Toon Talk: Monthly Retrospective- August 2016

Well September just started…so what better time than now to talk about all the stuff that happened in August? As far as animation news goes, it was a relatively quiet month, but the discussion on the other hand has certainly been pretty lively…though not necessarily for all the best reasons. Let’s dive into it.


Summer of Steven Heats Up Some Controversy

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August brought us the remaining Steven Universe episodes of the Summer of Steven (plus one) and with them both joy and headache. With the back half of this event seeing the show delving back into Gem lore, it’s produced an interesting array of topics to discuss, but the one that caught the most attention for better or worse was the episode “Bismuth” and it’s titular character. Particularly in having brought up the issue of whether or not it’s okay to kill one’s oppressors through the eyes of Bismuth who wants to crush the Homeworld Gems at any cost and Steven who believes in trying to reach an understanding with them without resorting to murder (or shattering in this case). This being a kid’s show, we’re obviously meant to sympathize more with the latter view point and it’s caught the ire of fans who feel it’s too heavy handed (The fact that Bismuth resembles and has the voice of a black woman only added to this outcry) and that the show should have handled it with more grace. .

While I can certainly understand where people might see some unfortunate implications here (as a black person myself I wouldn’t read too much into that race bit, but I obviously can’t speak for others) for the most part it just feels really overblown. Steven Universe has always embraced empathy and understanding as it’s core values, and Steven’s world view is pretty much consistent with that of the show itself, so taking issue with it this late in the game feels odd. I recall seeing similar complaints over the final moral conflict in Avatar: The Last Airbender back in the day, and I’d be lying if I said that was executed perfectly, but it was handled decently, and this was done much more tactfully in comparison. Even though it’s clear we’re supposed to lean more towards Steven’s point of view, the show itself points it out as just that, his point of view, and not only is Bismuth’s perspective made fairly sympathetic, but the conclusion points out that there can be negatives to Steven’s pacifistic views, and that he’ll have to live with those consequences if he wants to maintain that viewpoint. If anything it serves as further proof that Rebecca Sugar and co really know how to throw these kind of ideas at children without talking down to them, but I suppose there’s always going to be the question of if they aren’t pushing things far enough. Well at least the latest episode gave us the show’s best musical number yet, that also doubles as a collaboration with Japanese animator Takafumi Hori and it’s really neat, so hopefully we can all at least agree to be happy about that one…right?

 

Ash Loses the Pokemon League…Again

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It’s that time of the year again (well couple of years I guess but whatever) where all of Ash Ketchum’s hopes and dreams must be crushed in order to keep the Pokemon anime train going. As someone who’s used Pokemon as Saturday morning background noise for over a decade, I’ve seen my share of ridiculous losses (the Darkrai deus-ex machina in the Sinnoh League being the worst offender) but this one particularly stings. The XY season has seen Ash make some real strides as a trainer, learn some good lessons and build up a roster that actually looks pretty darn competitive. Adding to that was the show introducing rival trainer Alan, who had decent dynamic going with him, and had already beaten him a couple of times before the League tournament had even began. Combined with the fact that this season may very well be the last one with traditional leagues, it seemed like things were really in favor of Ash’s victory this time, and even skeptics like myself felt the slight twinge of hope that it might actually be possible this time…then reality struck.

Needless to say that even though I wasn’t surprised at the outcome, I was kind of disappointed, and I wasn’t the only one apparently as that sentiment seems to have echoed across the internet, and even the Japanese fandom seems to be pretty upset about it. Of course this is all more or less status quo at this point, and long past the point of being a joke in and of itself, but that’s basically the problem. To the anime’s credit, there is a tremendous amount of value in teaching kids the lesson that failure is a part of life, and that you can’t let setbacks stop you from achieving your dreams and it genuinely worked…the first couple of times. You can only repeat the same lesson so many times before it starts getting ridiculous, and while it’s easy to make the argument that each Pokemon season is meant for a different generation of kids, and therefore shouldn’t be judged in a general sense of continuity, that frankly just makes things even worse.

Why should it be the exact same lesson every season? Shouldn’t the writers find other big themes to explore at this point? While it’s unfair to say the Pokemon anime’s been running completely on auto-pilot (well BW came closest and the ratings suffered for it) it’s definitely been afraid of changing the status quo and their over-reliance on it has only become more blatant over the years. It’s depressing because there are any number of ways to shake things up a bit and many of which don’t have to necessarily involve removing the anime’s most iconic characters (which seems to be the driving fear behind these stunts). Of course status quo has long been the way of the franchise in general, and the upcoming Sun & Moon games look to it’s first real attempt to break free from it. With some luck that sentiment might end up carrying over to the anime too (and the fact that we have yet to hear any information on the Sun & Moon season of the anime makes it somewhat plausible) but at this point I’m not sure I have enough faith in the anime producers to think they’ll make the effort.

 

Bleach’s Ending Has It’s Fans Seeing Red

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Speaking of controversies, there was another one that occurred the same morning as Ash’s latest downfall (well officially the Monday after but unfortunately the speed of manga scanlators is not to be underestimated). After years of the manga’s final arc stretching onward from fight to fight, with the ending feeling a lot further out of reach than it should have, the story finally concluded…very, very abruptly. The outcry over Bleach’s supposed cancellation has been going on since the beginning of July where it was made clear exactly how much time was left and that it wasn’t nearly enough to resolve everything, leading to all kinds of conspiracy theories on how Bleach’s author Tite Kubo somehow got screwed over by his editors. Personally I’d say it’s more likely that his editors got tired of his stalling and/or gave him a specific deadline that he had to rush out the remainder of the manga in order to reach, but we can only really speculate either way. I was however, able to come across the most plausible explanation behind it and the downfall of the series in general through a rather detailed video analysis (which I’d link but it seems to have been the latest victim of Youtube’s nonsensical policy enforcement changes) and while we’ll never know the exact answer, it’s at least clear that Kubo was running on borrowed time .

As for the ending itself, it was about as good as could really be expected after all this. I’ve long since lost interest in Bleach’s actual plot, and things got so rushed towards the end that the final chapter had to quickly shoehorn in Ywatch’s motivation while simultaneously pretending the series had an actual ongoing theme (and felt incredibly tacked on in both accounts) but it was nice to see what Ichigo and his core group of friends were doing as adults. That in itself seems to have caused the biggest controversy of all though as the fandom at large seems to have been incredibly displeased with the manga’s final romantic pairings of Ichigo ending up with Orihime and Rukia with Renji. While I recall seeing a similar outcry during the end of Naruto when the titular character ended up with Hinata and not Sakura, the blowout here seems to have been much worse and so much so that there’s been numerous videos and pictures of angry fans destroying their Bleach collections in frustration. While I don’t want to make this entirely about pairings (though having spent much of this year powering through the Bleach anime I can say that Ichigo and Rukia’s relationship felt incredibly platonic, and even Kubo himself apparently said so during a commentary in the Hellverse movie, so this all seemed like the most probable outcome) I do think it’s more than a little silly to see people destroying merchandise they paid for just because they were mad about who ended up with who, and they could have at least sold them and got their money back or something. Thank goodness Eiichiro Oda’s made it so One Piece won’t ever have these kinds of problems.

 

Voice Acting Blaz-blues 

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Well this last bit isn’t totally animation related, but I consider voice acting to be a pretty vital part in what makes this stuff work so it’s worth pointing out. Voice acting saw it’s own share of controversies in August  as a couple of big things came to light. The first was video game publisher Aksys Games deciding not to include an English audio track for Blazblue: CentralFiction the latest game in the franchise, despite having dubbed all the previous entries. From what’s been publicly stated this seems to have been an issue of speed more so than any financial woes (which is usually the simplest explanation when stuff like this happens) and they feel like not dubbing it will get the game out to the audience faster. While there’s certainly a lot of truth to the idea, it feels incredibly short sighted, since they are in effect taking something away from their audience and that typically never ends well.

Though some will make the argument that people will still buy the game regardless and that it’d be “worse” for them to delay it for such a reason, what’s often missed a lot of the time is that in a similar vein to how anime releases with dual-audio work, people are generally pretty willing to wait if it means getting a more ideal product. Though it’s certainly true that interest fades over time and it’s best to get stuff out while the iron is hot, they’re a lot more likely to lose sales by including one audio track then they are to gain or maintain them, as history as show that stuff typically sells better when people are given more options. It sucks that things had to come to this when it could have been avoided, and it’s all the more frustrating for the VA’s who were involved with the games and had gotten attached to their characters over the years. Of course there’s always the slight chance they could change their minds or include an English audio option later on, but if the game sells regardless, then what reason would they have to go back and spend more money on a option they don’t “need” in order to make money? It’s a lose-lose situation either way, and while those who prioritize getting stuff quickly might be pleased with this outcome, the rest of the fandom seems to have been left in disappointment.

This isn’t the only VA related issue to have happened during the month though, as when voice actress Krystal LaPorte was asked why she didn’t reprise her role in the second season of Chika the Coffin Princess, she revealed through a long statement that she’d been somehow exiled from Sentai Filmworks for reasons unknown. It’s bizarre to think something like this would happen for no reason, but it seems to have really been the case, and it’s very alarming. While it’s pretty much impossible to speculate about why this happened, it’s ridiculous that it occurred at all , and it’s beyond depressing to see a voice actor being treated like this, or frankly anyone for that matter. I sincerely hope there aren’t similar horror stories for other VA’s regularly employed with Sentai, but even if it isn’t this just seems both incredibly heartless and downright unprofessional, and really hope more people call them out on it. With all that said, I suspect that we’ll probably never learn what Sentai’s exact reasons were for all this, but for now it’s definitely knocked down my respect for them a few pegs.


And there’s my thoughts on August in a nutshell. Yeesh, that was a lot more negative than I thought it would be. Here’s hoping September turns out to be a lot brighter.

The Sounds of Dubbing- Garo: The Animation

And looks like it’s time for yet another new segment. This one’s…about dubs.  It probably seems a bit redundant As anyone who follows my Twitter feed probably knows by this point that I sometimes contribute to a dub-related podcast called Dub Talk with some of my online pals, but it’s something I’ve been considering for a while now, and every now and then I’d like to talk about this stuff while it’s still fresh in my head. Of course I still plan on contributing to Dub Talk provided my shenanigans here don’t somehow get me exiled so I’m not sure how frequent a thing this’ll be but I guess we’ll have to see how that goes. This first posting will be a bit long, but if I end up doing more of these I’m planning on keeping them relatively short. Anyway, let’s get started

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Dub Rating Scale

Bad– Really horrible voice direction and cringeworthy performances or scripting. Perhaps a couple of decent performances in the mix but  an overall bad product to the point where even if you aren’t particularly concerned about acting it’s immediately apparent how awkward it is (ex. Revolutionary Girl Utena, Penguindrum, 4KIds One Piece, Guin Saga)

Serviceable– A dub with a mix of performances ranging from good to mediocre. The good mostly outweighs the bad and the scripting and voice direction are workable. Not particularly good by any means but okay sounding enough that if you ignore the existence of the Japanese version and just want to listen to the show in English, it’ll do the job though it may not have much in the way of rewatchability (ex. Majestic Prince, Prince of Tennis, Gatchaman Crowds)

Good– A solid and competently put together dub. The majority of the performances work with only at best a couple of dull sounding ones and a possibly a few that are outstanding. Scripting and voice direction hit the right marks and even if the Japanese version is more technically competent in a few areas it’s a good enough production that you can stick with it and not miss out on much. Worth revisiting every now and then (ex. Gargantia on the Verderous Planet, Psycho-Pass, From the New World)

Exceptional– An extremely well made dub. A lot of really outstanding performances, great voice direction and a well crafted script. Can be perfectly comparable to the Japanese version in terms of technical competence and in some rare instances can stand out as the superior product. Definitely worth revisiting and recommending to others (ex. Cowboy Bebop, Fullmetal Alchemist, Death Note)


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Synopsis: Since ancient times, monsters called Horrors have plagued the land corrupting and devouring humans. Only the Makai Knights and Alchemists of the Makai Order have been able to keep them at bay, but over time the people of the order were branded as witches and hunted down by the rest of humankind. 17 years after the witch hunts ended, a young man named Leon stands as one of the last remaining Makai Knights and the inheritor of the legendary Makai Armor, GARO, but despite his duty to stand as humanity’s protector, his desire to avenge his mother’s death during the hunts burns even stronger.

Intro: So coming into 2016, GARO was one of the dubs I was looking forward to the most. The show itself ended up being a welcome surprise for me during it’s initial run as it managed to hit all my personal aesthetics for a good action show and in a lot of ways felt very reminiscent of the 2003 version of the Fullmetal Alchemist anime in terms of character writing and tone. With that much going for it, it pretty much goes without saying that I had some really high expectations for the dub, but now it’s time to see just how well it met them. I’ll be talking about the dub in three categories: firstly the voice direction, then the dub script, and lastly the casting and performances.

 

Voice Direction

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With the amount of dubbing projects Funimation juggles at any one time, it’s hard to say who’ll end up directing what, so I was hoping this one would end up in the hands of one of their stronger ADR Directors. Thankfully that expectation was met when it was revealed to be in the hands of Caitlin Glass (Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, Ouran High School Host Club, Noragami Aragoto) who has established a pretty solid track record. Going off of the dub commentaries on the release, and some of her own postings on Twitter, it seemed like she was pretty passionate about this series, and it certainly shows as the direction here is really solid. Everything manages to hit right tone, and none of the performances feel like they’re being restrained as it’s clear she went the extra mile to make the delivery work. I will say though that the dub’s frequent use of Spanish, while a nice way to make use of the show’s setting, feels a bit awkward in a few instances considering that none of the actors (save Monica Rial) use accents. I’d have personally preferred those bits having either been left out entirely or  being paired with accents all across the board if the dub was really committed to making the most of its setting, but this is more of a nitpick than anything, and the direction here is otherwise strong.

 

Scripting

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Speaking of a commitment to the setting, in an effort to stay faithful to the show’s medieval setting, the dub staff opted to go for an “ye olde Shakespeare English” style of dialogue, and to that end got two particular scriptwriters (and a third who also contributed, but not to as large an extent) who are known for doing that sort of thing. The first is Patrick Seitz (Maria: The Virgin Witch, Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure) who was credited as the show’s lead script writer and wrote much of dub’s first half. His work on Maria: The Virgin Witch was pretty impressive as it added a lot of subtlety and clever wording to a series whose primary conflict is partially based around sexuality and that carries over pretty well here. His style of prose adds to a lot the show’s humor (with one line from the first episode being particularly memorable) while also knowing where to keep things grounded and keeping things faithful to the source material while staying consistent with the medieval style dialogue.

The other script writer however is none other than J. Micheal Tatum (Free: Eternal Summer, Future Diary) whose track record is…frankly pretty bad. Anyone whose seeing my ravings on Twitter probably knows it by this point, but while I’m fan of his work as an actor, I’m most definitely not a fan of his scriptwriting, and most of his work in the latter department has left me feeling frustrated more often than not as he has one or two styles of dialogue that he sticks to for every show he does, and a penchant for being loose with his script translations even when he doesn’t need to. He penned the entire second half of GARO’s dub, and the difference is pretty noticeable. Much of the subtlety in the dialogue is lost, occasionally coming off as snarkier, which for a series that was more or less thriving on how well it executed normally standard fantasy action tropes, definitely hurts. Fortunately this is one of his better scripts as there aren’t any big instances of this going so far as to make the dub feel like an entirely different show from the Japanese version, but there are a couple of key moments where his script changes alter the context of what’s happening a bit. For instance in German’s final scene:

JP Version: Be careful, my son is up there. Leon Luis. The one who inherited the blood destined to seal away Horrors, the Golden Knight, Garo. And I am also one who seals away you bastard Horrors, German Luis. Also known as Makai Knight Zorro.

English Version: I’d be careful if I were you, just so happens my son is up there. Leon Luis. You may have heard of him. It is in his blood to protect this world from those such as you, legend calls him the Golden Knight, Garo. I know his strength. God do I know it. For he is my son and no father has ever been prouder. You may call me German Luis, Makai Knight. Also known by the name, Zorro.

The dub version only throws in one extra line, but it’s enough to alter the subtext of the speech as in the Japanese version, it’s meant to symbolize German acknowledging Leon as a true Makai Knight, where as the dub has him come off more as a proud parent, which isn’t entirely inaccurate but slightly misses the point while also just coming off as a cheesier line in general and one that isn’t terribly consistent with German’s hands-off behavior as a father.  All that said, the script’s just faithful enough that I can give it a general pass, and there’s a few good lines in the second half, but with as high as my original expectations were, this soured me on the dub a bit.

 

Casting and Performances

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For all my eagerness to see the dub, I had a hard time guessing who would voice the protagonist Leon, but Ricco Fajardo (The Heroic Legend of Arslan‘s Daryun, Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash‘s Haruhiro) proved to be an excellent choice for the character, being a perfect ball of raw teen angst during his initial character arc, while not overplaying enough to make him unlikable. Having the up and coming Justin Briner (Seraph of the End’s Mikael, My Hero Academia‘s Izuku) for Alfonso was also a pretty nice choice, and casting Monica Rial (Dragonball Z Kai’s Bulma, Casshern Sins‘s Ringo) as Ema was a pleasant surprise since it’s rare to see her in roles where she gets to play mature sounding women and it was a good match for Romi Park’s performance in the Japanese version, since her voice has always been difficult to pair off due to how distinct it is.

Of all the performances in this dub though, there are two that really stand out. The first would be Vic Mignogia (Fullmetal Alchemist‘s Edward Elric, Bleach‘s Ikkaku Madarame) as the main antagonist Mendoza. He’s picked up a fair share of villain roles in recent years, as opposed to his more well known pretty-boy typecasting and turned out to be pretty good at them. so when I first heard he’d been in this dub, I was really hoping it would be as Mendoza, and he certainly delivers. His performance gives off a perpetually creepy falsetto and combined with the Shakespearean prose of the dub, really helps in giving the character a sense of presence and menace. I don’t like it quite as much as I did Takaya Hashi’s performance in the Japanese version since Hashi’s unique baritone was kind of hard to match, but it comes pretty close and it’s certainly an impressive effort. The real standout though, would have to be David Wald (Akame ga Kill‘s Bulat, Fairy Tail‘s Gajeel) as German as it’s a really fun performance that captures both the goofball womanizer and serious sides of the character to perfection and even the scripting issues in the show’s second half aren’t enough to take away from how strong his delivery is. Overall, the dub’s performances are solid all across the board with the only weak link perhaps being Ivan Jasso(Prince of Stride: Alternative‘s Kyosuke) as Bernardo, the dark knight, since this was one of his first major anime roles, and his performance sounds a little awkward in a few instances, but on the whole the dub was very well cast and no one feels out of place.

Final Thoughts: Well I had some really high expectations for this dub, and I have to admit those weren’t quite met. The voice direction here is strong, and the casting’s pretty much the same in that department, but the some of the scripting issues with the dub’s second half hurt things a bit for me, and while good voice direction and performances can sometimes be enough to overlook those kinds of problems (see Attack on Titan) it wasn’t quite strong enough to do the job here. As a whole, it’s a really solid dub, and more or less in line with what you’d expect from Funimation’s usual level of consistency. Which is totally fine, but it’s not the standout I was hoping and since I’d set my expectations for this fairly high, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little disappointed. Despite those feelings though, I can still give it a fairly safe recommendation, and if you haven’t seen the show before there’s certainly nothing to lose in checking out the dub.

Rating: Good

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Woof. I had a lot more to say than I thought I would, but as I said before I’ll try my best to keep these shorter if I do any future installments. Anyway, those are my thoughts on the GARO dub, but feel free to let me know what you thought of it. Also if you’re curious to know about my general metrics for critiquing dubs, you can find my full thoughts in this article here, where I go into  a bit more detail on the subject. Thanks for reading!

Toon Talk: Monthly Retrospective- July 2016

So in a bid to stay committed to actually doing semi-regular posts here, I’ve decided to try my hand at doing retrospectives for anything interesting that happened over the last month (I’d go for doing this weekly, but I’m not sure I’d have enough to talk about). It’ll mostly just be me shooting the breeze and talking about anime, western toons, dubs or whatever recent news seems interesting. Anyway, let’s get started.


Summer Anime Begins

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Well I already gave my first impressions about a few of the summer shows, a couple of weeks ago, and my initial assessment was that summer looked to be as dry as a desert. Between now and then though, I’ve had more time to decide what I’m actually going to bother sticking with and most of what I’m watching looks to be solid enough to carry me through the season. 91 Days and Sweetness & Lightning are still the big flagships here, but Mob Psycho 100 looks like it’ll be as interesting as it is pretty, and I’m still enjoying some other stuff like Orange and Love Live Sunshine. I also decided to try New Game the other day and I’m enjoying it, but so far the biggest surprise of the season really seems to be Thunderbolt Fantasy. It’s hard to imagine that a show by Gen Urobuchi involving puppets wouldn’t at least be entertaining, but I wasn’t prepared for how over the top in turned out to be. Everything about it is loud and silly, but it knows how to make that work to it’s advantage and while the story itself is pretty much your standard JRPG fare, the execution is strong, and there’s hints that some of Urobuchi’s usual insight might rise from beneath the show’s campiness. This season’s certainly strange for me in terms of how stuff is paced out (I usually have at least one or two shows every day but most of what I’m watching is crammed Friday through Monday) but if most of the big stuff holds out, it could be a fairly solid season overall, even if not a terribly remarkable one.

 

The Summer of Steven Makes Some Waves

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Speaking of summer, we’re currently in the middle (?) of CN’s “Summer of Steven” promotion as new episodes of Steven Universe’s third season come out every weekday. So far the episodes have mostly been a little on the slow side as the show steps back from the Gem stuff to go back to Beach City, but I don’t mind it. There’s been a lot of arguments over the interwebs over how “relevant” some of this stuff is, but as compelling as the Gem stuff is, it’d get pretty tedious if the show was doing that all the time, and I certainly appreciate the breathers. As for this particular batch though, they’ve been pretty hit or miss (or what qualifies as a “miss” by SU’s typically high standards) with the “Beach City Drift” episode probably being my favorite of the side stuff almost entirely due to the Initial D reference while stuff like “Restaurant Wars” is kind of forgettable aside from a couple of good gags. Of course there’s been a few bits of Gem stuff in the mix here and there but while “Alone At Sea” and “Mr. Greg” are the ones that draw the most attention (and rightfully) so I also appreciate bits like “Greg the Babysitter” since it’s always nice to see flashbacks of Greg and Rose’s relationship, and those have gone a long way in turning Greg into one of the best characters on the show. It’s not exactly the big wave other fans seemed to be hoping for, but even slow SU episodes are still pretty solid, and it’ll make it all the more rewarding when the show starts ripping out hearts out with major Gem stuff again, so I’m looking forward to riding out the rest of this summer

 

One-Punch Man Hits Toonami, and Jojo’s Follows in Style

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With the rather unexpected arrival of Hunter X Hunter to the Toonami block earlier this year, it seemed pretty much inevitable that One-Punch Man would follow suit, and has since made it’s debut a couple of weeks ago. Unsurprisingly it’s looking to be a smash hit for the block (no pun intended) and the dub looks to be off to an equally great start. Max Mittleman is a perfect Saitama, and I really appreciate that the staff at Bang Zoom went the extra mile in terms of casting, since little things like Bryce Papenbrook and Paul St. Peter to respectively voice Titan and Leomon look-alikes in the show really add to the joke. On the downside I’m not too sure how I feel about Zach Aguilar’s Genos yet, but he nails the delivery where he needs to so I’m not too worried and if the show manages to keep things up, OPM’s dub seems like it could be a contender for one of my favorites this year

Of course while OPM is certainly a big edition to the block, another one looks to be arriving in fall by way of Jojo’s. With the amount of issues concerning that franchise’s status here, and Toonami’s current abundance of long runners, I was pretty sure we wouldn’t be seeing it on the block, and figured that even if we did it’d probably be Stardust Crusaders or the still-airing Diamond is Unbreakable. Seems I was wrong on that account as we’re not only getting it but we’re starting from Phantom Blood. My initial feelings about were…mixed to say the least since I’ve already seen/own the dub so for my part I would have preferred a fresher dub premiere, and the fact that Jojo’s could potentially hold onto it’s timeslot till Toonami dies a second time didn’t help things. At the same time though, it’s a pretty smart business decision to have a slow like that running as long as possible so it’s no mystery why Adult Swim opted for it, and since Warner’s garbage release kept a lot of people from checking out the dub anyway, I suppose it might as well be a dub premiere, and the dub itself is certainly strong enough that I don’t mind listening to it again. I’m just hoping that Jojo’s Toonami run doesn’t cause Viz to delay on releasing the later parts of Jojo’s because I’d really rather not wait 2 years for a Diamond is Unbreakable dub. I guess we’ll have to see how that goes.


And that’s the month for me in a nutshell. See you again in 4 weeks…provided I actually remember to stick to this.

 

First Impressions- Summer 2016 Anime Season (Part 3)

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Well it’s been a long week, and there’s been quite a few more notable premieres, so without any further ado, let’s jump right in and check out the last batch.

Ratings Scale

Bad: Stay away far away from this one.  Not worth watching

Decent: Has some okay elements to it. Might be worth giving a  couple of episodes to see how it goes

Good: Fairly solid show. Should be worth keeping up with for now

Great: Really good show. Definitely worth seeing if you get the chance

Excellent: Really outstanding show. Absolutely worth following .

*All series synopsis from Anime Planet

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Regalia: The Three Sacred Stars

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Synopsis: In the country of Rimguard a mysterious event shook the country and its people just twelve years prior. As time passed, memory of the incident began to fade while peace reigned over the land. Sisters Yui and Rena live a quiet life in the Enastria Empire until a large mecha suddenly attacks their peaceful home, changing everything. The girls become caught in a vortex of destiny and godly revival.

First Impressions: So looking off of the promotional images and trailers, this show was something of an anomaly to me as it’s moe character designs detailed mechas looked like they were from two completely different shows. That same level of confusion carries into the show proper as similar to Zestiria’s first episode, this one does absolutely nothing to explain it’s setting or really anything about what’s happening as we’re caught between the relationship with two sisters and something involving giant robots. The lack of explination on the premise and setting are always things that could be explained later of course, and I’d be more willing to give this a pass if it at least tried to sell me on the dynamic between the sisters Rena and Yui, but both feel as cookie cutter as their character designs, and despite the reveal towards the end of the episode that one’s some kind of supernatural being, while the other’s an empress, it doesn’t even feel all that significant because the show hasn’t even given them actual personalities. If there’s one saving grace here, it’s that the show’s 2D mecha animation looks really good, and that’s something of a rarity these days given that mecha’s largely moved onto 3DCG but unless you’re really interested in seeing more of that, this doesn’t really have anything else to offer. Maybe I’ll give it another episode to see if it explains anything, but if this one seems like a pretty clear pass.

Rating: Bad

 

Planetarian

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Synopsis: For thirty years, companion robot Hoshino Yumemi has patiently waited to show someone the stars. Left in an abandoned planetarium, she sits hoping for customers that will never show. That is, until a Junker– a plunderer of goods and artifacts from the ruins of civilization—stumbles upon the crumbling establishment. Will he help her repair the planetarium, or will she be alone once more?

First Impressions: This the other Key adaption of the season next to Rewrite but compared to that show, this one’s stronger by a long shot. Post apocalyptic sci-fi settings are a dime-a-dozen but it’s interesting to see that applied to something that looks to be much more of a drama than anything, and I appreciate that there’s a genuine sense of mystery in regards to what exactly happened to the world, and why robots are now apparently considered dangerous. More importantly though, the first episode does a really solid job in setting up a nice dynamic between the Junker and Yumemi, and I have to say it’s kind of refreshing to see one of these types of melodramas actually featuring an adult protagonist, since the usual bouts of angsty teenagers can get tiresome after a while. Of course we’ll have to see how well the writing can follow suit, and going by the usual formula for Key shows, Yumemi’s days are almost certainly numbered, but this has the potential to make for a solid drama piece, and it’s certainly one of the highlights in a mostly sleepy anime season so far.

Rating: Great

 

Alderamin on the Sky

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Synopsis: The Katvarna Empire is at war with the neighboring Republic of Kioka. In the Katvarna Empire, the lazy, woman-admiring Ikuta hates war, but due to certain circumstances, he grudgingly takes the High Grade Military Officer Exam. No one would have expected that this 17-year-old young man would eventually become a soldier called a great commander by others. Ikuta survives this world engulfed in war with his superior intellect.

First Impressions: I wasn’t sure what to expect from this one since it seemed like it could be a decent fantasy thing, but something about the way the promotional material looked reminded me of GATE, and that show’s problems are pretty self explanitory. Thankfully this seems fine so far, and first episode manages a nice balance between introducing the characters and doing a fair amount of worldbuilding without having to resort to infodumping, and it’s always nice when something based on a light novel actually manages to avoid going that route. Nothing about the story so visual presentation so far is particularly striking, but it at least seems like it has the potential to turn into something more interesting. My only major issue so far is that the protagonist seems like a bit too much of a lecherous jerk and while the show seems to be doing a pretty good job of reining that in so far, I’ve seen enough anime trip up on that to feel slightly cautious. For now though, if you’re looking for a decent fantasy anime this season, Alderamin in the Sky seems like it’ll fit the bill

Rating: Good

 

91 Days

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Synopsis: During Prohibition, the law held no power and the mafia ruled the town. The story takes place in Lawless, a town thriving on black market sales of illicitly brewed liquor. One day, Avilio receives a letter from a mysterious sender, prompting him to return to Lawless for revenge. He then infiltrates the Vanetti family, the ones responsible for his family’s murder, and sets about befriending the don’s son, Nero, to set his vengeance in motion. Killing brings more killing, and revenge spawns more revenge. How will the 91-day story of these men guided by a tragic fate end?

First Impressions: Out of all the shows confirmed for the summer season, 91 Days seemed like the one with the most potential. Mafia dramas are usually entertaining, if something of a rarity in anime, and having one set specifically at the time of the Prohibition Era is even more of an attention grabber given that it’s a time in history that not too much media has really touched on. Of course as much potential as there was in that setting, there was the question of whether or not it would actually live up to it given that the show’s staff doesn’t have a particularly notable track record one way or the other. So far, though the show is looking to be off to a roaring start. The show doesn’t waste anytime in getting to it’s main set up, and while some of it feels a little heavy handed, it’s framed in a way that’s very reminiscent of more hollywood-esque mafia dramas, and that’s a solid aesthetic to work with. It also does a great job in introducing us to our protagonists, and I particularly like that Avilo seems to be pretty dangerous unto himself, and that’s certainly a neat angle for a story like this one. It also helps that the show doesn’t skimp on making use of it’s setting, and the first episode already shows a good amount of detail in demonstrating how much the mafia had to operate under the radar in order to sell alchol in those days. Of course given that the theme is apparently centered around revenge there’s a chance it could end up turning into something hamfisted, but for now the show seems to be living up to it’s promise, and that easily makes it one of the strongest premieres this season

Rating: Excellent

 

Time Travel Girl

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Synopsis: Mari Hayase is on a mission to go back in time and meet eight of the most prominent scientists and inventors in history. With the help of her two friends Waka Mizuki and Jun Mizuki she’ll find herself up close and personal with famous figures like Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Edison, and so many more! What’s her purpose and mission? Hopefully not getting stuck in the past!

First Impressions: For as many genres as anime encompasses, you’d think the anime-equivalent of a PBS special wouldn’t be all that weird a scenario, but it certainly does feel kind of strange to have. For what it is though, it seems cute enough, and probably a good way for kids to learn up a bit on science, though I imagine the fact that Thomas Edison is one of the ones being referenced here and not Nicholas Tesla might be enough for people to question whatever level of accuracy it’s going for. Outside of educational aspect though, there’s not anything of any particular note in regards to the story or characters, though I was amused that they at least pointed out that Mari’s schoolgirl attire would be considered incredibly inappropriate attire for the 1600’s. Since this is likely to just be the anime version of a middle school science lesson, I’m not sure how much entertainment value this’ll really carry for me but nothing about this was a huge turn-off either so maybe I’ll give it a couple more episodes.

Rating: Decent

 

Cute High Earth Defense Club LOVE! LOVE!

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Synopsis: The Battle Lovers are back! With things a bit calmer since the whole Zundar fiasco, the boys can get back to what’s important in life—like hanging around the bathhouse and lazing around! But when the Loveracelets start calling, they’ll have to jump back into the action. Will the arrival of two new students mean more allies or more chaos? Love is not over yet!

First Impressions: After being away for a year and a half Cute High Defense Club returns, and promising more love than ever before. The first season managed to be an effective parody of magical girl shows and certainly had a lot of laughs, but given that the show only has one real joke, I was kind of worried if it was going to actually get enough mileage out of it to last another season. So far though, it seems like it’ll do just fine. Admittedly the first half of the episode felt a little too self-indulgent to me even if I was sort of amused it decided to seemingly drop all subtext in favor of being straight up gay, but once things jumped back to the magical boys aspect, the laughs kept coming, and the series doesn’t seem to have lost any of it’s edge in the spoofing department as the new transformation sequences and attacks are even more blatant Sailor Moon parodies than the last ones. Time will tell if it can run out of new ways to tell the same joke, but for now Cute High Defense Club still seems to be chugging along.

Rating: Good

 

Hitorinoshita- The Outcast

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Synopsis: Chou Soran leads a very common college student’s life until he finds himself caught up in a terrible incident that happened in a small village. As he was walking through a graveyard, he is assaulted by zombies. Thinking that it was over for him, a mysterious girl carrying a sword suddenly saves him and disappears.

First Impressions: This is another show this season that’s something of an anomally, though in this case it’s due to the fact that it’s based on a Korean manhwa. Manhwa are effectively the Korean equivalent to Japanese manga comics, except they rely heavily on imitating the style of manga, and generally try too hard in doing so. Those roots are certainly evident here, because as soon as I saw the opening song I could tell this show was trying too hard to be cool, and that sentiment stuck with me throughout the entire episode. It’s similar to the other edgy teen action show of the season Taboo-Tattoo in that respect and includes your hapless protagonist with powers suddenly thrust upon him (or seemingly anyway since we never actually see him use said powers) and a mysterious action girl who’s clearly there to be eye candy. This plot here seems to have something to do with zombies, but the show hasn’t offered much in the way of explanation on that front, and hasn’t done much to make Soran endearing, instead just making him come off like gigantic idiot more than anything (there’s a moment in the episode where he’s amazed at the mysterious girl taking down zombies, instead of being terrified at having actually seen a bunch of friggin zombies). For all that though, I do have to say that it was at least entertaining in a bad kind of way, and did feature what I consider to be the funniest thing I’ve seen this far so season where at one point the zombies all literally turn around to gawk at what a moron Soran is. Given that this show could at least make for a fun trash-watch but similar to Taboo-Tattoo I can’t really recommend it unless you’re into irony watching (and since I’m already considering watching that show for those purposes I’ll likely have to choose between the two of them at some point).

Rating: Bad

 

Qualidea Code

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Synopsis: This is a world where humanity is always at war with the Unknown. The kids who were evacuated to a cold sleep facility during the initial invasion decades ago wake up from their slumber to find that they’d manifested superpowers called the “World.” To protect Japan from the Unknowns appearing from the Tokyo Bay, these kids would start their own battles at the defensive strongholds of Tokyo, Kanagawa, and Chiba.

First Impressions: *UGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH* This show now marks the third try-hard otaku thing I’ve sat through this season and my patience is starting to wear pretty thin at this point. In what’s starting to become a rather irritating pattern, this is another series that doesn’t offer much in the way of explination in regards to how it’s world works and the most I got is that there was some kind of war involving aliens called the Unknown and now some kind of military organization, partially helmed by kids with chunni superpowers are fighting them(said military also seems laughably incompetent considering at one point in the episode the loli commander girl has to be told by a subordinate what “friendly fire” means). Speaking of chunni kids we have our protagonist Ichiya who stands out as the biggest prick out of all the shows I’ve sampled so far. In typical chunni fashion he thinks he’s the destined savior of the world, and believes that all the other people he works with are scrubs, and spends the entire episode being a jerk to everyone he meets without giving him anything resembling a redeeming trait other than a “tragic backstory”. Even his childhood friend isn’t safe from his attitude as he at one point sharply tells her to commit suicide for having told everyone about the embarrassing nickname she gave him, and even as a joke that’s pretty disgusting. To make matters worse, this doesn’t even have the saving grace of being amusingly bad like Taboo-Tattoo or The Outcast, and looks visually bland as sin. I might have tolerated those other two, but this one’s a definite strike out, and stands as one of the worst in a season of bad premieres.

Rating: AAAAARRRRRRRRRRGGGGGHHHH


And that’s it for me and first impressions as Mob Psycho 100 is the only notable premiere left and I’ll be reviewing that one for the Fandom Post. While there seems to be a few potential gems, I have to say that overall this is looking to be just as weak a season as Winter was with the potential to be either better or worse, depending on how the larger stuff fares. It’s certainly disappointing, but I can probably manage so long as there’s at least a few things worth holding onto.

Review: Gundam Build Fighters- Building A Better Toy Show

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Synopsis:  In the future, Mobile Suit Gundam has taken the world by storm, and building small models of them called Gunpla and having them fight each other has become everyone’s favorite past time. Sei Iori is skilled at making Gunpla and dreams of competing in the Gunpla World Tournament but his skills as a fighter leave much to be desired. However when he has an encounter with a mysterious boy named Reiji, he finds that Reiji has an incredible natural talent for Gunpla battles, and together the two of them decide to compete on the world stage.

Review

Mobile Suit Gundam has long stood at the top of the mecha genre, and almost every incarnation of the franchise has enjoyed massive success due to it’s compelling depictions of space-faring war dramas. At the same time though, it’s success has also been partially due to the fact that it’s robot designs are really cool, and it’s sold countless numbers of plastic model kits throughout the decades. Given all that, there’s been a few attempts to cater the franchise more directly towards kids in order to sell more kits, but they’ve generally proved unsuccessful and this show’s predecessor, Gundam AGE stands as the most infamous example, having been a commercial failure the likes of which the franchise had never seen before. So needless to say that when Sunrise announced yet another attempt to market Gundam towards kids as it’s next project, audiences were pretty skeptical, but where others before it had failed, Gundam Build Fighters managed to succeed.

So what exactly is it that makes Build Fighters work? Well first and foremost it’s in the fact that it’s extremely honest about what it is. Whereas Gundam AGE tried to have it’s cake and eat it too by attempting to have both the serious war drama aspects of the other Gundam incarnations, and enough kid-appeal to sell toys, Build Fighters drops any and all pretenses of seriousness by opting to be a more straightforward kid’s show. It knows exactly who it’s for and runs with it, quickly establishing itself as a shonen-style tournament series, equipped with a fun cast of characters and a solid dynamic between the lead characters, Sei and Reiji, that feels extremely reminiscent of Yugi and Yami Yugi from Yu-Gi-Oh as the two use their individual talents and opposing personalities to strengthen each other. Of course that means the series is chock-full of the kind of goofiness you’d expect from that kind of thing, and sometimes gets a little too out there for it’s own good (looking at you Gunpla mafia guy) but it knows where to draw the line and even manages to avoid falling into the trap of trying to tell a “serious” story with it’s absurd premise rather in favor of focusing primarily on the toys it’s trying to sell.

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This actually leads into another one of the show’s larger strengths in that it’s genuinely dedicated towards having a good time. Around the beginning of the series, one of the characters asks how anyone can be expected to take a battle involving toys seriously, and it feels like a question that the show is almost asking itself, as the attempts by similar series to do so are usually what turns people off to them.  However it responds in earnest by saying that the characters can take it seriously because it’s a fun game to them, and that sense of spirit becomes the show’s core mantra. It goes almost out of it’s way to show how passionate the characters are about what they’re doing and it’s kind of refreshing to see something like this enforcing the importance of having fun without having to resort to the awkward attempts at fantasy that shows of this genre so often rely on. In fact, the show displays a surprisingly negative stance towards taking this stuff too seriously, and it helps that rather than having some evil overlord caricature for it’s villain like a lot of similar kid shows, the bad guy here’s just a greedy jerk who wants to keep making money off of selling toys (way to bite the hand that feeds you guys). This bit of self-awareness  isn’t exactly unique, but it does give the series a bit of an edge, and it’s a stance I wouldn’t mind seeing toy shows take more often.

For everything I’ve said here though, the real key factor towards Build Fighters winning formula comes down to the fact that it makes Gunpla battles look pretty darn cool. We’ve all dreamed that the toy robots we’d smash into each other as kids, were could really duke it out someday, and this show brings that childhood fantasy to life in the most over-the-top way possible. Director Kenji Nagasaki and his team of staff (who would later bring us the My Hero Academia anime adaption) really know how to bring out the best in action sequences, and each of the show’s fight scenes are a spectacle to behold as it holds absolutely nothing back in making them as energetic as possible. Adding to the effect is Yuuki Hayashi’s musical score, which carries just as much impact as the fights themselves and many of the show’s tracks really help to boost it’s sense of flair (not to mention the series also has the ever reliable J-rock band, BACK-ON handling it’s opening theme songs and bringing their A-game for both). The overall visual presentation here is so fantastic that I can honestly say I’d totally play Gunpla Battle if it were a real thing, and for something that effectively exists to sell toys, that’s about the highest level of praise you can give it.

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RightStuf has recently put out a release of the series courtesy of their partnership with Sunrise, which includes both a Blu-Ray and DVD release. I bought the latter and it’s a fairly standard set that include a few basic extras such as clean opening and ending animation,  and the original Japanese commercials. Out of these the most interesting one is an extra called “Battle Selection” which serves as a nice little compilation of the show’s best robot action highlights. It’s also worth nothing that the release does also technically include the dub, but it’s an Animax Asia dub rather than one done in the US and the quality is so poor that I couldn’t really recommend watching it outside of mild curiosity. Still, it’s nice to have at least and the release is a pretty good bargain for the amount of episodes it contains so if you enjoyed the series, I’d recommend picking it up.

So in the end, Gundam Build Fighters succeeds by doing the one thing a lot of other similar shows ironically don’t: trying it’s darndest to make you think that what it’s selling is the coolest thing ever. This sense of passion might not make it totally immune to some of the same goofiness as things like it, but it’s certainly infectious, and it’s hard not to get caught up in it’s high level of energy, and even higher-level presentation, as the robot fights alone are almost enough to sell the show. It might be a blatant toy commercial, but it’s certainly a good one, and for that reason if nothing else, it’s definitely something worth checking out.

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Overall: 8.5/10

Available for streaming on Youtube. Available for purchase from RightStuf

 

First Impressions- Summer 2016 Anime Season (Part 2)

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Well I was originally going to wait a couple of days to cover more shows, but there’s been enough premieres between now and the last couple of days that I figure I might as well comment on them so let’s continue

Ratings Scale

Bad: Stay away far away from this one.  Not worth watching

Decent: Has some okay elements to it. Might be worth giving a  couple of episodes to see how it goes

Good: Fairly solid show. Should be worth keeping up with for now

Great: Really good show. Definitely worth seeing if you get the chance

Excellent: Really outstanding show. Absolutely worth following .

*All series synopsis from Anime Planet

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Days

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Synopsis: Two boys met on a stormy night: Tsukushi, a boy with no special traits at all, and Jin, a soccer genius. On that night, Jin drags Tsukushi into the world of high-school soccer.

First Impressions: This show wasn’t really on my radar for the season (mainly because of who it’s licensor is), but the first episode here more or less embodies all my favorite things about sports anime. The most compelling sports shows for me are the ones where the protagonist starts from scratch so seeing Tsukushi  trying to haphazardly jump into the world of soccer is already pretty appealing to me and it helps the one who introduces him to the sport is a very likable character in his own right, and I’m already sold on Tsukushi and Jin’s odd friendship. Combine that with some great character designs, good direction and some slick animation curtosey of MAPPA and this show seems like a solid recipe for success. Count me in for more

Rating: Great

Orange

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Synopsis: Everyone has regrets in life. So who wouldn’t take the chance to change the past if given the opportunity? When sixteen-year-old Takamiya Naho receives a mysterious letter, claiming to be from her twenty-seven-year-old self, her life is suddenly thrown into flux. The letter tells her that a new transfer student by the name of Naruse Kakeru will be joining her class, and to keep her eye on him. But why? Naho must decide what to make of the letter and its cryptic warning, and what it means not only for her future, but for Kakeru’s as well.

First Impressions: This was one of the more hyped up shows for this season and it seems to have been for a pretty good reason. Sci-fi stories about altering the past to change the future are more or less a dime-a-dozen but it’s always been a neat concept and this  series is attempting to combine that with shojo romance elements, which is certainly an approach I haven’t seen before. So far that approach seems to be working as the first episode here does a solid job of building up some of the mystery while primairly introducing us to the show’s core cast of characters. So far none of them really stand out too much aside from our heroine, Naho, but that’s something I imagine the show will address pretty quickly and in the meantime it’s hard to ignore the show’s solid direction, and breathtaking art design as series director Hiroshi Hamasaki seems like he’s totally in his element here (as opposed to his last big project Terraformars which was far less so). Sadly the actual animation here is less competent, but it’s enough to get by, and this first episode does enough right, that I’m more than happy to check out the rest.

Rating: Great

 

The Heroic Legend of Arslan: Dust Storm Dance

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Synopsis: The Lusitania forces continue to hold rule over the Kingdom of Pars despite Arslan’s fierce battle against Lord Silver Mask. Arslan continues to fight for his rightful throne, but there are still many conflicts left to resolve. But the biggest mystery—who are his parents? And is that an answer he’s prepared to face?

First Impressions: Looks like it’s time for another season of Arslan though this one’s getting shafted pretty hard on the episode count thanks to the current shenanigans going on with it’s timeslot. Though on the bright side, less episodes means less hectic scheduling for the production, and Linden Film’s animation has upgraded from the  terribad of season 1 a level that’s more around what you’d expect for a lower end long running battle shonen, which is something I guess (though the switch from Sanzigen to Felix Films for the 3DCG seems to have actively made that worse). The rest of the premiere itself is standard Arslan though, which means more middling Eastern-European fantasy fare that doesn’t have a ton of bite, but just enough things of interest to be worth sitting through. On the bright side the last few minutes here offer a few big shakeups that could make this season a better romp than the first though I have to admit I spent most of the episode being disappointed that Etoile didn’t join Arslan’s band of companions (what a waste of an opportunity there guys). Still Arslan is fairly consistent if not always great and if this season can at keep managing that much, I’ll keep watching.

Rating: Good

 

Tales of Zestiria the X

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Synopsis: Legends speak of the Shepherd, a savior who will bring peace to the seraphim and human worlds. Sorey has spent his life studying ancient books and exploring ruins to learn more about the legendary savior. When he and his seraphim companion Mikleo encounter a mysterious girl in the ruins, the stories of the Shephard become Sorey’s reality. Is he strong enough to take on the evil Lord of Calamity?

First Impressions: So my experience with the Tales franchise is somewhat limited as I’ve only played about 3 out of the dozen plus games that exist (and one of them is a direct sequel so it’s more like 2) but I do know that the narrative of Tales games are pretty anime-esque in execution, and there’s been several adaptions of past games throughout the years. With all that combined with Ufotable handling the production on this one, it seemed like this could be promising, but the premiere here is frankly an utter mess. It does virtually nothing to explain the setting, who the characters are or frankly what’s even happening and I had to pause multiple times just to try and make sense of it all in my head (something about a princess investigating a magic tornado) and even the cool visuals weren’t enough to distract from all the confusion. The one saving grace here is that this episode is pretty clearly a prologue and not actually content from the game itself, so there’s some hope that the next episode will be something a lot more comprehensible. Given that I’ll likely give it at least one more chance if only for how pretty it is, but so far all this adaption’s doing for me is making just want to play the actual game instead since I’m sure it makes way more sense than anything in this premiere.

Rating: Bad

 

D. Gray-Man Hallow

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Synopsis: Allen Walker is an exorcist working for the Black Order whose mission is to protect mankind from the evil Millennium Earl and his deadly Akuma. Allen and his comrades must recover lost Innocence while defending against the Earl’s terrifying army. But if they fail, Innocence will be lost forever.

First Impressions: After being away for the better half of a decade, D. Gray-Man finally returns to world of anime! Although rather than straight up reboot the thing as you’d expect after all this time, we’re getting an actual continuation, which makes this a bit of an odd duck considering the second half of the original anime has never been made legally available here in the United States (thankfully Funimation announced they have those episodes so hopefully they’ll be online sooner rather than later). The good news is that if you did manage to finish the original anime this is indeed a direct continuation, though it’s attempts to catch people up to speed on the plot feel a little awkward. Once it gets into the actual new material though it mostly works though I have to say that the brighter color palette and new voice actors are going to be pretty hard to get used to. This show’s existence is certainly something of an anomaly, but I recall just enough of DGM that to be able to follow this, so odds are I’ll stick with it.

Rating: Good

 

Sweetness and Lightning

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Synopsis: Having lost his wife, math teacher Kouhei Inuzuka is doing his best to raise his young daughter Tsumugi as a single father. He’s pretty bad at cooking and doesn’t have a huge appetite to begin with, but chance brings his little family and one of his students, Kotori Iida, together for homemade adventures. With those three cooks in the kitchen, it’s no wonder this dinner table drama is so delicious.

First Impressions: So on the surface this show seemed like it had all the potential to be a winner. Anime tends to do family dramas pretty well and a series about a father-daughter relationship sounded pretty adorable. Even so, I was pretty blown away at just how adorable it was as Sweetness and Lightning managed to capture my heart within it’s first 2 minutes and never gave it back. Tsumugi’s far too precious for this sinful world, and is a pitch-perfect portrayal of little kids at that age in everything from dialogue to how overly energetic she is, and I’d frankly be pretty content just watching her run around the screen for 20 minutes. Of course the show also manages to handle the dynamic between her and her father Kouhei pretty well, and really captures how much the latter’s struggling to come to terms with his wife’s death while dropping some not so subtle clues that he hasn’t told Tsumugi what really happened to her mother yet, which could both making for something interesting later down the line. For now though the show’s really sold me on this adorable father-daughter relationship, and Tsumugi’s adorableness in general, and while I was already pretty sure I’d like this show, I sure wasn’t expecting it to have the strongest start of the season. If you haven’t checked this out yet, I’d recommend giving it a shot, ASAP.

Rating: Excellent

 

Taboo-Tattoo

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Synopsis: “Tattoos” – ancient weapons that drastically enhance the physical abilities of their users, known as the “Sealed,” allowing them to bring forth supernatural phenomena when activated through the charging of the user’s own unique “trigger.” When Justice Akatsuka (a.k.a. “Seigi”) saves a man from some street punks, the man gives him a strange stone as a token of gratitude. The moment Seigi accepts it, a mysterious tattoo appears on his palm. And so the battle begins, framed by a web of conspiracies and centering around Justice Akatsuka, the boy who obtained a “tattoo” by complete chance.

First Impressions: Well it seems as though every season needs your standard anime show, and Taboo-Tattoo seems to be this season’s order of pure-grade anime with zero seasoning. You’ve got everything from your troubled protagonist with a dead father, who suddenly gets a cool superpower, to a mysterious girl from some kind of mysterious military organization that wants to hire him. Yeah, it’s that kind of anime and just the sort of thing you’d expect from JC Staff except for one thing: this show looks bad. Like really bad. The character designs might seem fairly detailed but the animation takes some bizarre shortcuts that gave me PTSD flashbacks of Dai Shogun (which holds the record as the single ugliest looking thing I’ve seen in the last decade) and the director’s attempts to shortcut this through “dynamic camera” work just comes off as really distracting and awkward. Normally this would be enough for me to give it a pass, but I have to admit that while I’ve seen my share of bad looking anime, the show’s horrendous attempts to shortcut the animation through camera work is a kind of bad I haven’t really seen done to this extent in anime before and it’s enough that I’m kind of considering giving it another episode or two just to see how much worse it can get about it. Though if you’re not into irony-watching, I’d say you can skip this one.

Rating: Bad

 

Hybrid X Heart Magias Academy Ataraxia

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Synopsis: One day, humanity was invaded by another world. Having experienced that battle, known as Other World War I, humanity moved to marine floats, built for emergency evacuation purposes, as soon as Other World War II began. It’s around that time that Kizuna Hida is summoned by his elder sister and visits the Strategic Defense Academy Ataraxia where he meets Aine Chidorigafuchi, a girl who uses Heart Hybrid Gear Zeros to fight the otherworldly enemies. He has a tough time dealing with her, but when her Gear runs out of energy, the only way to get it back in action is to do something lewd to her!

First Impressions: Dear sweet merciful lord in heaven, please forgive us for our sins for anime was mistake and one that is already too late to correct. Everything about this show gave off giant red flags from it’s premise, to the promotional material and I knew coming into this it’d be grade-A trash, but curiosity demanded I give this a peek. That was my mistake. The first two minutes of this feels like something straight out a porno and is preceded only by the standard LN-fantasy high school dreck, meaning a hapless male lead, a harem full of busty girls and of course lewdness. Said lewdness is pretty extreme even by anime standards though and I could feel my soul being condemned to eternal damnation as the main character’s sister demanded him to molest a girl he’d just met. Yeeeaaaahhh…I think that pretty much says it all. Had this been a bit tamer I’d at least consider following it to fulfill my personal quota of having at least one trashy show to watch every season, but I could feel my humanity slipping away as I watched this and that’s far too steep a price to pay. Stay, far, far away from this one.

Rating: Hot Garbage


And there’s my latest batch of first impressions. I might cover a few more shows later in the week, but right now I think I need to recover from Hybrid X Hearts -_-

First Impressions- Summer 2016 Anime Season (Part 1)

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Wow it’s been…about 2 years since I’ve actually done one of these, but I guess now’s as good a time as any to hop back into it. Given the amount of stuff that was packed into the spring season, I have to admit that I was wasn’t too excited about rolling into this one. Of course the good thing about not having high expectations means there’s more fun (and headache) in sampling stuff. So without further ado, let’s get started

Ratings Scale

Bad: Stay away far away from this one.  Not worth watching

Decent: Has some okay elements to it. Might be worth giving a  couple of episodes to see how it goes

Good: Fairly solid show. Should be worth keeping up with for now

Great: Really good show. Definently worth seeing if you get the chance

Excellent: Really outstanding show. Absolutely worth following .

*All series synopsis from Anime Planet

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Berserk

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Synopsis: Spurred by the flame raging in his heart, the Black Swordsman Guts continues his seemingly endless quest for revenge. Standing in his path are heinous outlaws, delusional evil spirits, and a devout child of god.Even as it chips away at his life, Guts continues to fight his enemies, who wield repulsive and inhumane power, with nary but his body and sword—his strength as a human. What lies at the end of his travels? The answer is shrouded in the “night.” Strain your eyes and stare into the dark!

First Impressions: I spent a few weeks last year reading about 25 volumes worth of the Berserk manga through my local library and between that and the film trilogy that preceded this current adaption I’d pretty much cemented myself as a Berserk fan. That said like most fans, I was also super skeptical of this adaption due largely in part to the fact that it’s primarily animated in 3DCG (and the fact that Linden Films is helping to produce it didn’t help things) and Japan’s track record on that is pretty horrible. Those fears were pretty well founded since the show does indeed look ugly as sin, and even by 3DCG anime standards, this show’s production is definitely on the lower end. That said, it does manage to capture one aspect of Berserk pretty well and that’s the atmosphere. This is the portion of the series where it’s horror elements start playing a larger role, and a lot of the direction here really captures that sense of dread. For me that’s enough to give it a slight pass, and while I can’t really recommend this to anyone who isn’t already a big fan of Berserk (and even then this would be a hard sell), I’ll probably end up following this one through to the end just to see where they take things.

Rating: Decent

 

ReLIFE

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Synopsis: Arata Kaizaki (27) quit the job he landed after graduation in only three months. His life did not go well after that. Now his parents are threatening to stop sending money, and want him to come back to the country. He has no friend or girlfriend to share his troubles with…as he hits rock bottom a strange man named Ryo Yoake appears. Yoake invites Kaizaki to join a societal rehabilitation program for NEETs called ReLife. This program uses a mysterious drug to make him look younger, and sends him back to high school for a year…

First Impressions: So I’ll admit I’m kind of cheating here since the entire show was made available on Crunchyroll the moment it aired, and I sat through every episode, but I don’t think I’ll end up doing a full-review on it so I’ll just cover it here and keep my thoughts brief. The idea of “reliving high school” is one that’s been done a million-times before and there are as many cases of it being interesting as there are of it being a gross fantasy. Thankfully this lands in the former category, and largely due the fact that its protagonist Arata, is portrayed more as a real-life loser than an anime one, and that makes his character a lot more relatible. That more grounded approach applies to the show as a whole, and it’s centered pretty heavily around the theme of youthful optimism v.s. the more cynical realities of adulthood, which it explores in great detail. The series does occasionally come a bit too close to having Arata potentially macking on high school girls he’s hanging around, but manages to more or less avoid this pitfall and it’s a pretty smooth ride overall. If your’re looking for a series to burn through in an afternoon or two, this one’s certainly a solid pick.

Rating: Great

 

Food Wars: The Second Plate

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Synopsis: After the qualifying test with curry dishes, eight contestants have entered the quarterfinal of Autumn Elections: Souma, Megumi, Takumi, Hisako, Alice, Kurokiba, Hayama, and Mimasaka. Their next challenge: bento.

First Impressions: Food Wars makes it’s triumphant return and it’s better than ever. That’s not much of an exaggeration either, because compared to the rather shoddy looking production values of season 1, this already looks way more polished, and the characters a lot more expressive. It also helps that the show’s already kicking things off with good material, as we get our food-off between Souma and Alice, and the food porn here is so perfect that I regretting not waiting until the episode started to have my lunch today. On the downside, this season’s almost in too much a hurry to get started, and jumps straight into new material without a refresher on anything that’s happening, but Food Wars is simple enough that this isn’t a major problem, and when the series is this much fun, it’s pretty easy to get back into the swing of things. Bring on the food!

Rating: Great

 

Rewrite

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Synopsis: Green City Kazamatsuri is a city built on the ideal of a harmonious relationship between civilization and environment.. However, the peaceful Kazamatsuri will soon be faced with its annual commotion, the Harvest Festa at the turn of the year. It’s an event that is much like a massive school festival, and Tennoji Kotaro decides to head out to research topics for his articles. It’s an easy decision for him, because the town is filled with rumors about unidentified creature sightings and various other occult occurrences. At the same time, strange things start happening to Kotaro himself.

First Impressions: So this series is the latest of Key game based melodramas, though it lacks two of the things that those tend to have. The first would be Jun Maeda as the scriptwriter for better or worse, and the second is lavish production values courtesy of studios such as KyoAni and PA Works. As it turns out, those two things were pretty important because compared to the others, this was pretty much impossible for me to sit through. I’ll be the first to admit that I got into Key adaptions during a time where I was more susceptible to melodrama regardless of actual quality and that I’d probably be pretty averse to them now, but to Jun Maeda’s credit, he’s gradually improved as a writer, and while his stuff isn’t perfect, he’s gotten closer and closer to writing characters that feel fleshed out. This however, is comprised of all the cookie-cutter archetypes that you’d expect from most visual novels, and the humor even more intolerable. This could be somewhat bearable if the show at least looked good like other Key adaptions, but the production values here range from average, to something that looks straight out of 2006, and I couldn’t get through a full 20 minutes of it (the first episode is a whopping total of 47 if you can believe it) before calling it quits. Maybe I’ll give it a shot later down the line if I hear enough good things about it, but for now it’s a definite pass

Rating: Bad

 

Love Live!! Sunshine

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Synopsis: Nothing is more appealing than the bright, sparkling world of School Idols! The girls of Uranohoshi Girls’ High School are swept into idol fever, wanting nothing more than to become the next-best School Idol group. And they plan to do just that. Chika Takami brings together eight of her classmates to form Aqours, their own idol group. As long as they don’t give up, any dream can come true!

First Impressions: So once upon a time I was the world’s most un-reluctant Love Live fan. I mean this in that I acknowledged the show was techincally good, but it was so clearly composed of things I normally can’t stand in anime, that I was kind of waiting for it to get bad so I could drop it. That moment never came though, and in time I fully converted myself over to the glory of Love Live. Now it’s time for a whole new series in the franchise, and while I didn’t have any major expectations for this one way or the other, I can safely say it’s good. All of Love Live’s energy and charm is in full effect here, and the show’s already done a pretty good job of selling on Chika and some of the other girls who made their brief cameos in this first episode. I’ve generally appreciated how well the original series managed to frame itself more as a family-friendly sitcom than an obvious otaku product, and this looks like it’ll continue that, so as long as that sticks, I’ll be in this one for the long haul.

Rating: Great


And that’s it for now. I’ll try to get around to more later this week, but for now, this season seems like it’s off to a safe start, if not necessarily a great one.

Animation Talk- The Best Dads of Anime

So dads tend to get a pretty bad rap in anime. They’re usually either evil, abusive, not around, dead or some strange combination of the four. Any anime dads that still draw breath are usually hated by their children, and 9 times out of 10, the only good anime dad is a dead one. It’s incredibly easy to point out a list of all the horrible anime dads, out there but surely there’s at least a few good ones, right? I’d certainly like to think that, so in honor of Father’s Day this weekend I have taken it upon myself to do the impossible: to come up with a list of the best anime dads out there. I’ll be sticking to blood-related/adopted fathers not father figures, and I also made sure to pick ones that are actually alive at the start of the series, so no one can accuse me of cheating.

So before we begin I’ll address the elephant in the room: Yes I know about Bunny Drop, and yes I know the anime only covers the first part of the manga, and Daikichi could therefore sort of qualify. But I also know how that manga ends, and I can’t in good faith put him on here knowing what happens later on, so please don’t ask why I’m not including him. Anyway on to the actual nominees

WARNING: There’ll be spoilers for pretty much every series mentioned so read at your discretion.

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12) Tatsumi Oga (Beelzebub)

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When you’re the lord of the Demon World, you’ve certainly got a lot of influence, so why involve yourself with child rearing when you can get some poor mortal smuck to do it for you? Enter delinquent Tatsumi Oga, who’s expected to raise little Baby B’eel into the future king of the demon race. Needless to say he’s not thrilled by the idea, and there’s numerous gags about him trying to pawn the little tyke onto someone else, but as time passes the two of them form a pretty close bond, and Oga helps Baby B’eel to learn how to be a “real man” (or whatever qualifies for a demon infant). Oga may not exactly seem like dad material, but he does a surprisingly effective job in helping B’eel grow, even if it’s not in the way the Demon Lord probably had in mind.

 

11) Father Fujimoto (Blue Exorcist)

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Alright, so I know I’m already stretching my own rules a bit, but he was alive for two whole episodes, which is more than can be said for a lot of anime dads out there. Much like Oga above, this priest was charged with raising a pair of twins named Rin and Yukio, who were spawned from Satan himself, and looked after them well into their teenage years. Unfortunately tragedy strikes when Satan comes back looking to claim Rin, but even when Rin rejects Father Fujimoto after hearing the truth, he still considers himself to be the boy’s real father and sacrifices himself to protect him. Father Fujimoto might not have survived as long as the other dads on this list, but it’s clear that he cared a lot for his adopted sons, and is still remembered pretty fondly after his passing.

 

10) German Luis (Garo: The Animation)

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German Luis aka Zorro serves as one of the legendary Makai Knights, and also the father to one angsty, Leon Luis. After losing Leon’s mother Anna to a series of witch hunts, German was left to raise the boy on his own, and trained him in the way of the Makai Knights so that he’d eventually be worthy of wielding the ultimate Makai Armor, Garo. Of course, German’s also quite a womanizer, and it’s a lifestyle that admittedly hasn’t earned much respect from Leon, but he constantly tries to get Leon to expand his horizons and hopefully find a desire to help others that outweighs his need to avenge his mother’s death. Though unfortunately it ends up something that German ultimately regrets not being able to accomplish before it led to tragedy. German may be far from an ideal dad, but he does his best to leave behind a legacy for his son that’s worth following.

9) Maes Hughes (Fullmetal Alchemist)

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Well we all knew this one was coming right? If there’s one thing associated with Hughes, it’s his constant gushing over his little daughter Alicia, and often to the point where his friends wish he’d shut up. Needless to say he’s a pretty devoted father, and also serves as something of a father figure to the Elrics as he takes charge of looking after them during their time living in Central. Sadly he’s a bit too nice of a guy for his own good, and ends up getting killed when his desire to help the Elrics leads him to find something he shouldn’t have, but for the time he was given, Hughes was a good dad, and one who’s certainly earned his spot here.

8) Soichiro Yagami (Death Note)

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Soichiro is Japan’s national chief of police, and a man dedicated to his sense of justice. Though this also means that he doesn’t get to spend much time around his kids. However what earns him his spot on this list is that when his son Light is accused of being the serial killer, Kira, Soichiro decides to have faith in him in spite of the evidence, and even puts his life in danger several times in order to prove Light’s innocence. Of course since Light actually IS Kira, it’s all pretty much just cruel irony on Soichiro’s part, but he believes in his son till the bitter end, and while that doesn’t make him the best cop, it certainly makes him a good father.

 

7) Kotetsu T. Kaburagi (Tiger & Bunny)

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Well Kotetsu’s more of a “dad who tries” than a “good dad”, but it’s not often you get a middle aged protagonist in anime so he’s worth mentioning. It’s not easy trying to follow your dreams while raising a kid at the same time, and it’s made even harder when his wife passes away and their daughter Kaede has to deal with his busy schedule. Kotetsu tries his best to balance his life as a hero while also spending time with Kaede but trouble with the latter often ends up taking priority. But when his career starts to go south, and he realizes just how lonely Kaede is without him, he decides his work isn’t worth not being with his daughter. Ironically when Kaede learns the truth about Kotetsu’s hero life, she’s the one who convinces him to go back to it, but this time he’s earned her admiration, and when push comes to shove, she’s far more important to him.

 

6) Roy Revant (Solty Rei)

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Like Kotetsu, Roy’s more “flawed” than he is “good”, but he’s also got a lot more baggage to deal with. After losing his wife to cancer, and having his daughter go missing in an accident, the last thing Roy wants is someone else to look after, but that’s what happens when an android girl named Solty crashes into his life, and various circumstances him into her legally adopted father. He initially considers Solty nothing more than a nuisance to both his life, and his bounty hunting gig, but as the two spend more time together, he gradually starts to look after her as though she was his real child, and in time she eventually helps him to reconnect with his long-lost daughter. Roy’s far from the nicest anime dad out there but he’s definitely one of the better ones.

 

5) Vegeta (Dragonball Z)

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*sigh* I didn’t want to have to come to this. I REALLY didn’t want things to come to this. But yes, the man who once committed genocide for a living is somehow too decent an example to ignore. For one thing he actually sticks around for the entirety of his son Trunks’s childhood, which is a heck of a lot more than can be said for some other anime dads *cough*Goku*cough* and in all that time the worst thing he’s ever done to him is training him to be a great Sayain warrior like himself. Even when Vegeta briefly decides to go back to his evil ways, it’s his love for his son that convinces him to stop, and even sacrifices himself to protect him (well however much you can count that consider how easy it is to cheat death in Dragonball). Vegeta may never beat Goku when it comes to a contest of strength, but he’s certainly proven himself to be a better family man.

 

4) Isshin Kurosaki (Bleach)

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So my feelings on Bleach are a little mixed these days and generally leans towards apathy, but even so it’s hard to deny Isshin’s a pretty good dad. Following the pattern of most of the dads on this list, his wife Masaki was murdered by a monster called a Hollow, and he was left to raise their three children, Ichigo, Yuzu and Karin on his own.  Though his methods of parenting are a bit…different from what might be expected, as he acts like a perpetual goofball and often to Ichigo and Yuzu’s annoyance. As the series progress however, it quickly becomes clear that his goofy nature is mostly a facade to help his kids deal with the loss of their mother, and respects Ichigo’s boundaries enough to let him deal with his own problems. Of course he’s got plenty of plot related reasons for his behavior too, but it’s still pretty sweet that he’d play dumb for the sake of his children, and for that, he’s certainly got my respect.

 

3) Ryouji “Ranka” Fujioka (Ouran High School Host Club)

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Like Isshin above, Ranka operates under something of a facade when dealing with his daughter Haruhi, but his is something a bit different as he also works as a professional crossdresser. His energetic nature and penchant for spending money aren’t things that exactly mesh well with the more straight-laced Haruhi, but he maintains a strong relationship with his daughter, and tries his best to be a reliable parent, while making sure to respect Haruhi’s rather high level of self-reliance. It’s not quite what you’d expect from a normal father-daughter relationship, but it’s certainly one of the better ones in anime.

 

2) George Joestar I (Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure)

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So this is another case of a father that didn’t actually last all that long in the show, but nevertheless George Joestar is among the best. Like most of the dads here, he ended up losing his wife in an accident, and raised his young son Johnathan to be a proper English gentleman. He’s pretty strict on Johnathan growing up, but does so only to make sure the boy the will be strong enough to look after himself and considering Johnathan Joestar grew up to become well…Johnathan Joestar, it certainly paid. More impressively though was his decision to take in his adopted son Dio despite (or perhaps because) knowing his real father was a scumbag, and treated him as if he were his own flesh and blood. Unfortunately Dio decided to repay that kindness, by ultimately playing a part in his death, and George dies protecting Johnathan from his wrath. George Joestar isn’t exactly the most remembered of the Joestars, but his legacy as a father and a heroic soul, paved the way for the many future generations of the clan to come.

1) Akio Furukawa (Clannad)

There’s definitely more good anime dads out there than given credit for, but none are quite as good as Akio. When we’re first introduced to him, both he and his wife come off as a bit odd, but we quickly learn that he’s the more level headed of the two and fiercely devoted to his daughter Nagisa. However things weren’t always that way as we eventually learn that much like Kotetsu above, there was a time where he had to balance both raising Nagisa and his dreams, while leaning more towards the latter, but when his negligence almost ended up costing her life, he threw everything away to be a stay at home parent so he could devote all his time to his daughter. He does a pretty good job of keeping up with this lifestyle, and when tragedy strikes later on in the series, he even takes charge of looking after his granddaughter Ushio, while her real dad attempts to work through his various issues. That’s some serious dedication, and a lot more than can be said for most anime dads. In a lot of ways Akio is perhaps too ideal (and especially so when it comes to the circumstances involving his granddaughter), but in a sea of crappy anime dads it’s hard to deny that he sets a shining example to follow.


And there you have it folks, a list of some of the best anime dads out there. There’ll always be horrible anime dads, and that stigma isn’t going to go away anytime soon, but it’s nice to know that there are a least a few of them out there who can break the mold. Enjoy your Father’s Day, everyone!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Review: Voltron Legendary Defender Season 1- Forming A New Legend + Site Update

So bit of a quick update. As you can no doubt see by the last time I actually posted something here, I haven’t been too consistent in doing so, and I’ve been spending more of my time writing for The Fandom Post. I do want to try to stay consistent with this though, so for now my personal goal is to try and have at least two or three posts on here every month. This is the first thing for this month obviously, and I plan on trying to have the second done before Saturday. We’ll see how long I can manage to keep this up for, but I plan on trying a couple of different things so hopefully it all pans out. Anyway onto the review.

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Synopsis: Long ago the leader of the Galra race, Emperor Zarkon began his conquest of the universe, and the extermination of the Alteans. The only force capable of stopping him was a weapon known as Voltron, but it was sealed away along with the Altean princess, Allura. 10,000 years later, a group of young space pilots from Earth stumble upon one of the robot lions that form Voltron, along with Allura but soon discover that Zarkon is still alive, and has already seized control over most of the known universe. Now these pilots must become the new Paladins of Voltron and use it’s power to defeat Zarkon once and for all.

 

The Review

Giant robots have long been a staple of nerd culture, and when it comes to Americans who grew up in the 80’s they’re associated with one name: Voltron. Speaking as someone who grew up in the late 90’s/early 00’s, my only experience with the original series is through vague memories of the reruns that aired on Toonami when I was five or so, but I do know there’s been many an attempt over the years to reignite the franchise. These include shortly lived series like Voltron: The Third Dimension, and the more recent Voltron Force, but pretty much all of them have ended in failure. Now it’s time for yet another contender to step up to the plate, but Voltron: Legendary Defender just might be the one that finally lives up to the challenge.

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Reboots tend to suffer from the awkward experience of trying to both capitalize on a new audience while not totally isolating an already existing one, and usually end up losing on one of the two in the process. However rather than leaning too much one way or the other, Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra alumni Lauren Montgomery and Joaquim Dos Santos stated in interviews that their approach was to create the show they fondly remembered, rather than the one they actually grew up watching. It’s a particularly bold statement because the original Voltron was an Americanized mash-up of two separate mecha anime, Dairugger XV and Beast King Go Lion (with the latter being where it drew the most material from), and has been admitted as not making much sense on it’s own, despite the show’s legacy.  Obviously this show is a lot more coherent, but rather than rejecting what came before it, Legendary Defender instead pays homage to both the Voltron of yore and the original Go Lion in particular (Shiro and the Galra retain their original names from Go Lion, and the character designs are retooled directly from that version) while also using the showrunners’ previous experience to make a fun sci-fi fantasy romp, that’s filled with a solid combination of action, humor and occasional 80’s mecha camp. The result is an experience that both old and new audiences can enjoy, and a production that was clearly a labor of love.

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The show’s first season runs 11 episodes and manages to cover a decent amount of ground in that time, but it mostly just gives the sense that things are only beginning. While the 70-minute pilot suffers a bit from having to do a lot of things at once, the later episodes find a balance between building up the show’s universe, and maintaining enough of a constant pace that it never feels like it’s cooling down. In fact, the series takes advantage of Netflix’s “binge-streaming” model to create a heavy sense of continuity, and one that feels a lot more in line with how anime is formatted, than the structure normally seen in U.S. TV seasons. Many of the episodes run directly off each other, and even the small handful of standalone episodes end up tying into the season’s overarching story pretty quickly. This helps to make it incredibly easy to burn through in one or two sittings, but also comes with the unfortunate effect of making the season’s final episode feel a bit frustrating, as there’s no real attempt to conclude anything, so hopefully a second season won’t take too long to surface.

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Though while the show is strongly supported by it’s format, it also benefits heavily from its strong core cast of characters. All of the Voltron Paladins prove to be easily likable, and while they feel a bit archetypal in the beginning, they’re gradually fleshed out over the season’s run. Shiro in particular seemed like the super dependable leader who’s usually set up to be a sacrificial lamb (and still may be) but has enough of his own issues to feel like a real character, and the team’s “smart guy” Pidge has pretty good character arc, ultimately becoming the most endearing member of the group so far. Even Princess Allura manages to avoid merely being a damsel-in-distress, and at times feels like the real head of the team, rather than Shiro. Ironically, if there’s anyone who sort of falls into the background, it would be Keith, who despite being the protagonist of the original Voltron, doesn’t really have much to work with aside from his attitude problems, and occasional banter with Lance. The Galra are also pretty one-note as far as villains go, but the show drops some strong hints about that there’s more to both Keith and Zarkon that meets the eye, so I’m certainly open to seeing where the show takes them going forward.

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Normally I don’t talk too much animation when it comes to western stuff since the intent generally leans towards making something consistent as opposed to how stylized anime can get, but in this case it’s worth mentioning. Studio Mir’s work on The Legend of Korra was pretty solid, and their aesthetics have only improved, with a few of the show’s best action scenes feeling reminiscent of the Japanese “sakuga” style of animation as the animators show off some unique visual flair. Equally notable, is the production’s work in effectively blending together it’s 2D and 3DCG elements, as the latter manages to avoid feeling out of place, and even Voltron itself feels at home with the rest of show’s visuals. My only real complaint would be that the character designs aren’t quite as sharp as the ones featured in Avatar and Korra, but the show more than makes up for it making the characters as expressive as possible, and it helps to add to a lot of the humor.

The rebooting of a franchise as mixed as Voltron is by no means an easy feat, but so far it seems like the staff has managed to pull it off. Between the fun characters and the impressive work on the production, there’s plenty to enjoy here, and the showrunners have clearly poured a lot of time and heart into making a series with the potential to carry the franchise well into the future. Time will tell if this ends up making the kind of splash the other reboots failed to, but for now it’s looking like after years of dormancy, Voltron may finally have the chance to rise again.

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Overall: 8.6/10

Available for streaming on Netflix

Review: Fullmetal Alchemist- Without Equal

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Synopsis: Alchemy is the science of analyzing, deconstructing and reconstructing matter and the Alchemists who use it follow the principle of Equivalent Exchange: that in order to obtain something of equal value must be lost. However when two young Alchemists, Edward and Alphonse Elric lose their mother, they attempt to bend the laws of alchemy in order to bring her back and in exchange for their failure, Ed loses his arm and leg while Al loses his entire body with his soul trapped inside a suit of armor. Determined to get back the bodies they lost the boys decide to join the military and  seek out the mythical Philosopher’s Stone that has the ability to perform Alchemy without any price, but the journey they undertake proves there’s far more to both Equivalent Exchange and the stone than they realize.

Review

Waifus. Ramen. Fullmetal Alchemist. Outside of the stuff that’s been outright ingrained into pop-culture here like Dragonball Z and Naruto, there are very few anime that have left as big an impact as Fullmetal Alchemist. My own personal history with the show, however is a tad complicated. When I was in middle school this was the show everyone I knew talked about, but airing late Saturday nights, and my parents being strict about what I watched made me more or less miss the boat on it. By the time I actually got around to the series, I was in my 2nd or 3rd year of highschool, and since that was mainly thing to do back then, I checked out the manga first through a combination of old volumes my friends had and of course online scans. I enjoyed it quite a bit, and despite hearing that the anime version was incredibly different I was still pretty eager to check it out.

The result proved to me worth my while as I adored the anime’s storyline (the movie not so much) and found it just as compelling as the manga material I’d read. Of course, I had read the manga first, and so as time passed I became more and more invested in that version, and by the time the manga faithful anime reboot Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood came out, I’d almost completely lost myself to it. Still despite the heated debates on the internet over which version was better, I maintained some love for the first anime series and vowed I would get around to revisiting it eventually. Now years later with this version of the show out on Blu-Ray I finally got the chance, and the experience is just as powerful to me as it was then, if not more so.

While it’s inevitable to draw some level of comparison to the Brotherhood/manga storyline, personally I’ve never seen much point in it, and having revisited this version I feel more strongly about that than ever. Though it’s certainly true the two follow a somewhat similar storyline up to a certain point, it was evident from the get-go that the first anime had it’s own plans in mind, and both the director and writer have said as much. In fact, it began making some pretty significant deviations from the source material extremely early on in order to ease into it better and while similar events happen, it’s often for completely different reasons.. As such the overarching result ends in two very distinct shows, each with extremely different characterization, themes and concepts that make them unmistakably distinguishable from one another with the only real similarity between them being that they share the same title.

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So what exactly is it about this version of the story that makes it such a beloved classic? Well to sum it up quickly it would be that it’s an incredibly human drama as opposed to the ultra consistent action-adventure of the Brotherhood/manga story. Anime is well known for it’s use of dramatic elements, and even the original material has more than it’s fair share of it, but there’s something about the way it handles those portions of the story that make it really stand out. There’s always an understandable driving force behind the actions of every character, and even some of the monstrous people in the story carry a few shades of grey. It can be incredibly cynical in it’s view of human nature, but just as often it’s great at displaying an abundance of kindness and forgiveness in regards to the actions the characters face on their long journey. All of it staying relatively composed and keeping it’s drama grounded enough to carry a realistic sense of weight behind everything(well aside from the anomaly that is Robo-Archer but the less said about that the better).

Everyone from the military men like Roy Mustang and Armstrong to the villains like Greed and Dante prove to be compelling and it’s easy to get swept up in each of their stories. However while there’s a lot of great characters and relationships explored, none are as powerful as the bond between Ed and Al. The connection between them is one of constant self-sacrifice and the lengths they’re willing to go to in order to save each other makes for a relationship than can be equal parts heartwarming and heartbreaking as the struggles they endure in order to achieve that goal gradually becomes harsher. Edward’s cynical nature, and Al’s childlike optimism also help to further serve the great dynamic between them as both speak to how the show examines human nature as both points of view are given some level of validation and it makes the journey the two take all the more interesting as their outlooks are drastically changed. In the end, both are forced to realize that the world they live in is far more complicated than either was willing to give credit for, but while not everything equals out, there’s still some value to be had maintaining the belief that we can still get our share of value out of life, and it’s a message that speaks to the show as a whole.

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Of course while the human core of the show is what ultimately carries it, it’s drama is far from it’s only strength. The show also also encompasses a pretty strong fantasy setting, and though the route this version goes with it differs pretty significantly from the source material, it’s still pretty unique. Alchemy in this show is neat, and there’s a lot of careful detail put into it as the show uses it to encompass various ideas on religion and philosophy, all while using it to further strengthen the show’s human elements rather than deter from them, and it makes for lore that’s actually interesting rather than distracting. It’s also got more than it’s fair share of cool action and while it can’t really outdo the Brotherhood/manga material in that department, there’s still plenty enough to make it pretty solid on that front, and it’s the near perfect combination of all these elements that makes it such an incredible show.

It also certainly helps that the show is a great looking production. While it can’t quite compare to other high-profile Studio BONES productions, and especially Brotherhood, it’s still an incredibly polished looking series, and despite being an early digipaint series, the show still holds up well visually and the upscale for the Blu Rays is solid. It holds up just as well music-wise with Michiru Oshima’s soundtrack for the series delivering on a bevy of memorable tracks and most of the opening and ending themes chosen for the series are great too with songs like Kesenai Tsumi by Nana Kitade and Rewrite by Asian-Kung Fu Generation still sounding as fantastic as ever. 

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Can’t really talk about the show without also mentioning the dub too, as next to YuYu Hakusho it’s the one largely responsible for creating Funimation’s reputation as one of the best in the business. While I’ve rewatched certain portions of Brotherhood enough times to be used to the sound of that dub regarding the characters, this one still holds up extremely well and even the roles like Scott McNeal as Hohenheim and Dameon Clarke as Scar, whose Brotherhood replacements delivered on some pretty strong work, I found myself warming up to again very quickly and are still really great performances. Vic Mignonia’s Edward Elric still sounds as iconic as ever and Aaron Dismuke’s Alphonse still really manages to capture the essence of a little boy (and the fact that he was one at the time certainly helps) with the rest of the cast sounding nearly pitch-perfect all across the board aside from one or two minor characters. 

All in all, I can’t say I was too surprised at the fact that this version of Fullmetal Alchemist still held up for me, but I was taken aback at just how much it resonated with me. Everything from how the show handles it’s characters and themes, to it’s presentation are still remarkable and it’s the rare kind of package that delivers on a little bit of everything, with none of it being compromised. It’s easy to see why this show is still so highly regarded, and while it may get looked over by some fans in favor of it’s shiner and more manga friendly counterpart Brotherhood, it’s still more than worth taking a look at. Fullmetal Alchemist may not have given the same experience as the original story but in exchange we ended up with one of the strongest anime ever made, and for me that’s a more than equivalent.

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Overall: 10/10

Available for streaming on Funimation, Hulu and Netflix. Blu Rays available through Right Stuf and Amazon