Anime Review: “Sword Art Online II”

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Even in a game with guns, Kirito’s weapon of choice is still a sword.

It’s hard to have a positive opinion of Sword Art Online. It tried to replace a number of classics with a new take in the “trapped in a game” trope, and just didn’t quite make it. However, this certainly didn’t deter Aniplex from producing another series.

Going in with this opinion makes it hard to initially enjoy it. So, I tried to push aside my prejudices and watch it as if I’d not seen the first series. And, to be honest, I was a bit surprised. The series is broken into two arcs: Gun Gale Online and SAO v2. While technically, the second arc is Alfheim like in the first series, apparently the game designers just thought they’d turn it into a second SAO.

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Death Gun takes aim at another victim.

In the first arc, Kazuto Kirigaya, also known as Kirito to his gaming friends, is hired by a former member if his SAO guild to investigate a series of deaths that seem to be caused by killing a player in the new game Gun Gale Online. He reluctantly accepts and converts his avatar, which appears in GGO as a girl-like character. He meets Sinon, who helps him since she thinks he’s really a girl. They enter the big PVP tourney called Bullet of Bullets – Kirito to find out more information about the deadly player (Death Gun), and Sinon to win.

When Sinon finds out the truth, she is angry, and refuses to help him anymore. As they run through the preliminaries, they eventually meet in the find battle royale where Death Gun makes his appearance. They two decide to work together instead to take him down.

In arc two, which focuses more on Asuna, begins with a rumor. A strange player dubbed Zekken has been showing up and dueling people in a certain location every day. The group decides to investigate, and after Asuna duels her, she takes her to meet her guild. It turns out she’s been looking for a strong player to help them take down a floor boss.

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Asuna ans “Zekken” face off!

After an initial failure, the groups efforts are thwarted by a bugger guild that wants the title. With Kirito’s help, they fight through and get to the boss room. After their victory, Yuuki (the player dubbed Zekken) logs out and Asuna doesn’t see her for days. She tracks Yuuki down in the real world to find she’s actually terminally ill and didn’t want to upset her new friend. Instead, Asuna works with Kazuto to let Yuuki experience school through a camera since she isn’t able to. But Yuuki health continues to deteriorate, and soon she may have to say goodbye.

As a story, I think Aniplex seems to have learned from it’s past mistakes. I feel this time they tried a little harder with characters, though Asuna still felt a little one-dimensional. Kirito’s development in the GGO arc was a bit more interesting, but his constant need to be the hero still made him predictable.

Final words:

Although it was a bit better than the original series, there is still much room for improvement. Asuna’s mini arc with her mother did show why she acts the way she does, and it was nice to see a strict mother’s opinion of technology changed for the better for once. Also, Sinon’s character development was a bit weird considering it showed her PTSD being overcome by a singular event, which is a bit implausible.

I’d give this anime a…6.75/10 (rating system)

If you like this anime, you may also like: .hack//SIGN, Erased, No Game No Life

Anime Review: “Persona 5”

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The trio’s first palace. Ann points accusingly at Shadow Kamoshida, demanding he confess his crimes.

The adaption of videogames to movies has definitely gone a bit better than the adaption of books into movies, and the Persona series is a great example. Back when Persona 4 was popular, there was an adaption of  that game into an anime as well. Atlus decided it was time to do the same for it’s fantastic new game Persona 5. The question is, would it do so well?

Having viewed a playthrough up to a certain point in the game, I went in a little bit prepared. The anime follows the same story, a bit condensed of course. Ren Amamiya is a transfer student, wrongly accused of a crime. Rumours are throne around that he’s a delinquent, and no one really wants to talk to him. He becomes fast friends with the “troublemaker” Ryuji Sakamoto on the way to school. But, something is a little off when they arrive.

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The five members of the Phantom Thieves spend some time together. But the rain ruins their plans!

The school has turned into a Palace, as explained by a cat-humanoid prisoner Morgana. After escaping, Morgana explains that someone in the school feels the school is literally his or her palace. They quickly learn this person is the gym teacher Suguru Kamoshida, who is abusing students. The pair teams up with new friend Ann Takamaki to defeat Shadow Kamoshida to stop his horrible acts.

To their surprise, after doing so, Kamoshida steps forward and admits all his faults in front of the entire school. The three new friends decide they may be able to change the hearts of many bad people, and they set out to do so. Upon meeting an art student Yusuke Kitagawa, they come upon their next target – Ichiryusai Madarame. This famous artist has been using his own students work and passing it off as his own. Something similar happens to Madarame after his shadow version is defeated, and Yusuke joins the team.

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The first trip to Mementos is a bit of a bumpy ride as Morgana transforms into a…bus?

As the crew defeats evil after evil, they are also joined by unlikely new members Makoto Nishima, the student council president, and Futaba Sakura, a hikkikomori that seeks to better herself. Palace after palace falls, each causing those people to change their heart. A mob boss admits he’s been scamming students,  and turns himself in. After changing the heart of greedy CEO Kunikazu Okumura, his own daughter Haru Okumura joines the team. But something goes wrong with this one. The crew finds out that someone else is in the palaces, and this person has caused the death of Kunikazu.

Elite detective Goro Akechi is on the case, chasing the after clues of the friend group. They’ve now been making a name for themselves, calling themselves The Phantom Thieves of Hearts. Goro eventually becomes a trusted ally, but their last mission has a bit of a funny taste to it. Something big is coming, and the Phantom Thieves have to find out what it is without exposing themselves!

When the anime first began, I felt it stuck just a bit too closely to the games. In this way, it felt slow, and almost forced, especially the first palaces and the introduction of Mementos, everyone’s shared palace. But, as the story went on, the transitions began to feel much less forced and more organic. The reintroduction of Arsene, Ren’s persona, at the end was a nice treat as well.

Final Words

Despite starting out a bit forced, the anime did a good job of translating an excellent game into an anime. It’s always hard to include everything that you’d want to in something like that without missing out on a lot of things. The series only touched on some of the important relationships the game had: Sadayo Kawakami (teacher-slash-maid), Hifumi Togo (shogi expert), and Shinya Oda (videogame prodigy). If these had been better included in some way, it would have remained much truer to the game. However, fans of just the anime might just be confused, so it was probably decided that these would just confuse those that hadn’t played the game.

I give this anime… 8.75/10 (rating scale)

If you like this anime, you may also like…SoulEater, Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc, Parasyte -the maxim-.

Anime Review: “From the New World”

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The students of Group 1 learn the true nature of their world.

Most post-apocolyptic stories feature humanity on the verge of extinction due to some nuclear disaster, or strange disease. Most also seem to feature deserts, and gas masks. But From the New World takes a wildly different approach, and succeeds in making a scary, but delightful series.

This anime is broken into three parts: Child, Teen, and Adult. At first, they don’t seem connected at all. And, you’d still think that even up to the end of the adult arc. But, like an M. Night Shymalan movie, everything is tied together in the end.

The child arc begins with Saki, a young girl who finally “awakens to her powers.” In this universe, people develop telekenetic powers at a young age, and once they do, they can move from elementary to the Unified Class. Being the last in her elementary to awaken to her powers, she finally joins the Unified class and meets her soon-to-be lifelong friends: Maria, Mamoru, Shun, and Satoru. They compromise Group 1 within the class.

During a week-long trip, where each group must canoe to a designated area as part of a

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Satoru and Saki get help from the human-speech-skilled Monster Rat Squeara.

test, Group 1 wanders off the path and finds a strange creature called a False Minoshiro. They’d only heard stories of it, so to them it’s like seeing a unicorn. As it turns out, this creature is actually an automaton that holds a vast quantity of information from before the apocalypse.

It reveals that when people began to develop their powers, they were using them to kill others and there was utter chaos. So, scientists developed gene splicing that caused humans to feel horrible pain or even death if they hurt or killed another human. Having found this out, a strange monk appears to set them back on their way, but they are stopped by Monster Rats. After escaping the creatures’ underground trap, Shun and Saki make their way out with the help of Monster Rat Squeara and back to the campsite. The group finally comes back together, unsure what to make of the whole situation, but they vow that they should never tell the adults.

In the teen arc, Group 1 is in class, and Shun is having trouble controlling his power. Every day he seems to be getting worse, until the point that he can no longer be in class. He disappears one day, not coming into school, and Saki seeks him out. They meet on the road to town, and Shun explains he’s sick and cannot be around her anymore. He says he’s going to a “bungalow” to get well. Soon, he disappears completely and Saki and her friends decide to go find him. They also find the village Shun loves is being blocked off.

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“Is that really an Ogre?” Saki asks herself. “Are we really fighting what we think we are?”

Saki finds Shun in the bungalow he mentioned, but he’s changed so much, she hardly recognizes him. She recalls stories of Karmic Demons where their power “leaked” so bad, they had to be destroyed. Mamoru becomes so terrified of the news when Saki delivers it, that he runs away. The group seeks him out, but the Ethics Committee sending the Trickster Cat, a trained beast cat, to destroy Shun has made Mamaoru realize that if he returns, he may suffer the same fate. So Mamoru and Maria run away together with the help of the local Monster Rat colony.

Finally, the adult arc closes everything out. Monster Rats have helped Group 1 through their journey, but this time, Squeara and his crew are wanting to destroy humans. They want to be equal, and though they are loyal to humans, they are still treated as beasts. He’s started a revolution, and raised an Ogre (a human who is able to kill other humans without feeling the pain) to kill humans for him. There’s also some truths about monster rats that Saki and Satoru learn that could change to fate of humans and Monster Rats.

Though the story is complex, it makes for a great watch. From finding the real truth about their world, to facing losses that no one should ever have to face, Saki grows as a person, and reveals the true nature of her world to those that don’t seem to understand as well as they should. Mysterious disappearances of children as explained away as a way to prevent Ogres, but what about the fate of the Monster Rats? Who are they really? You might be surprised at the answers.

Final Words:

Definitely a fresh take on the post apocalyptic scenario, where there’s actually not advanced technology, and barely even electricity. The idea that people would have to give up so much freedom just to be safe is frightening, but when the Ogre attacks, it makes a lot of sense. It’s said that a nuclear bomb may kill a city, but an Ogre can kill a city and keep going until it is tired. With literally no way to fight it, they have to come up with a pretty ingenious solution.

I give this anime… 8/10 (rating scale)

If you like this anime, you may also like… Attack on Titan, Chrome Shelled Regios, Trigun

Anime Review: “Devilman Crybaby”

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The first encounter with demons is pretty gory. There are indeed teeth everywhere.

“He never cried for himself, only for other people.”

The words of Miki Makimura rings in the head of her protector Wamu as he tries to encourage her to stay strong. There is a massive angry mob outside, ready to take them all down forcefully. How did it come to this? She doesn’t know for sure, but there’s nothing else she can do. Akira Fudo, her adoptive brother, is nowhere to be seen, but he’s the only one that can stop these people.

There’s something special about Akira, though, even more than Miki knows. The change

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Akira shows off his Devilman form, protecting those he loves from danger.

happened quickly: Akira was once a small, bumbling crybaby of a boy, and suddenly transformed into a swaggering young man with a secret. He’s actually a Devilman. This happens so quickly, that even Akira can’t understand the change.

His childhood friend Ryo Asuka stops in town from overseas and picks up Akira one day after school and brings him to a rave. Poor Akira doesn’t know what’s going on, but people begin to change right before their eyes into beings called devils. These devils begin to brutally destroy the people in the club, but Ryo doesn’t let Akira leave. Instead, Akira begins to transform himself under guidance of Ryo. In this way, Akira is able to kill the devils, and still remain human.

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Kukun’s devil form – a giant bull. He ends up fighting for the enemies of humanity, despite Akira’s pleas.

The resulting transformation does more than give him special powers. It changes his body, too. He gets a lot more unwanted attention from just about everyone at school, and draws more powerful devils to him. He soon has to face more and more powerful enemies, and when Ryo spills the beans about the existence of devils and causes mass panic, Akira and his family begin to draw even more unwanted attention.

The stylistic nature of this series makes the gory parts somehow even more gory. It was a bit unnecessary, and seemed to take away from the plot, which does leave a lot to be desired. There’s quite a bit of fan-service, and definitely not recommended for kids. It’s very visceral and primal, which doesn’t do it any favors. In fact, it may have made it worse.

Final Words

Spoiler Alert Ahead! The biggest problem this anime has has to be the ending. There’s no closure what-so-ever. Why would you kill off everyone? Like, I know it’s cliche, but having a story where the bad guy wins and no one else is left alive while Ryo cries while holding the disembodied torso of his childhood friend because he won is hardly an ending. I feel like the writers just didn’t try. I get what they were trying to do, but they failed miserably. Here I am, sitting and hoping the good guy wins, since all of his fellow devilmen are there to help, but he just keeps getting chopped up. He keeps going! I know he’ll win because he has hope and friendship on his side! But…he just…doesn’t. He dies and Ryo gets what he wanted – the end of humanity. So what now? Cry, Ryo. Cry.

I would give this anime a… 4/10 (rating scale)

If you like this anime, you may also like… Blue Exorcist, Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc, D. Grayman

Anime Review: “Castlevania”

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The trio make their way through the castle.

Real vampires, real action, real blood-sucking violence, and a crazy adventure – eat your heart out Twilight.

Stephanie Meyer would surely have something to say about Dracula after watching a true-to-form vampire story. In fact, she might actually enjoy it more than her own work. In Netflix’s intensely popular and newly updated series Castlevania, based on Konami’s classic videogame series of the same name, the true story of Dracula is revealed through beautiful and intense animation.

The story starts out in the country of Wallachia in the 1400s. Lisa Tepes, a budding doctor, is seeking knowlege on how to improve her services and finds herself on the doorstep of Castlevania, the name of Dracula’s castle. The wary vampire allows her in and reluctantly offers his library. However, her charm melts his cold heart, and they soon fall in love.

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Trevor fights off some of Dracula’s demonic forces while trying to find a safe place to sleep.

The first two seasons kind of overlap a bit here, where season two reveals that she’s become a talented doctor while he’s away from the city. She’s captured by members of the church and executed as a witch. Of course, Dracula is furious, sending all his hordes to kill every human in Wallachia.

Season one covers dealing with Dracula’s hordes and Trevor Belmont, last of the Belmont line of vampire hunters, protects the young Speaker woman Sypha Belnades and her people from the hordes of monsters and people that think they are to blame. However, the second season expands on this, where Trevor helps the people fight the hordes, and actually chases after Dracula himself.

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Alucard and Trevor meet for the first time.

Alucard Tepes, Dracula’s half vampire son, makes an appearence in season one, and actually joins the party for season two to fight his father. His originally meeting with Trevor in season one actually went from a fight to a welcome introduction after the magician and vampire hunter find out his intentions.

The series seems like it’s at an end right now, after a final battle between father and son, but Netflix recently announced it is renewing the series for another two seasons. There’s certainly a lot of material to work with, having over 20 games in the official canon, so here’s to a long and exciting run with Dracula’s many resurrections.

Final Words

I’ve not played many of the games, so I wasn’t sure what to expect going in. But Netflix has clearly outdone itself with this entry. Stellar animation, excellent voice acting – it’s clear this is a passion project of both animators and writers. I’m really looking forward to where the next seasons take us, with complex characters and just enough humor to staunch the intensity of the story. Alucard and Trevor’s relationship is probably the best part.

I would give this anime a… 9.5/10 (rating scale)

If you like this anime, you may also like… Black ButlerMoon PhaseBeyond the Boundary

Anime Review: “Dragon Pilot: Hisone and Masotan”

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Hisone’s first flight doesn’t go exactly as planned.

The idea of dragons permeates every culture in the world: from the firedrakes of Europe to the lungs of Japan and China. While that’s not to say they all may be the same mythical beasts – in fact some are so different, it’s hard to say whether they should be considered dragons – the fact is that they appear in almost every culture and religion worldwide. Of course the idea is that either they’ve all died out, or maybe they never existed in the first place. But Dragon Pilot has another idea about this. What if they are still alive and well, we just can’t see them?

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The four OTF flyers warm up before transforming into Foxtrot (disguised) form.

The story begins with a member of the Japanese Self Defense Force Hisone Amakasu. She’d just been doing desk work for a few years, when on an errand she is sent to bunker #8. There is no #8 on the map, but a strange old woman who offers her a Yakult (yogurt-like) drink points towards an old worn-down building. It turns out this is actually bunker #8 and she cautiously makes her way toward it. Inside, a strange beast attacks her and she wakes up in the hospital. The major general Hiroshi Sosoda explains she’s met a dragon, and she’s to be a part of the Organic Transformed Flyer (OTF) division, which operates dragons disguised at fighter jets.

Despite her endless protesting, Hisone is brought into the fold. She’s the most reluctant, and even demands to leave to program before her first flight. But after finally getting into the “cockpit,” she quickly changes her mind. Her dragon, Masotan, soon becomes her best friend, despite the other potential pilot Nao Kaizaki’s anger.

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Hisone and Masotan find Nao just a few miles away from base.

Three new pilots arrive within the next week, and they are all to train together for an upcoming show. They slowly become friends, even the reluctant El Hoshino. As time passes, they are also tested by being sent to a special island where they must survive a whole week together. The final test comes in the form of guiding the gigantic Mitatsu-sama, a whale-like OTF. Here, Hisone’s mettle is tested as well as her friendship, so she must remain courageous to come out safely.

It’s an interesting concept, that’s for sure. Having dragons around to help in defending against outside threats would definitely give Japan an edge up. And this is how it’s played in the series, where people begin to notice Japan’s use of dragons and they must find ways to hide them to continue using their power. The issue of beast vs intellect comes up as well using El as a model – more than once she scorns her position, thinking she is some kind of zookeeper. But the fact is that her dragon Norma does actually care about her, and learning to work with him instead of against him ends them closer than ever before.

Final Words:

If I could describe this anime in just one word, it would definitively be “cute.” That’s not to say that it is also empowering and exciting, showing how a shy and directionless young woman can grow into someone much stronger than she expected of herself. Though still awkward in the end, she learns to reach outside of herself and gains something she’d never had before: a purpose. At one point, she even says that everything she has that she holds dear is because of her Masotan, and losing him would destroy her world. A true change of heart from a woman that started out not wanting to touch a dragon. I’d also like to point out that Hisone does seem to be (if slightly) autistic due to her blunt nature and obliviousness with some social cues.

I would give this anime a…8.75/10 (my rating system)

If you like this anime, you might also like: Tengen Toppa Guren Lagaan, Gatchaman CrowdsMoribito: Guardian of the Spirit

Anime Review: “Vividred Operation”

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The Vivid girls prepare to face off against a new thread.

Magical Girls and technology is not something that typically goes together, but the girls of the 2013-premiered anime Vividred Operation seem to pull it. The real question is whether or not it makes for a good combination.

 

Akane Ishikki, a high school girl who lives with her younger sister Momo and eccentric grandfather Kenjiro, has been born into a special time in Japan. The world no longer struggles with electricity and resources; Kenjiro has invented a strange engine that allows this prosperous time. The engine, called the Manifestation Engine, creates its own energy and sends it all over the world to power everything from planes to homes. He’s also created a number of other machines using this principle, including Akane’s “bicycle” which she uses to deliver papers for extra money.

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Apparently, the inflation is supposed to be like an airbag in a car, but it doesn’t seem to actually serve its purpose.

However, a strange alien force suddenly appears. Years before, Kenjiro had warned the Self Defense Force and government about this, but they’d refused to listen to him. Now seeing that his predictions have come true, he’s called to action. However, a strange accident in the lab causes his consciousness to be transferred to a stuffed animal Akane had given him as a gift. While his body remains intact, he’s basically turned into a stuffed otter. So, he’s forced to meet with high officials in the form, much to his chagrin.

This alien force, dubbed the Alone, seeks to destroy the Manifestation engine. Kenjiro produces a sort of key for Akane, and she uses it to transform into Red, a magical girl with technological enhancements. She can use a giant boomerang to defend herself and fight the Alone. Her best friend Aoi Futaba, meanwhile, is flying home, and the plane crashes near the Alone. She, too, receives a key from Kenjiro to become Blue. Soon after, Kenjiro reveals they can power up by “docking,” or combining to form Vivid Blue, and they defeat the Alone.

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The girls show off their own personal running styles in the opening song.

They are soon joined by the enthusiastic and dutiful Wakaba Saegusa, who becomes Green, and the hikkikomori computer nerd Himawari Shinomiya, who becomes Yellow. They defeat a number of Alone, docking with Akane to become Vivid Green and Vivid Yellow. But, something strange is happening with the Alone. They become powerful without warning, and no one knows why. It’s soon revealed that Rei Kuroki, a classmate of the girls, is responsible, but there’s something strange about her, despite her appearing human.

 

The story is easy to follow, and it’s made clear that this is an ecchi pretty up front with gratuitous panty shots. But, there seems to be something a bit wrong with this in this particular anime. The girls are clearly in high school, but they are painted as much less mature and naive, so it feels as though they are much younger. It also seems to distract from the plot as well, making even Kenjiro a pervy-type, which kind of ruined the story.

Final Words:

I suppose that I shouldn’t expect more from an ecchi, but if you’ve seen Sekirei, you also know that being an ecchi doesn’t have to mean the plot should suck. The characters are flat in this one, all showing basically one aspect of personality, and not changing at all in the story. The most interesting character, by far, turned out to be Rei, who of course started out as a villain and realized there are ways to make friends with people that might not see the same as you. The ending was unexpected, but predictable, even if it was meant to be heart-wrenching. I didn’t find myself connecting to any of the characters at all and I felt like the whole series was written by someone who only wanted to see a bunch of young girls’ panties. This is made exceptionally clear in the transformation sequences, where they are literally in their undergarments.

I would give this anime a…5/10 (my rating system)

If you like this anime, you might also like: Strike Witches, Girls und Panzer, Ouran High School Host Club

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