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

Animation Talk- Best of Anime in 2015

Well another year has almost gone by meaning it’s once again time to talk about the highlights. As a whole this has been one of the strongest years for anime in recent memory and despite a few disappointments here and there, there’s been a lot of strong content to check out. So without any further ado, let’s jump in.

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This category goes to things that aren’t exactly show specific, but nevertheless wanted to point out. That includes theme songs, characters and stuff related to English dubs. Anyway let’s get started:

 

Best Anime Opening-Mazeru na Kiken by Kinniku Shojo Tai (Ushio & Tora)

 This was a pretty good year for anime openings for me as there was a good mix of great standalone songs, and made-for-series theme songs. With that. I had a pretty hard time deciding which I liked best but in the end I had to give it to Ushio & Tora’s . When I first started on the show, I came in expecting it to be a GAR-fest and the opening ended up delivering on that in spades as it’s 90 seconds of pure testostrone filled visuals and enough to even give Fist of the North Star’s opening a run for it’s money. It also works really well as a standalone song, mixing together heavy guitar rock and bits of japanese folktale music making for a theme song that makes for a really blood-pumping opener.

Honorable Mentions: Raise Your Flag by Man On A Mission (Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron Blooded Orphans), Ai no Prison by Kangoku Danshi (Prison School), Flyers by Bradio (Death Parade)

Best English Dub- Tokyo Ghoul

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This has been a pretty good year to be a fan of of English dubs as between the rise of Broadcast dubs, Sentai Filmworks getting some of their shows on Toonami and a surprisingly decent number of California-based dubs, there’s been plenty to go around. As with every year though there’s a handful of dubs that managed to rise above and beyond, this one being no exception as my two of my other favorites Blood Blockade Battlefront and Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure were pretty close in quality to this one. In the end though I had to give it up to Tokyo Ghoul as Mike McFarland once again demonstrates why he’s one of the best ADR Directors in the business.  The voice direction in the show carries his usual level of high quality and the voice work itself delivers on a variety of fantastic performances from Austin Tindle’s Kaneki fully capturing both personas of the character perfectly to Monica Rial’s surprisingly creepy Rize and of course J. Micheal Tatum’s delightfully hammy Tsukiyama. It also manages to nail things pretty well script wise too and enjoys a script that’s liberal enough to have a little bit of fun with itself but not so much that it ends up overriding the material of the series itself like a few other Funimation dubs this year. I’ve had my share of issues regarding Funi’s dubs this year but when it comes to this one, I’m willing to give credit where credit is due.

Honorable Mentions: Blood Blockade Battlefront, Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure, A Lull in the Sea

Available for streaming on Funimation

Best English Voice Actor- Erica Mendez

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Coming into this year I was already fairly impressed with her work on Magi: The Labyrinth of Magic as Aladdin and what I’d seen of her as Ryuko Matoi in Kill la Kill but I still wasn’t sure how much her performances were going to stick with me. Between then and the end of the year though, she’s managed to nab a lot more roles and all of them have proved to be pretty stellar. There’s been a lot of individual performances from actors that I’ve really enjoyed this year but she’s managed to deliver in everything I’ve heard her in this year (the one thing I haven’t being SAO II since you couldn’t get me to touch that series again with a 10-foot pole) and has proven to be pretty versatile as she’s handled a variety of different characters and played all of them effectively with my particular favorite probably being her work in A Lull in the Sea as Akari. Erica Mendez is quickly becoming a household name when it comes to California dubs and I’m looking forward to seeing more of her work in the coming year.

Honorable Mentions: Austin Tindle, Max Mitterman, Micah Solusod

Best Anime Character- Gouda Takeo (My Love Story!)

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Shojo has long been a genre dominated by predatory pretty boys (with more than a few putting the extra emphasis on predatory) as the romantic leads so a show instead opting to go with a giant manly-man (who’s usually a side character if they appear at all in this genre) and an extremely gentle hearted one at that is certainly quite unexpected. Especially when he’s made the actual protagonist  as opposed to our heroine Yamato. This could have just come off as a blatant attempt to subvert the usual genre tropes and nothing more, but Takeo proved that he’s a more than worthy lead. He’s a character with a heart as big as himself, and he’s the kind of clumsy and awkward guy that you can’t help but root for, despite the fact that he technically gets his happy ending pretty early into the show’s run. As a bit of a big guy myself it’s nice to see a protagonist that doesn’t have to adhere to the usual standards of attractiveness and he’s proof that what really matters is on the inside (I swear this is the only time I’ll be this sappy).

Honorable Mentions: Klaus von Reinhart (Blood Blockade Battlefront), Maria (Maria the Virgin Witch), Mumen Rider (One-Punch Man)

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This category is centered around genre stuff. Unlike the best series which we’ll get to afterwards, this for things that stood out really well as a genre piece moreso than as an overall series. That said there’s still plenty of good stuff to be found here, so let’s take a look:

Best Mecha Series- Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron Blooded-Orphans

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So similarly to last year it hasn’t exactly been the best one for mecha series(mainly because there were surprisingly few), and to be frank I can’t recall the last good one we’ve had in the last half-decade. As  such, it’s once again a Gundam series that rises to the mantle of carrying the genre for the year and this time it’s a serious one. Compared to a lot of the Geass-clones that have plagued the genre for the last few years, this show prides itself on having a lot of grit more than anything else (which is certainly a surprise given the writer is none other than the queen of melodrama herself Mari Okada) and carries it’s darker elements as being associated more with the overall setting of the show than any attempt to hamfist it in. It certainly does have it’s share of drama though as it centers itself around the theme of family and brotherhood while also being a pretty darn cool robot action spectacle with  plenty of great mecha fights to go around. This is my first “real” Gundam series (I’ve seen bits of Wing, G Gundam and SEED growing up but never watched any of them in full) and it’s certainly proving to be a great entry point.

Honorable Mention: Comet Lucifer

Available for streaming on Funimation, Daisuki

Best Romance Series- My Love Story

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So to be frank aside from a couple of other series there hasn’t been too much in the way of legitimate romance series this year (though the Kiyoshi X Hana “romance” in Prison School will always be dear to my heart) but dang it, it would feel weird not to bring up this show when it comes to genre stuff so there you go. For years entertainment media has convinced audiences that showcasing a healthy, stable relationship in full force would be boring since there’s no tension and has instead fed us melodrama and occasionally horrifically unstable relationships because that’s way more dramatic. However My Love Story proves that not only can a show about a happy couple be interesting, it’s downright infectiously charming. The chemistry between the two lead characters helps to sustain the show pretty well and while it doesn’t carry itself with too much drama, there’s just enough of it to keep things from getting too saccharine and it makes for a show that’s as genuine as it is sugary-sweet. In a world where the media actively veers from happy relationships, My Love Story is here to remind us that they’re happy for a reason

Honorable Mentions: Snow White with the Red Hair, Yurikuma Arashi

Available for streaming on Crunchyroll, Hulu

Best Comedy Series- Mr. Osomatsu

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It’s been another solid year for comedies and there’s been a few standouts but the best for me proved to be a darkhorse than I don’t think any of us saw coming. This series opened up at full throttle by parodying pretty much every big hit it could get it’s hand on before eventually introducing audiences to it’s own brand of comedy and I’ve been laughing ever since. Series director Yoichi Fujita (who’s also directed a little anime comedy you might have heard of called Gintama) clearly knows how to make people laugh, and the show brings that out in spades as it’s cast of loveable jerks never fails to make me crack a smile. Of course while it’s great for laughs it’s also proven to be surprisingly witty and it’s depiction of our NEET protagonists makes for some occasional social commentary. I certainly wasn’t expecting this series to be such a standout, but now I’m glad it’s here to grace us with it’s presence.

Honorable Mentions: Prison School, Gintama season 4, Cute High Earth Defense Club LOVE!

Available for streaming on Crunchyroll

Best Action Series- One-Punch Man

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Okay so I’m not being terribly original here, but you can at least give me some credit for putting it here instead of as best comedy. While OPM is two parts comedy and action, the anime adaption put a bit more focus towards the action side of things and in the biggest way possible. Director Shingo Natsume aka the other mind behind Space Dandy besides Watanabe managed to assemble a crack team of animators (so no it doesn’t have anything to do with the B-word and the animators themselves have said as much) to deliver on a glorious spectacle. The show features some of the best action animation highlights of the year and every episode has at least one impressive  sequence or two, with the finale in particular featuring what is hands down the best TV animated fight I’ve ever seen. Of course OPM is also a comedy and it does pretty well for itself in that area in addition to using it’s superhero ranking system as workplace commentary, but even if those elements don’t quite work for everyone it’s hard to deny that as an action piece it’s knocked out the rest of the competition this year with one solid punch.

Honorable Mentions: Ushio & Tora, Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders Egypt Arc, Blood Blockade Battlefront

Available for streaming on Hulu, Daisuki

Best Drama Series- My Teen Romantic Comedy Snafu TOO!

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So truth be told I got into this series while the second season was airing, but there’s a solid difference in quality between the two seasons so I don’t think I’m being too biased here. While I enjoyed the first season’s more cynical approach towards high school and teen relationships, I’m also glad the show was willing to acknowledge that point of view isn’t exactly sustainable when making the transition to adulthood and this season demonstrates that in full. Especially so in regards to the protagonist Hikki who’s cynicism, while effective in dealing with problems on a superficial level, ultimately serves to make himself unhappy and that as he grows closer to those around him, he inevitable has to start changing even if the prospect of getting hurt by others terrifies him. Of course he’s not the only one going through changes in this season as our two heroines and other various members of the supporting cast are also forced to take a deeper look at themselves and where they stand in regards to the relationships they’ve made. Sadly this season ends on a bit of a cliffhanger and it’s hard to say when we’ll get more, but this sequel made an already solid show really strong, and while some may feel the second season’s approach against cynicism is a betrayal of the first, it’s definitely where this series needed to be headed and I’m looking forward to getting more some day.

 Honorable Mentions: Noragami Aragoto, Death Parade, Maria the Virgin Witch

Available for streaming on Crunchyroll

 

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And now we’ve finally arrived at the best series for the year. You may notice that I have two series listed here instead of one, but that’s because I’ve picked the best based on two sub-categories: best adaption and best original work. While both adaptions and original projects both carry the intent to pick up an audience, they’re generally trying to accomplish different things as an adaption has to be a good piece of entertainment while maintaining the strengths of it’s source material where as an original work needs to stand completely on it’s own two feet and draw in a crowd on it’s own merits. As such I feel it’s only appropriate to bring up which two series did the best at tackling those things so without any further ado, here they are:

Best Series (Adaption)- Blood Blockade Battlefront 

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I liked both of Yasuhiro Nightow’s previous works Trigun and Gungrave, and Rie Matsumoto’s direction for Kyusogiga helped to make that series my favorite of the year it came out so when I saw this series was going to involve those two minds melding together I was pretty excited. That said I wasn’t expecting it to nearly as much of a standout as it ultimately ended up being one of the year’s strongest success both in terms of quality and financially since it’s finally given BONES their first genuine hit in a long time. The show’s loose storytelling could have proved to be overwhelming in the wrong hands, but even at it’s most dense it’s never too difficult to follow and it’s really east to get caught up in the show’s ficitional version of New York as it provides a mismash of everything from aliens to the supernatural. Although while the series generally functions in an episodic manner and especially so for the manga going by what I’ve heard of it, Rie Matsumoto also managed to inject some of her own themes through the Black/White storyline that persists through most of the show and it’s really effective. In blends into the source material pretty well and not only does it manage to avoid feeling out of place, it helps to enhance several of the show’s other elements as well in regards to Leo’s coming of age story and finding his own sense of self-worth. I know people sometimes have the tendency to look down on adaptions that feel like more of the director’s product than the original author’s but there’s something to be said for ones that manage to insert the director’s ideas without negating what makes the source material great and this series stands as proof that it can be done right. While I can’t say I’m exactly foaming at the mouth for another season, I certainly wouldn’t mind one, and even if we don’t this is a perfectly solid piece on it’s own.

Honorable Mentions: One-Punch Man, Noragami Aragoto, Maria the Virgin Witch

Available for streaming on Funimation, Hulu

Best Series (Original Work)- Yurikuma Arashi

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2015 was a solid year of highs for anime as we got a pretty good plethora of good content, and so much of it that I can actually name no less than 14 shows I really enjoyed. That said while there’s been a lot heavy hitters this time around, in the end there’s just no beating an Ikuhara show for me. This series continues director Kunihiko Ikuhara’s bizarre mix of sexual themes and over the top visual symbolism found in both Revolutionary Girl Utena and Penguindrum to create yet another interesting piece of art. Though where Utena and to a much lesser extent Penguindrum briefly explored lesbian relationships, this one is all about gay prejudice in society, the value of true love over sexual desire and of course loads and loads of bears. As with pretty much anything Ikuhara related it’s an acquired taste, but if you dig his sense of style then you’ll be happy to know it’s all over the place here and delivered in his strangest fashion yet. Given the show’s subject matter, I briefly considered putting it as my top romance series of the year but sadly the show doesn’t have as much time as Ikuhara’s other two series to devote to characterization and while our three heroines are certainly likable, there was definitely plenty of room for them to be fleshed out better. As such I’d probably have to say that among Ikuhara’s three masterpieces this one’s the weakest, but calling something a weak masterpiece is hardly an insult, and what it does do well, it does extremely well. Ikuhara’s done it once again as the overall package here is more than enough to make this show an easy pick for my favorite among this year’s original works (and in general), and also strong enough to stand as one of my favorite anime yet.

Honorable Mentions: Death Parade, Yatterman Night, Gatchaman Crowds Insight

Available for streaming on Funimation, Hulu

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And that’s 2015 for me in a nutshell. All in all this was a much stronger year than I was expecting as there’s been a lot of things I’ve liked and surprisingly few things I was disappointed by (Gangsta‘s probably the only anime adaption that failed to meet my expectations this time). With 2016 on the horizon there’s looking to be quite a few big adaptations and anticipated sequels coming out of the woodwork, with more than a few I’m really excited for. With any luck, it’ll be just as good of a year if not better than this one and even if it doesn’t I can at least say that this was a tough year to beat.

 

Animation Talk/Recommendations-10 Best Samurai Jack Episodes

So if you’ve been on the inter-webs recently you’ve likely noticed that everyone’s in a hubbub over a little show called Samurai Jack being brought back from the dead for a new season in 2016. The show has been held up throughout the years as a beloved classic, and having reviewed the show a year ago, I can confirm that it’s stood the test of time fairly well. So if you need a refresher on what made the series so great or haven’t seen it and are curious to see what all the excitement’s about, here’s a list of my 10 favorite episodes from the show in honor of it’s revival.

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10) The Birth of Evil

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Every story needs a beginning, but in this case we’re going to the beginning-beginning. This is the episode that finally explained Aku’s origins as well as the origins of Jack’s legendary sword (which oddly enough despite being forged by several gods, none of them were Japanese ones) and it’s the only episode where our titular hero is nowhere to be found, with the story instead being told through the perspective of his late father. Given this was told as a two-parter it’s one of the show’s more cinematic pieces and it’s chockful of the show’s usual brand of action and direction, making for a really nice prequel and one that answered a couple of burning questions.

9) Jack and the Scotsman

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Samurai Jack is a show with little to no continuity so it’s nice to get a recurring character besides our hero and villain, and the Scotsman proved to be a welcome addition to the series. Out of all the episodes he’s featured in though, his first appearance is definitely his strongest. In addition to being another solid action piece for the show, it’s really fun to see his brash personality play off of Jack’s more reserved persona, making for some good comedy and one of the better uses of the “handcuffed together” scenario (and as I type this my mind is now filled with horrifying images of the slash fics this may have inspired) as the two are forced to work together in order to fight off the various bounty hunters after their heads. With Jack being something of a lone wolf half the time, it was nice to see him find at least one ally in the future, and their team-up here proved the two most dangerous men on the planet are even more dangerous together (darn, I did it again!)

8) Jack Remembers the Past

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The series carries with it, many different moods and stories, but this is one of the few that’s genuinely about our hero himself. Given Jack’s story started off with him being sent off to train against Aku, there wasn’t really anytime to see his childhood before that so this serves as a window into what his life was like before disaster struck. More importantly though, it serves as a reminder that Jack is pretty much alone, as there’s still no way for him to actual return to his home and his look back on bygone days helps to make this one of the show’s more quiet entries and proof that dialogue isn’t always necessary to strike an emotional cord.

 

7) Jack and the Blind Archers

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Speaking of silence, it’s pretty much impossible to do a list like this without this episode being in there somewhere. This early entry in the show’s run features Jack being pitted against a trio of mystic archers in order to gain access to a wish granting well that could return him back to the past (bet you can’t guess what DOESN’T happen!). What really makes this one stand out is that it was one of the first episodes in the series to prove how well direction could carry a mood even without much dialogue, something practically unheard of for western animation at the time (and in some ways is still the case unfortunately). The silent samurai movie nature of it, makes for a really cinematic action piece and while the ending twist isn’t too surprising it caps off the tension of the episode pretty well  and if you need an example of how well the show can handle that kind of style, look no further than this.

6) Jack and the Lava Monster

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Like the previous episode, this one is another action centric entry but this one has some actual story  to it giving it an extra punch. In this one Jack encounters a monster that’s actually the spirit of a Norse warrior who tried to resist against Aku’s hostile takeover of his homeland, only to be cursed by the demon. Now he’s stuck in this body and unable to ascend to Valhalla with the rest of his brethren unless he can die a warrior’s death at Jack’s hands. This makes for a pretty tragic tale in addition to the usual epic fight scene with the combination making it a standout among the show’s earlier entries. It also makes for one of the show’s darkest when you consider this was an episode of a children’s cartoon where the main character was effectively helping a guy to commit suicide. Nighty, night kids!

5) The Premiere

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It wouldn’t be fair to do one of these without mentioning the episode that started it all.  The premiere is a great introduction into Samurai Jack’s world, displaying everything from how epic, to how downright weird the series can get as we see the beginnings of Jack’s fight against Aku and his first encounter with the distant future he now finds himself trapped in (the latter of which involves talking dogs). All of the show’s sense of direction, fight choreography and killer soundtrack can be found full force here, making for a perfect segway into getting people interested in the show. One of the things that stands out the most about it though is the climatic battle between Jack and Aku’s robot army which features what still holds up as one of the most cleverly constructed middle fingers to violence censorship ever conceived.

4) The Good The Bad and the Beautiful

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So this one isn’t as widely remembered as some of the others but it’s pretty solid. This episode is a western spoof featuring Jack on the run from a pair of bounty hunters…who also happen to be divorced and spend just as much time stabbing each other in the back as they do trying to kill Jack. If the premiere is everything great about the show in movie form, then this one is everything fun about it distilled into 22 minutes of pure entertainment. It’s funny, action packed, and clever, making for a great testament to the kind of material you can generally expect from the show when it’s just out to have a good time. 

3) Jack v.s. Aku

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Despite what the title of the episode implies, this one is almost entirely comedy and as far as that goes, it’s the show’s best effort. In a surprising moment of self-awareness, Aku realizes just how repetitive the battles between him and Jack have become so he offers to settle things in a mano-a-mano fight to the finish. Of course Aku being the slippery devil that he is, tries to cheat his way through the battle with Jack trying to counter all his plans, making for a hilarious “I know, you know, that I know” setup (Light Yagami would be proud).  It’s always nice to see a show have the balls to make fun of itself, and this episode succeeds at that in spades.

2) The Tale of X-9

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Have you ever wondered what it’s like to be a robot mook? The answer’s probably no, but too bad because Samurai Jack shows it to you anyway, and the result makes for one of the show’s strongest entries. We follow the titular X-9 who used to be one of Aku’s elite robot enforcers until he decided to settle down and live the quiet life with his pet Lulu (sweet thing). That is until Aku calls him for one last job in trying to get rid of Jack and holds Lulu hostage to ensure he goes through with it. Since X-9’s name doesn’t happen to be Samurai Jack though, his fate is sealed the moment he encounters our hero and it makes for a pretty sad ending. I’m a fan of noir spoofs (mainly because noir is impossible for me to take seriously) and this delivers on all fronts, so the next time you encounter a robot mook in a game, you might wanna think about who he could be leaving behind before you slaughter him. You monsters.

 

1) Jack and the Spartans 

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This is another one of the show’s most looked back upon episodes and for good reason. This one features Jack teaming up with a small army of Spartans in order to help defend what remains of their domain, and while at first glance it seems like an obvious homage to the movie 300, it actually aired well before that and is instead a tribute to an earlier film called The 300 Spartans as well as the novel that inspired it. As such, the episode is shot in a deliberately cinematic fashion, ramping up the show’s usual mix of direction, action and storytelling considerably. It’s an episode that stands at the pinnacle of the show’s sense of style, and shows just what it’s capable of accomplishing in a mere 22 minutes when all of it’s elements are in perfect harmony. It also helps that this episode has nothing to do with Aku, making for a great standalone piece, and one I’d highly recommend if you haven’t seen the show before, but are curious as to why it’s so highly regarded. The show has a lot of greats, but this is by far one of it’s most brilliant.

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And there you have it. Samurai Jack is a show with a lot of style, and these episodes are prime examples of said style at it’s best. As we look onward to the new season, it’s hard to say what else the show will end up accomplishing, but I’m certainly looking forward to finding out.

 

 

Your Brain on Toons- Death Note: Live Action TV Series V.S. Manga

So needless to say, I’m a pretty big Death Note fan. The manga was one of the first I ever really got into during middle school and its ability to deliver increasingly complex schemes appealed to me. Over the years though, there have been various retellings and side-stories about it, with everything from an anime, two-live action movies and multiple novels. The live-action series that just recently wrapped up its run is the latest incarnation, and while it’s narrative-wise pretty similar to the original series, thematically it’s quite different. So much so in fact, that I thought just doing a straight up review wouldn’t be enough so instead I thought it would be better to do a more direct comparison between it and the manga storyline.

Drama v.s. Thriller

Alright so let’s make this clear right off the bat: this version isn’t really a thriller like the original was. It certainly portrays the appearance of one and manages to be genuinely suspenseful every now and then (though it’s internal logic isn’t quite as polished as the original’s), but for the most part that’s not its real objective. In fact, it’s typically at its weakest whenever it’s playing the manga material straight, both because most viewers likely already know the end result, and because it doesn’t mesh too well with what this adaption’s trying to do.

Instead (in case the title Death Note: Drama didn’t didn’t make it obvious enough) this version goes more for well…straight-up drama. Particularly in that it’s much more interested in the moral implications of Light’s self-proclaimed crusade than anything else. In a lot of ways, I actually prefer this angle. The original manga story could be genuinely dramatic at times and occasionally insightful, but for the most part it was never seriously aspiring to be anything more than a well-written thriller. There’s nothing really wrong with that of course, but the amount of things that can be done with a more dramatic version of the story are pretty boundless, so it’s nice to see a version that seriously attempts to take on that. Now let’s get to the other obvious difference here: character portrayals. Though since Light’s is obviously the most significant, I’ll save talking about him for last.

Father and Son

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One of the most immediate notable differences in this version as compared to the manga is its usage of Light’s father, Soichiro. In the manga, Soichiro more or less existed as a convenient way to realistically tie Light to the police department and thus make it  easier for him to play them from within. Due to that, the relationship between him and Light was never really touched on much, and whenever it did come up, he, much as any parent would, steadfastly believed in his son’s innocence throughout the entire story. Thanks to that, he was one of the few characters to die somewhat happily, as he remained blissfully unaware of the truth even in his final moments. The version of Soichiro in the drama however, isn’t quite so fortunate.

In this version, the two have a much more…complicated relationship to say the least. Growing up, Light admired his dad for his police work and wanted to be like him, but at the same time resents him for not being there when his mother passed away, causing a strain between them. Thus when this incarnation of Light becomes Kira, not only does Soichiro harbor more serious doubts about his son’s innocence, but he feels that he might have been responsible for Light’s transformation in the first place. Partially because he literally is (we’ll get into that later) and also because Light feels his brand of “justice” isn’t so different from Soichiro’s. This ultimately ends in tragedy as once he knows the truth for certain, Soichiro is unable to live with the guilt of causing his son to become a monster, and tries to use his death as a means to convince Light to turn away from the path he’s headed down. Though unfortunately for him, not only does he fail, but he actually ends up driving Light even further over the edge. The new take on this relationship is one of the strongest highlights of this adaption and it plays really well towards it’s more tragic perspective.

The Minions of Evil

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Light’s relationship with his followers is also fairly different here, though it’s not quite as significant a change as you might expect. Like with a lot of things from the manga, Misa and Mikami’s backstories more or less just existed to give them a reasonable excuse to follow Light and didn’t really serve much to their characterization beyond that. It’s not a whole lot different here, but the connection at least feels a bit more personal.

This is especially so in Misa’s case as Light is much more directly involved in her path to becoming the second Kira in this version. Mikami less so, but by having him interact face-to-face with Light as opposed to their relationship in the manga where they only met at the end, his insane sense of loyalty feels a bit more believable and it’s partially thanks to it that his part in Light’s downfall is less of the deciding factor for it. On the downside though, this version of Misa is somehow even dumber than her manga counterpart if you can believe it, and it’s weird because this take on the story doesn’t really seem to carry anything similar to the authors’ transparent spite towards women otherwise (the other major female character is actually quite proactive in the last few episodes). Maybe they felt people would complain if she was too different? I don’t know, but this is one aspect where I definitely feel the drama could have done better differentiating itself.

L’s Successor(s)

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Going back to big changes, another of the larger ones is in the characterization of Near and Mello. Well saying Near AND Mello isn’t exactly being accurate in this instance since they’re one in the same here. Quite literally so in fact as Mello is nothing more than Near’s split personality in this version, with the most you ever see of his original character design being Near’s actual puppet (the meta-jokes you could make here are endless). In the original story they were introduced as last minute stand-ins for L after his death, (though exactly how last minute is rather debatable since I’ve never really believed that whole thing you hear in forums about the editors pushing those characters on the authors) which was something that was met with a lot of…backlash to say the least.

Thankfully this incarnation avoids that issue by introducing them right off the bat weaving them into L’s endgame relatively quickly. The core basics of their personalities remain the same with Near being calm and rational v.s. Mello being impulsive and brash, though by combining them into one entity, it makes their actions a bit harder to predict, and most notably so during the show’s final gambit. Sadly though, for as much as it’s built up the show never really does too much with the split personality thing aside from suspense, but what it does do well is the one thing the manga couldn’t: giving Near an actual relationship with L. It makes his investment in avenging L’s death feel way more genuine because we actually get to see first hand how much he respects him and thus his defeat of Light feels a lot more satisfying as far as his character’s concerned, even if it’s more L’s victory than his

The Two Faces of L

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Speaking of L, it’s time to start digging into our two poster boys for this franchise (well three if you count Ryuk). When I first came into this adaption, I was pretty intrigued about the interpretation of L it decided to take. In the manga, L generally comes off as something of an enigma. He’s very good at analyzing people on a rational level, but it’s difficult to ever get a read on how he ever truly feels about anything because he keeps up almost as much of a facade about them as Light does. Even his supposed “friendship” with Light was as much a deception on his part as it was on the latter as he was always scheming to have him exposed  and thus made for an interesting parallel between the two.

In comparison, this version is a lot more flamboyant and brutally honest about his thoughts, which ironically enough, actually makes him seem more villainous. He’s much more openly manipulative of others than his manga counterpart, and a better planner to the point where he ends up being the actual mastermind of the show (I don’t think manga-L would have literally had things worked out from beyond the grave). However it’s that same bluntness that makes his relationship with Light more interesting since there actually is some genuine sentiment behind that friendship proposal.

While he still pretty clearly suspects Light and tries to apprehend him, he also really wants to believe that Light is as good a guy as he seems to be. It makes both their final scene together and the actual final scene of the series particularly poignant, as he carried that wish right through to the end in spite of its unlikelihood and the fact that it literally destroys him. Unfortunately while I like the idea, I can’t say the execution behind this perspective is as smooth as I’d have liked, as making L’s less noble traits more transparent also means that its a little harder to feel like he means it when he says he respects Light, even if the narrative is seriously pointing things that way. In truth, I’d almost have an easier time believing manga-L on it since he was a lot better about giving off that image even when you knew he was lying through his teeth. Can certainly give this a few points for trying though since it mostly does the job, and if nothing else, L trolling from beyond the grave at least makes for some good entertainment.

The Tragedy of Light Yagami

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At last we arrive at our protagonist, and to no one’s surprise, his changes are definitely the biggest attraction of this adaption. You see, for years I’ve heard the argument that “Light Yagami is a tragic character” as a way to somehow sympathize with his madness and frankly its always been  a load of baloney to me. While there’s no disputing he was corrupted by the Death Note, Light never really came off as anything more than an unrepentant monster in the original story. From the moment we first meet the guy, he’s something of a sociopath, and what little good intentions he started out gave way to his ego and insatiable desire for godhood almost immediately. As such, by the time we get to Light’s downfall at the end of the manga, it’s extremely satisfying because we’ve spent so much time seeing what monstrous lengths he’ll go to in order to ensure his reign and it’s so downright karmic that any ambiguity as to if you should be rooting for him to meet a horrible end or not is pretty much non-existent. The Light of this story however, may in fact be the best attempt at making that tragedy argument actually work.

Unlike the manga where he’s Kira almost right off the bat, we spend quite a bit of time with Light in the live-action series before he begins his mission. His actual start in this version is also notably different as he doesn’t just test the notebook on a couple of people before deciding to go right off the deep end and start a worldwide crusade. Instead he’s put in a few situations where he actually has to use the notebook to save people, and most notably his father. Thanks to that, despite his initial turmoil over the moral implications of becoming a murderer, he has a much more steadfast belief in his cause than his manga counterpart and that’s fueled further the more he continues doing it. To be honest, this more “heroic” portrayal of his character had me as worried as it did intrigued at first, since I was afraid this version might back out of actually condemning Light for his crimes in favor of a more traditional anti-hero angle. Thankfully though, it turns out to be quite the opposite.

While his start is different, it doesn’t take too long for live-action Light to “evolve”  into his original characterization, and when he does it makes for a much starker contrast between who he started out as v.s. what he eventually became (though admittedly not as smoothly a transition as I would have liked). When we revisit Light’s “normal” persona in this version’s Yotsuba arc, there actually is a notable difference in personality between that and his Kira one (as opposed to the manga where aside from not being overtly sexist and openly willing to act on mass murder, he was pretty much the same) and it makes his return to the Kira persona all the more horrifying because the Death Note’s corruption of his soul is much clearer.

As time goes on, Light abandons his morality more and more in order to achieve his goals, eventually culminating in him causing his father’s death, despite his initial motivation being to prevent that in first place. While manga-Light reached the point of no return extremely early on in the story, for him in this version, this is the point where any sense of heroism he might have had is completely thrown out the window, and it makes his eventual fate(which coincidentally is even more brutal in this adaption) actually somewhat sad, because we get a much stronger sense of just how far he’s fallen. In this story, Light doesn’t start as a monster, he becomes one(which Ryuk is kind enough to highlight in case anyone somehow misses the message), and that for me makes a much stronger argument of the tragedy angle while also making it fairly clear that it was, in fact, the primary goal of this version all along.

Final Thoughts

So which version works better overall? Well it’s kind of hard to compare a tightly scripted thriller, to a solid, if relatively flawed, tragedy so it partially depends on how forgiving you’re willing to be about said flaws for the latter. Especially since while it certainly takes several opportunities to address some of the manga’s occasional leaps in logic (sorry Light, no FBI agents dumb enough to give you a real ID this time) it also makes a few of it’s own that are hard to ignore and doesn’t quite have the genuine level of camp the original does to give them an easier pass. Still, if you’re willing to overlook that in favor of getting a more emotionally insightful story then it’s certainly worth a look. I’m not sure how much I can outright recommend this version on it’s own since I’m too intimately familiar with the manga not to have some sense of bias towards it, but at the very least this makes for an interesting companion piece to the original story, and one that offers a take I think the franchise ultimately needed.

Review: Transformers Prime- Another Transformation

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Synopsis: For countless millennia, a war has been waged among a race of robotic lifeforms and their separate factions, the Autobots and Decepticons. The battle between the two sides led to the destruction of their home world Cybertron, and leaving them scattered throughout the cosmos. Eventualy the leader of the Autobots, Optimus Prime and his team made their way to Earth, but so has the leader of the Deceptions, Megatron along with his own forces. Now together with three human allies, the Autobots continue their battle against the Decepticons on Earth, and seeking a way to eventually restore their lost homeworld

The Review

So I wouldn’t exactly count myself among the biggest fans of the Transformers franchise, but I’ve generally enjoyed the incarnations of it I’ve seen. Of course having seen some of the 80’s series, the Unicron anime trilogy, Transformers Animated and *sigh* the Bayformers movies there’s only so much of the same story you can really take without hoping they can put enough of a new spin on things to make it fresh. As such when this series first came out, I wasn’t too interested in checking this out despite the level of praise it was getting since I was kind of burned out on the franchise by that point. Though now it’s been a couple of years and I’ve managed to avoid enough new Transformers stuff to be able to give this one a fairer shake. So does it actually do enough to really stand out from the other various incarnations of the story? Well the answer is both yes and no.

As I assume anyone reading this is over the age of 8 and at least has a basic idea of how the Transformers franchise works, I’ll spare going over the direct narrative details and jump straight to discussing the version of the plot in question. The fact that the basic premise of the franchise is an ongoing war is something that it’s never gotten much millage out of outside of anything directly taking place on Cybertron but this series manages to work it quite well.  There’s a bigger emphasis on how much the battle between the Autobots and Decepticons has turned into a never-ending conflict and one that’s been costly for both sides as they spend just as much time fighting over resources (specifically their “lifeblood” Energon that allows them to function) as they do trying to wipe each other out.

What’s particularly of note though, is that compared to other versions, the Autobots here kind of feel like actual war veterans, having each suffered through some form of loss, and carrying some kind of baggage. Most notably with this show’s version of Arcee suffering through PTSD in regardless to losing people close to her, and it plays a pretty big role in regards to her character arc and how she treats others. It helps to create some interesting paralells between them and their human companions, Jack, Miko and Raph who all kind of help to build off their respective robot counterparts, Arcee, Bulkhead and Bumblebee as they work through each other’s flaws. It works it better in regards to Jack and Arcee than the others since they don’t develop quite as much but it’s one of the stronger uses of the dynamic I’ve seen from the franchise.

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Even the Deceptions here are a bit more complex than usual here. Megatron is still well…Megatron but this particularly incarnation feels a bit less generic evil overlord, and gets to be a lot more pragmatic. Starscream on the other hand, is a much less effective schemer than in previous versions but in exchange gets a whole character arc devoted to whether he should just accept his fate as Megatron’s lackey. As always there’s usually quite a bit of civil war going on within their ranks and it manages to keep things interesting as Megatron has to spend just as much time keeping his subordinates in check as he does worrying about the Autobots. Something of which he actually manages to become savvy to, the further the show goes along.

It’s also very notable that compared to the other versions, this one is perhaps the most effective at making the Cybertronians feel more like living creatures and less like well…robots in regards to vunerability. When they “bleed” Energon, it really looks like their actually bleeding and when some of the characters die, the show can get pretty brutal how violent said deaths are. In fact it’s probably one of the most effective uses of robot gore I’ve seen in animation since Samurai Jack, and in a lot of ways it’s even stronger in this show since it’s less a means to get around censorship and more of way to hammer in the severity of what’s happening.

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As such, the biggest flaw of this version ultimately comes down to that it’s still generally the same story. It manages to maintain a tight Gargoyles style sense of continuity in regards to the storyline and similar writing to match as it gets pretty deep into Transformers mythos as the show goes along, but the sense of scale never changes too much from beginning to end. It’s not too crippling but for a 65 episode show it can feel a bit draggy and all the more so when it’s still occasionally subject to the usual action show cliches in regards to silliness. Also while this version does do more to make Optimus Prime a bit more interesting than in other continuities, his standardized heroic traits still come off as kind of boring and his development is kind of lacking compared to the other Autobots. Thankfully though, the tighter narrative is ultimately what proves to be it’s saving grace as even the slowest episodes usually end up tying into the larger story at play and it does manage to have a complete ending with a movie epilogue to wrap things up (well aside from the weirdly ambiguous fate of one of the villains but it’s not a major hangup) which is something I can certainly appreciate give how much actual endings are a rarity when it comes to action shows from the west.

Presentation

The show is animated by Japanese 3DCG veteran studio Polygon Pictures who’s best known for stuff like Star Wars: The Clone Wars, Tron: Uprising and if you want to get into anime examples, Knights of Sidonia. 3DCG still isn’t something people have a lot of tolerance for, but at this point Polygon’s more or less figured out how to best work the craft and it shows. Some of the fight scenes can look absolutely stunning and the show can make good use of cinematography from time to time to really capture the feel of some of the more horrific scenes in the series. The limited scale of the series’s narrative also puts a limit on how diverse some of the backgrounds can be but as the show explores more of Cybertron and Earth, the visuals manage to take a bit of a step up. As far as the character designs go though, the human characters look pretty basic for 3DCG standards, but the Transformer designs on the other hand are a bit more varied than they’ve been in some of the other incarnations and look appropriately cool. The CG’s not the greatest thing, but it never puts too much of a strain on the show’s capabilities and when it gets to go all out, it can lead to some nice results.

Final Thoughts

So how much would I recommend Prime as a whole? Well if you’re as burned out on the franchise as I used to be then I imagine this series probably won’t do too much to change your mind since it’s differences generally don’t lie in the basic story. But if you’re interested in checking out a somewhat darker and grounded spin on said story, then this one may be right up your alley. It’s not the biggest transformation the franchise has ever pulled, but it’s one that helped to remind me part of what drew people to it in the first place.

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Overall: 7.9/10

Available for streaming on Netflix

Animation Talk- My Top 10 English Anime Voice Actresses

Well I finally found some time to spare for this, so here’s the list of my favorite english anime voice actresses to match my previous voice actor list. Unsurprisingly this list was a lot harder to pin down compared to my male VA’s list and I briefly considered including some Honorable Mentions because of it, but then I realized I’d have to go back and do that for the male list and that’s a bit too much extra work. Like with the previous list, I kept the choices centered around anime because it would be an almost completely different list if I were just going with english voice actresses in general. Enjoy ^_^

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10) Luci Christian 

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 Notable Roles: Nami (One Piece), Nagisa Furukawa (Clannad), Mitsukuni “Honey” Haninozuka (Ouran High School Host Club), Makina Hoshimura (Corpse Princess)

Luci Christian has been around for quite a while now and is one of the most prominent voice actresses for both Funimation and Sentai Filmworks, though she’s mostly with the latter these days. Her main forte is largely in doing hot-blooded young boys or girls, but her vocal range extends wide enough to voice teenagers, adults and even more soft-spoken characters on occasion. She’s maintained a pretty solid track record all across the board and her performances almost always manage to deliver on getting a lot out of the characters she’s played. It’s easy to see why she’s been around so long, and I’m always eager to hear her in a new role.

9) Mary Elizabeth McGlynn

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 Notable Roles: Major Mototo Kusanagi (Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex), Kurenai Yuhi (Naruto), Cornelia vi Britannia (Code Geass), Julia (Cowboy Bebop)

So these days, Mary Elizabeth McGlynn is more behind the scenes doing ADR work than actual voice acting, and is pretty well regarded in that area, but her skills behind the mic are also still pretty legendary. She has a very distinct “lady of war” voice that’s become somewhat iconic and her role as Motoko in Ghost in the Shell is still extremely definitive in that area and hasn’t quite yet been matched in the level of presence it carries. Of course while that role and that character type are what she’s best known for, she can play other types of roles quite well, and has a fairly solid vocal range. While her voice work isn’t quite as common as it used to be, it’s still pretty unmistakable and when it comes to ladies in charge for anime, it’s hard to do better.

8) Brina Palencia

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 Notable Roles: Touka Kirishima (Tokyo Ghoul), Tony Tony Chopper (One Piece), Lyuze (Casshern Sins), Juvia (Fairy Tail)

Brina Palencia is one of Funimation’s more prominent VA’s these days and for good reason. She’s done a wide variety of roles, from young boys, to psychotic villains and even the occasional talking animal, with all of them carrying a strong level of emotional intensity. However she does her best work with really dramatic characters and does an effective job at playing them for all their worth without veering into outright silliness (though she can certainly handle that when it’s appopriate). Lately she’s been doing a lot of cross-region work as well so I’m looking forward to hearing her in dubs outside of Funimation, and seeing a lot more of her work.

7) Michelle Ruff

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 Notable Roles: Rukia Kuchiki (Bleach), Fujiko Mine (Lupin the 3rd franchise), Euphemia li Britannia (Code Geass), Luna (Sailor Moon)

On the note of extremely prominent VA’s there’s Michelle Ruff, bs whose work is also pretty common these days though largely centered around the California dubbing scene. She’s been around since some of the earliest days of California dubs and has managed covered a wide variety of roles, including little girls teenagers and sultry adults. Her performances are pretty much always solid and when she gets the chance to really emote, she can bring out some really fantastic work. While the frequency of her voice work is such that it almost feels a bit over-saturated at times, it’s also easy to see why she’s managed to stick around so long and you can pretty much always expect something good from her.

6) Stephanie Sheh

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 Notable Roles: Usagi Tsukino/Sailor Moon (Sailor Moon), Hinata Hyuga (Naruto), Kriem (Tiger & Bunny), Eureka (Eureka Seven)

Stephanie Sheh’s another voice actress whose work is nearly impossible to escape when it comes to California dubs, but it’s generally good work so there’s hardly much to complain about. While in her earlier days she was known more for playing extremely reserved or shy characters, lately she’s been cast on the exact opposite end, playing more energetic and loud characters including the iconic Sailor Moon herself. Beyond those two main typecasts, she’s maintained a pretty decent variety of characters and gives very natural sounding performances for just about all of them though she can be hammy when the situation calls for it. Her work is extremely consistent and it’s helped in making her one of the most iconic VA’s in the industry.

5) Wendee Lee

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Notable Roles: Faye Valentine (Cowboy Bebop), Haruhi Suzumiya (Haruhi Suzumiya), Yoruichi Shihoin (Bleach),  Yahiko Myojin (Rurouni Kenshin)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CSLfBR4D0Hg

As you’ve no doubt surmised, I’m not being terribly original at this point, but dang it does it really matter at this point? There used to be something of an ongoing joke that Wendee Lee’s work was so common she actively taking away roles from other starving actors, and she once even held a spot as being the most prolific anime voice actress of all time and having the largest amount of roles. Since then that spot’s been taken by Monica Rial, but Wendee Lee’s work is still pretty frequent and justly so. She’s handled a variety of character types over the years and all of them well performed. While I think her voice works somewhat better to me for older characters than teenagers and she’ll almost always be Faye Valentine in my heart, she can handle both with relative ease, and with an equal amount of mileage in terms of their strengths. Her level of consistency has helped make her into something of an icon for the industry, and like some of the others on this list, her frequent use speaks well to her level of talent.

4) Kari Wahlgren

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Notable Roles: Haruko Haruhara (FLCL), Karina Lyle/Blue Rose (Tiger & Bunny), Celty Strulston (Durarara), Saber (Fate/Zero)

So moving away from extreme household names to regular household names, there’s Kari Wahlgren. Like the others on this list she’s been around for a long time and has handled a wide variety of roles from crazy nutcases to sultry temptresses, though I think she does the best with the former considering that her work with characters like Haruko is what helped propel her to stardom in anime. Of course she can handle more grounded characters pretty well too, though the thing that really sets her apart is how distinct her voice is. Sometimes anime girl voices have the tendency to sort of blend together after a while, but Kari Wahlgren’s always easily recognizable and stands out from the crowd. She also has the acting skills to match and while she’s more involved with western animation these days, she still pops up in anime from time to time and it’s always a delight to hear her.

3) Laura Bailey

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 Notable Roles: Kid Trunks (Dragonball Z), Maka Albarn (Soul Eater), Lust (Fullmetal Alchemist & Brotherhood), Amber (Darker Than Black), Dieter (Monster)

Well it was pretty much impossible to get through this list without her name coming up at some point, though it’s not too hard to get why. Laura Bailey’s been in voice acting since the days of the old Funimation DBZ dub and used to be one of Funimation’s most prominent VA’s before moving to California and blowing up even further in notoriety there. She’s one of the few voice actresses with an an all-encompassing vocal range and can handle female characters of every age and archetype(along with little more than a few little boys too), playing all of them pretty believably. Her performances are almost always phenominal and she’s created more than her fair share of iconic roles over the years. While she’s largely involved in video games these days and seems to have mostly left the anime side of things, she still has a couple of ongoing roles, and I’m still hoping we’ll be able to hear her again in something new in the future.

2) Colleen Clinkenbeard

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 Notable Roles:  Monkey D. Luffy (One Piece), Erza Scarlet (Fairy Tail), Riza Hawkeye (Fullmetal Alchemist & Brotherhood), Son Gohan (Dragonball Z Kai)

Veering back towards super prolific VA’s (this is the last time I promise), where would this list be without Colleen Clinkenbeard? Though she hasn’t been around quite as long as some of the other names on this list, she’s held the fort as one of Funimation’s most notable veterans and especially so when it comes to actresses. Her work is quite frequent at this point and for every 10 Funimation dubs, the odds are pretty good she was at least in 7 of them and whatever ones she wasn’t in she was working on behind the scenes. Though as always that’s not really a complain and it just speaks to how reliable her work is. Her main forte is in older characters and young boys such as Gohan or Luffy, though she can certainly do teenagers well enough, and she consistently delivers on great performances for each of them. Also similarly to Kari Wahlgren she also possesses one of the most distinct voices in the industry and her work is always very recognizable and impactful. It may be impossible to escape from her work these days, but it’s always good enough that it’s hardly an issue.

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 Veronica Taylor

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 Notable Roles: Ash Ketchum (Pokemon 4Kids dub), Amelia Wil Tesla Saillune (Slayers franchise), Iron Maiden Jeanne (Shaman King), Setsuna Meioh/Sailor Pluto (Sailor Moon)

 https://youtu.be/ZoSNiCe2QUs?t=957

Well this shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise to anyone who saw my reaction on Twitter to her popping up in Sailor Moon but I have a lot of love for Veronica Taylor’s work. She was around during the earlier days of the NY voice acting scene, and has endured as being simultaneously one of the overrated and underrated VA’s in the industry. To this day she’s still recognized by her eternally iconic role as the original voice of Ash Ketchum back in the yesteryears of the 4Kids dub(with her replacement Sarah Natochenny’s Ash still sounding pretty underwhelming to date), and while that still holds up as a pretty solid performance it doesn’t quite speak well to her level of talent. Like Laura Bailey she also has a pretty all-encompassing vocal range and has voiced a variety of female character archetypes and young boys all extremely well, with the quality of her work even shining though some of the mediocre direction that often plagued 4Kids dubs.

Though while she’s mostly known for her work over there, she’s done quite a few regular anime roles as well and maintained a place as one of the go-to regulars for NY anime dubs. Just as notably, her vocal range is distinct enough that a lot of her characters can come off as pretty unrecognizable from one another, and she’s managed to hold up multiple roles in the same show/dub with almost zero issue and all of them sounding very natural and well-performed. For a while it seemed as though she had mostly disappeared with the NY voice acting scene at large but now that she’s doing work in California, I’m hoping we’ll get to hear a lot more from her again, and I’m pretty excited at the prospect.

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So that’s the female side of my list, though I’m kind of annoyed I couldn’t find better clips for some of them. Next up will be a list of male and female JP VA’s which I imagine will probably be easier in that respect, but harder to choose from. Should be interesting…whenever I manage to get around to that.