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

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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

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 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.

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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.

tenor

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.

What Makes an Anime Stand Out?

Do you know how much anime gets released in a year? Ten, twenty? It’s more in the 30-50 range and a grand majority of them will become hidden gems or long-forgotten failures.

My friend always used to say that life was too short for bad anime, so I find myself starting and ending series a lot. For every Tenshi Muyo and Chobits, there’s a Girls Bravo somewhere in the mix, known to a select few but not famous enough for mass appeal. It makes one wonder what it is about these shows that let them stand the test of time while others become relics demonstrating what went wrong in that time of animation.

For example, see Psychic Wars

As a writer myself, I have my own theory on the matter. I find that, almost always, the devil is in the details when it comes to anime.

 

  • A New Idea, or An Old One With a Unique Twist

 

One wise writer once said that there are only seven original plots in the world. Mainly, asking for complete originality is looking for a needle in a haystack because every story will have similarities to each other. It gets even worse when you realize that artists are inspired and/or driven by each other and take bits and pieces they like. In reality, nothing is ever 100% original and is likely a Frankenstein-collage of ideas, characters and set pieces from all over that creator’s field. But where the magic happens (as far as this unprofessional writer can figure) is when you combine these already-on-the-table pieces, and possibly a new piece, in a unique way.

A shonen romance? Normal. A shonen romance with a young girl as the protagonist? Strange. A shonen romance involving a young girl and Western Faerie tropes? Curious and unique.

Anime is the exact same way. There are so many genres, tropes, storylines, character types and other trappings that have been done and done to death, and some that continue to go on despite being old. What differentiates a series is how it can present the old ideas in new ways (the hard way) or how they can present a new idea altogether (the really hard way.) Shows that just give what sells in a way that’s been seen a 1000 times will fall to the wayside.

 

  • Memorable Characters With Appealing Looks and Personalities

 

 But a good story is only as good as the people walking around within it. Your grand and epic story will fall flat or cease to even exist if the people walking around in it are flat caricatures with nothing remotely interesting about them. Even if the character isn’t a well-rounded individual, they need to at least look memorable or have a personality that will stick out. Alucard from Hellsing may not have the most complex or even intricate personality, but everyone remembers the red duster and hat, large orange glasses, and the fact that he’s bat-crap insane. Anime is about being out there and imaginative after all, so shows that go the extra mile with their characters become famous.

Ah, but there’s a flipside to everything, including fame. Because, if you present a character who fails to charm, has too much power, or is just utterly wrong in every fashion, then you go from memorable to INFAMOUS in record time. Look no further for this than the sad state that is Kiro of Sword Art Online, with a design that’s fairly mundane but a personality that is memorable for being overpowered and really boring.

 

  • Memorable Visuals

 

Speaking of memorable things for the eyes, when was the last time an anime you liked looked boring? Didn’t think so.

The problem with the large bucket of anime that comes out every year is that a significant chunk of it all looks the same. It takes place in more modern settings where the backgrounds are just “there,” so to speak, and the character designs are either ridiculous or underwhelming. Their problem is a lack of something visually stunning and memorable, a trademark that sets them apart from all the others.  Maybe you play with the animation; maybe you have one thing that’s done differently from other shows. An anime will separate itself from the wave of mediocre shows by having something in the art that people will remember and talk about, be it the overall look or one specific asset.

Take, for example, the likes of Ajin: Demi-Human.

Ajin’s visuals have issues with being weightless and floaty, but their artistic look is spot on. Things are dark and sharply contrasting, with unrelenting violence and frightening images of science gone completely wrong. On top of watching people wrapped in bandages, being experimented on mercilessly, Ajin than throws out the haunting IBMs, these black monsters they can summon that look fantastic in the 3D animation. The show stuck out for taking a huge risk, with both losses and payoffs to show for it.

 

  • A Feel That’s Unique

 

The last thing that will make any anime stand out and become the next big hit is, in my opinion, the most important. Because all the unique characters and visuals in the world, even with a story that somehow has a completely original plot, will not save you if your story has no unique feel.

Think of your favorite anime. Think hard about what you loved about it. I’m sure you noticed that it had a specific ambiance or emotion or background emotion to it that felt almost like a signature, something only it could recreate. Call it mood if you want, but it’s basically the overall way the show touches your thoughts and emotions. It’s nebulous to explain, but you recognize it when you encounter it.

To illustrate, take the likes of Inuyasha and The Ancient Magus Bride. Both shows feature a monster/mortal romance of some sort and are a shonen written by a female writer. But one would be very incorrect to say that they have the same feel. Inuyasha is a more traditional shonen despite the romance/female protagonist, with that more adventurous mood and a couple that feels much more like an old married couple than a new blossoming romance. The world surrounding it is cold and dangerous; it’s just a shame the main couple found little warmth in each other.

Now take Magus. Magus is far warmer than Inuyasha, despite having a world that is equally dangerous. There’s a warm, familial atmosphere to the show as the story focuses on a budding relationship between Elias and Chise, and how it changes over the episodes. The feel is more about discovering the world naturally rather than staking it out on an adventure and the main couple are far cuter. The feel of Inuyasha is slow and bristling; the feel of The Ancient Magus Bride is fantastical, tragic, and dangerous.

The anime that can manipulate a mood and ambiance unique to itself will find its characters more appealing and its story more flowing. The great failure of many a generic story is just that: it’s generic. I hope that this new year brings an influx of more unique anime, especially now that I’m focusing more time on them.

Netflix’s Fullmetal Alchemist (2017 Review)

I always seem to be late to the party. Ah well, this isn’t one anybody should be excited to get to.

I tried my hardest not to be angry at the new Fullmetal Alchemist film Netflix was making. Nothing’s worse than a fan who can’ let go, so I tried to do just that. But it didn’t take long for me to start picking nits with the film because, let’s face it, Netflix is expecting mostly fans to watch this one. It’s why they tried to visually recreate it and hit all the famous plot-points, but all they got was a trainwreck. Netflix’s Fullmetal Alchemist live-action adaptation is a cluster-bomb of tossed around plot points, character changes that were downright insulting, horrific CGI and writing that would piss off someone who had no idea what this series started with.

As always, spoiler warning. Spoiler warnings for Fullmetal Alchemist (2003) and Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood.

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If you don’t know the plot of Fullmetal Alchemist, congrats on avoiding the majority of the anime community.  If you were ever curious, that one anime people won’t stop talking about follows the exploits of two Alchemists trying to fix their bodies after making a horrible mistake when they were children. The movie starts off with that very mistake, depicting little Edward (Ryosuke Yamada) and Alphonse Elric (Atomu Mizuishi) attempting to use Alchemy to resurrect their deceased mother. Alchemy in this universe is a science that allows users to break down objects and create new ones made from those same materials. I have no idea why this means Al and Ed were subjected to a Wizard of Oz tornado but the end result is the same as the shows: Ed loses his leg and Al his entire body.

After sacrificing his arm to get Al’s soul bound to a suit of armor, Edward vows to become a state alchemist. The goal is to gain access to the military’s vast wealth of information in hopes of finding the only thing that can bypass equivalent exchange and get their bodies back to normal: the Philosopher’s Stone. The movie decides to skip Edward’s painful process of getting a new automail arm and leg – automail being an indestructible metal – but I suppose it’s for the best. No use in showing tiny children squirming on a table while they attach the automail to every single nerve in the army. No, instead, what we get is a skinny-synopsis is of the FMA plot that speeds through the main conspiracy plot point within the military, but lacking any of the subtly and finesse that made it oh so interesting in the show.

Effectively, the movie made a big rush to hit the famous plot points of the anime: Shou Tucker’s story, the death of Hughes, the big fight between Ed and Al over Al’s memories, and so on. It’s exactly what M. Shamalyon tried with The Last Airbender and the results here are just as bad: a plot moving at breakneck speeds with moments that don’t connect well and characters you wouldn’t care about had you not watched either anime. Furthermore, condensing the story like this required changes to the plot that just don’t work. For example, it makes much more sense for Barry at Lab 5 to sew seeds of doubt about Al’s memories because Barry is a suit of armor himself; Shou Tucker doing it just because he’s an evil asshole seems utterly pointless. The whole thing results in a “check-list” story that only a marketing exec could love.

 

And, because they have this list that’s desperate to please fans, they will ironically piss them off. In the aftermath of streamlining the story, our charming and memorable characters were also stripped of what made them interesting and left with their basic plot-functionality.  Mustang loses his determinator status, discouraging the Elrics from finding the stone, and poor Edward gets called a genius despite everyone else figuring out the plot points on his behalf. We were also missing several characters crucial to our storyline, but I suspect they’ll be in the sequel. The thought of them “streamlining”  someone like Kimblee or King Bradley disturbs me.

I picture Bradley being stripped down to a pure killer with a cold attitude, which misses the point entirely.

But let’s ignore the issues you’ll have as a hardcore fan. After all, adaptations aren’t supposed to be carbon copies of their counterparts and not everyone who watches will be hardcore fans. I’d argue that most who watch this will be hardcore or casual fans, but let’s entertain the idea that people who have never seen the anime will find their way here. They will still be in for two hours of fail when they see that the writing is full of plot twists that surprise no one and super cheap CGI. The budget clearly went straight to the Alchemical reactions, with PS3-rejects left over for the monsters and poor Alphonse.

Alphonse looks passable here at least, but other scenes – holy crap.

It saddens me that this movie didn’t do well, but it doesn’t shock me. The biggest problem almost every anime movie suffers from, this one included, is that it tries to visually recreate the anime without paying attention to what made the story so well-loved or making one of their own that’s just as good. Netflix’s Fullmetal Alchemist had the right idea sometimes – the actor playing Tucker did well for what he was given and the scene with Nina still had punch – but it got buried under shaky, amateur writing more concerned with shoving in iconic moments nonsensically. In true irony, their attempts to appeal to fans have come back around and bitten them in hard in the ass.

Otome Review: Valentines Otome

Oh hey, it’s that company I thought was dead.

But seriously, I was sad when it looked like Synokoria – the company that provided Halloween Otome – was gonna be a One Hit Wonder. There was so much clever writing in their work, with high-grade art that you rarely see in free titles. So, imagine my surprise when a good buddy linked me to their newest project, Valentine’s Otome. Our dry-spell is officially over!

This is Valentines Otome, the sequel to Emma’s Halloween adventure in the mansion of Erik Valdemar. But, this time, we deal with her much more party-girl best friend and her Mistake(?) of the century.

 

  • Plot

 

Now that dear Emma is set with her significant other, the author gods of this universe turned their attention to Emma’s best buddy Miranda, or Mira (or whatever you decide to call her). Mira is an active party girl who enjoys going out, knocking back some drinks, and maybe hooking up with a hot guy if he’s got the right stuff. Such is the case for Mira on this fateful Valentine’s Day when she meets three attractive men just looking to unwind and have fun. Mira’s not surprised when she wakes up in bed with one of them… She is, however, surprised to see a wedding ring on her finger.

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yeah, that’d be my reaction too

But ah, kiddies, there will be no annulment and divorce today. Each guy has his own reasons why a divorce would hurt more than help, so Mira’s forced to play housewife for at least few months. But what will her rich and overprotective parents say? What will become of her boutique? And what happens when danger inevitably finds them both?

 

  • Gameplay

 

I had an idea of what I’d be dealing with when I entered this one. Last time, Synokoria created a mixed-media where you made choices to change the plot alongside playing mini-games to win the in-game competition. We have no mini-games this time around, but we have been introduced to a schedule mechanic that ties into skill-building. Mira has to choose how to spend her week each round, doing various activities: managing her boutique, visiting her “husband,” or even designing at home. Each activity increases one of her traits (design, management, social, etc) which has real-life consequences in the story. I like this mechanic a lot since Mira is a much more active, social person than Emma. It would make sense that she’d be busy during this period of marital-madness.

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Each activity has a cute chibi-image to follow, but there will also be in-game “cutscenes” that happen during the week where the more traditional gameplay kicks in. Sprites and backgrounds are back and you’ll be required in a few cutscenes to make a decision that will shift the ending of the story. Because each decision has a chance of getting an “affection point” that gets tallied at a certain cut-off date. Your total number of affection points, plus certain skill levels tailored towards your chosen love interest, will dictate what ending you get.

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As for the story itself, it changes depending on which guy you wake up with. Each story is this odd mix of drama and action that doesn’t quite mix but is compelling enough to keep me going. You even get a small subplot by picking which guy your best buddy ended up with from the last game, meaning tons of extra lines with each guy. The only thing that really stuck out to me was how the story occasionally switches POV’s with the guy, as some of it repeated events that already happened, dragging things down a bit. Otherwise, I appreciate that the writers gave a different story for a different type of character, so props.

 

  • Art

 

Oh goodness me, how I adore the artwork in these games.

Detailed, cute, colorful – I could really go on about how much work this company puts into game appearances. Sprites of every character are well-animated and distinct, with even minor characters getting detailed sprites.

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There’re less of the cutie images you see above, but everything else looks yummy.

 

  • Romances

Daire

Daire

 

I got Artemis Fowl impressions as soon as I saw him. Given the extreme drama going on behind closed windows, I wasn’t too far off.

Daire Thurston is the heir to a huge company of which the CEO died rather suddenly and mysteriously. He’s not known to be a talker, tends to be a workaholic, and has an expression so unreadable people have to learn a very specific set of skills to figure out what his mood is. All in all, it’s a little difficult to tell how he’d let himself get drunk and get married overnight but, for the sake of the story, we’ll suspend our disbelief. His story is one of pretending to be a good husband and wife to keep up appearances, at least until he becomes the new CEO. The board will pick anything to make him quit, including a nasty divorce, or even a shady past.

Daire’s path is pure defrosting, but not quite the “taming the cold jerk” that I prefer. Sure, he’s cold, but not a bad person and honestly just trying to keep things together. But, if you cross that distance he attempts to create then you’ll enjoy yourself just fine. You’ll just have to deal with a lot of drama happening outside the main plot, which got mildly annoying, but I highly recommend trying the game at least for his path.

 

Zane

Zane

 

Speaking as a stay-at-home and moody writer myself, I identified with this anime/gamer geek right away. Sadly, “identified with” is not the same as being attracted to someone.

Zane is very rough as far as stories go. Former playboy turned reclusive, straight-laced writer, Zane’s publishing company has a strict morality clause which would prevent him from divorcing the stranger he just met and married. It looks less awful for him to be naive and rushed than drunk and stupid, so the two of them have to live together for a few months till it no longer looks like they made a huge mistake. This means putting up with a man who’s cranky at times, sloppy, and childish in a few situations.

Most of Zane’s path was not a turn on for me, but the story did manage to hold my interest for entertainment purposes. I like deep-dive characters as much as the next writer after all.

Kiron

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But here we have the one that I won’t be coming back to because I’m not a fan of Fatherly Types.

Kiron is a Good Guy™. He cooks; he cleans; he’s responsible, the whole package. The problem is that he’s also the shy admire from afar “I don’t know how to approach her” guy when all this happens, putting a big ole monkey-wrench into developing any kind of relationship. That’s at least what Mira and Kiron think, despite the fact that the two keep having the time of their lives together, but can’t seem to get over the “Other Women” who has no idea she is the other woman.

I didn’t care for this one myself; shy and chaste were never tropes I sought in my wish-fulfillment fantasies. But to someone who wants a traditional gentleman who tries very hard to be your friend first, this one will be just fine. The story is so caught up in the drama that the action part seems kinda forced in, but it’s still solid overall.

 

  • Final Thoughts

 

I can see what took this company so long to get this off the ground and I’m glad for the effort. With appealing art, appealing characters, and a well-written lead, Valentines Otome is a great sequel to a fantastic game. While it may have genre-issues that didn’t blend completely, you’ll still find yourself caught up in the slow burn story within.

Anime Mini-Review: The Junji Ito Collection, Episodes 4, 5 and 6

We’re back to the man that colors my nightmares. Because a good night sleep is boring.

Jokes aside, it’s time for the second round of Mini-Reviews for the Junji Ito Collection, whose reviews as of late have been colored between “Meh” and “fail.” I personally enjoy what I see of the series, even after reading the works its retelling, but such is the case with a show like this. When you have a strong cult-following for a niche market, the exceptions will be super high.

But enough of what everyone else thinks. My thoughts on these last three episodes were good, albeit with some nits you know I have to pick.

 

  • Episode 4: Shiver/ Marionette Mansion

 

We are already off to a great start. It’s a staple of horror for bugs to be in places they don’t belong.
Shiver, besides being Ito’s more recent book release, is the story of Yuji and his neighbor, Rhina. The poor girl has been sick most of her life but has recently come down with a strange illness that makes holes appear in her skin. However, only Yuji has been able to see these holes and the strange doctor that keeps visiting Rhina’s house. Yuji remembers that his grandfather died of a similar ailment, confirmed when he and his best friend, Hideo, read about in his grandfather’s journal. It all seemed to start with a piece of jade that looked like a bug chrysalis, one that’s somewhere in their yard right now.

What Shiver demonstrates is Ito’s ability to take a concept to terror-inducing extremes, and then take it a step farther. It’s bad enough to think about random holes appearing on your skin, making you feel oh so cold. It’s even worse when you add the fact that bugs like to fly in and out of said holes, as both the book and episode describes. This story had the grizzly imagery I love and the kind of horror that gets worse the more you think about it.

Moving right along, Marionette Mansion puts us somewhere where I’m already creeped out: puppets. Based on House of Marionettes, this tale concerns a traveling family of puppeteers. Main boy Haruhiko has never really made friends since they never stay in town for longer than a month. But things change when his father falls ill and the family is forced to stay in an apartment. Haruhiko’s brother, Yukihiko, expresses a desire not to be controlled by the puppets and runs away soon after. The father passes away and Haruhiko takes over for the family, only to get an invitation from his brother some years later. Yukihiko has made a name for himself in a large business… and has started to live his life, along with his family, as a puppet.

This is an odd story, but one that I liked in concept. Evil marionettes are another staple in classic horror – something about their uncanny eyes and the concept of being controlled – but now we have a creepy puppet as drawn by Ito himself, adding whole new levels of “nope” to the equation. Not as much gruesome artwork this time, at least in the show, but the story itself is solid.

 

  • Episode 5: The Ongoing Tale of Oshikiri Collection/ Cloth Teacher

 

Oh, I love it when psychological horror smacks directly into body horror – it’s the sweet spot for any horror fan. And we finally see why the character Souchi earned a place on this show in the first place.

Our first story is an almost panel to panel remake of Further Tales of Oshikiri. Our titular character notices that his house stands as a crossroads between alternate dimensions. Cool enough, but the first person he sees, the doppelganger of a female classmate, is downright terrified of him. Furthermore, the next night, another classmate doppelganger finds him but has become a horrible monster supposedly by Oshikiri’s hand. When his real classmate, Mio, vanishes inside the house for three days, it becomes time once and for all to figure out what his doppelganger has really been up to. But will he become lost in the other dimensions?

I absolutely adored this episode and the comic it started from. The idea of being trapped in several dimensions, with thousands of versions of you out to kill you, is some really delicious Nightmare Fuel, with the body-horror monsters being the cherry on top. However, I had to admit that the episode took away some of the shocks by being colorized. Black and white tends to make images pop a little more because of the deep shadows and dark contrasts, so the color in the show did soften the shock value of the monsters. But the story itself remains the star, putting it in the running for my favorite story so far.

 Which was why I was a little worried when Souichi popped back up in the second story, Cloth Teacher. This time this insufferable supernatural-maker has created cloth-doll duplicates- rather disturbing ones –  of his teachers that are running amuck and freaking everyone out. They cause special stress to the class’s resident smart guy/rule keeper, who soon becomes the target of more “curses” that are more funny than harmful. But things go from disturbing and funny to REALLY creepy and hilarious when Souichi loses control of his new dolls.

This insufferable, supernatural idiot made a very bad impression on watchers by being the very first story, not being very scary at all, and being horrifically voice-acted. The terrible voice-acting returns this time around, but now we have some imagery that is genuinely hard to look at and some good jokes. That being said, I still think the comedy series doesn’t really mesh well with the rest of the stories, so it only really gets a C from me.

 

  • Episode 6: Window Next Door and Gentle Goodbye

 

This one was also a mixed bag, but for entirely different reasons. And, for that, I don’t mind the tone difference at all. What I do mind is when corners are cut.

So, let’s get the ball rolling with the adaptation that made a lot of people mad, mainly the retelling of The Window Next Door. This is a solid concept overall: Hiroshi’s family moves into a nice, cheap little house, only to discover that their neighbor has only one window that’s facing their son’s room. What’s worse, the next door neighbor appears to be a monster of a woman, who just so happens to be infatuated with Hiroshi. That’s the point where it’s time to break out the nail-covered bat.

I loved the voice actress in this episode so much. The soundscape of the entire episode is good enough, but this VA was so creepy she had me clutching my couch. What was less creepy was, sadly, her face. It was bad – I noticed – but a look at the original comic shows that she came from stock much, much worse. That, and her lack of animation on her face made it clear that the artists were trying to cut corners; no one likes it when you skimp the details.

But where everyone says the anime failed I believe is a triumph, and that’s the ending. Did it abruptly cut off the ending of the original? Yes, but an ambiguous ending where we don’t know what happened and whether or not the main character lived scares me much more than seeing our hero walk away.

 And then we take a turn for the slow and, honestly, beautiful with Gentle Goodbye. Poor Riko fears the death of her father more than anything and used to wake up at night crying after having dreams of his death. Now she’s all grown up and married to Makoto Tokura, but his parents and grandparents are cold and distant to her. She quickly discovers, however, that the family has a unique means of bringing their dead “back to life.” They create images of them that function and speak just like real people, but eventually fade away over time. But, if you think that’s awesome, just wait till you discover how many after-images are actually hanging around.

I was not scared during this episodes; I wasn’t supposed to be. Here, I was thoughtful, sad, and genuinely shocked by the twists. The idea of having a bit longer to say goodbye to loved ones, in a way where you know how much time you have left, is beautiful and heartbreaking at the same time. The show did a good job of playing to the strong emotions of the piece, though I fear it may just be because Ito’s style was not required to make this one a success. It’s short and would benefit from more length, but still works in my eyes.

  • Overall Thoughts

More gems in this one, well-told despite not quite replicating Ito’s style. But I’ve long since accepted how unlikely it is for anyone to replicate the man who gave us freaking Uzumaki, so I was satisfied with what I saw overall. We’re knee-deep in scary with a bit of wiggle room to play with the genre. Despite some less than savory reviews, I still think the series works as a sampler for the uninitiated.