Chuunibyou demo Koi ga Shitai! (KyoAni, 2012)

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My last review was about an anime that featured a girl with an eyepatch so I figured my next review had to be about the other anime with a girl wearing an eyepatch: Chuunibyou demo Koi ga Shitai! (also known as Chu2) However, Chu2 is pretty much the complete opposite of Another: a lighthearted slice-of-life instead of a poorly written piece of horror. I came in with pretty much zero expectations, and found myself very pleasantly surprised with how much I fell in love with this show; it was a perfectly executed piece of slice-of-life with a unique premise.

Chunnibyou’s plot stems from the Japanese word “chuunibyou.” Chuunibyou, as taken from Urban Dictionary, is a Japanese slang term which roughly translates to “Middle School 2nd Year Syndrome”. People with chuunibyou either act like a know-it-all adult and look down on real ones or believe they have special powers unlike others. In this anime the latter applies, as our main character, Yuuta Togashi, is entering his first year of high school after an embarrassing middle school life spent as the “Dark Flame Master.” Determined to leave that life behind, he aims to be a “normal” high school guy and coast through high school peacefully. All of this is ruined, however, when a girl in his class named Rikka Takanashi overhears Yuuta reenacting his persona one last time. Rikka, a current sufferer of chuunibyou herself, decides to make Yuuta an ally in her search of the “Unseen Horizon”. The show follows the adventures of these two and their directly opposite approaches in surviving daily high school life.

Chu2 characters

A great image of the starring cast.

The cast of Chu2 is small yet diverse. The characters have more depth to them than the usual shallow pools we get normally in slice of life anime, which is great as this allows there for an actual plot to exist and advance. Rikka’s world view of everything as straight out of some JRPG video game makes for hilarious interactions between her and everyone else in the show, and despite her usually “serious” demeanor in finding the Unseen Horizon, she also has KyoAni’s trademark moe moments whenever Yuuta is around.  However, her chuunibyou syndrome has an actual basis for existing, and when that big reveal happens the story actually kicks into action. Yuuta is a pretty standard MC, clueless when it comes to girls and is the straight man for the comedy, but his moments as the “Dark Flame Master” are unforgettable. Yuuta is also very easy to empathize with, as whenever he gets embarrassed about his past life I am forced to remember my chuunibyou moments in middle school and how socially awkward I used to be. Those moments in the show are really…humbling is the best way I can describe it. Nibutani is the class rep for their class, and although at first she appears like a normal girl, it turns out she is also a former sufferer of chuunibyou and like Yuuta was trying to hide it. However, she is caught in the awkward position of both wanting to deny it and accept it as she wants Dekomori, Rikka’s “servant”, to acknowledge her past “Mori Summer” self and to stop bringing it up. Dekomori is Rikka’s loyal follower who is completely swept up in Rikka’s pace, but unfortunately does not have the same compelling reason to do so as Rikka. Kumin is the last of the main cast, and she really doesn’t add much to the plot other than sleeping.

I first expected Chu2 to just be a typical comedic slice-of-life a la K-ON! or Nichijou, with no real overarching story or character development. Which is what the show does for the first few episodes (very well I might add), but about halfway through the series KyoAni decides that this is not enough and gives Rikka a humanizing reason for her chuunibyou sickness: the death of her father. This backstory turns Rikka from some ridiculous caricature of chuunibyou sufferers into someone who you could know in real life who acts out in order to forget or hide their pain.  The story then follows the pain that Rikka has experienced and continues to experience, which leaves Yuuta with the difficult decision of whether or not he should pull Rikka out of her delusions for “her own good” as decided upon by her family or leave her be happy in her fantasy world. Near the end of the series I found myself seriously angry at Yuuta for being too passive about what Rikka wants and instead acting as her parent, which is probably what the writers were aiming for. However, in the end it all wraps up really nicely and leaves you with a fuzzy feeling.

Yuuta and Rikka being super cute.

Yuuta and Rikka being super cute.

Another thing I really liked about this SoL was that it wasn’t at all a harem, all the romance was centered around Yuuta and Rikka which made it just so much sweeter and focused. At the beginning of the show Rikka is not even on Yuuta’s radar in terms of romance (a total mistake because Rikka is so adorbs), and he is instead focused on Nibutani. A misunderstanding between the two leads them to have a sort of pseudo-date; Nibutani is seeking to erase her chuunibyou past and Yuuta has the only evidence, but after that is resolved Rikka is the only girl in the picture. Rikka slowly falls for Yuuta throughout the show, but she is unable to realize that she is in love with Yuuta without Nibutani’s help. To her the feelings of love are seen as an infiltration of an evil society, which makes it all the more difficult for her to seriously confess to Yuuta. Yuuta also happens to feel the same about Rikka, but my gripe is that he sort of just “falls” into it jsut for the sake of the plot, we don’t really see him slowly falling for Rikka or anything, but it does make sense that he would feel affection for her. Also it frustrates me that the only thing that the two do together is hold pinkies, I expected at least a kiss at the end of the last episode, but KyoAni is just a huge tease. I get that they’re both new to relationships, but damn Yuuta, just like, go for it bro.

A still of Rikka unlocking her "powers"

A still of Rikka unlocking her “powers”

Probably the best thing about this show in typical KyoAni fashion is the beautiful animation. Even if you don’t like the story, one can’t deny that the animation of Chu2 is so fluid, beautiful, and dynamic that it just blows away most other shows. Undoubtedly the best scenes in the show are the battles that Rikka has with various opponents in the show; KyoAni brings Rikka’s imagination to life with beautiful special effects and ridiculous weapons that would put any shonen anime to shame. KyoAni is also not afraid to switch up animation styles: from realistic to gag to fairy tale (a la No Game No Life). It never feels out of place and it really showcases just how talented KyoAni is in terms of animation and how they are seemingly unparalleled compared to other big studios.

I’d have to say that the weakest element of Chu2 is actually it’s soundtrack, which I didn’t think was all that spectacular. The OP and ED were not really great at all, I tried listening to both each time but they were never really sounded that great. Eventually the OP, “Sparkling Daydream” kind of grew on me, but it’s definitely not one of the strongest OPs KyoAni has had in it’s history. The soundtrack is pleasant and is great when it’s present, but I didn’t find it particularly important to the storytelling or have it leave any impression upon me. It wasn’t a bad soundtrack in anyway, just not very memorable or able to evoke any nostalgia from me in future listens.

Overall Chu2 was one of the best anime I’ve seen in a long time. It was the perfect balance of comedic slice-of-life antics and a small low-key story with a unique twist on the typical high school life that make it really enjoyable. KyoAni’s idea to take chuunibyou syndrome and develop an entire anime out of it was ingenious and really gave the show an unforgettable flavor. It allowed them to mix shonen battle scenes with daily high school life and also evoke an embarrassment of my (and likely other viewers’s) past self watching Yuuta and Rikka. Chu2 also has a great message, which is that you should accept others for who they are and also accept yourself, while at the same time telling viewer’s that it’s not healthy to escape from real world problems with fantasies, that at some point you will have to accept reality.

For the end of this review, I leave you with the best gif from Chu2, taken from the opening and posted everywhere ’cause it’s so adorable.

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Another (P.A. Works, 2012)

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Ah, horror anime. I am terrible with scary stuff in every medium, whether it be movies, games, or books. I am not a real fan of jump scares, but I can appreciate gory, psychological thrillers like Saw and Another.  Another is one of two anime with a lead girl featuring an eyepatch, the other being Chuunibyou demo Koi ga Shitai! . However, while Chu-2 is your typical slice-of-life anime, Another is a thriller anime that is adapted from a novel of the same name. I thoroughly enjoyed my ride through Another as its dark and mysterious atmosphere continuously drew me in and left me unsettled episode after episode.

The basic premise of Another is this: In the small town of Yomiyama there exists a middle school classroom that is one is cursed. Every year since 1972, the students in class 3-3 of Yomiyama North Middle School have died one by one without fail. A young man named Koichi Sakakibara unluckily transfers into this class and finds himself attracted to a girl named Misaki Mei. This girl’s existence is ignored by his classmates, which makes him all the more curious. Soon enough, the curse begins to repeat itself once again and these two along with their classmates try to discover the origins and cause of their friends’ deaths while at the same time trying to protect themselves from the curse.

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Taken from a magazine, left to right: Sakakibara, Misaki, Akazawa, Teshigawara, Mochizuki

While Another’s atmosphere is enticing and thrilling, I cannot really say the same of the characters. Kouichi Sakakibara is your average middle school teenage boy, he is exceptionally kind and pretty out of the loop regarding girls. However, this in fact improves the show rather than hinders it, by showcasing a normal teenage boy surrounded by death provides great contrast and makes you both empathize with him and your fear is mirrored in his. Misaki Mei is your typical emotionless girl ala Rei, but she does have some cute moments where life before her despair pokes out. Her different colored eyes are reminiscent of Suiseiseki, and I’m kinda wondering as I type this if she was meant to be a mash up of tropes. She’s a good character, just not all that original. Her sense of humor is top notch. These two are not alone however, there are some other prominent classmates who play a role in the mystery, such as Izumi Akazawa, the class representative and “head of counter-measures.” Essentially she is in charge of trying to avoid and or dispel the class of the curse, and she resents Mei for not following her orders and feel she is the cause of this year’s curse. There’s also Naoya Teshigawara and Yuuya Mochizuki who serve as the best friends to Sakakibara when he’s not out chasing Misaki, and also help provide some insight from the viewer’s point of view.

Because this anime was adapted from a novel, the story is obviously the most compelling part. The buildup towards the reason why the students in class 3-3 is done very well, and the death scenes throughout are gruesome. The first one in particular made me very squeamish, and I thought it was awesome how this show could evoke it out of me despite just being an animation. The suspense leading up to each death is also great; I could never really predict who would be the next to die or how until just moments before it happened. You’re left guessing, “who is the dead student?”, “who will die next?” and the pacing of the show carries these questions well, never revealing too much or being too predictable in what will happen. However, by the end of the series, you’re left wondering: how will they wrap all of this up in just 2 episodes?

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The magical glass eye that can see dead people.

The answer is disappointing to what I had thought was an intellectual and clever show. Instead of watching the protagonists trying to weed out who the dead student is through deduction or reasoning, instead we are given a much simpler solution: kill everyone. The show quickly devolves into some sort of “Final Destination”-esque mass murder spree with all the students killing each other to end the curse. It makes some sense in the context of the show, but also goes against what the show had been leading up to. Instead of smart traps and round tables to figure out who the dead one is, we are instead served a deus-ex machina that Misaki’s eye can “see death” and knows who the dead person is merely by taking off her eyepatch. It’s really disappointing and leaves a bad taste in my mouth, as this show could have been so much more.

The soundtrack of the show is a higher point. The tracks are great at setting a suspenseful or creepy mood, and they make ample use of the piano which I really love. Track 3 (none of the songs have proper titles, unfortunately. At least online) is just a simple piano piece with an odd seemingly “otherworldly” noise in the background to reinforce the idea that the setting in Another is simple and common, but with a supernatural twist. As the track progresses it starts to remind me of Lavender Town’s theme from Pokemon as it features the same beginning notes. Near the end the piano gets louder and deeper perhaps to signal the impending misfortune that will strike Yomiyama. Another (heh) track I was fond of was Track 6, which is Misaki Mei’s theme and plays often whenever she is talking. Whatever instrument they use, not sure exactly what they are, really goes well with the show and gives you the feeling that you’re being haunted or pressured by some sort of specter, and it also conveys a sense of isolation as the chimes stand alone. I also really like Track 2, which is used as the preview music for the next episode but doesn’t get any actual play time in the show. However, while all these track are nice, none of them are really all that memorable. I didn’t really find myself revisiting these tracks or hunting them down; they served their purpose in the show well but won’t be remembered in the future compared to songs like “Theme of SSS” from Angel Beats or “Soldiers of Sorrow” from Gundam.

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Another ruined my hopes as quickly as it ruined this guy’s heart.

Another is a show that could have been terrific, but ends up losing itself and becoming just “good”. The beginning half of the series is gripping and actually successful at scaring the viewer and throwing grotesque murder scenes that both appall and disgust you. It’s quite a feat. However, all of this progress is swiftly washed away in the two episode finale in which all subtlety is removed from the show and the entire class pretty much kills each other. It’s a disappointingly brutal and unintelligent ending to a show that seemed to be a smart and gripping thriller. Overall, I’d suggest that you give Another a chance, only so you can experience the chills and suspense that the first episodes give, and quit before the final two episodes and instead try and think up your own ending. It’ll probably be a better ending than what the writers came up with and you’ll save yourself some time.

Persona 4: Golden (Atlus, 2012)

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Persona 4: Golden. I finished this game in mid-May, so this may be one of my most delayed reviews ever, but it’s because I really wanted to reflect on this game and see if it is still as amazing in my mind as it was when I was playing it. (And totally not because I am lazy and get distracted easily). Well, 6 months later I am happy to say that this is still the best game that I have played all year, perhaps even all time! Persona 4 is a beautiful game that addresses the pains of growing up, the repressed thoughts we all carry, and it packages it all up in a half-dating-sim half-JRPG format that is addictive and moving.

Persona 4 is the 4th entry in the popular Persona series, but no knowledge of previous games is required to play it. Persona itself is a spin-off of the much larger Shin Megami Tensei series (which are also great games, currently playing #4!) which mainly focus on demons in the real world. Persona takes those demons and makes them the tools of high school students; in Persona these demons represent their inner feelings, or “persona”, hence the title. The game begins with you, the protagonist moving into the village of Inaba as a transfer student from the big city. Inaba is a small town with not much going on, however, shortly after you move in mysterious deaths begin to occur in the quaint suburb . At the same time, rumors of a television channel that only broadcasts at midnight begin to circulate around your school. It is up to you and your group of friends to investigate whether these two things are related and, if so, how.

Persona 4 Characters

A shot of the main cast. Clockwise from left: Yusuke, Naoto, Kenji, Teddie, Rie, Yukiko, Protaganist, Chie

This game really took me for a loop in many regards, but one of the most surprising things about this game are the characters and how adventurous Atlus is in their personalities. There’s a girl who’d rather be a man, a high school teenager who is unsure about his sexuality, an idol who has lost her sense of identity due to fame, and so much more. Each character you associate with has such depth to them that it’s a shame it’s almost impossible to explore every character to their core in one playthrough. The game seems to explore every modern issue that teenagers face these days, and it does so in a mature way. No character is marginalized or made fun of due to issues they face, instead they are met with support from their friends. It amazes me how ambitious Atlus was in their writing, especially since this is coming from a Japanese company, seeing as Japanese society is usually not seen to be as progressive compared to European countries. Persona 4 is a great social commentary on the identity problems young adults face in today’s world and really helps the player begin to see these issues in everyday (virtual) life.

The story of Persona is also interesting, because it doesn’t start off as a typical “save the world” JRPG, although you do eventually get there. The focus of the game is merely to save those who have been put into the Midnight Channel and to solve the mystery as to whom is the kidnapper attempting to murder these innocent people. The mystery is the real draw here, as there are very subtle hints as to who the real killer is that are very hard to catch. Personally I had no idea who it was until the game explained everything. The game does a great job at pacing the plot so it feels like you’re always getting closer and closer to finding the real killer while at the same time enjoying your high school life. About 2/3rds through the game you have to choose who the killer is; if you conclude incorrectly the game ends with a “false” ending and you feel a little cheated, so make sure to save beforehand to ensure you get the “true” or canon ending! I don’t want to give too much away as I feel this is truly a game that deserves to be played with no spoilers.

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Leveling up a social rank by hanging out at the river.

Another important aspect of Persona are the social links. Social links are essentially progress bars that show how close you are to characters in the story, and as you increase social links with someone they open up to you more and more and grant bonuses in combat. Social links therefore have the bonus of allowing you to learn more about characters and connect with them while at the same time powering up your battle abilities and allowing you to create new personas. It’s extremely difficult to max out every social link in one playthrough, but it feels so rewarding to max out even just one. Especially the female ones, which essentially amount to dating sims, which I admittedly love. Still, even if you don’t like dating sims social links provide a great insight into each character, and you may even be surprised by what real life problems these digital people are carrying inside them. I really got attached to my “friends” through my 90 hours of playtime and I was really sad to say goodbye to them at the game. Maybe I just get attached too easily, but this game’s writing is absolutely fantastic at evoking the right emotions at the right time.

Persona 4 combat.

Combat interface. You can unlock fun costumes to wear for dungeons.

Unfortunately, and ironically as a game, Persona’s 4 weakest point is its combat gameplay. It’s your typical RPG combat, which, don’t get me wrong, is fun, but it gets repetitive like most JRPGs. Once you figure out an opponent’s weak point combat becomes pretty simple and doesn’t really pose a challenge, and boss fights felt more like a really long, simple fight instead of a challenging, engaging battle. The enemies do scale up in difficulty and become somewhat tough to battle, but at a point I just found myself steamrolling through everything. Although this may be more my fault as I have a bad habit of grinding a lot in any RPG that I play. The different elements (wind, fire, ice, thunder, light, dark) provide fun combat strategies in the beginning but by the end game just light and dark are really necessary as they insta-kill most enemies you’ll encounter except bosses. Even though the combat is repetitive, I still managed to find it fun in the end game as the “all out attack” when you hit every enemy’s weakness is a nice to watch (especially the “special” ones) and the bonuses you get at the end of each battle in the form of a card-picking mini game are kind of addictive. Also it is extremely rewarding to keep fusing and creating more and more powerful Personas which are available to you through higher social links, so it’s got somewhat of a Pokemon aspect as well in the idea that you want to create every Persona possible.

Finally, I’d like to touch upon the amazing soundtrack that Shoji Meguro put together for this game. An blend of J-Pop, J-Rock, piano, and vital to the game’s experience. Persona 4 would not be Persona 4 without the addicting music. The opening song to the game, “Shadow World”, is a catchy way to start up every session of Persona 4 GOLDEN and the visuals match the music perfectly. When I hear this track I just want to start playing again. The tracks that accompany each dungeon perfectly embody the setting, standouts include “Heaven” (those soothing vocals while fighting shadows) and “Game” (perfectly captures what 80’s video game music would sound like if modernized). Outside of the dungeons, walking around town wouldn’t be the same without listening to “Heartbreak, Heartbreak” or “Your Affection”, both of which have the best misheard lyrics ever. I totally thought “Your Affection” was actually “Your Reflection” in the song. The battle tracks like “Reach Out to the Truth” are empowering, catchy, and have awesome guitar riffs that just want to make you grind all day so you can listen to the music. As Kotaku writer Kirk Hamilton put it, Persona 4’s music is essential to the game as it “fulfills important…’rhythmic functions'” and provides a “feeling of ritual.”

So, seriously, if you haven’t played this game yet and do so. Persona 4 is one of the best games I’ve ever played. It seamlessly combines JRPG combat with dating sim mechanics and current social issues to provide one of the deepest time-sinks I’ve ever come across. This game is smart, funny, sad, scary, and overall a masterpiece of the JRPG genre. This game solely makes the Vita worth owning. The characters, the music, the visuals, the combat, the story, every aspect of a game comes perfectly packaged together to provide a unique, unforgettable experience in one little blue cartridge. I wholly recommend this game to anyone who can get their hands on it, trust me, it’s worth your time. Now, I’m off to start another New Game+, so remember:

p4 junes

Attack on Titan (Wit Studio, 2013)

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Attack on Titan, one of the most popular anime in recent years taking social networks and anime conventions alike by storm. So many parodies, crossovers, and fanart have come out of this one show it’s astounding. Fast-paced action, a Westernized setting, and an engaging plot gave it all the right elements to gain attention outside Japan, and what kind of reviewer would I be not to give my input on it?

For those who haven’t heard the Attack on Titan hype here’s a rundown: Humanity has almost gone extinct due to the existence of “titans,” giant, humanoid beings whose sole purpose for existing seems to be killing humans. No one knows their origin or their motive. Humanity has been pushed into living inside a series of walls which serve to protect them from the titans. The three walls, Wall Maria, Wall Rose, and Wall Sina, have guarded humanity for 100 years. However, one fateful day, the wall is broken and humanity’s fight for survival is escalated. A young boy, Eren Jaeger, witnesses his mother’s death to the titans and vows to kill every single one of them as revenge.

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The 104th graduating class; complete with height!

Attack on Titan has fantastic and diverse characters with moral crises and painful backstories that come with living in a world where humanity is going extinct. Eren Jaeger is our protagonist, a young man dedicating his life to eliminating Titans from the world. It is his sole purpose in life and he hopes to one day travel outside the walls that restrict him so. He is your typical anime hero: brave, fearless, oblivious to female advances, and fiercely loyal to his friends. Mikasa is an interesting character, a girl hopelessly devoted to Eren but she is one to rarely show emotion. She thinks rationally (except when it comes to Eren), is a cold-blooded killer and an absolute badass when it comes to fighting Titans. Armin is the scaredy-cat friend who has the best brain on his shoulders, but is terrible at fighting. These three form the Three Musketeers of Attack on Titan. Other cast members include Jean, probably the most mature of the graduating class and also the most grounded. He knows how futile the fight is but continues for the sake of his comrades. Sasha is the potato loving girl who is the star of pretty much the most hilarious scene in anime this year. Finally in the Recon Corps there’s Hange who is an adorable Titan-obsessed nerd and Levi the most serious, dark, and closed-off person in the show but containing badassery rivaling Mikasa.

Honestly, this show is addicting. I think it might have the best first episode I’ve ever seen. An entire way of life is destroyed in the first 15 minutes and it’s just amazing how it does so without any backstory, just a small history lesson. The pacing of the show is fast and powerful, something important happens pretty much every episode for the first half which just makes you want to watch more and more. However, this is also a point where Attack on Titan fails. Although the first couple of episodes are compelling and engrossing, the pacing abruptly grinds to a halt once Eren “dies” during the Battle of Trost arc. The anime goes from adrenaline pumping slaughter madness to “let’s just sit here and think.” It’s a little off-putting. The pacing then once again picks up after the Recon Corps depart on their first mission, but stumbles again in the forest, where Eren spends an entire episode debating whether he should turn into a Titan or not, which is just painful to watch for 20 minutes in something that could be shown in probably 5 maximum. Finally, when the show reaches the last arc, it is all compressed into just 3 episodes when it deserved at least 4. The whole plan and fight with Annie occurs without much debate that likely would have occurred over the possibility of other human-Titans existing. The final fight was also a little lackluster for a shonen anime, but because they left themselves with very little time they couldn’t do much about it. It also would have been nice if other supporting characters got to assist in Annie’s capture other than Mikasa and to an extent Hange.

attack marco

Wait…who are you again?

This pacing issue also plagues the cast. Attack on Titan has a fantastic cast of characters, the only problem being that it doesn’t give you enough time to get to know them. The plot advances so quickly it becomes tough to remember all the names, and this leads to lack of emotion for when some of these characters die. I had trouble remembering who the hell Marco was and why he was so important, and I still cannot name the entire ensemble of the Recon Corps who survived, or who died for that matter. Honestly the only death I really cared about was Petra’s, because she was a such a sweet, nice lady to Eren. I still hate that she was killed off, but I understand it. Also at some points the characterization suffers, especially when it comes to Eren who can’t decide to fight Annie in the last scene despite his intense hatred of Titans and the fact that she killed like all of his allies. It’s aggravating to watch, yet so satisfying to see Mikasa and Armin get pissed off at him. Another frustrating moment is his indecision in the forest whether to go Titan or trust his comrades. It’s odd to see Eren shift from an “action first” kind of guy (seen when the Colossal Titan appears in front of him, saving Mikasa, etc.) to this indecisive kid.

As for the music in Attack on Titan, everyone knows the opening by now. If you don’t, you’ve missed out. It’s no joke one of the best openings for a shounen show ever. It’s just…epic. The vocals, the lyrics, the visuals, the everything pretty much tells you: sit down motherfucker it’s time to watch some awesome anime. It’s a masterful opening and well deserving of its fame and various parodies. Sadly the full version isn’t as good, but you won’t hear it unless you do hunting for it. The first ED is calming and a great way to wind down after watching a thrilling episode, and I find it’s nice music accompany while you think about what will happen next. The female vocals are nice, I like how it picks up in the middle, and the piano lead in is great. The second OP is pretty awesome too, almost as good as the first with a shredding guitar thrown in and more German to sound more imposing. It continues the theme of making you feel that what you’re about to watch is epic. The second ED is meh, it sounds like a very typical shounen ending like from Bleach or Naruto. As for the OST, which has some odd names, “at’aek ON taitn” is a great track for building up suspense, and when it explodes in German singing it is just grandiose and beautiful. The church vocals and the white noise sprinkled in is fantastic and an interesting choice. The even stranger titled “凸】♀】♂】←巨人” is a great violin track and is used when the characters are thinking about their next course of action and also as the lead in/out between the commercial breaks. The track slowly builds up to become more and more hectic to showcase the characters’ impending doom.

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Ah, how I love this art style.

I’d lastly like to bring attention to the art style present in Attack on Titan. The show makes a unique choice of using big bold lines to outline characters that I think is really interesting and also refreshing from normal anime art. The use of bold lines also helps the characters stand out from the background, as well as accentuate their facial features. Which reminds me, Attack of Titan does not at all suffer from the issue of “sameface,” characters have different body proportions and face shapes which help make the world seem more realistic. The show also makes use of CG in order to create scenery, specifically in the case of buildings and towns. Although some criticized it as lazy, I think the CG mended well with the art direction and helped give the animation an interesting look.

Attack on Titan is the revitalization of shounen that anime needed. It showed to the anime community that shounen does not have mindless violence, it can carry a heavy plot with dark moments and tell its story in less than 100 plus episodes. Although there is still more manga material to be adapted, Attack on Titan showed that seasonal adaptions can be successful and will hopefully inspire future manga adaptions to focus on being seasonal instead of attempting to cover all the material as fast as they can as that leads to filler. This show has helped anime become a bit more exposed to the mainstream due to its immense popularity, and its fame is well-earned. With an engaging story, great art, and amazing OP I’m glad Attack on Titan is currently one of the poster boys for the anime industry. Although its not a perfect show, it’s great for beginners and fun to watch when you want some Titan-killing violence. Personally I can’t wait for the next season, and if you’re looking for a show to get into anime or just want an overall quality show to watch that is Western friendly, then Attack on Titan is for you.

Serial Experiments Lain (Triangle Staff, 1999)

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Oh boy, I don’t even know where to start with this one. For the uninitiated, Serial Experiments Lain is an anime written by Chiaki J. Konaka, famous for his work on the Digimon Tamers series, specifically famous for making it darker than any prior Digimon series. Lain is actually where Chiaki was first recognized for his dark, psychological storylines and it shows: Lain is confusing, weird, and just kinda messed up overall. Steins;Gate move over, Lain has outdone you in the brainfuck factor.

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Lain Iwakura. Sadly she does not wear this adorable bear costume throughout the entire series.

At its core, Serial Experiments Lain focuses on the title character, Lain, and her struggle to comprehend who, or what, she is. The world of Serial Experiments Lain is all about the Wired. In a sense, the Wired is the Internet on steroids. It connects everything and everyone, just like today’s Internet, but it also has the ability to affect the real world, like change what people see, hear, or even remember. Lain was never really into computers or the Wired, until one day she gets an email from a girl who committed suicide. The emails pique Lain’s interest and the girl tells her that she killed herself because she no longer needed her body, she now exists inside the Wired. At first Lain is a shy, introverted girl with no friends, but as she dives deeper and deeper into the world of the Wired she develops new personalities and eventually discovers the truth about the Wired and herself.

The central character of Serial Experiments Lain is obviously Lain, but of course there are other important characters. Lain’s family are the first you meet, and while you don’t really get to know much about them Lain’s father, Yaso Iwakura, who is obsessed with computers and pushes Lain to explore the Wired. Mika Iwakura is Lain’s older sister, however they aren’t really all that close, however Mika is pretty much the only “normal” person out of the entire bunch. Too bad for some reason she goes crazy halfway through the series due to hallucinations. More on that later. Lain also has school friends, although the only really important one is Alice Mizuki, who is Lain’s best friend and is always trying to make her more social. Finally there is Masami Eiri, who appears halfway through the series and is apparently some sort of God of the Wired because he came up with the IP 7 protocol but isn’t a God. Or something. Still figuring out that one myself.

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Lain’s malicious other half. Look at that smirk.

So maybe you can tell that I’m still pretty confused about the plot of Lain despite spending a week trying to sort out what exactly I watched. The series starts out with Lain living her normal life, but after she receives an email from her dead classmate saying she no longer needs her body and exists purely in the Wired. This mail leads Lain to begin exploring the Wired, upgrading her PC first with her father’s help and then by herself. Somewhere along the way Lain develops a second personality that only exists in the Wired, a personality that is cruel and twisted. Somehow apt to today’s age of anonymity on the Internet. Anyway,this second Lain has the ability to affect the real world through the Wired, and she does real freaky stuff like broadcasting Lain in the sky, which somehow relates to a drug experiment, or going to the club in the real world.  All this stuff leads Lain to go deeper into the Wired in order to find and confront her other self to stop the Wired from invading the real world. Along the way she meets others who are both for and against the Wired merging with the world such as the Knights, the Men in Black (sadly not from the movie), and Masami Eiri.

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Oh hello there.

That’s the general overview of the plot. A lot of weird stuff happens along the way though. I almost always found myself saying “what the fuck?” at least once every episode. I think the first boggling moment I had was in episode 2 when shadows start walking out of the walls with no explanation or prompt. They just walk past Lain and then it just cuts immediately to a new scene. Another really weird part is when Lain’s older sister Mika starts hallucinating and eventually ends up going crazy because she meets…herself. Not sure what that is about. But the moment of craziness that takes the cake for me is when an alien just randomly appears in the show. Lain is sitting in her room exploring the Wired and her door starts to open, and suddenly there is an alien standing there. It felt really unsettling. The entire episode in which it appears is dedicated to explaining several different scientific theories regarding electromagnetics and communication systems. All in all there’s a lot of “out there” stuff that happens in Lain which probably all have a meaning, but the series is too vague on its symbolism, or even if it is symbolism. It’s nice that Serial Experiments Lain encourages you to think, but it could at least leave a hint here or there so as not to leave you completely lost.

Time for the music. Lain’s OP is “Duvet” sung by the the band Bôa. Unfortunately not the K-pop star BoA. What I will say though is that the song is beautiful, the female vocals are soothing with a great guitar jam going on in the background. It’s just a nice song to listen to when you’re relaxing, and I especially love the acoustic guitar solo in the middle of the song, you don’t really hear much acoustic in anime openings. This song is actually quite well known throughout the anime community, and I even heard it come on as I was shopping around in Nakano Broadway. The ending is more industrial, with a rough male voice singing the song and an electric guitar, I really feel like it embodies the isolation Lain feels throughout the series due to its slow pace. The soundtrack for Serial Experiments Lain is fantastic at setting the scene, Lain’s theme has a super strong bass-line at the start, but then abruptly switches to a softer tone, perhaps to showcase her two different personalities. “Different Dimension of Fog” is a disorienting and unsettling song that is really great for setting the mood for pretty much the entire series. It’s a song that produces nervousness and unease inside you, and is perfectly utilized throughout the show.

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A mix of beautiful minimalism and interesting shadows.

Finally I’d like to give a shout-out to the art style of Serial Experiments Lain. In general the faces and people in Lain are very detailed, it’s a more realistic art style with great attention dedicated to conveying emotions through the face and definitely does not suffer from the common issue of “same face.” Lain also likes to put bright neon colors in a big mix, much like how one would imagine an acid trip looks like. Especially when it has to do with the Wired, you often see bright neon colors or even a 3-D red/blue effect applied on the scene, but perhaps with some green to get the feeling that you’re looking through something virtual, which is a really nice touch and adds to the immersion. Lain also likes to use watercolors, especially in the background art. However, at other times they decide to forgo background art and opt for complete minimalism instead. One of my favorite instances of this are the shadows in Lain, which are not simply black but also have a smattering of red in them, perhaps to remind us of the danger that lurks in the shadows.

Overall, Serial Experiments Lain is a fascinating animation into the concept of the human psyche and our need for communication. It explores the idea of how the Internet and the real world interact and affect one another. It’s amazing how an animation from 1999 could predict how heavily we would come to rely on the Internet every day and for virtually everything we do, from talking to friends to doing our jobs. Konaka shows us how the Internet and the real world are not two separate entities, they are one and the same and you cannot consider yourself living in only one or the other, or attempt to separate yourself between the two. Human beings are ultimately one entity and nothing will ever change that. Although there’s still a lot about Lain I don’t understand, I was able to walk away with that. I highly encourage everyone to give this series a watch, especially in our digital age as a reminder to how the Internet is so closely linked to our daily lives and the implications of such a close relationship. It’s also good if you want a really trippy show.

Steins;Gate (White Fox, 2011)

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Steins;Gate

I had no idea what I was getting into before watching Steins;Gate. A few of my friends had recommended it and I knew it was highly rated on MAL, but I had no idea why. They described the show’s premise as “teenagers use cellphones to time travel.” Well, Steins;Gate delivered on that idea, and on so much more that by the end of the show I needed a second brain to comprehend it all.

The basic plot of Steins;Gate is this: A self-dubbed “mad scientist” named Okabe Rintarou accidentally invents a time machine in his apartment, called the Future Gadget Lab. He has two lab members at his side, Lab Member 002 Mayuri Shiina and Lab Member 003 Daru. At first the lab members toy with the time machine, sending back bananas that turn to gel. Eventually they being to send emails to the past, “D-mails”, which they use to alter the past and change each lab member’s life for the better…or so it seems.  What beings as a very slice of life anime makes a sharp turn into a serious show regarding the consequences of altering time, acceptance of yourself and your regrets, and never giving up on your friends. And that’s what’s beautiful about this show: It slowly builds up a relationship with all the characters through comedy and everyday antics, only to shatter your emotions with one painful, unexpected scene where Okabe has to fix with important interactions with each character to really show their true character and feelings.

Left to right: Daru, Kurisu, Rukako, Faris, Suzuha, Moeka, Mayuri, Okabe

Left to right: Daru, Kurisu, Rukako, Faris, Suzuha, Moeka, Mayuri, Okabe

To begin, let’s look at the characters. Okabe Rintarou is an adult who never really grew up; he sees himself as mad scientist with an evil organization seeking to thwart all of his ambitions. Ironically he is not far off from the mark, but more importantly it is an act in order to make those around him happy, specifically Mayuri. He and Mayuri have been friends for many years, and he began his act in order to cheer Mayuri up when her grandmother died, and he has not quit since. However, he does have a contemplative side to him, he is willing to do whatever is necessary to help his friends and never gives up, always trudging forward. Daru is your stereotypical otaku; he loves to play eroge VNs (like Katawa Shoujo!) and provides great comedic commentary. He is also a “supah hacka” who helps the group with his impressive computer skills and produces the world’s first time machine…accidentally. Mayushi is just a bundle of adorableness and stays in your brain with her signature “tu tu ru~.” Lab Member 004, Makise Kurisu aka Christina is the perfect counterpart to Okabe. A genius at the age of 18, she provides the scientific background behind the entire show but also has quite the otaku side to her, which she is embarrassed to admit. None of these characters are really one dimensional, everyone has real life personalities, well, except for perhaps Mayuri, but even she has a serious side. This makes it so much easier to become involved in the show and truly empathize with their situations. and it also makes the plot all the more enticing.

The science behind a time leap

The “science” behind a time leap

The plot behind Steins;Gate is one of the most interesting ones I’ve come across in anime. Instead of a show simply involving time travel, it is a show about time travel. This means that the show actually analyzes the science behind time travel, whether it is actually possible to send a person back in time. There are actual constraints on what they can send through time and how they do so. D-mail (Delorean mail) can only send 36 bytes of information, word lines have a certain “divergence number” from one another, and John Titor, the “real life” time traveller, is the inspiration for the story. Parallel world lines and explored and performed perfectly; the science behind the show makes enough sense to not ruin your suspension of reality. Although the plot does start off a bit slow as a slice-of-life anime, by the midway point your are gripped to your chair and just have to continue watching as the show leaves you wanting more on cliffhanger by cliffhanger. Seriously, do not give up on this show just because you don’t like the first 3 or so episodes, there is a plot, I promise you. (And it only gets crazier and crazier!)

The OP for this show is awesome; it’s fast, bass pumping, and really gets you hyped to watch the next episode with its “Hacking to the gate!” line. As a plus the lyrics change as the show goes on in order to remain relevant and you begin to understand more and more of the lyrics as you continue to watch the show, which is a nice way to reward viewers. The ED is “eh,” it’s nothing particularly special but it isn’t bad, just your average ED. The soundtrack for this show is fantastic, likely due to the fact that Steins;Gate was originally a visual novel where music is a major factor for manipulating the player. Standout tracks include “Promise”, which wells you up with tears and feels, “Christina I” also accomplishes this. “Tender Affection” sounds as if it came right out of the visual novel with its piano focus and romantic overture. “One of Selection – Gate of Steiner” is beautiful and and the normal “Gate of steiner” is great for climatic moments in the show. My favorite track is “Tubes”; I really enjoy the use of static in the song combined with the deer scare sound. It just seems like such a rainy dong song. On the whole Steins;Gate’s OST is very successful in setting the mood for each scene and the songs also standalone very well.

Although Steins;Gate is one of the best shows I’ve watched so far in my short anime career, no show is perfect. The art in Steins;Gate is your standard fare and character designs are relatively uninspired. Also the whole “saving Mayuri” plot by jumping back in time repeatedly overstays its welcome for the slightest bit, I was worried I was going to watch an Endless Eight situation unfold. Thankfully that did not happen and the pot picked up again quickly. As I mention the plot, I also have a gripe with the last few episodes of Steins;Gate, where all of a sudden World War III will break out after Okabe prevented SERN’s dictatorship. On one side, the plot was getting even more ridiculous, which was hilarious, but it also felt like cheap out so that Okabe could save Kurisu. So instead of her death having any real meaning she just gets saved at the end. I think I would have preferred and ending where Okabe returns to the beta timeline with Mayuri safe but without his Kurisu. It would have been a painful ending, sure, but it would have been progressive in letting the viewer know that endings aren’t always happy. A final gripe I have, although perhaps this is only me, was that it was confusing to keep track of the dates as Okabe began to travel back in time to save Mayuri. Sure the date would flash on screen, but I had not really been processing them as they had merely appeared as numbers which made it harder to connect to the month and day in such a short time. Perhaps instead of #/## had it been July 8th or something I could more easily follow where exactly Okabe was in the timeline.

Watch me, alright?

Watch me, alright?

Steins;Gate is an anime which combines time travel, tsundere love, otaku humor, SERN, brand recognition, poor American accents, moe culture, and a whole lot of other tropes into one beautiful package. It is a show that attempts to be grounded in reality, sure the science is “out there” but in the context of the universe it works. Actual time travel theories and ideas are explored, and real life events and places are incorporated to make the show relevant to your actual life. Okabe Rintarou is a genius protagonist, he has such depth that it is easy to empathize with him throughout the series. He is the symbol of the series; he wears a comedic mask which hides a tortured individual. Much like Okabe, this show will make you laugh your face off while at the same time tearing your heart out. Steins;Gate is an example of an anime which successfully pieces all of its core components together in the right ratio to produce a show that is as close to a perfect anime that one might find. I highly suggest anyone reading this to watch it if you haven’t and witness how Hououin Kyouma dominates time and fate to create his own ideal world.

The Prince of Tennis (Shueisha)

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Woah, a manga review? That’s right, I decided I don’t do enough with this blog as is (I mean, I haven’t posted in quite a while, despite having a few reviews to do…) and first on my list is the manga: Prince of Tennis! Created by Takeshi Konomi and published in Shonen Jump from 1999 to 2008. With 42 volumes and its own anime adaptation, Prince of Tennis was once one of the big Shonen sports titles like Eyeshield 21 and Slam Dunk. Unfortunately, I cannot say that this manga matches up to those manga.

Prince of Tennis is about a young boy named Ryoma Echizen, a tennis genius who attends Seishun Academy. Seishun Academy is a private middle school proud of its tennis team, and Ryoma quickly makes it his job to shake up the establishment by challenging upperclassmen to matches and showing off his American tennis skills. Eventually he learns to get along with the Seishun team and together they strive for the National Middle School Tennis Championship, facing many tough and unique tennis styles along the way.

I’ve always kind of liked tennis. I find the sport fun to watch, even though I can’t even attempt to play it, and games like Tennis on the NES and Mario Tennis on the N64 are pasttimes to me. Still, I wondered, could a manga about tennis really be engaging? And yes, it can be! Konomi does a great job explaining the different rules and techniques used by the players and real life pros through the manga so I never felt lost or confused when it came to the actual game. He is also very inventive and clever when it comes to incorporating these skills into manga, such as Kaido’s “Snake” or Momoshiro’s “Slam Dunk.”  Every character has a move that makes them stand out from the crowd, as is the norm for Shonen sports manga, but it helps show each character’s strength and makes it easier to remember their names in the beginning of the manga.

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Now, I say “the beginning” because this manga has a major pacing problem. It progresses at a very natural pace up until Konomi gets to the major tournaments, where he introduces a whole slew of forgettable characters that have very, very short appearances but Konomi tries to keep them all relevant to the story and as somewhat important characters. He seems to have somewhat of a “hoarding” problem, he is unable to let go of the characters he has created so instead we are treated to reintroductions of these characters you barely remember in later chapters that for some reason hold importance. Almost every school has a team of aces with special moves, but at most you might remember 3 or 4 of them, and certainly not all of them. At then end he continues to introduce characters, and none of them really get fleshed out. And then, when Konishi realizes he has run out of characters to use, he has Ryoma get amnesia OUT OF FUCKING NOWHERE and it only gets explained like 20 chapters later, and it is just so out of place and an extreme example of sloppy planning and storyboarding.

It seems as if most of Konomi’s characters show up to play a round and do a special move, but then when they should be getting of the stage, they continue to put around in the background for god knows what reason. Then, 30 chapters down the line they step out of the limelight and I’m like “Oh, you’re here? Wait…who are you again?” I had this thought process a number of times towards then latter half of the series and it was both frustrating and embarrassing that I was unable to remember these characters that for some reason bore importance to the story all of a sudden. Konomi should have looked to Eiichiro Oda if he wanted his manga to be filled with a vast amount of characters who are (mostly) memorable.

Another major gripe I have with this manga is the ending. It is abrupt, non-satisfying, and at first I was thinking “Wait, is this really it? I read all these chapters for THIS!?” I could tell that I was going to be disappointed by the ending when the manga introduced “auras” in tennis matches, before that it was a semi-realistic manga that could somewhat be feasible with human constraints. However, at the end Konomi decides to throw that all away and introduce auras a la Dragonball Z. All of a sudden these characters have these alternate states they can enter at will and all the other characters can see the aura surrounding them, when none of this was mentioned earlier in the entire series. It just seems like a cop out for Konishi in that he couldn’t come up with a way to beat the “self-actualization” technique and instead opted to make Prince of Tennis a pseudo-battle manga at the end. Disappointing, to say the least.

Still, the Prince of Tennis, despite the major flaws with its ending, is a great read. A tennis manga is something new and interesting for sports manga, and Konishi does a great job with engaging the reader and he creates some great moments. He really knows how to make Ryoma appear cool and collected, and Konishi also has a great sense of humor which is seen in Inui’s “special drink” segments. If only he could have transferred some of that talent to his skills at writing an ending, I might not have been as disappointed with Prince of Tennis.

Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam (Sunrise, 1985)

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Mobile Suit Gundam, an iconic series famous for popularizing the mecha genre and demonstrating that anime could be used to tell a serious, compelling story. Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam is a direct sequel to the original series, and it continues to draw from its predecessor and push the envelope of mecha anime; many of Zeta Gundam’s influences can still be seen in mecha shows today.

Zeta Gundam is set 8 years after the end of the One Year War in Mobile Suit Gundam, and the political background has changed quite a bit from E.F.S.F versus Zeon. Instead, the Earth Federation has founded an autonomous unit called the Titans, whose responsibility is to hunt down Zeon remnants but have become cruel in their methods, ruthlessly oppressing those who call for equal rights in space. In response to their aggression a rebel group called the Anti-Earth Union Group (A.E.U.G.) is founded to defeat them. The show begins during an attack bythe AEUG to steal mobile suits from the Titans, specifically the Gundam MK-II, the successor to the original RX-78-2 Gundam from Mobile Suit Gundam. During this attack, a young teenager named Kamille Bidan gets caught up in the fray; Kamille is a colonist who abhors the Titans’s policies and his ideology combined with some other events lead him to join the AEUG as the pilot of the Gundam. Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam follows Kamille’s journey with the AEUG to defeat the Titans, and along the way he finds mentors, develops nemeses, and encounters love, loss, and betrayal. (Sidenote: Kamille is NOT a girl’s name!)

Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam accurately captures a depiction in war in that there are a LOT of characters to keep up with. The AEUG itself has at least 10 important characters, and add that to the major players on both the Titans, Karaba, and Axis side means you have a main and supporting cast reaching 40 people. All of these characters means it is difficult to juggle screentime. Kamille, being the protagonist, obviously gets the most screentime and develops the most. Notable characters such as Quattro Bajeena, Reccoa Londe, Emma Sheen, Four Murasame and others also have their own revelations, but for a lot of characters their lack of screentime stunts their growth. For example, Scirocco Paptimus is one of the main antagonists but I never really get to understand his true motives and his establishment as the “true enemy” of the AEUG comes suddenly and without impact. The viewer can tell that Scirocco is bad dude to watch out for, but when he finally tries to take the spotlight as the villain he falls a bit flat and seems very one dimensional. However all of these characters allowed me to get everyone’s perspective on the way and their motives, the different factions show how deep and complicated war is, no one is exempt from it. Zeta is ambitious for the amount of characters it tries to juggle, and for that it should be applauded. The characters allow the show to portray war as it is: gritty, dark, and unsatisfying, with no one free from its influence.

Zeta Gundams

Left to right: Gundam MK-II, Zeta Gundam, Psycho Gundam

Being a mecha anime, I would be remiss if I did not address the designs of the mobile suit. There are so many more mobile suits in this series compared to the first series, but first I’ll focus on the titular one: gundam. The Gundam Mark-II is very similar to the RX-78-2, but it introduces the golden “V-fin” that Gundam is so synonymous with. (RX-78-2 also had a V-fin, but it was white). The shield mounted on the arm is a more modern look compared to RX-78-2’s handheld shield, and overall the design is much more intricate and appears more realistic. The Zeta Gundam which is later introduced is a whole new take on a Gundam, and it is refreshing to see. Its face abandons the “mouth” and the “chin” for a sleeker, more cybernetic look where only the eyes shine out from behind its mask. The V-fin also gets and addition with a beetle horn-like add-on encompassing its sensor. The Zeta Gundam also has the ability to transform into a Mobile Armor (MA), and the transformation sequences are beautifully done and the machine fluidly becomes a Waverider. Many mobile suits in Zeta Gundam also have an MA mode, perhaps done to showcase how far technology has come since the One Year War. Zeta Gundam is also the first series to have multiple Gundams in one show, in addition to the MK-II and the Zeta there is the Psyco Gundam and its successor the Psyco Gundam MK-II, both controlled via Psycommu System and spouting a ridiculous number of beam guns.

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Left to Right: Hyaku Shiki, Byarlant, Qubuley

However, Gundams are not the only beautiful machines in Zeta. The Hyaku Shiki piloted by Quattro Bajeena has an elegant gold color scheme and features the character “one hundred” on its shoulders. The Byarlant piloted by Jerid in some of the later episodes is sleek and fast, reflected in its design. The concealed particle guns in its forearms only enhance that image as it does not carry around a beam rifle which would ruin its swift image. I believe it may have been a source of inspiration for the Devilfish in Eureka Seven. The O is also a unique mobile suit due to its bulk; the dull yellow armored suit looks like a fortress but has surprising melee capabilities. Finally, the Qubeley, perhaps not one of the most elegant suits, but it is the first to introduce funnels. The Elmeth, a mobile armor in the One Year War had used bits, but funnels are more powerful, graceful, and just plain cool. The idea of controlling mini beam funnels with my mind has always amazed me and any mobile suit with funnels is a mobile suit I like.

zeta mooks

Left to Right: Marasai, Hambrabi, Gaza-C

The grunts of Zeta Gundam also have beautiful designs. Although nothing in my mind will ever reach the iconic status of the Zaku II in my mind, The Marasai is a cool crimson and brings to mind Char’s suits from Mobile Suit Gundam, with a cool should shield and the standard spiky shoulder on the other end. The head is a streamlined helmet, and it also features the pipes that line the Zaku’s body. The Hambrabi is also an interesting suit, with its cool blue coloring and its weapon like an electric spider web, reminiscent of the Gouf’s heat rod. Its MA mode is also slick and its arms fold like a mantis, waiting to strike. The Axis’s Gaza-C reminds me of Gundam Wing’s Leo or Taurus with the immovable eye.

Alright enough about mobile suits, let’s move on to some gripes I have with Zeta Gundam. One thing that really threw me off was the pacing of the show. As I mentioned before, Zeta Gundam has a lot of characters that it has to keep up with and divide screentime appropriately, but despite this the start of the show is SO SLOW. I found myself bored with the first 5 episodes, laughing at the ridiculous amounts of slaps meant to be taken seriously, and wondering where the hell this show was going . The show finally hits its stride around episode 15, and really picks up halfway through the series around episode 30, where every episode advances the plot comfortably and each character is developing at a good rate. However, near the end of the series, the pacing is exponentially increased. Once I got to episode 45, I found myself wondering: How the hell are they going to wrap this all up in 5 episodes? The answer? Kill ’em all Tomino. Within the last 3 episodes Tomino, the director,  proceeds to kill off almost half of all the characters you really care about, and their deaths are rushed and happen within minutes, not allowing you to really absorb the impact of their deaths or process their absence.The finale is disappointing, to say the least. Jerid, the one who we see as Kamille’s rival, is killed by Kamille almost as an afterthought; Jerid does not get the cathartic and epic battle that both he and the viewer were expecting.  The final battle between Kamille and Scirocco takes all of 10 minutes, with not much actual combat but instead with a  scene of Kamille seeing dead people which abruptly leads to Scirocco’s death. However, because Scirocco didn’t get all that developed as a character, I didn’t feel as that satisfied about his death and I certainly wasn’t satisfied by their “battle.” However, I will give Tomino points in that the ending is darker and more realistic than Mobile Suit Gundam; Kamille exits the final battle mentally damaged, unable to recognize his surroundings or Fa’s voice. I have no idea how Scirroco managed to do that simply by yelling, but whatever.  The last scene of Zeta Gundam leaves a lot of plot points unresolved, such as what will happen to Axis and the AEUG, who will rule over the Earth Sphere, has peace been accomplished, and does Kamille recover? It is presumed that the viewer will go on to watch Gundam ZZ to get these answers, but if you choose not to you feel a bit cheated as you expect more resolution after a 50 episode investment.

It might seem like I hate Zeta Gundam from that paragraph, but I really do love it, which makes all the flaws more apparent to me. Kamille is a stronger protagonist than Amuro, with more resolve and better character development. He goes from a bratty kid who refuses to pilot the Gundam to becoming a strong soldier always looking out for his teammates and great combat skills. It is great to see Char Aznable as an adult in the aftermath of his efforts of the One Year War and how he has matured into becoming a leader and his ideals about the Earth and peace have developed. Captain Bright is back and he is as badass as ever, exuding confidence on his bridge and commanding with authority. Four Murasame is much better “Lalah” character, Kamille and Astonaige provide great comedy relief, the kids on the ship are less annoying, Haro is back, and characters from the original series return is a treat. The soundtrack is fantastic, with two great OPs and a solid EDs, and ambient tracks that accurately convey the mood of scenes. The Newtype concept is further refined and explored, with tons of Cyber-Newtypes and Kamille not understanding the need for war and the lack of understanding between humans. Haman Karn and Minerva Zabi are introduced, both of which will play huge roles in Gundam ZZ and Gundam Unicorn. The list of great things in Mobile Suit Gundam Zeta goes on and on, and it may the best UC Gundam show yet. (I’ll have to get back to you on that one once I watch Gundam ZZ.) If you’ve never watched a Mobile Suit Gundam series show before, I highly recommend both Zeta and the original series because they are so important to the history of anime and they are great shows that stand the test of time. For those who are unfamiliar with Gundam, I leave you with this chart, and I hope you give it a chance!

Gundam Timelines

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: The Game (Xbox 360, PS3)

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So, disclaimer, I am a complete Scott Pilgrim vs. the World fan. I’ve seen the movie, own all the books, and am currently recollecting the books printed in color. And now I can add beating Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: The Game to my Bryan Lee O’Malley fan status. The past week I sat down with a couple friends for a few nights and conquered all of Ramona’s evil ex’s.

If you’re not familiar with the story of Scott Pilgrim it goes like this: Scott Pilgrim is a 23 year old living in Toronto. He is unemployed and plays in a band called “Sex Bob-omb” with his friends Steven Stills and Kim Pine. Scott lives with a gay roommate, Wallace, and Scott is totally his bitch forever. One day Scott runs into this girl Ramona Flowers, they hit off, Scott has to defeat her seven evil ex’s if they are to date. Read the books or watch the movie, they’re both worth it.

Anyway, with that established, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: The Game is one of those classic beat-em-up fighters a la the Simpsons game or the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles game you used to find in arcades. You can choose to play as either Stephen, Kim, Scott, or Ramona in your fight against the evil ex’s and their underlings. There is a leveling system, so while at first you only start out with a punch and a kick, you quickly start obtain combos and cool tricks like eagle dives and throws. The gameplay is pretty smooth, a bunch of guys pop on your screen and you have to defeat them all to progress through the level; there are a myriad of different enemies so combat never really gets boring, nor does it get too easy, with the game consistently proving a challenge. (at least, for me. But I also found out that I kind of suck at beat-em-ups while playing this game…so take that as you will.)

The seven evil-ex's.

The seven evil-ex’s.

Seeing as this is a beat-em-up, there are of course boss fights. In this case the bosses are the seven evil ex’s. Each boss fight has it’s own charm or twist to it, such as Matthew Patel having aid from his hipster chicks or the Katayanagi twins giant robot. The boss fights can be pretty tough, some of them might require multiple attempts or grinding, because once you lose to the boss, you have to redo the entire level again! The tactics and strategies to face each boss are different, which helps keep things fresh, and the final boss is quite an arduous process, one that makes you feel like you really accomplished something after your beat him. As a bonus, after you beat Gideon, you get to experience a different ending depending on which character the first player is. This means there are four different endings to the game, and even more if you have the DLC!

There are a lot of references to the comic and older video games in the game, which only serves as more reasons to love this game. Throughout the levels you will run into Lisa, Wallace, Julie, Young Neil  and many others, which is a delight for those who are fans of the comics books. For video game fans, there are references to Mario, Sonic, Zelda, Kirby, Megaman, Street Fighter, and a plethora of other old school games that only serve to show how Scott Pilgrim is a love letter to the video games culture of old.

scott pilgrim multiplayer

The multiplayer aspect of the game is done very well, in fact I could not imagine playing this game by myself. Scott Pilgrim is a game created to be played with others, with four controllers, in front of one TV screen. I constantly found myself thanking friends for reviving me or  tormenting them by throwing them around as a weapon. That’s right, you can throw your friends around and even pick them up to use to bash opponents, much to your friends’ ire. Playing Scott Pilgrim can be a test of friendship, and only the closest of friends will manage to play through the entire game without once getting mad at one another.

Music is also an important aspect of Scott Pilgrim, it being about a band and all, and the game does not fail to represent that aspect of the story. The music is done by Anamanaguchi, an 8-bit chiptune band who excels at what they do, seriously, check out their album called Dawn Metropolis. The music is high energy, the 8-bit music fits the 16-bit style of the game, and it makes the combat feel all the more epic and enthralling. This game would not be complete without its soundtrack, its an integral part of the Scott Pilgrim audience and I encourage you not to tune it out.

I can only find one real thing lacking about this game, and that is the level cap. The level cap for this game is pretty low, 16. At first I found it odd that there be a leveling system in a beat-em-up, but I guess it makes sense with the whole “retro” feel Scott Pilgrim is aiming for. However, once reaching the max level the game kind of loses its fun as enemies go down very easily and there seems to be no real challenge left in the game. If the enemies leveled up dynamically alongside you I feel like it would have added some replayability aspect to it, but as it stands, once you experience all the endings, which I imagine only hardcore fans will do, you won’t really find yourself coming back to this game.

Overall, Scott Pilgrim vs the World: The Game is a pretty great beat-em-up and probably one of the best available on Xbox 360 and PS3. It is great for a pick-up and play game, it has local multiplayer support which makes it great to play at parties or just during an afternoon with some friends, and it is filled to the brim with references both to and outside the Scott Pilgrim universe. And Scott Pilgrim fan will love this game, and even if you’re not one, you might as well give it a playthrough as the game accurately conveys the comic books’ charm and quirkiness. For an arcade game, this is a worthy purchase, and certainly worth your 10 dollars or 1600 Microsoft points.

Note: This game was reviewed without the Knives Chau DLC or the Wallace Wells DLC (which includes online multiplayer)

K-ON! (KyoAni, 2009)

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kon!_logo

K-ON! is known as a very polarizing anime; there are people who claim it the pinnacle of slice-of life stories, while others detest it for its contribution to the popularity of  “moe” series. For the uninitiated, “moe” is a term used to describe an art style that focuses on being cute and cuddly; recent animations have turned towards this trend since the mid 2000’s. Personally, I am inclined towards the former group. I found K-ON! to be an enjoyable, laugh-out-loud anime with adorable characters and entertaining scenarios.

K-ON! revolves around the story of four girls: Yui Hirasawa, Mio Akiyama, Tsumugi Kotobuki (Mugi), and Ritsu Tainaka. The four of them joined Sakuragaoka Girl’s High School’s light music club (Keion-bu) in order to prevent it from being disbanded. Mio plays bass, Mugi plays keyboard, Ritsu plays drums,  and Yui…well Yui doesn’t play much of anything at the beginning of the series. She interprets “light music” to mean instruments like castanets, not instruments used in a rock band. However, it is eventually decided that Yui will play the guitar, and the series takes us for a ride as the four of them slowly improve as a band, not without with the occasional beach trip or extracurricular of course.

Ritsu, Mio, Yui, and Mugi jamming out while on cleaning duty.

Ritsu, Mio, Yui, and Mugi jamming out while on cleaning duty.

The characters that make up the Light Music Club are perhaps the cutest and most adorable characters that you will come across in anime. Yui is an air-headed, forgetful girl who always tries her best but gets sidetracked easily. She also never gains weight no matter how much she eats, to the ire of Mio and Mugi.  Ritsu is the president of the Keion-bu and is determined the best it can be, but she easily overlooks official papers and is often rebuked by Mio about it. Mio is Ritsu’s childhood friend, she is mature for her age, but is very shy and is easily scared. Mugi is the refined girl with a vast, unexplained fortune. She is kind and generous  but also seems to have some sort of yuri streak about her. These four characters may be tried and true anime personalities, but they are exceptionally executed to be a leading example of how a “moe” anime should be done, and each episode never fails to deliver hilarious moments between the cast, whether it be Ritsu teasing Mio with a ghost story, or Yui’s blissful ignorance about her guitar and music in general. The supporting cast also provides their own share of laughs. Sawako, the Keion-bu’s adviser has her own dark past and loves to provide cosplay costumes for the Keion-bu to wear on stage, which serves to embarrass Mio. Nodoka, Yui’s childhood friend, sheds light onto Yui’s young life and we see how she has not changed at all from her 5 year-old self.

Despite being a show about a light music club, K-ON! is not about the music. It is about the girls and their high school experience. However, the music in K-ON! is really quite good. Throughout the show the band plays several shows, and each show has  new insert song. The first one is “Fuwa Fuwa Time.” It is really catchy, has a good music video to accompany it, and the lyrics are all cutesy. Yui and Mio’s vocals pair up greatly, and the chorus reminds me a lot of Hirano Aya’s pieces from The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya. “My Love is a Stapler” has a great guitar intro, Yui’s voice features strongly, and it has this air of nostalgia about it, like it reflects upon the whole show. The guitar is featured in the song, and it really does feel like a “light rock” song. The final notes leave you softly, exiting the song much calmer than you were introduced to it.  The last insert song “Fude-pen ~Ballpen~” is personally my favorite insert throughout the show. The guitar lead-in is great, the vocals just get caught in your head, and it’s just so trivial it’s charming. The song is about cheering on a calligraphy pen to write out her words of love. It feels like something Yui would do, cheering on her favorite pen to not run out of ink before she finishes her thoughts or a test. “Curry Before Rice” is a song on insert song CDs, but is never actually played in the show. The song talks about a girl wanting to share curry with her loved one and trying to be mature by having medium spice curry, but she can’t handle more than two spoonfuls.

Moving on to the OP and ED, both of them are fantastic. I could never skip the OP or ED when watching the show as they were just some of the best I’ve heard. The opening, “Cagayake! GIRLS”,  perfectly encapsulates the aura of the show: it is energetic, poppy, and talks about common high school girl thoughts. Each character also gets their own shout-out in the full version to play their instrument which helps to establish how unified they are as a band. The ED, “Don’t say ‘lazy'”, is fantastic. Probably one of my favorite EDs ever. It has really no relation to the show, but Mio’s vocals are fantastic and the music video is great. It paints the K-ON! cast in a very surreal environment, reminding me of Puella Magi Madoka Magica’s witch scenes, and the costumes they wear are something you’d never see in the show. There is also this captivating keyboard bit that is constantly repeated in the background which I really just want to isolate and listen to on repeat.

No show is without its faults though. The soundtrack, while fitting, doesn’t really have memorable tracks that bring you back to a certain moment in the show. Instead it kinds of just putters around in the back of your mind while you watch K-ON!. The art is pretty generic; the faces are the typical big, round eyes, not to say that it isn’t cute. The animation quality sometimes drops throughout the show, but the band scenes are done very well to the point where you can read the lyrics on the girl’s mouths. However, these scenes are few and far, and occasionally Kyoto Animation cheats by using stills instead of animation, probably to save budget. There is an unbalance of which girls get the most screentime, throughout the series we never really see a Mio or Mugi centered episode. The show uses cliche anime themes, and sometimes repeats them which can frustrate viewers because it’s only a 12 episode series yet can seem repetitive at times.

Peace!

Peace!

K-ON! is not trying to break new ground in the anime industry or advance the medium. Instead, it is just a show about fun. The characters are fun, the music is fun, and the whole series is light-hearted. Smiles never disappear for very long in the show, and the funny moments never stop. Watching K-ON! is like having cotton candy, it’s a tasty treat but if you’re looking for an anime with a little more substance you will be left disappointed. K-ON! does not try to be more than a cute, fluffy, moe anime, and it excels at doing so. If you hate moe, you’re gonna hate K-ON!, but if you’re just looking for something to pass the time, provide a few laughs, and generally let you empty your mind, then K-ON! is the perfect show. K-ON! is what all moe anime should strive to be: simple, funny, engaging, and shallow. After you finish the series, you wish you could spend more time in their bubbly schoolgirl world. Thankfully  for those who want more, there is K-ON!!, the second season. I am off to enjoy their world for 26 more episodes, and I can earnestly say I that will be having fun as I watch because, as Yui says, “fun things are fun!”