after all. In case folks were wondering about our lead characters' lack of screentime, episode seven is mostly about Genos, who has many steps yet to go in his heroic journey. I've remarked before about how Genos could probably anchor a stereotypical action show all on his own. He's young, has a tragic backstory, and if not for his master, would probably be the star. That feeling's reinforced here, as he tries his damnedest to stop the meteor, despite a lack of aid from the apathetic Metal Knight and Bang, an aged martial-arts guru who's seen a lot of crap. Naturally, Saitama ends up stepping in to save the day, but there's never a doubt who the most heroic person was in this particular incident.   That doesn't mean our One-Punch wonder is completely without virtue, though. He may be oblivious, and kind of a dick, but he's the hero we deserve, especially compared to some of his peers. An incident with a pair of tank top-wearing jerks seems to impress that, with few exceptions, most of the heroes in the Hero Association are hardly heroic at all. Instead, the ranks are filled with preening, status-obsessed d-bags who care more for their place in the rankings than doing the right thing. By comparison, the only decent people are relative outsiders, like Saitama, Genos, and Bang, or the downtrodden, like the powerless Mumen Rider. One can't help but wonder if that's some kind of meta-commentary on how turning passion into work can lead ideals astray, but suffice it to say that being bad isn't exclusive to villains.  [Watch more of One Punch Man on Daisuki and Crunchyroll!]     chief animation director Chikashi Kubota
One Punch Man photo
That Feel When No One Knows You
The last couple of weeks of One Punch Man have delivered a couple of big hits, and neither courtesy of the titular "man" himself, Saitama. One hit is more psychological/philosophical than anything else, and the second is literal in a way that befits a show as straightforward as to have a title like One Punch Man.

Clannad on Steam photo
Clannad on Steam

Clannad gets its first official English release next week


Sad Girls on Steam
Nov 15
// Josh Tolentino
If you told me even three or four years ago that visual novels would be one of the fastest-growing game genres in 2015, I'd have laughed in your face. But you'd have been right: Ever since it came out that people would be wil...

Review: Sword Art Online: Lost Song

Nov 13 // Josh Tolentino
Sword Art Online: Lost Song (PS4, PS3, PS Vita [reviewed])Developer: ArtdinkPublisher: Bandai Namco GamesMSRP: $39.99 (Vita), $59.99 (PS4)Released: November 17, 2015 (NA), November 13, 2015 (EU), April 28, 2015 (SEA), March 26, 2015 (JP) [Note: This review is based on the English-language version of Lost Song released in Southeast Asia on April 28, 2015. While there may be some differences between this version and the North American/EU ones, we expect the core experience will be highly similar, if not identical.] Let's not mince words: Like its predecessor Sword Art Online: Hollow Fragment, Lost Song is meant for existing fans of Sword Art Online (or at least of Hollow Fragment), and few else outside that sphere. In fact, Lost Song's main plot virtually ensures that only those invested Kirito and the gang's adventures and interactions will find fulfillment from the game's narrative.  But first, an aside: When it came to the anime and novels, the reason the ALO-set story arcs felt so weak was the overriding sense that the show was treading water. In contrast to original's grand hook of "dying in the game means death for real", the goal of Kirito playing ALO to search for Asuna carried not nearly as much weight. This was exacerbated in the second season, which followed up an excellent murder mystery plot set in Gun Gale Online with Kirito and his pals literally just doing a raid and some quests in ALO for a nice sword. It came to pass that when ALO was onscreen, Sword Art Online became less about exciting adventures and speculative future game design than essentially watching a bunch of nonexistent Let's Players play a nonexistent game. Lost Song's story falls afoul of ALO's curse as well, with even its central plot afflicted with the same sense of meandering and lack of stakes. Still placed in Hollow Fragment's alternative timeline (which saw the cast stuck in SAO for much longer than in the "canon", and adding characters like Sinon under different circumstances), Lost Song sees Kirito and his posse moving to ALfheim Online right on time for the game to debut "Svart ALfheim", its first expansion, consisting of five massive floating islands. Being the top-class gamers they are, the crew resolves to be the first to burn through it. The quest for "world-first" (a motivation familiar to anyone who's played an MMO) eventually brings them into conflict with Shamrock, a massive guild run by Seven, an idol/scientist (!) who's taking the opportunity run a big social experiment within ALO. If the whole premise of Lost Song's plot sounds like the kind of inter-guild "drama" that plays out on forums and social media feeds for actual games today, one wouldn't be too far off. This puts the bulk of the game's narrative appeal in the interactions between cast members new and old, told via entertaining Tales of-style vignettes, in-game events, and lengthy personal quests, some of which adapt storylines from the canon like the well-received "Mother's Rosario" arc. Those invested in seeing those characters again, sporting ALO-styled redesigns and touting long-running in-jokes, will get their fill, but players seeking epic adventure or the kind of JRPG story that ends with the heroes saving the world will come away disappointed. It doesn't help, either, that Lost Song doesn't work very hard to introduce players to the characters themselves. In some ways that's to be expected, seeing as this is a sequel to Hollow Fragment and mostly features the same faces (with a few more added), but curious folks who just want to know what the fuss over Sword Art Online is all about would be better served by picking up Re: Hollow Fragment (the "Director's Cut" PS4 port of Hollow Fragment), or just watching the anime. Narrative pitfalls aside, Lost Song is at least less of a slog to play, mechanically, bringing some new, entertaining gimmicks to the table. The combat system ditches the auto-attacks, casting times, and menus of Hollow Fragment for a straightforward, directly-controlled action-RPG setup. Players can string together combos of light and heavy attacks, controlling any three of up to seventeen playable characters (they can even replace Kirito as the leader!), each wielding a number of weapons with signature skills and magic. Special moves and magic can be triggered by combining shoulder and face buttons. New attacks, spells, and passive effects can be unlocked by leveling up leveling up their weapon skills through use, and assigning them to preferred button combinations. A Union gauge fills up in battle, and when triggered enables devastating "Switch" attacks involving the whole party. While simpler and arguably less deep than Hollow Fragment, the new system is more engaging and wastes less time. Most low-level foes can be dispatched in seconds, and fighting large bosses rewards mobility and effective use of buffs and debuffs to chop away at their massive, stacked health bars. AI companions fight and support effectively, and need little in the way of handholding unless severely under-leveled. New gear can be found in the field, or bought, identified, and upgraded at Agil and Lisbeth's shops while Side Quests and Extra Quests can be accepted at the hub town's tavern. Side Quests usually fall into the "Kill X number of Y enemy" category, but Extra Quests usually pose an additional challenge, involving big takedowns of one or more boss-class foes for better rewards. And then there's the flying. Being a fairy-themed game, ALO plants wings on all its characters to enable long-distance travel and a level of verticality rarely embraced in the RPG space. Lost Song gladly obliges, featuring huge, open-world maps populated by roaming enemies and dotted with dungeons at varying altitudes. Players can switch from running on the ground to hovering to racing through the air with a flick of the D-pad. While a bit fiddly at first, this mobility quickly becomes second nature and makes a genuine difference when fighting outdoors, as aerial dashes can be used to set up powerful charging attacks, and hovering up high can put safe distances between players and ground-bound foes. Fighting indoors, however, is more of a chore, as most dungeons prohibit flying and often take place against large numbers of enemies spawning in ways that cause the combat camera and lock-on function to freak out unpleasantly. Worse still, the dungeons themselves are so bland and unimaginative that I initially mistook them for being procedurally generated. Having players visit these dungeons in order to progress the story just hammers home the apathetic level design. And there's even multiplayer. Local and online play sessions are available, including a PVP versus mode, and team battles against roided-out versions of the single-player bosses. It's an alright option to have, but there's little compelling reason to engage with it. Players can use custom characters, but the customization options are so limited that anything created just resembles the generic NPC characters littering the hub world. For better or worse, Sword Art Online: Lost Song replicates both the highs and lows of its predecessors. Existing fans of the series will find plenty to like in the further adventures of Kirito and his MMO pals, despite a dull main story. The revamped mechanics also support a steady drip-feed of Sword Art Online fan service mainly by not getting in the way too much. Unfortunately, Lost Song stumbles hardest when trying to engage players outside that sphere of pre-existing investment, and in some ways ends up an even less suitable jumping-off point for newbies who want to get in on enjoying the franchise. My advice to those folks would be to watch the anime or try out Hollow Fragment first. If they're still jonesing for some more of this motley crew of irredeemable MMO nerds when they're done, then Lost Song will be music to their ears. [This review is based on a retail copy of the game acquired by the reviewer.] Fallout 4 (PC, PS4, Xbox One [reviewed])Developer: Bethesda Game StudiosPublisher: Bethesda SoftworksMSRP: $59.99Released: November 10, 2015 Fallout 4 (PC, PS4, Xbox One [reviewed])Developer: Bethesda Game StudiosPublisher: Bethesda SoftworksMSRP: $59.99Released: November 10, 2015 Sword Art Online: Lost Song (PS4, PS3, PS Vita [reviewed])Developer: ArtdinkPublisher: Bandai Namco GamesMSRP: $39.99 (Vita), $59.99 (PS4)Released: November 17, 2015 (NA), November 13, 2015 (EU), April 28, 2015 (SEA), March 26, 2015 (JP) [Note: This review is based on the English-language version of Lost Song released in Southeast Asia on April 28, 2015. While there may be some differences between this version and the North American/EU ones, we expect the core experience will be highly similar, if not identical.] Let's not mince words: Like its predecessor Sword Art Online: Hollow Fragment, Lost Song is meant for existing fans of Sword Art Online (or at least of Hollow Fragment), and few else outside that sphere. In fact, Lost Song's main plot virtually ensures that only those invested Kirito and the gang's adventures and interactions will find fulfillment from the game's narrative.  But first, an aside: When it came to the anime and novels, the reason the ALO-set story arcs felt so weak was the overriding sense that the show was treading water. In contrast to original, grand hook of "dying in the game kills means death for real", the goal of Kirito playing ALO to search for Asuna carried not nearly as much weight. This was exacerbated in the second season, which followed up an excellent murder mystery plot set in Gun Gale Online with Kirito and his pals literally just doing a raid and some quests in ALO for a nice sword.  Lost Song's story falls afoul of ALO's curse as well, with even its central plot afflicted with the same sense of meandering and lack of stakes. Still placed in Hollow Fragment's alternative timeline (which saw the cast stuck in SAO for much longer than in the "canon", and adding characters like Sinon under different circumstances), Lost Song sees Kirito and his posse moving to ALfheim Online right on time for the game to debut "Svart ALfheim", its first expansion, consisting of five massive floating islands. Being the top-class gamers they are, the crew resolves to be the first to burn through it. [embed]318569:61068:0[/embed] The quest for "world-first" (a motivation familiar to anyone who's played an MMO) eventually brings them into conflict with Shamrock, a massive guild run by Seven, an idol/scientist (!) who's taking the opportunity run a big social experiment within ALO. If the whole premise of Lost Song's plot sounds like the kind of inter-guild "drama" that plays out on forums and social media feeds for actual games today, one wouldn't be too far off. This puts the bulk of the game's narrative appeal in the interactions between cast members new and old, told via entertaining Tales of-style vignettes, in-game events, and lengthy personal quests, some of which adapt storylines from the canon like the well-received "Mother's Rosario" arc. Those invested in seeing those characters again, sporting ALO-styled redesigns and touting long-running in-jokes, will get their fill, but players seeking epic adventure or the kind of JRPG story that ends with the heroes saving the world will come away disappointed. It doesn't help, either, that Lost Song doesn't work very hard to introduce players to the characters themselves. In some ways that's to be expected, seeing as this is a sequel toHollow Fragment and mostly features the same faces (with a few more added), but curious folks who just want to know what the fuss over Sword Art Online is all about would be better served by picking up Re: Hollow Fragment (the "Director's Cut" PS4 port of Hollow Fragment), or just watching the anime. Narrative pitfalls aside, Lost Song is at least less of a slog to play, mechanically, bringing some new, entertaining gimmicks to the table. The combat system ditches the auto-attacks, casting times, and menus of Hollow Fragment for a straightforward, directly-controlled action-RPG style. Players can string together combos of light and heavy attack, controlling any three of up to seventeen playable characters (they can even replace Kirito as the leader!), each wielding a number of weapons with signature skills and magic. Special attacks and magic can be triggered by holding down a shoulder button, and unlock new attacks, spells, and passive effects by leveling up their weapon skills through use. A Union gauge fills up in battle, and when triggered enables devastating "Switch" attacks involving the whole party. While simpler than Hollow Fragment, the new system is more engaging and wastes less time. Most low-level foes can be dispatched in seconds, and fighting large bosses rewards mobility and effective use of buffs and debuffs to chop away at their massive, stacked health bars. AI companions fight and support effectively, and need little in the way of handholding unless severely under-leveled. New gear can be found in the field, or bought, identified, and upgraded at Agil and Lisbeth's shops, while Side Quests and Extra Quests can be accepted at the hub town's tavern. Side Quests usually fall into the "Kill X number of Y enemy" category, but Extra Quests usually pose an additional challenge, involving big takedowns of one or more boss-class foes for better rewards. And then there's the flying. Being a fairy-themed game, ALO plants wings on all its characters. Lost Song gladly obliges, featuring huge, open-world maps populated by roaming enemies and dotted with dungeons. Players can switch from running on the ground to hovering to racing through the air with a flick of the D-pad. While a bit fiddly at first, this mobility quickly becomes second nature and makes a genuine difference when fighting outdoors, as aerial dashes can be used to set up powerful charging attacks, and hovering up high can put distance between you and a ground-bound foe. Fighting indoors, however, is more of a chore, as most dungeons prohibit flying and often take place against large numbers of enemies spawning in such a way as to cause the combat camera and lock-on function to freak out in unpleasant ways. Worse still, the dungeons themselves are so bland and unimaginative that I initially mistook them for being procedurally generated. And with having players visit these dungeons in turn to progress the story just hammers home the apathetic level design all the more. And there's even multiplayer. Local and online play sessions are available, including a PVP versus mode, and team battles against roided-out versions of the single-player bosses. It's an alright option to have, but there's little compelling reason to engage with it. Players can use custom characters, but the customization options are so limited that anything created just resembles the generic NPC characters littering the hub world. For better or worse, Sword Art Online: Lost Song replicates both the highs and lows of its predecessors. Existing fans of the series will find plenty to like in the further adventures of Kirito and his MMO pals, despite a dull story. The revamped mechanics also support a steady dose of Sword Art Online fanservice, mainly by not getting in the way too much. Unfortunately, Lost Song stumbles hardest when trying to engage players outside that sphere of pre-existing investment, and is an even less suitable jumping-off point for newbies who want to get in on enjoying the franchise.  [This review is based on a retail copy of the game acquired by the reviewer.] Fallout 4 (PC, PS4, Xbox One [reviewed])Developer: Bethesda Game StudiosPublisher: Bethesda SoftworksMSRP: $59.99Released: November 10, 2015
Sword Art Online photo
A Familiar Tune
Ask most folks who watched the Sword Art Online anime series, and they'll likely tell you that the show's weaker moments usually coincided with events set in ALfheim Online (ALO), a fairy-themed virtual re...

Annotated Anime: Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans episodes 4-5

Nov 10 // Josh Tolentino
Iron-Blooded Orphans' fourth episode mostly consists of place-setting, giving out more details as to the situation between Earth and Mars (more on that in a bit), as well as emphasizing what's at stake for the people involved. Now that Tekkadan has its first job - escorting Aina to Earth to appeal for Martian independence - the crew need to go about the hard work of, y'know, getting her to Earth. With Orga and the other leaders off getting CGS' old space-ride up to spec (and sleazebucket Todo planning some kind of betrayal), Mikazuki and the others get some downtime, which they spend picking corn from Biscuit's family farm. It's here that the orphans' hard-luck situation is underlined further. Crappy economics and the stigma of being "Human Debris" - slaves, basically - mean that Tekkadan is their only chance at an honest living. Incidentally, the episode also lays out a little bit more background on Earth's history in the Iron-Blooded Orphans setting. I love this sort of stuff, mainly because of sci-fi anime's propensity for redrawing the map in hilarious, color-coded ways. It's always fun to see the way a given setting organizes its world can clue you into its own worldview. In this case, Earth's four power blocs include the U.S. and Latin America united in the SAU, East Asia, Australia, Oceania, and the subcontinent in their own little co-prosperity sphere, and Europe largely absorbed by Africa, the Middle East, and West Asia. Poor Russia has to make do with Canada and Alaska. All things considered, it's not quite as farfetched as some other anime world maps I've seen, though one can't help but wonder just what in the world took out that huge chunk of New South Wales. A meteor capable of making a crater that big would compare favorably to the one that killed the dinosaurs! Mikazuki also has a run-in with Fareed and Gaelio, who are on Mars trying to investigate just what it is Major Coral is hiding. A bit of bad driving later, Mikazuki accidentally starts a rivalry with both Gjallarhorn agents, and Fareed gets to pull his Candy Man schtick on a couple of kids.  All the setup here pays off in episode five, where the Tekkadan heads to space for the first time. Todo's betrayal - selling out Aina to the Tekkadan's would-be guides and Gjallarhorn - goes down, only to reveal that Orga had it thought through. He's a smart guy not to trust the smirking geezer sporting a Hitler mustache. This is where Tekkadan's own White Base, an assault ship redubbed the Isaribi comes into play, debuting with an asteroid-based anchor turn straight from that awful Battleship live-action movie. It looks better than it sounds. What doesn't look as great is Gundam Barbatos' first turn at space combat. Conceptually, it's great. Nobody in Iron-Blooded Orphans has any beam weapons yet, so it's all about bullets and heavy steel axes, including Barbatos' awesome hybrid of poleax, lance, and pile bunker. For a guy who's never flown, Mikazuki seems a natural at space combat, something Fareed puts down to the kid's Alaya-Vijnana System. Simply put, not only do the horns on Mikazuki's back make the Gundam behave like his own body, but expand his awareness like some kind of Cyber-Newtype (but without the whole thing with "This Pressure!!!"). Strong as that is, though, it's a thing Fareed quickly learns to exploit, targeting the extraneous, spiky bits that Mikazuki can't "feel" naturally, like Barbatos' thrusters. You don't mess with the chocolate man. On a side note, it's interesting to see the closest thing this Gundam has to the "Newtype" archetype cast as something forced on only the lowest of the low classes. Everywhere else, Newtypes are the future of human evolution. In Iron-Blooded Orphans, they're a form of mutilation and, like Gundam Frames, a relic of an old, irrelevant war. That's a contrast I'm actually hoping the show is bold enough to take further. With a bold rescue and a traitor disposed of, we're 2 for 2 in Tekkadan's favor, and despite the fact that Orga, Mikazuki, and the crew have come out ahead pretty much every time they've gone up against the odds, what's fun about Iron-Blooded Orphans is that it still feels pretty great to root for these perpetual underdogs.  [Check out Iron-Blooded Orphans every week on Daisuki and YouTube!]
Iron-Blooded Orphans photo
The Candy Man Can
It's been a little while since we last checked in with Iron-Blooded Orphans, and as a result, we're a little behind. Stuff is definitely happening, though, from table-setting in cornfields to the beginning of what is clearly the Tekkadan's rise to power. Now, won't you take these sweets as a form of apology?

Annotated Anime: One Punch Man episode 5

Nov 05 // Josh Tolentino
The first test of the week, of course, is Saitama and Genos' application to join the Hero Association, the NGO that regulates hero activity in the world of One Punch Man. And what an application it is!  It's easy to get distracted by the visuals and the awesome punching, but another thing that I find great about One Punch Man is its particular take on otherwise western-style superheroes, in part because the whole premise of a "Hero Association" (and even that name!) is so very Japanese. I mean, of course they would rearrange the whole concept of superhero adventures into something managed by a thoroughly bureaucratic process! Having recently taken the Japanese Language Proficiency Test, I could see the shades of it permeating the wholet testing montage (minus the athletic stuff). Sure, we've seen similar twists in the likes of Tiger & Bunny and even Zetman, but it's One Punch Man's interpretation that strikes me as particularly resonant with Japanese culture. I can only imagine how much more resonant it might be with the people who do live over there.  Naturally, once it's over, Genos gets himself catapulted to S-rank hero, while Saitama's poor written testing is rewarded with a C-rank. Between the orientation seminar led by one Snakebite Snek, an A-class jerkface, we see the world of the Hero Association is just as consumed with office politics, factionalization, and hazing the new guys. That's emphasized further with some new material, an impromptu meeting with none other than Amai Mask, celebrity, top-rank A-class hero, and apparently a kingmaker of sorts in the Association, one who's got his eye on Genos. For Saitama, on the other hand,  seeing what used to be a hobby turned into a day job might not be the best thing. It's an interesting thing to point out, as anyone who's ever tried to make a living off  a thing they used to do for fun has experienced. It's not all world-building and highly Japanese superheroics, though. This episode contains my favorite battle of the whole series: A sparring match between Saitama and Genos, with Genos going all out to try and push his "master" and reveal some secret to his power. There's some really great stuff in this fight. Of course, much of it thanks to the manga and Yuusuke Murata's lavish artwork, but there really is something to see it in motion. Madhouse even adds a few embellishments that help push things even further over the top. It's good that we're finally getting more hints of the real substance of One Punch Man's world, in addition to the visual splendor and hilarity of seeing Saitama win at (almost) everything. It took a bit of time, but this episode taps most deeply into the things that have made the manga such a hit with so many people. [Check out One Punch Man on Daisuki and Crunchyroll!]
One Punch Man photo
Passing the test
Things start to pick up in the animated chronicle of the man who Belive In Justice and Hold A Determination To Fist*, as the theme of this week's episode is "testing", whether against bureaucracy, your teacher, or yourself. Let's get some udon when we're done! *Symphogear is the 2nd best punching anime this year *Sorry, Symphogear reference

Over Your Dead Body photo
Over Your Dead Body

Check out Takashi Miike's next horror film extravaganza


That's happy-looking doll there
Oct 31
// Josh Tolentino
I'm not exactly huge on horror films, but I know more than a few people are, and they seem stoked for Over Your Dead Body, the next J-horror entry from legendary Japanese director Takashi Miike. And just in time for Hallowee...

Annotated Anime: One Punch Man episode 4

Oct 27 // Josh Tolentino
I am, of course, being facetious here, though the focus of this week's episode is definitely on villains, in particular the redundantly-named "Speed O'Sound Sonic", a sadistic, slender ninja man with a penchant for smiling like a crazy person whenever he gets his blood up.  Like our guy Saitama, he's mainly looking for a challenge, but unlike our guy Saitama, he's a true villain, chopping people's heads off at the slightest provocation with his ninja skills. Fans of the manga will note that Sonic is effectively the series' first true, enduring, antagonist. Though that's not saying a whole lot considering the relative thinness of One Punch Man's plot, knowing he'll come back someday lends the show a sense of continuity that wasn't present in the first three episodes. Also, Saitama accidentally punches Sonic in the junk, in a scene that shows off just how much Madhouse was enjoying animating the sequence: We're also introduced, ever so briefly, to Mumen Rider, the cyclist for justice. Considering his positioning in the intro sequence, as well as the surprisingly long scene and detailed animation he gets, even non-readers might be suspecting a recurring role in store for him. Spoiler alert: They're right! Besides the glorious junk-punishment meted out to the speedy ninja, we're treated to yet more spiffy takes on the manga scenes, such as a series of hyper-accelerated beheadings, courtesy of Sonic, and the local villain Hammerhead powering up his Battle Suit like the Dragon Ball villain he resembles. Even Genos gets some extra screentime, as the anime foreshadows a future, potentially gorgeous-looking battle in a coming episode. Finally, Saitama himself takes the next step in heroing: Making it a job. He used to be a "hero for fun", but starting next week, he'll be seeing life through the eyes of a professional, registered super.  [Check out One Punch Man on Daisuki and Crunchyroll!]          
One Punch Man photo
The Lowest Blow
So, it turns out that Madhouse's big twist in their adaptation of the wildly popular One Punch Man would be to turn Saitama into the villain! Who'd have thunk it?! No true hero would stoop so low as to punch a vulnerable enemy in the junk, after all. Dick strikes are the preserve of craven knaves alone!

Gundam the Origin 2 photo
Gundam the Origin 2

Have your first lengthy look at the next episode of Gundam: The Origin


That Artesia, she sad
Oct 21
// Josh Tolentino
It looks like the hot, shirtless boys of Iron-Blooded Orphans aren't the only game in town when it comes to Gundam. There's also the undying chronicles of the Universal Century, which Bandai will never abandon so long a...
Iron-Blooded Orphans photo
Iron-Blooded Orphans

Annotated Anime: Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans episode 3


When Iron Flowers Bloom
Oct 20
// Josh Tolentino
Back when first wrote about Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans, I noted that the show's more morally ambiguous, grittier approach seemed to set it apart from its peers in mainline Gundam fiction. As of the latest episode, that sentiment continues to hold true.
One Punch Man photo
One Punch Man

Annotated Anime: One Punch Man episode 3


Get Fit with Saitama
Oct 19
// Josh Tolentino
One Punch Man? More like One Punch Per Week Man, am I right? The Fall season's prettiest show continues into its third week, as Saitama and Genos head out to confront their first real enemy, the House of Evolution. Will this be the week that Saitama needs more than a single blow to fell his foes? Spoiler Alert: Nope!

Annotated Anime: One Punch Man episode 2

Oct 15 // Josh Tolentino
Earlier on I mentioned that the main problem I could forsee with this adaptation of One Punch Man would be that Madhouse would be unable to sustain production at the level needed to deliver the kind of visual, well...punch needed to do the source justice. As much as I do like One Punch Man, its joys are more presentational than narrative in nature. Yusuke Murata's excellent grasp of space and eye for detail make ONE's simple (but effective) story stand out.  We enlightened souls of the 21st century tend to privilege "the writing" above any other yardstick in pop media, but presentation matters, especially in visual media like anime and manga. That's why it's important to read things like Kevin Cirugeda's excellent article on appreciating good animation, even if you yourself don't plan to become a "sakuga otaku" yourself.  The short-wordcount version of what I just said is that as of this week, One Punch Man still looks 'effin gorgeous, with particular flair in today's fight scenes. This is a good thing because looks matter, and One Punch Man as a manga is great partly because it looks so good. This is where I'm also reminded that a very faithful adaptation of a manga isn't always a good thing, particularly in shows where detailed plotting is not the primary draw. Long story short? One Punch Man's pace is p-l-o-d-d-i-n-g. The stretching of time isn't as obvious or blatant as the kind of padding out that goes on in the likes of the Naruto anime or anything like that, but it's clear that Madhouse are being fairly deliberate in their choices of how much content to cover in each episode. The result is, for folks that look for more substantial narratives, feels stretched a bit thin. One unfortunate side effect of this necessity is that the ways in which One Punch Man evolves past its original schtick aren't as obvious here. People can read manga faster than they can watch a TV show, and the advantage is that the initial, simple jokes are over with quickly. Even if Saitama's struggle to find a worthy fight is gone over again and again, it passes by without a chance to grow truly irritating. That's not quite the case here, and some more impatient viewers are more than likely already going "Look, I get it, he's invincible and can't lose, alright? Let's move on." Thankfully, the second episode does move on, by introducing none other than Genos, the blond cyborg who is pretty damn awesome. In many ways, he'd be the kind of character to anchor his own damn show if Saitama weren't the star. He's the archetypal badass anime/manga protagonist, and the show has a lot of fun with his overly elaborate (and repetitious) backstory, his shtick in the episode recalling shades of Yuki Nagato's famous "I'm an alien" monologue from The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya.  It would be one thing if Genos were merely a gag character, a one-off encounter solely meant to poke fun at the tropes of fight manga. But such things are for lesser series. In fact, thanks to a great fight against animal-hybrid villains from "The House of Evolution", Genos looks to be a continuing presence in One Punch Man, and to good effect. At the risk of spoiling anime-only viewers, it's on his robotic shoulders - as well as the shoulders of other characters coming later - that much of One Punch Man's enduring qualities rests on. They provide what Saitama alone cannot, and it's in that style of fully utilizing the potential of the genre even as it mocks it mercilessly - that the source has garnered as much appeal as it has. [Get mosquitos to bug out on Daisuki!]
One Punch Man photo
Convenient Signage in the Aftermath
Welcome to the latest recap of One Punch Man, the only anime series that probably doesn't need a recap, for so obvious is the plot, am I right? As it turns out, not quite. A fair bit goes on in today's installment, and while deviations from the source are few, newer viewers may find the latest developments engaging.  

Gundam Iron Blood Orphans photo
Gundam Iron Blood Orphans

First Impressions: Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans


Steel Yourself
Oct 11
// Josh Tolentino
Another year, another new Gundam series. My interest in Sunrise and Bandai's flagship has waxed and waned over the years, but I'll be the first to admit that I'm rarely attracted to the "mainline" shows that make up the core ...

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