Review: The Legend of Korra Book 4: Balance- Balancing Games

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Synopsis: Broken both physically and psychologically after her battle with Zaheer, Korra returns home to the Southern Water Tribe and spends the next three years recovering. In the meantime a woman named Kuvira has taken charge of the Earth Kingdom, and become a dictator bent on forcing the entire nation to her will. As Korra sets out to stop her she must rise not only to face this challenge, but herself as well

Review

The Legend of Korra has gone through a lot over the course of it’s run and its been a journey of ups and downs. Book 1 was relatively satisfying in making the show seem like a solid successor to the first series while Book 2 brought the franchise  as a whole to some of its lowest points (and lowest ratings which started a whole other slew of problems for it). Book 3 on the other hand was a full return to grace and it seemed like for the first time the series actually had the potential to outdo it’s predecessor. Unfortunately the final book doesn’t quite meet those expectations for a multitude of reasons but still manages to bring a proper end to Korra’s character arc and a relatively satisfying ending for the series a whole.

The name for this book is rather appropriate, not only because of the theme but largely because the season feels as though it’s trying to balance several things at once. On the one hand it’s got Korra’s character arc, on the other it has Kuvira’s threat and then on top of that it’s trying to give development to a slew of other characters while trying to make it all tie together. Needless to say it doesn’t handle that juggling act quite well as it gets certain aspects of it better than others and has more good ideas than knows how to execute th

Starting with the more mishandled parts of the season, is Bolin part in the season. His arc in joining and defecting from Kuvira’s army after seeing she brings more harm than good is an interesting one on paper, but for the most part it doesn’t do much to change him as a character, and if anything kind of makes him look dumb for not realizing sooner that Kuvira was a threat. Varrick getting thrown into the mix and defecting with him does make it a bit more interesting though Varrick’s reason for switching sides feels out of character for him since he’s generally been lovably amoral for the most part, and having him betray her just because she tried to kill him would have worked just as well.

Kuvira herself is also a pretty large misstep for the season as compared to previous villains she doesn’t have a lot going for her. Her motivations are largely unexplained (until the ending) making her come across as a bit one dimensional and bland. She also doesn’t represent enough of a personal threat to Korra as a character as many of her greatest feats of villainy feel to indirect to Korra’s character arc and while there are clearly supposed to be parallels between her and where Korra’s character was for most of the series, the parallels don’t intersect as much as they need to make things work.

Of course with all the bad there’s also good, and for some of the things the season can’t quite juggle there are things it does well. Bringing back Asami’s father and having the two restore their broken relationship was a nice touch and made his sacrifice at the end a touching one, even if he wasn’t in the spotlight enough for there to be much impact. Similarly, Toph’s role in the season is much appreciated as she helps Korra along her road to recovery and also mends her own broken relationships with her daughters which is a nice follow through on that arc from the previous season. Prince Wu’s character development over the season from a self absorbed jerk to a decent politician is also an interesting one though it’s a bit bumpier than some of the stronger character arcs in the season as he’s a bit overly used for humor.

The strongest part of the season is by and large the ending to Korra’s journey as a character. Her road to recovery is a tough one as she’s forced to confront her biggest fear: being powerless. Compared to Aang’s rejection of his destiny as the Avatar in the original series, Korra can only define herself as such and having that sense of power taken away from her physically does a number on her as she desperately tries to find a way to fix her health. However it’s in this powerlessness that for the first time she learns to empathize  with the perspectives of others, including some of her former enemies (which doesn’t work quite as well as the show thinks it does since Zaheer was the only villain the series who actually believed in what he was doing) and eventually confronts her fears by facing the one who took away her sense of power in the first place.

Her strengthened sense of empathy plays a large part in the final battle as rather than a large blown out duel like with Aang and Ozai, it’s by trying to understand Kuvira that she triumphs in the end as the two find their similarities and make peace. Unfortunately this confrontation occurs largely after the bulk of Korra’s character arc is already completed, and Kuvira’s characterization was too limited for most of the season as she mainly just comes across as a generically dictator(though not quite to Ozai’s Darth Siddus levels in the original)so the scene doesn’t work as well as it should thematically. It puts a nice bow on Korra’s journey as a person but most of the conflict throughout the season doesn’t quite carry the sense of scale that a series finale should and especially not compared to the grand finale for the original series.

That said the show does have a pretty notable ending, as it delivers on a sensible but pretty unexpected to actually happen pairing. Korra and Asami’s bond has been subtly built up over Books 3 & 4 and the two had some decent chemistry together compared to most of the couples the show had to offer (well with the exception of Varrick and Ju-Li but then they wrapped things up with that one) though the show actually following through on that seemed like a long shot. However the final scene between Korra and Asami more or less unambigously (there will be those who argue otherwise but the parallels between the scene and the scene confirming Aang and Katara’s romance at the end of the original are pretty much impossible to deny) pairs the two together. Whether it’s the possible start of a relationship or the cementing of one is nicely left up to interpretation but it’s definitely one of the boldest things Nick has ever done.

The Legend of Korra has had some big shoes to fill as it’s predecessor stands as one of the greatest animated shows ever made, and it’s been a hard fit as the show has struggled a lot more in terms of tone and characters due to the bulk of the series being an initially unplanned continuation(and it really showed in Book 2). For all those bumps though it’s had it’s highs as well, and has done a solid job in expanding the world of the franchise as a whole. While the show may end up being remembered more for the last three minutes of the finale than anything else, it’s earned it’s place as one of the most memorable pieces of action animation produced in the west. It’s not nearly as good as the original series as a whole, but its a solid journey and a mostly worthwhile successor.

Overall: 7.6/10

Available on Nick.com

Review: Over The Garden Wall- The Olden Days

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Synopsis:  Two brothers named Wirt and Greg end up getting lost in some mysterious woods called “The Unknown. Together with a talking bluebird named Beatrice, they search for a woman called Adele who can show them the way home while avoiding an evil entity known as “The Beast”

Review

Over the Garden Wall is the first miniseries that Cartoon Network has ever done (well depending on how you count the IGPX shorts) and it’s a pretty interesting undertaking for them. They’ve been pretty risk averse the last few years so it was questionable how they’d handle such a thing and if it would go for something ambitious or merely serviceable. Thankfully the show has gone for the latter and in the process has turned into not only the first real miniseries they’ve ever done but also one of the best things they’ve ever done.

What stands out right away about the series is its massive homage to some of the classic cartoons of yesteryear. The artstyle feeds that aesthetic really well and it’s pretty breathtaking to behold as it gives everything a rustic old country feel that can be both beautiful and horrifying whenever the mood requires it. Everything from the creatures, to the music, and even to how the characters talk, gives off the vibe of a classic Disney film and it’s hard not to feel nostalgic when watching it.

Even a lot of the narrative style gives off this vibe, and it’s very reminiscent of old fairy tales. The story starts off in media res wth the brothers already lost with no idea how to get back home. This leads them to an encounter with a mysterious woodsman who offers to help them out while warning them of an evil beast that lurks the woods. After a slight falling out with him though, they instead end up in the care of a talking bluebird named Beatrice who offers to take them to see Adele, the Good Woman of the Woods who can show them the way home. Their journey through the Unknown brings them on several different adventures, some being creepy and some being charming with each feeding into the show’s colonial aesthetic.

Along the way Beatrice gets a bit closer to the two and reveals the  exact reason why she’s a talking bluebird. It comes at a price though since she’s had her own agenda for most of the time, which leads to a pretty shocking betrayal when it appears she’s been playing them the whole time and the good woman of the woods turns out to be not so good after all. In the meantime the show also delves a bit into what’s going on in the background between the woodsman and the beast as well as why the two are connected.

This all plays into the show’s final act where it starts laying all it’s cards on the table. While the countryside aesthetic holds a lot for the series, at it’s core it’s really about the relationship between the two brothers, and it ties into things in a big way as things take a slight step back to look at how the brothers got there in the first place. While Wirt is never a downright jerk to his younger brother Greg, he does dismiss his optimism a lot and is quick to blame him when things go south. This combined with Wirt’s own lack of confidence, leads to him taking his brother for granted, and also helped to land them in the accident that got them there. However it’s only when Wirt decides to confront the beast in order to protect his brother that everything comes to light and everyone is able to get a happy ending with the show (thankfully) being ambiguous to whether or not the whole affair was dream and/or purgatory.

Cartoon Network’s first mini series has made for a pretty interesting tale, and a pretty ambitious project on their part. The show’s classic cartoon homage makes for some fun stuff, and it also manages to tell a fairly touching story as well. While the narrative isn’t completely flawless the overall aesthetic easily up for it and the ending is pretty sweet. This may be the first true mini series the network has done but it most certainly shouldn’t be the last.

Overall: 9.3/10

Available On Demand or at CartoonNetwork.com

Review: Hunter X Hunter Election Arc- It’s Departure Time

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Synopsis: With the battle against the Chimera Ants over and Gon on the verge of death after his sacrifice, Killua seeks to heal him by using the powers of the youngest Zoldyck sibling, Alluka. However when Illumi learns of Killua’s plan he partners up with Hisoka to stop him. Meanwhile after Netero’s death, the Hunter Association decides to hold an election to decide the next Chairman, which finally brings Ging into the picture. As the rescue mission and the election begin to overlap with each other, the final chapter of Gon’s journey unfolds.

Review

Most fans of the manga had seen this moment coming from the moment the reboot was first announced but we’ve at last come to the end of the journey for Hunter X Hunter (well the anime at any rate).  It’s been a solid run run for the series and one filled with many high points and very minimal lows compared to others of the shonen genre. Though while most series would go out in a much more spectacular (if sometimes too overblown for their own good) fashion, the Election Arc is a much lighter and more heartfelt story than the look into the evils of human nature that is the Chimera Ant arc. In spite of that though the arc delivers not only another good tale from Togashi, but a proper sendoff for the anime run as a whole.

With Gon out of commission thanks to his insane power-up in the Chimera Ant arc, Killua takes over as the protagonist of this particular story and fittingly so. After discovering that even the best Nen healers aren’t capable of helping Gon, Killua goes to seek out the help of his younger sister Alluka, who has the ability to grant wishes at a price. The price for these wishes can have some pretty devastating effects and it allows the audience to get a better look at some of the inner workings of the  Zoldyck family when it’s made clear how far they are willing to go keep Alluka’s powers both under control and secret from the rest of the world. Illumi in particular is the most desperate, and when he learns that Killua wants to use those powers to heal Gon, he fears he may be caught in the backlash and plots to stop him with Hisoka in tow.  Killua on the other hand, doesn’t see Alluka as just a tool and while he ultimately wants to heal Gon, he wants to save Alluka as well, and it signifies his first real step towards finding his own reasons to live besides helping Gon.

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 And to think you missed out on so many potential battle orgasms during the Ant arc. Sucks to be you Hisoka

On the other end of things. The Hunter Association calls together it’s highest ranking members known as the Zodiac,which includes Ging, to figure out what to do about deciding on a new chairman and decide to hold a general election involving all Hunters. When Ging decides to opt himself out of the running however, it brings the vice-chairman, Partison into the lead for victory. Partison himself is a very interesting character, and one who is difficult for both the other character and the audience to get a read on, as he’s the kind of person who’s not so much out to win as he is to screw with everyone else’s chance of winning and finds joy in hindering others. Of course none of the other Zodiacs really want someone so twisted running things, so they decide to make sure to do whatever it takes to make sure anyone but him is the victor.

These two seemingly separate storylines come to a crossroad when Leorio makes his triumphant return to the series and inadvertently makes himself a top candidate when he punches out Ging after unsuccessfully convincing him to see Gon. From there the other Zodiacs work to make the reluctant Leorio the winner of the election, as the rest of the organization goes after Illumi when he starts involving civilians in his plans. Despite most of what’s been laid out however, the arc is mostly devoid of any major conflicts outside one fight scene(sorry you had to be our sole victim Gohtou). In the end Illumi isn’t so much defeated as he is set back, and for all of Pariston’s trolling, even he is ultimately revealed to be less of an antagonist and more of a rebel rousing troublemaker as he concedes to have someone better suited lead things when it’s made clear he’s actually going to win.

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The moment we waited the entire series for…

Instead where the real heart of the arc lies is in Gon and Killua having finally come to the end of their respective journeys. After being healed and reconciling with the reborn Kite, (whose revival is controversial to be sure but somewhat needed to highlight the pointlessness of Gon’s sacrifice in the Chimera Ant Arc) finally gets the chance to have a real talk with Ging. Killua on the other hand has finally found his path in safeguarding Alluka and plans devote his life to protecting her. Though the two boys part on good terms, the strain on their relationship after the events of the previous arc is something that has taken it’s toll, and they both have their own individual journeys to set out on now. In many ways this could be considered as proper an ending as you could get.

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 Good luck you two

Of course this isn’t quite the actual climax to the story. The true ending comes in Gon’s heart-to-heart with Ging as Gon reflects over his journey and Ging tells that there’s a whole lot more adventure to be had and a greater world to explore, but that the detours towards getting there matter more than the actual destination. Though the show doesn’t end on an actual cliffhanger, more obsessive fans might ask, “what about Kurapica avenging his clan?”, “what about Hisoka fighting Chrollo?”, or “what about IIlumi still wanting to use Alluka?”, as there are certainly a few loose ends. The truth though, is that Hunter X Hunter isn’t really about any of those things.

For all of Togashi’s masterful writing and his ability to connect things together really well, Hunter X Hunter has never been about defeating some evil tyrant, saving the world from doom or some otherwise clear end goal (okay so that second one DID technically happen but you get the idea). Hunter X Hunter is ultimately about the journey moreso than the destination and it’s a journey filled with the friendships, tragedy and challenges that come with it. The travels of life never truly end and thus it’s fitting that much like life itself, that as Gon departs from his current journey, his next one is just about to begin.

The show has delivered on a magnificent run and has been a joy to  watch from week to week as it consistently pumped out great content. This arc may not have ended things in as big of away as most would come to expect of a shonen series but the impact remains the same if not stronger. Perhaps someday Togashi will write enough material for a continuation but for now this is enough. Until the next journey starts, it’s departure time for this adventure. Farewell.

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Overall: 8.9/10 

Available for streaming on Crunchyroll

Animation Talk- 10 Best Events in Naruto

It’s been several years in the making, but at last we’re towards the end of Naruto, though it’s an event with met with mixed feelings. Naruto has dragged on it’s final arc far too long for it’s own good so I’m personally not too torn about it on that end and yet as the show that got me and many across the globe into the hardcore anime scene, it’s also a little sad to know it’ll be gone for good. As we head closer towards the grand finale of the series, let’s reminisce for a bit and look at some of the greatest events from the journey of our favorite orange jumpsuit wearing ninja.

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#10- Naruto’s Graduation

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It’s often said that the journey of a thousand miles begins with but a single step and so it’s fitting to look back at what got the journey started in the first place. Naruto started off his tale as the village outcast with everyone staying away from him. He was also the class clown, not being good at any jutsu, and his teacher initially failed him on his final exam. Since his worst skill was the Clone Jutsu he did some secret training with the help of a special scroll given to him by another teacher (who’s CLEARLY not evil) and masters it just in time to find out the real reason why everyone in the village hates him. Before he can give into despair, his teacher tells Naruto about his own past and says that he still has faith in him, giving him the courage he needs to beat the evil teacher and also conveniently graduate.

#9- Birth of the Rasgengan

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Every hero needs a flashy special move and while the Shadow Clone Jutsu did some cool stuff, it just wasn’t cutting it. Naruto had some trouble figuring out the technique at first due to the complexity of having to do two things at once, but thanks to his skills with Shadow Clones he figures out a loophole to accomplish that and figures it out just in time to rip a giant hole in poor Kabuto’s chest. Thus the Rasengan was born and would then go on to have a ridiculous amount of variations and movie tie ins including one done by riding on a speeding fat guy (I kid you not)

#8- Naruto vs Neji

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Before Naruto added “war is bad” to it’s list of convoluted messages, it was a originally the tale of an underdog defying expectations. This fight best highlights that message as it pits our favorite underdog against Neji who’s regarded as a genius and believes that everyone’s abilties and fate are determined from the outset. The odds are (obviously) against Naruto and he appears pretty outclassed at first but with some clever tricks and a newfound mastery over his Nine-Tails chakra he manages to defy expectations and win the match as well as teach Neji that talent and skill aren’t necessarily pre-determined.

#7- Squad 10 vs Hidan & Kakuzu

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Shikamaru was already a stand out amongst the other Konoha rookies (and was also deservedly the first to become a Chunnin) but Asuma’s death at the hands of the zombie duo marked the highlight of his character development as it forces him and his teammates to grow up the hard way. They decide to get their revenge on the duo and even though Naruto partially steals the spotlight with a new technique, Shikamaru still gets to show off his smarts by luring the immortal Hidan into a trap he can’t escape and leaving the guy trapped in rubble (hopefully no one gets any ideas about digging him out). The battle ends with our heroes victorious and Shikamaru  inheriting Asuma’s will to protect the next generation as well as his unborn child.

#6- Naruto vs Gaara

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Naruto’s been an outcast all his life, but through hard work and finding people who have faith in him, he’s managed to get by. However he’s given a pretty clear picture of what he could have become without all that encouragement when he encounters Gaara, a murderous psycho who grew up an outcast much like himself, and also for the exact same reason. Though Gaara’s past is much more tragic and he’s a lot more unstable, Naruto still manages to see a bit of himself in Gaara and after duking it out with him in spectacular fashion he manages to convince Gaara to believe in others again, eventually leading him to become the Kazekage years later (whoever said bloodlust looked bad on your resume?)

#5- Taming the Nine Tails

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The Nine-Tails has long been at the core of Naruto’s anguish as it’s the primary reason he grew up isolated and without the beast inside him, he’d have probably grown up as the son of a hero. So when Naruto is forced into his final confrontation with him. he’s also forced to face parts of himself he hates the most and the resentment he felt towards those who shunned him. At first he’s overwhemled by the fox’s power but with some beyond the grave assistance from his mother, he manages to gain control over the Nine-Tails and also marks the beginning of humanizing him.

#4- The Truth Behind the Uchiha Massacre 

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Itachi was the initial source of Sasuke’s massive angst trip over the course of the series, and was bitterly remembered by his resentful brother for murdering their entirely clan. After finally managing to track him down and narrowly defeat him, Sasuke eventually learns the truth behind his brother’s actions. As it turns out the Uchiha clan was planning to overthrow Konoha which would have consequently lead to another world war. Itachi was forced to make the hard decision of selling out his family and killing them to prevent future tragedy but ultimately couldn’t bring himself to kill his precious little brother, turning a cold enigma, into an extremely tragic character. Too bad his precious little bro’s response to said revelation was to decide to wipe out everyone in the village in retribution, even though the elders were the sole ones responsible, but eh what can you do?

#3- Kakashi Chronicles

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Despite being occasionally mishandled and Kishimoto constantly teasing at his death, Kakashi still remains the best character in the series, so it’s appropriate his backstory is a huge highlight(even if it ties into the main storyline less than ideally). Before becoming the cool and protective guy we know today, he was cold and distant thanks to his father having died disgracefully and bringing shame to his family for putting his allies over the success on the battlefield. When a mission with his teammates Rin and Obito takes a turn for the worst though, Kakashi learns the importance of camaraderie when Obito dies protecting him and allows Kakashi to inherit his trademark Sharingan eye. This event is the first in a series of tragedies that turns Kakashi into the man he currently is, and why he’ll put his life on the line every time to protect those closest to him.

#2- Naruto vs Sasuke at the Final Valley

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Naruto and Sasuke’s relationship got off to a pretty bad start (and a moment that would launch a thousand slash fanfics) but over time the two began to slowly connect so when Sasuke decided to run off and join Orochimaru, Naruto chased after him eventually resulting in a confrontation. As the two fight, Naruto reveals just how much Sasuke has become like a brother to him, though the latter is pretty desperate to break that bond between them. The battle itself is pretty intense but in the end Sasuke emerges the victory and spares Naruto’s life, showing that he’s not quite as willing to cut ties with him as he thinks. Though Sasuke has abandoned him and Sakura, Naruto vows to chase after Sasuke for as long as it takes to get him back (and boy is it a long chase…)

#1- Naruto’s Talk with Nagato

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After battling against several incarnations of him. Naruto eventually comes face to face with Nagato, the man behind Pain. Nagato reveals his views on the world, it’s endless wars and the cycle of hatred that comes from it as he questions how Naruto intends to resolve any of it. Unlike most of his previous encounters with villains though, Naruto can’t bring himself to muster up any level of forgiveness for Nagato’s actions as they helped to bring about the death of their mentor Jiraiya and forced him to experience his first true loss. In spite of the hatred he feels towards him, Naruto decides to spare Nagato states that while he doesn’t have a definitive answer to Nagato’s argument he won’t stop until he does find and answer and resolves to struggle for as long as it takes. This allows him to win over Nagato and marks the biggest moment in Naruto’s character development. The resolution so heartfelt that it’s almost easy to overlook the deus-ex-machina that immediately follows it, but even that’s not enough to fully take away the impact.

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And there you have it folks, the greatest highlights in Naruto’s journey. Thoughts? Comments? Let me know what you think.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Review- NANA: Life, Love & Music

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Synopsis: Nana Komatsu is a young 20 year old girl , who decides to move to Tokyo to live with her boyfriend Shoji. On the train ride there, she meets Nana Ozaki, a punk rock singer who also happens to be moving to Tokyo.  Upon arrival, they both end up trying to rent out the same apartment and decide to compromise by becoming roommates. The two become close friends as they deal with the men in their lives and the inner pain they both have to overcome.

Review

The shojo genre is  one that is generally filled with ideals as romance stories are its most primary staple.  Though many shows in the genre do tackle genuine drama and struggle, most of them never stray too far from the ideal of pure and innocent relationships, not always giving into total fantasy, but rarely much further. However Nana is a show that understands that ideals and reality are two different things and breaks the mold in a sometimes painful but ultimately compelling display of this truth.

Before the show even begins to build the two girls relationship together, it first dives into each of their pasts and examines them fully. Nana Komatsu, later nicknamed Hachi, to make it easier to differentiate the two, is boy crazy, dreams of being a bride someday and tends to fall in love at first sight, which has lead her into a series of failed romances, including an affair that leaves her somewhat scarred before finally finding a real relationship in Shoji. The other Nana was abandoned as a child, and lived a life of social isolation before joining a band called Blast, and falling in love with the band’s leader, Ren before he ends up moving to Tokyo to join other band. She vows to surpass him and become a great musician in her own right, which leads her to Tokyo and ultimately becoming roommates with Hachi.

One thing that eventually becomes apparent about the show is that it revels in a lack of escapism, as compared to most other shojo series. The beginning of the story follows Hachi’s perspective on life, and initially things go pretty well for her in her attempts to be independent and become a proper adult. It doesn’t take long though, for her idealism to clash with reality and it sends her on a downward spiral as life’s situations prove much tougher than she expected as she deals with financial struggles and a tough breakup. Through it all, the one thing that remains a constant positive in her life is her relationship with Nana, and the other members of Blast as they make their march towards stardom. However as things push ahead, the more the band’s situation improves, the further isolated and empty Nana feels as she struggles to find a purpose for her life. Her pain eventually leads her into relationship that serves as her biggest wake up call, and forces her to confront both painful new reality and a relationship far below her ideals.

While Hachi attempts to come to terms her new situation, the show moves over to the perspective of the other Nana as she tries to cope with Hachi’s problems in her own way but ends up feeling betrayed as the two part ways.  As Hachi’s struggles force Nana to come to terms with some of her own, the other band members go through their own various love affairs and strained relationships with things becoming painful for everyone involved. However while the show understands that ideals and reality don’t truly mix, it also knows that the two can sometimes mingle in unexpected ways. and this fact becomes more apparent as it goes on.

Hachi’s does eventually become the bride she’s wanted to be but the journey there is harsh, and she ends up losing her ideal men to get there. Similarly, Nana and Blast’s path towards fame is also one that gets fuffiled and allows her to finally obtain a family of her own,  but it also turns out to be a path riddled with compromises in both business and in love. When everything is said and done, the two girls do eventually reconcile and find peace with themselves as life goes on for everyone, and while the ending is a bit more ambiguous about Nana’s future than it needs to be, the show manages to wrap things up satisfactorily for the most part and while no one really manages to find unabashed happiness or love, they come to understand that’s life and it must go on.

The english dub for the series, done by Ocean Group is very solid and provides a good mix of strong performances. Kelly Sheridan delivers a good performance Hachi, making the character sound sugary sweet while also managing to give some heartwrenching delivery during some of her weaker moments. Rebecca Shoichet’s Nana sounds intitially strained during some of her comedic moments but ultimately captures the character well. The rest of the cast provides very down to earth performances that fit the nature of the well show, with some stand out roles such as Brian Drummond’s Yasu which really captures the big brother nature of the character well. The insert songs for the show aren’t dubbed which makes for some occasional dissonance, but it doesn’t effect the dub enough to seriously take away from it.

Madhouse’s production on the show is solid as their usual works, and the animation budget is consistent. The character designs are somewhat standard in terms of shojo but have a pretty good look regardless and they manage to avoid making all of the characters look too pretty. Tomoki Hasegawa’s musical score for the series provides a pretty distinct mix  of orchestral and rock tracks and the all of the opening and ending songs for the series stand out pretty well though the biggest highlight of them is the first opening “Roses” done by ANNA.

Nana is a coming of age tale for young adults and is filled with all of the heartaches and harsh realities that come with it. More than that though, it’s a story of varying degrees of love be they relationships with family, friends or lovers and how they can effect each of us. In a genre of idealized versions of love, Nana stands triumphant as a much more honest portrayal of those ideals and that’s not such a bad thing as it allows for a story that is more than capable of standing the test of time in it’s genre.

Overall: 9.8/10

Available on Hulu

Review- The Legend of Korra Book 3: Change Is Good

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Synopsis: After the battle with Unalaq and the decision to bridge together the human and spirit worlds, Spirits are causing problems in Republic City and Korra is left to take the blame. However the shift has also brought about a chance for the resurgence of the Air Nation as new airbenders have begun to pop up, and Korra decides to leave the city to search for them. Meanwhile a dangerous group of benders have escaped their imprisonment, and have their own plans for the Avatar…

Review

Though Book 1 of The Legend of Korra had initially allowed for the series to be deemed a worthy successor to the original Avatar: The Last Airbender, Book 2 soured its reputation significantly. That combined with the massive ratings drop that season saw, made the future of the franchise look grim. Though while the fate of the franchise itself is in a worse state in terms  of visibility, in terms of quality, Book 3 has managed to turn things around and bring the series back to not only being a worthy successor to the first one, but also giving it the chance to potentially surpass it.

The storyline in particular, works a lot better here than in the first two books. Returning the airbenders to the world, initially feels a bit overly convenient it allows for the characters to go on a globetrotting journey, something that gave the original series it’s sense of flexibility and lets us see more of the newer Avatar World. Of course while the gang is excited at the prospect of restoring the Air Nation (Tenzin in particular), it doesn’t go over smoothly at first as many of them are unwilling to give up their current lives to embrace the philosophies of the Air Nomads which provides some interesting conflict in the earlier episodes. Though as the journey continues they do find airbenders who are willing to take up the cause (and we even get a solid side episode devoted to their training), but the real highlight of the story goes to the antagonists.

Avatar as a whole has generally been uneven in terms of compelling villains as most of them were a bit too one-dimensional.  Book 1 of Korra attempted to somewhat rectify this with Amon and the Equalists but ended up backtracking considerably with Unalaq. Book 3 on the other hand, brings us the most interesting antagonists out of the whole bunch(the Earth Queen non-withstanding) as the Red Lotus not only feel significantly more threatening, but have  relatively understandable motives. Anarchy isn’t a particularly new villain agenda in fiction but what makes it work here is that the Red Lotus genuinely believe what they’re doing is right and though the group is willing to go to extremes to achieve that agenda, the characters themselves come across as pretty human and enjoyable to watch whenever they’re on screen.

The villains aren’t the only interesting characters though, as our group of heroes get some nice development as well. Korra has been difficult to pin down as a character as her brashness is her most defintive trait and  was part of what made her almost insufferable in the first half of Book 2, but here the writers have found a much better balance, keeping some of her agressive traits while also making her  a lot more compassionate and willing to learn.  She also gets a pretty good dynamic going with Asami as the two  feel much more like actually friends (and some light subtext suggesting more than that) than in previous seasons. Bolin also gets a bit of development in terms of improving his bending skills, but the real highlight goes to Lin, whose past we get to see a lot more of, and has a lot of serious difficulty overcoming, though the payoff is heartwarming when she does. Mako on the other hand still remains largely uninteresting on his own, but he’s tolerable enough here as opposed to the previous seasons that it’s not to much of a detriment.

On top of everything else though, the season also delivers on one of, if not possibly the best season finale of the entire franchise. Though the stakes aren’t quite as high as Book 2’s the threat is still pretty large, and the final battle is a nice spectacle to behold (and for once avoided any noticeable Deus ex Machinas). The aftermath is what really drives things home though, as unlike in the previous seasons, the gang’s victory comes with repercussions including a particularly large one for Korra that will be really interesting to see unfold more later on. Things don’t end on a completely downer note though as the finale also delivers on bringing about an interesting shift for the Air Nation and the world as a whole, while also using it to help to wrap up Jinorra’s character arc from the last season in a pretty big way.

Book 3 has brought about a lot of changes for The Legend of Korra, and many in ways that were pretty unexpected. Though the fate of the franchise itself doesn’t look particularly up given Nick’s current treatment of it. there’s still a lot of potential to be had going forward depending on where exactly everything goes from here. Through it all, Book 3 has shown us one important thing for the story: Change is good.

Overall 9/10

Review- Toradora: What You Want

Toradora

Synopsis: Ryuji Takasu is a misunderstood high school student with the face of a thug, but the hobbies of a housewife. One day after school he encounters Taiga Aisaka, a girl known throughout the school for her violent temper and personality. After accidently recieving a love letter from her intended for his best friend Yuusaku Kitamura, she breaks into his apartment to get it back and ends up finding out his crush on her best friend Minori Kushieda. The two then decide to help each other out with their respective crushes and play matchmaker.

Review

High school romance stories and slice of life shows are a big staple of anime these days.  The formula is often while entertaining generally predictable and while the material can sometimes be interesting its rarely memorable. However amongst a sea of similar shows with similar goals, Toradora manages to stand out above the rest not by being  noticeably different, but by refining and polishing the many well-worn tropes of the genre.

Ryuji and Taiga start out seemingly very archetypal characters and ones that are very familiar to regular viewers of the genre. Ryuji is the responsible and sarcastic nice guy while Taiga is violent and impulsive, and the two quickly form a dynamic around that with Ryuji eventually declaring that they’re the only ones who can really handle each other. As early as episode 2 though, it becomes apparent that there’s more beneath the surface for both and after a scene where they both vent out their frustrations over their bad social status, begin to make their first steps towards changing themselves.

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 Nothing like kicking a pole to shake off some of the ol’ angst

Much of the show’s first half is spent in lighthearted comedy and character introductions as Ryuji and Taiga try to push each other towards their respective love interests. Kitamura and Minori both come into their own a bit as characters during this time though Minori more so as her see initially seems to be an extreme ditz but soon shows herself to be more down to earth than expected when it comes to the things she cares about. We also get introduced to Ami Kawashima, a girl who pretends to be an airhead but in reality is snobby and self-centered, and she gains a slight attraction to Ryuji when he sees through her facade and forces her to confront herself. They all quickly form into a  group of sorts and one that helps Ryuji and Taiga to grow closer together.

The first real challenge towards their relationship though, occurs towards the end of the first half of the series when Ryuji attempts to help Taiga restore her relationship with her father. He believes his intentions are good and that it’s all in her best interest, but as he realizes how little Taiga’s father actually cares, he soon realizes he’s been pushing his own issues with his father onto her and how much she’s actually suffering. In the aftermath of the events, Ryuji and Taiga are somewhat able to bring their relationship back to normal, but he now knows just how fragile Taiga’s heart actually is and how much she attempts to cover it up.

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 If my dad ditched me like that I’d be pretty angry too

This all largely plays into the second half of the show, which begins pushing the relationships between the characters as far as it can take them. It kicks off with a bit of development for Kitamura and his implied relationship with the school’s student council president, but much of the focus is on the two leads. In the beginning of the second half, Ami whose romantic interest in Ryuji has diminished somewhat, warns him that the almost father-daughter like relationship between himself and Taiga is unhealthy and will undoubtedly end in someone being hurt. At the time he doesn’t really understand what she means by that but as he gets closer and closer towards Minori, the truth makes itself clear.

When Taiga helps Ryuji make the final step towards confessing his feelings for Minori, she soon realizes that she’s fallen in love with Ryuji herself. Though Minori has feelings for him as well she decides to turn him down after seeing Taiga break down from her realization. and leaves Ryuji heartbroken. However Taiga isn’t quite done playing matchmaker for the two, deciding to bottle up her own feelings them, and things soon spiral out of control as everyone attempts to put aside their feelings for what they think will make the other the happiest.

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 Who’ll win? My money’s on the redhead

However in the end as the characters all soon realize, only you can truly decide what makes you happy, not others and worrying over that shouldn’t stop you from going after the things that you want. Eventually Taiga does seize hold of her love for Ryuji, which he returns after his own realization, and though the two try to escape from all the problems in their lives together, they know it’s not worth the expense of losing it. Reality soon sets in for them and though the consequences are severe their love perseveres and brings everything to a satisfying conclusion. 

J.C. Staff brings a solid looking production for the series.  The animation is rarely stand out but it shines in a few instances. It’s art style is similar to many other shows of the genre but the character designs manage to avoid looking too similar to each other. The music for the series isn’t particularly memorable but the theme songs such as “Pre-Parade” by Rie Kugimiya and “Silky Heart” by Yui are pretty catchy and are likely to stick in your head well after finishing the series.

Despite being the first slice of life show dubbed in California in a long time, the English dub by Bang Zoom Entertainment is phenomenal and is a serious contender for the best of the year as each of the actors brings their A-game for the show. Erik Kimerer and Cassandra Lee do a great job as lead characters Ryuji and Taiga respectively, and cover all their hidden aspects well. Christine Marie Cabanos also delivers a surprisingly strong performance for Minori and Erika Harlacher shows off a bit more of her range as Ami. There’s no one role that particularly stands out the best but each performance is fantastic and even if you’ve already seen the show before, it’s a dub still worth checking out.

Toradora is high school romance done right, and done in a way that while not particularly fresh, easily leaves it’s mark in the genre. The struggle and development of the characters feels more real here than in similar shows, and brings everything to an emotional ending while not completely straying from the realism  of what the consequences are. It’s a masterpiece amongst it’s craft and one that will not be soon forgotten. It can’t be recommended enough.

Overall: 10/10

Available for streaming on Crunchyroll and on disc at Right Stuff 

 

Summer Season First Impressions Part 1

Well it’s time for a new season of anime once again and we’ve already had a pretty good amount of stuff come out so now’s as good a time as any for me to get started on this.

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 .

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Argevollen

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Synopsis: The story takes place in a world where the two countries of Arandas and Ingelmia have been fighting for a very long time. Susumu Tokimune, a young man fighting with the Arandas forces saves a girl named Jamie Hazaford when she is attacked by the enemy. To survive, he uses the weapon Argevollen and fights.

First Impressions: I’m a huge fan of Tatsuo Sato’s works since I like how they’ve often had the ability to take super serious premises and be as relaxed and laid back about them as possible while still making the story work. Though so far this seems to have taken a step back from that style in favor of portraying a somewhat more serious war story with robots and that aspect of the show works fairly well, even having the robots display noticeable technical issues, the second half with our hot blooded protagonist getting his shiny new mecha doesn’t quite mesh well and feels a bit out of place.  The show has some potential though as a grounded war mecha show is something that hasn’t been done much these days and if the protagonist having a superior machine to everyone else isn’t overused too much it could make for some interesting material. I’m willing to see where this one goes.

Rating: Decent

 

Tokyo Ghoul

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Synopsis: The suspense horror/dark fantasy story is set in Tokyo, which is haunted by mysterious “ghouls” who are devouring humans. People are gripped by the fear of these ghouls whose identities are masked in mystery. An ordinary college student named Kaneki encounters Rize, a girl who is an avid reader like him, at the café he frequents. Little does he realize that his fate will change overnight.

First Impressions: I picked up the manga a while back and really enjoyed it so when I first found out this was going to cover a lot of material from it in a short episode span my expectations were dashed. In spite of the odds though the first episode managed to be pretty impressive despite the amount of material it plowed through. Kaneki’s realization of his situation is the highlight of the episode and his freak out is really well directed and the seiyuu delivers a pretty great performance during the last scene of the episode. It also does a pretty solid job of setting up future events and painting a picture that there’s more to Ghoul society than human media has let on and some small hints that Kaneki’s accident may not have been so accidental. This still has the potential to turn into a trainwreck since it still has a ton of material to get through in a short span but if this first episode is any indication the directing may be enough to overcome that. It’s definently worth checking out at any rate

Rating: Great

 

Sailor Moon Crystal

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Synopsis: Usagi Tsukino is a second-year middle school girl who is a little clumsy and a crybaby, but she is full of energy. One day, she meets Luna, a black cat with a crescent moon on her forehead, and she transforms into Sailor Moon, a sailor-uniformed pretty guardian of love and justice! As a chosen guardian of justice, Usagi seems to have a mission to find the Illusionary Silver Crystal with the other guardians and to protect the princess. Meanwhile, the queen of the Dark Kingdom, Queen Beryl, also sends minions to the town where Usagi lives to obtain the Illusionary Silver Crystal, which has immense power. This causes strange events to unfold… Can Sailor Moon really find the Illusionary Silver Crystal with the other Sailor guardians, and protect the princess…!?

First Impressions: Well Sailor Moon is back folks and unlike a certain other big Toei property that I won’t name, has a proper reboot. The material from the first episode itself is more or less a retread of the stuff from the first episode of the original anime but there’s a more distinct direction here as there’s some nice foreshadowing in the beginning of the episode and Mamoru is interesting right out of the gate. There are also some interesting Utena like directional floruishes with some of the eyecatches and super shojo-fied backgrounds though the technical aspects of the episode are probably it’s most noteworthy problem as Toei’s cheapness strikes once again. The flaws are pretty easy to look over though in favor of the material from the episode itself being mostly fun and though some of the tropes are a bit worn these days Sailor Moon’s charm still strikes a cord pretty easily. Definite watch. Especially with the episode schedule being every other week.

Rating: Great

 

Aldnoah Zero

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Synopsis: In 1972, the Apollo 17 mission discovered a hypergate to Mars on the surface of the moon. Soon a war breaks out between Earth and Mars, and Martian soldiers begin to descend from the sky, riding steel giants, intent on exterminating humanity

First Impressions: While I didn’t pay too much attention to the pre-air news of this show, I’ve been impressed with Gen Urobuchi’s works so far and this met my expectations fairly well. The majority of the episode is spent establishing the setting as we’re introduced to the conflict between Earth and the Martians, as well as our main characters though Slaine seems the more interesting of the two so far and I’m curious to see where his character arc goes given his connection to Earth versus working under the Martians. The most interesting material of the episode however is towards the end which has a abrupt but very impactful terrorist attack that shakes up things in a big way and sets off a new conflict that will likely be the main focus of the story. In a lot of ways, this first episode is very reminiscence of the first episode of Valvrave the Liberator but unlike there where the abrupt twist and set up was almost unintentionally comical, here we’re left with a massive sense of intrigue and I’m genuinely curious to see where this goes next. Go check it out.

Rating: Great

 

Akame ga Kill!

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Synopsis: The dark action fantasy manga follows the title character, Akame, a girl who was bought, and raised by the Empire as an assassin. After meeting Akame, a boy named Tatsumi vows to stand up to the evil of the corrupt Empire with the secret assassin group Night Raid and special weapons known as Teigu.

First Impressions: Like with Tokyo Ghoul I’m an avid reader of the manga and given that this isn’t plagued with the episode limitations of the former, I was the most excited about this show for the season and it mostly delivered on my expectations. The episode does a good job of introducing you to the main character Tatsumi and slowly introducing the corruption of the empire though most of the value for this episode centers around the twist midway and having been already privy to it, it does take away from things a bit. It does suffer slightly from it’s limited animation budget (which made the direction a bit awkward during one scene towards the end) and the beginning of the series does take a bit to hit its stride but the first episode does a good job of getting you interested and it should definitely be a fun ride.

Rating: Great

 

Rail Wars

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Synopsis: In a parallel world where Japan has not privatized any of its railways, Naoto Takayama is an ordinary high school student who dreams of being a train conductor for the Japanese National Railways. He is assigned as to the Tokyo Central Railway Public Security Office. He is teamed up with Aoi Sakurai, a strong willed woman who excels in marksmanship and close combat, Haruka Koumi, who has an extraordinary memory, and Sho Iwaizumi, a hot-blooded man who relies on brute force. From lost children to bombings, Naoto must lead this team, despite not having any special strength!

First Impressions: I wasn’t sure what to expect out of this coming in and the premise seemed like something that could make for good dumb fun but instead the show just turned out to be straight up dumb. The show starts off with a cliche fanservice love triangle setup and then attempts to introduce us to our four protagonists as they start on their training before abruptly skipping to the end of their training in an awkward attempt to avoid having the characters actually get to know each other and form a genuine dynamic between them (made all the more strange by the episode later having the characters ask questions and find out things about each other that they should already know for the amount of time they spent together). It also takes it’s extremely stupid premise very seriously which should under normal circumstances make for some pretty good laughs but the show makes no actual attempts to make an actual gag out of the situations as a result  some of the events of the episode are facepalm worthy in terms of how much the characters are seriously overreacting to mundane or trifle situations. If you’re really big on trains then this show might interest you since it assumes that you are and goes into almost documentary level details about them but otherwise I’d recommend skipping it.

Rating: Bad

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Well that’s pretty much it for now. There’s more stuff to check out this week so I’ll likely get around to part 2 of my impressions next weekend

Review- Hunter X Hunter Chimera Ant Arc: Of Monsters and Men

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Synopsis: Gon and Killua’s search for Ging continues and now leads them to meet Ging’s apprentice Kite who has a special connection to Gon’s childhood. Meanwhile on the far off content of NGL a mysterious species known as the Chimera Ants is rising up and their overwhelming ablities pose a threat to the entire world. As the three get involved in the chaos, Gon and Killua soon finds themselves in the most desperate battle of their lives.

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For a long time this story arc of Hunter X Hunter was considered to be the largest justification for the anime reboot. Though Madhouse managed to capture Togashi’s vision much better for the earlier arcs than the previous anime series, this was still the most anticipated material for the series to cover and justly so. Togashi provides a somewhat shocking yet natural departure from his usual formula thus far and in doing has once again proven why his storytelling is so effective.

The beginning of the Chimera Ant arc starts off in full throttle as Gon, Killua and Kite get thrust into the situation pretty quickly. The show quickly establishes that the Chimera Ants are a threat on a whole other level than the others seen thus far in the series and the stakes are far more serious than they’ve ever been. Death runs rampant as countless men, women and (as we’re given the displeasure of seeing first hand) children are caught in the slaughter and even the Hunters themselves aren’t much safer as some previously introduced characters easily fall victim to the ants in their attempt to give birth to their king. This all comes to a head when one of the king’s Royal Guards awakens and battles Kite as Gon and Killua flee upon the latter seeing how outmatched they are, leading to Kite’s death in the process.

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As the arc slowly makes it’s transition to the larger battle, it’s at this point that Togashi begins to reflect on character motivations and start to work out his endgame as loyalties being to shift and new characters are introduced. Killua’s character arc is given the most amount of focus during this transition though, as he is faced with being forced to abandon Gon who has been the driving force behind his character development and is also forced to overcome the fight or flight mentality that has been drilled into him growing up as it directly opposes his desire to protect Gon.

Some other characters go through changes as well as one of the Hunters, Knov who walked around with an air of confidence and professionalism towards his job was thoroughly humbled by his overwhelming fear of the Ants power while Gon’s desire to “rescue” Kite (whose ultimate fate he has yet to realize) begins to slowly take effect on his state of mind. The biggest development during this transition however is the newly born Ant King’s interactions with a human girl named Komugi and the effect she has on him. With all of his pieces set in motion Togashi initiates the final battle of the arc and suddenly everything begins to spiral in a new direction.

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As Fredric Nietzsche once said “He who fights monsters must take care lest he also becomes a monster” and while this is far from the first time this  cautionary tale has been displayed in storytelling, it is in full effect here and the reality of it is quite terrifying. Since the beginning of the series, the show has made a point that despite his seemingly pure and innocent attitude, there was something not quite right about Gon’s sense of morality. He has always judged things not necessarily on a scale of right or wrong but rather what people have done towards or for him. This mentality has led him to befriend assassins and be perfectly comfortable around serial killers if they’ve helped him in some way. Of course as several characters throughout the series have pointed out such a mentality is quite insane and thus it was only a matter of time before something set him over the edge and showed the depths of where it could lead.

Kite’s state impacts Gon in a big way as he loses his innocent nature and slowly transforms into one of the most dangerous players in the battle as he becomes more than willing to threaten and kill others to achieve his vengeance. This all comes to a head in his climatic battle against Neferpitou where he is finally forced to come to terms with the reality that Kite is dead and his hatred sets him so over the edge that he’s willing to give up  everything to destroy his enemy, appropriately transforming into a freakish humanoid monster in a rather disturbing deconstruction of the typical shonen power-up. The most bizarre irony in all of this is that Gon’s vengeance is for the most part, perfectly justified and we should by all means be rooting for him to win but the climax of the battle is so horrific that the only thing left is a feeling of despair rather than triumph despite Gon’s technical victory.

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This isn’t Togashi’s only display of humanity’s darkside though, as the battle between the Ant King and Hunter Chairman Netero also serves as proof. Netero’s final gambit for victory with the Rose Bomb puts some of the evils human science can create in full view and how we can stoop to even the most inhumane of weapons in order to achieve victory on the battlefield. In the end (as a depressing clip show drives it home for anyone who didn’t get the point) the most monstrous beings of all may in fact be humans, and we possess the capacity to commit some of the greatest atrocities imaginable.

However despite many of the implications above, Togashi isn’t out to only show the darkness of humanity but some of the gentleness as well and this is in an ironic twist, done though the perspective of the Chimera  Ants. Though they start off as largely alien, the Chimera Ants slowly come to learn of humanity over the course of the arc with many of them gaining their own sense of individuality and the various agendas that go with them. This has the biggest effect on the Chimera Ant King who through being by Komugi begins to gain respect for humanity and finds himself thrust between his nature as a ruler and his desire to embrace humanity.

As thus it’s fitting that the actual villain of the story isn’t in fact the Ant King (who’s arguably more the protagonist during this arc than Gon himself), but rather his Royal Guard, Shiapouf, who will stop at nothing to ensure that the king rejects humanity and desires to kill Komugi who attaches him to it.  Though despite various bumps and a brief look of what the King would be while completely devoid of humanity, he does eventually discard his nature as the Ant King and he spends his final moments with the one he loves, embracing humankind and leaving Shiapouf to suffer an extremely karmic defeat. The finale to the arc ultimately has several of the Ants exiting as the most human characters of the entire story and while it’s an interesting twist to be sure, it’s also extremely touching.

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While the arc is by and large full of strengths it does suffer from a few weaknesses. The pacing during the major battle of the arc slows down considerably and it makes the episodes somewhat of a hassle to watch on a weekly basis. Additionally while the massive use of narration is generally to the story’s favor as it generally provides a cold analysis of some of the events while making them seem more in real-time, it can also be a bit too intrusive at times and occasionally reiterates things viewers have likely already figured out. Lastly the impact of Kite’s death is somewhat hindered by his awkward introduction into the anime where he and Gon bond at the very beginning of the arc as opposed to in the manga where he was a major influence on Gon from the very beginning.  None of these significantly impact the arc’s effectiveness but they do prevent it from being relatively flawless.

Madhouse’s animation budget for the series has been incredibly consistent for a long running shonen title and it continues here as some of the scenes range from solid looking to downright breathtaking to behold. Yoshihisa Hirano’s musical score which was somewhat uneven in earlier arcs, steps up considerably as it beefs up the impact of several scenes and while the opening theme song Departure feels more out of place than ever in this arc the ending theme songs Nagareboshi Kirai and Hyori Ittai by Yuzu match the somber tone of the arc well. Hiroshi Koujima’s direction for the series also steps up a bit as the decision to do all of events from the major battle of the arc in chronolgical order as opposed to the somewhat erratic shifts in the manga, works very well and makes a lot of the material resonate stronger as a result.

The Chimera Ant arc is a unique departure from typical shonen conventions and is one that is ultimately welcomed as it turns several areas of that formula on it’s head. While the arc isn’t totally flawless, the impact and overall themes of the material are easily strong enough to allow these problems to be overlooked. It provides a grand allegory for the dual sided nature of humanity and reminds us once again of why Hunter X Hunter is a masterpiece of its genre.

Overall: 9.7/10

Available on Crunchyroll

Review: The Kawai Complex Guide to Manors and Hostel Behavior- My Crazy Dormmates

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Synopsis: Kazunari Usa is a high school student who just moved out of his parents’ home to live at a dormitory and wants to have a fufilling high school life with a girlfriend. He soon  meets Ritsu Kawai an somewhat introverted bookreader and quickly forms a crush on her and finds out she lives at the same dormitory he does. However he soon runs into problems when he finds out the other residents are some pretty wacky characters…

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At first glance, The Kawai Complex Guide has all the trappings of a typical harem anime. The plotline of a guy ending up a dorm with a  bunch of weird characters and hot girls is one that has been done numerous times in anime, but this show has provided a pretty interesting twist on the genre and one that feels just fresh enough to work while providing some genuine laughs.

One thing that stands out right away about the show is that besides Ritsu and Usa himself, all of the other characters that live at the dorm are full grown adults or at the very least college age, immediately blowing away the chances of the other girls becoming a part of his would-be harem. Instead of relying on typical harem hijinks or completely off the wall material, much of the comedy in the show instead revolves around the adult characters dealing with relationship issues or Usa failing to woo Ritsu while the other girls actively thwart his attempts or coax him into screwing up for giggles. It puts a unique spin on some of the more typical romantic comedy situations and while it doesn’t always hit the right mark it manages to provide some pretty solid laughs more often than not.

Part of what makes the show so effective is how it manages to make its characters fall into specific archetypes for good laughs but manages to provide enough depth or spin to them to avoid making them completely one dimensional. Usa mostly carries the traits of the typical “only sane man” in a regular comedy series but his crush on Ritsu is given enough levels of exaggeration to give him his own quirks and avoid making him bland. His roommate Shiro is a unashamed masochist but he’s also pretty inventive and can occasionally be insightful. Ritsu starts out as being seemingly extremely introverted, but later turns out to be perfectly capable of interacting with people though she mostly chooses not to do so. These traits help carry the show and each of the main characters is given a decent amount of exploration.

While the romance between Usa and Ritsu is one of the major parts of the show, the lives of the characters as related to their personalities also plays a large role. The japanese title of the show is called Bokura Wa Minna Kawaisou which  has a double meaning that translates to “We Are All Pitiful” and the show runs on that in spades as some of the characters’s social lives are pretty troubled. Mayumi who is a 30 year-old christmas cake(and provides the majority of the show’s surprisingly limited fanservice) is normally displayed as having incredibly bad luck with men by always managing to consistently land horrible guys and its usually the  butt of a joke while her self esteem is occasionally called into question. Ritsu’s semi-introverted nature is also explored a bit her ability to keep friends is usually hampered as a result of it and her ability to function in heavy social settings is also fairly limited.

Even Usa is eventually revealed to have some issues own as his constant association with bizarre characters has made him a bit of a social outcast in his own right and while he deals with it fairly well it does lead to a couple of harsh moments. These issues are played for laughs just as much as they are for drama as the characters frequently poke fun at each others’ problems but through it all they do care for each other somewhat and when the chips are down they’ll stand up for each other.

If the show has one real weakness, it would ironically be the romance between Usa and Ritsu. While the development between the two is fairly cute, its somewhat hindered by Usa’s obsession being borderline stalker-ish at times and while that aspect is pretty much always played for laughs it can occasionally hinder things enough to kill the chemistry between the two. Sayaka  who is college student generally portrayed as a man-eater also lacking any weaknesses for most of the show’s run is also a bit of a hindrance is it slightly ruins the character balance in terms who gets poked fun at.

Animation studio, Brain’s Base delivers a fairly average animation budget for the series as is typical of a comedy and so nothing really stands out in that particular area but the character designs are pretty nice and the art style looks good overall with a somewhat unique vibe to it. Akito Matsuda’s music for the show is also fairly standard and both the opening “Itsuka no, Iku Tsuka no Kimi to no Sekai” and ending theme “My Sweet Shelter” are decent songs but fairly forgettable though My Sweet Shelter is the catchier of the two.

The Kawai Complex Guide is ultimately a fresh take on the “crazy dormitory” genre and provides a pretty unique spin on some well worn romantic comedy tropes. The show’s character dynamics aren’t completely flawless but it’s generally funny enough to mask them. It’s one the smartest anime comedies we’ve seen in a while and well on it’s way to be one of the best this year.

Overall: 8/10

Avaialble on Crunchyroll and Hulu