Annotated Anime

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...

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 ...

Annotated Anime: One Piece episode 701

Jul 12 // Anthony Redgrave
Law's backstory is one of the most horrific in the series. His story is told to Baby 5 while she and the other executives are on a raid. They talk so casually about the whole thing while being attacked, shot, and fired upon by cannons you would think they were paying more attention to the story than the actual mission. It's a tale of a wealthy town that becomes poisoned over time from the mineral that had made them rich. It's non-contagious, but that doesn't stop the Government from imposing a quarantine on the town. Eventually, the neighboring nations retaliate under the guise of self-defense and kill everyone in town apart from Law who escapes under some dead bodies.  The Mother Sea leitmotif doesn't play in this episode and I suspect it's because we don't spend enough time in Law's rosy family life. It cuts between the executives verbally telling the story to scenes from Flevance and it's surprisingly easy to follow despite these changes. Baby 5's reaction reflects our own as she is told this story becoming more depressed and understanding of Law's personality.  However, I cannot feel the same way when Law pulls this face. It's the same face as Luffy when he lost Ace back in Marineford. I always relate it to an "oh I'm comically scared face" rather than I'm completely and emotionally broken. The rest of the Straw Hats have relatively conserved shocked and sorrowful expressions when compared to this white-eyed huge mouth facial feature.  In the next episode, we go even further back in time to Doflamingo's and Corazon's childhoods. I'm really looking forward to this episode as we'll finally see why this Celestial Dragon was banned from Marijois.  [One Piece streams weekly on FUNimation] Law's backstory is one of the most horrific in the series. His story is told to Baby 5 while she and the other executives are on a raid. They talk so casually about the whole thing while being attacked, shot, and fired upon by cannons you would think they were paying more attention to the story than the actual mission. It's a tale of a wealthy town that becomes poisoned over time from the mineral that had made them rich. It's non-contagious, but that doesn't stop the Government from imposing a quarantine on the town. Eventually, the neighboring nations retaliate under the guise of self-defense and kill everyone in town apart from Law who escapes under some dead bodies.  The Mother Sea leitmotif doesn't play in this episode and I suspect it's because we don't spend enough time in Law's rosy family life. It cuts between the executives verbally telling the story and scenes from Flevance. The pacing is steady and easy to follow despite the changes to scenery and Baby 5's reaction reflects our own as she is told this story. She becomes more and more depressed and understanding of Law's personality.  However, I cannot feel for the losses Law is experiencing when he pulls this face. It's the same with when Luffy lost Ace back in Marineford, I always relate it to an "oh I'm comically scared face" rather than I'm completely and emotionally broken. The rest of the Straw Hats have relatively conserved shocked and sorrowful expressions when compared to this white-eyed huge mouth facial feature.  In the next episode, we go even further back in time to Doflamingo's and Corazon's childhoods. Doflamingo isn't such a bad guy towards his family and that's something I can respect. He berates Jora for scaring Buffalo and threatens anyone that would harm his biological brother. I'm really looking forward to this episode as it has been hinted at throughout this arc. We'll finally see why this Celestial Dragon was banned from Marijois.  [One Piece streams weekly on FUNimation] Law's backstory is one of the most horrific in the series. I think it's an amplification of Robin's background but to a greater degree. His story is told to Baby 5 while she and the other executives are raiding pirates. They talk so casually about the whole thing while being attacked, shot, and fired upon by cannons you would think they were paying more attention to the story than the actual mission. It's a tale of a wealthy town that becomes poisoned gradually over time by the mineral that had made them rich. It's non-contagious, but that doesn't stop the Government from imposing a quarantine on the town. Eventually, the neighbouring nations retaliate under the guise of self-defense and kill everyone in town apart from Law who escapes under some dead bodies.  The Mother Sea leitmotif doesn't play in this episode and I suspect it's because we don't spend enough time in Law's rosy family life. It cuts between the executives verbally telling the story and scenes from Flevance. The pacing is steady and easy to follow despite the changes to scenery and Baby 5's reaction reflects our own as she is told this story. She becomes more and more depressed and understanding of Law's personality.  In the next episode we go even further back in time to Doflamingo's and Corazon's childhoods. Doflamingo isn't such a bad guy towards his family and that's something I can respect. He berates Jora for scaring Buffalo and threatens anyone that would harm his biological brother. I'm really looking forward to this episode as it has been hinted at through out this arc. We'll finally see why this Celestial Dragon was banned from Marijois. 
One Piece photo
Law has seen some S***
We've now entered the back story portion of the arc where tragedy is the dish of the day. No matter how pleasant and beautiful the setting may seem, the shit will hit the fan and the tear ducts will open once Mother Sea begins to play. I've never cried while watching One Piece, it so happens something gets in my eye when that song plays. 


First Impressions: GANGSTA

Jul 12 // Anthony Redgrave
GANGSTA has more in line with Panty and Stocking than 50 cent's thug life despite the title's connotation. The similarities with the rude, crude angels begin with partner mercenaries specialising in different weapons and having hearts of gold and end as it's an action anime rather than cartoony comedy. Nicolas and Worick are in the business of dealing death to enemies too risky for the police and being shouted at by the captain for their methods. A classic set up that would be tired if not for the interesting leads. Nicolas is the muscle and Worick is the silver-tongued negotiator making for an endearing duo that work well together. The show is not for the faint hearted as it's a mature show with a capital M. Drugs, murder, abuse to women, and bloodshed is present in each episode. The dialogue doesn't pull punches as it dishes out racial slurs, explicative insults degrading women and crude language making the show feel and sound like a violent dystopia. Fortunately, the show isn't all doom and gloom as the characters are very charming and colourful as mentioned before. The art style is warm to contrast with the majority of the characters decked in dark threads. Black shadow accent the unsavoury and rough nature of the show. The show's character design is attractive despite its thematically ugly world and I have not seen any major animation hiccups in the first two episodes. GANGSTA will be something I continue with during this season. I'm a fan of the action and the unpleasantness world is something I adore in fiction especially when they have likeable heroes that I can root for. The aesthetics are a beautiful topping on this delicious piece of anime.   [GANGSTA streams  on FUNimation] GANGSTA is more in line with Panty and Stocking than 50 cent's thug life despite the title's connotation. The similarities with the rude, crude, angels begin with partner mercenaries dubbed Handymen specialising in different weapon and having hearts of gold and end as this is more action orientated than cartoony comedy. Nicolas and Worick are in the business of dealing death to enemies too risque for the police and subsequently being shouted down by the commissioner. A classic set up in many works of fiction that would be overplayed if not for the interesting leads. Nicolas is the muscle and Worick is the silver-tongued negotiator making for an endearing duo that work well together. The show is not for the faint hearted it's a mature show with a capital M. Drugs, murder, verbal and physical abuse to women, and blood flows rampant in each episode. The dialogue doesn't pull punches when it comes to racial slurs, explicative insults, and degrading women making the show feel and sound like a violent dystopia. Fortunately, the show isn't all doom and gloom as the characters are very charming and colourful as mentioned before. The art style is bright and warm to contrast with the majority of the characters that choose dark themed threads. The show's character design is attractive despite the thematically ugly world and I have not seen any major animation hiccups in the first two episodes. GANGSTA will be something I continue with during this season. Although the story is still ramping up, I like the world and it's inhabitants. I'm a fan of dystopian worlds like Fallout and the main leads are likeable enough to keep me engaged with their exploits.
GANGSTA photo
Violence! Racism! Misogyny!
Truncated versions of words bug the hell out of me. I always hear it in my mind's ear being spoken by an loud spoken and arrogant individual; 'GANGSTA!' emphasis on the -STA part with a line a spit flickering from their ...

Review: The IDOLM@STER Cindrella Girls Season 1

Jul 12 // Jeff Chuang
The Idolm@ster Cinderella Girls Season 1 Studio: A-1 Pictures Format: Streaming via Daisuki/YouTube Release Date: January 10, 2015 The idea behind Cinderella Girls as the next iteration of the franchise is that by opening the gates with a large swath and wide variety of characters, each player (or viewer in the anime's case) will invariably find somebody they like. It works for AKB48, so why wouldn't it work for anything else? I guess the question sits at the center of the Cinderella Girls experience. But that's in reference to the whole of Cinderella Girls, which, beyond the anime, holds itself as one of the pioneering and successful mobile games in Japan. It's not too different than, say, how thanks to the Rage of Bahamut mobile games, we got an sword-buckling adventure anime to go with. Where these two franchises diverge is the way how Cinderella Girls is just one head of a multi-headed hydra that makes up the IDOLM@STER franchise. Beyond the anime and the mobile game, we're talking about a mix of media, besides obviously the anime on home video. It includes also live events, radio shows, and the sub-unit CDs that the anime sells in an almost-direct way. When you watch each episode of the anime as an invested fan, there's a lot more to it than sitting back and enjoying the story. Of course, like any other type of fans, everyone gets on social media and chat about the latest episode as soon as possible (and thanks to Daisuki's prompt simulcast even I can do that to a degree). Easter eggs and other nods to the rest of the IM@S franchise often are the biggest cues for discussion among fans. What's more, new announcements and reveals relevant to the entire franchises sometimes happens within the latest episode of the anime. To take the last episode in the first half as an example, do you know Triad Primus? Just that scene between Nao and Karen sent some into frenzy, only because it's one of the more popular sub-groups within the game that was quietly done away with after New Generations was initially announced from the first Cinderella Girls anime promo. That's not even include more obvious ties like the weekly bonus audio drama in-game, or the freebie SR cards and other loot that go live in the proper Cinderella Girls game right after you finish watching the week's episode. The Japanese broadcast even reinforces its full-force consumer message through its self-sponsored commercials in the CM breaks of its own anime. That's a view from deep inside the rabbit hole. I think most of us out west don't care for it, at least at first. A lot of us out likely found out about the IDOLM@STER franchise first via the 2011 TV series, curio news reported from oversea fan being silly, or various MAD videos featuring IM@S. The line of games had been in the purview of hardcore importers, or people willing to think differently about iOS apps by paying the asking price on Shiny Festa. There may be an underground group of English-speaking, mobile game types that cling to the three major IM@S social games, but nowhere is that visible above the surface of the world wide web, so to speak. You had to dig down to find these Producers. When Bandai-Namco focused its mainline 765Pro IM@S products and events to point to and collaborate with the two social game platforms, some fans worried--the original characters (and their voice actresses) are not getting any younger--will this bring about a drastic change to the franchise? At the same time many Producers are simply getting familiar and are welcoming the Cinderella Girls. Under that context, our 346 Production idols are in a battle of their lives to find longer-term acceptance within this multi-head hydra of a family that is the IDOLM@STER. That road is not particularly complicated, thankfully. In the context of the Cinderella Girls anime, well, it's idol anime, where the audience come to enjoy cute girls singing catchy songs while doing cool dances. We also see at times how these girls fail and then overcome various obstacles, personal or otherwise. I think that really sums up the core idol anime experience. Of course, your mileage may vary, but everyone seems to have the best time together when the experience come together, each part of the idol concept firing on all cylinders. In the shadow of these daunting questions, I can safely say that is exactly the IDOLM@STER Cinderella Girls that we got. But for those of us who are watching the show for what it is--A-1's animation featuring a new brand of animated idol--does it deliver? Will the extra baggage get in the way? It's the most important question, and one that I am now ill-suited to answer. One of IDOLM@STER's trademark themes has to do with people struggling emotionally that come together to face their mutual challenges. The performers and their producer have to come to term with their differences and opposing views to achieve their shared goals. Several times in the story so far, the problem in a particular plot arc may lie in the way how the Producer character fails to communicate with his charges, and vice versa. A lot of the times conflict arise because people have mistaken expectations or out of inexperience, and we see it across the board. In that sense, Cinderella Girls is an admirable vehicle to express these struggles. It's about overcoming them with uplifted feelings, and not so much ticket or CD sales. At the same time, given its progress at the half-way point, it is pretty difficult for Cinderella Girls to achieve even just a fraction of these objectives.  There are just too many characters, too many in-jokes, and too many thematic and story checkpoints that the narrative has to play things very directly. Mio's breakdown in mid-season, for example, became somewhat of a point of confusion because the story didn't take time to explain her mentality clearly. The way Dekorations got separated or how the producer was unable to explain himself to the cops is yet another. I guess these contrivances are not deal breakers, but discerning viewers might argue it adds to the pile of small problems that degrades the experience. The animation too, had its up and downs. At times Cinderella Girls anime looks sublime, such as the pilot episode. Sometimes, however, it looks rushed. The mid-point recap, as adorable as it was, is not exactly the best thing. (Producer's CV, Takeuchi, is only 17 years old! His natural voice is deeper than the Producer's voice.) I think to be fair, Cinderella Girls is a competently put-together production, but there were some seams showing throughout the series that might rub against the more picky viewers. When it comes to where rubber meets the road, so to speak, the dance and new musical numbers from Cinderella Girls are pleasing, perhaps even very exciting. Moreover, the series avoids a monster-of-the-week issue with enough unpredictability thrown in there. The girls are cute, and if one of them appeals to you, congratulations. What does it leave those of us who aren't warming up to any of them? I'm guessing the second half of the Cinderella Girls anime experience will continue to focus on some of these characters while introducing more. One of my pre-anime favorite, Anzu, played the role of a wise-cracker. Rin, Cinderella Girls's iconic cool beauty, didn't get very far besides the initial induction into the 346 fold. But at the same time, I'm not sure if that's enough of a carrot on the stick to keep those of us who are not into idols for idols's sake going forward. Maybe that's okay. For those of us ever become curious as to what IDOLM@STER Cinderella Girls has to offer, the anime is a splendid gateway to become a patron of IM@S's multi-faceted castle of a franchise. Just be aware that not only there's a deep rabbit hole beyond it, there are also a bunch of pitiful creatures living off of said animation like yours truly, clinging on to every word and visual symbol. [This review is based on a streaming copy viewed by the reviewer.]
Idolm@ter CG Review photo
And it didn't even cover half the idols
What happens when you take one of the longest running media-mixed franchise about idols and give it new life? What happens when you take a mobile game money mill and try to develop its CCG-style characters? What is an idol? T...

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. 

Annotated Anime: The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-Chan episode 6

Jul 09 // Anthony Redgrave
Kyon may be quick with the comebacks, but he's lacking in the conventional intelligence department. With exams on the horizon, he seeks assistance from Asakura which causes a misunderstanding from Nagato because of their increased contact. Fortunately, the misunderstanding trope does not smother the whole episode as the show outright says that it's a misunderstanding straight after the suggested relationship. This is something some anime shows need to catch onto *cough* NISEKOI *cough*, instead of overexaggerating the reactions and wasting whole episodes of building up misunderstanding.  Haruhi and her lapdog Koizumi make an appearance having been granted official access to the North High school grounds under Nagato's absent minded request. Being from a prep school Haruhi states she is leagues ahead of Kyon and Asakura which brings forth a Mathematics challenge between the two rival schools. Yep the main conflict is down to an algebra 'solve for x question'. I've been out of high school for half a decade, and I swear it was never this difficult. The saviour surprisingly (or unsurprisingly if you consider she is still the same person) is Nagato Yuki as she answers the question without writing anything down. Her method is something to be desired as she will not be scoring marks for jotting down the random garbage that starts spewing out of her mouth. Honestly, I was not expecting that from a love stricken PSVita addict.  [Watch The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan on FUNimation!] Kyon may be quick with the comebacks and wise enough to ask the right questions, but he is sadly lacking in the intelligence department. With exams on the horizon, he seeks assistance from Asakura since she is a paragon of studentship. Cue misunderstanding from Nagato Yuki because of their increased contact and everything is resolved. Fortunately, the misunderstanding trope does not smother the whole episode as even this series has caught on and outright says that it's a misunderstanding. This is something some anime shows need to catch onto *cough* NISEKOI *cough*.  Haruhi and her lapdog Koizumi make an appearance having been granted official access to the North High school grounds under Nagato's request. Being from a prep school Haruhi states she is leagues ahead of Kyon and Asakura which brings forth a Mathematics challenge between the two rival schools. Yep the main conflict is down to algebra solve for x question. I've been out of high school for half a decade, and I swear it was never this difficult. The saviour surprisingly (or unsurprisingly if you consider she is still the same person) is Nagato Yuki as she answers the question sans working out. Her working is something to be desired as she will not be scoring marks for jotting down the random garbage she starts spewing out. Honestly, I was not expecting that from a love stricken PSVita addict. 
Nagato Yuki photo
Hot for Teacher Asakura
We are nearing the half-way point of Nagato Yuki-chan and so far it's been very good. I really like the familiar elements and emphasised comedic moments when comparing it to Haruhi. A lack of Asahina dials down the uncom...

Annotated Anime: One Piece episode 700

Jul 08 // Anthony Redgrave
It seems that this episode is self-aware of the significance of 7 as the title shows up in the 7th minute. That means more than a quarter of this episode can be skipped. No, wait that's a lie. After the 10th minute, we return to the main action with Luffy, Law, and Doflamingo. The first 10 minutes were retreads old Fujitora dialogue from three episodes ago. Man, they were really padding for time with this one. Do yourselves a favour and skip to the 10-minute mark because I'm sure they'll repeat the marine talk in a later episode if you still don't understand their motivation. Finally, we begin the backstory between Law and Doflamingo which may be very significant as one of them may join the Straw Hat's if deemed tragic enough. Turns out Law's devil fruit has the death-defying ability to grant immortality at the cost of the devil fruit eater's life. But Law doesn't have any interest in this ultimate power thus putting him in dire straits with Doflamingo. We get a flashback to 10-year-old Law seeking acceptance into the Doflamingo family. He gets beaten on mercilessly by a younger Diamante and Trebol while kid version's of Baby 5 and Buffalo laugh at his misfortune. The family accepts children and have no qualms in kicking the shit out of them either. This shockingly equal treatment speaks volumes of Doflamingo's philosophy.  In the last few moments of the show, we get glimpses of Doflamingo's brother Corazon. He looks like One Piece's version of the Joker even more than the pirate with the epithet 'The Clown". It fits with his rather unpredictable personality of being extremely clumsy yet intimidating from his fits of violence towards children and absolute muteness. Psychotic tendencies must be a genetic trait.  [One Piece streams weekly on FUNimation] It seems that this episode is self-aware of the significance of 7 as the main title shows up in the 7th minute. That means more than a quarter of this episode can be skipped. No, wait that's a lie, after the 10th minute we return to the main action with Luffy, Law, and Doflamingo. The first 10 minutes were retreads of what Fujitora had said three episodes ago. Man, they were really padding for time with this one. So do yourselves a favour and skip to the 10-minute mark because I'm sure they'll repeat the marine talk in a later episode for those that don't understand their motivation. Finally, we begin the backstory between Law and Doflamingo which may be very significant as one of them may join the Straw Hat's if deemed tragic enough. Turns out Law's devil fruit has the death-defying ability to grant immortality at the cost of the devil fruit eater's life. But Law doesn't have any interest in this ultimate power thus putting him in dire straits with Doflamingo. We get a flashback to 10-year-old Law seeking acceptance into the Doflamingo family. He gets beaten on mercilessly by a younger Diamante and Trebol while kid version's of Baby 5 and Buffalo laugh at his misfortune. The family accepts children and have no qualms in kicking the shit out of them either. This shocking yet equal treatment speaks volumes of Doflamingo's philosophy.  In the last few moments of the show, we get glimpses of Doflamingo's brother Corazon. He looks like One Piece's version of the Joker even more than the actual clown of the show Buggy. It fits with his rather unpredictable personality of being extremely clumsy yet intimidating from his fits of violence towards children and absolute muteness. Psychotic tendencies must be a genetic trait.
One Piece photo
Tragic Backstory Time
Whew! 700 episodes. I can still remember starting One Piece nearly a decade ago. Back then there were no official streaming sites so I had to go by Youtube episodes that were chopped up into 3 bits. I was inspired to watch it...

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

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

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...

Annotated Anime: One Piece episode 699

Jun 30 // Anthony Redgrave
Naturally Luffy's animalistic fighting style eliminates their gambit as despite successfully connecting with Doflamingo, doesn't put him down for the count. This episode shows where the majority of the budget for the Dressrosa arc went as the fighting is crisp and lively. Even the characters outside of the fighting look good as they have gracefully avoided the derp hammer. Doflamingo's fighting style is different compared to when he faced Law on the bridge as he chooses to employ a puppet-pincer style against Luffy. It reminds me of Gecko Moria's fighting style except Doflamingo actually participates instead of lazing around.  The fight isn't even close. The Surgeon-Straw Hat duo may have been able to sucker punch Doflamingo, but they are not ready for a face to face confrontation. Doflamingo is head and toes better than the two combined, making Trebol look pretty much useless. In another part of the town, Sabo's fight with Fujitora has already ended. Koala finds him day dreaming and their interaction is very similar to Nami's and Luffy's relationship. The fact that Koala and Nami also have the same hair color doesn't help with the avoid this comparison. The abrupt end to Sabo's bout with Fujitora is quite confusing as I have no idea why they had stopped or at what point they were at. They just stopped.  As the episode concludes Doflamingo takes down Luffy and stops Law from dealing the final blow to Trebol. A noble act for someone that sell's slaves, blackmails royalty, and enslaves whole countries. He then goes on a rant about hating people thinking they are above him and we get glimpses at his twisted superiority complex. Also does anyone else think his younger self looks like Duke Nukem?  [One Piece streams weekly on FUNimation] Koala
One Piece photo
Doflamingo is a psycho!
Donquixote Doflamingo has been one of my favorite villains in One Piece ever since he was introduced as one of the seven warlords of the sea. You only really saw him in-between arcs, but you could tell that he wasn'...

Annotated Anime: The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-Chan episode 5

Jun 28 // Anthony Redgrave
So we finally get a resolution behind the drama filled finale worthy of a soap opera; the meek girl finally plucks up the courage to give her crush chocolates only to find her crush receiving chocolates from another girl! Shock! Horror! Scandalous! It's like something right out of a tamer Dear Deidre (for the British Sun readers). The true meaning behind the chocolate giving mishap is, of course, a misunderstanding as Valentine's Day chocolates come in two varieties; courtesy chocolate for friends and the more recognisable love chocolates. I'm guessing the courtesy chocolates that are being given don't have to be homemade or nice or even special in any way as Haruhi was giving out the Japanese equivalent of $1.00 Hershey bars to Kyon and Koizumi. In true mother bird fashion, Asakura flies off in a rage at Haruhi for hurting Nagato but is wise enough to find her own faults in pushing her ideals onto Nagato. I've said this every week of recapping Nagato Yuki-chan but I really like Asakura as a character and this bit of character development is the cherry on top of a sundae. Catching up with Nagato it is revealed that is even more misunderstanding. Nagato wanted to leave Haruhi and Kyon alone so she can give him the chocolates in private and dropping the chocolate was a mistake. It still doesn't explain why she had to run out of the building and out of sight. Finally, Kyon and Nagato have their moment even though the former is still oblivious and the latter has her confession interrupted by secondary characters.  This episode had a lot of interaction between Haruhi and Asakura, two characters that didn't interact a whole bunch in the Haruhi series. While Asakura has to take a parental role when talking to Nagato, she sees Haruhi as an equal so can voice her concerns and thoughts for a second opinion. I really like this as it shows that Asakura is not this perfect protective person and still has insecurities when it comes to advising her friend.  There is a post credit scene in this episode so don't switch off when the ending credits appear.  [Watch the disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan on FUNimation!] So we finally get a resolution behind the drama filled finale worthy of a soap opera; the meek girl finally plucks up the courage to give her crush chocolates only to find her crush receiving chocolates from another girl! Shock! Horror! Scandalous! It's like something right out of a tamer Dear Deidre (for the British Sun readers). The true meaning behind the chocolate giving mishap is of course a misunderstanding as Valentine's Day chocolates come in two varieties; courtesy chocolate for friends and the more recogniseable love chocolates. I'm guessing the courtesy chocolates that are being given don't have to be homemade or nice or even special in anyway as Haruhi was giving out the Japanese equivalent of $1.00 Hershey bars to Kyon and Koizumi. In true mother bird fashion Asakura flies off in a rage at Haruhi for hurting Nagato but is wise enough to find her own faults in pushing her ideals onto Nagato. I've said this every week of recapping Nagato Yuki-chan but I really like Asakura as a character and this bit of character development is the cherry on top of a sundae. Catching up with Nagato it is revealed that is even more misunderstanding. Nagato wanted to leave Haruhi and Kyon alone so she can give him the chocolates in private as that is what she wanted and dropping the chocolate was a mistake that made for a dramatical shot. It still doesn't explain why she had to run out of the building and out of sight. Finally Kyon and Nagato have their moment even though the former is still oblvious and the latter has her confession interuppted by secondary characters.  This episode had a lot of interaction between Haruhi and Asakura, two characters that didn't interact a whole bunch in the Haruhi series. While Asakura has to usually take the parent role when talking to Nagato, she sees Haruhi as an equal so can voice her concerns and thoughts for a second opinion. I really like this as it shows that Asakura is not this perfect parental person and still has insecurities when it comes to advising her friend.  There is a post credit scene in this episode so don't switch off when the ending credits appear.  [Watch the disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan on FUNimation!]
Nagato Yuki photo
Boys are soooo oblivious!
It's par for the course that every love interest in anime that is out-numbered by the opposite gender by more than 1:2 will be completely ignorant of another's feeling. It's the harem curse that falls on all protagonists. The...

Annotated Anime: One Piece Episode 698

Jun 23 // Anthony Redgrave
Wow what an episode. When One Piece wants to turn on the action valve, it gushes not drips. I've been waiting a whole year for some more excellent One Piece fights and this episode was just the hor d'oeuvres. But first we had to sit through one of the most bizarre and badly done transition shots I've seen in recent years. After some badass close ups of Robin, Bartolomeo, and Cabbage Cavendish, it then jump cuts to a close up of Doflamingo's glasses, Law and ends with Trebol laughing. The whole thing lasts less than 3 seconds, but it's absolutely jarring to see. It's as if they accidently added in frames of Doflamingo and Law when they were finalising the scene transition. As I mentioned before this episode is about action, action, action! We are treated to literally all the fights occurring at this very moment; Franky vs. Senor Pink, the gladiators vs. Doflamingo family, and even Law and Luffy begin their final battle with the Heavenly Demon. Confusingly they completely forgot about Zoro's fight, unless he got lost on Pica. Since Sanji is AWOL, Zoro's fight is the one I'm looking forward to most so I was disappointed I didn't see him do some badass santoryu.  An alternative title for this episode should have been 'flashbacks, shadows of the past' as they recount many previous events leading up to now. It was especially offsetting seeing the old art style One Piece had back in the Jaya arc. Looking back on old One Piece episodes makes me question whether my rose tinted glasses are a bit too powerful as they look dated. The ending is one of the most satisfying I have seen in One Piece. All the frustrations I have had with the arc has all been soothed in the last 10 minutes of the episode. It also brings up a lot of mysteries that I want answering concerning the past relationship with Law and Doflamingo. My body is ready for the next week's One Piece episode #olde3joke.  hor d'oeuvres bartolomeo
One Piece photo
Action! Action! Action Jackson!
Readers that cross-pollinate to other anime sites like Anime News Network may know that they have started doing One Piece recaps as well. The writer of these, Sam Leach disagrees with me almost every week. When I li...

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

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

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

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

Annotated Anime: One Piece episode 697

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

Annotated Anime: Stardust Crusaders episodes 46-47

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

Annotated Anime: One Piece episode 696

Jun 10 // Anthony Redgrave
All the Law gushing in the preface is reference to the fact that they are able to free Law in this episode, but not before Rebecca gets beat down by Diamante. She is able to stand on her own for a few scenes against the Aerosmith lead singer, but ultimately resorts to the Joestar family's secret technique. There is a moment in this episode where she drops the key to Law's cuffs, causing me to groan at the idea of a whole episode looking for it. Fortunately this is not the case. Even more fortunate for Rebecca, a soldier's promise is never broken as Kyros swoops in to save the day. For a guy with one leg, he is surprisingly spry. Luffy and Law are not far behind as they finally reach Level 4 but not before they are snapped up by a pursuing Headcracker Doll. If you have been watching One Piece as long as I have, you will be well versed in the amount of times a main character suffers a killing blow, only to miraculously escape in the last minute. It's a shonen tradition, and it is shown again as the two pirates are eaten before reaching Rebecca.  But just like a magic trick reveal, the cuffs are unshackled and the pirates are fine. Finally, after piggy backing on Luffy for the past dozen episodes Law is back. And he doesn't waste any time using Room to teleport himself and Luffy into Doflamingo's castle. Law has one of the most versatile devil fruits in One Piece except for Luffy's plot convenience powers.  Before I leave you Japanators for another week I want to mention that this week's episode was riddled with piss poor art. It's something I'm used to overlooking week on week but this time they really did a number on Rebecca. This usually occurs whenever they are running long on an arc and when the next arc starts after the filler, there is a notable improvement. Considering the manga isn't out of Dressrosa yet, we have got a bumpy ride ahead of us. 
One Piece photo
Free Law! Free Law! Free LAW!
When Law came on the scene I did not trust him. I didn't even trust him even when he allied himself with the Straw Hats before the time skip. Gradually through the Punk Hazard Arc he grew on me, but there was still this uneas...

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 ...

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.
Unlimited Blade Works photo
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: Food Wars! Shokugeki no Soma episodes 6-8

Jun 02 // Nick Valdez
Episode 6 In this episode, we learn a little more about Totsuki Academy's numerous cooking clubs and how the "God Tongue" Erina uses her status as one of the ten best students in the school to get what she wants. Because it needs to set up the next bunch of episodes, this one is mostly exposition and ultimately feels lacking. Souma stumbles on the Don Research Society, which focuses on a rice dish with various meats on top, and discovers that it's the next club Erina wants to take down. Erina sends Mito Ikumi, who's nicknamed "Nikumi" and whose specialty is meat dishes (and layered with all sorts of jokes). I'm not a particular fan of her design although you could argue that it also goes with the overall parodical nature of the show as her design hearkens back to a late 80s bikini under a shirt vibe. Souma challenges Mito to a Shokugeki duel where he'll get expelled if he loses, and Mito will join the Don RS if he wins. The rest of the episode is a nice change of pace at the Polar Star dorm's garden, and lets Tadaroko shine a bit.  All of the technical problems I noted in my initial First Impressions post are still here, but they're not as abrasive as they were before. I'm sure it's because of a lack of major activity.  Episode 7 Okay, so this is the show I've been waiting for. Gone is most of the fluff, and it's all boiled down to hardcore cooking action. As Souma and Mito finally start the Shokugeki, Mito reveals her prize possession, a chunk of Grade A5 meat (very expensive). Souma counters with some cheaper grocery store meat. Through the episode the commentary from the crowd helps to elevate the admitted lack of action. But it's basically told in the same format you'd find in reality shows like Iron Chef where the chefs aren't really moving all that much but the commentary from the judges helps to elevate the visuals. Since this is a Don battle, Mito presents a Don using her super wagyu beef and her entire focus was on making the meat great. But Souma presents an all around better Don (with his focus pointed more toward the rice and making sure the dish has a sense of unity), and ultimately wins the duel thanks to his secret plum additive.  After their Shokugeki, Mito seems to have developed a crush on Souma. And Souma is offered the Don RS's head position, but hilariously turns it down. When summarized, there doesn't seem to be a whole lot of plot to the episode but that's what is so great about it overall. The theatrics of the series finally make sense and the Shokugekis are far more palatable than they are in the manga. I hope this continues to be the trend going forward.  Episode 8 With his first official Shokugeki under his belt, Souma and his reinforced confidence are subjected to Totsuki's outdoor training camp. Each year that Totsuki does the camp, the first year class is cut in half thanks to a hefty amount of grueling challenges that can get you expelled. After introducing some Totsuki alumni who'll judge the challenges (including Chef Shinomiya, who sent a student home based on his smelly hair product). The first challenge puts Tadaroko and Souma in a pair as Chef Inui (who amazingly stated she wanted to eat the oh so cute Tadaroko) tasks them with cooking a Japanese cuisine dish made from ingredients the cooks can sparse from the area around them. Basically, it's a task based on the mentality that no challenge should stump a chef as long as he keeps a level head. The challenge also introduces a new rival with the Aldini brothers, a pair of twins who look nothing alike and can cook some fine Italian cuisine.  The rest of the episode is dedicated to seeing the brothers craft their duck dish. A dish that incorporates traditional Japanese ingredients into Italian recipes like salsa verde. That's where this anime's shonen qualities kick in with exaggerated knife work and accented backgrounds that really make the cooking pop. I kind of wish these were seen more during the last episode, but since we're supposed to believe that the brothers put their dish together with a quick pace it's understandable.  It'll be interesting to see how Souma's flair for the dramatic is sparked by this display, and if the show continues to follow the manga as closely as it has, the next episode is going to be hilarious. I'm not sure if I'm a fan of the show's pace (as a lot of the show's plot is hindered by a bit of filler each episode) since it feels like we could've had the entire first challenge within a single episode. But maybe that would've been too much. What do you think? 
Annotated Food Wars! photo
Is Souma don for?
With the first five episodes, Food Wars! Shokugeki no Soma had to establish its wacky as all get out world. Goofy sexualization, heightened environment, and basically had to make sure you could accept this culinary world seri...

Annotated Anime: One Piece 695

Jun 02 // Anthony Redgrave
The show opens to Rebecca finally reaching level four and letting her Tontatta allies run off into the castle to find their Princess Mansherry. Then five minutes go by with Rebecca staring off into the distance as flower petals dance across the screen. If you extract those frames of animation and package it with some home made doujin scans, you have a Rebecca eroge.  It's not even hyperbole that the show is padding for time when it shows close up views of Rebecca's face with petals providing the only animation in the scene. It gets worse when the quality of the art makes her look like those cheap knock off anime figures you see on flea markets with distorted faces. I don't usually contain a gallery in my annotated anime segments but this has to be seen.  Unfortunately Toei cannot just show Rebecca until the face catch so Aerosmith's Steve Tyler Diamente emerges from the flower field and laughs. Yep one of the Doflamingo executives was so tired of waiting for our heroes that he decided to lie down rather than sit or stand. I guess when the protagonists squabble amongst themselves on who will be committing homicide, things will take longer to proceed. Other than that, this episode provides some more great Bartolomeo fanboy moments and shows that he is currently more useful than Law in this skirmish by producing a staircase for Luffy to Level 4. The episode ends with brief scenes of what the other Straw Hats are doing in case we had forgotten. When Franky got into a breakdancing contest with Senor Pink? I want more of that please next week!
One Piece photo
Rebecca Dating Sim
I'm going to admit it, there are some fine looking anime people in One Piece. Whether you're into fish-human hybrids, abnormally large men, or disproportionate women One Piece will have you covered. I've always been a Vivi gu...

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.
Stardust Crusaders photo
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: MY Love STORY!! Episodes 6-7

May 27 // Nicole Helmeid
When Ai and her brother confront Yamato about her secret, Yamato launches into a list of Takeo’s physical traits that get her heart racing. I was dying of laughter as her and Ai agreed on all of his good points while Makoto shrinks into the background. Yamato’s big problem was that she wanted to move forward on the physical side of her and Takeo’s relationship, but fears it would crush his “pure” vision of her. Ai is a little shocked but gives her the confidence to tell Takeo exactly what she wants. Ai is still struggling with her love for Takeo, I think she knows he is the happiest he has ever been. She is full of regret for not telling him how she felt sooner and is still incredibly jealous of Yamato. Yamato and Takeo finally clear up the misunderstanding and Yamato also confesses she lied about how she found his place in the beginning and also left her cell phone behind on purpose. I find it really cute that her big lies and “impure” thoughts are still so sweet and innocent. It’s really refreshing that a show of this typically-drama-filled genre can be so lighthearted. Takeo feels the pressure to be a good man for Yamato and is embarrassed to have messed up something as simple as hand-holding. He comes to Suna with a request- teach him how to kiss. Suna obviously refuses but Takeo cannot be stopped.  He traps Suna and puts saran wrap over his face because that makes it "OK" in Takeo's eyes. The episode cuts away and ends right as the kiss is happening, to the dismay of any fujoshi watching this series (myself included.)   In episode 7, Takeo is recruited by the Judo club to help with a tough match. He agrees without realizing it would cut-down on his time seeing Yamato. But in her usual sweet manner, she cheers him on and meets him after practice to deliver rice balls. There was a bit of filler in this episode with a training montage- but with the great animation, the overlay of text messages between Takeo and Yamato, and a few gags thrown in (like his mother using him as an ironing board) it was still very entertaining. Takeo told Yamato not to meet him after practice anymore since the area had warning signs for gropers. But since he isn’t the most eloquent man, he simply tells her not to come rather than explaining why. This worries Yamato so she goes to visit Sunakawa. Suna is now a master of interpreting Takeo and Yamato, so he calms her down and she realizes it must have been a misunderstanding. The day of the judo match arrives and Takeo’s opponent (who looks like a character out of Cromartie High School) declares Takeo has already lost since he has a girlfriend. Someone sounds jealous! When it is Takeo's turn to fight, the two school’s teams are tied. His opponent is pretty evenly matched and there are a few moments where Takeo falters. Usually Takeo has ridiculous superhuman strength so I’m glad he was paired up with a character that could produce an exciting match. Takeo eventually wins with a toss, to the amazement of everyone in the crowd. Even the stoic Suna is impressed.  The next episode is Titled "My Friend" so I'm hoping something good happens to Suna in return for his loyalty and devotion to Takeo.   
MY Love STORY!! Ep 6-7 photo
Communication is key
Yamato is still in turmoil over a secret she can’t tell. 

Annotated Anime: One Piece episode 694

May 26 // Anthony Redgrave
From last week's episode, Luffy and the tag alongs are still fighting the giant soldier nutcrackers that seem to be invincible. All the gum gum attacks and blade of beauty slashes can't seem to keep these monstrosities down. And that might be partially because the girl with the Toy Devil Fruit has regained consciousness. There is an excellent scene where she is presented sausages by long nosed henchmen despite her new found fear for 'stick shaped' things. Its funny because One Piece's 'red shirts' are almost always generically drawn characters and never have a defining feature like a long nose but they all seem to have congregated around Sugar in that one moment.    Robin's jump squad are ambushed by Gladius who is able to bring down Robin and Bartolomeo but Rebecca escapes to the Level 4 with Law's key. Unfortunately Law is stuck on Level 3 so we have to wait even longer before Law can stop whining like a bitch and become useful. Finally, things are starting to be set up for some great fights as Robin orders Luffy's group to continue so she and the Straw Hat fanboy take on Gladius and the rest of the nutcrackers. Again not much happens in terms of plot in this episode but there are a lot of set ups for future instalments. I can't wait to see Usopp display his god like sniper ability since its always so damn rare and team up fights are always great to see. Even though it was filler, the team up fight with Sanji and Usopp against the ice skating couple is still a personal favourite.
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Are we still in Dressrosa?
The Dressrosa arc had the potential to be one of my favourite arcs. The main bad guy was the enigmatic Donquixote Doflamingo, it carried on from Punk Hazard so we got to have more Law, and Dressrosa is a great locat...

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: One Piece 693

May 20 // Anthony Redgrave
Luffy, Law, Kyros, and Cavendish head towards the Palace while the rest of the Gladiators fend off Doflamingo's executives and their lackeys Zoro fights off Pica allowing Bartolomeo, Robin, and Rebecca to rendezvous with Luffy's group as they have the key to Law's sea prism cuffs Sabo duels Fujitora to prevent his pursuit of Luffy Usopp does nothing with King Riku and Violet The Sunny Protection Squad and Sanji still haven't been seen since episode 662 Kin'emon finally finds his samurai friend Kanjuro Franky busts into the SMILE factory but still has to deal with Senor Pinkand There was a new intro. Nothing particularly catchy or memorable  This episode picks up with Luffy's group taking out the extremely creepy toy soldiers on the third level. These guys would look menacing since they are giant, move abnormally, and appear from the fog but Luffy and the others defeat them with such ease that there isn't much tension. In fact they have a Legolas/ Gimili style competition to see how many they can take down which Luffy ends up winning much to Cavendish's chagrin. Kin'emon meets up with Usopp and King Riku with his new samurai friend Kanjuro in tow. Kanjuro has the same ability as Sai from Naruto except he is a Samurai not a Ninja (can draw things that then come to life). This guy is great. He's another good source of comic relief that prevents One Piece from taking itself too seriously. Although having a giant calligraphy brush with a Katana handle is really weird.  After outsmarting Senor Pink, Franky gains access to the SMILE factory but is instantly met with opposition in the form of Kyuin, the manager. She is a big masked woman that wields a hoover because even in One Piece they conform to gendered stereotypes. Through some affectionate means Franky subdues Kyuin and turns his attention to Senor Pink. They talk about being Hard Boiled as the tramps swoon. I don't quite get it but I assume its a concept I'll understand once I have grown more than 2 chest hairs. I was really enjoying this arc at first but its beginning to lose traction. The pace has slowed down to the point the plot is barely moving even though they are finally making their way to fighting Doflamingo. I hope they focus on Zoro's fight against Pica soon or explore Law's backstory that was hinted at earlier. 
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Ah~ So Hard Boiled!
Yo ho ho! Ensign Redgrave back on the helm to deliver the SS Japanator through the Grand Line safely and to document the adventures of the Straw Hat Crew. I've been MIA for a while so I'll summarise the missing 9 episodes in bullet points. 

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!]
Unlimited Blade Works photo
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...

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...

Annotated Anime: Plastic Memories episodes 4-6

May 10 // Josh Tolentino
But first, the egg's on my face. Last time I wrote about the Plastic Memories, I had declared it largely uninterested in exploring its more science-fictional aspects, more specifically the "big questions" raised by its premise of Giftias as android companions. I was wrong. Well, sort of. The last three episodes don't quite explore the concept per se as instead reveal more of the world around the characters of the SAI Terminal Service. Given that this is a work of fiction rather than, say, a documentary, that's how you start grappling with questions of any kind. And it works! Sort of. It works because we're finally shown more of the show's darker side. This is where I was most wrong. I predicted that we wouldn't be seeing much in the way of the good old "androids gone berserk" trope at work in Plastic Memories. After all, if SAI was confident enough to sell Giftias as surrogate children, parents, and lovers, surely the androids were safe enough not to go nuts and kill all humans.  But...nope! Isla and Tsukasa's toughest case yet - retrieving Marcia, a Giftia's that's been little sister to an orphaned little boy - doesn't just pull at the heartstrings, but reveals much more immediate consequences to not retrieving a terminal Giftia in time. Overdue Giftias don't just lose their memories and personalities, but also risk becoming "Wanderers", androids that walk around with their physical limiters off, prone to harming themselves and others in a fit of robo-mental-breakdown.  Honestly, if there's one aspect to this that doesn't quite jive, it's that people would wait so long to retrieve a terminal Giftia. If Wanderers posed such a threat - and they do, judging by the way a Wanderer was responsible for most of Michiru's backstory as well as ending Kazuki and Isla's partnership - then the retrieval deadlines for a Giftia would be much farther from their actual expiry date. You know how milk or food will usually be just fine to eat for a couple of days even after their listed "best by" date? Imagine that, but farther ahead for Giftias. Furthermore, retrieval should be a much more compulsive action. In fact, given the damage just one Wanderer can do, it's likely a cop or government agent would be the one to retrieve your Giftia, not a couple of teens with smiles on their faces. That aside, it's an interesting angle, especially considering that up to now no one's ever questioned the inherent goodness of being with a Giftia. I suppose that questioning the central premise of the show would be a bit too meta and potentially self-destructive for Plastic Memories to risk exploring. Can't blame 'em. But ultimately, Plastic Memories feels more like a show about mortality and confronting loss than a show about androids and their place in society. The central metaphor certainly supports that reading better than any more traditionally sci-fi approach. That metaphor: Retrieval as the impact of terminal sickness or death, gets underlined in episode 6, as Tsukasa finally gets the big news: Isla will be gone in just over a month. This being a love story, of course, brings us at last to the foregone conclusion of the show: Tsukasa wants to be with Isla. No tiny amount of time, or effort on her part to stay a distant machine, is enough to break that kind of fairytale relationship. Now, it'll be up to the pair to see how she reacts to the news.  [Watch Plastic Memories on Crunchyroll!]      
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Let's Go A-Wanderin'
A month and change. That's actually a very short time, when you think about it. For example. I haven't written a recap of Plastic Memories in almost three weeks. That's about half the time Isla's got left on her android clock, and with the latest three episodes, we're just about ready to start plumbing the show's potential depths.

Annotated Anime: MY Love STORY!! episode 5

May 10 // Nicole Helmeid
He hands him off to Sunakawa who once again gets the praise for Takeo's actions. Takeo borrows Suna's comically-small gym clothes and the three eat cake in the park. Takeo thinks to himself how pure Yamato is- nothing like his former-wrestler mother which is a hilarious and perfect family background for his character. Later the couple takes a stroll to see the stars and when Yamato mentions how secluded they are in the park- seemingly hinting at the romantic situation. He interprets it as fear of being alone together and declares he won't lay a hand on her until she is "all grown up." Suddenly, a love rival appears?!   In an unexpected turn, Sunakawa's beautiful older sister Ai comes home for a visit and is distraught upon learning Takeo has gotten a girlfriend. Hey- it wouldn't be shoujo if there wasn't a love rival! Her brother had no idea she had feelings for Takeo and she proceeds to throw a tantrum. She demands to meet the new girlfriend to judge her character. Sunakawa and Takeo head to the park to meet Yamato while Ai secretly follows them. Ai senses something is bothering Yamato, who has mixed up sugar with salt in her latest batch of cookies and seems to be a bit on edge. Ai declares to her brother that Yamato is hiding a secret from Takeo and wonders whether she is cheating on him. Takeo finally notices something is up when Yamato tries to tell him something on their walk home but instead just says goodnight. In an attempt to understand her, Takeo turns to teen girl magazines at the convenience store. Ai comes across this scene, as passersbys take photos of an oblivious Takeo, and offers to help talk to Yamato for him. We'll have to see if she uses this as a chance to drive a wedge between the couple. [You can watch MY love STORY!! on Crunchyroll with new episodes every Wednesday.]
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A Rival Appears
After last week's explosive episode in which our seemingly super-human protagonist saved two of Yamato's friends from a burning building, we are back with Episode 5. With the title "I'm Dense" this episode deals with Takeo m...

First Impressions: MY Love STORY!!

Apr 30 // Nicole Helmeid
Makoto Sunakawa looks like the stereotypical shoujo protagonist, but is actually Gouda's best friend since childhood. Quiet, seemingly cold, and good-looking, he receives many confessions from girls but turns them all down. One day they are riding the train when Sunakawa spots a girl getting groped by a strange man.  Gouda steps in and saves the girl, named Rinko Yamato, who falls in love with Gouda at first sight.  She begins baking sweets for Gouda regularly to thank him.  Gouda has a crush on Yamato but since he is used to girls not liking him, he believes Yamato is in love with Sunakawa.  He vows to help them become a couple while being oblivious to Yamato’s advances. The anime is currently on episode 4, and it has proven it can skewer the stereotypes of the genre while still being funny and romantic.  One of the aspects of shoujo that drives me crazy is a character’s inability to realize their romantic interest likes them back.  The annoying “will they or won’t they” then drags on for the whole series. Thankfully My Love STORY!! doesn’t fall into this trap, even though Gouda is thickheaded enough for it to be a believable plot point.  Thanks to a trick pulled off by Sunakawa,  Yamato and Gouda confess to each other and are surrounded by sparkly shoujo bubble bliss.  Madhouse’s animation is another great characteristic of this series, and you will especially appreciate it if you are an avid manga reader.   Sunakawa’s written thoughts and the aforementioned shoujo backgrounds always give me a laugh.  Since this is still a shoujo series I’m excited to see what drama is in-store for this atypical couple.   [You can watch MY Love STORY!! at Crunchyroll with new episodes every Wednesday.]
MY Love STORY!! photo
Nice guys finish first
 MY Love Story!! (or Ore Monogatari!!) is an unconventional shoujo manga that’s received an anime adaptation this season.  The story follows unlikely protagonist Takeo Gouda, an extremely tall and strong high ...

Annotated Anime: Plastic Memories episode 3

Apr 23 // Josh Tolentino
In fact, the episode is full of classic romance cliches from the out. Tsukasa is asked to live in Isla's apartment due to company policy, and after finding that Isla spends all her time ignoring him, asks his co-workers for advice on connecting with her. The results are many awkward moments and absolutely priceless reaction faces from Michiru. Honestly, I haven't seen this many good reaction faces since The Devil is a Part-Timer!. And naturally, as the trope goes, Tsukasa only really manages to connect with Isla - who seems to be actively avoiding close contact with others in an attempt to "be a machine" - after he just acts like himself. It's a classic resolution to a classic rom-com dilemma, and it's executed here adeptly. Naturally, Isla's stoniness is absolutely related to the fact that she's got three months before retirement herself, which leads one to ask if it's right that no one's told Tsukasa. I mean, it's absolutely her business not to tell if she doesn't want to, but they work together and her decline is relevant to their job performance, not to mention Tsukasa's feelings. And it's not as if others couldn't do it either: Kazuki nearly spilled the beans in episode 2, but didn't. It just seems cruel to leave Tsukasa in the lurch like that. Beyond that, more interesting questions arise when you wonder just who would buy an android that you'd have to provide living space for. And if Giftias really are so close to humans that most people don't see a difference, then many more problems would come out of the fact that they're being sold as commercial products. Last I checked, trafficking in people was a crime, after all. Weird stuff to consider. [Catch Plastic Memories on Crunchyroll!]
Plastic Memories photo
Her Face When
If you were looking for more intriguing world-building or sci-fi details to chew on in this installment of Plastic Memories, you may be disappointed. On the other hand, if you came for tender and chuckle-worthy romantic hijin...

Annotated Anime: Unlimited Blade Works episode 15

Apr 21 // Josh Tolentino
The fight alone between Gilgamesh, in all his cruel glory, and Berserker, in all his savage might, is an able representation of how far we've come since Studio Deen's adaptation of the arc back in 2010. I've said it before, but their animation on this broadcast TV series regularly puts that feature film to shame. Of course, I can't blame them too much, either. Circumstances were different, then, and if nothing else, Deen's take condenses out the Fate franchise's propensity for tedium. Then again, quite a few of the fans appreciate that "tedium" as important world and character-building, so maybe it isn't so bad (it isn't).  That aside, the fight is interspersed with looks back at Illya's own past, exploring just what happened to her in the wake of Fate/Zero. In many ways, Illya was an more important - and explicit - link back to Fate/Zero than even Saber, Kirei, and Gilgamesh were, despite the three all being involved in Fate/Zero's plot to a much greater degree. That's because Illya represents the ultimate result of Fate/Zero's dense tangle of plots: A little girl who lost her parents, fated to suffer some ominous doom in her future. This wasn't nearly as clear back in the original game, naturally - Fate/Zero was nothing more than a twinkle in Urobuchi's eye at the time - but during this run, Illya's own actions and motivations have been thoroughly shaped by Kiritsugu's choices. Revenge on Kiritsugu through Shirou, curiosity about her new "stepbrother", and as of this week, the machinations of Grail-kun, have all built her into walking proof of this show's status as the current, definitive representation of Fate/stay night at large. Yeah, I said it! It's also a testament to Ufotable's own graphic sensibilities. The violence on display, particularly in the flashback where Illya's chased by wolves, or when Gilgamesh finally ends it all (with Rin having to manhandle Shirou to keep him from interfering and getting everyone killed) is unsettling, to say the least. It's far from "gore porn", though, and if anything it underscores how cruel he can be. At the same time, though, it's almost possible to sympathize with this devil of a man. He's cruel, ruthless, and his sadistic streak does his reputation no favors, but he's kingly in his villainy, in the way philosophers have always claimed that rulers are held to a different moral standard. It's weird that as a viewer, I can say that Gil is awful, but at the same time think that Shinji doesn't deserve to have him as a Servant. That's what good characterization is, and I'm of the opinion that it couldn't have happened for Gilgamesh without all the additional context that Fate/Zero and now this show have provided. And that's what's happening for Illya and Berserker here. Despite barely being present in Zero, and missing for much of this show, the extra breathing room and Ufotable's apparent carte blanche with regards to new plot development have given her a depth that was far harder to discern  in the source material. That makes it all the more sad that she's dead now, doesn't it?  Rest in peace, kiddo. 
Unlimited Blade Works photo
No Brakes On The Berser-Car
And so ends one of the sadder stories (and backstories) in Fate/stay night's large (some might say overly large) collection of sad backstories. Of course, having a sad backstory is par for the course in a Type-MOON-based fiction, so that's not remarkable in and of itself, but Ufotable's presentation of such in their take on Unlimited Blade Works is certainly worthy of note.

Impressions: Knights of Sidonia: Battle for Planet Nine

Apr 19 // Josh Tolentino
I'll get back to that "era" thing I mentioned in a bit. But first, a bit of background. I didn't "drop" the site recaps of Sidonia halfway through out of dislike. On the contrary, by my reckoning, it's easily one of the best science fiction anime in years, though to be fair, that's not saying much considering the state of anime these days. Still, the point is Knights of Sidonia's good, and the best thing about it is that it's one of the few shows that really builds a sense of place into the setting. In a medium not especially well-known for subtlety, the show is a comparative master class in giving the viewer a sense of the kind of home the Sidonia is without resorting to lectures or explicit narration. Sci-fi and fantasy settings, due to being different from the world we know, are especially prone to falling into that expository pit. Despite my love for them, series like Log Horizon, Fate/stay night, and even Legend of the Galactic Heroes should serve as cautionary tales against that tendency. Knights of Sidonia has its own moments of "lore-dumping", but manages to cut down on that need by using things like environmental cues to communicate the state of the world and other key world-building tasks. I suppose we shouldn't be too surprised, though. Sidonia is, after all, is based on the work of Tsutomu Nihei, who created an entire sci-fi setting in Blame! and its related manga, and communicated that world through many, many, painfully detailed environmental frames, often without dialog or even activity.  What's interesting here is how Polygon Pictures has approached world-building in this adaptation, partly due to the differences between Nihei's hand-drawn artwork and their use of CGI. In the manga, Sidonia is portrayed as a very "lived-in" space, having been home to what might be the last of humankind for hundreds of generations. In the manga panels and the commercial-break eyecatches on the show, it almost looks as if the climbing, wall-mounted living spaces onboard the Sidonia (Side note: The "vertical" orientation even serves as a clue related to how the ship is laid out!) were carved straight from the concrete/asteroid hull, like the humans of the far future lived in a spaceborne rendition of Meteora.  By comparison (and particularly in the less graphically-impressive first season), the CGI version of the Sidonia looks cleaner and more sterile. Lines are straighter, corners sharper, and curves less curvy. Part of that was due to the CGI models being unable to fully represent the "grit" of the worn-down, lived-in nature of life onboard Sidonia. Polygon Pictures seemed to know that, but rather than settle for what would ultimately be an "inferior" representation of the manga's world, they leveraged Nihei's vision of Sidonia life into a visual style that was almost aggressively monochrome. Look at all that black, white and gray, broken up only by the occasional dusty red or green. The lack of color in the show's aesthetic recast Sidonia as less a rock-hewn community and more like something closer to a sterile, but decaying hospital or public building. You've probably been in one yourself. You know the look: Crumbly concrete, grit that's been cleaned off but leaving stains. The result is a setting that looked akin to an urban spelunking course than a vision of the future. Ultimately, both the manga and anime arrived at the same basic portrayal: That of Sidonia society being one of precarious, decayed beauty, in two different ways. Add to that the show's masterful audioscape - Sidonia is the anime that made me care about sound effects in anime, like Battlefield is the videogame that made me care about sound effects in games - and its interesting use of HUD graphics, and the first season was an aesthetic achievement rarely equaled, even by traditional 2D rivals. Sadly, Knights of Sidonia's narrative doesn't carry as much weight as its aesthetic. Between this, Blame! and the rest, Nihei's forte seems to be more in places than people. The theme of desperation and humanity on the brink still goes strong (in that way Sidonia differentiates itself from its rival Attack on Titan, thanks to their seemingly opposed moods), but the actual goings-on revealed a somewhat generic hero's story. Nagate Tanikaze, after intriguing viewers by being the last "normal" human among a population of kids that can photosynthesize, sort of dropped the underdog act midway through the first season. In some ways it couldn't really be helped. His circumstances and skills as the ace pilot of the Tsugumori mecha made him a natural hero. And yet having all the girls (including the third-gender Izana) fall for him in one way or the other felt...off, considering the way Sidonia normally comported itself. In short, we don't need these harem hijinks! And this is coming from Japanator's resident harem apologist.   Thankfully, the future seems to be brighter for the second season. Despite somewhat stiff character animation, the mecha scenes in the first two episodes of Battle for Planet Nine are smoother than ever. The plot seems to be picking up as well, with Kunato, the asshole squad leader that framed Nagate and got Hoshijiro killed, now under the control of the arch-villain, Ochiai. Ochiai's work on hybridizing Gauna and human apparently caused such a disaster that the Sidonia's population was reduced to less than 500 survivors. Considering modern studies suggesting that an ideal space-colony breeding population would need to be Original Macross-sized or better, one can only imagine the chaos that ensued in that man's wake. And now he's back, and turned the Hoshijiro-shaped Gauna placenta into...a teenage-girl-shaped bio-mecha, "Shiraui Tsumugi". One with a crush on Nagate. It's like a rom-com show set in the Macross universe where one of the girlfriend characters is a full-size Zentradi. Except Tsumugi also interacts with the human-sized world via an adorable tentacle, too, so all those bases are covered. Thankfully aside from these unfortunate (though hilarious) character dynamics, the moves being made in the shadows serve to deepen Sidonia's story. For one, Captain Kobayashi's made her move, and pulled a coup to take over from the creepy tank-people who served as the Sidonia's elder leadership caste. It's high time that the show's did more to portray the captain as a more ambiguous figure with regards to her intentions. She's one of the few people Nagate obeys without question, so seeing his naive ideals conflict with her ruthless pragmatism should make for interesting viewing as things develop further. Now, what's all this about "Planet Nine"?
Knights of Sidonia photo
The Knights Who Say 'Eeeh!'
And...we're back! Yes, it's been quite a while since the last time Japanator went in-depth with Knights of Sidonia. In fact, we're verging on a full year since the last recap. That's partly my fault. You could say I mimicked ...

Final Impressions: Sword Art Online II

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

Annotated Anime: Plastic Memories episode 2

Apr 12 // Josh Tolentino
I mean, really, Giftias, as a business, don't seem to make a lot of sense, but highlighting the reasons they don't make sense says a lot about Plastic Memories' higher concepts and setting. Let's get back to that question: Who'd buy an android that has to pee and poop? The kind of person that would end up seeing the android as just as "human" as they are. That implies that the world of Plastic Memories has somehow grown beyond the need for "working" androids, which is the classic role of nearly every sci-fi artificial sentience. Let's remember the Blade Runner comparison, where Replicants are made to do the work people won't. In comparison, Giftias don't seem that much more suited to working than people are. Isla certainly isn't that good at her supposed job (extenuating circumstances aside), and Giftias don't seem that much more practical, unless we're talking about a situation where SAI can avoid having to pay the Giftias, thus saving on payroll, medical care, and other "human resource" expenses. Since people are still doing actual work, like repairing cars, robots and automation hasn't obviated the need for labor just yet. Earth clearly isn't off-limits to working robots, and no one seems especially afraid of being murdered by their android girlfriends or children. Does that mean that robotics and artificial sentience is either so pervasive in society or so absent from it that Giftias are given the same treatment as people? That might not be the case all over, since Michiru implies that their branch is an anomaly in the way it prioritizes amicable Giftia/owner bonding, but even in places where Giftias are more callously regarded, the acceptance of artificial life is far higher in Plastic Memories' future than any realistic projection. Just look at the Terminal Service itself. In a world even slightly more hostile to android integration, agents would likely be armed, their "partner" Giftias tricked out to subdue a rebellious android or defend the product from rioters or whatever. Plastic Memories isn't that kind of show, though, and in not being so, paints a very interesting picture of our robotic future. Naturally, I might be speculating like this pointlessly, as Plastic Memories seems to want to be a relationship show rather than a meditation on human-cyborg relations. In fact, the most pertinent cultural touchstones for examining the series are rooted less in Asimov or Star Trek than they are in shows about people with cancer, AIDs, or other largely fatal conditions. The show itself seems to reinforce that. Think about it: The most important and concrete fact we know about Giftias - and about Plastic Memories - isn't that they're androids, but that they "die" after 9 years and 4 months. That concept is the keystone to the whole premise, and after the revelation that Isla has less than 2,000 hours left on her clock (about three-odd months), the focus will naturally be on how Tsukasa and Isla can make the most of their time together. With that in mind, it makes more sense that the first episode opened on Tsukasa falling in love at first sight: She's going soon, so the usual plodding steps that open anime romances need to be sped up. That doesn't keep the decision from being annoying, though. If nothing else, their revealing the limited-lifespan conceit reveals hope that the show has more narrative gambits up its sleeve.  It might be a good sign that in light of the revelations about Isla's condition, as well as Giftia's apparent inability to halt their decline, the title "Plastic Memories" seems to a reference to neuroplasticity, or the theory that the brain can adapt its functions, like memory, speech, and such, to compensate for damage or trauma. If the show plays its cards right, the potential for a genuinely rewarding narrative might be borne out.
Plastic Memories photo
May-December Drinking Buddies
Who would ever buy an android that has to go to the bathroom?  Worse still, who would ever buy an android that, though it doesn't age, degrades in much the same way that people do when its up there in years? These are questions I'd like to ask of SAI, the big company behind Plastic Memories' setting.

Annotated Anime: Unlimited Blade Works episodes 13-14

Apr 11 // Josh Tolentino
Fans who know how this story goes won't be surprised: We're pretty much at the nadir as far as fortunes go for the good guys. To recap: Shirou and Rin are alive, but have lost Saber to Caster's cheat-dagger, the Rule Breaker. Shirou's been stabbed through the shoulder (by Excalibur, no less), and is no longer a Master, due to Caster stealing his Command Seals. Everything's turning up villain, too, as Caster has taken over Kotomine's church to try to summon the Grail herself, and played dress-up with Saber in this arc's most creepily erotic scene. Look, I get that Fate/stay night had to have its sexy times for commercial purposes, but wedding-dress Saber with the panting and whatnot feels even more gratuitous now than it was in the original. As a fan, I'm sort of happy they left it in (and it certainly is done now than Deen managed in its 2010 movie adaptation), but it's kind of gross. Then again, the show's done a lot to make Caster seem like a properly formidable antagonist, so I guess this could be counted as a net gain, since it makes her look like a real creeper. That aside, heroic hopes are crushed a bit further when the big twist hits: Archer completes his face-heel turn, and betrays Rin to free himself from their pairing. The sting's made all the more painful in this go-around because just earlier that morning Rin seemed to have come to an understanding with her jerk of a Servant. Their bond of mutual respect and closeted admiration had finally set in, only for Archer to break it once again upon the altar of opportunism. What a dick! Well, if nothing else, fate (and Fate) throw fans a bone, because there's always a silver lining. That silver lining is the closest anyone in this show comes to confessing their feelings, which, for a tsundere like Rin, really does take being pushed to the edge of disaster. And it's adorable. I had wondered back when this show began, how ufotable would make the most of twenty-four episodes when Deen could stuff the whole plot into a not-terrible feature-length movie. It turns out that going long with it was the right decision, as the character arcs and relationship-building feel much more natural and less forced when given this much space. It also helps that ufotable's been able to fill the gaps adeptly, to the point that I've begun to consider this work a more "definitive" take on the Unlimited Blade Works scenario than even the original game. It's not even so much a question of "canon" as of presentation. Just like Gintama and Naruto work better when animated than in their "lead" manga formats, having it done this way just feels more "right" to me. And just in time to validate my view comes this week's episode fourteen, which fully capitalizes on ufotable not just having that extra time to fill, but also its experience making Fate/Zero. I've mentioned in previous recaps that the most interesting viewpoint one could examine for your average Unlimited Blade Works audience member isn't that of the die-hard Type-Lunatic or the fresh eye that's never seen anything else, but of the Fate fan who got their start by watching Fate/Zero first.  From their point of view, episode fourteen's examination of both Caster's tragic past and Shirou and Rin's attempt to visit Ilya in her castle feels completely at home, a natural extension of the work ufotable's been doing with Fate/Zero's adaptation. Caster's backstory, which as far as I'm aware has never been flashed back to before, is a scene straight from the Zero playbook, with Caster's first Master being exactly the sort of clean-shaven monster Gen Urobuchi likes to pen. It's genuinely disturbing to see this jerk liquefy little girls to make magic crystals, then beat on his Servant for daring to be the better wizard, so much so that you feel relieved when he gets his comeuppance, and feel a little more pity for Caster's lot in life (and the afterlife). Forever to be used, abused, and betrayed, it's no wonder that she herself became a monster. In fact, you almost feel retroactively angry at Archer for his contemptuous dismissal of Caster's character. "You don't know what she's been through, man!" is what you want to yell at the screen when rewatching those episodes. Seeing Ilya again, after so long, is also a good callback to Zero. She was always a bit of a non-presence in the original game Unlimited Blade Works scenario, relegated to get fridged by Gilgamesh practically off-screen. But now, callbacks to Fate/Zero, as well as speaking roles for her maids Leysritt and Sella, deepen her character, as well as shedding light on her motives in this and other scenarios.  All in all, episode fourteen feels like a checklist of why everyone was so excited back when it was first announced that ufotable would be adapting Unlimited Blade Works. It shows that they "get" the material, and have both the talent and wherewithal to improve on the original.
Unlimited Blade Works photo
Welcome to Wedding Night
When last we checked in with Unlimited Blade Works, ufotable's big, fabulously expensive-looking adaptation of Fate/stay night's most beloved story arc left our heroes in the lurch. Though an adorable date opened episode twel...

First Impressions: Plastic Memories

Apr 10 // Josh Tolentino
Indeed it is, because my complaining about shit not making a huge amount of sense indicates that I care a bit about Plastic Memories' world-building right in the very first episode. To be honest, I have to give a hoot about the  world-building, because there's not a huge amount else that's compelling right now. Plastic Memories opens in a world where the huge SAI has created the Giftias, a type of android that's virtually indistinguishable from humans, and sold them to people for companionship. New graduate Tsukasa Mizugaki is the newest face in SAI's Terminal Service Department, an understaffed, unloved branch of the company dedicated to retrieving Giftias at the end of their nine-year-four-month operational lifespan. He's paired with Isla, a veteran Giftia that seems, at first, to be anything but competent, and the two take on their first assignment: Retrieving a little girl Giftia from a grandmother who's grown too attached to her android granddaughter. It's a simple enough plot to start off with, and helpfully introduces cast to each other, including the tsundere Michiru, the over-friendly Ren, the chip-shouldered senior Kazuki, and three other Giftias: Sherry, Zack, and Constance. Where Plastic Memories shines is in the sheer potential of its premise. It's Blade Runner meets Sad Girls In Snow, a fertile sci-fi angle softened and colored by troperrific rom-com relationships. I've always had a soft spot for shows that can rev up my imagination. Busou Shinki was terrible in many ways, but I loved it because it got me thinking about the kind of world where you could buy miraculously intelligent and deadly android waifus for not much more than the price of a gunpla kit. Thinking about Plastic Memories and the seeming place Giftias hold in its world scratches a similar nerd itch, which it tilting me in its favor already. I love that the show is basing its setup on a little-explored aspect of future-tech settings: Disposal. Many stories are caught up in imagining the implications of a radical new technology as it's introduced, but here in Plastic Memories it looks like everyone takes the "human" qualities of Giftias: Their personalities, intelligence, and sentience for granted, and the problems are arising where their nature as "products" can't be safely ignored. The concept also dives indirectly into discussion of how to deal with mortality. Giftias and the process of Retrieval could easily be a stand-in for debates about end-of-life care, euthanasia, and when to pull the plug on a loved one. Simply put, from a conceptual standpoint, Plastic Memories is solid, appealing sci-fi. What's less convincing is the show's character dynamics. It's a little early to be complaining about where the story's going, but if the big "twist" they're planning is revealing that Isla's almost "terminal" herself (how else could she be a "veteran" on a mere nine-year lifespan?), Plastic Memories may turn out underwhelming. The chemistry between the characters also feels a bit undercooked. The first episode opens with Tsukasa meeting Isla in an elevator after a bout of contemplating his mortality (who even does that?), then falling in love with her like some kind of putz. Of course, I'm not being fair to the characters at the moment. We've barely had an episode to let them grow and compel, but hey, this feature's called "First Impressions" for a reason.  And my first impression is that these characters can't quite carry the weight of their jobs just yet.  Still, there's a lot to like in Plastic Memories at the moment, so I'm definitely willing to stick with it and see how it shapes up.
Plastic Memories photo
Moe Moe Blade Runner
There's a lot I don't get about Plastic Memories. There a few critical points that I encountered in its first episode that don't make a huge amount of sense to me, nor would they to any sensible contemporary person. That's great!


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