Josh Tolentino

Metal Gear Solid V photo
Metal Gear Solid V

Watch Hideo Kojima say goodbye to Metal Gear


Kept you waiting, huh?
Sep 02
// Josh Tolentino
Whatever you might think of the series that defined his career, there's no doubting that Hideo Kojima is one of the most prominent figures in gaming history, and arguably the closest a major game developer has come to matchi...
MangaGamer Uncensored photo
MangaGamer Uncensored

Make it Steamier: MangaGamer gets an uncensored game on Steam


Hot stuff
Sep 02
// Josh Tolentino
Well, here's a surprise: It looks like Steam is about to get its first true adult game...of sorts. MangaGamer have just announced that they've managed to prevail on the PC's premier game market to allow an uncensored version ...
Final Fantasy XV photo
Final Fantasy XV

Go on a Sunday drive with Final Fantasy XV


But what's on the radio?
Sep 01
// Josh Tolentino
Based on what we've seen so far, the most interesting parts of Final Fantasy XV  are looking less like "epic adventure" and more like "awesome road trip". And I'm totally down with that notion. Riding in a car with...
Metal Gear Solid V photo
Metal Gear Solid V

Metal Gear Solid V's last commercial gives the bride away


Plus mecha nostalgia with Kojima
Aug 30
// Josh Tolentino
Everyone knows Japanese commercials are delightfully zany, often bordering on surreal in a way that usually doesn't help much to sell the product itself. Thankfully for the world, Metal Gear is just as zany, perhaps mor...

IMDB photo
IMDB

IMDB's list of top anime reads like 'Ask an American'


But of course it would be, I guess?
Aug 24
// Josh Tolentino
There's nothing like a big ol' debate about what counts as "the best", and even anime - perhaps especially anime - are no stranger to this particular type of nerd catnip. Everyone's got their own little "toplist", including t...

Review: Attack on Titan: Part I

Aug 22 // Josh Tolentino
Attack on Titan: Part I Directed By: Shinji Higuchi Produced By: TOHO Pictures Premiere Date: August 1, 2015 (Japan), August 17, 2015 (Philippines), September 30, 2015 (US), October 20, 2015 (Canada) Licensed By FUNimation (NA) It's worth pointing out that in making the film, TOHO and Higuchi were given effective carte blanche by Isayama himself create their own thing, with only the barest guidance on how best to respect the world of the manga. That in mind, just how close they came in the final product will largely depend on what Attack on Titan means to each individual viewer. Fans of the manga's intricate world-building and the layers of mystery and culture surrounding the history of the world and the nature of the Titans themselves will find the movie sorely wanting in that respect. Gone is the vaguely German setting of the original, replaced by the Japan of some indeterminate future. Ruined Japanese tower blocks dot the pastoral landscape, hemmed in by walls constructed by human artifice, littered with wrecked helicopters and other modern contrivances. Little is said about the Titans' mysterious nature, the strange rules regarding how to fight them and why they do what they do (eat people) are waved away with the narrative equivalent of a disinterested shrug. The plot is also kept simple in this first part: The Titans breach the wall, and a year later, Eren, Armin, Sasha, Jean, and a handful of new characters join the Scouting Corps on a mission to recover Japan's last explosives, in order to use them to seal the wall and reclaim precious farmlands.  Against this straightforward narrative backdrop, Higuchi opts to have the Titans speak through their actions, and such action it is. The film takes the implacable violence already in the source and ramps it up to a grotesque extreme. Showers of gore and streams of blood accompany every Titan kill, the camera only cutting away at the bare minimum needed to keep the movie from being banned outright. By that virtue, and thanks to the fact that few scenes linger long enough for it things to get truly uncomfortable, it's not quite at the level of gratuitousness in true shock-horror, or, say, the finale of Blood-C, but it definitely goes farther than the original. The squeamish should consider themselves advised. The creepy resemblance Titans have to regular people is also emphasized, as most of the Titans are represented by TOHO's venerable specialty: People in suits. As a result, the sight of a horrific people-eating giant monster that looks exactly like the kind of old biddy one might imagine running a vegetable stand in some rural Japanese shopping arcade lends the film, yet still unsettling, tone. In its way, Attack on Titan is an alternative take, not just on TOHO's classic kaiju filmography (and a genre in which Higuchi is a celebrated veteran), but also on the days when a giant creature flick was considered a "horror" film. Attack on Titan takes more modern conventions of horror and scales them up to make once again contemporary the style of movies like Them! and The Day The World Ended. It's an impressive achievement considering that these days most viewers aren't scared by monsters they can see. Attack on Titan also succeeds on the action front as well. Though the scenes featuring the  Omnidirectional Maneuver Gear look a bit cheap to eyes that have seen five mega-budget Spider-Man movies, the action is at its best towards the back quarter, when the Titan suit actors really get to cut loose against a few more sizeable targets.  Unfortunately, other, less welcome traits of classical horror films also manifest in Attack on Titan, like paper-thin characterization and hoary old "sex-is-death" tropes. The original manga's cast was heavy on stereotype in the beginning, as well, but Eren and company at least had space to grow and develop as the chapters went on. 98 minutes simply isn't enough to do anything more than draw in the broadest of strokes. Worse still, some of the more substantial changes from the source are unproductive, and in the case of Mikasa, practically amount to character assassination. Attack on Titan was always unusually strong for its field when it came to having compelling female characters, and Mikasa was one of the best. To see her reduced so in the film is disappointing, to say the least. On the other hand, Satomi Ishihara gives a standout performance as Hans (aka Hanji), who's so close to her manga and anime counterpart she almost feels out-of-place. Of course, there's always the chance that the next scheduled film, Attack on Titan: End of the World, will pay off more, now that the setup has been properly delivered here. That's the hope, at least, for fans who still believe the movie can hew closer to the source in time. At the same time, though, Higuchi's effort does a passable job as its own thing. I guess the issue at this point is wondering how much better it could be if it weren't.
Attack on Titan Movie photo
Giant-sized
Attack on Titan is not much like Attack on Titan. Less confusingly, Shinji Higuchi's live-action adaptation of Hajime Isayama's smash hit manga is not a very faithful one. Though there are superficial similarities,  in m...

Avengers face masks photo
Avengers face masks

Avenge your pores with Marvel superhero skin-care masks


Justice just got a new complexion
Aug 21
// Josh Tolentino
The heroes of Japanese anime and manga have it easy. Thanks to the typical art style of the medium, most protagonists never have to worry about facial blemishes or the state of their pores, because they have none! Real people...
Kingdom Hearts III photo
Kingdom Hearts III

Kingdom Hearts III goes peak Disney, includes Big Hero 6 world


Inflatable Keyblade to follow?
Aug 16
// Josh Tolentino
Let's face it: Kingdom Hearts III has been in development for so long that it's practically associated with a now bygone period of Japanese game development, dominated by the dread spectre of Square Enix at the height of...
Persona 4 Dancing photo
Persona 4 Dancing

Send out a '39' for Miku in Persona 4: Dancing All Night


Virtual Dancing, Virtual Divas
Aug 14
// Josh Tolentino
No bones about it: Persona 4: Dancing All Night is a weird game. Sure, Atlus has a long history of milking the Shin Megami Tensei franchise like it was Audumbla, the live-giving cow of Norse myth, but making a danc...
Steam Comiket Sale photo
Steam Comiket Sale

Go nuts for doujin games with Steam's Summer Comiket Sale


Indie-credible Deals
Aug 11
// Josh Tolentino
If there's one thing otaku like more than otaku things, it's otaku things bought for cheap, which makes Steam's latest excuse to have a sale especially relevant. Y'see, Summer Comiket is happening right about now, and the ota...
Gal Gun Double Peace photo
Gal Gun Double Peace

Some madmen want to bring Gal Gun: Double Peace overseas


Friendly Fire!
Aug 10
// Josh Tolentino
Far be it from me to play "cultural gatekeeper" when comes to deciding which products warrant the privilege being adapted for overseas consumption, but I think it's not a controversial opinion to think that some things are be...
Attack on Titan photo
Attack on Titan

Oh, finally, a proper Attack on Titan game


Dynasty Warriors: Giant Cannibals
Aug 09
// Josh Tolentino
What's that, you say? There's already been a proper Attack on Titan game? Well, that is technically true, and Atlus USA even brought it to English-speaking shores as Attack on Titan: Humanity in Chains. Unfortunately, that t...
Splatoon photo
Splatoon

Behold the glory of Splatoon's Squid Girl gear


Coming soon to everywhere!
Aug 07
// Josh Tolentino
It's happening! Everyone's favorite cephalopod-children combat painting simulator, Splatoon, is getting the long-awaited crossover with everyone's favorite cephalopod-conquest documentary, Squid Girl. Scans from the latest is...

Annotated Anime: GATE episodes 4-5

Aug 01 // Josh Tolentino
When last we left Itami and his scouting platoon, they'd just blown the crap out of a giant dragon with a rocket launcher and timely help from Chuka the naked elf and Rory Mercury, the goth-loli demigoddess that's taken a liking to the "Warriors in Green". As the squad returns to the newly-built SDF base built on Arnus Hill (and an attractive and defensible star shape, to boot), Itami inadvertently takes a centrally important role once again, thanks to his decision to take in native refugees. The brass are still figuring out what to do about the "Special Region", and those with a mind for geopolitics are contemplating the implications of Japan's access to new, virtually untouched real estate. Will the soldiers Glorious Nippon have to gird their loins, not just to fight the locals, but against people from their own world?  That's the question looming over episode 4, and where GATE tips its political hand just a bit. Maybe this sort of logic - added to the portrayal of non-Japanese Earthlings as craven opportunists - prompted folks to declare it a work of right-wing nutjobbery. And while that characterization is doubtless crude, I'm inclined to think the offense is coming mainly from Americans unused to seeing America portrayed as being real "sinister", at least not alongside the Chinese. Crude characterization is what it is, but so far GATE's distrust of foreign powers is hardly unusual and fits (albeit awkwardly) in the premise of a more "realistic" contemplation of cross-dimensional relations. Foreign policy critiques aside, the incident makes Itami look more appealing as a protagonist. I've always had a soft spot for those sorts of Tylor-esque, Is-He-An-Idiot-Or-A-Genius types, and Itami fits the bill to a tee. He might just be far more cunning than anyone (at least, anyone from his side of the gate) is willing to give him credit for, and that's how he'll be the one to end up changing both worlds before this is all over. The episodes also catch up with the refugees, all amazed by baths, food, Daikon radishes, MOPP suits, earth movers, and the practice of saying "itadakimasu" before meals. Chuka the elf seems to be acting as if her father is still alive (you never can tell with elf magic), and is also quite out of sorts about how to repay the soldiers for their aid. Thankfully, some dragon scales turn up, lest the girls have to resort to taking up The Oldest Profession. The show also takes some time to catch up with the hilariously named Pina Co Lada, princess of the Empire that sent the soldiers through the Gate the first time. She's on her way to find out more about the Warriors in Green, and has been caught up defending the city of Italica from bandits that just so happen to have once been members of the Empire's allied armies. Y'know, the ones the Emperor sent to get killed by the JSDF so as not to pose a threat to the depleted Imperial forces. Incidentally, Italica happens to be where Itami and co. show up to sell their scales. Come to think of it, the more interesting story in GATE right now is less about how the people of our world deal with the discovery of the Special Region, but how the people of the Special Region deal with the disruption caused by their interactions with our world. It may have been the Empire that first sent its troops to rampage through Ginza, but by and large the world most changed by that war isn't ours. Over on the other side, most of the furor lies in political maneuvering and question as to finding out just what the JSDF is doing on the other side of the Gate.  Compare that to the impact of the JSDF's incursion on the Empire. The Empire lost most of its army, as well as nearly every noble leader. The Emperor sent his own allies to slaughter under the JSDF's guns, to put their armies in the same dire straits as his. Villages like Coda and towns like Italica were left leaderless, barely able to defend themselves against bandits. It's an interesting dynamic to see in anime, and perspectives from this angle of the less-powerful are all too uncommon, even if the current storyline, which has Pina cooperating with Itami's squad to break the siege of Italica seems like it's just going to be used as fodder to demonstrate the soldiers' moral superiority once again. Where GATE has been stumbling seems to come from the same place as those ridiculous kill counts from the earlier episodes. The need to demonstrate the dramatic difference in power between the modern-day soldiers and their quasi-medieval opponents has ironically undermined the show's own premise somewhat. It's the same with GATE's ostensible dedication to some form of realism. And I'm not just talking about its 2ch-level grasp of geopolitics, either. For example, why are the press back on Earth so in-the-dark as to what's happening on the other side, when Itami is apparently able to update his favorite light novels via broadband internet? Can't someone just email the soldiers or send a TV signal through as well?  Further, how could anyone say the JSDF's made "peaceful first contact" with the natives when the first thing they did upon crossing the threshold is slaughter a whole generation? If the Special Region is anywhere close to the real-world's population levels around the medieval age, losing 100,000 able-bodied men, not to mention most of the Empire's ruling class, would have far more dire consequences. Chances are the people of Coda should've run screaming as soon as they heard of the Warriors in Green coming, Fire Dragon be damned.  That all sounds like nitpicking, and it definitely is, but in fairness, it's GATE that first asked us to do it with its very premise. We can hardly be blamed for complaining when a story that claims to be realistic doesn't match up to what we know from our own lives.  This isn't to say that it's all for naught. GATE is a fun and engaging watch so far, but a little more verisimilitude would be welcome. [Catch GATE on Crunchyroll!]        
GATE photo
Eh, It's A Living
I like GATE so far. Far from earlier rumors seemingly trumpeting it as "Japan's Tea Party: The Anime", the show has been a thoughtful and interesting take on a topic close to my nerdy heart. And with some of the action r...

First Impressions: God Eater episodes 1-3

Jul 30 // Josh Tolentino
The good news is, that visually, God Eater is one of the best-looking shows I've seen in years. And it's not just getting by on style, either. Ufotable, as is their way, has created a technical tour de force with their newest series, using multi-layered shading and coloring techniques to create a unique look for God Eater, as well as finally make an anime where CG creations - in this case, the Aragami monsters and large parts of the backgrounds - don't stick out like a sore thumb.  That doesn't sound huge on its own, but considering the way CG is employed in most traditional 2D anime, it's significant. The few shows to do it well were often all-CG (like Fireball Charming or, err...Sega Hard Girls) or kept the 2D and 3D portions carefully separated (like Ghost in the Shell: Standalone Complex and Etotama). Even Ufotable itself never quite managed the blend with last season's Unlimited Blade Works adaptation. They kept mostly to digital effects, and the CG still looked awkward and out-of-place when used for things like Caster's skeleton warriors or that red water pouring out of the Holy Grail. In most 2D shows, you can usually tell when something's been modeled someone CG comes in just by looking. Whether it's slightly flat colors or an unusual slowness (or smoothness) to the movement, being able to spot the CG in an anime is the "Conspicuously Light Patch" of its age.  To be perfectly honest, that's still technically true in God Eater. It's easy to tell that the Aragami are mostly done in CG, and it's more evident when both monsters and people are on the screen together. Still, the blend on display is better than ever, to the point that after watching the stream on Daisuki, I deliberately sought out a higher-resolution version of the broadcast to see for myself. God Eater just looks that good. More's the pity, then, that the narrative portions of the show simply don't live up to the lavish visuals. In fact, many of the fears some Ufotable fans had about the studio's ability to take on a "heavy" narrative show after five years adapting Type-MOON's "Nasu-verse" for the screen have proven at least partly true so far. Without the dense (and more importantly pre-existing) fiction of the Fate franchise to back it up, God Eater comes across as an Attack on Titan clone where righteous anger has been replaced by a dreary, somewhat undeserved sense of self-importance. It's not all Ufotable's fault, of course. God Eater compared favorably to Monster Hunter in the story department mainly by virtue of actually having a story. As a TV series, God Eater faces much stronger competition, not least of all Ufotable's own stellar work expanding Unlimited Blade Works, just weeks ago. I'd have hoped that they'd be able to make God Eater's world seem less threadbare than in the game, but instead the early results actually seem more stilted than before. In a bitter irony, the game versions of the characters actually seem livelier than in the anime, despite the anime having more "cutscene" in the first three episodes than in the entirety of the game itself. The setup is simple: Ravenous monsters called "Aragami" have destroyed most of humanity, which now hides behind large walled cities under the administration of FENRIR, which employs "God Eaters", warriors that gain superhuman ability when infused with Oracle Cells (the same ones as in the Aragami). God Eaters wield massive weapons called God Arcs to defend mankind's last sanctuaries against the monstrous hordes.  Lenka Utsugi is a newly recruited God Eater in FENRIR's Far East branch. Quite, stoic, and obsessed with taking vengeance upon the Aragami for eating his loved ones, Lenka's a "New-type", who can wield a new, transforming variant of God Arc. His can turn from a massive sword into a massive gun. Being talented, though, makes no substitute for experience, and Lenka's impulsiveness quickly gets him into trouble, forcing the veterans of the 1st Squad, including laid-back badass Lindow Amamiya and his pals Soma and Sakuya to bail him out. Naturally, the kid's got that "something" about him, and by episode 3, Lenka and the squad are working together, and meeting Alisa, another Russian New-type who's got a great hat and, judging by the underboob, might have had the rest of her outfit chosen by her creepy scientist mentor/father-figure. I'm not the kind of guy to go drawing parallels to Attack on Titan When everyone an anime features gross monsters and the people who fight them in a bleakly-toned story, but in this case the parallels are warranted, and unfortunately leave God Eater wanting. The raw anger and passion that underpinned the mood of Eren Jager's saga is here replaced with a dull kind of stoicism. Lenka's strong-but-silent demeanor may be an improvement from the goofball harem tediousness of the God Eater manga's lead, but not by much, and certainly not enough to make Lenka a better lead overall. Worse, points of characterization and flavor that helped the game set a mood in spite of a barebones plot are excised or missing in action here. Story points that might have made God Eater feel less, for lack of a better word, generic, like the privileged status of the God Eater corps or other dynamics, are nowhere to be found, leaving a by-the-numbers "soldiers at the end of the world" moodiness in its place. To be fair, it's still early going, and the show is already forging some newer territory by using flashbacks to the apparent origin of the Aragami and its involvement with FENRIR's higher-ups. It's a sign that Ufotable is beginning to plumb deeper into the lore, which has historically been a strength of theirs as opposed to natural-feeling characterization. Events are moving at a good clip, too, skipping over some of the game's high school shenanigans (at the time used to lazily deploy exposition without spending on animation), so it might not be long before all of it takes a more intriguing turn. Still, there's no avoiding the sense here that some opportunities to make God Eater a more vibrant setting have been missed, and I've no doubt that at least some viewers not hooked on the visuals were turned away by this early narrative blandness. Heck, I'd probably drop the show if I weren't already interested in seeing my favorite MonHun clone get some love.
God Eater photo
No Free Lunch
I've said time and again that God Eater is one of the best - if not the best - attempt yet by competing publishers to take a sip out of Capcom's giant Monster Hunter milkshake. With God Eater, developer Sh...

First Impressions: GATE episodes 1-3

Jul 23 // Josh Tolentino
Of course, future episodes of GATE could prove me entirely wrong. The game of subtext is a perilous thing, and if you can find strange ultranationalist right-wing readings in everything from Mahouka to Knights of Sidonia to Attack on Titan, a show that openly stars members of the actual Japanese military (or "Self-Defense Force" if you want to get technical) is even more vulnerable to that kind of examination. Still, based on the evidence at hand, GATE is a perfectly serviceable fantasy with an interesting nerd-catnip hook. It's the hook that does more work than any one aspect of the show thus far. After all, for about as long as fantasy fiction has existed as a genre, people have been wondering how the medieval, swords-and-sorcery mores of your average Tolkienesque would match up against the grim products of the military-industrial complex. Put plain, we've always wanted to see how Gandalf, Frodo, or Sauron might fare against a machine gun, tank cannon, or jet fighter. If you think that sounds likes a simplistic sort of thrill to base an anime on, you're right. "Guns vs. Dragons" is only a few steps removed from "Boobs" on the scale of primal urges driving creativity, but that doesn't mean thought can't be put into its execution, and on that front, GATE does deliver. A portal opens up in the middle of a Ginza thoroughfare, belching out tens of thousands of orcs, ogres, pig-men, quasi-Roman soldiers, and assorted fantasy staples to wreak havoc on Tokyo's innocents. The man in just the right time and place is 33-year-old Youji Itami, an off-duty soldier and doujinshi-loving otaku, whose training helps save lives just in time for the army to repel the invasion. Fast forward three months and a new Prime Minister (I like this particular off-hand joke about how long it takes to get things done) wants to flex Glorious Nippon's muscle by sending a couple of divisions of Self-Defense Force troops through the titular "Gate", to secure a place on the other side and force the dastardly invaders into negotiations.  One incursion and a second slaughter of fantasy troops later, and Youji is placed in charge of a recon team assigned to probe the countryside on "hearts and minds" duty, which is where the story begins proper, complete with a dragon fight, elf-lady rescue, and the requisite encounter with a gothic lolita (named "Rory", no less) demigoddess. This is the point where GATE reveals itself less to be some strange creature born of secret militaristic urges than a spinoff of the now monolithic "trapped in another world" subgenre of light novel adventures. It is kissing cousins less with preachy alt-history explorations like Zipang or The Final Countdown than with genre, er..."classics" like Familiar of Zero, Sword Art Online, and even Log Horizon.  Its closest relative would be Outbreak Company, though the otaku pandering in GATE is so far limited to portraying Youji and his pal as unashamed geeks and pushing the story into familiar harem-assembly patterns. Already you can see the shape of the show's romantic polygon as the taciturn wizard, bouncy elf, saucy goddess, and normal fellow-human girls take their places in the roster. Honestly the main thing that distinguishes GATE's storytelling has been in the soldiers themselves. Given that creator Takumi Yanai was formerly in the JSDF, it's hardly surprising that the story would be friendly to "the troops", but in light of that history, it's also telling about just which parts of the service GATE is happiest to play up. While the blowout victories against the natives is predictable, the shows spends most of its time showing off Youji and his comrades less as warriors than public servants. Most of the soldier glory shots in the opening sequence are of folks in uniform generally being helpful, pulling carts out of ditches and giving rides to refugees fleeing a dragon attack. Youji himself displays an unusual (for typical portrayals of soldiers, at least) wariness of force and its use, refusing to call for backup to avoid risking innocents or provoking the enemy, and generally being a laid-back, intuitive leader. The shades of Irresponsible Captain Tylor And Yang Wen-li are welcome, and help defuse the potential for jingoistic chest-beating in the early goings. Even the enemy gets comparatively sensitive treatment, with the rank and file types portrayed more as victims in a power play wrought by craven leadership (on both sides of the Gate) than bloodthirsty savages. If there's one thing that doesn't quite square with this even-handed treatment, it's in the abject slaughter and seemingly effortless victory of the modern forces. I mean, sure they've got machine guns and artillery support, but it just doesn't feel right that they're effortlessly gunning down a hundred thousand troops in a single night's battle. By all logic the mere first round of shelling and gunfire should've balked the enemy into routing or stalemate rather than to just dumbly march into the bullets, no matter how foolhardy the generals. I'm not any kind of realism purist here, but the body count just seems unnecessarily inflated to make the disparity in force more dramatic. Besides that, GATE shows a lot of potential to be a fun and eminently watchable bit of summer anime. With a bit of luck, it won't get too bogged down in the less compelling harem wish-fulfillment aspects, further capitalizing on its hook and sensitive characterization.
GATE photo
Hellish Dragon v. Hellfire Missiles
Confession time: When I first set out to write about GATE, I was actually prepared to defend it. That's a weird stance to take with regards to a program I had yet to even watch, I'll admit, but I really was about to get all p...

Nier New Project photo
Nier New Project

Nier, of all things, gets a musical tribute (and a sequel)


"Song of the Ancients"
Jul 17
// Josh Tolentino
One of the least-expected bits of news out of E3 came from Square Enix, who were on a roll with that Final Fantasy VII remake announcement. Of course, that particular project had long been rumored and treated as somethi...

Final Impressions: Unlimited Blade Works

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

Final Impressions: Plastic Memories

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

Japanator's Summer 2015 Anime Preview Guide!

Jul 04 // Josh Tolentino
New Series: [embed]33867:4893:0[/embed] Gangsta. Studio: Manglobe (Deadman Wonderland, Ergo Proxy, The World God Only Knows) Director: Shukou Murase (Ergo Proxy, Genocidal Organ) Broadcasting: July 1, 2015 (Streaming via Funimation) One of my pet armchair-anime-historian theories is that the true successors to the hyper-masculine era of anime and manga in the '80s and early '90s, the heirs to the likes of Fist of the North Star and its ilk, aren't the "superhero" titles of the modern day, but gritty, crime-and-violence action franchises, of which Black Lagoon stands as current exemplar. That's just a fancy way of me saying that Gangsta., whose title and content seem to originate from two different facets of criminal pop culture, is after that crown, like Jormungand was not so long ago. While I have my doubts that it can make off with it, considering the high regard Black Lagoon still commands these days, the saga of two badasses who pull crazy jobs for both cop and crim alike, stands to be an enjoyable action romp. It's also out right now!   [embed]33867:4894:0[/embed] Chaos Dragon Studio: Silver Link (Fate Kaleid Liner Prisma Ilya, Watamote) Director: Masato Matsune  Broadcasting: July 2, 2015 (Streaming via Funimation) Hey, kids! You know what's cool? The works of Gen Urobuchi, Kinoko Nasu, Ryougo Narita, and Makoto Sanda, that's what! Their combined record of creativity boasts such titles Madoka Magica, Fate/stay night, Durarara!! and Record of Lodoss War. Therefore, Chaos Dragon, which brings all these creators under one project's roof, should be at least five times as awesome as any single one, right? Well, maybe. The "too many cooks in the kitchen" adage still holds true in most things, though there's no denying the appeal of wanting to see what results when you put a number of famous talents in a room, have them play Dungeons & Dragons, then adapt the transcripts into a real live anime series.    [embed]33867:4895:0[/embed] Rampo Kitan: Game of Laplace Studio: Lerche (Carnival Phantasm, Assassination Classroom) Director: Seiji Kishi (Angel Beats!, Persona 4 The Golden Animation) Broadcasting: July 2, 2015 (Streaming via Funimation) The honor of this summer's first official simulcast debut goes to Rampo Kitan, which also happens to be commemorating a whole host of other occasions, including the return of detective-themed anime after a brief surge in popularity a few years ago (when you couldn't swing a dead cat without hitting some kind of take on loli Sherlock Holmes), and the 50th anniversary of the death of Edogawa Rampo, a famous Japanese mystery novelist.  I've never been much of a fan of mystery fiction, so I honestly couldn't tell you if we're seeing much of Rampo's work or influences in Rampo Kitan, but he's an author of a similar era to Ango Sakaguchi, who wrote the book that another 2011's somewhat overlooked detective anime Un-Go is based on. Rampo Kitan appears to be angling to push similar buttons.   [embed]33867:4896:0[/embed] GATE Studio: A-1 Pictures (Sword Art Online, Anohana) Director: Takahiko Kyogoku (Love Live! School Idol Project) Broadcasting: July 2, 2015 (Streaming via Crunchyroll) One of the most enduring and - I'll freely admit - fun thought exercises in nerd culture is trying to find out how people from the real world would fare in the many fantastical settings preferred by genre fiction. This usually takes the form of "If you lived in [Insert Fantasy Setting Here], how would you do?"-types of questions, but one particularly popular mutation of that exercise is pitting fantasy against reality, usually a bunch of dudes with guns and tanks against things like dragons, elves, and other magical creatures. It's a staple of everything from Reign of Fire to Pax Romana, even to recent anime like Outbreak Company and arguably the now massive "stuck in a game" subgenre. GATE is a slightly different beast, though, in that it tosses the real-life Japan Self-Defense Force trough a magic portal full of monsters, elves, and lolita mages. In fact, the promo visuals for GATE looks like a Call of Duty or Battlefield soldier accidentally got copy-pasted onto the box art of a Compile Heart JRPG. This could be an interesting watch, provided one tries not to look too hard at the potential for right-wing-nutjob-levels of subtext.   [embed]33867:4897:0[/embed] SHIMONETA: A Boring World Where the Concept of Dirty Jokes Doesn't Exist Studio: J.C. Staff (Danmachi, Food Wars) Director: Youhei Suzuki (The Hentai Prince and the Stony Cat, Aki no Kanade) Broadcasting: July 4, 2015 (Streaming via Funimation) Right as America celebrates its freedom from the oppression of the British, another world celebrates the freedom for high schoolers to run around telling filthy jokes and yelling about copulation, intercourse, and all the less-polite terminology for sexual congress between consenting adults. Expect to hear a lot of screeching, see a lot of fan service, and detect comically obvious subtextual criticism of recent "youth development" legislation with the potential to affect pop culture content.   [embed]33867:4898:0[/embed] God Eater Studio: Ufotable (Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works, Fate/Zero) Director: Takayuki Hirao (GYO: Tokyo Fish Attack, Magical Sisters Yoyo & Nene) Broadcasting: July 3, 2015 (Streaming on Daisuki) Considering how much I got hyped up for Unlimited Blade Works, being excited about Ufotable's latest project, now that they're nominally free of the Nasuverse's clutches (at least until they start crunching on the Heaven's Feel movie), should be a no-brainer. And it is! I am indeed hyped, for God Eater is my favorite Monster Hunter competitor, and it's got a style all its own. In fact, it's just stylish enough and takes itself seriously enough that the Ufotable of this era is the perfect studio to pick it up. I'm already mildly optimistic thanks to their choice of a new, original protagonist to replace the canonical putz that is the manga-based "Yuu Kannagi". This new guy seems to be constructed more in the Eren Jaeger mold of being really mad at monsters, but it should at least make for more engaging character dynamics than the boringly earnest audience stand-in. Not that it even matters, given that the game's protagonists are fully customizable by default, anyway. In any case, if God Eater ends up being a lavishly animated action romp and no more, it'll have done its job perfectly.   [embed]33867:4899:0[/embed] School-Live! (Gakkou Gurashi!) Studio: Lerche (Carnival Phantasm, Assassination Classroom) Director: Masaomi Ando (White Album 2, Muv-Luv Alternative: Total Eclipse) Broadcasting: July 9, 2015 (Licensed by Sentai Filmworks) Three schoolgirls have an impossibly idyllic high school life. Everything is perfect, except for the fact that they're hallucinating, and in fact they're the only survivors of a zombie apocalypse and are trying to survive.  It's a deliciously weird premise that sounds right up the alley of the staff, many of whom are veterans from Gen Urobuchi's Nitroplus, an outfit long known for disturbing and tragic stories. Some folks are describing the manga this is based on as a real emotional rollercoaster (one that mostly angles down), but I'm not fully convinced of that yet. If nothing else, it does promise to be something outside the norm for typical "everyday life" fare.   [embed]33867:4900:0[/embed] Prison School Studio: J.C. Staff (Danmachi, Food Wars) Director: Tsutomu Mizushima (Girls und Panzer, Shirobako) Broadcasting: July 10, 2015 (Streaming via Funimation) Five men. A thousand women. One high school. That's normally a setup I wouldn't pay a huge amount of attention to, and if I'm honest, I'm mainly interested in Prison School just by virtue of it's being attached to Director Tsutomu Mizushima. Pretty much every show of his that I've watched has ended up on my favorites list (though admittedly I haven't seen it all), and I see no reason to stop giving him opportunities to add to it.  Besides, the Prison School manga has apparently garnered a reputation as a hilarious (if divisive) satire of the whole "harem high school" concept. Here, the few men at a formerly all-girls school are treated less like kings (as is the common conceit) and more like prey, which, honestly, is the far more likely scenario.   [embed]33867:4901:0[/embed] Everyday Life with Monster Girls Studio: Lerche (Carnival Phantasm, Assassination Classroom) Director: Tatsuya Yoshihara (Arve Rezzle, Yatterman Night) Broadcasting: July 7, 2015 Well, it took 'em long enough. Ever since a little comic called "Life with Lamia" made its way off Pixiv some years ago, I had been expecting someone to go and make a proper anime out of the whole "Monster Girl" conceit. As a natural extension of the whole catgirl phenomenon, it was inevitable, but I am genuinely surprised it didn't happen sooner. Unfortunately, though, besides the many amazing athropomorphizations of various mythical beasts and creatures, the show itself appears to be a standard harem/fan service rom-com. Not that anyone would expect that much different from a show titled "everyday life". Plus, that's, like, the whole appeal of monster girls anyway.   [embed]33867:4902:0[/embed] Actually, I Am (My Monster Secret) Studio: TMS Entertainment (Yowapeda, Zetman) Director: Yasutaka Yamamoto (Hero Bank) Broadcasting: July 6, 2015 (Streaming via Crunchyroll) "Actually, I Am"...what? What is she? The answer to that question would depend on who you ask, and forms the central conceit of this season's other monster girl anime, as a milquetoast young man who can't keep a secret to save his life is charged with concealing the true, monstrous natures of his female friends from the general public. Fans of the less human aspects of the monster girl concept might be a bit disappointed initially, seeing as the monsters hinted so far trend towards humanoid types like vampires and aliens and things that aren't lamias or snake-women. That said, I'm getting a bit of a similar vibe here to Spring's Yamada-kun and Seven Witches, so that could end up a net gain.    [embed]33867:4903:0[/embed] Overlord Studio: MADHOUSE (My Love STORY!!, The Tatami Galaxy) Director: Naoyuki Itou (Digimon: Data Squad, Hunter x Hunter: Phantom Rouge) Broadcasting: July 7, 2015 (Streaming via Funimation) Oh look, another anime where a dude gets stuck in an online RPG game world made real. How novel!  It's easy to dismiss this rapidly growing subgenre with a yawn, but I'd be lying if I said that the gamer within me isn't at least mildly interested. Besides, there does seem to be a bit of a twist in MADHOUSE's latest, with our lead not merely trapped in his game, but reincarnated into the role of the title's final boss, the titular, skeleton-bodied Overlord. That's a trope in and of itself, but hey, at least it's not yet another story about an ace gamer dude meeting with unending success as usual.   [embed]33867:4904:0[/embed] Snow White with the Red Hair  Studio: BONES (Captain Earth, Heroman) Director: Masahiro Ando (Sword of the Stranger, Blast of Tempest) Broadcasting: July 6, 2015 (Streaming via Funimation) Fairy tale deconstruction, thy name is "Snow White". Good old "Shirayukihime" is anime's go-to character whenever Glorious Nippon wants to take on the roots of western fantasy fiction. That said, there's not a whole lot here to promote the thought that this might be the next Ookami-san, either, with the Snow White in question being a red-headed commoner who flees a forced marriage to the local prince with the help of a young noble named Zen. Romance and fantasy tourism ensue. That actually works for me. After all, not every fantastical setting has to be milked for epic adventure, and some of my favorite fantasy anime are low-key explorations of an exotic land with a side of feelings, rather than rollicking action. And it'll be interesting to see BONES get back on that particular genre horse after a long time.   [embed]33867:4905:0[/embed] Sky Wizards Academy Studio: Diomedea (Kantai Collection, Cute High Earth Defense Club LOVE!) Director: Takayuki Inagaki (Desert Punk) Broadcasting: July 8, 2015 (Streaming via Funimation) You know that feeling you get when you look at an anime poster or even just hear its title and feel like you can predict the plot, characterization, and setting details from all that? And you're not cheating because it's one of those deliberately obvious light novel titles? That's the vibe I'm getting off Sky Wizards Academy right about now, with its story about a magical academy of (wait for it) Sky Wizards and the one disgraced ace wizard who takes on a class of misfit young girl wizards.  This, of course, is not to say that it can't be good or enjoyable, or even that my predictions will be wrong. It's just fascinating to see how even in a nominally creative industry you can still produce artistic works that just outwardly *scream* "product", if you get my meaning.   [embed]33867:4906:0[/embed] Charlotte Studio: P.A. Works (Shirobako, Hanasaku Iroha) Director: Yoshiyuki Asai Broadcasting: July 4, 2015 (Broadcasting on Funimation, Crunchyroll, and Daisuki) Pay no attention to the Director credit on Charlotte (sorry, Asai-san), because the big name here is Jun Maeda, he of Key and Sad Girls in Snow. Maeda is like M. Night Shyamalan for anime feelings, in the sense that pretty much everyone who knows his name likes to think they know exactly what he's doing when he does things. Whether or not that notion is actually true doesn't even matter.  In any case, it's also big because Charlotte is Maeda's first anime original since Angel Beats!, with much of the same team at P.A. Works helping produce it. Personally I liked Angel Beats!. Cliche as it was I did derive properly satisfying feels from all the tragic backstory. Ironically, though, it was the romantic bits that I bounced off of. Perhaps it's a good sign for me, then, that the action-to-melodrama balance of the trailer leans more towards the former?   [embed]33867:4907:0[/embed] Classroom Crisis Studio: Lay-duce (Go! Go! 575, Magi: Adventure of Sinbad) Director: Kenji Nagasaki (Gundam Build Fighters, Gundam 00) Broadcasting: July 3, 2015 (Streaming on Daisuki and Crunchyroll) Despite the rather banal high-school-students-with-jobs conceit and its classification as a rom-com, Classroom Crisis might just be this season's show to get the sci-fi juices flowing. Sure, the kids are in high school and have jobs, but when the high school is on frickin' Mars, and the jobs are designing custom spaceships, then you've got my attention.   Sequels, Shorts and Other Notables I've never really believed in the concept of the "Summer Doldrums", but thankfully for anime preview writers who are running terribly late, this summer is strangely stuffed with sequels and short-form productions. Most prominent there would be the new Dragon Ball Super, the first actual sequel to the Dragon Ball Story in nearly two decades. I've never been much of a Dragon Ball person, but it is quite exciting to see that segment of the fandom get all excited again. Then there's the continuation of Durarara!! x2, with the Ten portion of that arc getting its due, ideally this time with the studio not forgetting to animate entire portions of the final episode. The divisive Gatchaman Crowds also gets a second dip, where people may once more fall in love (or hate) with the way Hajime talks. I think it's cute, for the record. Also of interest is Aquarion Logos, a quasi-sequel to Aquarion EVOL, which turned out to not be a sequel to Aquarion at all. Non Non Biyori, Wagnaria, To LOVE Ru, Junjou Romantica and Hetalia also get new seasons after a lengthy absence from the scene, as well as a third (!) season of Fate Prisma Illya, which I honestly didn't think possible. Then again, Symphogear is also getting a third season this summer, so I guess anything is possible if you IMASINE it. Idolmaster Cinderella Girls continues the saga of me almost regretting calling myself an Idolmaster fan when I just can't get into all these new cast members.  Short anime really have come into their own after treasures like Tonari no Seki-kun and, er, Sega Hard Girls, which means that there are even more of them around now across an ever-expanding line of premises. You've got the usual idol and everyday life fodder like Danchigai, Sore ga Seiyuu!, Million Doll, and Wakaba Girl, but also in the margins are weird things like Pillow Boys a show about body pillows turned into cute boys, and Wakako-zake, a show about Miyuki Sawashiro visiting pubs and getting plastered. Even cute-bait and boobs anime have made a jump to the short format, with My Wife Is The Student Council President! and Himouto! Umaru-chan and the so-obvious-I-barely-need-to-preview-it Bikini Warriors. Life is good if you've only got 5-10 minutes to spare in your life for anime-viewing. And that's most of what she wrote! What are you watching this season? [embed]33867:4893:0[/embed] School-Live! (Gakkou Gurashi!) Studio: Lerche (Carnival Phantasm, Assassination Classroom)
Summer Anime Preview! photo
The Heat Is On
The Summer is nigh and the sun is out, and you know what that means, folks: Huddle indoors and watch Japanese cartoons! Well, come to think of it, that's our solution to every season, but hey, we're probably biased. After all...

IA/VT Colorful photo
IA/VT Colorful

Blame the music industry for this rhythm game not going west


As if you needed another reason
Jun 29
// Josh Tolentino
Any true fan of the Vocaloid scene will tell you that it's not all about Hatsune Miku and her Crypton-sponsored friends. After all, Vocaloid itself is a "neutral" platform, allied to no one character. That's a roundabout way...
Steins;Gate photo
Steins;Gate

Steins;Gate finally gets a US release date on console


Including the version with a metal Upa
Jun 29
// Josh Tolentino
Dust off your lab coats, American nerds: Steins;Gate is coming.  Wait, what? Wasn't it already out in April? Indeed, it was out on the PC, but thanks to the folks at PQube, the game is coming to PS Vita and PS3...

Japanator supports love!

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

Persona 5 photo
Persona 5

But of course Lelouch is in Persona 5 trailer!


Also, dancing!
Jun 25
// Josh Tolentino
[Update: Courtesy of Gematsu, an alternate link to the trailer has been found. Check it out below!] Much to some fans' disappointment, Persona 5 didn't make a huge splash at E3 this year. Rather than put Atlus' lat...
Summer Lesson photo
Summer Lesson

Summer Lesson is everything right about VR


Thanks, Harada!
Jun 16
// Josh Tolentino
Virtual Reality's a thing, right? The prospect of really putting players "somewhere else" in a more substantial way is just too appealing to dismiss completely. That said, for most of the tech demos out there, that "somewher...
Shenmue III photo
Shenmue III

Quick Fund Event: Yu Suzuki's Shenmue III kickstarter already funded


I'm looking for some backers
Jun 16
// Josh Tolentino
E3 usually isn't the biggest thing to look forward to for fans of Japanese games, but there are always exceptions. This year is one of those exceptions, and Nintendo hasn't even begun its broadcast yet! Everyone brought some ...
Metal Gear Solid V photo
Metal Gear Solid V

This is Metal Gear Solid V's big trailer, and its thesis


And a lot of talking
Jun 15
// Josh Tolentino
No matter what you might think of Hideo Kojima and the series that made his name, there's no doubting that each one is something of an event, and it looks like Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain won't be an exception ...
Unlimited Blade Works photo
Unlimited Blade Works

Annotated Anime: Unlimited Blade Works episode 23


King's Bounty
Jun 15
// Josh Tolentino
Putting aside the fact that the last five episodes of Unlimited Blade Works could easily have been cut down to about three without any appreciable loss, it's still gratifying to see the show take time out to include abso...

Annotated Anime: Stardust Crusaders episodes 46-47

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

Splatoon photo
Splatoon

Transform and Ink-Roll Out: Splatoon gets a Transformers homage


Make like a Squid, Kid
Jun 12
// Josh Tolentino
Nintendo's friendly shooter Splatoon is definitely looking to be the mimetic flavor of the moment, judging from the amount of buzz it's been generating online, but hey, if it somehow results in awesome art and whatnot, I...
Final Fantasy XV photo
Final Fantasy XV

Wait, what? Final Fantasy XV demo and Type-0 getting patched


Brave new world
Jun 09
// Josh Tolentino
Hearing the news that a console game is getting a patch shouldn't be the kind of thing that makes a man feel old, but for some reason the announcement that Final Fantasy Type-0 HD and its accompanying Final Fantasy XV d...

Annotated Anime: Unlimited Blade Works episode 22

Jun 08 // Josh Tolentino
Alas, friends, there is none. Fans of Rin will have to content themselves with a really good angle on her socks, as her plan to get Shirou ready to face Gilgamesh in the final battle involves some shirtless German. Speaking German, I mean, not a shirtless person-from-Germany, much as some fans might prefer that particular scenario.  In any case, the episode is quite obviously the calm before the storm. Gilgamesh and his apocalyptic plans are out in the open, and he's co-opted Shinji's pathetic body to serve as the vessel for the grail (which, incidentally, has a new design for this series and looks way cooler than the fleshy pustule it used to be portrayed as). And while Rin and Shirou do the (non-sexual) deed to transfer him enough mana to use Unlimited Blade Works in the coming fight, we get Ufotable's own take on the famous/infamous "CGI dolphins" scene. For the uninitiated, such a scene was common to the all-ages adaptations of Fate/stay night, with abstracted "diving through memories" scenes replacing all the hot sexing. In DEEN's adaptations, the scenes involved stiffly animated dragons (for Saber) and dolphins (for Rin). Ufotable's version is...neither. Rin's "dolphin" here is more of a greenish amoeba-thing. I guess it's a little less cheesy than a dolphin, but ultimately it's no less obvious that they're covering up for the absence of doin' it. Oh, and there's some memory work establishing just where Rin developed feelings for everyone's favorite ginger boy, and it seems to be rooted in a never-ending attempt to successfully complete the high jump in middle school. Which brings us to where I'll be leaving you this week, with this clip that whole scene reminded me of: [embed]33927:4795:0[/embed]
Unlimited Blade Works photo
Wait...those aren't dolphins
This one's likely to be a short recap as Unlimited Blade Works downshifts, in preparation for the final two episodes. Instead, I invite viewers whose main experience with the Fate franchise is via Fate/Zero to ...

Squid Girl x Splatoon photo
Squid Girl x Splatoon

Ain't Squiddin': Splatoon x Squid Girl is the crossover to watch


The deal is inked
Jun 05
// Josh Tolentino
It looks like Splatoon's the game to take the world by storm this year. Nintendo's paint-themed squid-kid shooter's quickly barged its way into the gamer hivemind on a spray of bright paint, and you know what that means: Cros...

Annotated Anime: Unlimited Blade Works episodes 20-21

Jun 02 // Josh Tolentino
And honestly, it's almost sad, come to think of it. Ufotable have done a stellar job so far with Unlimited Blade Works, not only making an adaptation that actually manages to outdo the original game by deepening and strengthening its ties to Fate/Zero, and thereby enriching the "Nasu-verse" as a whole (unless you're one of those types that regards Fate/Zero as a mistake, at least). Unfortunately, the need to fill out 24 or 25 episodes has undermined the integrity of this last leg of the plot, adding in stretching where the story simply couldn't take any more padding out. Where filling in the little spaces in the canon with flashbacks and "side material" used to work for things like Caster's backstory or Ilya's relationship to Berserker, here feels like Shirou and Archer repeating themselves endlessly.  In part that's due to the fact that this debate isn't new. Idealism vs. Cynicism is one of the foundation conflicts of heroic anime storytelling, and Idealism, here represented by young Shirou and his determination to be a hero, no matter what it will cost him, always wins out. We know what happens here, even if we've never played the game or read the Wiki spoilers. At the same time, the bedrock of the conflict isn't what really matters here. This is where this particular attempt to adapt Unlimited Blade Works really shines: Ufotable's slight tweaks to the pace of the encounter, as well as keeping its canonical resolution (rather than the truncated version we saw in Studio Deen's 2007 feature) make the conflict all the more clear and comprehensible.  Even being able to read the original (translated) text back in the day, I always found the Archer-Shirou conflict a bit hard to pin down, particularly with regard to the relationship between Archer's motivations and Shirou's fixation on self-sacrifice. I'm not sure whether to blame it on the translator or Nasu's style of prose, but being able to see it play out in front of my eyes helped me understand just why Archer turned out the way he did, and just how much Shirou needed to beat the self standing before him. It especially helped that the whole thing was juxtaposed onto Saber's own internal conflict, and her own desire to avoid her heroic destiny. In that way it served as a bit of a coda to the game's original "Fate" scenario, which is unlikely to get its own Ufotable-produced series at this point. That said, from the most important perspective, namely that of a viewer joining the party through Fate/Zero (certain sectors of the otaku internet would call such a person a "secondary"), this does look like a lot of nonsense that should've ended when they started playing that awesome Aimer insert song. But they didn't, and inadvertently drained the otherwise great character work of much of its power.  Secondaries do get their own payoff, though, besides seeing a Lancer-class character act with great nobility and heroism once more: The emergence of Gilgamesh (who Saber amusingly calls "Archer") as the true final boss of this piece. He goes full Ultron here, declaring his intent to purify the world of all those unworthy to be ruled by him, and then gives Shinji more than he ever bargained for.  We're in the final stretch, though I really can't imagine how they're going to be able to keep this thing rolling another three episodes. Given what's about to happen next, I can only hope Ufotable find something as better than CG dolphins to represent the proceedings.
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Fight The Future
And here we are: The fight that defines the whole of Unlimited Blade Works: The final battle between Shirou Emiya...and Shirou Emiya, or rather, Shirou Emiya's future self, as Archer, the embittered hero. It goes about as wel...

Annotated Anime: Stardust Crusaders episode 45

May 31 // Josh Tolentino
It might even be a badly edited translation (tsk tsk, Crunchyroll!) that accidentally makes Polnareff sound super-duper racist, even. Really, modern writers don't refer to "white" as good or "black" as bad so directly, anymore. Heck, even a simple, "light" vs. "dark" word-swap would've sufficed without accidentally triggering controversy! All that aside, though, it's time! Dio is among us, and all the remaining crew (R.I.P., Iggy and Avdol!) are doing their damndest to....run the hell away from him. Now there's a final boss strategy! Speaking of remembering how old JoJo's is, it's these moments, right in the path of the hype train setting up to deliver hot Dio action, that remind me just how long this venerable franchise has been around. After all, most anyone familiar with dank memes or other artifacts of internet and otaku culture through the last decade or two will likely know exactly what Dio Brando can do. Hell, thanks to stick figure flash cartoons I knew what Dio could do before I even know who Dio was! The surprise is gone, to put it plainly, but that doesn't mean we won't get anything new out of this. For one, I never realized that the crew's battle against Dio would begin like this. Having never seen the original Stardust Crusaders OVA, I had assumed that the last few episodes of the series would be a non-stop gauntlet as Dio tore through the team on the way to the inevitable showdown with Jotaro. Except that's not what happened, and now the vampire and his ultra-powerful stand are chasing Kakyoin and Joseph across Cairo's rooftops, following a hilarious driving sequence and a number of hints as to the nature and "rules" governing Dio's fearsome ability. Naturally, it's entirely logical for the fight to have begun this way. Unless you're writing Bleach, fights don't happen for no good reason, and splitting the party to gather information about their final foe is sound strategy.  I'm just hoping the strangely subdued next-episode preview this week doesn't mean Kakyoin's going to eat it next week.
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The Cold Stab of Fear
As well as JoJo's Bizarre Adventure has held up after all these years, there are occasionally moments when you realize just how old it is. It could be a general feeling, like the absence of some more post-modern tricks o...

Annotated Anime: Plastic Memories episodes 7-8

May 29 // Josh Tolentino
I am, of course, being facetious: It's terrible, and symbolizes pretty much the entire "against" argument for having Plastic Memories be a love story instead of, say, an essay series on the rights of potential future android companions like I secretly crave. I made that face, and wanted to yell at my screen "BITCH you do not have TIME to get your butt flustered about your girl touching your BOXER SHORTS. She will be DEAD in under a MONTH. GET YOUR PRIORITIES STRAIGHT."  Honestly, I do like a sappy romance as much as the next lonely nerd, but seeing these cliches play out, only to be followed up by a bog-standard "I want to take her on a date, but what should I doooo~" episode - a template that Plastic Memories already used in episode 3 - is singularly enervating. Thank goodness, then, that episode 8 not only furthers the romance angle in a more interesting way, but also goes full-on sci-fi, raising interesting issues about the premise  and the world of Plastic Memories, and linking it back to the core love story.  The issue at hand is what happens to Giftia androids after they get retrieved. Up until now, a retrieved Giftia was as good as scrapped. Tsukasa, Isla, or any other Terminal Service person comes over to put the Giftia in that weird coffin-thing and off they go, case closed. Except Giftia owners do have other options, like what amounts to what people in the real world call a "refurbishing" - a new OS and personality are inserted into the Giftia, and life goes on. The issue, of course, is that the new OS effectively makes the Giftia an entirely new person. That's the case with Andie, a Giftia from a different Terminal Service branch, who used to be Olivia, a childhood friend to Eru, the mechanic. Except Andie is not Olivia, though she has the same face and ample bust.  Now, by now anyone with even a cursory interest in SF can see the kinds of fun dilemmas arising from these new facts, as well as the questions raised. Just what happens to Giftias that are released by their owners at the end of their lifespans? Does the company sell them off again, with new personalities, to new customers (like one would do to a used cellphone, wiped and factory-reset)? It must be real hard for someone to see a person who looks exactly like the child, lover, or friend they knew for nine years, except that person...isn't. And let's not even get into the kinds of philosophical problems it raises if we agree on Plastic Memories' base thesis - that Giftias are as much people as any human.  Just trying to think about all these weird questions makes the show worthwhile, which just makes it all the more disappointing that its actual attempts at romance are so bland and cliche-ridden. Tsukasa makes his big confession, and surprise, surprise, Isla can't handle it. This is the kind of song and dance routine we fans of sappy romance anime have been dealing with since Love Hina, and it's kind of a bummer that we haven't grown that far past it. As the rest of the episode shows, there's other, more interesting ways to go about this cliche.
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Face of Love
This face right here. That was pretty much what I looked like when episode 7 opened, with the ever so interesting gag of seeing Tsukasa freak the eff out about Isla doing his laundry for him. It's an amazing scene, one unprecedented in Japanese animated romance stories, surely!

Annotated Anime: Stardust Crusaders episodes 38-44

May 25 // Josh Tolentino
Indeed, the last six weeks of Stardust Crusaders have been all about "carrying on". Carrying on into the scary house where your mortal enemy resides. Carrying on past your enemy's toughest minions, no matter their tricks and powers. And sadly, carrying on even when you've lost friends. Indeed, after a pitched battle between Iggy, who takes a hit and learns the meaning of getting even in his fight against Dio's evil, Stand-using pet bird, the team finally enters the lair of the beast, only for Joseph, JoJo, and the newly returned Kakyoin to be separated into a confrontation with D'Arby the Younger, kid brother to the gambler from before.  Like his brother, D'Arby the Younger gambles for souls, but doesn't need to cheat nearly as directly, thanks to his Stand's power to predict the actions of his opponents by reading their souls. The contest, this time, is one that's near and dear to my heart: Video games! Playing knock-offs of F-Zero and RBI Baseball, Kakyoin unfortunately botches his return by getting his soul taken...again, leaving JoJo to once again leverage his unflappable nature to pull off another epic bluff. If this sounds familiar to you, it should, as practically beat-for-beat the encounter unfolds in a similar way to the Elder D'Arby's fight, all the way down to the D'Arby being driven nearly nuts by JoJo's win. Worse still, David Productions missed a golden opportunity to add some their own flair to this otherwise true-to-source adaptation: They could've used sweet retro graphics to show off the games, instead of falling back on boring-ol' regular CGI. Remember, Stardust Crusaders takes place in 1989, just as awesome pixel art was saturating the game market.  Sadly, those are minor quibbles compared to the underwhelming nature of the fight itself. The original D'Arby confrontation played out in a cool way, but the plot need not ahve been reused so quickly. Then again, had I known of the tragedies about to follow, maybe I'd have stayed in that status quo for longer. I blame Vanilla Ice. Vanilla Ice is Dio's last Stand-using minion, and thanks to his black hole of a Stand, inflicts the greatest casualties the team has suffered yet.  Avdol, sadly, dies a sudden, unexpected, and violent death, eaten from toes to elbows by Vanilla's Stand, nothing but a pair of hands left. And as if to rub insult to injury, Vanilla even beats poor Iggy to death. The kicker here, is seeing them both depart the coil in some kind of spirit form. I don't think they're coming back, and I already miss 'em. Rest in peace, Avdol and Iggy!  
Stardust Crusaders photo
All Ye Who Enter Here
Well, it's been weeks since we last checked in with the Stardust Crusaders, a group name, which, come to think of it, doesn't make all that much sense in the grand scheme of things. I mean, sure there's a "Star" in "Star Platinum", and Egypt has a lot of dust, as well as a few Crusades, but...well, I guess it does make sense, after all. So let's carry on, then!    

Annotated Anime: Unlimited Blade Works episode 19

May 17 // Josh Tolentino
But let's not blow things out of proportion: Six good episodes outweighs a seventh less-good one, but it's hard to imagine that anyone but a Type-MOON fan with an *ahem* an especially hard lore-boner would get maximum enjoyment out of this week's installment. Given the need for Ufotable to fill some time I honestly hadn't expected the show to move straight ahead to Shirou's showdown with Archer. In a way it hasn't, since the episode saves the actual fight for next time, but I had assumed from the epilogue of episode 18 that episode 19 would be shifting focus to some sideline event while the Rin Rescue Rangers™ made their way to Einzbern castle. This was not the case. Instead, we skip straight to the main event, or rather the opening to it, as the squad arrives to confront Archer, though the primary confrontation that occurs here is of the conversational variety. If Rin's dream-time monologue gave viewers an insight into Archer's state of mind, this installment's lectures get deeper into the facts of Archer's past - and by extension, Shirou's (possible) future. At this point it's been long enough since I first played Fate/stay night to know how much of what's revealed here is new or expanded information, but they certainly get into much more detail than the Unlimited Blade Works movie ever managed to, exploring the circumstances of Rin's summoning Archer, his nature as a "Guardian" (an unusual type of Heroic Spirit), and to hearing the motivations for trying to murder his past self straight from the horse's mouth. The results, while intriguing for the dedicated fan, delve perhaps a little too deep into the weird rules of Fate creator Kinoko Nasu's "Nasu-verse" than is productive, especially not for the more casual, Fate/Zero-originated audience Unlimited Blade Works seemed designed to cater to. It doesn't help that what's actually said doesn't really make it clear just what Archer is, either. I'll take a stab at it, though. At some point in his future (detailed in the cold open), Shirou made a deal of some kind wth a big ol' CG effect, agreeing to become a Guardian in exchange for the power he thought he needed to fulfill his ideal of saving people. Except that as a Guardian, Shirou (now Archer) was more akin to a force of nature, an agent of balance. And forces of nature are rarely known for their compassion and life-preserving qualities. The tension between the merciless mandate of Guardianship and the broken little boy that just doesn't want anyone to cry took its toll, leading to the Archer of the present, now possessed of the belief that things would be better had he never existed, or at least never stuck to his heroic ambitions. But of course, Shirou won't ever give up on his ideals. It's who he is, for better and worse, and Archer knows it. Hence, the goal of murdering his past self. Honestly, it's a powerful conceit, and gets straight at the heart of Fate/stay night's three scenarios and their exploration of one's relationships to one's ideals and dreams. Unfortunately, it's all too caught up in Nasu's love of esoterica and oddball fantasy rules, and the strong core message gets drowned out the way Ufotable's digital effects can sometimes drown out the nice 2D linework (I'm looking at you, guy who adds too much damn smoke to all the fight scenes!) We also catch up with Rin, who suffers quite roundly. First there's sexual harassment from Shinji, who's even more of a dipshit here than he was in any previous take on Fate, then the reveal that Kirei was not only alive, but also murdered her dad back in Fate/Zero. And she's tied to a chair, and her Servant turned out to be a real tool. Being Rin is suffering. If there's anyone who comes out ahead here, it's Lancer and his fanbase. Ufotable's been especially kind to the Hound of Culann, giving him no shortage of badass moments in recent episodes, and even laying the groundwork for a fun little Rin x Lancer ship. If you've ever wondered why Fate/Extra's version of Rin showed up to the Grail War with Lancer in tow rather than Archer, their interactions from the last few episodes should make that particular story angle a no-brainer. But, as many fun little asides there are in this installment, it's hard to avoid the impression that Unlimited Blade Works is trying to run out the clock a little. There's more elegant ways to go about conveying this information, but unfortunately, the show's scheduled for several more episodes. [Watch Unlimited Blade Works on Crunchyroll!]
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Where You See Yourself In 10 Years
Ufotable's take on Unlimited Blade Works may be in many ways the Fate/stay night adaptation fans always wanted, but it's not without its sticking points. Besides the usual caveats that can be attached to a prop...

Attack on Avengers photo
Attack on Avengers

Behold, the Attack on Titan and Marvel crossover nobody asked for


Titans Assemble?
May 12
// Josh Tolentino
I've been getting back into reading comic books of late, the fabled "ame-comi" from across the Pacific, and one fun part of American comic book culture is the practice of "Free Comic Book Day", when comic stores and publisher...

Annotated Anime: Unlimited Blade Works episodes 16-18

May 11 // Josh Tolentino
The pain train's next destination, of course, is the newlywed's paradise of Kuzuki and Caster. The most successful pair of Grail War participants this time around finally meets their end, but not before some of the best action of the season so far, as Shirou and Rin take the fight to their foes, with some unexpected help from Lancer. In fact, Lancer practically steals the show, his gruff Irish charm causing Shirou to get all possessive of his new girlfriend. After seeing both DEEN and even the game continually give Lancer the shaft in terms of characterization (there's a reason his Carnival Phantasm incarnation can't stop dying), having Lanceer  Everyone gets a chance to show off (though Kuzuki shows off by practically feeding Shirou his own ass), but the marquee attraction is the big ol' fight between Lancer and Archer, and it's a doozy. Once again Ufotable does Lancer some small justice by emphasizing just how good a fighter the guy in blue tights really is, and how powerful his Noble Phantasm, Gae Bolg, can be. Indirectly, this also makes the fact that Archer had planned out the whole engagement even more impactful, as to hold back when the other guy is playing for keeps isn't usually a survivable strategy. Rin's fight with Caster is also a treat, if only to see Rin get right up in Caster's face, right as the witch was monologuing, and punch the piss out of the mature lady. The show may have worked hard to make Caster a more sympathetic antagonist, but damn, it does feel good to see her get knocked on her ass. Atsuko Tanaka, Caster's voice actress, has turned gloating into an art form, and seeing that act taken down a peg is immensely gratifying. But, as is written, the final blow goes to Archer, who had been planning to ambush Kuzuki and Caster from the start. His latest betrayal of people who trust him is given more weight here, as well, as in the Unlimited Blade Works movie it was shown as a storm of swords flying out of nowhere. Here, even Kuzuki gets a final, ineffectual blow in, as if to twist the knife into the sides of Caster's fanbase.  Following that up is the big reveal: Archer is Shirou from the future. But, of course, every Fate fan already knew that part, and Ufotable all but spells it out through flashbacks, lengthy character analyses delivered by Rin's dream sequences, and Saber saying, out loud, that Archer is Shirou's "...". If it wasn't clear before, it sure as hell is, now.  We also get the much-anticipated use of Unlimited Blade Works itself. Archer's wasteland of an inner world is full of copied weapons, and since Shirou is Archer, it's the place where takes the first step on the road to becoming the person he will be. This is where Ufotable cheated a bit, by opting not to animate that bit where Shirou deflects a rain of swords through the power of discovering his abilities, but then again, the time it actually was animated didn't turn out quite so well: [embed]33802:4730:0[/embed] I'm willing to let it pass, on that. Besides, there's some good payoff right after, in the form of a deeper conversation between Rin and Archer. Whereas in even the game the bond between Rin, Archer, and Shirou seemed somewhat taken for granted (a bad situation considering that Rin isn't the obvious love interest out of Fate/stay night's shipping selection), here it gets shape and texture. Like seeing Archer "sell out" his old Master, as if to punish her for having the temerity to read him like a book. Even Gil could tell, and when he takes notice, you know you're probably not in the best position. Next week...I actually don't know. We've a few episodes left before Unlimited Blade Works has to wrap up, so only time can tell just how Ufotable have managed to fill in those gaps.
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They've Got The Touch
The last time we checked in with Unlimited Blade Works, we'd seen the lengths Ufotable was willing to go to give the passing of Ilya and Berserker the gravitas that moment deserves. It worked, for the most part, though t...


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