Review: Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls

Oct 03 // Josh Tolentino
[Note: This review will mention certain elements from both Danganronpa games that may be considered spoilers. No major plot developments in Ultra Despair Girls will be discussed but some details that hint to towards the circumstances of the other games are unavoidable.] Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls  (PS Vita [reviewed])Developer: Spike ChunsoftPublisher: Spike Chunsoft (JP) / NIS America (EU, US)Released: September 25, 2014 (JP) / September 1, 2015 (US) / September 4, 2015 (EU)MSRP: $39.99 The change I'm referring to, of course, is the swapping of the core games' visual novel mechanics with third-person shooting gameplay. Players will use a specialized, bullhorn-shaped "hacking gun" to shoot "truth bullets" with varying effects at the legions of Monokuma, the two-tone robotic death bear that serves as the series' mascot.  The mechanics themselves are serviceable but unremarkable, with the act of shooting resembling nothing so much as a stripped-down version of the laser-sight-guided gunplay of Resident Evil 4 and the like. Different truth bullets have different effects and enable varied tactics against enemies. Knockback bullets send hostiles flying while Dance bullets stun enemies with the power of funky music. Link bullets take control of enemies by remote while the Detect "bullet" is more of a flashlight that highlights puzzle clues, rather than a tool for combat. Ammunition is kept relatively scarce, privileging good aim as players can save on shots by hitting oncoming foes in their weak spots, and enemies come in varying shapes, sizes, and attack patterns. The game also mixes things up with "game rooms", essentially puzzle sections with specific win conditions and restrictions on ammo type. One room might demand that players clear every enemy in a single explosion, or by exploiting both the special functions of the different truth bullets in conjunction with environmental elements. [embed]34161:5059:0[/embed] It's all solid and works fine, for the most part, but Ultra Despair Girls hardly distinguishes itself against any dedicated shooters on the strength of its gameplay. And for the most part, that's not what fans of the Danganronpa series will be playing the game for in any case. Thankfully, the parts of Ultra Despair Girls that Danganronpa fans will be playing the game for - the bizzarro narrative twists, the off-the-wall characters and unpredictable storytelling - are all intact and fully present. Any fears that becoming a shooter would diminish the series' ability to spin an engrossing yarn are quickly proven unfounded. As with the core games, virtually all but the most cursory discussion threatens spoilers, so I'll keep the summary somewhat vague: Players take on the role of Komaru Naegi, sister to Danganronpa protagonist Makoto, as she and a partner fans will find familiar roll through the ruined city of Towa, fighting a group calling themselves "The Warriors of Hope". The narrative is quick to let on that virtually nothing is what it seems at first, and even subverts some of the core games' key themes through its story beats. Fans of the deeper lore will also find plenty of interesting references and callbacks to both Trigger Happy Havoc and Goodbye Despair, as Ultra Despair Girls functions, chronologically, as a bridge of sorts between the two games. Twists and turns aside, Ultra Despair Girls also features good characterization, quickly and effectively establishing its cast in the over-the-top manner unique to the series. The English dub is effective, with key performances from actresses Erin Fitzgerald and Cherami Lee anchoring the project. The quality of the other voices is a bit more variable, but overall it works, and purists have the option of grabbing the original Japanese voice track (which helpfully adds subtitles to the cutscenes) as free DLC on the PSN Store. Side content is also plentiful, as collectible books poke fun at common tropes in Japan's geek-literary scene. Fans who don't mind reading on the Vita's screen can also peruse a tie-in novel included on the game cartridge, starring Danganronpa alumnus Hiro Hagakure.  All this in mind, one can't help but feel that Ultra Despair Girls' greatest flaw isn't that its adoption of shooting gameplay doesn't work - it works fine - but that the game is almost as good without it. Just as some may make the credible argument that the original games' minigame sections were a blemish on an otherwise pristinely entertaining visual novel, here, it's the gameplay portions of this game that are the least remarkable aspect. In the end, though, that's hardly an offense, and everything works well enough that it's quite easy to recommend putting up with mediocre shooting to get to a meaty and substantial entry into the Danganronpa canon.
Danganronpa Review photo
Shot Through The Heart
When it was first announced that Spike Chunsoft's third Danganronpa game wouldn't be a visual novel, a lot of folks, including yours truly, were understandably apprehensive. Trigger Happy Havoc and its fantastic seq...

Review: Attack on Titan Part II: End of the World

Sep 29 // Josh Tolentino
[Spoiler Warning: This review will discuss some plot points from Attack on Titan: Part I, including the ending. Some of these points will be well-known to anyone familiar with the manga or anime, though.] Attack on Titan: End of the WorldDirected By: Shinji HiguchiProduced By: TOHO PicturesPremiere Date: September 19, 2015 (Japan), September 23, 2015 (Philippines), September 30, 2015 (US), October 20, 2015 (Canada)Licensed By FUNimation (NA) Attack on Titan: Part I ended on a cliffhanger of sorts, with the cast now dumbfounded at having discovered that Eren (Haruma Miura) can turn into a Titan himself. End of the World picks up at this point, choosing the opening quarter of the movie to deliver all the exposition and world-building missing from Part I in big, heaping helpings. The truth of the world's history, as well as the nature of the Titans, is revealed in a series of lengthy monologues worthy of a Metal Gear Solid 2 cutscene. Building out a setting as complex as Attack on Titan's isn't an easy task even under ideal circumstances, but the lengthy interlude serves to both ground the movie and act as an albatross around its neck.  For what it's worth, those stretches do include stylistic flourishes that produce some of the film's most interesting visuals, including effective use of Skeeter Davis' "The End of the World", and some great bits of real-world footage edited to have Titans in them. Director Shinji Higuchi's decision to ground the film in the real world's future, in an actual place, starts to make sense at this point. All the more unfortunate, then, that the plot these interludes serve devolves into a traditional, anime-like "teens versus ideologues" setup. It does take stabs at cautioning against both the static control of fascists and the chaos of revolution, but all in all, it's a downer compared to the more primal, gory thrills of the first half. Not to mention that End of the World frequently flashes back footage of Part I, making it all the more evident that there wasn't enough material to fill even a 90-minute movie. I wonder if the whole thing wouldn't be better off edited into single two-hour production, rather than being staggered out in this manner*. If nothing else I wouldn't have had to buy a ticket for it twice. End of the World even fails to adequately capitalize on its own strengths in visuals. Whereas the scenes of creepy-faced Titans eating people and making it rain blood and limbs in Part I gave off a visceral, classic-horror thrill, End of the World is more of a straight action movie, with even the Titans behaving more like pro wrestlers or MMA fighters than the mindless monsters of the last release. This is justified by the plot (and the source), but the shift is definitely less exciting and novel, not to mention that the original Titans barely make an appearance here. Hopes for the cast getting further character growth are also dashed. While the cast manages to shine more thanks to being separated from Eren early on, not much happens to give either the new characters more than one dimension or the older ones like Armin (Kanata Hongo) time to grow into the ones fans know and love. It seems as if Mikasa (Kiko Mizuhara)'s victimization at the hands of the film's writers is permanent. Hans (Satomi Ishihara) once again steals every scene she's in by sheer force of personality, but unfortunately there are fewer of those, so even that bright light is diminished. Early in this review I noted that elementally speaking Attack on Titan: End of the World is more of the film the fans demanded, initially. In light of seeing the end product, though, that notion is shown to be as hollow as it is. Given the revelations in End of the World about the true nature of all the things, it feels fitting to end this piece with a quote from The Matrix, as delivered by an Attack on Titan fan who actually enjoyed Part I: "Not like this." [This review is based on a general screening of the film viewed by the reviewer.] *It's worth noting that FUNimation's release of the films in North America will allow viewers to see both Part I and End of the World in quick succession. Whether or not being able to view both movies as a single release (of sorts) will improve the experience remains to be seen.
Attack on Titan 2 Review photo
Why do the birds go on singing?
Broken down, point by point, Attack on Titan: End of the World is far closer to what Attack on Titan fans claimed to want from a live-action adaptation of their beloved manga. It delves deeper into the mysteries beh...

Review: Game Art: Art from 40 Video Games and Interviews with Their Creators

Sep 01 // Anthony Redgrave
Game Art: Art from 40 Video Games and Interviews with Their Creators Published By: No Starch PressWritten By: Matt SainsburyReleased: September 10, 2015MSRP: $39.95ISBN-13: 978-1593276652 Game Art is a compilation of video game artwork based on the thoughts and insights from the developers. There is a great variety of games on display from modern western hits; Dragon Age: Inquisition and Alice: The Madness Returns to Japan's contemporary contributions; Dead or Alive 5 and Hyperdimension Neptunia. This artbook even includes old indie titles like The Path and last generation horror classic Fatal Frame II: Crimson Butterfly to round out the eclectic collection. I never got the impression that it was leaning towards a specific art style, gaming genre, or cultural developer, providing readers with something interesting upon each revisit.  In terms of the type of art on display, Game Art runs the gambit of exhibiting a mixture of in-game screenshots, promotional box art, and concept art. Again there isn't a large focus on anything in particular as each character portraits, background art, or in-game assets serve to compliment the creator's interview. Every piece is a high-quality visual that helps set the tone of the game it is representing. There is a nice selection of double page spreads that, fortunately, avoids the pitfall of losing artwork in the spine thanks to intelligent curation. However, those looking for only video game artwork will be sorely mistaken. This book is driven by the creator interviews and therefore, dictates the pieces presented within.  Game Art is not so much a book filled with video game art as it is a book talking about the "art" in video games. Art is presented in quotations as it describes the broader definition of the word rather than the layman term regarding a picture or visual. And this is also where the book shines. Matt Sainsbury has done a wonderful job collecting the thoughts and design philosophies of many different game creators allowing readers to delve deeper into the craftsmanship of the games they love. The writing is simple, coherent, and concise with any jargon used being immediately explained making it easy for anyone with a passing interest to enjoy. Reading about the history behind a game, inspiration on a style or even the origins of a studio kept me interested long after the ecstasy from the visuals had subsided. Each interview can be read in a quick 5-minute burst, but since each creator comes off as extremely personable that I often found myself binging on chapters at a time. The commentary provided on each game is very satisfying giving readers insight into the games they love.  The copy being reviewed is a hardback with a translucent sleeve that frames the protagonist from the game Contrast on the front cover. It's a nice cover and the pages have a clean layout playing it safe with black lettering on a white background for text and choosing full pictures rather than grouping together several smaller pieces onto one page. As a result, the book feels more educational in tone and more suited sitting next to The Art of Game Design on a wooden bookshelf rather than sharing space with Udon's Art of Capcom Franchise on your coffee table. Counting in at 272 pages there is a lot of content here to keep you reading through a long afternoon or for frequent pickups throughout the week. The hardback binding gives Game Art a good strong feel so you can really get into the pages without fearing for the spine.  As the saying goes regarding books and their covers, Game Art cannot purely be defined as an artbook of video games. There isn't enough art here to satisfy the price tag for a customer wishing for a collection of video game art. I was in the same boat when approaching this title after reading through the whole thing I was pleasantly surprised. I came for the art but stayed for the writing. Game Art provides an insightful window into the mind's of the creators to help supplement the games the reader plays. Those with an interest for game design, visual presentation, or just a love of video games will have an incredibly hard time passing this title up. [This review is based on a copy of the book provided by the publisher.] Paperback: 272 pages Publisher: No Starch Press; 1 edition (25 Sept. 2015) Language: English ISBN-10: 1593276656 ISBN-13: 978-1593276652 (The copy being reviewed was provided by the publisher No Starch Press) Game Art is a compilation of video game artwork with thoughts and insights from the people that had created them. There is a great variety of games on display from familiar modern hits; Dragon Age: Inquisition and Alice: The Madness Returns to Japan's contemporary contributions; Dead or Alive 5 and Hyperdimension Neptunia. This artbook even includes old indie titles like The Path and last generation horror classic Fatal Frame II: Crimson Butterfly to round out its eclectic collection. I never got the impression that it was leaning towards a specific art style, gaming genre, or pattern, providing readers with something interesting after every opening. In terms of art on display, Game Art runs the gambit of exhibiting a mixture of in-game screenshots, promotional box art, and concept art. Again there isn't a large focus on character portraits, background art, or in-game assets as each piece is complimenting the creator's interview. Every piece is a high-quality visual that helps set the tone of the game it is representing. There is a nice selection of double page spreads that, fortunately, avoids the pitfall of losing artwork in the spine thanks to intelligent curation. However, those looking for a purely eye candy tome will be sorely mistaken as this book is primarily driven by the creator interviews which also dictate the pieces presented within. Game Art is not so much a book filled with video game art as it is a book talking about the "art" in video games. Art is presented in quotations as it describes the broader definition of the word rather than the layman term regarding a picture or visual. This is also where the book shines. Matt Sainsbury has done a wonderful job in collecting the thoughts and design philosophies of many different game creators allowing readers to delve deeper into the craftsmanship of the games they love. The writing is simple with any jargon being immediately explained making it easy for anyone with a passing interest to enjoy. Reading about the history behind a game, inspiration on a style or even the origins of a studio kept me interested long after the ecstasy from the visuals had subsided. Each interview is succinct enough for quick 5-minute reads, but since each creator is extremely personable that I often found myself binging chapters at a time. The commentary provided on each game is very satisfying to read as it gives readers another perspective on the games they love. The copy being reviewed is a hardback with a translucent sleeve that frames the front cover featuring the protagonist from the game Contrast. It's a nice cover and the insides have a clean layout playing it safe with black lettering on a white background for text and choosing full pictures rather than grouping together several smaller pieces onto one page. The result makes the book feel more educational in tone and more suited sitting next to The Art of Game Design on a bookshelf rather than sandwiched in-between Udon's Capcom volumes and a manga artbook. Counting in at 260 pages there is a lot of content here to keep you reading through a long afternoon or for frequent pickups throughout the week. Game Art cannot purely be defined as an artbook of video games despite its presentation. There isn't enough art in here to satisfy the price tag for a customer wishing for a collection of video game art. Game Art instead, provides a window into the mind's of the creators to help supplement the games the reader plays. Those with an interest for game design, visual presentation, and a love of video games will have an incredibly hard time passing this title up. 9/10
Game Art photo
Words, Play, and Pictures
Video Game art books are often bound by a specific game, game developer, genre or era with rare exceptions being anthology collections. It is rarer still to see both Eastern and Western video game art contained within a singl...

Review: Ranma 1/2 Set 6

Aug 24 // Jayson Napolitano
Ranma 1/2 DVD Set 6Publisher: Viz MediaRelease Date: June 2, 2015MSRP: $44.82 DVD / $54.97 limited-edition Blu-Ray (reviewed) Thank goodness for a new opening and ending theme that chimes in a few episodes into this set. I found that "Earth Orchestra" was starting to drag, as it was easily the longest-running opening theme from the entire series. This set opens with the rockin' "Don't Cry Anymore" with some fantastic hand-drawn scribbles overlaid on an often-spunky sequence, which was refreshing as we work our way towards the final stretch of the series. We're looking at Set 6 of a planned seven, so things are starting to work towards a conclusion. The melancholy closer, "Positive," is also a nice change of pace.I start by mentioning the opening and closing music because, six sets in, people should know what they're getting themselves into. In case you're considering starting with Set 6 for whatever reason, though, Ranma 1/2 is considered to be one of the best anime series the '90s had to offer, combining comedy, lovable characters, and a gender-bending gimmick that has our hero, Ranma Saotome, turning into a woman when splashed with cold water. Various characters are in love with the male and female Ranma, many of whom are also cursed and turn into various sorts of animals when exposed to cold water. Ranma is the heir to the Anything Goes School of Martial Arts, and lives with his father at the Tendo residence, where he is betrothed to the tomboyish Akane Tendo, the object of many of the male characters' affection, hence creating several overlapping love triangles.The series has progressed without any overarching plot or structure, but what I love about this season is that we're really starting to see the affection growing between Ranma and Akane. Whereas in past seasons we've seen the two mostly showing hints of jealousy, but overall seeming not overly thrilled with one another, the jealousy and outright care they demonstrate towards one another is much more apparent. I'd argue that the jump between Set 5 and 6 may even be a little jarring, but with only one more season to go, the growing love between the two characters has been long overdue. Set 6 has a number of memorable episodes that should keep Ranma fans happy as they surpass the 130 episode count. In this season we're introduced to an elderly man who runs a long-abandoned student store hidden within Furinkan High School who is constantly spouting false tales about how Furinkan High School played into historical events like wars in ancient feudal Japan and even World War II. He appears in two episodes and is a great addition. We also get more of the high school loner and voodoo practitioner, Hikaru Gosunkugi, who is still trying to steal Akane away from Ranma, first by imitating Ranma and attacking women around campus to ruin his reputation, and later by placing enchanted paper dolls of Ranma and Akane that are intended to grant his wishes but often have unintended effects.Some of my favorite episodes include one in which Genma Saotome, Ranma's father, is upset that Ranma has stolen his sweets, and decides to disinherit Ranma in favor of his rival, Ryouga Hibiki, leading up to an epic showdown between the two. Another sees monsters from ancient scrolls unleashed, included a scribbled panda bear that is in love with Ranma, and is ridiculously funny. Another two of my favorites feature the perverted grandfather, Happosai, back at his underwear-loving antics in one episode where he's terrorizing a nearby town while hiding in a pot, and another that seems him physically stuck to Ranma's chest when a student-teacher submission pill goes wrong, to comical effect. Lastly, the power-hungry student Tatewaki Kuno becomes even more obnoxious when he becomes substitute principle of Furinkan High.As far as Ranma and Akane's relationship, both two-part episodes featured in this set center around this, with the first featuring Ranma and his companions rescuing Akane from the clutches of a demon in a typical damsel in distress storyline, and the second featuring a promise that Ranma has made to Ukyo, another female character, and how he must get out of that promise to remain with Akane. There's a Christmas episode that sees the two sharing gifts, and another where Akane is injured and Ranma struggles to show his affection.  I really enjoyed many of the episodes from Set 6, and know series fans will too. Towards the end of the set, we get into what acts as the final season of the show (recall that the set order has been reconfigured with this re-release), and we get a peek at new opening and closing themes along with a series-first change in commercial bumpers, which is interesting to see.We reviewed the Blu-ray version, which houses a commemorative post card and episode recap book. There's also some extra footage on the final disc that includes interviews with Viz Media staff about the Ranma series and a blooper reel which are both nice additions.With one set to go, my enjoyment of Ranma 1/2 is still going strong. I'm looking forward to Set 7, but already keeping an ear out to see if Viz Media will consider re-issuing the OVA and three animated films, as I know I'm going to want more when this series is through.In the meantime, if you haven't watched Ranma 1/2, I highly recommend it, and Set 6 is particular is a high point for the series. Feel free to share your favorite Ranma memories below!Images © Rumiko Takahashi / Shogakukan  [This review is based on a retail copy provided by the publisher]
Ranma 1/2 Review photo
Don't you know? It's love!
Yes, there's still more Ranma 1/2 to be had. Viz Media has graciously re-issued the series on DVD and Blu-ray, which is a real treat because past DVD re-issues were fetching ridiculous prices at conventions and online.Set 6 f...

Review: Attack on Titan: Part I

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

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...

Review: Ressha Sentai ToQger

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

Review: Kantai Collection - Kancolle - Season 1

Jun 21 // Anthony Redgrave
Kantai Collection Studio: Diomedea/ Doga KoboRelease Date: January 7, 2015Format: Streamed via Crunchyroll Story-wise, Kantai Collection has had a lot of breathing room when drawing from its game counterpart. The game's main draw were the fleet girls, each one unique in their appearance, personality, and often drawing from anime stereotypes. The game had little to no story but had lots of different fleet girls that needed to be managed and micro-managed. So the anime focuses on the little destroyer that could, Fubuki. She is a new recruit to join the fight against the Abyssal fleet that had mysteriously surfaced. Even though it was advertised as a light-hearted slice of life moe school girl anime, Kancolle mixes in drama, suspense, and action moments that can satisfy the manlier viewer's palette. This title is also a period piece making many references to the Pacific Theatre; from Battle of W island (Battle of Wake Island) to all the fleet girls being based off real world battle ships e.g. Fubuki is based off a Japanese Destroyer Fubuki. However, history buffs may scoff at the inaccuracies depicted in Kancolle but for the average viewer it may provide a rabbit hole of interest into the naval campaigns of WWII. Attention to detail is one of Kancolle's greatest strength though they do blur the lines in this regard.  The mood is never confusing because of its superb pacing. Each episode allows viewers to revel in the banter and gags at the naval base, watch as the battle unfurls from plan to operation, and grow closer to each character as the episode concludes. It follows this formula so the mood flows cleanly between each scene. This cycle is toned down during the middle of the season to give way for a beach episode and a curry cook-off. The latter isn't necessary for viewing but provides the moe fan service that many viewers would be expecting. This formula wouldn't work as well if the fleet girls weren't all charming in their own way. Partly because of their visuals making them all look attractive but also their amplified personalities. Kongou is the loud big sister type with an obsession for the unseen admiral and verbal English tics. Her brash head-strong personality coupled with random linguistic interchanges would come off as annoying, but the latter is a delightful reference to her real world British roots. The fleet girls even wear their personalities in the heart of battle, I really liked how Naka (self-proclaimed idol of the fleet) would exclaim "Please no more autographs" when she was getting attacked. It's these little character points that make all the fleet girls endearing.  The visuals in Kantai Collection are excellent. Like with most school girl anime, all the characters look beautiful and cater to a variety of moe subgenres. Although they do go overboard when there are girls that are battleships and act like animals!? On the animation side, they do a wonderful job converting static 2D portraits from the game into moving anime characters, and then pulling those characters into CG for the battle scenes. I only realized they went CG once the stereoscopic shots of girls firing the cannons made it abundantly clear. The designs are kept wonderfully consistent so nothing looked out of place when they switch between animation styles.  The whole premise of Kantai Collection is interesting as it brings novel ideas to the table. Turning girls into battle ships or vice-versa seemed like a strange concept but they fleshed out the details to make it more than just a throwaway slice of life in disguise. It doesn't copy the game but draws elements from it. For example; in every school girl anime there has to be a bath scene because fan service. But Kancolle makes it a prerequisite as each girl has to take a bath to repair the damages they have sustained. Instant repairs (a rare item in the game) comes in the form of specialized water making the link to the game subtle and not shamelessly promotional. Even the "excessive eater" gag has its place as the larger ships require more energy to run so have to eat more than smaller ships. They never don't explain why they have to exercise though... I went into Kancolle because it looked like a fun dumb slice-of-life about girls that happened to be ships. When I finished the short 12 episode season I was surprised by how good it was for a school girl anime. It didn't overstay its welcome with excessive fan service so the 12 -episode length was just the right on the money. Viewers that have a tolerance or preference towards anime school girls should definitely give this one a run through on Crunchy Roll.  [This review is based on a streaming version of the series viewed by the reviewer at personal expense] Battle of W island
Kantai Collection Review photo
Anchors A-moe
Kantai Collection, often shortened down to Kancolle for the more efficient speaker, has a bizarre premise. It's strange that a veteran anime viewer like myself had to double-take on Kancolle's premise; battle ships that live ...

Review: Ranma 1/2 Set 5

Jun 11 // Jayson Napolitano
Ranma 1/2 DVD Set 5 Publisher: Viz MediaRelease Date: March 3, 2015MSRP: $44.82 DVD / $54.97 limited-edition Blu-Ray (reviewed) I'll open by saying that 100 episodes in, Ranma fatigue does tend to set in. Fortunately for fans, however, Set 5 contains some of the most entertaining and hilarious episodes yet. That's a good thing, because at just over the half-way mark in the series, there really needs to be something compelling to keep fans wanting more, and this season rarely lets up. There isn't much that I can say is new in this season. You get the same cast of lovable characters, starring the heir to the Anything Goes School of Martial Arts, Ranma Saotome, and his fiance, Akane Tendo. The two are promised to each other by their parents, and thankfully in this season, we start to see that the two are actually starting to fall for one another. The art style holds up well, and the music ranges from appropriately quirky to downright moving. Perhaps taking some of our past reviews to heart, the episodes in this set have been cut to feature only one opening theme, "Earth Orchestra" (which first appeared at the end of Set 4) and the same closing theme, "Hinageshi." In case you've forgotten, the premise of the show is that Ranma is under an ancient Chinese curse that causes him to change from a man into a woman when splashed with cold water, and back again with hot water. Various other characters are afflicted with similar curses, and the majority of the supporting cast are in love with Ranma in either his man or woman form or Akane, leading to some crazy love... hexagons? Maybe even octagons. They're joined by a great cast of characters, including Akane's protective father, Soun Tendo, Ranma's free-loading father, Genma Saotome, Akane's sisters, and Soun and Genma's master, the creepy undergarment-stealing Happosai. So on with some of the standout episodes of the set, which includes a brand new array of bizarre martial arts styles. There's Marial Arts Tea Ceremony, wherein Ranma is kidnapped and promised to the charming heir and must fight her way to freedom, the Good Ol' Days Style of Martial Arts, a nostalgic bunch who challenge Akane and use nursery rhythms and old toys in their matches, Martial Arts Shogi, where Genma Saotome's cheating catches up with him and gets him and the cast stuck in a life-sized Shogi match, Martial Arts Dining, which is a hilarious insult to French people and Westerners in general with its outrageous eating competition, and Martial Arts Calligraphy, where Ranma is refused a challenge due to his terrible handwriting. Crazy martial arts styles aside, there are a lot of fantastic episodes. In one, the family wins a raffle for a free stay at a hot springs resort, only to find something lurking in its waters. In another, Ranma comes to use one of Happosai's enchanted bandaids that causes him to fall in love with all the show's female characters, and in the aforementioned Martial Arts Dining episodes (the only multi-episode arc featured in this set), the focus on food and the ridiculousness of the eating style the Westerners use is absolutely hilarious. Ryouga has a Western-style adventure protecting the ranch of an old man and his daughter, whom Ryouga falls in love with, Nabiki takes a joke too far and feigns affection for Ranma in a bid to steal him from Akane, and a new student, the exceedingly clumsy and akward Gosunkugi places hexes and curses on Ranma in an attempt to steal Akane away. My favorite episode of all, however, is "Case of the Missing Takoyaki," which is a who's-done-it tale where each character tells their portion of the story leading up to a hilarious conclusion. The last thing I'll note is that we reviewed the limited-edition Blu-ray version, which contains "extras." This time this comes in the form of interviews with cosplayers and anime industry professionals about their experiences collecting Ranma 1/2 paraphernalia, which is interesting, especially when multiple people bring up the SNES Ranma 1/2 game and one interviewee discusses the early days of the Internet. There are also trailers for other Viz Media products and the opening and ending themes as well. In all, this set is as over the top as ever, and that's why I think fans of Ranma 1/2 will be re-energized and ready to delve into the final two sets after watching it. I was as tired as anyone going into the 100th episode, but the latter half of this set is so good that I can't wait for more. Fortunately we won't have to wait long, as Set 6 has just been released, so watch for our review soon. Images © Rumiko Takahashi / Shogakukan  9.0 – Exceptional. One of the best things its genre has ever produced. Its example will be copied or taken into account by almost anything that follows it.
Ranma 1/2 Review photo
Just what Doctor Tofu ordered!
And onward we go! Ranma 1/2 Set 5 breaches the 100-episode mark, and as I've noted in past reviews, if you've made it this far, you've likely passed the point of no return. Watching such a lenghthy series is a serious investment, and fortunately while Ranma 1/2 doesn't really have much overarching plot to advance, it somehow continues to be wildly entertaining. Let's dig in, shall we?

Review: Starless: Nymphomaniacs' Paradise

May 18 // Soul Tsukino
[Warning: This is a very adult game and is unsuitable for minors. This review is work-safe, but the game is definitely not. It also contains plot spoilers. Seriously, you've been warned.] Starless (PC [reviewed])Developers: Roll7Publisher: JAST USAReleased: May 11, 2015Price: $39.99 Anyway, Starless: Nymphomaniacs' Paradise is a game brought to you by the same group that brought you Bible Black (the titles are references to the 1974 album Starless and Bible Black by prog rockers King Crimson) . Starless was first released in Japan in 2011 and even has a hentai anime series based on it. The game was licensed by JAST USA and the English translation was released in May of 2015. The story is a rather simple one. You are Sawatari, a poor kid about to be off for college. He has no job, little money, and more importantly no girlfriend. He is desperate for some quick cash since, while he has his driver's license, he can't afford a car and if he doesn't have a car, he can't get a girlfriend. He find an ad for a house servant position in the back of a car magazine that advertising 4 million yen for 2 weeks worth of work. PERFECT! Not really.  It turns out that he will be serving the Mamiya family. A rich, influential, but somewhat reclusive clan who are, to put it simply, sexual predators. So while he does do menial house chores, most of the time he and the other staff are just sexual playthings for the family. You must survive the 2 weeks (actually it's like 16 days) trying not to buckle under the stress, offend any of the family members, or die. The characters in the game really do fall into one of 2 categories, they either make you feel sorry for them, or you want them to die a million deaths. The main character, Sawatari, is a decent guy and I will admit he pretty much shared my personal feeling for a lot of the events in the story. The fellow staff members of the house are Sachie. A cheerful girl who starts out like a decent person but as the game goes on, she turns into a lazy good for nothing who either tries to get you to do all her work or take money from you to gamble away to one of the family's daughters. You also meet Mikako, the older gentle mother like figure who works in the kitchen, and her son Matoko, who is about your age (supposedly anyway) and very feminine. You are then joined by fellow new staff member Mitarai, an innocent girl who much like you has no idea what she is getting into. On the other side of things are the members of the Mamiya family. The mother, Marie, is the current head of the family, with her husband have died. She abuses her power to torture people to do whatever she wants. She also has constipation problems that gets mentioned.. a lot. Her eldest daughter is Marika. She is soft spoken and gentler, but she is more putting on a front. She takes a liking to Sawatari and is always trying to convince him to stay and get married so he can father her children. Then there is the younger daughter Marisa. She is a spoiled rotten brat who is implied that she is underage. She does everything to torment you, so guess who you spend most of the game dealing with? Yeah, you grow a urge to want to punch her in the mouth rather quickly. You also have Marie's son, Kyouichi. He has zero interest in you and spends most of his time either in his room playing video games or in the arms of Mikako, since he has a mother fetish.   There are other characters that show up in the last few days of the game, but they are all minor and don't have a lot of depth to them. The mechanics of the game are good. You get the basic menu for a visual novel with Save, Load, Skip, Options, and so forth for buttons. The skip function only works on skipping parts of dialog you've already seen, so it's useless until you've beaten the game already. The English translation is decent but I found a few spelling errors along the way. Nothing horrendous and there didn't seem to be a whole bunch of them, but they were there. The art is very well done for the game, even if in typical visual novel style they reuse several art frames, with minor added differences, in many scenes. Noticed that I'm avoiding talking about the actual game play yet? This game is not for the faint of heart. If you have never played a Japanese visual novel before, Don't start with this one. The games I played before are nothing compared to this. This story isn't some cute story about a fumbling loser who has a girl he kind of likes, this story is about flat out abuse. Depending on which of the different endings you end up with (I played to 5 different endings), the sex is only consensual once to four times, the rest of the time everything is watching characters get raped, abused, tortured, humiliated, and degraded in every worst nightmare way possible. The things that go on in this game cross the gambit from incest, bestiality,  and a horrendous amount of scat play. Even some of the more benign scenes are "pissed away" if you know what I mean. There is nothing subtle here. What little consolation there is, is that the American producers of the game removed the art explicitly showing poop (let's just say the farting sound effect is used quite a bit though), animal encounters, and dismemberment. Well, that's a load off my mind. Although they created a patch to put them all back in if you want.  Besides the actual acts that are committed in the game, the game repeats itself way to much. For a good chunk of the two weeks you have to "dress" the youngest daughter every morning. Once or twice is one thing, but they play these scenes out multiple times with very little difference. Same goes for the morning breakfast scene between Kyouichi and Mikako. Neither scenes are very fun to watch either, unless you really get into that kind of thing. The game also doesn't skimp on the other scenes either. Very little of the different scenes have you just doing a quick moan & groan and then you are done. Scenes are stretched out to an ungodly amount, with the excuse of being drugged and injected with hormones and aphrodisiacs. Again, if you are really into this kind of thing then I guess you would enjoy it, I'm not so not only does this game feel like a chore to play before the first day is even done, but it actually made me strain the muscles in my throat trying not to hurl all over my computer desk. And the sad thing is that it really isn't worth it. Now, maybe this is the difference between the American sensibility and the Japanese sensibility, but for me if I played this game and had to watch not only the first person character but the characters I feel pity for go through this for 2 weeks, I'd like an ending that really gives the Mamiya family the what for. I wanted to see the mother reduced to a drooling vegetable (or worse), the snooty brat daughter get mauled by her own dog, something. But nope, even the best of the endings has you leave with only part of the money, Sachie makes off better than you and in none of the endings of the game do any member of the family have anything bad happen to them. So after playing this game for nearly a week waiting for one of these rich pieces of shi... err... garbage to get their what for, it doesn't happen. As I have read from others who played it, none of the endings has any member of the family have anything happen to them. Yeah, not a satisfying ending for me at all. But it's not like it's the first game to do that. Typically these kinds of games never have a "everyone has a happy ending" finale to it. So in all, I can not recommend this game unless you are an absolute hardcore visual novel fan. I'm not so I found this game not only to be the stuff of nightmares, but it seems like it's a parody of the genre. It's just one terrible over the top scene after another padded out to the point where I'm just as glad to have the 2 weeks done as the main character is. The endings were not worth the time it took to play this, let alone the physical strain of me not seeing my dinner come back up on my keyboard. If there are any positives to this game is that the art is good, the characters are decently written, and the damn thing didn't crash. Beyond that I found absolutely nothing redeeming in this whatsoever. If you get your rocks off on this stuff, more power to you. but if you aren't turned on by repeated scenes of rape, sex with animals and people crapping all over the place, avoid this like a case of the clap. [This review is based on a digital copy of the game provided by the publisher.]
Starless Review photo
So many shades of rape
So here I am, brand new writer for Japanator looking for content I can write for the site. The offer is made to review a game that I had heard plenty of buzz about in Starless: Nymphomaniac's Paradise, a visual novel type gam...

Review: Chroma Squad

May 05 // Josh Tolentino
Chroma Squad (PC) Developer: Behold StudiosPublisher: Behold StudiosReleased: April 30, 2015MSRP: $14.99 Not that they really needed to, of course. Such a "feature" would interfere with play, and there's plenty of service in the game as it is for fans. The play, in this case, is of the turn-based tactical variety, as if Behold took XCOM and ran it through the parodic, pixelated filters of Knights of Pen and Paper.  Like the former, players will manage a small squad of combatants, with unique classes and abilities, running them up against groups of goons and the occasional boss, one turn at a time. Like the latter, every mechanic serves as a distillation of tokusatsu's essence through heavy referencing and a clear, almost palpable appreciation of the source material. The premise alone is ripe enough with potential that it's baffling more games haven't taken advantage: Players manage a fledgling production studio, with each mission treated as an "episode" of an upstart spandex superhero show. Names, casting, and even catchphrases are up for customization, as well as the requisite selection of bright primary colors to outfit the roster with. If players want to commit sentai sacrilege and name a non-red-colored character the "Lead," no one can stop them but their inevitable guilt (guilt, I say!). Cast members can also be selected from a pool of actor candidates, each with their own special qualities.  [embed]33795:4709:0[/embed] When the cameras start rolling and the minions exit wardrobe, the fight is on. The goal of any given mission is to amass as much "audience" as possible, by performing flashy attacks, fancy stunts, and of course, winning the fight. Additionally, optional "Director's Instructions" add extra conditions, such as finishing off boss monsters with a screen-filling finishing move, or not killing off the boss before dispatching the cannon-fodder minions. Such extra goals help introduce variety to the combat, which is more simplistic than one might find in XCOM or other dedicated tactical titles. Enemies follow simple patterns and lack much in the way of extra abilities, so most of the tactics devolve to crowd and ability cooldown management rather than more elegant stratagems. Chroma Squad's main mechanical wrinkle comes in the form of "Teamwork," which allows squad members to leapfrog over each other to boost their movement range, or carry out simultaneous attacks with adjacent teammates. This, alongside somewhat simplistic giant-mecha boss battles, give the game enough of a unique flavor to override its otherwise thin tactical substance.  Following the mission, gained audience is converted into "fans," and also into increased studio funding, the better to buy one's way out of Papier-mâché costumes and into somereal spandex duds. Behind the scenes, the studio itself can be outfitted with various upgrades that improve performance in each episode. Buying health care for the actors improves their health in combat, and improving the lighting on set reduces enemies' chance to dodge or counter blows. Materials dropped in combat can also be used to craft customized gear with semi-random statistics, a useful (and cheap) alternative to costly store-bought costumes and weapons. Fan mail can be answered for flavor and smaller benefits, and players can even choose marketing agencies to confer more benefits. Going with a niche-market enthusiast firm might increase the amount of fans gained after an episode, but will likely lack the mass-audience-gathering benefits of a more mainstream advertising push. Tradeoffs like that characterize much of Chroma Squad's meta-game. Speaking of meta-things, the game's narrative and missions regularly break the fourth wall, and form one of the game's potentially divisive aspects. While the self-aware script and obvious understanding of tokusatsu's many conventions and tropes lend it an endearing level of charm, some players might be turned off by references to dated Internet memes and other metahumor. Personally, I found the story hit quite a bit more than it missed, but I will admit that at times the dialog read more like a forum chat log than a script, and wasn't always helped by rough spots in the localization and editing. Then again, it's not like tokusatsu attracts its fans for complex plotting and characterization, so it may balance out in the end for players in the right mindset. What isn't as easy to let by are some unfortunate, if minor, technical and design blemishes on Chroma Squad's pristine pixelation. Mission scripts would occasionally freeze in "cutscene" mode, forcing me to start the mission over. A nasty little bug accidentally equipped low-level equipment on my giant robot, making some late-game boss battles much more tense than I'd have liked them to be. One bug even gave me control of an enemy unit rather than my own squad members for a few turns! Thankfully, dev posts on the forums appear to indicate that Behold is aware of most of the bugs I encountered, and a patch is in the works at the time of this writing. Beyond that, the lack of a mid-mission checkpoint or save, or a mission-select option is inconvenient for players wanting to explore the game's branching story paths (especially for those curious to see what Behold has to say about Kamen Rider). That said, the team has stated a New Game+ option may yet be in the cards for a future update, so repeated playthroughs may become more appealing in the future. Zordon may have wanted "teens with attitude," but Chroma Squad and its unabashed, utterly geeky love-in for all things tokusatsu shows something even harder to find: A game with heart and soul. That heart shines through the rough edges, and in some ways even turns them to its advantage. It might have taken quite a while in getting here, but fans of spandex-clad superheroic finally have the videogame to help them fill that little fantasy. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]  
Chroma Squad photo
Lights, Camera, Henshin!
Ever since a badly-dubbed lady popped out of a dumpster on the moon, sending a weird computer-man to seek "teenagers with attitude," geeks of a certain age have been on the lookout for a game that can capture the es...

Review: Omega Quintet

Apr 30 // Josh Tolentino
Omega Quintet (PS4) Developer: Compile HeartPublisher: Idea Factory (JP), Idea Factory International (US/EU)Released: October 2, 2014 (JP) / April 28, 2015 (US) / May 1, 2015 (EU)MSRP: $59.99 Speaking of other "firsts," playing Omega Quintet brings to mind the very first Hyperdimension Neptunia title. That's not a good sign, seeing as the original gameliterally put Matt Razak to sleep back in 2011. Indeed, despite being, on paper, one of the most feature-rich titles Compile Heart has produced, the experience of playing Omega Quintet feels decidedly regressive, a far cry from the comparative refinement that theNeptunia franchise has managed to cultivate over the years. Perhaps some of that disconnect is cultural. Whereas the Neptunia series' light parody of the game industry and its never-ending platform wars will be familiar to most gamers, idol culture -- which informs much of Omega Quintet's setup -- is largely absent outside of Japan. Many of its references to the peculiarities of pop-princess life fall flat for lack of that common ground. On the other hand, not even Neptunia could be considered especially sophisticated in its satire. Anyone familiar with that series would know that the premises, however niche or inventive, really serve as a framework on which to drape a proven mix of cute girls, complex battle systems, anime-tinged humor, and sexualization. Omega Quintet is in much the same way, and its paeans to the life of celebrities are ultimately skin-deep. Except even by those lowered standards and tempered expectations, the game still comes across as lazy and half-hearted, without the charm or spark that helped its cousins rise above their otherwise mundane core.  Omega Quintet at least sounds interesting at first. Its future-set, ostensibly apocalyptic setting is cutely subverted by the fact that the Blare, an existence pushing humanity to the brink of extinction, can only be stopped by the Verse Maidens, a troupe of magical girl idols who sing and fight with giant weapons called "Mics". The Verse Maidens are powered by the adoration of the people, which necessitates their fights being broadcast live like a concert. Sadly, the last active Verse Maiden, Momoka, is retiring, because she's apparently much older than she looks. Enter Otoha, a fresh-faced youngster, and her male friend/player stand-in Takt, as the newest Verse Maiden recruit and the team manager, respectively. As more new Verse Maidens join to take up the reins, various anime-flavored antics ensue alongside goodly amounts of suggestive posing, relationship-building, wacky conversations, and of course, saving the world. The catch, unfortunately, is that all this cutsey waifu fun has to be experienced from the perspective of Takt, one of the least likable male leads ever to be inflicted on videogames. It's as if whomever wrote his lines mistook being a total prick for an aloof kind of coolness. Every word from his mouth is marinated in pointless sarcasm and brain-dead snark that it makes the event scenes -- which already run far too long and stretch their one-note jokes to the breaking point as it is -- a grating exercise in tedium. If he can't even be bothered to care what's going on, why should we? The game can't even be bothered to fully incorporate its premise into the main structure.Omega Quintet comes with a surprisingly robust "PVS" mode, which allows players to essentially construct dance and concert videos from the game's (rather small) collection of idol songs, complete with video recording and upload functions, but there's rarely any point or main-game benefit to engaging it. Ironically, despite the fact that this game is supposed to be Compile Heart's "idol RPG," Neptunia Producing Perfection, which is more of an actual idol-centric game than this could hope to be, came out last year. [embed]33790:4702:0[/embed] If there is a group that could look forward to enjoying Omega Quintet, it's the crowd that comes to JRPGs not for narrative or anime antics, but for abstract and engaging battle systems. Omega Quintet's is enjoyably complex and interesting to master. Where the trend in RPG battle has moved away from menus and into quasi-action game territory, Omega Quintet is all too happy to throw players into a sea of menu selections and gauge-driven turn-based combat. At its core, the game's battling relies on using attacks of varying effectiveness, range, and recovery time to manipulate the turn order. Stacking commands and attacks so that the Verse Maidens all take their turns in quick succession unlocks powerful Harmonics attacks, and building "Voltage" (a gauge representing the audience's fervor) eventually results in engaging the cinematic "Live Concert" mode, a sort of super attack that involves big damage, over-the-top animation, and background lyrics. Throw in Takt's ability to partner up with the Verse Maidens to deliver follow-ups or stat boosts, as well as score-boosting Overkill systems, a Sphere-Grid-like character progression system, and even item and gear crafting, and there's plenty of mechanical fat to chew on. If only the context and characters surrounding this part of the game were more worthwhile. Though there's nothing explicitly wrong with it, Omega Quintet feels far too much like a "by-the-numbers" Compile Heart title to do justice to the studio's first current-gen effort. Its narrative and aesthetic "fluff" ultimately fail to support its dense and otherwise engrossing mechanical heart. For a game about a bunch of girls finding their voices and path in the world, it has distressingly little "voice" of its own.  [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Omega Quintet photo
Same old song and dance routine
Omega Quintet is a game of firsts. Chronologically, it's the PlayStation 4's first exclusive Japanese RPG (Final Fantasy Type-0 originally being a PSP game). It's also developer Compile Heart's first PS4 game, and b...

Review: Ranma 1/2 Set 4

Mar 29 // Jayson Napolitano
Ranma 1/2 DVD Set 4 Publisher: Viz MediaRelease Date: December 9, 2014MSRP: $44.82 DVD (reviewed) / $54.97 limited-edition Blu-RayI admit I was nervous when the second episode of this set was a recap episode featuring Ranma's rival, Ryoga Hibiki. It obviously felt way too early to be relying on these kinds of episodes, but fortunately it's the only episode of its kind in this set. There are some returning minor characters, including Ling Ling and Lung Lung, Shampoo's Amazon sisters from China, who are comically defeated time and time again in their plot to force Ranma to marry Shampoo. Azusa, the ice skating martial artist, also makes a return appearance, bringing our characters back to the skating rink. There're also two episodes featuring the ghost cat, the second of which features this ethereal being possessing Ryoga's body and proposing to Ranma's love interest, Akane Tendo.There are two multi-episode stories featured this time around. The first centers on Ryoga becoming invincible when a silly marking is tattooed on his stomach that he desperately wants to have removed out of embarrassment. In the second, we learn that Ranma's pigtail is actually tied with a powerful Chinese relic known as the dragon whisker, which can be used to grow hair in bald men, leading to some hilarity when Ranma's father, Genma Saotome, and even their master, Happosai, want the whisker for their own gain. From there, we get a series of one-off episodes. There's an inspirational teacher who begins work at the high school that the characters attend who encourages Ranma and Akane to express their feelings for one another, a disciple that Happosai starts training to help him in his underwear-stealing hi-jinx, and some interesting backstory about Kasumi as a childhood friends returns to town. It was interesting seeing more light on her as a character. Some of the more comical episodes center around a love story between Happosai and a young woman teacher that leads to Happosai giving up his underwear collection, Kuno acquiring a magical sword that grants him three wishes which he promptly wastes in order to woo female Ranma, Shampoo's red thread of fate that attempts to magically seal a loving relationship between Ranma and Shampoo, an episode featuring the "Gambling King," who flips Ranma off and is exposed as a cheater who preys on children, and the final episode that features a rift between longtime comrades Genma Saotome and Soun Tendo.There's nothing really new to report in terms of visuals that I haven't noted several times in reviews of the past sets: Ranma's visual appeal has remained surprisingly intact. We get a new opening an ending theme about halfway through this set, with the "Earth Orchestra" opening that doesn't do much for me, and the melancholy "Hinageshi" closing theme which is fantastic.We reviewed the DVD set, which didn't sport any extras this time around except some Viz Media trailers. Past releases have featured footage from various conventions and such. We didn't get our hands on the Blu-ray this time, but the limited edition sets come with a character portrait card and a booklet with a episode summaries. In all, I had a great time with set 4, but as with set 3, this is the point at which you really need to be invested in the series if you want to continue on. Nothing groundbreaking happens in this set, although the episodes are highly entertaining. In an industry where everything seems so broody and serious with a lot of recent anime series I've seen, having access to the upbeat and comical Ranma 1/2 series has been a real treat.  8.0 – Great. A great example of its genre that everyone should see, regardless of their interest.
Ranma 1/2 Review photo
Were finally used to Ranmas new voice
  It’s been a while since we’ve visited the world of Ranma 1/2. It was my favorite anime growing up, though I never came close to seeing all that the series had to offer. Like many people out there, I’v...

Review: Naruto: The Last

Mar 21 // Red Veron
Naruto: The LastStudio: Studio PierrotLicensed by: Eleven ArtsReleased: February 20, 2015 (North American Theatrical)Naruto: The Last offers up a chance to see a little bit of what happens in the penultimate chapter of the Naruto manga. It’s been two years since the end of the war and peace reigns throughout the ninja nations until the world notices that the moon is coming dangerously closer to the earth with moon rocks breaking off as meteorites fall to earth. Things get worse when a mysterious figure who claims to be responsible for the lunar lunacy kidnaps Hinata Hyuga’s little sister, Hanabi. Now Hinata and Naruto along with Sakura, Shikamaru, and Sai go off to save Hanabi and the world. If you’ve been paying attention to all the trailers and the last chapter of Naruto, you may know that this movie features Naruto and Hinata finally getting together as a couple.  Don’t go expecting full love story with a style similar to that of a shoujo romance. It gets the job done; it’s the catalyst that finally gets Naruto and Hinata together though we don’t get to see them as an “official” couple. It’s similar to how shounen action handles romance though instead of being a thing that breaks up the action, but here it’s part of what gets the plot going in Naruto: The Last. The movie does get a chance to show a little bit of Naruto and Hinata’s budding romance. It is very refreshing to see characters from something so focused on action like the shounen genre in a different light, I’ve always loved seeing art of characters being in a different setting. For a few minutes in the movie, Hinata gets to be a normal teen girl dealing with love problems and Naruto gets to be a clueless harem protagonist that just doesn’t get it. I have to admit I enjoyed that part and it helped my enjoyment of the movie so much more. If you’ve been keeping up with the Naruto manga, you may have seen that Naruto is super powerful towards the end of the manga and would probably crush anyone who starts up trouble. The new baddie in this movie is a crafty one, and a 114 minute movie doesn’t have the same luxury of the anime and manga that can show off that the bad guy is more capable than the protagonists in multiple chapters or episodes. This power difference scale thing can be a bit distracting when you see someone skilled in fighting like Hinata Hyuga be somewhat relegated to a damsel-in-distress role. I can forgive that since there are reasons for such a thing and that it actually gets Naruto to think of her as more than a ninja buddy. There has to be some sense of urgency and a challenge for our protagonists to get the movie going. As for how the movie looks, it looks great. Fluid and clean animation pumps up the action in the fight scenes. It’s great to see the Naruto cast in action showing off their special moves and techniques in a much better  looking quality than the anime, especially that this is “The Last” one.  It’s not just the action that looks great, there are very visually pleasing sequences in the movie. I liked the intro sequence that gives a brief look into Naruto history; it’s well done though a bit weird when you realize the choice for the background song. There’s another sequence in the movie that gets a bit surreal that is a nice treat for those that have seen all of the Naruto anime. Those ending credits are just so pretty. If you’ve seen the trailer then a lot of you may be excited that certain characters that you love will show up again. Some of you may be disappointed that not everyone is going get much screen time, if at all. We do get a chance to see a few of other characters dealing with the impending threat of the moon crashing to Earth while Naruto and company are on their rescue mission, which is a nice treat for longtime fans. So should you go see Naruto: the Last? It’s a must-see for diehard Naruto fans that need to see more of the character Naruto before he grows up into an adult in that last manga chapter. It shows off a different side of Naruto and Hinata and how they grow beyond more than just being fighters. If you like Hinata and Naruto, you’ll like this movie and you’re going to get to see a lot of them here since this movie is about them after all. I loved how this movie shows a protagonist that finally gets romantically together with another character, since you hardly see that in the shounen action genre. I have to admit that I got something in my eye as I watched the ending credits that had beautiful art of the characters with that very sweet accompanying song just got to me. This movie is a great farewell for Naruto, to his action packed adventures as a teenager and a great beginning to his path to adulthood achieving his dream to becoming the Hokage. 7.0 – Good. Films or shows that get this score are good, but not great. These could have been destined for greatness, but were held back by their flaws. While some may not enjoy them, fans of the genre will definitely love them.
Naruto: The Last photo
Going off with a blast
Naruto is a name known throughout the anime and manga world that stands alongside shounen action staples such as Dragon Ball and Bleach. Masashi Kishimoto’s orange-clad ninja has been around since 1999 and has grown ...

Review: Bladestorm: Nightmare

Mar 17 // Josh Tolentino
Bladestorm: Nightmare (Xbox One, PS4, PC, PS3 [reviewed])Developer: Omega ForcePublisher: Koei TecmoReleased: March 17, 2015MSRP: $59.99 (PS4/Xbox One), $49.99 (PS3) [Note: This review was originally posted on Destructoid. Screenshots used in this review are taken from the PS4 version of the game.] As an aside: this game, based on 2007's Bladestorm: The Hundred Years' War, is one of the weirdest choices anyone could've made when deciding on which games to add to the growing number of "remastered" titles popping up on current-generation consoles and PC. Despite initially generating excitement among the Dynasty Warriors-loving crowd as a long-desired European-themed entry to the franchise, the original game came and went without much comment. That was thanks to its odd-duck design, which even led Jim Sterling, a much bigger Warriors fan than yours truly, to call it a real-time strategy game in his review. I'm not quite as inclined towards that drastic recategorization, but ol' Jim does have a point: Bladestorm is, for good or ill, of a more thoughtful mind than most of Omega Force's  offerings. Indeed, whereas typical Warriors games take history's leaders and convert them into armies unto themselves, Bladestorm takes the player and molds him (or her) into a leader of their own squad of troops. If Dynasty Warriors is about being a human Cuisinart,Bladestorm attempts a wartime version of Katamari Damacy. More on that in a bit. [embed]33644:4594:0[/embed] Bladestorm: Nightmare comes with two main modes. "The Hundred Years' War" mode is essentially identical to the original 2007 release, aside from graphical/mechanical tweaks, and drops player-created mercenaries -- or "merthenaries" to hear the comically bad European-accented voice-acting say it -- on the battlefields of medieval France. There players can work for the French or English factions, supporting one or the other as pay and scruples dictate. They'll interact with luminaries of the era like Edward, the Black Prince, Philippe the Good, and Gilles de Rais, and participate in key engagements like the Battle of Crécy and the Siege of Calais.   The second mode, "Nightmare," is a more linear, scripted campaign set when a monster invasion interrupts the Hundred Years' War, forcing France, England, and the merthenaries they employ to ally against hordes of hellbeasts commanded by none other than Joan of Arc herself. Interestingly, though Nightmare mode is clearly designed to be played after finishing off The Hundred Years' war, players can switch between the two freely, with progression data like levels, money, equipped gear, and distributed skill points carrying over with virtually no restriction.  Graphically, Bladestorm works best on newer hardware. Aside from the added special effects and improved draw distance and environments, the frame-rate drops that I experienced on the PS3 are absent on the PS4 version. Additionally, the Nightmare campaign on PS3 is prone to drastic loss of frames as well, likely due to the much larger squad sizes and the hordes of monsters.  Both modes essentially boil down to an expansive form of territory control. Each of the battlefields is divided into numerous forts, towns, and castles defended by allied or enemy troops. Most missions ("contracts" in merthenary lingo), particularly in the more open-ended base campaign, will task players with conquering one or more settlements by killing off their defenders and beating their commanding officer. The bigger the settlement, the tougher the commanders, and some particularly large castles are basically defended by mini-boss enemies with distinct attack patterns. In Nightmare mode, those defenders can even include dragons, cyclopes, or grim reapers. Doing the killing involves taking command of a squad of troops. Though broken down roughly by weapon type, each soldier type is unique, with strengths, weaknesses, and a set of special attacks mapped to the face buttons. Players can pick up or drop squads they find in the field, or summon reinforcements directly. New to Bladestorm: Nightmare is the ability to create multiple squad leaders, commanding them separately via the battle map or attaching them to a personal unit as a bodyguard, ultimately allowing for up to 200 troops to move and act as a single unit, rolling everyone in the way (hence the Katamari analogy). This type of of structure provides Bladestorm with the same kind of dynamic as the typically more action-oriented Warriors games. Like in those titles, players in this game are often "fire-fighting," moving as quickly as possible between crisis zones, keeping scores and rewards up by plowing through everything along the way. Though ultimately shallow, Bladestorm's battle mechanics do lend the game an impressive sense of scale, particularly when playing as a cavalry leader. I must have done it hundreds of times in my hours with the game, but it never gets old to trigger a charge and flatten dozens of enemies under the hooves and lances of your soldiers. It also never gets old to watch horses slide across the ground like they are hovercrafts, a testament to how rough-hewn the game can be at times. Balance issues are also a concern, as properly leveled cavalry units basically trivialize the whole game except at the highest difficulty levels. I'd actually be more mad that cavalry are so overpowered if they weren't already the most fun class to play, but that's neither here nor there. Bladestorm: Nightmare isn't a Dynasty Warriors game, but it doesn't aim to be, and still ends up being good time when taken on its own merits. In fact, it's a little ironic that its unusual qualities doomed the original release commercially, but help this new release feel much more fresh and engaging than even the latest "core" franchise entries. [This review is based on a digital copy of the game provided by the publisher.] 7 -- Good (7s are solid games that definitely have an audience. Might lack replay value, could be too short or there are some hard-to-ignore faults, but the experience is fun.)
Bladestorm Review photo
Merthenary Lyfe
Bladestorm: Nightmare is not a Dynasty Warriors game. That bit of information might be good or bad news, depending which side of the fence one falls on with regard to Tecmo Koei's long-running brawler series. A...

Review: Oreshika: Tainted Bloodlines

Mar 03 // Josh Tolentino
Oreshika: Tainted Bloodlines (PS Vita, PlayStation TV)Developer: Alfa SystemPublisher: Sony Computer EntertainmentReleased: March 3, 2015 MSRP: $19.99 About that "dead soon" thing: It's the premise of the game. Players start as the head of a Japanese clan (that they construct themselves in a rather detailed character-creation interface), murdered to a man in a gruesome ritual of human sacrifice after being framed for the disasters rocking 12th-century Kyoto. Fate is kind, though, and a few members are brought back to life to exact revenge upon the wrongdoers. Unfortunately, everything has a cost, and the price for a second chance is the dual curses of Ephemerality and Broken Lineage. The first curse dooms all members of the clan to drop dead two years after their birth. The second prevents them from having offspring with humans. Talk about a double-whammy!  Thus the mission is set: Continue the family line long enough to break the curses, by having children with willing gods and spirits (sidestepping the "Broken Lineage" part), and having those children have their own children before their two years are up, in addition to becoming strong enough to defeat the villain that cursed the clan in the first place. It's a morbid and deliciously effective premise, so much so that one wonders why it hasn't been thought of before. [embed]33597:4548:0[/embed] has, for Oreshika is technically a sequel to 1999's Ore no Shikabane wo Koete Yuke, an influential PS1 RPG that involved largely the same concepts. That said, the game never made overseas, which makes it completely new to most players. Its relative age, though, would explain why Oreshika feels like a pleasant throwback to the early years of Japanese RPG-making, when the primary influences on design came from free-roaming dungeon-crawlers like Ultima and Wizardry. That same narrative-light, systems-heavy approach largely defines Oreshika's play experience, which should delight fans who've begun to chafe under the typically linear storytelling of most JRPGs. That isn't to say the story beats are absent. Oreshika has its own complement of directed cutscenes and dialog sequences, most involving named, voiced side characters. They appear during certain missions to drop some exposition or plot twists, and in some cases join the party. The meshing of traditional narrative with the game's more free-form structure isn't perfect, and it's during these moments that the player's own created clan can feel like extras in what is ostensibly their story. The missteps are mostly inoffensive, though, and to be fair, the story does end up going deeper than might have been possible without the benefit of more defined characters to fall back on. Then again, perhaps that more traditional story wasn't that necessary at all, because for me, the most memorable moments in Oreshika come with each passing minute of my family's short, short life. The game is conducted on a month-to-month basis, either raiding or preparing to raid one of the land's many labyrinths. The preparation involves buying gear and items for use during the raid, improving the local town to upgrade the various shops' offerings, or performing the "Rite of Union" with many gods and goddesses to create offspring and ensure the family's continuation. That might sound like a lot of babies to magic up, but considering that thanks to the rigors of dungeon-raiding many of the clan's members will kick the bucket long before their two years are up, a deep bench is critical. Longer games can go for hundreds of generations, and every death can hurt, thanks to the "XCOM effect" of growing attached to people one had a hand in creating and customizing themselves. Dying family even leave semi-randomized "parting words" upon their passing. Oreshika's also quite adept at making that customization feel like it matters. Every new addition to the family takes on the characteristics of their parents, including inheriting physical features (which can turn out hilariously when uniting with some of the less "human" gods), and statistical traits. The game's item creation system allows "heirloom" gear to be created that gains power every time a departing family member bequeaths it to a new generation. And the game is all too happy to use the PS Vita's built-in screen capture function to take "family album" photos and collect them like fond mementos of bosses beaten and dungeons delved. It's almost strange that for all the time one spends preparing for dungeon raids, Oreshika's combat and exploration are designed to be over and done with as quickly as possible. When out in the world, players are literally on the clock. A real-time counter ticks down towards the end of a given month, which lasts between five and ten minutes, depending on how many battles one gets into. At the end, players are given the option to go home, or continue the raid through the next month without rest, increasing the chance that tired or injured party members might die permanently. Given that every character is already born with a very short lifespan, the timers instill a kind of frenzied pace and tension to what could otherwise have been a ponderous affair. "Frenzied" is also a good way to describe Oreshika's visuals, which are a riot of color and animation. The game's watercolor tones and melding of Japanese ukiyo-e woodblock style, traditional folkloric creatures, and anime character design make it one of the best-looking titles on the platform, and possibly one of the prettiest "anime" games since the originalValkyria Chronicles. And thankfully, unlike many games that involve procreation as a concept, Oreshika lacks much of the prurient undertone that make such titles slightly embarrassing to play at times. As lovely as the characters are environments don't fare quite as well, as the pace at which a typical dungeon run is conducted doesn't leave a lot of time to admire the sights. A limited camera setup and frequent use of revisiting (often to unlock a shortcut using a key found in some other dungeon) can also sap locations of their initial charm. Despite the fact most of us will never have played the game it's a sequel to, the quality of Oreshika: Tainted Bloodlines shines through its gorgeous visuals and deep mechanics. Come to think of it, there's no more fitting way for a game that's about leaving a worthwhile legacy to conduct itself. 8.5 -- Great (8s are impressive efforts with a few noticeable problems holding them back. Won't astound everyone, but is worth your time and cash.) [This review is based on a digital retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Oreshika Review! photo
Generations of Phwoar
[This review originally appeared on Destructoid] Like many games of its type, Oreshika: Tainted Bloodlines features a tiny graphic in its text boxes to remind players they can press a button to advance to the next l...

Review: htoL#NiQ: The Firefly Diary

Feb 22 // Josh Tolentino
htoL#NiQ: The Firely Diary (PS Vita)Developer: Nippon Ichi SoftwarePublisher: NIS AmericaReleased: February 24, 2015MSRP: $19.99 First, to that bit about minimalism: htoL#NiQ has virtually no written or spoken dialog, or even text. Apart from some prompts explaining the basic controls and a brief crawl in the opening, players won't even encounter so much as a lettered sign in the background. The plot, such as it is, is delivered almost entirely in-game, via environmental clues and lightly interactive flashbacks.  The game screen itself is largely free of HUDs and icons, and combined with low-lit environments that flicker as if beaming from a vintage film projector, gives off a universally gloomy, unsettling aura that contrasts well with the cutesy character design. The flashback scenes are rendered in a totally different, isometric style that recalls older RPGs like Contact. [embed]33553:4522:0[/embed] Exploring this downbeat dystopia is Mion, a silver-haired waif with big eyes, a pair of branches growing from her head, and all the self-preservation instinct of a videogame lemming. Accompanying her are Lumen and Umbra, the titular fireflies and the only means by which players can guide Mion through the wilderness. Players can use the touch screen to move Lumen, with Mion following her Navi-esque companion wherever it goes. Lumen can also signal Mion to throw switches, push boxes, and other puzzle-solving interactions. Umbra, on the other hand, resides in Mion's shadow, and can only be controlled by shifting to an alternate dimension with a tap of the rear touchpad. From there, Umbra can move through shadows freely - including those cast by Lumen's glow - and interact with objects too far away for Mion to reach. Manipulating the environment and using the firefly duo to help maneuver Mion past various hazards forms the bulk of htoL#NiQ's mechanics. This all sounds simple enough, but the game in which these mechanics are employed is an artifact of what I can only describe as gleeful, knowing sadism. htoL#NiQ is one of the most difficult games I've ever played, and the bulk of my playtime has been spent dying, over and over and over again. That's not necessarily a bad thing, seeing as the last few years have brought a new renaissance for tough, uncompromising game design, but the type of pain dealt by htoL#NiQ is of a very particular type, one that's been justifiably abandoned by most modern titles. Simply put, this game trades in pure, trial-and-error frustration. Thanks to a combination of deliberately lethargic controls and deathtrap-obsessed level design, virtually no challenge the game poses can be passed on the first try - or the 48th try, for that matter. That's how long it took me to overcome just a single checkpoint in the second level, a checkpoint that, performed successfully, takes about a minute to transition through.  Since Mion can only be moved by moving Lumen ahead of her, a slight delay accompanies every movement, and Mion herself hits her top speed at "leisurely stroll", even when pursued by rampaging hellbeasts made of shadow. The awkwardness of using the touch screen and rear touch pad to control Lumen and Umbra can be alleviated somewhat by switching to an optional control scheme that uses the analog stick and face buttons, but the precision and sluggishness in movement remains. Worse still, some challenges demand precise timing to trigger environmental actions using Umbra, but the pauses that accompany attempting to switch to Umbra's dimension make that timing even tougher to nail down. Add in hidden enemies, barely-telegraphed hazards, instant death, and occasional randomized factors that cheapen every death, and htoL#NiQends up embodying a strange sort of videogame Murphy's Law: Anything that can kill Mion, will kill Mion. Several times.  To clarify, there's nothing wrong with deliberate, "slow" controls. As a fan of Monster Hunter and the Souls games, I can appreciate that style, and intention behind them being in this game is fairly clear. htoL#NiQ aims for the kind of dynamic that defined the likes of classics like Ico. The problem here is the decision to combine the tension of having to escort a helpless charge with such demanding level design. The stress of both having to keep the charge safe as well as perform feats of precision timing and speed is almost too much that would stand to gain the most from the game's low-key storytelling and unique aesthetic. Extending the comparison further, if htoL#NiQ were to be compared to Ico, the difference between the two in terms of difficulty would be akin to trying to shepherd Yorda through the Tower of Latria from Demon's Souls.   It simply isn't fun to have to redo every section just to pass - or replay certain portions perfectly just to access all the game's collectible flashback scenes (which form its most substantial narrative payoff), but then again, I did retry a single section forty-eight times in a row, so there may be something to htoL#NiQ, after all. The creepy atmosphere and interesting visuals were just enough to keep me hooked alongside its grim, intriguing story. And of course, there's the stubborn, bitter, vengeful thrill of finally defeating a game that's seemingly designed with the middle finger extended towards its players.  I won't lie: htoL#NiQ: The Firefly Diary feels like an ordeal to play, but it is worth noting that historically, surviving an ordeal was often taken as a sign of being blessed by a higher power. That notion may appeal to some types of players, and it's they who'll find the fun in this gorgeous, cruel game. Everyone else should just hang back and ask how it went. 6 -- Alright (6s may be slightly above average or simply inoffensive. Fans of the genre should enjoy them a bit, but a fair few will be left unfulfilled.) [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
htoL#NiQ Review photo
Oh Dear, Diary
[This post originally appeared on] No, that isn't an encoding error up there in the headline: "htoL#NiQ" is indeed this PS Vita game's title, and is essentially a very stylish way to type "The Firefly Diary" i...

Review: Ranma 1/2 Set 3

Nov 28 // Jayson Napolitano
Ranma 1/2 DVD Set 3Publisher: Viz MediaRelease Date: September 16, 2014MSRP: $44.82 DVD / $51.99 limited-edition Blu-Ray (reviewed) I'll start by saying that set 3 offers some of my favorite Ranma 1/2 episodes yet. There are a ton of memorable moments despite the lack of overarching plots for this season. Some favorites include an episode where Ranma's fiance, Akane Tendo, consumes a bowl of "super soba" that makes her all-powerful (which is difficult for Ranma to accept), but has some rather humorous adverse effects, while another follows Sasuke, servant of the Kuno family, as he's ejected from their household only to take up service with Akane where we learn more about him and the Kunos.One episode features a trip to the beach where Grandfather Happosai (founder of the Anything Goes School of Martial Arts) tries to use magic pearls to make the various female characters fall in love with him, while another takes the cast to the past with Happosai's magic mirror, where they're surprised to discover young Happosai's relationship with another of the show's characters. There's magic soap that prevents the transformations that afflict so many of the characters in one episode, and another where Ranma intends to travel into the past to prevent himself from acquiring his curse, only to be sent into the future to make a startling discovery about what may be coming. My favorite episode of all, titled "Am I... Pretty? Ranma's Declaration of Womanhood" sees Ranma sustain an injury to his head that has him believing that his female form is his true form. It's a lot of fun watching Ranma truly play the part of his girl form rather than relying on it to get free food or woo the show's male characters.There is one story arc found in this set. Three episodes center on Ranma losing his strength and his journey and hardships trying to get it back. It's a fantastic run of episodes where we see the relationship between Ranma and his betrothed continue to grow. In fact, throughout the entire set, we see Ranma and Akane grow closer and become convincingly jealous of the shows other characters, which is really touching to see.I discussed the music of Ranma 1/2 in my review of set 2, and nothing has really changed in terms of the short stinger format used throughout. We do get a new opening and closing theme towards the end of the set as we transition into what used to be season 4, with an infectious opening theme and heartwarming ending theme that do the job.There are a couple interesting changes in art style found in this set. The first occurs in the aforementioned episode where Ranma comes to believe he's a woman after a head injury. The art style is much more fluid with an emphasis on shadow effects and a more curvy interpretation of the characters. Generally speaking, the art style for Ranma 1/2 is pretty simple, with lots of solid colors, minimal shading, and straight lines, but this episode was drastically different. There was another episode that I can't recall that also deviated a bit, leading to some particularly funny looking expressions by Ranma's father, Genma Saotome, and Ranma himself. In all, however, regardless of the slight variations, I love the style for its simplicity.Now, there is one big issue I have with set 3. It shattered my world to find that, moving into what used to be season 4, the voice actor for male Ranma changed. For season one through three, Ranma was voiced by Sarah Strange, who lent Ranma a heavily sarcastic and oftentimes indifferent vocal performance. It was perfect for Ranma's character, as he generally goes with the flow and tries to stay out of drama. Richard Cox takes over from there, and while his delivery is much more dynamic in range, I can't help but feel the youthful spunk he brings to the character takes Ranma from the cool and above-the-fray personality to a more typical angsty youth. It's taking a lot of getting used to for me, and to make matters worse, the episode resequencing puts an episode with Ranma's old voice at the very end of the set, right when I was starting to accept his new voice actor. I'll likely have to start over again warming up to Ranma's new voice with the next set. Interestingly, little to no new major characters were introduced this set. Tsubasa Kurenai, a character who was introduced at the end of set 2 and is infatuated with Ukyo was not present at all, much to my surprise. I suppose there's the new school principal, back from Hawaii, where he picked up an outrageously stereotypical Hawaiian speech pattern and new ways to annoy his students, but he only appears in a few episodes towards the end of the set, so the verdict's out as to whether or not he'll be a major character going forward (I certainly hope not, as the I can only take so much of his over-the-top Hawaiian speak). We also see an appearance by Doctor Tofu, who we haven't seen since set 1.I should also mention the bonuses included with the limited edition Blu-ray version that we reviewed this time. While I couldn't really discern any differences in the visual presentation, the disc case comes in a sturdy cardboard sleeve and includes a glossy portrait card of Ryoga and a nice booklet summarizing the series so far and offering recaps of each episode found in this set (super helpful for this review!). In terms of content on the discs themselves, the third and final disc features extras, most of which you won't care about (Viz Media trailers, clean openings and endings), but there is a nice series of interviews and commentaries from New York Comic Con 2013 with some Viz Media staff, anime industry professionals, and cosplayers talking about their love for Ranma 1/2.While I'm still coming to terms with Ranma's voice change (I almost felt like the old Ranma died and I was starting over again with a new character), Ranma 1/2 set 3 features some of the best episodes of the series yet. I wasn't able to mention them all here, but it should suffice to say that this is one of the most entertaining sets yet. I'm enjoying the dynamic between Ranma and Akane, and characters including Happosai, Genma Saotome, and Akane's father, Soun Tendo, are incredibly memorable and are some of my favorites in any anime ever. I'm eager to see what happens with set 4 next month, so stay tuned!9.0 – Exceptional. One of the best things its genre has ever produced. Its example will be copied or taken into account by almost anything that follows it.
Ranma 1/2 Review photo
More changes than just Ranma's gender this time!
After reviewing Ranma 1/2 set 2 earlier this month, I knew it was time to hunker down and dig deep. This series had a seven season run, and while this latest re-issue from Viz Media has resequenced the episodes to align more ...

Review: Ranma 1/2 Set 2

Nov 08 // Jayson Napolitano
Ranma 1/2 DVD Set 2Publisher: Viz MediaRelease Date: June 24, 2014MSRP: $44.82 DVD (reviewed) / $54.97 limited-edition Blu-Ray At this point, viewers of Set 1 should be familiar enough with the premise of the series. Ranma Saotome of the Anything Goes School of Martial Arts and a number of other characters have been afflicted with a Chinese curse that transforms them upon being exposed to cold water. In Ranma’s case, he turns into a girl, whereas other characters turn into all kinds of cute animals. These transformations play out in often comical ways as our protagonist, Ranma, and his fiancé, Akane Tendo, each have their vast following of suitors, some of whom are in love with male Ranma and others who are in love with his female form. Those who were getting tired of the repetition featured throughout Set 1 should be pleased that the random appearance of water just for the sake of these transformations isn’t as prominent in Set 2. More so, this set is about the developing relationship between Ranma and Akane as well as the introduction of several new characters. These new characters include some of my favorites, such as Moose, a martial artist who’s followed the Chinese Amazon martial artist Shampoo from China and is desperately in love with her, and relies on weapons and gadgets procured from his massive sleeves when doing battle with Ranma to win Shampoo’s affection. There's also Happosai, the perverted and often hilarious master of Ranma and Akane’s fathers, Genma Saotome and Soun Tendo. Happosai is obsessed with woman’s undergarments, which is the focus of several episodes, and I have to say that his English voice dubbing is absolutely perfect, convincingly conveying a perverted old man ogling over womans’ bosoms and undergarments. Two more characters are introduced towards the end of the set, including Ukyo Kuonji, a childhood friend of Ranma who’s a master at cooking up okonomiyaki, and Tsubasa Kurenai, an interesting character who’s in love with Ukyo and wants to battle Ranma to win her affection. These new characters offer a new fold in the formula. Whereas Set 1 featured characters who were infatuated with the two main characters, Ranma and Akane, the addition of characters who are after the affection of these potential suitors allows for some variation in their respective relationships. Story-wise, many episodes are stand-alone experiences, although there are two major story arcs featured in Set 2. The first involves some trouble Ranma finds himself in when he’s unable to turn back into his male form, and the second follows our cast as they try to find a cure for the Chinese curse to much hilarity as all of the afflicted characters trample over one another to find the cure for themselves at the expense of their comrades. This seems like a good time discuss the episode sequencing, which is actually a tad problematic. With this re-issue, Viz Media has taken the opportunity to resequence the episodes to fall more in line with the manga series. While this is much appreciated, it has resulted in somewhat jarring transitions in the opening/ending sequences, for example (this was much more of an issue in Set 1, where episodes went back and forth between opening/ending sequences as later episodes were inserted into earliest spots in the episode sequencing). There’s also a long stretch of episodes in this set that are missing their opening sequences entirely. This resequencing also results in rather abrupt endings to the sets, meaning, in the case of Set 2, that you may be a little lost as it picks up right where Set 1 left off, and Set 2 introduces both Ukyo and Tsubasa right at the end of the set, whereas in the traditional seasons, they didn’t appear until season 3. I wish the team had been able to splice the opening and ending sequences into the episodes to create a linear progression rather than jumping around, but this is really a minor gripe. Some of my favorite episodes of Set 2 include one that explores an interesting tale about a previous engagement that Ranma was entered into by his father in exchange for a meal, which requires Ranma and Akane to take part in a ramen race (that is, all entrants must complete a foot race while taking care not to spill a bowl of ramen that they must carry across the finish line) to get out of. Another features a high school production of Romeo and Juliette with Ranma and Akane in the lead roles, which offers a great opportunity to focus on the relationship between the two characters. Finally, one of the funniest episodes involves Ranma and Happosai and their trip to the public bath house, which of course turns into a nightmare for Ranma as he tries to control Happosai’s urges to sneak into the female side of the bath house. Karen hit the nail on the head with her assessment of the art direction in her review of Set 1, so I won’t belabor the point, but I love (and miss) the attention to detail in the animation and the lack of technical magic that we often see today. The music, too, is excellent, with opening and ending themes that I rarely found myself wanting to skip, and in-show cues that accent important moments, with one dedicated to dark or mysterious moments standing out, and another comical cue that I think is really a signature of Ranma 1/2's comedic style. We reviewed the DVD set, which boasts extras such as clean opening/ending sequences and trailers, but these are unfortunately only accessible from the third and final disc, and cannot be enabled throughout the series, but rather viewed separately. It would have been nice to have included an option to turn on clean openings and endings for the entire series, but perhaps that was technically not possible. There’s some mild nudity found throughout the series and in the main opening sequence featured through Set 2 (although, as mentioned before, the opening sequence is missing in a long stretch of episodes), but it’s minor enough that I personally didn't mind watching alongside my son. I know some parents will not be as comfortable. In all, the developing story and new characters add a new dimension to the series throughout Set 2 of Ranma 1/2. While sexism and stereotypes are still rampant (they constantly note how Ranma’s female form is weaker than his male form), Ranma 1/2 doesn't take itself all that seriously; it’s really meant to be stupid, silly fun. I appreciate the fact that they’re not relying as heavily on the transformation gimmick at this point, but I know that the growing number of characters and ensuing love triangles will start to wear on some viewers in a similar fashion. With five more sets to go, watching Ranma 1/2 is definitely a huge investment, and while I couldn't be more thrilled to charge ahead into the series, I realize that some out there will likely begin experiencing Ranma fatigue towards the end of Set 2. 9.0 – Exceptional. One of the best things its genre has ever produced. Its example will be copied or taken into account by almost anything that follows it.
Ranma 1/2 Review photo
Ahh, Akane-chan no panty!
Ranma 1/2 was my first anime. Sure, I might have watched a few feature-length titles like Ninja Scroll or Akira before sitting down to watch Ranma 1/2 with my half-Japanese friend who was always up on the latest gam...

Review: Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair

Sep 21 // Josh Tolentino
Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair (PS Vita) Developer: Spike ChunsoftPublisher: NIS AmericaRelease: September 2, 2014MSRP: $39.99 For the uninitiated, the Danganronpa games are visual novels with a courtroom twist, their gameplay (such as it is) a fusion of Phoenix Wright with Battle Royale. As with the first game, Goodbye Despair stars a group of sixteen elite high school students, "Ultimates" among their peers, recently enrolled at the exclusive Hope's Peak Academy. Their first day at class sees them abducted, spirited away to the tropical Jabberwock Island by Monokuma, a murderous, two-tone teddy bear. Also as before, Monokuma presents the Ultimates with an ultimatum: Stay trapped on the island forever, or kill a schoolmate to earn the right to leave. The caveat: Once a murder happens, the whole cast gathers together to conduct a "Class Trial", debating the case and voting on the "blackened". The murderer needs to avoid getting fingered, or else suffer deadly consequences. [embed]32999:4157:0[/embed] Players are put into the shirt-and-tie ensemble of Hajime Hinata, the one member of the group who can't seem to remember just what his "Ultimate" talent is. Thankfully memory loss hasn't impacted his prowess at playing "getting to know you" with the world's most puissant (and unstable) studentry. Nor has it hindered his ability to argue way to the truth, something that will come in handy once the bodies start hitting the floor.  But, though Goodbye Despair is no mass murderer. The need for would-be players in Monokuma's "killing school trip" both make the kill and get away with it ensures that every new case, investigation, and subsequent class trial a roller-coaster ride of elaborate murder plans, red herrings, and last-second plot twists. In any rational setting the logical leaps required to make sense of each incident would drive one to despair, but the Danganronpa series sells the inherent absurdity of the scenario, setting, and characters so well that virtually anything is fair game. Goodbye Despair upholds that tradition, and in fact manages to surpass the original in some key ways, particularly where it comes to characterization. The sequel's cast of sixteen students is more dynamic and colorful than the original's, hard as that might be to believe for series fans. The archetypes employed are less obvious, and all but the earliest victims manage to grow out of their initial one-dimensional niches, becoming characters that one really doesn't want to see kick the bucket. As for the larger plot...well, "nuts" doesn't quite do Goodbye Despair justice. Somehow, it even tops Trigger Happy Havoc for off-the-wall happenings and genuinely surprising twists. Even more than the first game, Goodbye Despair glories in its inherent pulpiness, rather than striving to "elevate" itself. This gives it the freedom to play with expectations, fulfilling them at first glance right before pulling the rug out from under the player. All the while, the goofy, screwball tone of it all prevents the premise from ever becoming too bleak. Players will be sad that so-and-so character kicked the bucket, but they'll never fear being overwhelmed by the seriousness of an island trip where young high-schoolers are forced to murder each other for survival. And that's exactly the point.  NIS America's localization manages to capture the slightly unhinged tone of the game perfectly, despite a few typos and some questionable decisions to "westernize" certain references. It's one thing to find familiar cultural touchstones to ensure the jokes get across, but converting Yen figures to US dollars seems an out-of-place thing to do when most everyone in the story is quite obviously Japanese. But these are minor quibbles overall. The voice performances are serviceable in English, though dub purists will miss out on an all-star Japanese voice cast, including standout jobs from the likes of Kana Hanazawa and Evangelion alumnus Megumi Ogata. When it comes the individual cases themselves, they're more difficult to predict, with much of the crime-solving done during the actual Class Trial, rather than during the investigation. The characters themselves also tend to play bigger roles in each trial, so there's less of a feeling that events are contrived to allow Hajime to solve every aspect of the murder. The changes, however, cut both ways, as the more unpredictable stories and involved characters tend to lessen the feeling that the player is genuinely involved in the proceedings, rather than simply pushing buttons to advance. Put plain, Goodbye Despair trades away a key component of a good "whodunnit"- the sense of audience participation - in exchange for deeper characterization and plotting. The trade has paid off, though players looking to get their detective itch scratched may come away slightly disappointed. If this all sounds rather familiar to series veterans, that's because it is. In straight mechanical terms, Goodbye Despair is virtually identical to Trigger Happy Havoc. Every major gameplay element from the original has been carried over, either as-is or with slight tweaks. Map navigation is less time-consuming, with the first-person exploration swapped for looping two-dimensional plane. A leveling system has been put into play, based on the amount of steps Hajime takes. Skills - the perks that make class trials easier - are now purchased using "Hope Fragments" awarded for progressing classmate relationships. The minigames do their job, though, using mechanics to make literal the idea of debate-as-combat. As before, players shoot down contradictions with ammunition made of evidence, with a new twist that allows Hajime to agree with a classmate's statement. Stubborn comrades can be convinced in the new "Rebuttal Showdown" that swaps Truth Bullets for blades and marksmanship for Fruit Ninja-esque screen-slashing. The Logic Dive challenges players to solve key dilemmas by surfing their way through a Tron-like landscape of multiple-choice questions. It could be said that the minigames, and particularly their emphasis on getting things right or risk "failing" the trial, ultimately distract from the story, but they're simple enough to get by (especially if one sets the difficulty to "Gentle", with no consequences), and help preserve the manic tension of the arguments going on. If real-life jury deliberations worked that way, one would bet that jury duty would be a thing to look forward to. Not to mention that they make up the bulk of gameplay, and a not-insignificant portion of its stylistic flair. There's no doubting that it's all arbitrary and unecessary, but there's also no doubting that Danganronpa 2 would be a poorer experience without it. There's no shortage of worthwhile extras as well. Once the main game is rounded off, "Island Mode" is unlocked, allowing players to explore Jabberwock Island risk-free in the kind of dating sim-like scenario Goodbye Despair parodies in its own opening movie, and a throwaway minigame starring Monokuma's sister Monomi allows one to earn more Monocoins (used to unlock extras and buy relationship-boosting presents). Most interesting, though, is Danganronpa If, a full light novel containing an alternate scenario for Trigger Happy Havoc, telling the story from the perspective of a new character. The latter is worth reading through, if only because its viewpoint is much less milquetoast than the game's "canonical" hero. Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair is the perfect sequel. It preserves everything that was good about its predecessor, while building on its foundation a worthy story that not only helps draw in newcomers but excites and satisfies fans of the original. If there's anything to be held against it, it's that it accomplishes all this by barely deviating from the path gone before, but that's hardly a complaint when the result is a solid, thoroughly entertaining coda. Anyone who won't accept those terms, though...well, they can go feel some despair.   9 -- Superb (9s are a hallmark of excellence. There may be flaws, but they are negligible and won't cause massive damage to what is a supreme title.)
Danganronpa 2 photo
Double Jeopardy
I almost don't want to be writing this review. That's because Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair is quite a lot like its predecessor, Trigger Happy Havoc. That means it's one of the few games where "spoilers" really matter, and t...

Review: Persona 3 The Movie: #2 Midsummer Knight's Dream

Aug 27 // Elliot Gay
Persona 3 The Movie #2: Midsummer Knight's DreamStudio: A-1 PicturesDistributed by: AniplexRelease Date: June 7, 2014 Much like Movie #1, Midsummer Knight's Dream cuts off a lot of the fat from the Persona 3 story so that it can make its way to the end goal within the allotted run-time. What this means is that there are zero social link side stories, and ultimately very little of the school-life portions that help to make the game's so endearing. That being said, I think in the name of letting the full Persona 3 narrative breathe, these were necessary cuts. The film already suffers from how chopped up the original storytelling was, and bringing in the optional content would have only made the pacing suffer more. Unlike Spring of Birth however, the portion of the game that Movie #2 covers is both eventful and ties into the larger plot at large. The film essentially kicks off with Aigis' entrance, and it ends on a huge story beat that also happens to serve as a strong cliffhanger. In my Persona 3 The Movie: #1 piece, I noted that in order to give the narrative a proper through-line, Yuki was given an extremely apathetic personality. The goal was to show his gradually growth into a person who could depend and care about others by the end of the movie, and it works. This time around, the underlying theme becomes “do we really want to go back to everyday life?” The notion of a fear of normality is shared across most of the cast: Yuki is afraid of losing his place, Fuka wants to be useful to the people she cares about, Ken has finally found a new family. The list goes on, but ultimately the heroes now have a true objective (destroying all the large Shadows), and are unsure as to whether they actually want to see it through or not. The seeds of confusion are planted by the primary antagonists, the Persona-users that comprise Strega, who would see the Dark Hour continue eternally if they had their way. Much of the film's focus is on Aigis and her super powers, but the emotional core rests in Ken and Shinji's laps. If you despised Ken in the original game, this isn't going to change your opinion, but I for one never had much of a problem with his character. He's an emotional elementary school kid who has no family to turn to, is given a powerful weapon, and is jarringly made aware of the tragic truth behind his mother's death. After barely appearing in Spring of Birth, Shinji gets plenty of screen time here and happens to have one of the funniest moments across both films thus far. My biggest complaint yet again is the general disjointedness of the movie. Often times the characters will go from hanging out at a restaurant to fighting a main boss Shadow back to back with only a calendar transition to let the audience know that time has passed. On the one hand, the film series has finally introduced its main antagonists and end goal, so it actually feels as though the characters are working toward something. On the other hand, that hasn't erased the fact that due to the nature of the source material, lots of time gets skipped over frequently. That being said, I understand that this is a unique problem that's present when adapting the Persona franchise for TV or film, and I'm willing to accept that these films aren't going to try and find an alternative. It's just something that bares mentioning regardless. On the technical side of things, A-1 Productions has taken over animation duties for AIC ASTA, and it certainly shows. Aigis gets the brunt of the great animation cuts, with her introductory action sequence being a real showstopper. There's still some off-model wackiness that goes on here and there, but on the whole it's solid across the board, and a decent enough step up from the first movie. It's certainly leaps and bounds better than the original animated cutscenes in the Persona 3 game. Shoji Meguro's soundtrack is an electric mix of music from the game and new themes which blend together nicely. His work is rarely ever anything less than great, and I'm looking forward to grabbing the soundtrack CD whenever it's made available. I also want to give a quick shout-out to the best use of the Persona 3 battle theme ever: you'll know it when you see it. Persona 3 The Movie: #2 had the monumental task of not only introducing the core story for the remaining films, but also its primary villains and the rest of the cast. Despite thr brief run time of 93 minutes, it manages to do that as well as impress with some great action sequences and some drama to boot. I wasn't sure what to expect with the studio switch from AIC ASTA to A-1 Pictures, but clearly it was the right move. I had my doubts about trying to adapt Persona 3 into a series of films. It's a huge game with a massive cast, lots of various subplots, and way too much content to tackle in such a short time span. To my surprise however, the movies have been doing a noble job of it. While nothing can replace the experience of actually playing the original source material, Persona 3 The Movie: #2 Midsummer Knight's Dream is a great watch for fans of the game. If you have friends who have always wanted to dip their toes into the franchise without the time investment, you can do a hell of a lot worse than sitting them down with the films. 8.0 – Great. A great example of its genre that everyone should see, regardless of their interest.
Persona 3 The Movie: #2 photo
Baby baby baby baby baby
Despite its pacing problems and general lack of an overarching story, I enjoyed Persona 3 The Movie: #1 Spring of Birth. As far as animated film adaptations of long games go, I think it did a novel job of compressing hours of...

Review: Kamen Rider Battride War II

Jul 29 // Salvador GRodiles
Kamen Rider Battride War II (PS3 [Regular Edition Reviewed], Wii U) Developer: Eighting Publisher: Bandai Namco Games Release Date: June 26, 2014 MSRP: Regular Edition: ¥ 7,689 [PS3, Wii U], Limited Edition: ¥ 11,286 [PS3, Wii U] Starting off with the latest Kamen Rider series, Kamen Rider Battride War II focuses on Kamen Rider Gaim, Baron, and Ryugen, as they’re sent into a strange movie theater. In this mysterious cinema, the three Riders meet two ghost-like children and suspicious fellow who goes by the name of Sinema. As Kamen Rider Gaim’s characters try to assess the matter at hand, our heroes end up being taken to various realms that Sinema sends them to. Of course, these areas are based off of the Kamen Rider movies from the Heisei Rider shows. [embed]32905:4076:0[/embed] First and foremost, Kamen Rider Battride War II’s plot is very straightforward. Gaim and his crew travel to different stages until they meet up with the other Heisei Riders. Then the players have to help the Heisei Riders win their signature battles in their corresponding films. Aside from that, the game throws in a few surprises when Sinema decides to change things up for our heroes, which acts a way to add variety to the story. Sadly, Battride War II's Chronicle/Story Mode wasn't executed well. Instead of utilizing elements from every Heisei Rider film in existence, Eighting chose to use one film per Rider show. Because of this decision, players were forced to re-battle the game's bosses more than twice. Ironically, this choice was an element that affected the first Battride War game’s quality as well, so it’s a bit disappointing to see that Eighting didn’t learn from their previous mistakes. On top of that, the most of Battride War II’s movie stages are missing certain Riders and monsters that played a major role in the original Heisei Rider films (such as Shadow Moon from the All Riders vs. Dai-Shocker film). Perhaps if Eighting chose to split each film into three stages to represent the movie’s key points (beginning, middle, and end), then we could’ve gotten the chance to battle every Heisei Rider movie villain during the game’s Chronicle Mode. If there’s one good thing about Eighting's involvement with the Battride War series, it's the Riders themselves. Players have access to three special finishing moves that can be executed with the Triangle, Circle, or Triangle and Circle Buttons together. When you press the Square Button, you'll be able to execute the Riders' normal combo. Despite the title’s simplistic combat actions, each Rider is capable of changing various forms, which changes the way how their combos and special moves work. While they could’ve added some branching combos to each character, Eighting still managed to capture the feel of using our favorite Bug-Eyed Heroes against hordes of enemies. Thankfully, Kamen Rider Fourze Base States and Gaim Zenith Arms are capable of doing different moves based on when you press Triangle during their combos, so players at least have the option to use a character with a broader move set. Aside from capturing each Rider’s fighting style, Eighting managed to improve Battride War’s II gameplay. For example, Kamen Rider OOO’s Tajador Combo now has an actual move set, and players are able to equip different Super Forms to Riders like Fourze and Wizard. While we’re on the topic of powerful transformations, if a player changes into a Rider’s Super Form, then they’ll be able to unleash the hero’s ultimate finishing move on your targets. Afterwards, you’ll be able to play as a Super Rider until your special gauge goes down; thus granting players the ability to feel like a true Kamen Rider. In addition to the Riders' Super Forms, Battride War II added an Ultimate System where players can change into the Riders' Movie Forms. Unlike your Super Transformation, the Ultimate Special only increases your strength while slowing down all enemies and bosses on screen. If a Rider lacks an Ultimate Form, then they’ll remain in their Super Form while receiving the Ultimate System’s benefits. Besides the game's two destructive specials, players can now cancel their combos with the X Button. Depending on the Rider that you select, players’ll get to roll, jump, or use a special ability when they cancel a combo. Other gameplay features include the Assist Rider System, which allows players to summon a Rider to hit an enemy or boss with a special attack. Thanks to this system, a good chunk of the Heisei Rider series’ Secondary Riders are now usable in the game. While it’s unfortunate that Kamen Rider Accel, Birth, Meteor, Beast, and Baron are the only playable Supporting Riders, it’s nice to see that Battride War II put some of the other Riders to good use. Best of all, the main Riders can be set to Assist Characters as well, so you’ll have a ton of combinations to experiment with. Since the new system allows you to summon an extra attacker, I found this feature to be very useful when I needed to break out of a boss' combo. All in all, the game's new elements allows players to implement more effective strategies against Battride War II's challenges, which act as a nice warm welcome to the series. When you’re not playing through Battride War II’s story, players have the option to test their skills in the game’s Survival Mode. In this segment, you’ll get to fight your way through random stages while overcoming various handicaps, which is very similar to the Rider Road Mode from the first game. If you managed to reign supreme, then you’ll be rewarded with special Figures that can be used to improve each Rider’s ability. Unlike the first Battride War, the Figures can now increase a Rider’s stats while retaining their special abilities. On top of that, the Toys are now capable of leveling up in battle, which adds a neat layer to the game itself. Unfortunately, Survival Mode is the only way for you to unlock Figures, so you’ll want to switch between the title's two options if you want to awaken your favorite characters true potential. Despite Eighting's attempt to improve Battride War II’s gameplay, this didn’t save the title from its flaws. Besides battling human-sized bosses, the team decided to add giant adversaries to the game’s sequel. While this concept sounds great on paper, the battles themselves were annoying to get through. Since it seemed that Eighting didn’t program the large boss’ hit-boxes properly, I found it very difficult to land a hit on most the title’s huge enemies. Compared to games like the Monster Hunter series, I felt that my attacks had little to no impact on the title's ginormous foes. Thankfully, these battles weren’t frequent, so it wasn’t enough to turn Battride War II into a terrible game. Other than that, it's still unfortunate that players can't run over enemies with their motorcycles, and the lack of a co-op option continues to be two minor recurring issues that have yet to be resolved. Besides my issues with most of the game's mechanics, I encountered a few glitches in Battride War II that prevented me from clearing certain stages. On a few occasions, I fell through the stage, which meant that I had to replay the entire level all over again. Luckily, I only encountered this bug twice, so there’s a chance that it might not happen too frequently. Other issues include the game's sound muting in most areas, and a freezing issue that occurs when you continuously use your Ultimate in any area that takes place in the castle from the Kamen Rider Wizard movie. While none of these glitches have messed with my game file, they can be annoying when you’re doing great during certain stages in Battride War II. As for Battride War II’s graphics, the game looks no different from the first title, as it still looks like an early PS3 game with HD PS2 quality environments. In fact, many of Battride War’s previous assets were recycled in the second installment. From the stages to the Riders and enemies from Kuuga to Wizard, none of these aspects were given a graphical update. While the Kamen Rider franchise has been known for reusing sets and locations, this doesn’t mean that Eighting should use the designs from the previous game without improving them. Despite being a person who favors gameplay over graphics, I felt that Battride War II could've look a bit better to warrant the title’s retail price. On a more positive note, the second game’s animations are better than before, which meant that Eighting touched up the characters who didn't receive new moves and/or Forms. Music wise, the game's soundtrack was disappointing, as each track felt like a generic freeware song or a rejected Kamen Rider battle theme. Sure, “Break the Shell” by Kamen Rider Girls was amazing, but one tune isn’t enough to save Battride War II’s entire music track. Luckily, players are given the option to create a Custom Soundtrack with any song that's on their PS3 console. On top of that, you also have the option to decide when the game plays your selected tracks (such as the menu, stage music, or the Riders’ transformation themes), which can be set to each Rider as well. Thanks to this feature, players can bypass the game’s mediocre tunes. Overall, Kamen Rider Battride War II had the potential to be a great game for the franchise's viewers, but the title's various flaws held it back from becoming a fine product. Even then, it was still a blast to obliterate waves of enemies with the Riders that Battride War II had to offer. While the title has enough content to please most Kamen Rider fans, I recommend waiting for Battride War II to go down in price before diving in. In the meantime, if you’re interested in a good Kamen Rider action game, then I recommend checking out All Kamen Rider: Rider Generation 2 for the PSP or DS, since it’s a beat em’ up title that contains over 50 Riders and villains. 6 -- Alright (6s may be slightly above average or simply inoffensive. Fans of the genre should enjoy them a bit, but a fair few will be left unfulfilled.)
Import Review photo
Journey through the Decayed
Back when Kamen Rider Battride War was first announced, many toku fans were excited over the fact that they were getting a Dynasty Warriors-like game that featured their favorite Heisei Riders from Kamen Rider Kuuga...

Review: World End Economica Episode 1

May 27 // Brittany Vincent
World End Economica Episode 1 (PC)Developer: Spicy TailsPublisher: Sekai ProjectRelease: May 5, 2014MRSP: $12.99 The tale of pipsqueak stock broker Yoshiharu (nicknamed "Hal") is one that piqued my interest right away, as it didn't include your average (and faceless) high school student seeking a girlfriend or sifting through a boring harem. Its sci-fi lilt brought with it an air of freedom from the chains that traditionally bind VN protagonists, and thus I was all in from the beginning. World End Economica follows the completion of mankind's greatest accomplishment: colonization of the moon. Humanity is migrating to space, though this advancement creates as many new problems as it does opportunities. There's a growing rift between those born on the moon and those born on Earth, and it's clear through Yoshiharu's journeys that "moon children" aren't exactly welcomed on our blue planet. As the teenage son of the very first two colonists on the moon, Hal decides he's had it with working-class life and wants to strike it rich through stock trading. He drifts from net cafe to net cafe, a vagabond narrowly avoiding scrapes with the police, until he runs into Lisa, a friendly church owner who gives him room and board. [embed]32623:3921:0[/embed] Unfortunately, there's another teenage runaway who's also taken up residence with Lisa, and she's as tsundere as they come. She's a mathematical genius, but a loner through and through. In case you couldn't guess that simply by looking at her (her character design is typical of the archetype), the novel finds plenty of ways to remind you here and there of how "cold" she truly is. Hal and Hagana simply can't get along, and right about where they begin their ceaseless bickering is when I decided World End Economica just wasn't doing it for me. There's something to be said about new and gripping ideas when it comes to visual novels, and with a story that appears to be heavily focused on elements so far outside the norm for the genre, seeing cookie-cutter tsundere girls and a protagonist who's little more than a selfish brat is more than a little disappointing. It's especially disconcerting when you factor in the main focus of this episode, which happens to be a virtual stock trading competition that Hal will be competing in. There's so much fluff masquerading as character development from the beginning up until the big reveal that it's difficult to maintain even a passing interest in what the characters are actually doing. Given that I didn't connect with any of the cast at all in the first place other than with Hal and his love of money, it was a difficult read. While both Hal and Hagana do tend to soften considerably and both become more personable near the end of the episode, I didn't feel moved to investigate the next one -- especially if it all it's going to deliver is a heavy dose of exposition with characters I'm not even interested in learning more about. And then there's the stock trading itself. For a game wholly based on the idea of virtual stock trading, there's little to no visual representation of said activity or any attempt to involve readers in the economical side of things beyond technical jargon and straightforward descriptions of how playing the stock trade actually works. I was hoping there would be at least a few interesting attempts at making the trading accessible for any type of audience, but it just didn't work out, and with bland visuals and sometimes black screens accompanying simple text, I found myself bored to tears more often than not. When reading is already your primary interaction with a VN, the story has to keep you entertained, and this one failed to on several occasions. Luckily, the CG scenes were quite aesthetically pleasing, even if the character models themselves had an amateurish feel to them overall. Poses don't always seem natural, and there's a strange look to the shading in some areas, particularly the necks on both male and female characters. It's hard to ignore, especially considering the fact that it gives young girls the appearance of having wrinkled skin where there should be a youthful complexion. And the music's nice when it's around, but wholly forgettable. World End Economica has so much going for it: an interesting premise, a protagonist with an actual design and personality (even if it is a little rotten) and the opportunity to capitalize on a business rarely (if ever) explored in video games: stock trading. Unfortunately, it squanders the opportunity to capitalize on these great bullet points and winds up a generic, muddled mess of pacing issues, bland dialogue, and characters too difficult to connect with. There are plenty of other more meaty and fulfilling visual novels out there that may be a little more expensive than this budget indie release, but you'll come out of those feeling much better about your purchase than you would about World End Economica. 4 -- Below Average (4s have some high points, but they soon give way to glaring faults. Not the worst games, but are difficult to recommend.)
World End Economica photo
Don't fly me to the moon
[Originally posted at Destructoid.] Visual novels are a finicky medium. It's difficult enough to drum up interest because of their exotic origins, and harder still to find an audience due to their nature -- it's a bunch of re...

Review: JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: All-Star Battle

May 19 // Brittany Vincent
JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: All-Star Battle (PS3)Developer: CyberConnect2Publisher: Bandai Namco GamesRelease Date: April 29, 2014MSRP: $49.99 If you've never read a single volume of JoJo's Bizarre Adventure or watched an episode of the anime, you've probably at least seen a meme or two inspired by the classic series here and there online - does "ZA WARUDOOOO!" ring any bells? It's an influential part of otaku culture with flamboyant leads, strong female characters, and droves of references to classic rock and pop singers peppered all the way throughout. If you ever wondered what it would be like to squeeze your favorite pop culture icons from the '80s and '90s into one enormous media property, JoJo's Bizarre Adventure would be the product. With vampires. And epic showdowns. All-Star Battle is an excellent companion to the franchise and the definitive JoJo game, rising above even that of the self-titled Dreamcast fighter. But if you're not up on the tale so far, you'll want to dig into Story mode (different from Campaign mode) and educate yourself on the world of JoJo. Unfortunately blocks of text are used in place of what could have been gorgeous cutscenes to advance the plot. These tidbits are at least informative enough to pull you into the fold, so you don't feel completely lost on JoJo lore. It's lacking, but not any more so than most fighters that attempt to include some sort of narrative mode. [embed]274943:53911:0[/embed] Story mode sets the stage for each battle with special conditions you must work against in order to move on. For instance, your enemy's health may regenerate, or you take a hit as far as your strength goes. You can either deal with them or spend in-game currency to bolster your chances of succeeding. You can hit up the store between battles to purchase stat-boosting aids that will up your attack power, reduce the enemy's health bar, or one of many other boons that allow you to quickly run your foe's face into the dirt and land a K.O. where you may not have been able to in another fighter. This handicap allows players of all skill levels to flourish, and even if you're not struggling it's fun to spend earned capital on making yourself so overpowered the next match is absolutely laughable. Campaign mode is a bit more confusing, especially since it should seem that Campaign and Story would be one and the same. Rather than progressing naturally through the JoJo story arcs, you must defeat opponents to maintain blocks of energy assigned to you. You're afforded ten blocks to start with, and when you run out of energy, you'll have to purchase more with your in-game currency or it's game over. Of course, it's not as if the game wants you to fail, as it will hand out energy to ensure you can stay in the game. You can unlock additional taunts for characters as well as poses (and JoJo characters love their poses) in Campaign mode, but overall it felt less like a viable companion option to playing through the story and more like a tacked-on addition. No matter which mode you choose to engage in, the actual brawls themselves are what you came for, no doubt. There's a wide assortment of characters and specific play styles that run the gamut from "dude on a horse" to "dude with a creepy spirit looming over his shoulder." You've got three core attacks to choose from, ranging from weak blows to powerful moves that you can chain together as a combo. Tap the light attack button repeatedly for an automatic combo that ends up in a super move, or dodge to save your precious health. Out of all the standard fighting maneuvers, however, Style is your best friend. Depending on the character you've chosen as your avatar, you can summon Stand fighters to aid in combat, pull off special moves via Vampirism or while mounted, and pummel your opponent into oblivion. There's a good bit of differentiation between each Style, and it offers an interesting balance between fighters to keep things feeling fresh, even if you bounce from Jolene Cujoh to Wamuu in the blink of an eye. But that's all information you might end up having to glean from the internet or via trial and error. Sadly, All-Star Battle just isn't very forthcoming about how you pull off specific moves or some of the more complex combos, instead opting for move lists via the menu with the buttons required  instead of running down how you need to pull each thing off. And while it's fun to hammer off combos once you've figured them out and can unleash them with little trouble, sometimes combatants take a while to finish their specials or complete moves because of all the posing and the flourishes. It's awesome to watch, but believe it or not, that can get a little old in the heat of battle. Still, it's fun where it counts, especially given the colorful scenes and impeccable attention to detail. Online play leaves a lot to be desired, sadly, with player matches offering only two slots for each battle. You can't spectate or save replays, and significant lag will plague lesser connections. It's fun for a few matches, but nowhere near as robust as offerings like Street Fighter or even BlazBlue. You'll get the most enjoyment out of 1 on 1 couch matches, but for two JoJo fans that wouldn't be out of place as a supplement to a weekend-long Stardust Crusaders viewing session. There's a meaty roster of 40 combatants from all eight current story arcs from the Phantom Blood arc to Diamond Is Unbreakable, all the way up to JoJolion. When applicable, some characters have Stands (think "spirit" guardians -- it just works) or mounts like horses. You can actually fight on or off said horses, but fighting on horseback is a lot more fun sometimes, especially when the horse is as lithe as your fighter. Jonathan Joestar, Jotaro Kujo, Lisa Lisa, Gyro Zeppeli...they're all on-board, and half the fun is seeing who you'll unlock next. Unfortunately, due to copyright law, a good portion of familiar names have been changed, some in hilariously strange ways. For instance, Killer Queen is now Deadly Queen, and J. Geils becomes Centrefold. The name changes are slightly amusing in a tongue-in-cheek manner since they're still intriguing nods to the original subject matter, but it's a little disappointing to see the altered text. Overall, despite its shortcomings, Jojo's Bizarre Adventure: All-Star Battle is a colorful spectacle that both fans of the anime and future fans of the anime will want to pick up and experience, even if just to watch a man use only his upper body strength after hopping off his horse to hold his own in combat. It's funky, gorgeous, and oozing with style. And where it comes up short, it simultaneously delivers in terms of fanservice and content. You won't be putting it down for quite some time, unless, you know, you need some time to eat a few more breads in your life. 7.5 -- Good (7s are solid games that definitely have an audience. Might lack replay value, could be too short or there are some hard-to-ignore faults, but the experience is fun.)
JBA: All-Star Battle photo
Mudamudamu-damn, this game is fun
[As originally posted at Destructoid.] How do you like your fighting games? Personally, I like mine with a sizable dose of pop culture references and eye-melting color palettes infused with a healthy dose of humor that's hi...

Review: Princess Nine

May 13 // Karen Mead
Princess Nine DVD Complete Series Publisher: Nozomi/Lucky Penny Release Date: April 1, 2014 MSRP: $39.99 Ryo Hayakawa is the daughter of a great baseball pitcher, although she doesn't know it. She's just minding her own business, playing in a casual sandlot baseball team whenever she's not needed at her mother's tiny restaurant, only to suddenly be offered a scholarship to a prestigious high school out of the blue. Keiko Himuro, the wealthy and dignified president of Kisaragi Girls High School, is deadset on forming an all-girls baseball team, and she wants Ryo in her lineup -- but is it just for her pitching arm, or is there another reason? And will the team see the light of day when not only the school administration, but even Himuro's own daughter, are against it? Princess Nine starts off its 26-episode run with lot of intriguing questions, and in that respect, it doesn't disappoint. I was very impressed with the writing in this series; while it did follow the predictable route of a sports anime in many respects, there were enough deviations from the norm to keep things feeling fresh and exciting. What's interesting is that instead of being a typical shonen sports anime, this is truly a shoujo sports anime; baseball often takes a back seat to relationships. Part of the reason why the story feels fresh is because it deviates from the game to explore the characters for surprising amounts of time, but for that very reason, baseball lovers might be disappointed with the relatively small amount of actual baseball played. While some characters are cut from familiar molds, including Ryo, others have surprises in store. I found Keiko Himuro to be a fascinating character; a rare adult female who has a character arc that has nothing to do with her children. Coach Kido, while basically being Tom Hanks' character from A League of Their Own (which Princess Nine bears many superficial resemblances to), ends up being a lot of fun. Every girl who joins the team adds something new to the table, and even background characters like the regulars who frequent Ryo's mother's restaurant end up having memorable roles to play. While not every character has loads of depth, quite a few of them do, and finding out what makes them all tick is a big part of the appeal of the show. Production-wise, this show is a mixed bag in a very particular way I don't think I've ever seen before. While the art is typical, low-budget '90s anime TV series fare, it seems as though incredible care was taken with the music and the sound design in general. The score, by Masamichi Amano, was performed by the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra, and the pedigree shows. While the music adds an almost palpable sense of gravitas to the show's more dramatic scenes, I found there was often a disconnect between the art and the music; you would have this amazing, truly epic orchestral score in the background, only the art looks like it could have been taken from any low-budget show circa 1998. That's not to say the animation is poor; it's at the very least adequate, and occasionally even dynamic and exciting during the baseball scenes. It's just that it's usually very typical, workmanlike art and animation (complete with shortcuts like repeated stock footage use) that seems at odds with the high-quality score. Other than this disconnect (which is only a problem insofar as the music is actually so much better than expected), I only have one problem with the show, but unfortunately, it's a doozy. As befitting a shoujo show, there's a dramatic love triangle between the earnest Ryo, snobby genius Izumi Himuro (Keiko's aforementioned daughter), and Hiroki Takasugi, a batting prodigy for the Kisaragi Boys High team. Early on, I didn't mind the love triangle and found that it added an interesting tension to Izumi and Ryo's rivalry. However, by the end, the love triangle completely overwhelms the show and it all degenerates into melodrama; romance tropes that seem beneath the level of the writing on the rest of the show start to rear their trite heads, and baseball gets sidelined in pursuit of the answer to the all-important "Who does Hiroki like?" question. But that's not all; the fact that the love triangle becomes more prominent may be a negative for many viewers, but that's not what made me want to destroy the discs. No, the real problem is that the way the love triangle is depicted seems to undermine the entire message of the show. While Ryo and Izumi's performance on the field becomes increasingly compromised due to their feelings for Hiroki, there's no indication that Hiroki's own athletic performance is ever affected by the romantic turmoil in his life. This double standard ironically serves to reinforce exactly the kind of sexist stereotypes that the rest of the show seemingly exists to challenge. Maybe it was unintentional, but the implication seems to be that while girls may be talented at sports, they can't keep their pretty little heads in the game once romance is involved, while guys have control over their feelings. Given the overwhelmingly progressive nature of the rest of the show, I found this development infuriating. Your mileage may vary; after all, Princess Nine has been out for over a decade and has a pretty stellar reputation, so obviously, not all viewers have the same problem with how the love triangle developed that I do. After all, Ryo and Izumi are depicted as unquestionably two of the best athletes around, of any gender; how strong do they have to be for the show not to be sexist? Still, the fact remains that the way the whole thing played out left a sour taste in my mouth, and I have to be honest about that. If you put aside possible issues with the story, this release from Lucky Penny is pretty flawless. Not only do you get the entire series for under $40, but for once, the set is full of extras. May of them, like the History of Baseball in Japan feature and the voice actress stats, are just some extra text, but the features devoted to the performance of the music by the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra are fascinating. Keep in mind, you need to have subtitles turned on to see the subtitles on the special features; if you're watching the dub, the features will play unsubbed. Speaking of the dub, I thought it was adequate without being memorable. Hilary Haag turns in a strong performance as Ryo, as do some of her teammates, but I thought Vic Mignogna's Hiroki lacked the suave quality of Takehito Koyasu's performance and left the character devoid of his original charm. Some of the other performances, like Jennifer K. Earhart as team manager Nene, are kind of grating and made me want to switch back to the Japanese track. In short, if you're a dub-only watcher a few strong performances make watching Princess Nine in English a worthwhile endeavor, but all else being equal I recommend the original language track. So, where does that leave me? I love Princess Nine; I also kind of hate Princess Nine. But I only hate it because I got so invested in the story, which means it's a good show, right? But it can't be that good, otherwise I wouldn't have wanted to use the discs for skeet shooting practice after it ended, right? I have no idea; I'll probably still be puzzling this one out for a while. In the meantime you may want to pick up this series if you'd like to see the interesting combination of a hardball story with a decidedly softball aesthetic; it has an awful lot going for it, and the price is certainly right. And maybe when you're done you can join my new club, where we burn effigies of Hiroki Takasugi and talk about the Princess Nine that might have been if only the dumb love interest had never existed. 7.0 -- A show with many fantastic qualities that drowns in its own melodrama by the end, and seemingly undermines its own premise at times. Nevertheless, when it's good it's very, very good, and the score is peerless.
Princess Nine photo
Dirt, fastballs and romance
At the beginning, I loved Princess Nine. It may be a cliche to say "I laughed, I cried!", but the fact is, I really did laugh and cry. The show seemed to be capable of doing something nigh-impossible: present a story unabashe...

Review: Nekomonogatari Black

May 07 // LB Bryant
Nekomonogatari: Black [Blu-ray]Studio: ShaftLicensed by: Aniplex of AmericaRelease Date: 4/22/14MSRP: $64.98   Nekomonogatari: Black is a short four episodes long making it very easy to get through provided you have a basic amount of knowledge about the characters and story going in. Despite being a prequel to Bakemonogatari, this series will not explain much to the audience and leave anyone who has never seen a Monogatari series scratching their heads trying to figure out why exactly Araragi has all these powers and is able to withstand the amount of punishment that he does within these episodes. If you have seen the Monogatari series up to this point though, you're in for a treat as Nekomonogatari: Black really delivers everything that made the first releases so interesting to watch.  This is very much a Shaft series with all the trademarks that fans of the studio have come to know. Within sixty seconds of the first episode we see our first Shaft head tilt and from there the series goes out of its way to showoff all the other trademarks including very vibrant animation styles, eye catching backgrounds and more. It even includes various text screens which fly by in mere seconds which will leave fans with a completion complex exercising their pause buttons liberally.  The place where fans are going to start disagreeing with each other is in where the release has its faults. There are obviously faults in this release as no series is perfect but where do they lie? Is it in the fan service? Well, Black Hanekawa does spend every second that she is on screen wearing nothing but lingerie which could leave some fans wondering what the point is. Is it in the fact that this is a very speech laden series with long monologues and not a lot of action? Is it in the sometimes creepy little sister scenes which involve breast grabbing or random underwear shots?   All of these could be considered large faults which hold the series back from reaching its true potential. I personally disagree with that notion however. While the fan service could've been toned down in many places, this is one series where I didn't find it distracting or titillating. While I would argue that the fire sister fan service was unneeded; having Black Hanekawa in lingerie helped distinguish her from regular Hanekawa (again though one could argue that the cat ears and speech patterns did that enough).  As for the monologues; this is another case where I found that the series did it well. Some fans will complain that there wasn't enough action and that the speeches were convoluted but I argue that they created a straight forward narrative and really solidified the characters. When Araragi shows off the side of him that isn't as likable with Hanekawa towards the beginning, this is not a scene that could've been done with actions alone. Hearing his thoughts there through rapid fire dialogue really cements that while he is the hero, he's also a creeper teenager.  In terms of extras, Aniplex of America unfortunately didn't pack a lot. On the discs themselves, there are clean animations, a second season PV and an extra called Bakemonogatari Digest which summarizes the story in the first couple of series and very quickly introduces the characters. Despite only lasting a couple of minutes, this is a valuable resource for someone who has never seen any of this franchise before and should be watched before watching the series. There are additional extras included with the packaging such as a booklet and postcard set but these are hardly worth getting overly excited about.  Overall, this is a solid addition to the series and worth owning and watching. If you've always wanted to know what the big deal is about the Monogatari series but didn't want to commit to a full fifteen or more episodes, this release will give you a great taste and show you exactly what you're getting yourself into by watching this series.  8.0 – Great. A great example of its genre that everyone should see, regardless of their interest.  
Nekomonogatari photo
Solid from start to finish!
I've been a fan of the Monogatari series since Bakemonogatari and have followed the entire franchise since the start. Nekomonogatari: Black came out in late 2012 and was widely accepted by fans as a very pleasant addition to ...

Review: Ranma 1/2 Set 1

May 06 // Karen Mead
Ranma 1/2 DVD Set 1 Publisher: Viz Media Release Date: March 25, 2014 MSRP: $44.82 Ranma Saotome is a talented martial artist with a very peculiar curse; when doused with cold water, he changes sex and becomes a curvy red-haired girl. His father, cursed in a similar manner to become a giant panda, has arranged for him to be married to young Akane Tendo so that he can one day take over the Tendo School of Anything Goes Martial Arts. However, Akane is a tomboy who has no interest in marrying a boy, let alone a boy who turns into a girl, and Ranma just wants to get his curse removed...or so he says. Such is the beginning of one of the most beloved anime rom-coms of all time. Needless to say, many other characters vie for the affections of Ranma and Akane respectively (sometimes simultaneously), and plenty of other characters magically turn into stuff when they get wet, and mayhem ensues. Literally rinse and repeat. I expected to spend a portion of this review talking about whether the animation from a show originally broadcast in 1989 "holds up," in today's parlance. Instead, a curious thing happened; though I knew it couldn't be true, when I began watching it really seemed to me like the visuals in Ranma 1/2 were actually better than current fare. How could that possibly be? The colors are often dull, the character designs simple, and the technology at work was primitive compared to the tools that animators have at their disposal these days. So how is it that I find Ranma 1/2 more visually appealing than 90% of the anime I see today? What I eventually realized was that it wasn't that the animation was particularly fluid, but that everything was consistent and well-storyboarded. Too often in modern anime, the focus is split between action scenes (where the studios sink most of their money) and static talking-head scenes that exist to provide info dumps and save money. In Ranma 1/2, that distinction doesn't seem to exist; even seemingly mundane scenes feature a fair amount of movement. Characters are constantly doing acrobatics, throwing things, jumping out of windows, changing into animals, etc. The overall effect can feel a bit like Looney Tunes at times, but what it means is that the show is full of motion. The world of Ranma Saotome and the Tendo sisters feels vibrant and alive, and that more than makes up for the dated animation techniques and frequent lack of detail. Maybe I'm crazy, but it feels so much more like a finished product than a lot of what we see today; I really wish shows still looked like this. Plus, despite the fact that modern anime has tried to turn cute into a science, I honestly find Akana and Ranma much cuter than most characters these days. The story doesn't fare quite as well from a modern perspective. In fact, if you're a viewer who likes to look at things through the lens of gender politics, you will have an absolute field day with this show. There's no denying that Ranma 1/2 is sexist; one of the first things anyone says to Akane on the show is that if she keeps up being such a tomboy, she'll never find herself a husband. Ranma frequently opines that having to be a girl at times is "humiliating," yet claims his female version is better than Akane since girl-type Ranma has bigger breasts. In fact, Ranma is frequently downright brutal to his future bride; when he's not getting on her case for being unfeminine, he's lording his superior martial arts skills over her. Akane spends much of the series violently angry, and it's for good reason. Some viewers are bound to be turned off by these things, and that's fair. However, personally I don't see it that way; to me, complaining about sexism in Ranma 1/2 is kind of like watching an episode of I Love Lucy from the 1950s and complaining that Ricky orders Lucy around too much. It is sexist, but I think you need to take it in the context of its time and place, and also realize that the show subverts its own apparent sexism at times. After all, if Akane is supposedly so unattractive to boys due to her tomboy ways, why are virtually all the guys on the show head-over-heels in love with her? The show is actually more sexist on the surface than it is deep down where it matters, if that makes any sense. There's a lot of talk that "Boys are like this, girls are like this," but the characters themselves really don't practice what they preach. Furthermore, whatever misgivings some might have about the overall arc of the story, there's no denying that Ranma 1/2 is king when it comes to physical comedy. It's the little touches, like Akane's father diving for cover right before she decks Ranma with a table, that make the jokes work. Granted, the humor does get repetitive fairly quickly -- and there seem to be an awful lot of full buckets of water just hanging around for no reason -- but still, the show has a ton of great visual gags up its sleeve. At its best, the over-the-top martial arts action reaches a level of absurdity that's kind of genius. The martial arts rhythmic gymnastics competition featured in this volume is one such incident, and martial arts-figure skating isn't far behind. And even when the action isn't that riveting, Akane is such a likable character that it's just fun looking in on her daily life. There're also plenty of supporting and minor characters who each bring their own brand of humor, quite successfully. You really can't go wrong with either language track here; despite the occasional awkwardness that plagues all early English anime dubs, I think the English cast for Ranma 1/2 really threw themselves into this in a way that's all too rare. Particular standouts are Myriam Sirois, who makes for a feisty but good-hearted Akane, and Angela Costain, who's delightfully acerbic as Akane's manipulative sister Nabiki Tendo. I'm also rather fond of Sarah Strange as male Ranma, since she seems to have a gift for making Ranma seem nice even when he's saying awful things to Akane that you want to slap him for. This release is light on extras; the only thing on offer here besides trailers is a brief featurette filmed at NYCC 2013, featuring some Ranma cosplayers. It's a nice idea in theory, but the whole thing is maybe two minutes long, so it shouldn't effect anyone's purchasing decision. Personally I think the episodes themselves are worth the purchase, but it would have been nice if there was at least some bonus art or something; I'm hopeful that future volumes might have more to offer. Ranma 1/2 may not be for everyone; it calls back to a lot of sexist stereotypes, it's often juvenile in its humor, and even during the first season, can start to feel repetitive. However, at its best it's a riotous blend of over-the-top, well-choreographed martial arts action with many lovable characters and jokes to spare. If that sounds like something you might enjoy, no one does it better than this. 9.0 – Exceptional. One of the best things its genre has ever produced. Its example will be copied or taken into account by almost anything that follows it.  
Ranma 1/2 photo
Anything Goes in this comedy classic
The wacky ensemble comedy of Ranma 1/2 occupies an interesting niche in Western anime fandom. The show wasn't likely to be someone's "first anime," in the way that contemporaries Sailor Moon and Dragon Ball Z generally w...

Review: Nyaruko: Crawling With Love! Blu-ray Season 1 Set Premium Edition

May 02 // LB Bryant
Nyaruko: Crawling With Love! Blu-ray Season 1 Set Premium Edition [Blu-ray]Studio: XebecLicensed by: NIS AmericaRelease Date: 4/15/14MSRP: $64.99 Despite having never read anything that Lovecraft has ever written, I enjoyed Nyaruko: Crawling With Love when I first saw it on Crunchyroll a couple of years ago. It was never a particularly deep series but it was fun, and so I was looking forward to re-watching it and seeing how it held up on a second viewing. What a difference a couple of years can make.  That isn't to say that I was absolutely bored by this series; it's actually pretty hard to be completely bored by this one, as there is always something going on which makes for a sometimes entertaining viewing. There are certainly more than a few large flaws however which will make this tough to get through for some anime fans.  The biggest of these flaws is that the characters are over-the-top to the point of being downright unlikable. When it comes to love and hate, every character dials it up to eleven. Nyaruko is literally throwing herself at Mahiro every chance she gets, Kuko is the worst type of yuri character (imagine Kuroko from Raildex only with far less subtlety or cleverness) and Mahiro shows his displeasure at Nyaruko by stabbing her with forks -- seriously. I kept a running tally of how many times he stabs her with a fork and was up to ten before I even reached the end of the first disc. It's really hard to get into what little story there is when you can't even enjoy the characters.  There are good points along the way. If you're a fan of Lovecraft, you're going to enjoy all the little inserts and references that are thrown in. If you've never actually read any of his works though, you're going to be constantly going to Google in order to figure out what the characters are talking about. Luckily, most of the jokes are pretty blunt so a complete understanding of the world isn't particularly necessary, but if you actually want to understand everything in this series you'll want to keep a wiki page open at all times while watching.  As with other NISA titles, the real extras are the pretty art box and collectible book that comes with the release, while the discs themselves are pretty empty. The only extras are trailers and clean animations, so if you're looking for special features to peruse, you'll be sorely disappointed in that regard.  This can be a cute and, dare I say, funny series at times. However it's not something that I can fully recommend or endorse with all my heart. It has its moments, but overall this isn't a series that anyone absolutely has to have in their collection. Be sure to check out a couple of episodes first before you commit to buying this one. If you enjoy the first two or three episodes, you're highly likely to enjoy the rest of the series, as it's much more of the same with few added tricks up its sleeve.  5.0 – Average. The definition of mediocre. It has many flaws, and just couldn’t follow through on its intentions or had ones that were simply too narrow to warrant consideration. Some will still enjoy it, but should temper their expectations, or perhaps just opt to pass. Watch more trailers and read more reviews before you decide.
Review: Nyaruko photo
Crawling with Lovecraftian humor
Originally released in 2012, Nyaruko: Crawling With Love is a bizarre little romantic comedy which takes a typical harem anime set up and inserts tons of references to Lovecraft into the mix. The end result is a weird series ...

Review: Demon Gaze

May 01 // Dae Lee
Demon Gaze (PS Vita) Developer: Kadokawa GamesPublisher: NISAReleased: April 22, 2014MSRP: $39.99 It might make a tiny digital footprint on my Vita but make no mistake, this is a large-scale game, easily taking 50 hours to complete. Demon Gaze is a marathon: a rewarding and challenging grid-based dungeon crawler by Kadokawa Games. Demon Gaze's presentation is likely to impress. The vocaloid music can seem odd at first, but it quickly grows on you -- don't be surprised if you catch yourself humming these themes incessantly between game sessions. The art consists of gorgeously painted high-resolution CG paintings that really pop on the Vita screen. It's even more impressive when you realize the sheer amount of unique characters and enemy designs there are. The only weakness in the visuals are the 3D renderings of the dungeons you navigate block-to-block on a grid, where the environments are noticeably low polygon and muddy-looking. The game is split into two parts: Your time spent in the inn, where you can accept quests, advance the story, and buy/sell items; and your time spent in dungeons, where all the battling, looting, and demon gazing takes place. How you balance the two becomes vital. Your main character is a rare Demon Gazer, someone with the ability to capture demon souls after you've tamed them, allowing them to assist you in battles. Your amnesia-riddled self is taken to an inn run by a energetic young lady named Fran, who houses fellow dungeon crawling sell-swords, as well as quirky merchants and traders you will quickly befriend. The colorful cast and the warm greetings really make you feel at home, making it a welcome site to return to after a hard day's work of dungeon conquering. The battle system is turn-based and you can have a party of up to five members. While your class is unique as a Gazer, the game gives you a lot of freedom when it comes to recruiting party members. You have lists of options, from the character art, voice, class, and race, balancing certain strengths and weaknesses. They all start from level 1 when you recruit, so using your gold to add party members quickly is a good idea. Each class has fixed skills they will learn as they gain levels, but there is flexibility and customization in the form of artifacts. Each artifact will teach a skill to any of your party members, regardless of their class, allowing you to create unique builds based on your needs. You can also receive furniture as rewards, which give varying levels of stat boosts that go into effect by placing them in your party member's individual rooms at the inn. Whenever you visit your party members' rooms, the game gives you a randomized little description of what they're doing, which is a nice touch. As little as it affects the game, hearing that my Healer is using the fluffy bed I got her as a trampoline, or that my Fighter is admiring the shelf I acquired, put a smile on my face every time I dropped in. Despite its fairly easy opening sections, Demon Gaze is not a walk in the park, especially once the game gets going. Your objective in each dungeon is to defeat the resident demon of each location. There are specific capture points called Gem Circles you need to conquer to make a demon circle appear, where you will finally face the demon and acquire it, if you are victorious. Successfully capture the boss demon, and you will be able to equip it, bringing it in and out of battle per turn. Demons come with a limited number of turns they can take fighting the enemy before they go berserk and start attacking your party indiscriminately, so it becomes a balancing act where you want to save your demons for harder battles, though it becomes less of an issue later in the game as your demons level up and their turn counts rise dramatically. Between the number of capture points spread across the map, one of them will actually house the resident demon, introducing itself and giving you a taste of its abilities with a preliminary battle. These battles are often intense, because these demons don't mess around. They give no quarter, and you'll be dead very quickly if you're not prepared. Facing each demon for a final showdown is a battle of attrition, making every move and character ability count. Trying to brute force might get you through some tough enemies, but rarely ever bosses. Demons are here to stand as difficult walls for you to conquer, and facing each one is an exciting, if not terrifying, process. Gem Circles are also areas of interest to you because they are prime areas for loot drops and saves. I've found each capture point to be lifesavers as the game went on, especially when the maps begin to get larger and require a long stretches of battles between each one. You will acquire specific item gem drops from enemy encounters, which you use to activate these capture points. If you successfully capture it by winning the following battle, you will get drops depending on the gem you put down. There are a wide variety of different gem types, ranging from bows, swords, and staves, to hats and underwear. It's a much better alternative to buying weapons and items in the overpriced shop, so using gems often is recommended. There are also special gems for rare drops that tend to summon stronger enemies to defeat. Demon Gaze keeps you on your toes with each new area sporting stronger enemy types, and even stronger resident demons. As you progress further into a dungeon and gain some levels, the common enemies will be noticeably easier to defeat; a promising sign of progress, and you might be tempted to mash through every random encounter. There is a mechanic that lets you auto-battle in fast forward, activated by pressing triangle, but mashing on it confidently is a sure way to lose party members, as one or two stronger enemies in the mix could make fast work of your party if you're not careful. There is a very helpful map you can bring up that charts everywhere you've gone. In addition to tracking your progress through a dungeon, you can select any part of the grid that you've already walked across, and have your party automatically navigate to the selected block, making backtracking incredibly simple and painless. Whenever you return to the inn after a session of dungeon crawling, you're expected to pay rent, which Fran collects with glee. The higher level and more party members you have, the higher your rent rises. In the first half of the game where money is harder to come by, you probably won't be able to afford the egregiously overpriced revive items, so the best way to bring back fallen party members is to retreat back to the inn, pay the rent, and have the resident basement dweller revive your party member for, you guessed it, an additional fee based on your fallen comrade's level. You could add more party members, but each requires you to buy an extra room (with a price that doubles with each additional member), and your return fee rises even higher. This game has you practically bleeding gold and it can get downright brutal, but soon enough you'll figure out how to strategize each outing to get the most out of each dungeon, allowing you to stay out longer and accrue enough gold to make the additional payments a non-issue. I would be remiss not to mention that Demon Gaze is a game with a lot of charm. Everyone you share quarters with is affable and entertaining, with something different to bring to the table. The ensemble cast is made up of characters coming from all walks of life and give you the feeling that you're part of their wacky family. Some of the quests you accept give further insight into your fellow inn-mates, and there's a quirky sense of humor embedded into the writing. A good amount of story and character interactions outline your dungeon looting, and it provides a good break when you have your fill of battles. I won't mince words; if you hate grinding, spending lots of your time comparing character stats, and loot gathering followed by harrowing bosses you might die to over and over again, this game may not be for you. Demon Gaze is a very traditional dungeon crawler following the likes of Wizardry and Etrian Odyssey, down to its challenging and heavy grinding roots, but also provides a decent story and an endearing cast you'll miss when it's all over. Whether you're newly interested in the genre or a hardcore veteran, this is an engaging and addictive Vita game that comes highly recommended. 9 -- Superb (9s are a hallmark of excellence. There may be flaws, but they are negligible and won't cause massive damage to what is a supreme title.)
Demon Gaze photo
Look deep into my eyes...
There's something comforting and satisfying about Japanese turn-based RPGs, growing your party and exploring the unknown in the name of loot and power. Every progressive inch forward is one step closer to realizing your ultim...

Review: Blast of Tempest S2

Apr 29 // Karen Mead
Blast of Tempest DVD Complete Second Season Publisher: Aniplex of America Release Date: Feb. 25, 2014 MSRP: $74.98 Blast of Tempest is a fairly highbrow anime, barring some fanservice here and there. It's inspired by Shakespeare's The Tempest, something explicitly name-dropped several times, and several characters love quoting Shakespeare whenever the opportunity arises. There's a sense of theatricality to the whole thing that's difficult to explain; it's not over-acted, but there's a whiff of old-school, classic drama to it that makes the occasional acquiescence to typical anime humor feel somewhat out of place. To its credit, the show mixes things up substantially in its second half, but not without drawbacks; things I thought I knew about the series based on the first 12 episodes evaporate, yet the new things that emerge don't necessarily go anywhere. In the first season, exiled mage Hakaze was trying to fight against usurpers from her own clan remotely, using what little magic she could conjure on the remote desert island where she had been stranded. To do so she enlisted the help of Mahiro, a volatile teen with a propensity for violence, and Yoshino, a seemingly gentle young man with a dark side of his own. Though the world is falling apart around them due to some apocalyptic nonsense (frankly it's not worth trying to explain), Mahiro and Yoshino have already suffered due to the recent death of Mahiro's mysterious sister Aika, who happens to also have been Yoshino's secret girlfriend. The two boys, with the help of Hakaze, might save the world from the evil Tree of Exodus, but in truth, they really just want to find out who killed their sister/girlfriend. It was an interesting set-up; Hakaze, by far the most powerful character, was put in a situation where her options were severely limited, and she had to rely on other people to do her dirty work. Mahiro and Yoshino are ostensibly the heroes because they're fighting the forces of evil on her behalf, but really, they just want to know who killed Aika; saving the world is pretty much incidental to both of them. Furthermore, the villain Samon (whom I always want to call "Salmon," because I'm a horrible person) isn't even necessarily evil; for all we know, he could have been right to exile Hakaze when he had the chance. It was a series that wasn't necessarily riveting (although the end-of-season standoff at Mt. Fuji was pretty epic), but it was always intriguing at the very least. In the second half, all the major characters are on the same team; there are hints at dissension among the ranks, but those are red herrings that mostly go nowhere. Hakaze becomes a much more typical female lead who wastes time fretting over her feelings for Yoshino, and is generally far less interesting than she was at the beginning. The Mage of Exodus, Hakaze's magical counterpart who is totally necessary for saving the world, basically falls into the group's lap with little explanation. Characters that seemed to have promise at the beginning kind of fade into the background, relegated to menial tasks. I'm still not sure who catsuit-wearing Evangeline Yamamoto was, even though she's actually critically important to the plot. Lest it seem like it's all downhill, the show does do a good job resolving the mystery of Aika, the most intriguing plot thread, in its second half. In addition to learning who killed her, we get a satisfying resolution to the whole "Mahiro never knew that Yoshino dated his sister" arc, and scenes that involve Aika are smartly written and fun. Still, I don't know if the show ever properly compensates for the fact that its most interesting character is dead before the story even started; Yoshino, with a laid-back attitude that hides his manipulative nature, shows glimmers of being interesting, but the show doesn't flesh him out  as much as I would have liked. Hakaze starts out interesting, then becomes tedious. Unfortunately, the best characters are the ones we don't get to spend much time with. The mage-on-mage fights (or mage-on-aircraft carrier fights; it happens) are fun, but they aren't plentiful enough to recommend to action fans on that basis, nor is the animation for them noteworthy. The whole show has average to above-average production values, yet for some reason, very little stood out to me. A lot of the show is dialogue, theorizing about the relationship between the magical Trees of Genesis and Exodus, and while some of these conversations are interesting, they're likely to try many a viewer's patience before the series' end. In the end, I'm just not sure what Blast of Tempest was trying to do. You could say that it was an anime retelling of The Tempest, except -- assuming I'm remembering the play correctly, from way back in high school English -- the story doesn't have all that much in common with it. I see far more parallels to Milton's Paradise Lost, which isn't mentioned even once. Furthermore, was all that scheming that seemingly went nowhere meant to be misdirection, and if so, did we really need so much of it? Instead of feeling complete, the second season feels like a bunch of different elements inexpertly cobbled together; for that reason, the final confrontation lacks impact, even though some of what's going on is rather clever. It's all just too muddled. It's not a bad show by any means, but the show only seems to fire on all cylinders when dealing with Aika in flashbacks; the present is always dull in comparison. Add to the equation that this is a pretty bare bones release -- with no dub, and only clean OP/EDs for extras -- and it becomes hard to recommend with a clear conscience. Still, warts and all, I feel like I have to lean towards the positive with Blast of Tempest. This show made me think, and even if half those thoughts were "What's going on?" that's still a lot more than I can say for many anime with pretensions of being intellectual. Plus, the whole Aika storyline is worthwhile, and it does take up a significant portion of the screentime here. If you're looking for a consistently taut, action-packed thrill ride, pass this series by; but if you want something a little more cerebral in the realm of contemporary fantasy and are willing to overlook a few flaws, this is probably for you. 7.0 – Good. Films or shows that get this score are good, but not great. These could have been destined for greatness, but were held back by their flaws. While some may not enjoy them, fans of the genre will definitely love them.  
Blast of Tempest photo
O Brave New World, that has such tree mages in it
There's something inscrutable about Blast of Tempest. Even now that I've had a few days to digest everything and figure out the answers to most of my lingering story questions, I still feel that there's something about the sh...

Review: Hal

Apr 29 // Dae Lee
Hal [Blu-ray/DVD Combo]Studio: Production I.G, Wit StudioLicensed by: FUNimationRelease Date: September 2, 2014MSRP: 19.98 The first thing to note is that the art is astounding. Hal is a collection of small, meticulous animations, rendered in exhaustive detail that effectively capture and give life to fleeting, but meaningful, moments. The characters have a natural, hand-painted look to them, and the color palette pops off the screen, full of deep and vibrant colors that create a vividly realized world. The environments have a tangible feeling to them, ornate and full of texture. With such lush visuals, Wit Studio put them to use in service of the story as well. Psychological barriers, doubt, and intimacy are all represented through carefully framed, deliberate shots -- many times without dialogue, as the quiet moments of Hal often speak the loudest. The film opens with Q01, a humanoid robot tasked with consoling and providing therapy to the mentally distraught Kurumi, who has lost all will to live after her boyfriend Hal died tragically in a airplane accident. Awakening in a body that is a perfect replicate of Hal, he is initially met with scorn and rejection from the reclusive Kurumi, who lives in a house overflowing with odd trinkets and handcrafted knickknacks. Looking for clues that could help Kurumi come out of her shell, the narrative sends the two on a journey that teaches them of the simple joys and pains of life, eventually discovering something about themselves and each other that makes a repeated viewing a wholly different and recommended experience. A film about loss is a tough balancing act. Unlike most -- where the death of a character in the beginning of the film is a mere contrivance that gives opportunity for two main protagonists to fall in love and become the dominating focus -- this film never forgets about the deceased, as Hal's role in the past is essential to the current story between our human and robot. The striking contrast between the current Hal, and the Hal that Kurumi once knew, paints a realistic picture of the couple's relationship, full of troubled and complicated moments as well as sweet instances of support and unconditional love. All the subject matter is handled with the proper restraint and maturity that the story needed for it to work, and the result is affecting. Hal is a science fiction story as well as a love story, which seems like an unlikely pairing at first; but the advanced gadgets and technology make sure not to overshadow the grounded events in the story, only revealing itself when necessary. Most items of significance take the shape of things we are familiar with: Rubik's cubes, buttons, giant plastic giraffes. The sci-fi dressing establishes the advanced world they live in, but also reminds the viewer that much of it is still the same world we can relate to and understand. Having a short running time of 60 minutes, the film is devoid of bloat -- but it could leave some viewers wanting more exploration of the themes and characterization. Unfortunately,  it's Kurumi who ends up getting the short stick when it comes to fleshing out the two protagonists by the end of the film upon reflection. While I think that some extra time could have been used to further cement the ideas in Hal and give emotional moments more impact, it's a film that still packs a punch and provides plenty to chew on the more you think about it, even long after you've seen it. Hal is a interesting short film that showcases the talent of Wit Studio, both visually and narratively. It could easily have become a lifeless, shallow vanity project that collapses under its own weight, but Hal managed to overstep that pitfall and executes on making an affecting, bittersweet piece of work that celebrates life. 8.0 – Great. A great example of its genre that everyone should see, regardless of their interest.
Review: Hal photo
"Please, save that child."
Wit Studio is probably best known for their work on the hit anime Attack on Titan, but in stark contrast with high octane action and drama we might associate with Wit, they released a quiet yet ambitious short film OVA, Hal. ...

Review: Wagnaria!!2 Blu-ray Complete Box Set Premium Edition

Apr 24 // LB Bryant
Wagnaria!!2 [Blu-ray]Studio: A-1 PicturesLicensed by: NIS AmericaRelease Date: 2/4/14MSRP: $64.99  Wagnaria takes place in a family restaurant in Hokkaido that just happens to be filled with oddballs and eccentrics. These include the lead character Takanashi who loves cute and small things; Taneshima ,who happens to be a cute, small thing; their manager, who used to be a delinquent; a runaway named Yamada, the agoraphobic Inami and many others. The stories in each episode follows their daily lives at work as they attempt to serve customers in between various crises.  With animation produced by A-1 Pictures, the second season of Wagnaria premiered in late 2011 with a splash. It was as though the series had never left and fans were happy to pick it back up without a single complaint. One of the best things about this particular series is that you need very little knowledge about the characters or story to enjoy it ,allowing viewers to jump in at any point and just laugh along with the characters' antics. If you've ever worked a day of customer service in your life, you'll appreciate this series more and more with each passing episode. Always happy to deliver a laugh, Wagnaria is just plain fun and never delves into hard-hitting drama. The hardest hits that you'll ever need to worry about coming from this series are Inami's punches, indicating that she's seen another male. I mention this as a segue into the negatives about Wagnaria which, sadly, there are a couple of.  There are two things about Wagnaria which will likely bother viewers. The first problem with this series is the pacing...each episode moves very slowly. I wouldn't go so far as to say that the jokes are subtle, but they are spaced out, which makes many episodes feel like a crawl. Wagnaria is a series best served in small doses for this reason. As I've already said repeatedly, it's not a bad series at all but it's not really suited for marathon viewing.  The other problem is that this is very much a character-based show which means that much of the humor is based on personalities and relationships. Normally this wouldn't be a problem, but the jokes can get repetitive at times. There are really only so many times that you can watch Inami freak out and punch a male in the face simply because she's scared of him, or Takanashi gush over something because it is small and therefore cute before the jokes gets old. The saving grace here is the kitchen staff Satou and Souma who keep things lively and fresh by being such understated characters who keep everyone else mostly grounded.  If you're the type who enjoys extras, you'll be pleased to know that NIS America has put out another high-quality set to place among your collection. Including the standard high quality artbox and book, the discs also have clean animations. Admittedly this isn't much by way of extras but as with all NIS America sets, the artbox and book are worth the price of admission alone.  This is a comedy that can appeal to just about anyone but will particularly speak to those of us who have dealt with rude customers or deranged coworkers in the past. Regardless, this is a great pick-up and is a welcome addition to my personal collection. If I ever return to the customer service field and need a pick me up after a hard day, this show will be my go-to anime comfort food. 7.0 – Good. Films or shows that get this score are good, but not great. These could have been destined for greatness, but were held back by their flaws. While some may not enjoy them, fans of the genre will definitely love them.
Wagnaria!! 2 photo
Don't mess with the kitchen staff!
Before I was a professional writer, my primary source of income was working in the customer service industry. Every single day I would deal with customers face to face and while most of them were perfectly fine, there were so...

Review: Short Peace: Ranko Tsukigime's Longest Day

Apr 22 // Chris Walden
Short Peace: Ranko Tsukigime's Longest Day (PS3)Developer: Crispy's IncPublisher: Namco Bandai GamesRelease date: January 16, 2014 (JP), April 18, 2014 (NA, EU)MSRP: $59.99/€59.99/£39.99 To kick things off, let's take a look at the films. These aren't accessible from within the game, but rather from the video section in the PlayStation 3's XMB interface. It seems Bandai Namco is a little worried that you won't find them, as it's made several posts via Twitter mentioning where the content is, as there aren't any notifications in the game itself pointing to where it's hidden. I couldn't honestly tell you if this is going to be a problem for most people, as using a PS3 as my Blu-ray player of choice means I'm often going to the video tab for my video content. It's certainly something to keep in mind, though.  First up is Possessions, which tells the story of a traveler who takes refuge from a storm by hiding inside a run-down shrine. It runs for around 14 minutes, and is animated using cel-shaded 3D models. The model quality and textures are absolutely stunning, evidently a far cry from the increasingly common practice of using 3D models to reduce animation time in typical TV anime. A charming story completes the offering, and there's no mystery to how it secured a nomination for an Academy Award. Not a bad start to the video content by any stretch of the imagination.  Combustible is the second short movie in the line-up, and certainly has the most recognition of the four. Not only did it win the Grand Prize at the Japan Media Arts Festival, but also the Ōfuji Noburō Award at the Mainichi Film Awards. Strangely, I consider this to be the weakest of the four videos, but that's not to say it's bad, either. Combustible is pretty good in its own right, but I feel that the other shorts are just more enjoyable. It's set in the city of Edo in the 18th century, following the lives of Owaka, the daughter of a merchant family who is taking part in an arranged marriage, and Matsukichi, her childhood friend who dreams of becoming a firefighter.  Next is Gambo, which I think I can best sum up with the few notes I made while watching it. Short Peace has a PEGI 16 rating here in the UK, and while I'm not sure if the barriers between age ratings are getting more lax as time goes on, I'd definitely have guessed that this was an 18 had I not known otherwise. There's grotesque imagery, gore, nudity and even more gore, so it's not something you want to be showing to the kids. This story is about a brutal monster that attacks people, and a white (polar?) bear that befriends a young girl. It's another very good short, only coming in second to the final video in the collection.  A Farewell to Weapons is my personal favorite of the four animations, primarily because it's the one film I'd love to see converted into a full series. On the surface, it's about a small group of men that have been tasked with disarming automated weapons in an apocalyptic Japan. They do this wearing power suits that look a lot like modified space suits, in combination with basic military training. Watching four of them in power suits working together to take out a Gonk -- a tank-like weapon hellbent on killing anything it considers a threat -- was as dramatic and exciting as the best episodes of Attack on Titan. I want to see a goofy squad touring Japan and removing threats like this in a full series, complete with all those shock deaths and revenge episodes. You need to check this out.  Overall, it's a very impressive collection of short films, running for just over an hour in total. Given the varying genres and themes, I'd say it's a perfect place to introduce newcomers to anime. However, even if you're buying Short Peace for the animations, remember that there's still the video game portion to check out. If you're already a fan of Suda51 and his previous works, you're in for a treat. Ranko Tsukigime's Longest Day is a short game based on the Short Peace movies -- or at least, that's what it claims to be. There's really nothing that ties the two together, but fortunately that doesn't matter all that much. The game sees the titular Ranko running across increasingly difficult stages, as you attempt to evade some creepy-looking spirits. Gameplay is pretty simple, as you only need to focus on running to the right and attacking enemies when you get close to them. Regular enemies die in one hit and explode into small pieces, usually composed of weird iconography and kana, which will destroy other enemies if they make contact with them. You also have a bullet meter at the bottom of the screen, which is used as a panic button if the spirits are about to catch up with you. Each stage lasts only a few minutes, so between stages you're often thrown into a cutscene. As much as the game is reasonably good fun on its own, it's hands down the cutscenes that make this a game worth experiencing. To describe them as being animated insanity would be a severe understatement, as the events in the story and the animation techniques used to depict them are frankly beyond my powers of description. There are also a few boss fights to help change up the pace, and these deviate completely from the 'run towards the right' mechanic the rest of the game uses.  You can tell that Grasshopper Manufacture and Goichi Suda are involved not only via the cutscenes, but the gameplay itself. Everything is very quirky, whether it's running from a giant pomeranian or having to wrestle a luchador with the aim of unmasking him. We also have things that aren't quite so outlandish, such as a violin that doubles up as a sniper rifle, and the fact that the game announces during a short visual novel segment that you should "hold onto your controller, the game will start soon. Oh, and there's also big-breasted ladies and a panty shot just minutes into the game. I only have one negative point to make about Ranko Tsukigime's Longest Day, and it regards the game's length. If you're going for a single run through, you can expect to be finished in under an hour; quicker than it would take to watch all four of the Short Peace animations back-to-back. The fact that it's so short isn't something that should stop you from playing this game, as quite frankly I think it's the perfect length to prevent it from overstaying its welcome, but for a full-price retail game, it's hard to recommend. There is replay value in that there are collectibles to find and course completion times to whittle down as low as possible, but you'll know right now whether this is something that you care about. Short Peace: Ranko Tsukigime's Longest Day is a fantastic package, featuring four top quality short films with a weird and quirky game from Suda51 and Grasshopper Manufacture. The films are of fantastic quality, each being worth your time, and the game provides an experience like no other, courtesy of Suda's oddball imagination. However, be aware that the Short in Short Peace is a very good description of the package as a whole, as you can easily finish watching the video content and complete a run through the game in under two hours total. Still, it's definitely a worthy addition to any collection, but you'll want to weigh up all of those possible re-watches and re-plays to work out whether it's really worth $60 to you. 8 – Great (8s are impressive efforts with a few noticeable problems holding them back. Won't astound everyone, but is worth your time and cash.)
Review: Short Peace photo
The shortest longest day
As far as bundles go, this is a bit of a strange one. Part-movie collection, part-video game, Short Peace: Ranko Tsukigime's Longest Day is something that could only be pulled off on a home console. I suppose it's not su...

Review: Magi: The Labyrinth of Magic Volume 2

Apr 17 // Jeff Chuang
Magi: The Labyrinth of Magic Volume 2 [DVD]Studio: A-1 PicturesLicensed by: Aniplex of AmericaRelease Date: Mar. 18, 2014MSRP: 79.98 For starters, Magi has a somewhat telescoping framework. Each iteration of the conflict and plot arc follow the next in sort of a derivative form. Each time Aladdin or Alibaba (or sometimes a supporting character) faces a difficult situation that has an easy but undesirable out. Each time, the protagonists try their best to find a better way that is more than a compromise. Other than season one's interlude where Aladdin and nomads encounter the Kou princess Hakuei, each encounter and enemy Aladdin and Alibaba run into follows the same pattern of tragedy. Perhaps that's just because the real bad guys, Al-Thamen, get their first time in the sun in these episodes, but I think Magi is just trying to hammer its theme home, at least at first glance. If we look at Magi as a typical shounen page-turner, now turned anime, it follows many of the familiar conventions. From gathering crew and powering up with training arcs, Magi gives off that same vibe. But like a lot of newer anime that stray from the typical shounen formula, Magi seems more focused on the inner workings of how people think, especially in terms of how emotion plays a role in politics. It's a refreshing way to externalize the different feelings that various character bring to the show.  The second volume of Magi on DVD finishes with the conclusive moment as Alibaba faces a show down with his childhood friend Cassim. It's an emotional struggle in which the glimmers of "goodness" in Cassim's consumed form give Alibaba a chance to defeat him. The way the black Rukh and normal Rukh works is almost like Star War's Force, in that there's a light and dark side; and it's clear how they represent positive and negative emotions, hope and despair. Cassim would be the first of several, progressively more powerful beings that Alibaba and Aladdin face as their enemies, consumed by despair or hatred. It's interesting how someone who may be consumed by sloth or greed faces a different sort of problem: being pawns of Al-Thamen.  The Al-Thamen is an Illuminati-like organization whose purpose is to follow the will of their "Father." For those who follow the TV airing of the anime, their purposes are well known from the second season of Magi, but in the first season, they remain as elusive interlopers with a lot of powerful magic on their side. Sinbad, in this second half of season one, also takes on a big role as someone who can actually stand up against Al-Thamen. Sinbad's household vessels and loyal generals really get to show off, too, as much of the second season splits between Morgiana, Aladdin and Alibaba's quest and defending Sindria, the model island nation run by Sinbad. Most notable of the new characters is Hakuryuu, an estranged prince from Kou who will get to play a big role as more of Al-Thamen's agenda unravel in materials beyond the second season. In these episodes, Hakuryuu provides a foil as a perhaps less enlightened version of Alibaba, but this guy is ripe for future drama. On a technical level, the home video version of Magi is a far nicer experience than the TV series. The action-heavy sequences, especially towards the end of the Balbadd arc, were notably improved. The final showdown with Al-Thamen's agents looked pretty decent when it was airing, but now it looks just that much better on DVD. Speaking of which, Magi is one of those shows where I don't mind that a Blu-Ray isn't available in North America as of this time; perhaps it will always be better to give consumers the option, but this show looks good just like this. The big loss, if any, is to the handful of digital-heavy scenes when the Rukh fills the screen, over some elaborate landscape illustrations. Magi volume 2 is also split between three discs, like volume 1, with credit-less OP-ED sequences scattered among the discs. Many of them are just the special episode-specific sequences. The physical release comes with a nice slip case and a packet of postcards, along with the usual liner insert notes and a small booklet. It definitely feels a lot nicer than the average anime on DVD these days, in that Aniplex sort of way. Much like volume one, the voice acting continues to be sound in Magi, for both languages. I watched most of the series with the English dub and everything came across as what I'd expect. One of my pet peeves with this series has always been the funny way Aladdin sounds coming from Kaori Ishihara, so I'm glad that I have another option now. Magi is a page-turner-turned-anime that really captures that shounen manga spirit, but without falling into any of the typical shounen manga pitfalls. Even if it has all the forms and trappings, Magi tells its own story in its own ways, and there's surprisingly nuanced themes in the background. It's a separate question, however, if a story about "the Force" and kingdom-building from the eyes of a few characters, is something you will like, but I know I certainly do. 8.0 – Great. A great example of its genre that everyone should see, regardless of their interest.  
Magi DVD 2 photo
New friends, new foes, same magic
The second volume of Magi: The Labyrinth of Magic Volume 2 completes what is better known as the first season of the Magi anime. These next 13 episodes wrap up the Balbadd arc and bring the story to the end of the second dung...

Review: Steins;Gate

Apr 16 // Brittany Vincent
Steins;Gate (PC)Developer: 5pb., Nitroplus Publisher: JAST USAReleased: March 31, 2014MSRP: $39.95 Find out by stepping into the shoes of one Rintarou Okabe, self-proclaimed "mad scientist" and college student who prefers to go by the alias Hououin Kyouma. He's also "Okarin" to his friends, a motley crew of individuals you wouldn't expect to have befriended such a weirdo with the delusions of grandeur Okabe has. Mayuri, his childhood best friend, is so innocent and oblivious to the world around her you wonder what's really going on in her head, while Kurisu the genius girl is abrasive, but Okabe's intellectual equal. Then there's buffoonish hacker Daru, androgynous Luka, and the rest of the cast with their own sets of quirks.  Rather than simply acting as supporting cast members, each and every one of these characters is fleshed out in a manner that gives them as much life as Okabe, impressing a weight upon your relationship with each and ensuring you feel the gravity of more pressing situations as you progress. When you're faced with difficult decisions regarding your friends' lives later on, it becomes startlingly obvious just how much Steins;Gate has forced you to care about them. [embed]32306:3830:0[/embed] This may seem difficult to do, since interaction in-game is much different than that of other visual novels. In fact, you'll be staring at a cell phone screen most of the time, waiting for your next "D-mail" to arrive. Fittingly, that's short for "DeLorean mail." You'll also be engaged in face-to-face discussion, which could be interrupted by voice calls as well. These events are where you begin traveling down branching paths, hurtling toward one of the multiple endings. The first half of the game is spent attempting to decipher how time travel actually works, which is admittedly confusing at first, but quite deftly explained via Okabe's hilarious tirades and at times harrowing inner dialogue. This is a man charged with the sole responsibility of noting differences between several diverging timelines. A mistake could mean watching his friends die again and again, and if you don't play your cards right, that's exactly what could happen.  While you'll have plenty of time to acclimate yourself to the game's Phone Trigger system, you'll also be introduced to other methods of time traveling, as well as multiverse theories and parallel universes that twist and turn into deliciously convoluted territory. It can be tempting to skim through page after page of text (it's a visual novel, so obviously there's a lot) but you'll want to pay close attention, lest you gloss over subtle cues that really tie everything together. Unfortunately, those same subtleties can be obfuscating for those unfamiliar with internet slang like that used on 4chan, the rules of time travel, or even the fact that the Phone Trigger system replaces branching dialogue options. There's an index to be used as reference if you need help researching specific terms, and there's a decent bit of expository text, but sometimes you're left to your own devices. It can be understandably overwhelming to anyone having chosen Steins;Gate as their first visual novel experience. In addition, the first 30% percent of the game is a bit plodding compared to the high-octane drama that unfolds during later moments, a pacing issue that could frustrate players too impatient to stick around and see how intense things get. And things will indeed get intense. Steins;Gate is a taxing game, but it's also quite beautiful, from the talented Japanese voice cast (no English dub, unfortunately) to artist huke's unorthodox visuals. It's an exemplary visual novel with a thrilling premise, memorable characters, and a fantastic "true" ending that may very well move you to tears. If you've played Saya no Uta (a personal favorite) one time too many, branch out to Steins;Gate and then devour the anime series. Then immerse yourself in time travel literature, because you're definitely going to want to. 8 -- Great (8s are impressive efforts with a few noticeable problems holding them back. Won't astound everyone, but is worth your time and cash.)
Steins;Gate photo
The life and times of Hououin Kyouma
[As originally posted at Destructoid.] Time travel is infinitely more interesting once you leave the trappings of the TARDIS or any one of those familiar (some would say hackneyed) science fiction mainstays behind. Stein...

Review: Smuggler

Apr 09 // Dae Lee
Smuggler [DVD]Studio: Warner Bros.Licensed by: FUNimationRelease Date: April 1, 2014MSRP: 14.98 Ryosuke Kinuta is a good guy who gets into some bad business. A depressed and failed actor, Ryosuke helps himself to an opportunity to exploit a rigged slot machine. When he gets accused of tipping the machine off to the authorities, the mob that owned it shakes him down for compensation -- but seeing as Ryosuke is broke and altogether useless to the mob, they sell him off to be part of an underground garbage crew, cleaning up after the messes of the criminal underworld by smuggling corpses and disposing of them discreetly. While he tries to acclimate to his new job, his destiny intertwines with a larger narrative when he and his team are tasked with transporting a captured assassin. Smuggler is a recent offering by director Katsuhito Ishii, known for his comedic stylings and penchant for the surreal. While Smuggler doesn't channel the same level of absurdist glee as Funky Forest, his affinity for extreme characters is palpable throughout the movie. The eccentric, colorful cast of strangers that make up the supporting cast gives Smuggler that extra spice that turns an ordinary story into something worth watching. This is a dark, pulpy, funny film that dishes out slick visuals and embraces savagery with psychotic glee. The best cult hits make the viewer feel sympathy and endearment for even the most despicable dregs of society, and Smuggler succeeds at this in spades. Every deranged character this film introduces is very well-acted and fits in perfectly with the heightened reality they live in. Humor is present throughout the film, ranging from light-hearted and even sentimental comedy to the incredibly dark. The film never reaches to the depths of pure, mean-spirited misanthropy, but it definitely flirts with that line at points. One interrogation scene in particular caused me to squirm in my seat -- not because of what it was showing, but because the film used my own imagination against me. The action is definitely something to take note of in Smuggler: Impeccably shot and oozing with style, every blow that lands has a perceptible weight to it. The power comes from the reserved, yet hard-hitting choreography that  favors inelegant brutal assaults over finely-tuned dances. These are grimy, messy fights that give character to the underworld Smuggler portrays. While the story mostly served as a backdrop for the characters to shine, I was pleasantly surprised by how solid it was. Though its a tale involving rival gangs, betrayal, third-party assassins and multiple storylines, the film juggles them with great ease, making it easy to follow. It allows the viewer to soak in the atmosphere and ongoing themes, instead of piecing together a convoluted plot. If there was something that Smuggler didn't accomplish very well, it would be the few times where the film oversteps the bounds of believability. While it does a fantastic job at existing between the lines of reality and the fantastical for the most part, when it tries to portray super-human feats in the last act, the result ended up more comical and reminiscent of Looney Toons than the desired visceral effect.  Overall, Smuggler was an enjoyable dark and violent tale that manages to convince you that there is a heart at the center of it all. All the hallmarks of a cult classic are here, from the unique blend of horror, comedy and action, to the distinct and memorable characters you want to see more of. It's a movie that doesn't aspire to be more than what it is, and is all the better for it. 8.0 – Great. A great example of its genre that everyone should see, regardless of their interest.
Review: Smuggler photo
"Turn your biggest lie into the truth."
When I saw the trailer, Smuggler gave me mixed impressions. As a live action adaptation of a manga by Shohei Manabe, I approached this title cautiously; I've seen more than enough manga and anime adaptations to know that many...

Review: Space Adventure Cobra Part One

Apr 03 // Pedro Cortes
Space Adventure Cobra Part 1 [DVD]Studio: TMS EntertainmentLicensed by: Nozomi/Lucky PennyRelease Date: March 4, 2014MSRP: $49.99 Johnson is your run-of-the-mill schlub. He goes to work, clocks in, does his time, clocks out and goes home. He'll occasionally go out for a drink, but he's otherwise as boring as can be. In need of some excitement and lacking in funds, Johnson hits up the TM Corporation to get some sweet dreams implanted in his head; it's certainly a lot cheaper than a trip abroad. In his dreams, Johnson is a legendary dead space pirate named Cobra who travels the stars in search of adventure and /or pretty ladies. While it wasn't exactly what he wanted, Johnson leaves satisfied, but finds that he can't let go of his dreams of Cobra. After suffering a near-fatal attack, Johnson realizes that he's actually Cobra in reality. Having gotten some heavy heat on his tail, the pirate altered his face and buried his memories to stay safe. With the news out that he's alive, Cobra abandons his old identity, grabs his sexy gynoid Lady Armaroid, finds his space ship and leaps back into the stars for more adventure. I dug Cobra's initial premise, as it's straight out of Total Recall/We Can Remember It for You Wholesale. The concept of repressed memories that come back to bite you is an old idea, but one that I'm fond of. When you have the collected force of an entire Pirate Guild after you, drastic measures are necessary. Besides what you see here, little else is explained about Cobra's past, and that's fine by me. It's enough of a premise to get me interested in what new adventures and trouble a lead guy like Cobra can get into. Speaking of Cobra, it's hard not to like the guy. Suave, capable, clever, he's a laid-back and fun-loving guy that just wants to have a good time. He likes pretty ladies and money. Imagine a bumbling Golgo-13 with a sense of humor and less murder and you're on the right track. He's a good foil against the strange members of the Pirate Guild that are hounding his every step. The standout villain is a cyborg named Crystal Bowie, named for his see-through exterior and for the original mangaka's affection for the English rock star. The guy's got enough menace to make up for most of the other weak-sauce pirates that try and take out Cobra on an episode-by-episode basis. Cobra's designs definitely show their age. Everything from Cobra's look to the ladies he comes across to the ships that he encounters in space all look like they're from the early '80s. People who are used to newer sci-fi designs may balk, but I find it rather charming and it only adds to the show's personality. Actually, for a show that's over 30 years old, this release looks and sounds really good. I'm not sure if Nozomi used remastered audio and video, but the quality of the animation is quite sharp on a 1080p screen. There's no dub with this release, but that's no surprise for a show this old. I'm fine with the Japanese language track, as is.  The only negative things I can think of are that Cobra doesn't really develop. He's rather static and doesn't change, but I think that's also inherent to the character. He's supposed to be one of the baddest pirates around, so there isn't any room for him to grow here; he's just trying to get the rust out of his joints. Some may find the copious amount of scantily clad '80s chicks a bit much, but it didn't bother me. I actually really like the female designs, as they're rather attractive in that Weird Science/Kelly LeBrock kind of way. Especially Lady Armaroid: I'm quite fond of her sleek, robotic curves. I'd recommend the first part of Space Adventure Cobra to fans of classic science fiction and '80s anime. While those that are used to the sterile look of a lot of modern anime will likely cringe in spots, I feel that the hand-drawn nature of the show adds to its personality. And believe me, this show has plenty of personality between its goofy protagonist, the dastardly Crystal Bowie and the galactic treasure hunt that makes up a lot of this first part. There isn't a ton of depth, but the show doesn't pretend to be anything but a fun, sci-fi romp around the galaxy. 7.5 – Good. Films or shows that get this score are good, but not great. These could have been destined for greatness, but were held back by their flaws. While some may not enjoy them, fans of the genre will definitely love them.
Space Adventure Cobra photo
Total recall has never been this good
'80s anime had a fondness for cribbing from classic sci-fi. You can see the influences of authors like Issac Asimov and Philip K. Dick and movies like Terminator and Alien in multiple shows from the era. Hell, the influence o...

Review: Strider

Mar 31 // Elliot Gay
Strider (PS4)Developer: Double Helix Games, Capcom Osaka StudioPublisher: CapcomRelease date: February 18, 2014 (NA)MSRP: $14.99 The Strider organization, a group of highly trained assassins, sends their most talented field agent, Strider Hiryu, to infiltrate the metropolis of Kazahk City and take out Grandmaster Meio. Along the way, he must navigate maze-like areas of the huge city and do combat with the Grandmaster's deadliest of foot soldiers.  Strider is a retelling of the original arcade game, with elements implemented from the NES version as well. That being said, there really isn't much of a story here. The little dialogue that does exist is fairly inconsequential, playing in the background as you guide Hiryu around the maps and head toward your next target. Occasionally a big boss enemy will appear with a minor speaking role, but if you're coming into Strider for a gripping narrative, I suggest staying far away. The voice acting isn't particularly great to begin with, so I found myself just ignoring most of the dialogue. Be that as it may, I am a bit disappointed at how boringly things play out. The arcade Strider games (particularly 2) had some great illustrated cutscenes between levels that, despite making no sense, were crazy cool. This new game plays it straight in comparison. Strider plays like a combination of the original arcade action game and the exploration focused NES title, making for an interesting experience. The Metroid elements have been dialed up, meaning you'll be taking Hiryu through a huge interconnected world. Largely thanks in part to Hiryu's mobility, levels are often large, sprawling areas which feel satisfying to jump around in. Sadly, these locations aren't all that fun to explore due the bland aesthetic that permeates much of the world. I was worried that the entire game would take place in similar industrial environments after the initial trailer for the game debuted. While it's not quite that bad, I still found myself unimpressed by the variety of locales. City rooftops and snow are cool and all, but I found myself wishing I could visit the desert, or maybe a colorful tropical area; anything to get away from the cold desolation of Kazahk City. Hiryu starts off with a basic slash attack, but as you progress through the city, you unlock new techniques that bring his move set closer to his Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3 iteration. Bits, weird fire bird attacks, a damaging slide move; most of these should be familiar to folks who have played any version of Strider. Hiryu controls well enough save for the caveat that he can only be moved using the analog stick. I know there are folks out there who had no problem with this, but I prefer to play 2D action games using the d-pad. Getting used to the sticks took some time, and even now I sometimes screw up jumps or what direction I'm trying to head in. The main problem is that while Hiryu has a handful of cool combat tools at his disposal, enemies rarely require their use. Trash mobs are easily mowed down in Strider, each one giving a health replenishing orb when felled. It's simple to just run through enemies cutting them down (though undeniably satisfying) without having to think too much about dodging bullets or the like. It certainly doesn't help that enemy variation is on the weak side. You'll see the same enemies many times before the credits roll. Bosses are a little bit better, requiring some basic pattern memorization and skill usage in order to beat effectively. I still found myself disappointed that a good chunk of the boss enemies were re-imaginings of fights from previous Strider games. I completed Strider on the PS4 (at around 5 hours), and found myself pleased with the visuals. It ran at a crisp 60 fps, and while it certainly won't win any awards for best next generation game, the simple and clean visual art style looks great at such a high resolution. For those of you wondering, I played about half of the campaign on my Vita through Remote Play and had no problems whatsoever. Musically, composer Michael John Mollo provides some great arrangements of classic Strider themes alongside a few new pieces that nicely set the tone of the game. There's nothing here quite as memorable as the original Kazahk theme, for instance, but it's a serviceable soundtrack. I think that can be said of much of Strider. The game is a competent revival of a beloved franchise that, while fun and great looking, doesn't take many risks. It feels like Double Helix and Capcom Osaka tried to play it safe here. I won't deny that fighting familiar bosses and hearing familiar themes hit me hard in the nostalgia bone, but I would have liked to see more new ideas. That being said, what's here is very solid, and I can only hope that Capcom moves forward with more Strider. We need more game protagonists who specialize in explosion, after all. 7 -- Good (7s are solid games that definitely have an audience. Might lack replay value, could be too short or there are some hard-to-ignore faults, but the experience is fun.)
Review: Strider photo
Executing acts such as explosion and instigation
I have a confession to make. I really love the original NES Strider. Yes, it's glitchy, unpolished, and generally a confusing oddity. I understand all of that. But for every strange design decision that didn't work, there are...

Review: Deadman Wonderland Vol. 1

Mar 27 // Brittany Vincent
Deadman Wonderland Volume 1Published by: Viz MediaWritten by: Jinsei KataokaIllustrated by: Kazuma KondouRelease date: 2/11/14MSRP: $9.99 It wasn't easy, though. The original Tokyopop editions were long since out of print, so in a fit of desperation I turned borrowed copies. It was nowhere near as good as reading a new, slick copy -- so imagine my excitement when I found out Viz would be reprinting the series in its entirety! I pored through the first volume of Deadman Wonderland and came out (unsurprisingly) pleased with what I saw. This time? I'm going to do it. I think I'm going to go all the way. I'm going to see how it all ends.  That feeling of being hooked? It sticks with you from the first page of this volume until the very end. Ganta Igarashi is your typical whinging weakling of a shounen protagonist, but he's an alright kid. One day he's sitting in class, minding his own business, when he peers out of the classroom window to find a man in a crimson coat. With a sinister grin the man proceeds to shatter the window and massacre each and every student at their desk, leaving behind a massive collection of corpses with one lone survivor: Ganta. When the smoke clears and the investigation by the authorities begin, Ganta's the prime suspect. With no evidence and Ganta being the only survivor, the public is quick to scapegoat him and persecutes him for a crime he didn't commit. He's then carted off to Deadman Wonderland, a glorified prison/amusement park where inmates work to their death, making public spectacles of themselves. Death row inmates participate in gladiator-styled games and other activities for the entertainment of the general public. Trust me, just don't do anything bad. You don't want to go there.  The first volume does an excellent job of sinking its claws into you, much like the first episode of the series, though content aside, I'm also a big fan of the art style. Though it's classically "anime-styled," it's also got grit; there's a darkness that permeates every page, and the expressions in play at some points really make for some twisted scenes. It's sufficiently gory as well, which was of course a boon to me, and the massacre in the school was fantastically graphic -- it sets the tone for revenge and anger, which will propel you though the rest of the series in a ridiculously expedient manner. This isn't a happy tale despite Shiro's "sunny" disposition, and you'll quickly come to find that out.  This is an engrossing journey that I was already hooked on, and now that the manga has come to an end I can buy with confidence and complete my collection -- especially given the fact that Viz's preservation of the original Japanese volume covers looks much better than what Tokyopop decided to go with. The minimalist white cover with the pastel imagery of Shiro and Ganta looks fantastic, and I can't wait to see what the next volumes look like. Sure, I could peek, but I'd much rather own them.  Should you read Deadman Wonderland? Are you a fan of my JapanaTerror column or the macabre laced with deadpan humor and some gritty shounen drama? Absolutely, then -- but don't make my mistake. Power through the manga like I plan to do, and then watch the anime series and consider it "extra credit." You won't be disappointed.  8.0 – Great. Beautifully drawn, well-written, with a loving attention to detail. Among the best of its genre.
Deadman Wonderland photo
Poor little Woodpecker
When the anime adaptation of Deadman Wonderland began airing on Toonami, I was intrigued -- not because I thought I'd ever be able to catch it when it came on, or that I'd remember to hit the record button on my DVR, but beca...

Review: K DVD/Blu-ray Complete Series

Mar 25 // LB Bryant
  K DVD/Blu-rayStudio: GoHandsLicensed by: Viz MediaRelease Date: 2/25/14MSRP: $69.99 For the first four episodes of K, it's really hard not to be pulled in by the flashy style of the series. First off, it's impossible not to notice that the entire series is shaded with a blue tint for no real reason. Everything is just blue-ish which is admittedly distracting at first but once you get used to it, it becomes easy to admit that it's a pretty cool style choice to make just to set it apart from all of the other action series out there.  If that weren't enough, there is also a wealth of great character designs. Shiro, Kuroh, the enigmatic Neko and many others look pretty decent and different from each other (which is important since this cast is freaking huge but we'll get into that later). This matches some pretty good looking animation. I'm using the word 'stylish' and variants thereof a lot in this review but honestly there just aren't many other words that you can use to describe this one.  Then you have the absolutely beautiful music. Composed by Mikio Endo, the background music in this series is arguably the best part of the entire show. Always beautiful, captivating and perfect for the moment, K is made all the more gorgeous and bearable because of the scores that are attached to each scene. I'm not usually one to collect anime soundtracks but this is a series where I absolutely must own this soundtrack so that I can listen to it again and again.  Sadly, that's about where the praise for K ends and the annoyances begin. What could've been a fantastic series is mired in a mess of a story that only gets more confusing as it continues. For the first third, I was fine with the way things were going; the cast was growing increasingly larger and larger, but I was managing alright. However, once I got to episode five and beyond, I was having to employ research aids in order to understand what was happening in the story. The large cast isn't the only thing that's troublesome about this story -- Calling it "convoluted" would be a serious understatement. This series really tries its best to be esoteric and interesting but fails by large margins. All the style and beautiful music in the world can't save K from the quagmire that it sinks into by the end.  It's a shame really, because Viz Media put a lot of effort into this release, which includes a whole host of extras. Along with the shiny art book that is included with the set, the second disc is loaded with extras that include clean animations, English cast interviews and convention footage. A lot of care went into making sure that this release was worth every last dollar... if only the series itself was actually worth it.  In the end, K wants to be amazing and memorable but is really nothing more than a confusing mess. Sadly, you can skip this one without feeling like you're missing out on anything important.  5.0 – Average. The definition of mediocre. It has many flaws, and just couldn’t follow through on its intentions or had ones that were simply too narrow to warrant consideration. Some will still enjoy it, but should temper their expectations, or perhaps just opt to pass. Watch more trailers and read more reviews before you decide.
Review: K photo
Style over substance
Sometimes you come across a series that looks amazing and impresses you with its style from the first moments. Those series are few and far between but when you find them, they tend to stick with you. Sometimes though, you ge...

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