Batman Ninja (Review)

Oh, I’ve been waiting for this one. And I am quite pleased.

As I’ve mentioned previous times, it is rare for my “geeky comic book fan” side to enjoy something from the anime community. Those few and far-moments are precious and awesome, which was why I waited with bated breath for today’s specimen: an anime about one of my favorite heroes.

The hype is REAAAAAAL!

I’m of course talking about the movie I was so excited for last year, Batman Ninja. The film had a major pedigree attached to it with names from Afro Samurai, Gurren Lagann, and even JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure attached to it. So, the hype was very real, but it may have also been its undoing. Because, while the movie is an amazing marriage of western stereotypes and anime tropes, it didn’t have a lot of time to show off. But oh, what little time it had was filled to the brim.

The story itself is ridiculous and utterly fun. In true comic book fashion, we begin with Batman swooping in to stop Gorilla Grodd’s new time machine and accidentally activating it. Everyone in the area finds themselves thrown into ancient feudal Japan, with Batman arriving two years later. Five of the Rogues’ Gallery have become lords of Japan, each one ready to conquer and unite the country under their banner. But, when it seems like Bats has no means of stopping them, in swoops a bat-suited clan of ninjas, ready to fight alongside him and his ninja-trained sidekicks. Giant robots, samurai sword-fights, and sumo-Banes ensue.

I saw this and laughed so hard. It’s amazing.

If that sounds crazy to you, well, you’re not wrong. Screenplay writers Kakuzi Nakashima, Leo Chu, and Eria S. Garcia took a whole bucket of anime tropes and threw into the stew: transforming battle robot-fortresses that have their own special names, Batman admitting that he cannot win with his futuristic toys and be accepting the power of friendship, and, best of all, Our Animal Friends™ joining together to aid their human allies and becoming a near invincible army. Mixed in with all this anime gobbledygook is a handful of well-known comic book absurdities as well, with costume quick changes, villain/hero team-ups, betrayal on both sides, and so much more. It’s a near-perfect marriage between what fans love about both mediums; I literally couldn’t stop smiling.

However, while enjoying all the nonsensical fun, I did have one niggling feeling in the back of my mind. As all the colorful, glorious chaos sped by me, I paused and realized that the “speed” was indeed the problem. This movie takes no real time to flesh things out or let any moment have a significant impact. From pressing play to credits, we are hit with near nonstop information and action that will leave you mentally tired. The movie had a bunch of ideas and no real time to fit them all, but dammit it tried. As I watched the film, I couldn’t help but wonder what would have been, had it been an episodic series instead of a feature film.

I couldn’t chase that thought out of my head for the whole movie. However, that doesn’t mean it wasn’t buried under my love for the movie’s art style. Character designs were headed by the creator of Afro Samurai, Takashi Okazaki, who took great pains to make sure the iconic characters retained their regular style while still adapting to their new surroundings. Meanwhile, animation studio Kamikaze Douga provided the 2D, cel-shaded animations that moved fluidly from scene to scene and gave the whole piece a very distinct look.

Overall, I believe Batman Ninja did what it set out to do; it presented Batman in a new, creative way to reflect how Japan sees heroes. It’s fun, fast-paced action with the absolute insanity that makes anime one of my favorite genres to watch. And while I wish this story had been a full series instead, just to see it fleshed out better, I still like the final product. And, while the English dub was on the messy side, I think everyone could enjoy this film.

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Otome Review: A Handful Of Shorties

Free, long, Otome’s are in short supply these days. It makes sense on an economic level: if you put in more work, you’ll probably want some compensation. But there is an abundance of tiny, quick and cute games that will chip away at your boredom. They tend to only take a few minutes to complete, with not much in the story to chew on, but they have a strange charm to them.

So, I decided I’d take a look at a handful of them. These are the Otome reviews of these three shortie games: Get Hired!, Flying Lessons, and Night Class. No detailed analysis here, just my basic thoughts on what makes these games worth playing or ignoring.

 

 

  • Get Hired!

 

 

I wasn’t sure if I should include this one, as it isn’t an Otome at all; it’s just a Visual Novel. But I am a Batman geek at my heart and, well, how could I pass up an opportunity to talk about one of my favorite villains as well?

Main Plot

Get Hired Title

You are a henchman, congratulations. You just came from a previous job working with D-list villains Killermoth and Crazy Quilt, because you have the chance to work as lacky to none other than Dr. Jonathan Crane, aka The Scarecrow. But ole’ Johnny ain’t ‘bout to take any schmuck off the streets… or, more specifically, he’s looking for a very specific type of schmuck/smartie/scaredy cat. Answer correctly in the Interview and you’ll be hired; answer incorrectly, you’ll be left to dry. Answer interestingly and maybe something far worse awaits you…

Gameplay

GetHiredArgument

The game is exactly what it says on the tin: one interview with Jonathan Crane, with guest appearances by Edward Nygma (The Riddler) and Dr. Jervis Tetch (Mad Hatter) to spice things up (and by spice up, I mean annoy Johnny to no end). You’ll get asked a few questions that have a handful of right/wrong answers. Get them mostly right, you’ll become Mook #523. Get them wrong, you’ll be dumped somewhere to get arrested. But oh, if you play your cards just right, you’ll get a very special job you may not have seen coming.

What do you see

The game plays simply, really, and there’s not much to really complain about. Crane’s impossible to read (mostly) and the dialogue between him and his cohorts is on-point and funny. This game’s great if you got an hour or so to kill.

  • Flying Lessons!

I presume you all remember Synokoria, the company that made both Halloween Otome and Valentines Otome. Those were both solid, well-written entries into the Otome market, but I hadn’t seen this tiny, one-off gem in their library.

Main Plot

Flying Lessons title

Poor Lotus has a problem. Out of all the mythical creatures by the pond, this tiny, cute fairy just can’t seem to fly. She’s tried all the tricks and suggestions her teacher’s made but to no avail, and now she’s only got a week to fly or her teacher will fail her. She’s got two choices of people who can help her: the childhood best friend and the top student in the class.

 

Gameplay

Flying Gameplay

This game is akin to cotton candy: it’s cute, it’s sweet, and gone in an instant. The game’s artwork is completely composed of the tiny sprites Synokoria games use for brief cutscenes in their other games – chibified to the extreme – and you only make two decisions per playthrough of the game. First, you decide which of the two characters you want to help you, then you have to decide to pursue or disregard Lotus’s first cockamamy idea. Once that’s done, the narrative will wrap itself up in a neat, adorable little bow. It’s a lot of sugar so those who hate fluff will gag on arrival, but I couldn’t find anything about it truly offensive.

Aww Flying

But seriously, this artwork is so cute.

 

  • Night Class

And, of course, I gotta get back to Vampires. Halloween is so far away, and yet I love me some supernatural horror. And, while this one had nothing particularly scary to it, it had some twists I genuinely didn’t see coming.

Main Plot

NightClassTitle

You are Rowan and Rowan appears to be on the fast track to depression. She’s become cynical and apathetic to the world, despite her cutesy-anime-girl appearance, and she’s looking for a way to kickstart her life back up. So, she starts taking night classes at the local university in business and marketing, and things seem to be picking up. The only problems are two brothers, Aaron and Jake. Specifically, it’s Jake, our resident annoying jerk, who was attacked by a vampire when he was very young.

JakeAndRowan

Not that he was ever really all that nice.

But, after a week or so of classes, things start spiraling out of control. It turns out Jake may not have been completely honest with Aaron. Worse yet, Aaron may have needed that dishonesty to keep his sanity intact. Things take a very dark spiral, real fast, and Rowan’s world gets turned upside-down.

I repeat, Look Away Children.

Look away, children!

Gameplay

ChoicesNIghtClass

This game is the longest of the three, with the least amount choices. There is one point in the game that decides which path you follow: the two bad endings, or the good(?) ending. What truly surprised me was the game’s nonchalant attitude towards vampires, only to twist it back around for the bad endings to be rather messed up. In short, the actual gameplay is not this game’s forte. Rather, it is a style above substance experience that I walked away from enjoying as a whole.

  • Final Thoughts

Today’s games were exercises in pockets of distraction. All three brought an interesting idea to the table, explored its surface for a while, before closing the book. But, ultimately, the games accomplished the small goals they set out and make for quick fun when the mood strikes.

My Thoughts Going Into Shingeki No Kyojin Season Three

Keep your fingers crossed, kiddies, lest the madness once again goes into Development Purgatory.

But, barring no deployment issues, we should be blessed with a continuation of the shounen that keeps things a little too real: Shingeki no Kyojin, or “Attack on Titan” for the Funimation crowd. July 22nd marks the release date of season three, providing we don’t once again find ourselves the hell season two lingered in, with delay after delay after delay. It was a spiral to make Junji Ito jealous.

For a few people, that was a traumatic time

We won’t jinx it. Instead, I choose to ponder on everything I’ve learned so far and made some predictions, or maybe just some statements that will be on my mind as we go forward. In one of the rare instances where the hype is very real, and well deserved, these are my thoughts on the pre-premiere of Shingeki No Kyojin Season Three. And yes, Small Spoilers for those who haven’t seen seasons one or two.

 

  • Whatever Bad Thing Happens, It’s Gonna Get Worse

Isayama has a lot to brag about when it comes to his writing. But, above all, his greatest strength in this series is his ability to make any bad situation far, FAR worse in a way that isn’t clunky or edge-tastic. And, believe you me, it is much harder than it looks to accurately write the “shit hitting the fan” moment.  

Pretty sure you all remember this moment when the “attack” on Trost became an all-out kill-a-thon.

Seasons one and two made a great show of taking situations that were already down-to-wire dangerous and completely removing said wire. Characters get flung into unwinnable situations where, yes, several characters will die. In short, there is no rock bottom at any given moment of this show, making season three all the more frightening, but also exciting. Because the best part about these moments where the abyss attempts to swallow everyone up is that, inevitably, there will be a crop of them who fight their way back to the surface. I’m always blown away by how well the main three do in a pinch and I’m excited to see even more of it.

 

  • No One is Safe

 

 

But keep in mind that Armin, Mikasa, and even Eren are not safe. Because NOBODY can get away from Isayama’s mighty ax.

Second best to Levi; devoured by a horde of Titans in seconds

There’s this sword hanging over the series, a maddening realization that every single person whose face, name and history you learn may very well be dead within a single episode. Levi, Hange, and all the other awesome bad-asses at play here can be wiped clean at a moment’s notice. I always thought such things would make me grow apathetic to the story. And yet, going into season three, I’m not apathetic at all.

In fact, I’m thrilled. It’s because this show doesn’t treat death as a castaway; it’s an everyday occurrence, and yet it always has significance. It’s a little hard to treat death as callous and unimportant (for shock value) when the killing comes from these horrifying monsters, and in the worst way possible. There’s a danger going forward but I know each big-name death will be treated like the important moment it is.

 

  • We Have Only Scratched The Surface

Cliche? Possibly, and yet I truly believe we have not seen the last “Holy Shit” moment this show has to offer.

The first season dipped a small toe into mystery and intrigue, with the Female Titan and Eren’s superpowers, but season two did a swan-dive into lore and mystery. We got some pretty solid answers about the world the characters live in and then more mysteries dangled in front of us like loose cotton candy. And so, above all else, I’m pretty sure this show will continue to be an absolute tease.

Each time I’ve thought we couldn’t be shocked anymore, the show drops a bombshell either all at once or casually. And since the last season ended in a big damn cliffhanger, I am going forward with the knowledge that we are not done peeling back layers on this morsel. This show isn’t just a generic shounen battle anime; it’s a retool of the traditional “monster outbreak” with some subtle intrigue. It may very well drive me up the wall with my obsessive needs for answers, but at least I know those answers will probably be good.

 

What are your thoughts on season three of Shingeki No Kyojin? Feel free to comment below and don’t forget to like and follow for more content just like this.

 

Anime that Turned Their Genres Inside Out

Ever rolled your eyes at the cliches in your favorite anime? Or maybe you love them to itty-bitty pieces? Either way, we all know that each genre of anime has baggage or traditional settings that come with it. You probably know the storylines by heart, the types of characters within it, and what the outcome of the story may very well be. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with that, but it is very fun to see things shaken up. And lo, anime has its fair share of titles that take their respected genres and re-set the standard, or take the standard somewhere off-kilter. They may very well deconstruct it as a whole.

These are four anime that turn their genres inside out and around, changing the stage for everyone. These are, as always, my opinions and I choose shows that deserve to be talked about a little more. I’m open to discussions with others in the comments below.

 

  • Isekai – Now and Then, Here and There

 

Isekai, or “different world”, literally refers to stories where a normal person is transported to a different world in the story. It’s often used in sword and sorcery-typesettings, where the hero is given a mentor to teach him the “ways of the world” and an added love-interest for extra measure. It’s a genre with a pretty heavy focus on wish-fulfilment, with shows like Sword Art Online for fantasy lovers or Girls Bravo for harem fans. However, the deconstructive tales to be found here can be extremely dark in nature when the writer is allowed to make a literal hell-on-earth type situation. Such was the case with Now and Then, Here and There, which turned this genre from “wish-fulfillment” to “really be careful what you wish for.”

No jokes to be had here. This one is some serious shit

Now and Then, Here and There sees the hero transported to a world that is dark and unforgiving. Children commit acts of immense violence against each other; young men are conscripted into an insane king’s army, and young women get passed around that same army to be raped and abused. Our hero, Shu, tries his best to be the big hero, but there really can’t be any heroes in this more realistic look at war and tragedy.

  • School Anime – Great Teacher Onizuka

Oh, those slice of life school anime, they tend to be so innocent. And they are no stranger to the “Save Our Students” trope in popular culture, where some new teacher swoops in and gives each student a new start on life: better grades, better study methods, so on and so forth. But, really, what if that new teacher was so very far away from innocent? And what if he was just as jaded as all the other teachers?

Enter Great Teacher Onizuka, or GTO, a manga/anime that takes both school anime and the Save Our Students trope through a shredder and a blender. Onizuka himself is crude, impulsive, morally questionable, and only here in hopes of netting jail-bait. Does he slowly come to realize he cares about his students, their asshole-behavior aside? Absolutely, but not before trying to kick some ass, get laid, and just generally try to avoid any real work.

Or scare the crap out of a teenage gang so hard that they become his personal assistants.

While I can’t recommend the show over the manga, I can make the argument that GTO turned the school anime into something amazing. Instead of providing some random, albeit quirky, moral figure to whip the kids into shape, we’re given a former delinquent that accidentally teaches his students moral values that work IRL. The story is definitely not for the kiddies, but I think most adults will get a big laugh out of it.

  • Magical Girl/Shojo – Revolutionary Girl Utena

 Everyone loves to talk about Puella Magi Madoka Magica these days in regards to the deconstruction of the magical girl genre. I will be the first to admit that the show does a good job of showing the more serious side of being a magical, sailor-suited soldier of love and justice, and yet there was one before it that made it look dangerous and trippy.

If Cutie Honey is magical girl’s grandma, and Sailor Moon the proud mama, then Revolutionary Girl Utena is the rebellious little girl ready to strike out on her own.

The whole show and manga revolve around Utena herself brushing past shojo girl stereotypes and the show itself looking at more serious issues. The idea is to pick apart the pretty and fantastical world of shojo manga to get to the truth, “reality” as it were, with lots of mind-screwy, allegorical moments to get it done.

  • Mecha Anime – Mobile Suit Gundam and The Gundam Franchise

Of course, giant robots were a thing long before this series hit the ground. But the genre itself focused mostly on the Rule of Cool principle, with unruly and unrealistic robot designs that were impractical at best, impossible to work with at worst. Several shows in the 90s poked fun at that fact, and at the overall sentai-ish nature of it, but one series decided to “fix-it” with a hard-science approach.

Mobile Suit Gundam looked hard at how these kinds of robots would function and what a war involving them would really look like. It wasn’t a fun series; it took a very hard look at how a war would harm the surrounding people and areas and you got a whole crapload of technobabble to make a Star Trek fan blush. This set the stage for the rest of the Gundam franchise, in which the robots have gotten fancier-looking and the stories have continued to be hard drama. Of course, outliers will exist, with shows that returned to traditional giant robot escapades… I believe I named one of them as my guilty pleasure.

Childhood Nostalgia Powers, GO!

What anime do you know that broke the stereotypes to smithereens? Feel free to share below. Like and follow for more content just like this.

 

Otome Review: Stardew Valley

Been awhile since I did one of these. That’s been mostly due to a lack of material from the recently passed NANOREN, where a good deal of the entries had to be either a demo or unfinished. So we’ll do what must be done and play the only one that caught my eye but, for now, let’s talk about one of the most successful indie games on the market: Stardew Valley.

Naturally I preface this with the fact that this game is, of course not specifically aimed at girls and has far more to it than the relationship elements. But, since it’s listed on several Otome websites, and it plays to wish-fulfillment like nobody’s business, we’re gonna discuss it. This game is Harvest Moon on steroids, guaranteed to make you waste your life away in the best way. It’s almost impossible to believe this game was programmed and illustrated by one guy.

This is Stardew Valley, the runaway success that will take you in, cuddle you, and refuse to let you leave.

 

  • Plot

 

Much like the original Harvest Moon, our plot centers around the start of a new life. And, of course, it begins with the ending of another life. Spoiler Alert: Grandpa’s dead. Before he passes, he gives you an envelope to be opened when you feel your spirit crushed by the burden of modern life.

Such a “happy” start…

An lo, you find yourself miserable while working your job at the soulless JoJa Corp, our resident Evil Corp with Traces of We Will Assimilate You. Fed up, you open the envelope to discover the deed to your Grandpa’s farm in Stardew Valley, next to Pelican Town. Pack’em up and head out kiddies;, it’s time to get back to nature! I mean yeah, your farm is a debris-covered swatch but it’s your debris-covered swatch, so get your tools and get going.

 

  • Gameplay

 

Oh, sweet butterball turkey, where do I start?

If you don’t think that upon stepping out of your tiny house, then you’ve probably played this game before several times. Because you are quite literally given the keys to your own place, a handful of means to get there, and only a few directions of what to do first. It’s your farm, kiddies, and you have a crap-ton of options to get it going. Your first project: make a character you can stand to look at for several hours, because there are no redos unless you wanna befriend the town wizard and shell out some cash.

Yes, there is a wizard. You’ll see.

Char.Creation

Once you solve that conundrum, you’re given a bag of 15 parsnip seeds and released into the open world. Minecrafters of the world will delight when they realize they now have a debris-covered slate to build off of. You can hoe the ground to plant and grow seeds; you can chop down trees and smash rocks to get wood and stone for building; you can use said resources to make kegs, preserve jars and other farm sundry; you can take what you have to the local carpenter to build coops and barns. If farming’s not your business, you can forage for food and resources to do all of the above. A few days later, you’ll also find you can fish or go mining in caves, slaying monsters.

Harvest

But this game is a spiritual successor to Harvest Moon so, naturally, there’s a social element to complete the Farm Life Simulator™. The game sets a mission for you to introduce yourself to most of the townsfolk, bachelors, bachelorettes, and most of your vendors. You quickly learn that the social element is extremely important to this game as each character has a carefully crafted personality, well-drawn sprites, and even their own storylines you can follow by befriending them. Just like other games of this caliber, you will befriend them by giving them gifts they like (feel free to use the wiki) and occasionally participate in personal quests. And, as always, there’s at least five bachelors and five bachelorettes you can marry with enough gifts and the right trigger items, and each one has a unique personality and set of Heart Event cutscenes. Granted, they all do the same thing once you marry them, but I appreciate the effort they do get.

Kiss Scene

I picked Elliot, because I, too, am a mushy romantic.

But hold your horses, cowboy. You see, just like Harvest Moon games past, you have a mission here. You see, JoJa has a big supermarket set up in town and they’re interested in the dilapidated community center, which has some seriously supernatural guests inside. These creatures of the forest, called Junimos, are willing to leave provided you can give them some gifts from the land in little care packages. Thus, you’ll collect the items they request and they’ll fix up the place. You can get all the rooms fixed up… or you can side with JoJa and have the place sold.

 

  • Art

 

Because this game was a spiritual successor to Natsume’s original game in the Harvest Moon series, it has an extreme super nintendo look. Everything is displayed in bright, paint-like colors with pixelated in-game sprites and very detailed portraits for all dialogue. Said pixel-sprites are also animated for certain things, be it reading a book or playing the flute, adding yet another layer of uniqueness to each character. In short, this game is super easy on the eyes as you roam around and get to know your community.

Pelican Town

 

 

  • Romance Options

 

And, in true fashion to this game’s progenitor, some of those people you meet can become your sweetheart-to-be. As mentioned, there are ten partners you can meet and fall in love with, no matter your gender, and each one has their own unique storyline. They act about the same once you marry them but, for once, they also make themselves useful. Your partner will occasionally water crops, feed animals, fix fences, and even make coffee. It’s a nice touch and I think it makes starting a family in-game totally worth it.

Since there are quite a few here that I don’t wanna spoil, we’ll just give a brief summary and let you make your pick.

 

Elliot

Elliott-Portrait_192px

Elliot came to Stardew Valley about a year before you, deciding to commit hard to being a writer. He looks like he stepped out of a romance novel and almost behaves as such, making lots of poetic statements about life, the valley, and, yes, you. He’s a gentlemen first and foremost, but just struggling with the burden of living in a small shack, all alone, pouring over his new novel. He just wanted someone to talk to, providing an awesome but schmaltzy experience for his pursuers.

Sam

download If one can ignore Sam’s ridiculous hairstyle, one will find a reasonable, easy-going, guy who’s had to grow up real fast. With his dad off in the war (because there is one, not that it’s talked about much,) Sam has risen to the occasion to help his mom with the house and his little brother, Vincent. But Sam does have the ambition to start a band with his best buddy, Sebastian, and an unfortunate penchant to start projects without finishing them. In short, he’s the kind of guy most people would seek out in real life but doesn’t have much to offer here.

 

Sebastian

Sebastian-PortraitMeanwhile, you might miss the valley’s other resident hermit, the emo-tastic Sebastian. He’s got an unfortunate tendency to hide away in his room for very long stretches, typing away on the computer and only ever coming out for food, rain, or nighttime air.  But there are some legitimate reasons for Sebastian’s self-imposed isolation and you’ll quickly find there’s a cute nerd hiding in that black sweater. Sebastian will not be for everybody, but I feel he’s worth the work.

 

Shane

Shane-Portrait_192pxMeanwhile, you will get a very rude reception from the overworked Shane, Marnie’s niece. He helps out with the chicken farm, so she can’t complain, but he’s starting to show some very worrying signs. From alcohol dependence to psychological depression, Shane is a project that will require lots of patience to slowly warm him up; it’s a real turn-around story and it has a lot of potential, albeit a lot of predictability.

 

Alex

downloadAlex is the jock and was a quick lesson for me not to judge people too much on first impressions. He’s arrogant and brash on first meeting, mostly to hide a lot of deep wounds on the inside. His story is about what you’d expect: encourage him to pursue his dreams in being a professional ball-player, teach him not to be so arrogant and ultimately help him move on from the tragedy in life. It’s just a shame that there’s no real class or style to Alex, at least not to me, so I don’t see myself adding him to my usual playthroughs.

Harvey

Harvey-Portrait_192px Last, but certainly not least, is the resident “sensitive man” in town, and the doctor to boot. He’s the older bachelor, and respected in the Stardew Valley community, but there’s, yet again, a hidden sadness in him that only love can heal. It’s mushy, true, but there’s a real sincerity here to his path that fans of the series find super endearing. He’s kind, compassionate, and a real sweetheart; that’s more than enough for several of the fans.

 

Abigail

Abigail-PortraitAll those nerdy, adventuring types have quite the treat available to them. Abby has always been estranged from her more traditional family. She dyed her hair; she practices swordplay; she loves to make snoo-goons and chase frogs; and she’s an absolute gamer girl. You’ll have to be patient and open-minded if you wanna impress her, but it will be very much worth the wait. She’s the kind of girl I’d rush to make a close friend of in real life.

 

Emily

Emily-Portrait_192px Meanwhile, we have a slightly newer add to the marriage list. Emily, who works at Gus’s Saloon and makes her own clothes in her spare time, is the older sister of another bachelorette. She’s this town’s resident bohemian type, talking of good vibes, energy, and eating naturally. But you quickly learn she’s ACTUALLY in tune with the spiritual aspect of her universe, making her far more interesting. And, while she’s a bit oblivious – with optimism that will get grating on overuse – I believe she’s a pretty solid candidate.

Haley

Haley-Portrait_192px Meanwhile, her sister does not inspire too many positive feelings in me. I see what she was supposed to be: the conceited, formerly rich, girl who needs to shed her superficiality to become a fun-loving, free-spirited, woman. The problem comes in that her story doesn’t really show that transition as well as it should have. There are not a lot of lessons learned with her, nor do you do much, if anything, to ingratiate yourself to her beyond opening a jar for her. I feel like Haley’s story is in need of some fluffing because, let’s face it, it feels rushed.

Maru

Maru-Portrait_192pxIn the less appearance-based sector, we have Sebastian’s half-sister, Maru, born from Robin’s second marriage. She wishes the two of them were close, but has a happy enough existence making cool gadgets and helping Harvey at the clinic. She’s bright, optimistic, smart and ambitious; maybe she’s a perfect match for a new farmer in town looking for a little love? It’s one of those “earn the attention of the smart-person” scenarios, which I have gone for before, so props there. Would have loved to see some resolution between her and Sebastian, but the end result is still nice.

 

Penny

Penny-Portrait_192px

 Meet Cinderella, er, sorta. Penny lives in a tiny trailer with her mother, Pam. Pam is a drinker prone to being cantankerous due to the loss of her job as a bus driver, so she spends her days at the saloon while Penny stays home and does lots of chores. But she also takes time to educate Jas and Vincent, the local kiddies, and has dreams of starting her own big family. She’s our “dream of a housewife” candidate (which is a perfectly fine life-goal) and just as sweet as can be, so I encourage new players to give her a try.

Leah

Leah-Portrait_192px But far from least is Leah, the artist who’s also living as a hermit in the middle of nature. She left the city to become an artist, a sculptor, and she needs someone to give her a little extra boost of confidence. It’s up to the player to encourage her to sell her art in one way or another and maybe win her heart in the process. And, if that isn’t romantic enough for you, you may very well have to deal with the dreaded ex-partner. Leah’s story feels more complete and quite sweet, compared to a few others.

  • Final Thoughts

 

If I have not made it clear how much I love this game, let me make it clear now: I have never played any game in my library as long as I have played Stardew Valley. This game is beautiful, engrossing, and just plain fun for someone like me, and I adore just about every inch of it. If you want an experience you can disappear in, building a farming enterprise from scratch while exploring a very complex group of people, then do yourself a favor and buy this game.

The Ancient Magus Bride (Season 2 Review)

One of the most difficult parts of writing fantasy is trying to immerse your audience in your fantastical world while keeping your unruly plot herding in the right direction. It’s an extension of that delicate balance between showing and telling all writers struggle with, magnified by the fact that fantasy writers have to work from a nearly blank slate.  So, I find myself impressed that Mahō Tsukai no Yome has continued to walk this thin line like a champ for two seasons. It makes Inuyasha look slow in comparison.

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And before the fans come at me, be aware that I used to adore this show too.  But a few years will do some wonders…

We’ve come upon the one year mark for Kore Yamazaki’s Shounen love story and yet we’ve still only seen a small fraction of the world she’s created. Each episode has made her world bigger and bigger, with the imagery getting darker and the story getting robust. Season two of The Ancient Magus Bride is about exploring magic’s darker half, the consequences that come with the practice, and allowing the characters to stretch out and show some much-needed humanity.

Btw, here’s your spoiler warning. There will be some. Get out, if you don’t want it.

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After finishing her wand and returning to Elias in the most DRAMATIC fashion, Chise decides that she wants to better understand her master; he, in turn, hopes she can teach him more about human emotion. He hints that maybe he’s more human than even he knows and needs someone to help him understand what he’s feeling at a given time. It sets the groundwork for the reciprocity a relationship needs and I absolutely adored it.

 In fact, this entire season had a huge focus on better understanding our actors, be it the sorcerer duo from before or our main villain. Chise and Elias are fleshed out especially well, with Elias’s more selfish emotions allowed to run wild and Chise’s traumatizing past pried out of her skull. I love me some deep-dives into a character’s psyche so I was especially happy.

But this season isn’t just about character development. Because, as these two go forward into the world, hand in hand, Yamazaki expands the magic it towards interesting and horrifying conclusions. She introduces the audience to even more types of magical users – mainly fairies and witch covens – and presents differences between them that are so minute they might as well bleed into each other. But with more magic comes more situations that can go horribly wrong, and wrong they go. We see family members vanishing from existence, friends put on the chopping block in the name of love, and the worrying introduction of “curses.” It all comes to a head when the darkest of all the characters, Joseph, returns to enact what is his most messed up scheme to date in one hell of a finale, in which I may have squealed like a little girl.

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It made the tiny person in me squeal.

As always, the artwork in this show continues to be such a treat. Despite the dark subject matter, we did not empty out the slots on the grayscale palette. Each scene still pops with color and our fantastical designs remain cute and non-intrusive. I also appreciate the show’s efforts to stray away from gore-porn or anything visceral, as it had plenty of opportunities to show horror-show levels of blood this time around. It’s still classy and cute without being obnoxious, just like the story itself.

However, in every pot of gold, we will find a small nugget of pyrite. There were occasions in the anime where the decisions characters made either came out of the blue or just didn’t make sense to me at the time. It’s likely explained in the manga and the anime just didn’t have the time to further flesh it out, but that doesn’t help fresh watchers like myself. Speaking of, the anime has now brushed past the manga in terms of content. This, above all else, is the danger zone for adaptation shows because this is where their story will either become a separate entity altogether (FMA) or mindless filler that no one wants to watch (Naruto.)

But there’s no point in worrying about the umbrella when it hasn’t rained. In the meantime, season two of Mahō Tsukai no Yome successfully focused on characters and catastrophe, providing a harder emotional experience than the season prior. It’s a brash and fast-paced season, much like its protagonist, and we can only hope the writers can keep the momentum going.

 

My Golden Etiqutte for Anime Conventions

As we pull into spring and summer, anime fans everywhere have something new to look forward to a fresh crop of anime conventions.

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Aw yeah, WOOT!

I freakin’ love a good anime convention. It’s when we, Clan Anime Nerd, can all meet in one place to drink, dance, meet our respective heroes and just have a good time all around. The awesome costumes, the cool panels, and the sweet merchandise tables make the cost of hotel and gas worthwhile, at least in my opinion, and I’m sad that I’ve only been able to attend a handful of them in my time.

That being said, for how little I’ve attended, I have noticed from more experienced goers that there are certain unspoken guidelines that you’re expected to follow. They aren’t exclusionary by any means (we are a very accepting bunch) but they are important if you wanna have the best time possible and make sure everyone else has a good time. Because nothing’s worse than going to an awesome event and leaving sticky, disappointed and fearful of being charged with breaking the venue.

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And wanting to eat alive the people who broke things in the first place.

These are my “proper etiquette rules” for conventions or at least the four I would mention to someone who’s never been to one. No one’s demanding you follow them, but trust me when I say they will make your life at the event so much easier.

 

  • Pictures and Cosplay: Ask and Expect to Be Asked

 

Cosplay, if you’re out of the loop, is the practice of coming to convention’s dressed as specific characters from a show or game. Most cosplay is handmade, with the more high-quality costumes made by professional cosplay designers and companies. People who wear or design cosplay tend to get tons of attention at conventions because A) it takes some serious skill to create an exact replica of certain characters and B) those who buy the costume shell out mondo bucks for the higher quality gear. And hey, what better place to show off either your purchase/creative conquest than a convention of your fellow nerd-kin?

It’s also a good gauge to see what shows or comics are popular right now. One of the conventions I attended was littered with members of the Scout Division from Attack on Titan; the other had a LOT of Homestuck trolls.

Now, I adore cosplay as much as the next anime-centric adult. So much so that my phone is usually chock full of cosplay photos after a convention. BUT it’s important to remember that there’s a person under that wig and felt armor. And nothing is creepier than some stranger coming at you with a phone while you’re checking the merch table. It’s a no-brainer in my mind, but just remember to ask before you take that photo. And, if they say no, respect it.

The flipside of this is for actual cosplayers: expect to be asked about photos. It’s a compliment, a means of saying “hey, you did a good job and this is really cool.” That being said, you don’t have to agree if you don’t want to; a simple no will suffice. Just don’t be too upset if you get frequently stopped for photos.

 

  • Do Yourself a Favor and Remember to Shower

 You’d think this would be common sense; I’d like to think all of these are common sense. And yet, I found myself still wondering where certain smells are coming from. I think this complaint is addressing a more general complaint, mainly that peeps at conventions seem to forget what hygiene and good health habits are. They don’t shower; they don’t eat well; they stay up at all hours of the night and then wonder why they get Con Flu when they go home.

Look, I’m not your mom; no one’s your mom here. But cosplay costumes are hot in the literal sense and you will likely not be getting a good deal of rest and good food on this vacation. So, do yourself a favor and remember to shower, brush hair, and just keep yourself clean and tidy. You’ll get sick a lot less if you clean off in between con-days.

 

  • Come With Friends

 

Awesome places are not that fun when you’re all by yourself. They’re also twice as dangerous that way.

Hard to enjoy the free Ramen when you have to be on alert, isn’t it?

I noticed, at all types of conventions I’ve frequented, that almost all attendees would be a part of a group. They may be a group of friends, family, or maybe a specific group on a field trip, but they all accomplish the same thing: a herd. Not only does the Otaku-Herd have twice the fun by experiencing the VA booths and fun games together, but they are less likely to be mugged, taken, or just plain harassed than the lone convention-attender. Maybe these spaces should be safe, and they generally are, but it’s hard to say what will happen when someone said something stupid in a group of people who are sleepy and drunk. It’s just safer and you’ll have more fun.

 

  • Don’t. Break. Their. Stuff.

 

Speaking of what can happen when the sake or beer are free-flowing, sometimes people do stupid things. That’s fine; it happens, but do ALL OF US a favor and don’t leave a trail of destruction in your wake.

This is not Fate-Stay, relax.

The nice thing about anime conventions is that most hotels or meeting centers are willing to host them. They bring in lots of business after all, what with goers needing a room, using the bars and restaurants, or even just attending the convention hall in general. However, as years of retail have taught me, you providing your business is a privilege, a privilege that can be abused. Because if you break their nice things because “I’m a guest,” then guess what? Next time the convention will have to find someone else to host or the “guests” will be treated like children.

I gained this insight from the first convention I went to. The hotel had this lovely glass elevator in the center that took everyone to the three different floors of rooms, sparing people the awkward escalators. This worked out just great until the elevator broke and became off-limits to all patrons. Why? Because a large group of people decided to enact an “elevator party” inside it and jumped up and down on it as it was going up and down. Surprise surprise, it broke. The very next year, the same convention was allowed at the hotel but they put a limit on how many of us could be in the elevator at one time.

So, I say this not as someone who wants to “kill your fun.” but as someone who hates being treated like a toddler high on sugar: Don’t break the host’s things. Have your fun, drink, and be merry, but try not to cause property damage. Because the rest of us are going to feel your punishment too.

Is there anything you’d love to tell someone going to an anime convention? Are there any you’re attending and looking forward to? Feel free to comment below and don’t forget to like and follow for more content every Saturday. Have fun, all, and stay safe.

Mini-Reviews: The Junji Ito Collection, Episodes 10, 11, and 12

It’s not a good sign when a show’s final round leaves me underwhelmed.

I was an excited fangirl when I started the Junji Ito Collection, and I end as an utterly frustrated fan.  The show gave me the incentive to discover his original work, but such gateways are often a double-edged sword. And as these last three episodes pan out, I’m left asking myself a question: Can a show that can’t properly edit and animate its own content serve as a proper gateway to a style/story/writer?

My answer is yes but only just.

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They went down with this ship, by golly.

In the end, the final three episodes of the Junji Ito Collection leave us the same way we entered in: a flip-flop between salvageable and “meh.”

  • Episode 10: Greased/Bridge

Gonna level with everyone here, Greased Oil is the only story of Junji Ito so far that I can’t stand. I’m a wimp when it comes to gross out and body-fluids, so a story concerning both is going to leave me disgusted instead of scared. But I cannot deny that the story does what it set out to do: convey a deep feeling of nastiness and disgust; t’s just a shame I can’t say the same of Studio Dean’s crack at animating it.

The story of Greased concerns a girl, Yui, whose father owns a barbecue. Their house above the place is constantly covered in thick layers of fat and oil from the fumes below. As if that wasn’t gross enough, her abusive brother, Goro, has a weird tendency to drink cooking oil as if it’s hot chocolate. When he hits puberty and starts to get harassed for his acne and greasy clothes, things quickly spill out of hand and become nastier and nastier. If you have a weak stomach, this story is not for you.

The story was inspired by Ito’s stay at a Buddhist temple, where the bedrolls hadn’t been cleaned in years. His words in his newest book were that the futons were “stained brown from the sweat of Buddhist students and had hard wrinkles in places.” He wanted to convey the unpleasantness of something so sticky, and by God, you will feel like you should take a deep shower when you’re done. BUT, if you came in here expecting a SAW II type experience, then you’re going to be disappointed. When the animation wasn’t cheating by using tons of still images it was using flash-animations that would make fanimes look decent. 

Meanwhile, The Bridge provides cool relief in the form of river-water and eerie atmosphere. Kana, on the way to visit her lonely grandma, discovers a ghost on the rickety bridge near grandma’s house. The old man sports a face only a mama could love, causing Kana to bolt into Grandma’s house.  Grandma Osode informs Kana that the ghost, and several other ghosts, have been appearing every night on that bridge. They are the ghosts of those in the village who passed and participated in their tradition of sending bodies down the river. These ghosts were unlucky to hit a rock and fall into the water, where they sank to the bottom. Osode is sure she’s due to die soon and she’s frightened that these ghosts are gonna drag her down to the water.

I adored the soundscape in this story so much. The voices calling out to Osode gave me chills, as did the images of the bodies sinking in the river. The actual story isn’t prone to jump scares or stuff to make you scream but it is super unsettling. It’s a nice palate cleanser after the heavy story prior.

  • Episode 11: Supernatural Transfer Student/Scarecrow

The follow-up episode couldn’t keep that momentum going. We went from lack-luster animation to lack-luster pacing.

Supernatural Transfer Student concerns a high school Supernatural Club who just welcomed its newest member: Tsukano Ryou. He adores strange and exciting things and has an odd habit of finding such wonders by taking simple walks. But when his antics get one of their group killed, and when parts of the town start vanishing, the group’s remaining sane members know they need to start getting answers.

The writers this time tried to streamline things by shearing off small scenes between the students. It didn’t suffer as much as our next entry, but the breakneck pace did take away some of the bite in this tale, sans one scene. This concept was already a member of the “interesting but not scary” club and the story speed did not help.

Speaking of fast-paced narratives, Scarecrows was practically a shadow of its former self.  It takes place Inside a Japanese graveyard, where a mourning father has made a habit out of visiting his daughter. One day, her fiancee attempts to pay his respects and the two get into a huge fight. Dad stabs a scarecrow into her grave because “it’s meant to scare off vermin like you.” Lo and behold, the scarecrow starts to look just like his little girl,. Others in town begin using scarecrows to get one more look at their passed loved ones, but these buggers aren’t as quiet as everyone thinks. They also may be more powerful than they let on.

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You had my curiosity; the scarecrow has my attention.

My sucky summary aside, the anime all but sped through the exposition on this story and left a plot that was jumpy and hard to follow. It’s a crying shame that they shortened it so bad because the actual story is a grand example of something that is equal parts screwed up and beautiful. The show did manage to get the latter, but the former was left behind so they could hit what they considered the important parts.

  • Episode 12: Smashed/Rumors

Our last episode was an interesting bookend to things. Not only do we end where we started, with the less-than-popular Souichi, but also with a story that’s both weird and genius.

Smashed is a strange tale about a special South American Nectar, which Ogi risked his life to get. The nectar is the best-tasting thing he’s ever had, but the natives gave him one warning: don’t be noticed eating it. This ominous and vague warning turns out to have some truth to it, as Ogi’s friends sneak over and get a taste. He’s gone missing; they’re being flattened, and they can’t eat anything else. This story makes no sense if you just follow the plot. However, the actual twist is ingenious and makes the whole thing real disturbing.

Meanwhile, we return to Souichi’s classroom, where Sayuri is in a tizzy because her boyfriend has to go to the hospital under mysterious circumstances. It seems that class-weird Souichi has his eye on her now, but her vanity just won’t allow it. But that’s nothing a few rumors about the “ever so wonderful” Souichi can’t fix, right? And, in a dark and interesting twist, rumors start also floating around that a creepy supermodel has been in town. Fuchi, our toothy supermodel from the second episode, is also rumored to be bathing in the Maiden’s Abyss Swamp to improve her beauty. Sayuri, suspecting her good friend is trying to steal her boyfriend, begins to think that maybe she should take a dive in as well.

It’s kinda fitting that we fade out with the same character we started with and featuring the first character that actually gave us a real start in this series. These two are known to be a minor item in the source material, making this a level of creepy best not thought about. But we can’t ignore that the animation is still pretty damn lazy in this last episode and that they skipped over a few bits that were important. While this was the best Souichi of the show, it didn’t save the episode itself.

Final Thoughts

As I close this series, I realize that this show earned its existence by the skin of its teeth. Not everyone is going to appreciate the fact that this show stripped the stories in question down to their base elements. It will put off a lot of fans, and the fact that Studio Dean all but failed to create his artwork will have a grossly negative impact. But, if you’re looking for something to guide you to Ito-san’s work and be a gateway, then this show will do. In the meantime, I eagerly hope the OVA’s do better and look forward to the next attempt at animating the work of a truly talented artist and writer.

 

Why Some Anime Attracts Non-Fans

Today, my girls, we talk about the normies.

Given the obsession Netflix and the internet have with streaming and memeing anime, it’s easy to forget that, IRL, we are a niche.

More often than not, the person you meet will not be a fan or find your love of the medium disturbing. And yet, when you meet that person who vehemently says they are not an anime fan, you will find that there are a handful of popular shows that they still watch. It seems like a contradiction in a way, saying they dislike anime and yet they religiously watch Fullmetal Alchemist or Attack on Titan. So I and several other fans just have one question: what is it about that show that works for you?

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GET BACK HERE AND TELL ME WHY!

It turns out that the truth of it is quite simple. It’s not that anime is bad, or that they dislike the place it came from. Rather, it’s that it’s that the show in question plays more to what they know and, thus, it takes less time and engagement to watch it.

 

  • They Dig Anime That Isn’t “Japan-Focused”

I humbly request saving the pitchforks for someone who deserves them. This statement does not imply that non-anime fans are racist, that I am racist, or that anyone is racist here.  Your average non-fan of anime will simply not be as familiar with Japanese culture; it may also just not be something they have a huge interest in.

Since anime almost exclusively come out of Japan, it focuses a good deal on Japanese culture and things that Japanese culture finds appealing. It relies heavily on Japan’s pop-culture, old sayings, myths, proverbs, everything you can think of.  For some, this isn’t a deterrent because they find the culture appealing. For non-fans or just casual watchers, trying to understand the culture in order to watch one show may constitute homework. For example, if you don’t know much about Japanese mythology when it comes to Shinto and Yokai, you will be very confused trying to watch Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan.

I mean, shoot, how many anime-fans would get half the references here without some research? We can’t expect non-fans to sit through it and ignore being confused.

Does this mean they hate Japanese culture? Absolutely not. It means they’ll enjoy shows that pull away or focus less on it. Shows like Sailor Moon and Naruto do have Japanese culture references or settings but focus more on fighting monsters and advancing a fantastical plot. Casual fans watch the shows and enjoy the plot of shows like this without feeling like they’re completely in the dark or that something is going right over their heads.

 

  • They May Not Like Famous/Infamous Anime Stereotypes

 

 

 Tell me what used to come to mind when someone said “anime.” Before I became a fan, I used to think it meant big muscled men fighting all the time, women with short skirts running around, and pretty-boy characters meant to entice female watchers. There are not-so-fun stereotypes around anime as a whole and it’s only natural that some will only watch the shows that avoid them.  

Anime began with the Otaku and early shows garnered a lot of unfortunate generalizations. If DBZ wasn’t painting all shonen as a series of burly men grunting and screaming for twenty episodes, then Sailor Moon had most boys thinking anime featured scantily clad women, action lines and massive amounts of posing. Needless to say, this is gonna repel a good deal of people who think such stereotypes are weird and/or boring.

What do they do, then? They look for things they think to avoid that. They watch Fullmetal Alchemist, and others like it, instead because it tends to go light on these kinds of stereotypes.

 

  • They search for Familiar Tropes

 

 So, if we remove stereotypes and a Japanese culture-centric story, what are we left with? That’s the big question that, thankfully, a few mainstream shows are happy to answer. Like I’ve said countless time, anime is a big medium with tons of options. So, if you don’t have a vast interest in Japanese culture or even a passing interest in the conglomerate Giant Robots/Magical Girl/Screamy Fights, maybe you want something more familiar to you.

As mentioned before, most non-fans will feel completely lost when watching an anime with story tropes and/or elements that they’ve never heard of or don’t understand. So, they’ll be more likely to watch shows with things they do know, like fantasy elements, westerns, or science fiction. For example, the anime Berserk is extremely popular both inside and outside the anime community for its well-written plot AND it’s adherence to western fantasy elements. The anime Cowboy BeBop is another piece that attracts tons of people who wouldn’t call themselves anime fans because it’s a fun space-western with character types they recognize and a well-written plot.

Or the likes of One Piece, because most everyone loves pirates.
  • My Final Thoughts?

I was never one to judge another for their entertainment tastes, nor will I now. The truth of the matter is that non-fans and casual watchers tend to prefer shows that are western-inspired or otherwise fantastical, but that’s not a bad thing. Rather, I believe we should use these shows as a kind bridge between the two because, at the end of the day, it’s still giving praise to our favorite medium. One doesn’t have to like the entirety of fantasy to enjoy Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones and I certainly wouldn’t force that with anime.

Junji Ito Mini-Review: Episode 7, 8 and 9

It saddens me when a series I liked starts wilting.

I had a different opinion than most who started this series since I had come to this author’s short stories fresh. But, now that I’ve read quite a few more – and now that we’re in the halfway stretch – we’re starting to see some cracks in our creepy Ming Vase. From animation shortcuts to strange pacing choices, it appears that the Junji Ito Collection still has the content to be interesting but won’t be drawing in long-time Ito fans for much longer.

  • Episode 7: Used Record/Town with No Roads

Interesting things happen when Ito experiments with his stories. The last time he played with the horror parable we got the Lovecraft-esque staple, Long Dream, told very close to the original comic. This time, we have some parables of sorts, with very interesting turnouts.

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Used Record is less visually frightening and more frightening in concept. It’s about a vinyl record (those things hipsters obsess over that give better sound quality) of a woman singing in what’s described as a “sudden, choked, disinterested” fashion that has these two girls totally enraptured. The owner of said record won’t let her friend make a copy of it, so said friend steals it. The theft ends in a brawl, which ends in a rock to the head of friend #1. Friend #2 does her best to hide the body and find a place to play the record. Here, she learns the disturbing truth about the record and what happens when you let obsession run your life.

This is one of those moments when the addition of sound really makes the difference. The episode went for a dark and moody operatic feel, despite the song later being called a “scat,” but it really upped the creepy vibe the story was aiming for. The fact that they once again rushed through the story is a shame but the experience is overall decent.

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But I actually had to be told what our second story was a parable of. Town with No Roads starts with our main character, Saiko, having romantic dreams about a boy from her class. She accuses the boy of sneaking into her room to whisper his feelings in her ear and, lo and behold, his death in her dream proves to be his actual death IRL. Worse yet, she’s pretty sure her family is peeping into her room at night when she’s trying to sleep, despite her efforts to get some privacy. She decides to run away to her aunt where she discovers that her town appears to have no roads at all, and traffic just goes straight through everyone’s houses.

Welcome, kiddies to the parable of The Internet™.  The show makes a pretty good attempt at getting across the lack of privacy the story was aiming for but there was some pacing issues that kinda threw it all off. Still, I enjoyed the creepy feel of it and would probably watch it again.  

  • Episode 8: Honored Ancestors/The Circus is Coming To Town

And then, just when I give it praise, that infamous laziness of Studio Dean rears its horrific head; it’s a shame it happened in one of the author’s more mind-screwy stories.

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Honored Ancestors comes from the short story My Dear Ancestors. The story itself focuses on Risa and her fiance just after she loses her memory from something sinister. We get a hint that something’s wrong right away when her fiance’s father crawls into the room on his back and seems to speak in voices coming from anywhere other than his mouth. Top it off with nightmares about a long, hairy caterpillar and you have a most unsettling story with one messed up twist I don’t dare spoil.

Now, someone who didn’t know what was coming could enjoy the story just fine; I got proof of someone who did. But I already knew the big twist, so I gotta focus on the overwhelming amount of animation shortcuts this episode took. It’s granted that the majority of the story is Risa and Shuichi talking, but I’ve seen shows that know how to at least frame that in an interesting fashion. But maybe they wanted to avoid animating faces and movement and the like because, each time they tried, it drifted unintentionally into the uncanny valley full speed.

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But that drift kinda helped in The Circus is Coming to Town. Our unnamed protagonist is excited to see a circus in their backwater town and rushes with all due speed. He even spies the beautiful girl from school everyone knew worked for the circus, practicing her tightrope. Alas, all is not well for her or the troupe; the acts keep failing in gruesome fashions and our dear ringmaster doesn’t seem all that upset. That’s right, kids; it’s a circus horror where the clowns are innocent!

I actually really liked this story; it’s short, sweet and twisted. Ito doesn’t spare us on gruesome deaths and the animators don’t spare their gurgles and screams of agony. I loved the big twist at the end and the ambiguity of the ending as well, a wonderful experience after the sheer disappointment of the first story.

  • Episode 9: Painter/Blood Bubble Bushes

That’s right! It took us 9 episodes but we’ve finally gotten to Tomie!

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Confession time? I had no idea who Tomie was until way earlier in the series when a buddy of mine introduced me and complained that she hadn’t shown up yet. And,upon reflection, I too wonder why it took us so long to reach one of Ito’s most infamous horror regulars. Her face is practically front and center on the show’s cover-art and opening, so it’s strange they waited this long to bring her up. Anyway, they picked a good one for her first appearance here.

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Painter concerns an artist, Mori, who’s well known for his craft. Tomie tracks him down and manipulates him into losing his current model and using her as his next one. He makes his masterpiece and hopes it fulfills her wishes to forever preserve her beauty. She laughs at his attempt and remarks how he’s not a good artist after all, walking out of his life…maybe. This rejection apparently sends Mori from angry to obsessed to crazy within the span of a minute, unable to get the beautiful Tomie out of his mind. Then, when he hears a rival sculptor has managed to recreate her, there’s little stopping him from marching over and demanding to see what he was missing.

My description fails to really capture what makes a Tomie story so creepy, but any more would very much spoil what makes the character so amazing. That being said, I found Tomie’s appearance off upon seeing her. Considering Ito put quite a bit of time into making Tomie a unique and beautiful-looking woman – and how she looks correct in the opening – it’s disheartening to see her look wrong in the actual episode. Furthermore, the voice actress really couldn’t muster up the creepy-factor for her character, with a laugh that sounded forced and fake to a voice that lacked any hint of being scary. Add the quick-fire pacing issues on top of it and I found myself disappointed overall.

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I went into Blood Bubble Bushes with this foul mood and left with a gag in my throat. Blood Bubble has some serious Children of the Corn vibes by starting with a couple in a broken-down car trying to find a phone inside a huge field. They run across Creepy Children who attack and attempt to drink their blood almost right away. I am stunned when the male in the couple calls this a prank and keeps going to a town that’s clearly abandoned, sans for one creepy man with red eyes. Turns out he can’t leave because he’s lost his lover, a woman who was so sure everything always left her in the end that her blood would leave her too. What nobody expected was that her blood would turn into a tree that grew the Plasma Fruit from the Sim’s games, or that the female in our couple would start growing some too.

My best guess is that this is Ito’s attempts at vampires. In concept, it works just fine, and the original artwork for the story is haunting, to say the least. I giggled at the Sims 3 connection I made but the sounds the show employed eventually left me feeling sick to my stomach. The animation still took some drastic shortcuts to avoid doing too many moving parts but, once again, I could watch it a second time if needed.

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After all, I’ve been known to love me some Vamps.

Sadly though, this “meh” opinion is universal through these three episodes. What I saw was good in terms of story and adaptation but the execution is terribly lacking this time around. Stories are either spread thin or framed awfully, leaving us with this drive-by version of Junji Ito that wouldn’t impress too many people. I feel like what care we had in the first few episodes is missing and that will be a huge problem if it continues.