Review: Patema Inverted

patemainverted

 

JustinTaking unique concepts and using them in unique ways is exactly why I fell in love with this medium, so it’s movies like Patema Inverted which remind me why I still look forward to every season and consider myself a fan of anime. Continue reading

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Utsuro no Hako to Zero no Maria: Volume 1

Utsuro no Hako to Zero no Maria: Volume 1

This is a review, therefore it’s fundamentally free of spoilers but has a basic synopsis of the story.

Utsuro no Hako to Zero no Maria is a light novel written by Eiji Mikage and illustrated by Tetsuo, and its English translation can be read on Baka-Tsuki.

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Review: Kyoukai Senjou no Horizon I & II

Kyoukai Senjou no Horizon I & II

When I first saw Kyoukai Senjou no Horizon’s trailer while deciding my Fall 2011 lineup, I completely dismissed it at first sight for one simple thing: the character designs. Almost all the female characters having an oversized bosom is rarely an indicator of a good story, and I am definitely not a fan of ecchi either. Not to mention that combining that with the presence of high tech and mecha made me remind a much hated (by me, that is) recent series – Infinite Stratos. That said, it wasn’t until recently, when I heard some good things about it, that I decided to give it a try. As so, I assure you that Kyoukai Senjou is not one single bit like it – in fact, it is a full-fledged fantasy, with quite a good story, really interesting characters and one of the most in-depth depictions of politics I’ve seen in anime. Fanservice is present, but it’s more visual (with the character designs and all) than it is situational, and when it is, it’s usually simply fun. And this comes from a female viewer who usually hates most kind of fanservice (even bishies xD).

The complex setting might also be somewhat confuse, what is a put off for some people, but checking out some information and paying close attention to the episodes should be enough to understand (and enjoy) everything. Kyoukai Senjou no Horizon takes place in the future, a time after humanity supposedly almost reached heavens but fell short of it due to wars amongst themselves. Thus, someone had the brilliantly ridiculous idea of reenacting the past. In the stories specific time period, said idea had turned unquestionable law and humanity’s very purpose of existence. Something that put me off at first was how could everyone be so stupid as to sacrifice their wishes and future to do something like that, but then it hit me that “Hey, that’s what they’ve been taught since they were born. The principles that were engrained in them from a very low age.” Like our perception of society in reality couldn’t be drastically changed, such was their reality. That said, it’s not like they just go around faithfully reenacting history. In fact, most countries use that more as an inviolable excuse to reach their goals and mask their underhanded actions, taking advantage of how different interpretations of the same facts, specially past facts of which exists nothing but records, can be equally well defended. That gives rise to my most loved part of Kyoukaisen – the intricate politics. The politics in this series are quite resembling to real-life politics, which is really rare in anime. A kind of politics where reasons matter, but appearances matter more. A kind of politics where double meaning is given to illicit actions, and where formalities rule over purpose. In other words, a wonderfully dirty kind of politics that contributes to the plot of this series in every single episode. And as if that wasn’t enough, there’s even an episode entirely dedicated to a political debate in each season. Add to the great script a flamboyant presentation and you get my favorite episodes of Kyoukaisen.

However, the plot is not the only strong point in this anime. In fact, while the politics sure are great, all the relations between countries and the implications of each and every detail are usually hard to grasp, which would make this a mostly tedious watch. Something else that really makes Kyoukai Senjou no Horizon shine is the wonderful cast of characters. Musashi’s students sure are no small group, and when adding to that some relevant characters from other factions, it sure seems like most will get simply forgotten in the middle of so many faces. Fortunately, that doesn’t happen. With only 13 episodes in the first season, it had already an impressive amount of character development considering how many characters there were. This second season only served to perfect that, sporting even a more impressive amount of it in such few time.

Speaking of characters, I couldn’t go on without mentioning the protagonist. Toori is just a wonderful deviation of a main character. In the first season, he’s terribly burdened with is own guilt, yet he’s all but an angsty brat. He’s just someone who lives life as it is, an idiot with amazing strikes of genius and someone who’s completely honest with himself and follows what he believes in. That’s what gathered that amazing group of friends around him. Most of Musashi’s group receives good development, but they shine more as the united group they are. Which is a great thing, since what drives the chain of events in Kyoukaisen is, in fact, the will of the characters. Let me proceed to explain how well such fact truly works. This series’ plot comprehends implications in a grand scale – the power balance of the factions/countries, the Armament of Deadly Sins, the politics, fighting strategies, heck, there’s even the apocalypse to worry about. While that’s usually a good sing in fantasy stories, such events are really nice for detail analysis, but due to how removed they are from a viewers’ daily experience, they, more often than not, fail at getting said viewers emotionally invested. However, while all those details and subtleties of every action, ready for those who love such components to put their minds in, all of it can be simplified in one goal: the selfish wish of one guy who wants to get the girl, even if that means declaring war against the entire world. If that’s not simplifying, than I don’t know what it is, and if that’s not romantic, than I have absolutely no idea what else could possibly be. Due to this, one can look at Kyoukaisen as the story of a group of comrades, fighting for their beliefs, or as a grand scale fantasy epic, with all the intricate aspects that brings. Or you can see it as both, taking in its entire splendor.

But unfortunately, not all about Kyoukai Senjou no Horizon is perfect. Not near it, in fact. Its greatest flaw is how incredibly contrived the plot is. Most developments require one’s entire attention to fully understand, but that’s definitely not a bad thing. The problem is that in the middle of its half-explanations, Kyoukaisen often forgets that not everything can be deduced from earlier information. This leads to something that’s never desirable in an anime series: watching it with a guide by your side becomes a requirement. I think they did quite well in adapting a light novel which was said to be impossible to be adapted into a visual medium due to its sheer size and amount of information dump. The lack of explaining that sometimes occurs is probably unavoidable, but it’s still something that detracts from the viewer’s experience, even if it can be remediated through a wiki or a conversation with a novel reader.

Sometimes there are things that impress you. Things you just don’t expect to be the least bit good and largely surprise you in a positive way. Kyoukai Senjou no Horizon is definitely one of those. What appeared few more than a cliché harem show with dumb plot and lots of fanservice, turned out to offer a fascinating fantasy setting with a rather complex and interesting plot and an amazing cast of characters instead. It’s also one of the best examples that fun + serious and fanservice + believable and deep character development is in fact possible, despite being the rarity that it is. The jokes are genuinely fun and often show some good originality, the plot is fantastic if one has the patience to try and understand it and the characters are simply great. Most of all, this series is both a great amount of fun to watch and a serious story that can evoke emotional response from the viewer.

 

Note: I found the 1st season to be slightly, just slightly better than the second.

Review: Hyouka

Hyou-ka: You can’t escape

What exactly was I getting myself into watching this show. I was expecting dime a dozen only to receive beauty and wit in one of the nicest surprises I’ve seen in a while. …god what a horrible betrayal of expectations.

Hyouka presents us with Houtaro Oreki, an energy saving lazy high-schooler with natural intelligence. Pushed into saving the dying Classics Club by his older sister, Oreki’s minimalistic lifestyle starts to crumble thanks to the whims of the other club members; old best friend Satoshi Fukube, Mayaka Ibara, and the ever curious Eru Chitanda. Thanks to Chitanda’s curiosity, the group end up solving mundane everyday mysteries with Oreki’s big noggin’.

See what I mean dime a dozen? ANOTHER SCHOOL CLUB ANIME: NOW WITH BORING MYSTERIES. OH JOY.

There is so much more beneath the surface and appearances.

So what we have here is a niche show that takes a curious spin on slice of life with mysteries, indulging itself in a suitably laid back and lackadaisical approach, one which it pulls off with grace. Hyouka rarely stumbles into territory where it drags on despite it’s slow pace, instead adopting a sense of lax intrigue which typically works well. I have to admit, that alone places the show in a category rarely seen, and personally, I’m a fan. It’s a fresh taste, and at it’s best, is jaw smackingly delicious. It doesn’t reach that high all too often sadly, but even on it’s normal days, it’s just wholly enjoyable.

Because when you get down to it, Hyouka is about teenagers who feel surprisingly real for anime standards. What’s kind of remarkable in that aspect is that most of development is done in a subtle manner, really unlike what I’m used to in anime like this. Treatment of typical coming of age issues, such as realizing others may have more natural talent than yourself, are treated with care along the full length of the series.

Hyouka does not hold your hand or forcefully drag you to the deeper end of the pool. The viewer can always calmly submerse themselves into what makes the show and it’s characters tick, and it feels great to have a show that simply let’s you understand the characters through their actions. They have a sense of being more than just 2D traits. All four of the main cast have distinguishable characters arcs which we can see develop au naturel, no lengthy awkward speeches to make sure the audience gets it. Makes for a fulfilling journey from start to end

And let’s get back to the surface qualities, because the show is actually, on a technical level, gorgeous. The atmosphere Hyouka creates is one its strongest suites, from scenery to creative “cinematography” and visuals oozing their pretty selves out of the screen. It’s luscious in all ways of the word, and the production values definitely show. The detail put into the animation is, well, really REALLY detailed. It’s eye candy plain and simple. It is the best.

As a whole, Hyouka is a testament what can be done with patience and slow painstaking care. The slow can be kind of painful, yes, but it always carried itself with charm and the sheer power of it’s atmosphere. So even in it’s laziest times, I could never truly call it dull – I was having fun. When it comes down to it, Hyouka captures a part of the teenage years and runs with it to its wits end. A real surprise for me, and something unique of its own.

    

    

Review: Jormungand

Jormungand
Her Name Is Koko She Is Loco I Said Oh No

I wasn’t exactly sure on which treatment to give Jormungand. Seeing as it is, like Fate/Zero, something which had already been announced as being split into two seasons with a 3 months break, and not having the slightest sense of closure in the first one, I think it’d better be treated as a whole. However, due to my intention of blogging the second season this fall (shout-out to the higher ups^^) and the fact that the first one has not been covered here, I shall review it as an introduction to my love for these series.

Before its airing, Jormungand was already target of comparisons with Black Lagoon, which is totally understandable given the similarity between the settings of both series, which focus in the life of underground groups in the modern world – mercenaries in Black Lagoon’s case, and arms dealers in Jormungand’s case. However, once you work your way past through those first similarities, both works couldn’t be more different. Jormungand never carries an overly serious mood and needs not recur to heavy swearing and excessive gore to make itself entertaining.

In fact, Jormungand has everything I look forward in this type of series: interesting characters, good action scenes, great dialogue, intelligent storytelling and a delicious little amount of craziness. The few comedy moments that prevent it from getting too serious are usually really well placed, making for lighthearted relaxing moments without ever ruining the mood of the scenes.

The narrative follows a rather episodic formula, being divided in different arcs, with each corresponding to a job of the starring arms dealing group lead by the “loco”, yet cunning and overflowing with leadership qualities, Koko Hekmatyer. This group works under the HCLI, a weapons corporation, and is composed by a rather heterogeneous collection on individuals, ranging from a former mafioso to one who used to be a police officer. Either way, each of its members excels in their task – being effective bodyguards to Koko. The latest addition to this previous eight-man bodyguard team is Jonah, a child solider orphan who claims to hate guns and is set on getting revenge.

Although, I’m not a huge fan of that type of storytelling means, each arc is highly entertaining and usually comes with huge amount of character development, usually changing its focus to one of the members of the group, which makes each and every one of them worth watching. That said, the lack of continuity is, indeed, the main weakness of these series, at least in my eyes. But Jormungand is not deprived of an overreaching plot. Despite being surely a character driven series, the events in each arc are not completely independent from each other, and their connection between them isn’t brought upon only by the characters. The interweaving plot points are rather subtle so far, but the final episode heavily hinted towards a greater relation between all events, with a connection being established between the previous assassination attempts the group was victim of and the solidifying of the CIA’s interest in the group, which unexpectedly seems to go way beyond a lone agent who’s hunting for money and has been nothing but a bait for comedic relief. When we add to that Johan’s seek for revenge, about which we still have a lot to see, and the background of the HCLI itself and Koko’s relation with its leader (her father), which has been hinted but not touched too much upon just yet, we have plenty of things to look forward too, and if the second half of Jormungand succeeds in tying up all of these points tide and nicely, it’ll definitely turn out to be a truly great series.

The characters, which I’ve already mentioned before, stroke me as interesting from their first appearance, giving me an impression of depth, even before I could foresee any type of development for either of them. Their interactions are truly entertaining, though of course the spotlight here goes to Koko and Johan. The later, despite everything he has gone through and his amazing aptitude with guns, still has this natural childish side about him, though he’s careful not to let it show in front of Koko, only letting his cold and ruthless mood transpire. On the other hand, Koko is always smile, and trying her best to make him smile, while hiding her darker side which one can mostly perceive in moments where Johan isn’t present. That’s exactly what makes her such an interesting and mysterious character. She rarely travels the road of indiscriminate violence, though one has to wonder if that is out of good nature or sheer manipulation, as she is one who is definitely skilled in using others as pawns.

The antagonists are usually rather well developed too, which could be perceived as a waste of time, since most of them end up being one-time characters, but ends up being a positive point for the series, showing us all the sides of equation by demonstrating different points of view.

Something I cannot forget to mention is the dialogue in this series. From intelligently comedic to social criticizing, it is appealing, engaging and well-written, to the point where the viewer has to wonder whether is that or the action to carry this series. And of course, the action can’t be forgotten either. While the sole reason I picked this up was the fact it was going to be produced by White Fox, the relatively new studio which has been so praised for his high-quality adaptations, namely Steins;Gate and Katagatari, I’ve never expected them to succeed in making exciting and fluid action scenes. They have fortunately proved me wrong, as the action scenes, while somewhat unrealistic as it wasn’t otherwise expected, are not only exciting but still manage some believability.

As for the sound, it is my opinion that the background music was definitely the weakest part of the series. It’s a good musical score and it does fit its purpose, not being misused as it never feels out of place. Nonetheless, there were no tracks that stand out as noticeable, let alone others that would make me put a reminder to “download the OST as soon as it’s out”. The OP and ED songs, on the other hand, are some of the best this Spring season had to offer, fitting the series rather well and being excellent songs on their own merits.

In the end, I highly recommend this series, for it will make a good watch for pretty much anyone. Its writing is great, and those who want to get something out of what they watch will definitely find enough comparisons with the real world and human nature, as well as great quotes to analyze. But those are usually not left in a noticeable manner, for the show rarely has many slow moments, so those who just want to watch something entertaining for the sake of it will also have their quota filled with the flashy action and good comedy. This is something I’ve enjoyed a lot and I’ll definitely be eagerly awaiting the second season, which is airing this Fall.