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Annotated Anime: One Piece episode 697

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

Annotated Anime: Stardust Crusaders episodes 46-47

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

Strong Style: NJPW on AXS season 2 Episode 4

Jun 13 // Soul Tsukino
First and foremost though, I want to take this opportunity to pass along my thoughts and condolences of the passing of wrestling legend "American Dream" Dusty Rhodes. I grew up on Dusty, getting into wrestling just before he would appear in the WWF in his polka dots. I had read about him in the wrestling magazines of the day and that was when I got to see him in action. In 1990 I was ringside in the Augusta, Maine Civic Center to see him and Sapphire with Miss Elizabeth in their corner take on "Macho Man" Randy Savage and Queen Sherri Martel with Brother Love in their corner. Dusty was a big part of me enjoying wrestling since then, whether I realized it or not. He was a man unto himself not only in the ring or behind the mic, but backstage as well. Someone pointed out how ironic it was that the last big WWE show before he passed ended with a "Dusty Finish". It may not always garner the best reaction from fans, but it served as a great element to a story.  He was a great influence to the business and his legacy will live on with all of the young talent he influenced in NXT over the years.  So in tribute and to tie things together, here are some Dusty Rhodes classics with a bit of Nippon flare. Dusty V/S WWF Champion Bob Backlund from 1980 [embed]33945:4813:0[/embed] Dusty V/S Abdullah The Butcher from 1983 (WARNING: This is Bloody!) [embed]33945:4811:0[/embed] Dusty Rhodes: Cosplayer [embed]33945:4812:0[/embed] Tomoaki Honma & Yuji Nagata V/S  Hirooki Goto & Katsuyori Shibata: Little surprised they didn't show the Styles/Takahashi V/S Okada/Ishii match instead of this one, but that's how it goes. Nagata has been around since the 90's. WCW fans may remember his lower mid-card feud with Ultimo Dragon in the late 90s. He's a former IWGP champion and while he is still considered a top card wrestler, his best days are behind him, even if he holds Pro Wrestling Noah's top belt, the GHC Title. His partner Honma was mostly a hardcore death match style wrestler when he first started, but developed into a more well rounded wrestler in the late 2000's. He's popular with fans as an underdog hero. Goto is a wrestler who started in New Japan as a jr. heavyweight competitor who moved up to the heavyweight division. He is a midcard wrestler who has had brief brushes with main events, but never stayed there. His partner Shibata is actually a high school classmate of Goto's and also a second generation wrestler (His father was New Japan's Katsuhisa Shibata). He is also a trained MMA fighter with a 6 year run in K1 fighting.  Mauro and Josh welcome us again and Barnett points out that Goto and Shibata are the young guns in this match while their opponents are vets of the ring. Honma kicks things off literally as he and Shibata go back and forth. No feeling out process, strait to the heavy hits. Nagata and Honma take the early lead with stiff as hell strikes and kicks. Shibata BLASTS Honma in the face and pretty much knocks him motionless, but doesn't go for the pin and just brings in Goto instead. They switch back and forth on Honma and man Shibata is just MEAN. Did Honma owe him money or something? He's just punking Honma out here with kicks and strikes, but Honma fights back! Nagata finally geets the tag and HAULS OFF on Shibata with kicks. They get into a stand off with forearms with Nagata getting the advatage with a mafia kick. Nagata lands a exploder suplex but Shibata runs right up and counters with a olympic suplex. Goto tags in and gets right into an armbreaker before Yuji tags in Honma. Honma goes for his finsher, a falling top rope headbutt, but misses. Goto goes for the kill but Honma keeps fighting. All four start going at it.  Nagata and Shibata fight in the crowd as Goto scores the pin in the ring. However Nagata and Shibata just keep fighting into the back. Damn that match was wild! Bet all these guys were sore after that one. We get some words from Fale, in English no less! He talks about wanting to set himself as a big player in NJPW and wanting to destroy Nakamura over winning the belt.   Intercontinental Title: Shinsuke Nakamura V/S Bad Luck Fale: The challenger Bad Luck Fale (prounced Fah-Lay) Is the heavy of The Bullet Club. He tends to be more of a bodyguard than a wrestler, but here he is getting a title shot after nearly beating Nakamura in the New Japan Cup Tournament final. Coming from Tonga by way of New Zealand, he is a former rugby player who debuted in 2010. Nakamura is one of my favorites and someone who is a star for New Japan. He is an interesting sort. He has an artist-like way he wrestles his matches with weird movements and always seemingly looking at his opponent like a blank canvas to create art on. However, this man is a former MMA fighter and three time IWGP champion, so he's no pushover. When he won the IC title, he elevated the title to a main event status in New Japan so that shows just how good he is in the ring. Fale comes to the ring with Tama Tonga so expect cheating.  Nakamura comes to the ring dancing to his own beat as always. Josh and Mauro go into the hate that MMA got from fans going back into the late 90's when NJPW founder Antonio Inoki was having the pro wrestlers enter shoot fights and getting slaughtered. The bell rings and there is a lot of posturing before they lock up. Quickly the tale of this match is Fale being the much stronger of the two. Nakamura gets the edge by stomping on Fale's foot and kneeing him in the corner. Fale runs over Nakamura with a clothesline. This sends him out of the ring where Tama Tonga starts punching away. Fale takes Nakamura over the metal barrier. Mauro starts in on how the NJPW wrestlers are the best in the world, but the refs aren't so much. No respect for poor Red Shoes. He does have a point though. Nkamura gets in the ring as Fale dominates. After a mauling, Nakamura decides enough of that crap and mans up. Coming back from a break as both men are reeling.  Nakamura takes over with forearms and kicks. He misses a knee giving Fale an advantage but loses it just as quickly. Nakamura goes for a neckchoke but Fale counters with a suplex. Fale squashes Nakamura in the corner but doesn't get a pin. Fale goes for a Chokeslam/Asian spike combo (A move he calls The Grenade) but Nakamura kicks out of it and takes over. He gets Fale on the top rope and knees the heck out of him but Runs over Shinsuke with a clothesline. he goes for the Grenade but Shinsuke kicks out again. Fale goes to the top (!) but Nakamura gets him in a BIG superplex. Nakamura gets him in an over the shoulder suplex (good lord!) before Nakamura hits two Boom ba ye knees but gets speared when he goes for a third. Fale goes for a double chokeslam, but Nakamura counters with a head scissors, only to get dropped in a powerbomb. Fale then goes up and lands a huge splash, but Shinsuke kicks out! Fale hits the outsider edge and scores the pin! The Bullet Club celebrate in the ring as Nakamura is hauled out on a stretcher. We get some Bullet Club yammering before Fale closes us out with how important the match was to his career. That main event match was way better than it should have been. You'd think with a big inexperienced lug like Fale, they would have had a ton of outside interference and a ref bump, but nope, outside of one flurry of punches, the match was one on one. While Fale may not be a top card kind of guy, he showed me something here. Good show all around!
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Intercontinental Title on the line!
Welcome back to Strong Style! This week's show has AXS TV going back for our third episode of New Japan Pro Wrestling's Dominion 2014 event from Bodymaker Coliseum in Osaka. This week's show includes a heavy hitting tag match and an Intercontinental Title match.

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?

Annotated Anime: One Piece episode 696

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

Annotated Anime: Unlimited Blade Works episode 22

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

Strong Style: New Japan Pro Wrestling on AXS season 2 episode 3

Jun 06 // Soul Tsukino
We start off this week's episode with a few words from Togi Makabe before we get to our first match. NWA Tag Team Title: Killer Elite Squad (Davey Boy Smith Jr./Lance Archer) V/S Ten-koji (Hiroshi Tenzan/Satoshi Kojima):  Smith and Archer both had mediocre runs in the WWE with Smith Jr. being a patsy for their wellness policy while Archer was a pick up from  TNA who had a minor push in the WWE's version of ECW. They both found much better success in Japan as part of the Suzuki Army, lead by Minoru Suzuki who we saw last week. Kojima and Tenzan have on and off teamed since 1999 when they were part of NWO Typhoon and later Team 2000. They are both former world champions and actually met in a match where both the IWGP title and Triple Crown Titles (the main title for competing wrestling company All Japan Pro Wrestling) were defended, making the winner, Kojima, the only man to hold both belts simultaneously. Also adding to this match is the title itself. The NWA (National Wrestling Alliace) was once the biggest organization in pro wrestling starting in 1948, So much so that the U.S.government nearly took them to court for operating as a monopoly. However, their clout pretty much died in 1986 when the territories it covered either were bought out or went broke. The name has been revived a few times, including WCW and New Japan in the early 90s and TNA in the first half of the 2000s, but after TNA gave up the name it really didn't mean anything anymore. In the last few years both NWA World and Tag titles are almost exclusively defended in Japan now as secondary titles. Mauro gives us some background on the NWA tag titles, pointing out the NWA didn't officially recognize tag titles until 1992 and the Miracle Violence Connection of Terry Gordy and Steve Williams. Chaos breaks out as all four men go at it. No feeling out process here as Tenzan and Smith smash each other. Kojima goes for his rapid fire corner chops and lays about 20 in on Archer. This is a no finesse match as  the hits just keep on coming. We come back from a break as Smith has the advantage over Kojima but Kojima fights his way back. Smith gets a chinlock in  as Mauro reminds us that Smith debuted as a wrestler at 10 years old (!) while Smith rips Kojima's breathe-right strip off. Tenzan comes in and swings the match for his team but Archer gets him down and goes up top for a MOONSAULT?! That is an impressive sight. Tenzan gets up from that though and keeps the match going. Kojima gives Smith the rapid chops and a diving elbow, but Smith gets up. Jeez, these hits are stiffer than a bottle of grain alcohol. The Squad hit the old Hart Attack move but Kojima kicks out again. Ten-koji goes for the Ten-koji cutter (the 3D) but Archer breaks up the pin. The Squad go for the Killer bomb (full nelson into powerbomb) but the count is broken again. Smith goes for a clothesline on Kojima, but Kojima ducks and smashes Smith was a Stan Hansen style clothesline and scores the win!   We get more words from Makabe as he explains that he is teaming with Tanahashi to represent NJPW against The Bullet Club. He also talks about wrestling with a broken jaw that he had suffered the month before. That's Japanese wrestling, just short of breaking your arm or leg like a twig, or your heads flies off in the second row, you wrestle! IWGP Tag Titles: Ace to King (Togi Makabe/Hiroshi Tanahashi) V/S The Bullet Club (Karl Anderson/Doc Gallows): Well this is an interesting match. Gallows and Anderson are the defending Champions. Gallows had roles in the WWE (Festus, Fake Kane, Luke Gallows) and TNA wrestling in the past. Anderson wrestled for mostly small indy feds before finding much better success in NJPW. They are also founding members of The Bullet Club along with Fergal Devitt (NXT's Finn Baylor). Tanahashi is basically New Japan's John Cena. He pretty much was the guy who helped resurrect NJPW in the early 2000's when pro wrestling's popularity was down thanks to MMA. He won the IWGP title several times and was a main feature of this show last season. His partner Makabe is known as "The Unchained Gorilla" and takes after the famed Bruiser Body in his wrestling, in other words he is a brawler who uses chairs and weapons a lot. Makabe isn't known for being a top card hero, so him teaming with Tanahashi does make for an odd combination. Hiroshi and Karl start things out as Hiroshi gets an edge and breaks out the air guitar. This match starts out more scientific than the opening match did. However, Gallows get his his shots from the outside early as well. Makabe comes in as the crowd cheers for him and the Club wants little to do with him. They have a stand off and Gallows hit him right in the JAW! Hiroshi comes in as Makabe decides to take a time out. Things break down with Makebe and Gallows on the outside and Karl and Hiroshi on the inside. Yeah, the landing didn't feel good for Tanahashi. The Club take advantage as both members of Ace to King as not in good shape. Hiroshi is getting beat on in the ring and while this is going on The club attacks Makabe at ringside. This has become a handicapped match as The Bullet Club have their way with Hiroshi. Hiroshi puts up a fight with forearms but isn't getting much in. Makabe gets back on the apron, mouth bleeding, before he comes in and goes to town on the Club. Crowd is solidly behind Makabe in this one. Makabe and Gallows face off with Togi getting the upper hand. The story of this match seems that whenever the challengers get the upper hand, the Club just shuts them down. Anderson hits an F-5 on Hiroshi but Tanahashi kicked out. Tanahashi nearly scores the win with a frog splash, but Anderson brings his knees up. We come back from break as Anderson gets the advantage. Makabe in but he gets kicked right to the jaw. He gets a powerbomb on Anderson but only gets a 2 count. Tanahashi scores a frog splash and Makabe goes for something of the top rope before Gallows whacks him with a chair. Makabe still kicks out. Tanahashi eats a Magic Killer from the Bullet Club and then they hit Makabe with the same move and keep Makabe down for a 3 count. Makabe gives us some final words about the fight as he talks about wrestling with a broken Jaw and teaming with Tanahashi as we are out. A nice change of pace from the high flying juniors we've seen the last few weeks, this was good ol' smash mouth tag team wrasslin'. All 4 teams manned up and didn't goof around n there. Ten-koji in the first match showed that they hadn't slowed down a bit over the years and in the second match I just kept cringing seeing all those hits to Togi's broken jaw. Once again a great presentation. Next week we get the third and final look at Dominion 2014!
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Tag Team Tussle!
New Japan Pro Wrestling on AXS brings us back to Bodymaker Stadium in Osaka for the second of three episodes looking at the Dominion card for June 21, 2014. This week we look at some tag team action from the heavyweight division. Two Titles are on the line and none of these teams are pushovers.

Annotated Anime: Unlimited Blade Works episodes 20-21

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

Annotated Anime: Food Wars! Shokugeki no Soma episodes 6-8

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

Annotated Anime: One Piece 695

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

Annotated Tokusatsu: Garo Gold Storm Soar episode 7

Jun 01 // Salvador GRodiles
Well, folks; Gold Storm has delivered a good follow-up to the last episode, as it managed to flesh out Zinga and Amily’s story a bit more. One of the neat things about their characters is that the two villains were a Makai Knight and a Priestess before they became Horrors, since it was an improvement over Garo: Makai no Hana's Monster-of-the-Week that was once a Knight. Sure, they’re obviously meant to be Ryuga and Rian's opposites, but their abilities made way for some great fight sequences. Not only that, it gave us a cool-looking Horror suit during the scene, which had the same Makai Knight vibe as Sonshi’s Horror Form from Garo: The One Who Shines in the Darkness. Aside from the great clash between two guys in costumes, the intensity behind Zinga and Amily’s actions gave that strange feeling that our heroes wouldn’t be able to escape from this situation unharmed. Of course, the sword clashes and aerial combat maneuvers in this episode were fun to follow. While they could’ve used some green screen techniques to add some special environments to improve the scene, the segment worked nice as a first encounter between the major players in the story, since they got to jump around as they fought to the death. Most importantly, we got the Makai Knight on Horror suit action that the franchise’s famous for, so that’s a major positive aspect about this whole sequence. Thanks to this scenario, Masahiro Inoue finally put his acting skills to good work, which shows how a major confrontation can go a long way. In a way, his performance shared some elements with his egotistical lines as Tsukasa in Kamen Rider Decade (like the segments where he steals the show in the alternate Rider Worlds). Hell, I guess you could say he’s like the evil counterpart of the Destroyer of Worlds. Depending on show turns out in the end, this might be one of the few instances where he’ll end up in a toku series that’s actually good. In regards to Amily's character, she still has a long way to go before she can become a great villain, as she’s still depicted as Zinga’s loyal right hand woman who follows his lead. Other than that, her attempts to one-up Rian were entertaining on their own behalf. This was due to the opposing chemistry between the two ladies, since it complements Rian’s winning streak of being a fun Makai Priestess to keep up with. Gold Storm may be far from reaching its halfway point, but first big encounter between the main heroes and the villains left us on the edge of our seats. Combined with the mysterious Makai Priest’s move to unite the special daggers, episode 7’s banquet has prepared us for the next big course in the series. Seeing that Zinga's the cannibalistic Horror, I think we can assume that he’ll use Ladan to create an unlimited food supply to feed his need for demonic creatures. Once this moment happens, then the show'll get realer than before.
Garo: Gold Storm Soar photo
Suit on suit action is back, baby
You know that a show still has some tricks up its sleeve when it starts to get even more intense than its preceding episode. Honestly, it’s hard to believe that Garo: Gold Storm Soar’s already placing Ryuga and Ri...

Annotated Anime: Stardust Crusaders episode 45

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

Strong Style: New Japan Pro Wrestling on AXS season 2 episode 2

May 30 // Soul Tsukino
We are at the Bodymaker Coliseum in Osaka for what is the first of 3 shows that are matches from the Dominion card from June 21, 2014. IWGP Jr. Tag Team Title: Time Splitters V/S Young Bucks: As was pointed out last week, the Time Splitters are Kushida and American Alex Shelley with a Back to the Future gimmick. The Young Bucks are brothers Matt and Nick Jackson, an American team that has been around the horn with runs in Ring of Honor as well as TNA. They have a bit of a reputation for thinking way to much of themselves and being dicks, but I think a lot of that is just hype. Here they are part of The Bullet Club, a bad guy stable that was started by Fergal Devitt (NXT'S Finn Baylor), before being lead by TNA and ROH stalwart A.J. Styles. Think the NWO with a little DX mixed in and that describes the Bullet Club, and no I don't say that as a compliment. The Bucks are the IWGP Jr. Tag team champions. The cocky champions come walking in with big smiles and threats of superkicks. This continues in the match with lots of crotch chops and "suck it" taunts. The story of his match is that the Splitters keep trying to keep the speed up while the Jacksons want to slow things down. The fun thing about Japanese wrestling is that you can hear what's going on in the ring and after a double chop to the chest, Nick Jackson screams "Oh my god!". The match is edited a bit for time but it's not taking too much away from the match. The team moves of the Spillters is a thing of beauty as they go on the attack but The Bucks counter with double moves of their own, especially the move they call "The Indytaker" where one man holds his opponent upside down while the other man dives off the rope, driving the opponent straight down on his head. The crowd is bonkers for this one as both teams go for finishers but the Splitters get the win when Kushida uses the "Hoverboard Lock" to get the submission and the titles. We get some words from the Splitters, actually Kushida does all the talking, in the post match press conference.   Takashi Iizuka & Minoru Suzuki V/S Toru Yano & Kazushi Sakuraba: The people in this match kinda scare me. On one side you have Suzuki (left bottom), an amateur wrestling champion and MMA pioneer who one of the founders of the Pancrase MMA promotion in 1993. He also is known as a an off kilter man who can basically destroy anyone, even as he has gotten older. His partner Iizuka (Top Left) is a grizzled veteran on NJPW (debuting in 1986) who isn't a walk in the park to wrestle either. On the other side you have Sakuraba (Bottom Right), an MMA master known as "The Gracie Killer" after having beaten 4 members of the famed Jujitsu master family. He is also a huge Otaku and known for his anime themed entrances to fights. He is partnered up with Yano (Top Right), a lot younger than the others in this match. He is a former amateur champion as well although like Iizuka, he is a brawler and heavy hitter. This match came about as Yano and Iizuka were partners in Team Chaos going against Suzuki's group of the Suzuki Army. Iizuka turned on Yano (a match shown last season on AXS). Sakuraba comes in as just a big name of MMA that could stand up to Suzuki. 3 of the 4 guys are around 50 years old, showing off another trait of Japanese wrestling where when guys get older, they start appearing in mid-card tag matches most often instead of main events and title matches (Wish companies in the States did that). Also, no beauty queens here for this one! Iizuka does the Bruiser Brody entrance through the crowd while Suzuki comes out with the towel over his head as a bad ass. Broadcaster Josh Barnett, it turns out, has had a hand in either training, or training with the people in this match, even teaming with Iizuka. Suzuki and Sakaraba, the MMA fighters start off in a classic grappling match before they just glare at each other and tag out to their partners. Things break down in a fight as a weird dynamic on the Yano/Sakuraba team develops with the wrestler Yano screaming orders as the MMA fighter Sakuraba, not always with success. This is a grudge match so lots of foreign objects are used like chairs, a hammer that rings the bell, a mic cord, and the tag rope are used, with the referee not disqualifying anyone. Sakuraba at one point tops Iizuka with palm strikes to the eye (ouch!) before Iizuka counters with a choke with a mic cord. After a spot where Yano and Suzuki fight over an exposed turnbuckle Yano gets clobbered with both a chair shot and and the "Iron Fist" of Iizuka (refer to the pic abovee of Iizuka), Suzuki hits a cradle piledriver on Yano to win the match for his team. The Army keep up the attack going after Sakuraba with the glove and piledriver as well. Suzuki gives us some words of how awesome he is to the press before we get to the main event of this show. IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Title: Kota Ibushi V/S Ricochet: As we saw last week Ricochet won the Best of the Super Juniors tournament to earn this title shot against Ibuchi. Kota Ibuchi is a long time Jr. Heavyweight with a Karate background. He hasn't had that big of an impact in the U.S. but had been featured on this show a few times in the first season. He also not only wrestles for New Japan, but also for the smaller Dramatic Dream Team (DDT) promotion as well. Ricochet's background was largely covered last week if you want to know more about him. We get some words from Ibushi before we get into the match as he talks about how much of an opponent Ricochet is after watching him in the BotSJ tournament. Both guys are "good guys" and for being under 220 pounds, neither are stick figures with muscles to spare. As the match starts the fans are solidly behind Ricochet surprisingly.  Both guys trade kicks to get things going but start up the action with a quick run of attempts for moves and the other guy flipping out of the way with cartwheels, moonsaults, and flips. No plodding here!  Ricochet gets an advantage with a move known as the Zig Zag (used by Dolph Ziggler) and goes to work over Ibushi with a mix of strikes and submission holds. Ibushi finally gets the advantage with a missile dropkick. He then dives outside the ring with a spring off the ropes and does a flip onto Ricochet nearly on the other side of the ring!  Richochet counters with his own missile drop kick that is a marvelous thing. Both men are back and forth on each other with the attacks getting bigger, turning the match into a game of 'Can you top this?'. Ibushi nearly kills himself when he falls off the top turnbuckle and hits himself in the face with the metal buckle. Ricochet gets him back up for a flying rana but Ricochet counters by doing a complete flip and landing on his feet! I'm loving this! Ibushi goes for a spinning phoenix splash (tribute to one of my favorites, Hayabusa) but misses, however Ricochet still can't get the pin. Ricochet goes for the Benedryller twice but Ibushi counters it. He hits a kick before going for the Phoenix Plex, a move I have never seen before in my life. He sets Ricochet for a powerbomb but when he gets him onto his shoulders, Ibushi grabs Ricochet's head and pulls in tight, before going backwards, looking like a tightly held version of the Kinnikuman Muscle Buster. Ibushi scores the pin with this one to retain the title to the roar of the crowd. Ricochet honors the winner by handing him the belt and the winner's trophy in the ring. We get words from both men after the match and then words from Ibushi praising Ricochet's resilience and power to end the show.  Holy crap, I had been told the main event match was incredible, and it was! My words aren't doing that match justice. The Middle tag match did provide a nice breather between the to Jr. Heavyweight matches and even that was kind of enjoyable in a kooky kind of way. The announcers were ON tonight as not only were they into the matches as much as the fans were, but Josh Barnett gets some credit with his experience with the men in the middle tag team match. This week once again, this show proves why it is a must watch for people who like really good wrestling instead of 25 minute promos and sketches involving fake Russians macking out on a guy like a horny school girl. See you all next week!
New Japan Pro Wrestling photo
Ibushi V/S Ricochet
[Welcome to Strong Style, Soul's new regular column covering the high-flying antics of Professional Wrestling in Glorious Nippon and beyond! - Josh] This week on New Japan Pro Wrestling on AXS TV we pick up from last wee...

Annotated Anime: Plastic Memories episodes 7-8

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

Annotated Anime: MY Love STORY!! Episodes 6-7

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

Annotated Anime: One Piece episode 694

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

Annotated Tokusatsu: Garo: Gold Storm Soar episode 6

May 25 // Salvador GRodiles
For a series that’s supposed to run for 25 episodes, Gold Storm is really pushing it to the limit in these past few episodes. Each segment introduces us to a piece of the big mystery, and our main heroes make sure to follow up on every clue that comes their way. Honestly, it was amazing to see that the story hit a major point in the big conflict this early in its run. I mean, did anyone expect for Ryuga and Rian to find the source of the increase in Horror activity so soon? My assumption is that no one saw this coming. Since the secret behind Kiya Antiques felt like a halfway-point twist, the show’s staff has proven to us that things are bigger than they seem. However, what made this chapter interesting was how they grounded the key aspects that Horrors are attracted to. Even though Rian was the kind of girl who flirts with people to get what she wants, her inner desires and actions aren’t classified as Karmic feelings. All in all, it’s good to see this type of trope being implemented in the franchise, as many shows that are about hunting evil demonic creatures tend to force its heroes to be lawful good and/or fully pure. While this element has always appeared in the previous Garo installments (such as Takeru from Garo: The One Who Shines in the Darkness and Germán from Garo: The Carved Seal of Flame sleeping with various women), there’s something nice about having the series remind its viewers about this rule, since it adds an extra layer of goodness to the experience. Despite the appearance of another CG elite Horror, the action between the suit actors and the models are still an improvement over the third Garo series. Hell, the monster’s multiple arms and elephant-like features made it a neat creature. Perhaps if it was a costume, the fight might’ve been better, since the 3D creature didn’t feel much impact from the Golden Knight’s slashes. Nonetheless, there were some satisfying moments in the fight, and the end result gives us hope that the staff’s holding back their greatest assets. This hidden trump card lies in the mysterious cannibalistic Horror, since the figure's lighting shows that the creature is an actual suit. If this is anything to go by, Garo: Gold Storm Soar’s still holding a few things back from its viewers. Seeing that this new villain sports a cool undead demonic look, it’s safe to say that Amemiya and his team managed to leave us with a tasty sample to get us excited for the next course. Of course, a fight scene that features a classy old dude that pulls off Captain America-like moves with an antique shield is another great sign for things to come. At this point in the game, it’s a good thing that I chose to stick with Garo: Gold Storm Soar. Zinga and Amily may lack the qualities of being great villains, but the show’s plot manages to imply that they hold more control over the city than it seems. Based on the previews for episode 7, their time to shine might finally arrive, and things might start to get more intense. With the special daggers’ role and the mysterious young Makai Priest's motives, there are plenty of potential recipes for the staff to exploit in the upcoming weeks. One thing for sure, my stomach is ready for the next huge meal.
Garo: Gold Storm Soar photo
Boxes with anteater logos equal doom
I may’ve been keeping my fingers crossed for Garo: Gold Storm Soar to blow our minds with some amazing suit on suit action, but that isn’t stopping me from enjoying the show’s story. Since the series’ ...

Annotated Anime: Stardust Crusaders episodes 38-44

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

Strong Style: New Japan Pro Wrestling on AXS season 2 episode 1

May 24 // Soul Tsukino
We start the second season of New Japan Pro Wrestling on AXS TV the same way we left off, Mauro Ranallo and Josh Barnett are back with the play by play of the best action going on in Japan. As I have mentioned here before, This show is not a "first run" show like a Monday Night RAW or Smackdown. Instead it is a show that looks back at key matches and shows from recent NJPW history. This episode takes us to June 8th, 2014 and the Yoyogi National Gymnasium for the semi-finals and finals of the 2014 Best of the Super Juniors tournament. BotSJ is a tournament that was first held in 1988 and is a big spotlight on the lighter weight class in NJPW. Unlike "one and your done" style tournaments (IE: NCAA Basketball tournament), this competition is stet up much like Olympic Ice hockey where the 16 competitors are split into 2 groups. Each man fights all the other men in his bracket for points, the two top point-getters in each bracket face each other on this show with the winners of the semi-finals fighting for the trophy in the final. The show starts with one of our competitors tonight in Kushida. He shares his thoughts on competing that night before we get to our first match. Kushida vs. Taichi:  This is a very interesting match. Both men were trained in some part by 90's Japanese wrestling superstar "Dangerous K" Toshiaki Kawada. These two are also familiar to me from their runs 10 years ago in a promotion called HUSTLE that was so over the top it referred to itself as a "Fighting Opera" instead of wrestling. Taichi is a member of Team Chaos, a rule breaking stable in NJPW, and as Ranallo points out, a bit of an underdog to have gotten this far. Kushida is one half of a tag team called The Time Splitters.   A tag team who's gimmick is based off Back to the Future. Bless you Japan. Kushida also as noted is in this match as a replacement for his partner Alex Shelley who was injured. The match is a chaotic mess as Taichi attacked Shelly during his entrance with a chair and started a fight before the bell rings. This is like a fast paced cheating heel V/S good guy style match as both men have partners interfering on their behave and getting the referee to miss all of it. Taichi even pulls out a classic Eddie Geurrero spot where he tosses Kushida a cane, only to collapse in fake pain, making the ref think Kushida nailed him with it. The match comes to an end when Kushida unveils his new finisher, The "Hoverboard Lock", A flying kimura armlock. I'd have called it the McFlying armlock myself. The move gets the quick submission and sends Kushida to the finals.     Ryusuke Taguchi vs. Ricochet: Taguchi has popped up on this show before as one of NJPW's top Juniors,  He is the favorite of the tournament as he won the 2012 BotSJ and would have made the semifinals of the 2013 tournament but had to withdraw because of injury. Rochochet is an American wrestler with a large independent following, and here is representing the Dragon Gate promotion. Many will also know of his as Prince Puma, champion on the American Lucha Underground show. This match plays out with an opposite dynamic from the last match as both men are fan favorites and they play the match that way. It is very fast paced and it's a show of who can top who. There is a bit of a skip in the match, but it's not very big and you don't seem to miss much. Ricochet scores the win with his finisher, the Benedryller kick, to score the win. Both semis were kept short, under 8 minutes, as both winners would be coming back. These matches weren't hacked to death and were shown for the most part. As with last season Ranallo and Barnett do a great job of explaining to context of each guy as well as the tournament itself We get some more words from Kushida about his new finisher and about that night as well. Final: Kushida V/S Ricochet:  This match is amazing and feel like 3 different matches in one. The first part of the match is a slower paced mat wrestling match with hold, counter hold, escape, to get things kicked off. It switches to a million-miles-an-hour face-paced match where both men are keeping the pace up and landing several moves at once. Finally the match becomes a battle of attrition as each man is throwing out their biggest moves joined together with some hard kicks and elbows. The match is close to 40 minutes long, which to some American fans is unthinkable for Junior heavyweights. The story that is told during the entire match is Kushida keeps going for Ricochet's arm to set him up for the Hoverboard Lock, while Ricochet is wearing down Kushida for the Benedryller. To say they throw everything at each other is not an overstatement. These guys used every one of their biggest moves, and even some moves from other people to try to get the victory. The battle finally ends when Ricochet nails Kushida with a kick right to the head and then the Bendryller that folds Kushida in half before being pinned. During the entire match not only is the crowd very into the battle, but so are the announcers. No old timey vaudeville jokes, no bickering, no talks about women's underwear or whatever they pulled from the headlines to be topical for the week. Not only to both announcers put over the importance and history of the tournament, they put over the moves and action in the ring with more legitimacy than anything else going on in wrestling on TV. We get some post match words from Kushida who is sweating buckets and on the locker room floor before we get some in ring words from Ricochet, who challenges NJPW Junior Heavyweight Champion, Kota Ibushi, to a match (Ibushi accepts). We then get some in studio comments from Kushida where he talks about how the crowd was cheering for Ricochet in the finals and that putting on a good showing not only for himself, but Junior Heavyweights as a whole, was the goal of the match. Once again this show is my favorite. Josh Barnett and Marro Ranallo have not lost a thing since the first season  of shows and the producers put together a great 1 hour look at the show that night. The editing wasn't a hatchet job and a lot of the action was shown, while still having some comments from Kushida to get some insight into what one of the competitors was thinking during the course of the night. I encourage more people to watch this show and see what a wrestling show that takes itself more seriously can be like. Next Week we will see the match between Ricochet and Ibuchi for the title and feature the Time Splitters together in action going after the Jr. Heavyweight tag titles against the Young Bucks.
New Japan Pro Wrestling  photo
The best of Japan for American fans
Welcome to Strong Style, Japanator's look into Japanese wrestling! This time out we look at my favorite wrestling show on American TV as it returns for a second season. Can AXS keep up everything that made this show amazing during its first season? What does the producers pick to highlight from New Japan wrestling action? Take a read and find out!  

Annotated Anime: One Piece 693

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

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...

First Impressions: Food Wars! Shokugeki no Soma

May 18 // Nick Valdez
Food Wars! Shokugeki no Soma is a simple premise heightened by its presentation (like how Duck a l'Orange sounds better than it actually is thanks to its name). Yukihira Souma runs a diner with his father, and his dream is to one day surpass his father’s cooking prowess. When his father takes a job in America and closes the diner, Souma is shipped to Totsuki Culinary Academy, an elite cooking school where only 10% of students who enroll graduate. But those who do graduate become top figures in the cooking world. There he comes across a bevy of characters like the “God Tongue” Erina, the “Meat Master” Ikumi, and the oh so cute Tadaroko. There’s quite a bit of hefty production thrown behind what’s essentially a cooking show. I don’t really know what to think of it. At times it feels satirical since the fan service is so explicitly comedic (but ultimately superfluous), and a lot of the animation budget goes into making the cooking scenes flow with more vigor (thus resembling Shonen Jump’s more “action” filled anime), but it's meant to be taken at face value. The presentation almost hampers the subject material. It’s like the anime isn’t taking itself seriously. And while that does make for a good watch week to week, it’s hard to discern whether or not the studio is a good chef when they keep adding differing flavors each time. For example, a lot of the background music doesn't fit. When Souma cooks for Erina to get into Totsuki in the second episode, the music seems to be pushing the action faster than it actually is. Then you have moments of denouement after the action as the recipes are explained that are ruined by that music as well. It’s a weird quirk that I hope gets fixed in the episodes to come. But everything else is great! Character designs flow well, the fan service is just too ridiculous to be off putting (though you'll want to turn your volume down when girls eat and that gets super annoying), and there's a decent of amount of humor that lands. When Food Wars! isn't going for a cheap gag, it's spot on. At the very least, there are a number of actual cooking tips. Some of the recipes featured on the show are quite attainable and are developed enough to recreate. That's a nice touch since this definitely could've been a food anime that didn't care whether or not it served up actual food.  For as much there is to like about Food Wars, there are as many compelling reasons to avoid it. It’s a show that deals in extremes, and the constant overreaching will most likely hurt it in the long run. It’s possible that I gel with the cheesy premise now, but, as with any overly comedic show, the premise will tire out if it’s at a constant state of heightened reality. It’s one of those “style over substance” things. It’s like sitting in an all-you-can-eat buffet and being sickened by the taste of food after a few hours. Regardless of how much you think you can handle, you bust when you’re overfed. If Food Wars constantly keeps up this stylized world rather than have confidence that its show could exist without all the hubbub going on the background, it won’t keep my attention for long. But I’ve been hooked for time being. When it hits, it hits hard. And of course, Tadaroko is the best. 
Food Wars Impressions photo
Marry me, Tadaroko
I’ve had a lot of trouble catching on to anime over the years, but every so often there’s a show that sounds so incredibly insane that I can’t help but watch it. That’s how I got reeled into a shows li...

Annotated Tokusatsu: Garo: Gold Storm Soar episode 5

May 18 // Salvador GRodiles
If there’s one thing that Gold Storm does right, it’s that it continues to establish continuity between its episodes each week. Even when a segment feels like a side-story, its key moments somehow manage to link the chapter to the main plot. Hell, I never expected for that one girl from episode 1 to return recently, since she seemed like she was just a random victim. In a sense, this type of format can make a program fascinating, because it lets people ponder on which characters’ll become important later on. This following issue may not affect the show’s quality, but I found it strange that the girl’s sister resorted to fooling around with guys to help her raise money to study abroad. Couldn’t she have gotten her younger sister to sign up for a grant, scholarship, or some other form of financial aid? I guess the show’s staff was trying to convey the concept of going through great lengths to help someone-- even if there were better alternatives to cover this situation. Either way, the scenario helped pave the way for Ryuga and Rian to catch on about the recent increases in Horror activity in the vicinity. Going back to what I said earlier, the way how Gold Storm handles its story allows us to feel amazed when a empty slots gets filled by a new puzzle piece, which works well in taking its viewers along for the ride. While Zinga and Amily haven’t become appealing villains yet, the mystery behind their plan to give Ladan more power is what keeps us on our seats each week. As long as the show keeps linking the Horror activities to their actions, then their first encounter with Ryuga and Rian should lead to a good breaking point in the story. If Garo: The One Who Shines in the Darkess' twist is anything to go by, then the Destroyer of World's actions should leave us with a shocked expression. Gold Storm may have not given us a cool-looking Horror suit, but this week’s design is at least a step in the right direction. While the creature was a beefed-up guy with monster arms, the staff’s detail on the man’s face made it seem like his monstrous form was about to jump out of his skin. Since the franchise’s suits are supposed to give off a scary movie vibe, I’d say that episode 5 managed to fill in this requirement, which acts as another beacon of hope. But hey, the big dude made Ryuga’s fights look cool, as they got the right shots and choreography techniques that make a fist fight between a muscular person and a normal-built dude look spectacular. Based on the program's progression so far, Garo’s sixth series is slowly feeling like the franchise we all love, which is a good sign that this'll be a good installment for the franhise. To add to its positive elements, you know a series is promising when the hero partakes in a well-shot game of darts. In actually, any sport or competitive activity could work as well. As we start to see minor characters and events link the show’s main plot together, Garo: Gold Storm Soar should start reaching new heights in the next episode. If the suits show their face again, then we might have a huge winner here.
Garo: Gold Storm Soar photo
When helping someone goes wrong
Back when I said that Garo: Gold Storm Soar had potential, I wasn’t fooling around. With each passing episode, the show continues to shine brighter than before. As we start to see the series' various story elements come together, the big mystery continues to leave us intrigued. From the looks of it, the franchise is still in good shape.

Annotated Anime: Unlimited Blade Works episode 19

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

Japanator Interviews: SCANDAL

May 14 // Hiroko Yamamura
SCANDAL interview photo
OMG it's Rina!
As you probably already know, we are huge fans of SCANDAL at the Japanator office. The Osaka based all female band have been tearing up Japan since coming together back in 2006. They've come a far way from their days performi...

Impressions: Yamada-Kun and the Seven Witches

May 13 // Red Veron
Yamada-kun and the Seven Witches starts off with Ryu Yamada, a high school delinquent type of guy who’s bad at school and gets a lot of heat from the teachers for it. After a scolding from a teacher, he runs into Urara Shiraishi at the stairs, a diligent female honor student who always seems to have her head buried in a book. Yamada tries to take a bit of his frustration on her by cutting her off while going up the stairs but trips and falls onto her. Yamada awakens later to find out that he’s switched bodies with Shiraishi. Later on, Yamada and Shiraishi learn more about this body swapping and find out that Yamada has the ability to switch bodies with anyone he kisses on the lips. Yamada and Shiraishi are then roped into reviving the Supernatural Studies club by Student Council Vice President Toranosuke Miyamura and are joined by supernatural phenomenon fan Ito Miyabi.In the club, the members learn more about Yamada's ability and each other through the body swapping hijinks by using it in many ways, by using it to their advantage in different situations (mostly for their gain). They also start to uncover what really is going on with Yamada's 'ability' and those who may know and posses other abilities as well. The supernatural bent of the show is implied by the title but don’t let that deter if you want a comedy set in a school with a story. Yamada-kun and the Seven Witches has no supernatural creatures, superpowers, flashy or fancy visuals in it. The show maintains a grounded feeling having the supernatural powers be subtle whenever it is used by the characters. It makes the show feel more like a comedy than one about supernatural abilities.The voice acting is my absolute favorite part of the Yamada-kun and the Seven Witches anime. The body-swapping aspect lends well into showcasing the great talent and vast vocal range of the voice actors. For example, Yamada being in Shiraishi's body has Shiraishi's voice actress doing her most loud tomboyish voice, which is vastly different from her portrayal of Shiraishi's calm and cool demeanor. All the actors do a great job and you can easily tell the difference in the characters while not in their original bodies. The great acting further enhances the comedic situations that arise in the different body-swapping scenarios. As you would expect from a show that has some cross-gender body swapping via smooching, there is fanservice in this show. At the most, it's characters in underwear, keeping it tasteful. Plenty of kissing to go around which includes guy-on-guy lip locking for those of you who like that thing (for those who don't like that, don't worry as it's played off as comedy too).I enjoyed the Yamada-kun and the Seven Witches manga and I was impressed by this anime adaptation, it looks really good and the voice acting is great. I love the opening and ending sequences; the opening has a simple storybook-inspired look and gives you a nice glimpse at the many characters in the show. I also love that opening song, "くちづけDiamond" (Diamond Kiss) by WEAVER, which is a sentimental love song about a kiss and a promise that has a pop-y ballad feel. Not the typical kind of song you'd have opening a show about supernatural body swapping high school students. The first few episodes don’t really get into the ‘witches’ part of the story, but more on introducing the primary characters with some of the secondary characters. I’ve read the manga and wonder how far they’ll get into the story, since they are moving at a slow pace. I worry that we won’t get to see all of the seven witches or have enough time to show them off properly.I like how they handled this adaptation and I’ll be definitely follow it and it has been a while since I read the manga. I would definitely recommend this one for those looking for a school comedy with a bit of a different twist.
Yamada x Seven Witches photo
Freaky Witchy Friday
Yamada-kun and the Seven Witches is the latest work from manga author Miki Yoshikawa, whose previous popular work was Yankee-kun and Megane-chan (Known in some territories as Punk Flunk Rumble), a comedy about a delinquent g...

Is New Japan Pro Wrestling the new WWE?

May 12 // Soul Tsukino
Since the closure of both Ted Turner's World Championship Wrestling and Paul Heyman's Extreme Championship Wrestling 15 years ago, TNA was viewed as the number 2 company, the "alternative" to the WWE. Started by Jeff Jarrett and his father Jerry in 2002 and having been run by Dixie Carter and her family for nearly as long, TNA strived to set itself apart from the WWE for years. Notable concepts like the 6 sided ring, the X division, and the various concept matches they have created over the years were an attempt to set themselves apart from what Vince was producing. But, try as they might, TNA never really made a dent. The company struggled to turn a profit since the beginning. They had some high profile departures within the last few years with long time cornerstone A.J. Styles leaving after TNA failed to agree to a new contract, along with stars like Chris Sabin, Frankie Kazarian, and Christopher Daniels. They lost their long time business partner in Spike TV and have settled on being aired on the much less carried Destination America channel, a move that has cost them up to 2/3rds of their regular audience they had beforehand. And although they have done some of their "special" events on Impact, their weekly show, they haven't aired a "live" pay per view show since last October (and that event itself was pre recorded from Japan). Impact Wrestling has lost a lot of its visibility among wrestling fans since the beginning of the year. In my mind it's no longer the number 2 company in the United States, and it's not really as big an alternative anymore. If this is the case, then someone would need to step up and becoming the true alternative to the WWE's megalith. And New Japan Pro Wrestling is fast on its way to becoming it. Granted, NJPW isn't there yet. However, They have many of the stones in place to build themselves to be. They've had their stars appear on shows for Ring of Honor. Sure, that isn't exactly headlining Wrestlemania, but it is a big start. Having Jeff Jarrett help bring over their biggest event of the year, WrestleKingdom, to American pay per view with Jim Ross doing English commentary was another huge step. If you are going to show off your wares, then show them the absolute best show you produce. Jim Ross, along with Matt Striker, explained the context of every match, the importance of every title, and the magnitude of the event for English speaking fans in a way that made for a great introduction to the product. Soon after NJPW made a big step in getting a weekly show on the AXS cable network. Although this wasn't a first run show like a Monday night RAW, it was a very well produced show highlighting the biggest matches of New Japan in the last few years. Host Mauro Ranallo and Josh Barnett blew me away with their commentary of these matches. They made the matches not only seem important, but they brought a level of credibility to the action more than anyone in the WWE or Impact have done in decades. The show did so well in its first season it has already been picked up for a second (That premieres at the end of May) But the biggest thing going for NJPW that makes it a big alternative to the WWE is that it too has an online archive that rivals the WWE Network. This past January when #CancelWWEnetwork was trending on Twitter after the disaster that was their Royal Rumble event, who was the first to step up and tell people to spend their money on their service? NJPW.  NJPW World obviously isn't for everyone, but there is a sizable portion of wrestling fans that are increasingly cynical and resentful of what the WWE has done in their corporate atmosphere. With American exposure, a weekly TV show to gives a informed spotlight to the action and its stars, and a 24/7 archive streaming service that isn't beaten over your head every two seconds, what's left for NJPW to become a true alternative? A first run show, even if it is on a slight delay, would probably ideal, but that might be a while off. Having AXS carry entire  NJPW special events might be closer to achievable.   AXS does very well with its live MMA coverage and bringing that to NJPW wouldn't be that much of a transition. Also, carrying events on tape delay would bring in a sizable audience as well. Some well-placed ads on the USA network during RAW or other similar types of programming and you have a bigger audience than what currently follows the product.  Unlike Impact or Ring of Honor, NJPW has the funds and the influence to make things like this happen. So with NJPW, the sky's the limit as to what else they can bring to American shores. They already have a great foundation, now is the time to build on it and give the WWE something to think about. WWE has grown complacent since there is no real threat to them here. Vince, and by extension the WWE, thrive better in a competitive atmosphere.  Any kind of challenge a big player like NJPW can bring would make the WWE stand up, take attention, and bring out the best in them as well. The past has shown us that when the WWE is on their game, the entire industry benefits. And right now, it sure could use it. NJPW brought back popularity of pro wrestling in Japan a decade ago, it's time for them to bring it to new heights in the U.S. and give the WWE a run for its money.  
New Japan Pro Wrestling photo
NJPW's presence in the U.S. grows
Being a fan of professional wrestling in the United States, you've got choices. Of course there is the biggest game in town in Vince McMahon's WWE, who have dominated the market practically  unopposed since 2001. Behind ...

Annotated Anime: Unlimited Blade Works episodes 16-18

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

Annotated Anime: Plastic Memories episodes 4-6

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

Annotated Anime: MY Love STORY!! episode 5

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

Annotated Tokusatsu: Garo: Gold Storm Soar episode 4

May 08 // Salvador GRodiles
If there’s one thing that the Garo franchise does well, it’s the world-building aspects in regards to the Makai Knights, Horrors, special realms, and all the other toppings that make up the show’s various settings. To an extent, this is one of the aspects that makes the series’ side episodes shine, since it rewards the viewers for being invested in the franchise. In regards to this week’s adventure, Daigo Akizuki’s introduction helped show off Ryuga and Rian's growth as characters. Sure, it wasn’t a big conversation, but it felt that Daigo's interpretation of Ryuga and Rian was similar to how they were in Garo: The One Who Shines in the Darkness. In a sense, this episode conveyed the two heroes’ resolve in prioritizing on the important matters during a mission, such as saving lives and what not. Basically, it’s an extra little reward for those who enjoyed following Ryuga and Rian’s development. Perhaps the big surprise this week was that Daigo’s Makai Knight Armor was an actual freaking suit, which means that Amemiya’s likely saving the costume designs for Gold Storm’s major heroes and villains. Better yet, the staff’s decision to give the guy a bulkier suit compliments the warrior’s axe fighting style. To top it all off, the emerald green color acts as the final ingredient to gives the design a badass look. Interestingly, Giga the Beast Body Knight was originally featured in a Garo pachinko game called Makai Kessen Gaoh. That being said, it’s great to see that the show’s steam used a design from the pachinko machines in the toku series, since it gives us the chance to see these characters in action. While there wasn’t a powerful Horror causing trouble in the city, the group’s fight against a horde of normal creatures helped change up the Golden Knight suit on CG Monster-of-the-Week action that’s been going on for three weeks. Hopefully, this type of thing’ll happen in future episodes. That way, the viewers can be blown away by the stunt work done by the actors that are in and out of suit. For now, Daigo's fight scenes in his human and Makai Armored Form left us with some impacting moves, which increases my hopes in him returning later on. When it seemed that Garo: Gold Storm Soar was going to follow in the same footsteps as Garo: The One Who Shines in the Darkness, the program’s team showed us that viewers are still getting their taste of well-made suits. Even though we were only treated to a new Makai Knight suit and a bunch of recycled Horror costumes, the action that was done with these suits made up for it in the long run. One thing for sure, this scenario was a tasty appetizer to keep us full until the major story with Ladan starts to kick in. Since the plot's beginning to show a transition between episodes, the payoff should be worth our time.
Garo: Gold Storm Soar photo
Hurray for more actual costumes
It may’ve been unfortunate that the latest Garo series hasn’t featured any new amazing Horror suits, but that isn’t stopping the show from bringing us a new costume. Once again, Keita Amemiya might be the gu...

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...

First Impressions: Garo: Gold Storm Soar

May 04 // Salvador GRodiles
Just like Garo: Makai no Hana's early episodes, the sixth series throws us into the main conflict. In this installment, two mysterious figures called Zinga and Amily are behind the increase in Horror activity in the surrounding area, which leads up to them releasing Ladan, another powerful Horror, from its seal. In other words, Ryuga and Rian are in for a mission where they have to prevent these two figures from completing in their plan. Compare to the previous toku series, Gold Storm’s basic premise doesn’t do too much to pull viewers in. Instead, the show’s big appeal is getting to see Ryuga and Rian in action again. Seeing that it’s been a good while since Garo: The One Who Shines in the Darkness, the staff manage to show us that their characters have grown from back then. Ryuga seems to be more aware of his environment in battle, and Rian continues to mess with her opponents while using a gun and brush in combat. All in all, as a person who enjoyed the third Garo series, the main cast's evolution was a nice way to spice up the story. That, and Ryuga’s shuriken-shooting sheathe is an amazing way to make the guy stand out from Kouga, Raiga, and Leon. As nice as it was to see Ryuga and Rian again, the series fell short of delivering a solid performance. Sure, the show established the main conflict early on, but show’s tendency to rely on CG Horrors prevents it from reaching the same level of greatness found in the Kouga and Raiga Garo installments. Unfortunately, this continues to be a trend in Gold Storm’s second and third episode, which means that the franchise’s team might be saving the Horror costume designs for the upcoming Garo movie that stars Raiga from Makai no Hana. Nonetheless, the action choreography between the human characters continue to be a treat, since the action's still dynamic and well-shot. On top of that, each Horror-of-the-Week sports a unique design, which is an improvement over the third installment's decision to mostly feature the same creature models. Speaking of improvements, Ryuga’s battles as the Golden Knight utilize a new-and-improved Garo suit, which shows that the team’s still capable of creating cool outfits. From the detail in the armor's neck to the shoulders' new shapes, the current costume is a nice change from the one that was featured in the earlier titles. If anything, this is one factor that’s an improvement over the third series in the franchise, since we get to see the Armor’s Suit Actor partake in more stunts. Interestingly, Masahiro Inoue (Kamen Rider Decade’s Tsukasa/Decade) appears in the series as Zinga, which means that he’s retained his title as the Destroyer of Worlds. Based on his performance so far, he might evolve into an interesting villain later on. I guess it’ll all depend on how he interacts with the show’s cast during the first major encounter. For now, it's hard to determine whether he'll be a good or terrible villain, since his appearances have been brief for now. In terms of continuity, Gold Storm doesn’t require for its viewers to be familiar with its prequel film. Judging from the show’s first three episodes, the only thing that people likely missed out on was the introduction of D. Ringo, his assistant Yukihime, and Ryume, the show’s main Watch Dog. While these characters likely played a big supporting role in series’ prequel, the two shopkeepers seem to provide Ryuga with any information about his targets. Nonetheless, there’s a good chance that they’ll be more fleshed out in this installment, so viewers shouldn’t worry about feeling left out. Seeing the Gold Storm TV show’s premise is different from its movie, the program’s timeline won’t be an issue here. Even though Gold Storm lacks the same strengths that made Makai no Hana’s beginning worthwhile, the show still has the potential to be a good installment for the franchise. Since the program’s been leaving us with hints of Zinga and Amili plan for Ladan, I’m certain that the plot’ll get juicier in the later weeks to come. Hopefully, we’ll get to see some actual new Horror costumes in future episodes, since it’s one of the fine ingredients that make the Garo franchise great. Considering that the series’ visuals are an improvement from Garo: The One Who Shines in the Darkness, this is a great sign that Amemiya’s direction will turn this program into a shining success-- even if the well-designed Monster-of-the-Week suits are absent.
Garo photo
Ryuga is back, baby!
Back when it was announced that Ryuga from Garo: The One Who Shines in the Darkness would appear in a new Garo series, there are two possible outcomes that could come out of this. On one hand, we get to see Ryuga as a more ex...

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...

First Impressions: MY Love STORY!!

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

Annotated Anime: Plastic Memories episode 3

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

Annotated Anime: Unlimited Blade Works episode 15

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

Impressions: Knights of Sidonia: Battle for Planet Nine

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

Final Impressions: Sword Art Online II

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

Annotated Anime: Plastic Memories episode 2

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


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