How to Get Into Anime

There was a time when a love of anime marked you as a hardcore nerd. Back when translations weren’t really a thing, the only way to get yourself some Japanese cartoons was to know a bootlegger or become one. But now, you can’t turn anywhere inside the great glass safe we call the internet without smacking into anime anything: memes, gifs, references, homages, etc.

The world-wide-web has allowed fans to gain access to a ton of anime and congregate with others as well. It’s turned us into a passionate lot, almost hyperbolic in nature, which can make it harder for outsiders to really find a footing without being steam-rolled by an over-enthusiastic fan.

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When your best buddy has never heard of that one anime you love…

But really, getting into anime is not nearly as difficult or intimidating as it looks. I found an article on Kotaku with advice on taking those first few steps, but I decided to provide my own advice for the prospective anime seeker. Because while it may look like a bloated cash-cow with overzealous fangirls, getting into it is as easy as starting a new book series.

 

  • Be Prepared

 

Before you can truly enjoy anime, you must be mentally prepared for it.

Overdramatic? Possibly, but it’s no joke to say that anime can be jarring to newbies used to western cartoons and live-action TV. Anime has a double-edged reputation when it comes to content, basically that anything under and beyond the sun is possible. This doesn’t mean you need to steel your mind or spine for “dah horror” but it would be helpful to remember that weird things are commonplace here and that nothing is truly off the table.

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Yup. That’s a man fighting a goat to the death.

In less scary terms, anime is weird and super creative. If you wanna get into it, you need an open mind and a good sense of humor. It’s relatively easy to avoid the novelty anime if you’d prefer, but it never hurts to keep yourself open to the possibilities.

 

  • Watch What You Want

 

There’s a point in the article I must repeat, for I believe it cannot be stressed enough.  Because as soon as you say you’re curious about anime, you will be bombarded with people telling you that “you have to watch x/y/z, it’s a classic!” and so on and so forth. I’ve even been guilty of this myself, several times. We mean well, we really do, but we most of us don’t realize that creating this “thou shalt watch” list for any new anime fans can be super alienating.

“WHY YOU NO WATCH EVANGELLION?!?!?!”

So, to everyone who is looking at those “must-watch” lists uneasily, know that you are only accountable to yourself. If you like Rom-Coms, try something like Fruits Basket; If you like horror, pick up Higurashi or Berserk, and so on. At the end of the day, the point is to enjoy yourself and there’s no point in being bored through 100+ episodes of Naruto if you’re not into shounen. There are truckloads of anime out there and you are only one person, so don’t stress yourself out on what you “must-watch” and watch what you want.

 

  • Start Easy

 

After mentioning that the prospective Otaku should just watch what they want, the article then went to list several recommended series for viewers to plan themselves. They cautioned newbies from hitting long series like Sailor Moon and One Piece since they were long and lore-heavy and boasted hyper-long episode lists. I can somewhat agree, though I question some of his suggested starting places. If you want my recommendations of what to watch in the beginning, feel free to check out my anime starter pack.

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I highly recommend starting with the Brotherhood version of Fullmetal Alchemist, as it deals with a lot of western tropes and fantasy elements that would be easier for new fans to digest.

That being said, I agree that new fans should likely begin with something small and easy to watch. There’s no point in hopping onto One Piece’s 400+  episode list if you’re not even sure anime is your thing. Go for a small, simple series that looks like your taste, such as space western Trigun or the romantic drama Your Lie in April to see if you wanna stick around. Then, if you find yourself craving more, feel free to look into the longer shows.

 

  • Don’t Stop

 

So, after watching a show or two, you likely still won’t know if anime is your thing. Maybe you picked the wrong starting point, or maybe the show wasn’t what you thought it would be. While there’s no shame in quitting – it’s a niche for a reason – I would still highly recommend that you try a few more and keep going.

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Anime is huge. The variety of shows available is insane, enough to drown a large group of people in a stadium if you got the DVDs together. As a creative medium, it has provided millions of artists the chance to express themselves, so there’s no way that one or two shows can summarize all there is to offer. So if you don’t like what you see the first few times, try again a few more.

Because, at the end of the day, getting into anime is just about finding your niche. With its wide-range of story styles and characters and its cornucopia of animation styles, it truly is one of the most inclusive entertainment mediums I know. To people thinking of joining the fun, I encourage them to ignore the wall of “classics” and overzealous fans at the gate. Just take those first few steps and you’ll find yourself neck-deep in no time.

 

Any new anime fans in my audience? How about any suggestions from other long-time fans? Feel free to comment about this and anything else below! Don’t forget to like and follow for more content just like this.

Otome Review: Dragon Essence – Color My World

The fun part about any Otome is how the narrative can be twisted and turned, depending on the choices you make. But, sometimes, the writers have one narrative they just won’t let go.

Now, that isn’t to say that they don’t offer players a chance to push the story towards a romance with a specific character, or even towards a specific ending, but sometimes the writers refuse to change the main plot. That was this case for this entry, Dragon Essence: Color My World, where the character is in love with one person, remains in love with that person but has three others she can choose to end her story with.

It’s confusing, but I quickly found out it wasn’t nearly as bad as it sounded.

  • Plot

Welcome to the Three Kingdoms, a fantastical land based loosely off feudal China. In the first Kingdom lives our protagonist, Chi An, who’s had to hide her total color blindness from her peers since she was very small. Her life has been very gray, but things change fateful day. She decides to join her friends at the Dragon Festival, a celebration to honor the mystical Dragon Beings they worship as gods. When a rushing crowd pushes Chi An over the edge of the bridge, she’s greeted for the first time by a flash of Golden Light; she’s met a dragon.

Golden Dragon

Ever since that day, she’s been searching for a means to cure her eyesight, to get a glimpse of that color again. But, several years later, that same dragon she befriended visits again to rekindle their friendship. This causes severe tension in Chi An’s life, disrupting her arranged marriage to her childhood friend, Ming Je, and making her act far more willful than she’s used to. Furthermore, it is forbidden for dragons and humans to interact together, thanks to a mysterious tragedy fifteen years ago. What is this rift between the people and their gods, and will Chi An ever truly bring the color back to her world?

  • Gameplay

This game was a festival of new things for me. Firstly, the game ditches the Ren’Py visual novel engine and instead goes for a more “point and click” style. You click the dialogue to move forward, click a box to save, click another box to load, so on and so forth. It’s very jarring for a veteran like myself – and I did find myself hitting buttons on muscle memory  – but it ultimately won’t yank you out of the experience. They give you a big old list of buttons at the beginning of the game but the mouse will work just fine.

Controls

But this comes incredibly handy for the second new mechanic: the hub map. This place shapes the entire story because the area you pick to visit earns you points with a specific character. Several times in game, you’ll return to said map and be prompted to either go to a specific place or choose between two different places. Each choice earns you favor in a specific direction, so choose wisely. The few places you can’t visit at a given time, you can still click on them to get some information as well.

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At a few places in the story, you’ll kick-start a minigame. The game’s currency are coins called teals, and you earn these by doing two different jobs. One has you collecting rice out in the commoner’s farm and the other gives you a memory-sequence game to serve plates of food at an inn. They do kill the immersion somewhat, but they feature some cute sprites and make things a little more interesting.

Mini-Game

  • Art

I mentioned at the beginning of my plot summation that this is a fantasy based off feudal China. The art is reflexive of this in the best possible fashion: the colors are bright and vibrant – almost comical given Chi An’s condition – and the airbrushed style is gorgeous. While the game is firmly stuck in cute, shojo anime, I quickly fell in love with the intricate designs on the dragons and the absolutely stunning CG’s.

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Even more so, the art is dynamic. Scenery changes are common, CG’s are plentiful, and items pop up on screen. If you really like what you see here, I highly recommend you check out zevia’s deviantart. The girl has a real gift for heavy detail art.

  • Romances Story Choices:

So, the sad truth of the matter is that Chi An is only in love with one person the entire story. However, each person in the game represents a different ending which you steer towards by spending time with them. The marketing image still sells the idea of three romance options, which is a little deceiving, but I didn’t mind by the time I finished. Since the concept itself is spoilerific, I’ll do my best to lightly summarize.

Tian Zhao: The Dragon

Tian Zhao

Your very first option is the dragon that colored Chi An’s world way, way back. Tian Zhao is a golden light dragon, a rarity among his kind, and suffering from Little Mermaid Syndrome. He’s fallen in love with the human world and has been sneaking out since he was young, which was how he stumbled upon Chi An. But the Three Kingdoms have a golden rule: humans and dragons must not spend time together. Furthermore, it’s clear that Chi An and Tian Zhao have very strong feelings for each other, flying in the face of their familial responsibilities.

Tian Zhao is The Love Interest, and a spunky one at that. Mischievous and fun-loving, he represents the exact opposite of what Chi An has been taught. But will chasing after her golden light may only bring more suffering.

Ming Jie: Your Betrothed

Ming Ji

Her childhood friend has been able to live the life Chi An always wanted. He’s studied hard to be a scholar, allowed to become stronger to protect his loved ones, and generally could pursue any career he wanted and be praised for it. Since the Ming family has a deep fondness for Chi An and her family, they were more than happy to arrange a marriage between her and their son. Ming Jie is pleased as punch, given his long-time love for his closest friend.

That love has led him to try everything to win her heart. Ming Jie had always been weak, and good at things considered “womanly,” so he grew stronger and tried to be a better man. But Chi An cannot force herself to love someone else. Still, when the situation grows dire, it may not be about love anymore. 

Xu Wei: The Dragon Priest

Xu Wei

The big “antagonist” in all this madness is the Dragon Priest Xu Wei, the highest authority here in the first kingdom. He prefers building the kingdom over worshiping the dragons; in fact, he seems downright agitated when it comes to the dragons. He develops quite the attraction to the intelligent and willful Chi An but seems to use her love for the dragons against her. And yet, all who work for him swear he only has humanity’s interests at heart. It’s hard to believe that when his job forces him to punish either Chi An or her mother for “breaking the golden rule.”

This charismatic, slightly predatory, and downright manipulative man has many complicated sides. Chi An quickly finds that he has lived a life very similar to hers, but has an entirely different solution in mind. The question is, what would she do to stop him?

Tian Xi: The Wild Card Monster

Tian Xi

Our last entry is a dark one. There are rumors of a “monster” in the Jade Forest, which turns out to be this horned child by the name of Tian Xi. He’s used to the isolation and ridicule of the world and has managed to survive off of berries and stealing food. He can’t quite figure out why Chi An decides to not only bring him food but come and visit him every day. In truth, it’s because he has the same golden light as Tian Zhao, albeit dimmer.

But here is where our story takes an odd, dark turn. I cannot – will not – spoil the juicy details, but let’s just say that Tian Xi isn’t supposed to be here. He has a painful connection to the dragons that makes him an outcast to them and to humanity. But maybe, just maybe, he’s Chi An’s only true way out. Because, sometimes, you have to be a little selfish to escape your fate.

  • Final Verdict

I was mildly disappointed with the lack of wish fulfillment here, but I found Dragon Essence: Color My World to be intriguing despite that. The story at play here is lovely and well written, with characters that tug at several different emotions throughout. If you’re looking for romantic fantasy, you won’t feel too satisfied with the game. But, if you’re the type who prefers good stories than you’ll enjoy this title thoroughly. I prefer both, but I ultimately enjoyed myself. And that’s all I can ever really ask for.

 

Next Time: Chrono Days Sim Date.

Why You Should Watch Lesser Known Anime

I admit that the anime I talk about tend to be mainstream. I blame my status as an English-speaking fan, mainly because it makes it harder for me to watch and enjoy titles that don’t get an English release. I was grateful for the day fan subs became a thing; now, I have an open catalog to pick from.

It’s downright surprising what slips under the radar. As a medium famous for being weird and super creative, it’s shocking how many of the stranger, more unique pieces slip through the cracks of mainstream viewing. As such, I always encourage new anime initiates to dig a little deeper – because what you’ll find is fantastic.

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  • Sometimes The Best Ideas Are Tucked Away

In the world of movies/media, we have the term “cult-classic.” Basically, this refers to an entertainment product (movie/song/show etc…) that’s only popular with a specific group of people. Movies along the lines of Rocky Horror Picture Show or songs like “Disco Duck” hit the right notes for a few people but generally don’t draw in the majority of people.

Anime, naturally, has a deep selection of cult classics that just never made muster with the mainstream. But some of the stories behind them are legitimately brilliant and deserved to be exposed to a wider crowd. You’ll easily find someone who’s seen Ghost in The Shell and Akira, but far too few people have seen Paprika or Tokyo Godfathers.

The next “Classic” may be hidden somewhere among the forgotten gems. Much like how The Princess Bride only became popular later on, some anime that fell to the wayside may be about to rise, and it’d be good for you to be on top of it.

  • Some Variation in Tropes Will Do You Good

Let’s be honest with ourselves; popular anime like to repeat popular tropes.

How else does an anime rise in the ranks than to use the cliches and story elements that people love? Your average, popular shonen anime will feature a plucky young male protagonist who 1. Has a sad backstory, 2. Has a big old dream, making him the underdog, and 3. Fights alongside an equally outcasted group of friends. I’ll even admit that one of my favorite anime, the ever present One Piece, follows so many popular tropes it isn’t even funny.

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Though I would argue they do it creatively

Now, none of these tropes are bad on their own. But variety truly is the spice of life, and stories can experiment with all kinds of other tropes. Lesser known shows like Baccano! and Samurai Champloo play with history and anachronisms like crazy, or take the time to smash the established images we’ve gotten used to like Revolutionary Girl Utena did with the magical girl genre. No one’s telling you not to like the tropes that are popular (they’re popular for a reason) but it can really be eye-opening to see other experimental pieces.

  • A Variety of Characters

In that mixture of new tropes and ideas, you’ll find yourself faced with a variety of characters as well. As a writer myself, I am in full belief that it is the characters who make the story and certain characters do tend to make reappearances in the anime community. Now, you’re gonna be hard-pressed to finding something wholly original, but you can find characters that play around with their known “types” and provide something wholly fresh.

 

For example, Your Lie In April at least appears like a typical Manic-Pixie Dream Girl, ready to fix the life of the broken and humdrum protagonist. But anyone who’s seen that anime will tell you that Kaori is not your typical Manic-Pixie, and the existence of a female childhood best friend in the show forecasts something very dark or tragic on the horizon.

And yes, this counts as lesser known. Despite the movie, you are far more likely to find someone who watches Fullmetal Alchemist or SAO rather than this one

All in all, these shows that didn’t grab the spotlight can still feature some spotlight worthy stars. I’d encourage any budding Otaku to give them a try just to see the lengths writers will go to when it comes to character shaping and creation.

 

  • Look at Dat ART!

If you happened to be an anime fan and decided to take an art class, I’m sure you had an awkward moment where you drew something in the anime style and your teacher didn’t go for it. I know I certainly did, several times in fact, and they almost always ended with me redrawing the image. It used to really boil my blood because I knew anime was capable of some downright beautiful artwork. But, now that I have a deeper toe in the anime scene, I’ve realized that your average person probably isn’t aware of how diverse the art in anime can be. And that’s because, sad to say, the anime in a lot of popular shows look very similar.

Not a fan of either show; no hate if you are.

Ah, but slow your roll there. That doesn’t mean that every anime is stuck in the similar look. All you have to do is watch Mononoke, Space Dandy, or Ergo Proxy to see the wide range of styles and colors that the medium is capable of. Really, the only thing that limits the medium is the imagination of the user and what kind of wacky colors they wanna throw onto the page.

I choose ALL OF THEM!

The traditional way to draw anime is a legitimate way to draw, obviously, and the anime ultimately breaks down to having a good story. But if you’re going to be watching a show for several hours on end, wouldn’t it be awesome to have some jaw-dropping visuals to go along with it?

  • Wrapping it Up

In a golden age of information sharing – in a sea of streaming services like Netflix, Crunchyroll, and Hulu – it seems a shame to me for the average anime fan to focus all their time on Fairy Tale or another mega-mainstream title. I’m not suggesting the show isn’t good or worthy of attention, but we now have such a cornucopia of material to work with that any Otaku can only benefit from stepping out of their comfort zone and picking something less popular. Anime is just a medium, a means of making art, and it’s up to us as the consumers to seek out the art.

So, feel free to continue watching the popular shows (they’re popular for a reason) but definitely consider digging for hidden gems.

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Otome Review: Purra Academy

Fun fact about my life: I recently got contacted by a creator of an Otome.

The lovely Dr. Kathleen Lieu, known as Nummyz all those years ago, dropped me a “thank you” for looking at all her old games. As thanks, and to express my adoration of this lovely woman, I highly suggest everyone go check out her blog Phil And Mama. She’s an amazing lady, so please send her some love.

 

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Thanks again, Dr. Lieu

The real funny part was that I planned to review another one of her games. Just wanted to get that out there, because it otherwise looks like pandering. Now, without further ado, let’s talk about animal-people.

We as a species have a strange attraction to characters with animal characteristics; namely, we like girls with cat ears, maybe boys with dog ears, and so on and so forth. Maybe it awakens some nurturing instinct in us, but you can bet your junk that people will latch onto media surrounding them. To harness that love is the simple but adorable Purra Academy, where the player gets the chance to form a sweet relationship with various animal spirits. It was one of Nummyz’s first games – back when she was called Bomey – and still stands pretty strong.

  • Plot

So, you know how a lot of early games don’t have much in plot, basically because they were made on a shoestring budget? This is one of those cases.

You are a girl named Air. One night your dreams are disturbed by a sexy-cute cat lady. She informs you that you have been transported to the land of Purra, inhabited by various animal spirits. Every full moon, the magic of the land grants a wish to someone who has found true love. The next one is in fifty days so, if you wish to remain in this beautiful/frilly land of sunshine and bunny-ears, then you need to get a partner and get them to fall for you in fifty days time. Will you stay and find love, or go home?

Dream Kitty

  • Gameplay

What was always really great about Nummyz’s titles was their accessibility. Gameplay was never really all that difficult and allowed for new arrivals to sorta ease their way in. Purra follows suit by giving the player some simple goals and plenty of time to accomplish them.

 You have a nice little hub world to explore, with four different datable darlings, a school, a shop, and your hotel (home base). To get things started, ya just click on a house and meet the occupant. 

Hib Purra

Once you have selected the Purra animal spirit of your dreams, you get the option of “talk”, gift,” and “date.” Your best option will be to chat to start building points, which you do by selecting the proper response to each statement. One response will get’em mad, the other will earn you points. Cycle through enough of the dialogue and they will quickly realize that they have fallen in love with you. And once you reach 300, it’s time for a date.

Interaction Screen

But hold your horses there, cowpoke. Before you hit the town you better make sure you bring the right gifts! Thankfully, Nummyz has made things super easy by outright telling you what you need for a successful date with the “gift” button. They each want ten of a specific fruit, a portrait of themselves, and a delicious cake made from that fruit. If you ever thought that other games had some serious gold diggers, you are in for a shock.

Gifts

To get the gifts, you need the currency called “shells.” You get shells by working at the shop, but things are thankfully super cheap. You gotta buy flour, a paintbrush, ten pieces of fruit, and a dress for the date. Then, get your butt over to the school, make your gifts, and get back to that date (btw, you’ll need even more shells to bake the cake and paint the picture.) If you made all the correct moves, you’ll get a kiss and the game is over.

Kiss

  • Art

As per standard with anything Nummyz, the art is free-flow and loosey-goosey. The bright and glossy flash drawings are very anime-esque, but thankfully easy to identify when it comes to the animals. Basically, while everything is stylized, you won’t have any problems figuring out what you’re looking at.

Shop

Excepy this chick. I still don’t know who or what this is.

All in all, the style is very cute and fits the atmosphere of the game. It isn’t fancy, but it works.

  • Romances

Yuu

Yuu

Yuu is a Bunny, a Moon Spirit more specifically. He’s our cold and distant specimen, still reeling from the loss of his mother. He has a firm belief that humans are only capable of violence and destruction, so don’t be alarmed when he expresses a deep hatred for you on first meet up. If you’re kind of heart and sharp of tongue, you’ll see a bleeding heart romantic inside that cold and stony face. In short, step on this guy’s toes only a tad and be gentle with your words, and you’ll get someone loyal for life. This could very well have been where my love of the “cold jerk type” started all those years ago and I don’t regret it.

Helios

Helios

On the opposite end of the spectrum, we have the over-zealous playboy: Helios, the golden-dog spirit. He’s our Casanova, believing that love is meant to be shared with as many people as possible. The problem, however, is that he doesn’t quite understand that love as an emotion is strongest when given to a single person. Maybe the new human in Purra can teach him the ways of true love, and maybe explain why he’s felt so empty despite the sea of people around him.  I personally don’t like to spend too much time on this type, but he’ll tickle the interest of someone.

Red

Red

But maybe animal spirits aren’t what you want from here. In that case, head on down to Red, the Vampire-Bat Spirit (or just a vampire, hard to say). He’s been chastised for most of his eternal life because those without fur are seen as evil (and living off blood doesn’t help one’s image in a place like this.) Furthermore, he lost a human very precious to him a long time ago, a human who gave her blood to him so he could survive. Will Air be able to bring that happiness back, or will she fail the one who needs her help the most? Red’s story is very unique and sweet. I’m always appreciative of some gothic/emo options, so this was a favorite.

Allity

Ality

Speaking of lost loves, Allity the fox girl long ago lost a loved one on a venture for a rare herb. After his death, this master chef used food to fill the empty void in her heart. Then comes the darling Air, who’s cute face and plucky personality slowly draw Allity back to her old self. But lo, she knows that no one in Purra would accept a love between two girls. But it’s clear that Air is willing to try anyway.

It’s always wonderful to see Nummyz put in an option for same-sex couples. And while we see games include same-sex options almost all the time now, this was a rare and progressive move back in the day.

  • Final Verdict

Purra Academy was a very simple game, even for its time. With appealing, cute graphics and really easy mechanics, it’s a good time waster when you have a few moments to spare. It won’t keep you entertained for hours (not anymore anyway) but it will leave a happy impression on you whenever you are done.

Next Time: Dragon Essence – Color My Wind

 

 

What I Want From Live Action Anime Movies

I dub 2017 “The Year of Live Action.”

If you browse enough anime news sites (which you know I do) you’ll find an overwhelming amount of announcements for live action adaptations for some extremely popular anime. If it isn’t the promise of a live action TV show of Cowboy Bebop, then it’s movies like Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure and Fullmetal Alchemist.

Even though most live action adaptations have a history sucking the big one, we’ll inevitably go see these. Because, deep down, we Otaku really do want a cool movie/show from the television we admire so much. And they’ve been getting better, but they still have a tendency to just miss the mark. So I sat down and asked myself: what do I want from a live action adaptation of my anime? Why have I been so disappointed with the past few that crossed the blockbuster mark?

In the end, it breaks down to four things.

  • I Want Characters That Follow Their Source Material

So, lots of people were up in arms when they saw that Netflix was producing a version of Death Note that took place in the states, effectively westernizing every character therein. The short answer on why was because they wanted to see it portrayed by Asian actors rather than American ones. Now I’m not gonna get into the politics of it (and I will ignore those who do. We are a fun, geeky blog, dammit) but I will say that I took some deep offense with their portrayal of Detective L Lawliet. I don’t particularly care that he’s black; I’m more concerned as to why the show’s resident Hikikomori, known to never show his face in public, is giving a public press conference out in the open with little more than a half-face mask.

death-note-2017

Whhhhhhhy?

The big flaw I see in a lot of these live action movies is that the characters themselves are only skin deep. The creators focus on making the character look like their anime counterparts, but they often fall flat in terms of personality. Mikasa’s counterpart lacks the burning fire of her anime self; Live Action Sebastian Michaelis is far too quiet and subdued, and so on and so forth. I would never ask for the characters to be carbon copies, but I will happily demand they behave in a way akin to their anime selves. In short, maybe L doesn’t only speak from a computer, but he’d still never put himself in the public eye this badly.

  •  I Want the Same Themes Explored Differently

I found out a couple days ago that Tomorrow Studios had signed on to make a live action TV show of the anime, One Piece. Now, anyone who reads this blog knows that One Piece is my biggest weakness, so I was naturally worried. But I also saw that the manga’s writer/artist, Eichiiro Oda, would be working on the project as well. This gives me some cautious hope; who’s got a better understanding of the themes explored in the show and manga than the workaholic author of it?

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And I must stress that understanding an anime/manga’s themes and motifs is absolutely essential to making a live action adaptation. While recreating the world and characters is a huge deal, it all falls flat if the main message and ideas aren’t present. In short, no matter how many special and practical effects they use, the new One Piece Live Action Show will flop if it doesn’t play with themes of chasing your dreams, getting back up after tragedy, and exploring an exciting world of unknown danger.

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And, of course, remembering those who came before us
  • I Want a Plot That’s On Par

I had mixed feelings when I learned that Fullmetal Alchemist was getting a live action movie. I only got more nervous when they finally got a full trailer out, and what I saw looked like they had a bigger focus on copying the anime’s look rather than the feel of it. Still, I want to remain cautiously optimistic since the Brotherhood version of the show has been one of the most complex and emotional plots I’ve ever seen. It’s one, big, emotional rollercoaster that plays on human nature, corruption in governments, and the nature of being a “real” human being.

 

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With some good old fashioned Nightmare Fuel

And if the live action movie can channel just a shred of that, we’ll be in good shape. Nothing is worse than a live action movie with not even an iota of its predecessor’s good plot. You can make the movie look amazing, look exactly like the real life clone of the anime – it won’t mean a thing if your audience has fallen asleep.

  • I Want Good Effects and Immersion

Finally, the big thing any fan would want from a live action adaptation of any kind is full immersion. The reason we love anime in the first place is that a good anime sucks you into an artificial world and traps you until the story finishes. We want the movie to do much of the same, to see this material come to life before our eyes. The best way to get that done, besides the characters and story, is for the special effects to come to life. After all, just how awesome would Jurrasic Park really be if the t-rex didn’t look so good?

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Now, to be fair, this particular want is usually met pretty well. The alchemy in the Fullmetal Alchemist movie looks really good and even the sword fights in Rurouni Kenshin are decent despite the obvious wires. That being said, when it is bad, it completely rips the viewer out of the experience and inspires that angsty teen eye roll movie makers never wanna see.

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Then again, you also don’t wanna lose yourself in making the movie look good. Balance is key, and filmmakers would do good to remember that.

  • In Conclusion…

What I want is likely what everyone else wants from an adaptation of anything they love. They want one that respects its roots while experimenting with the main themes. If you can paint a landscape that can draw me in and a story that keeps me hooked, then I’m a happy camper all the way around. It’s hard to say if the new crop of live action films will do just that, but we can cross our fingers and hope to see it someday.

 

What do you want from a live action anime film? Feel free to comment below; don’t forget to like and follow as well for more content like it.

Otome Review: Mystic Destinies – Serendepity of Aeons

Our last trip had us covering a three-part epic, separated into three free games. This time, someone took that and cut it in half, and again, and then again.

It’ll make sense later, but we can safely say that the issue of how to handle large games of copious chapters has always been a tricky one. One way is to put the whole behemoth out there with a brief warning and a pat on the back. But maybe you’d rather customize the experience? Or maybe, just maybe, you’d like to break up that large purchase with some smaller ones?

That is Mystic DestiniesSerendipity of Aeons, a mouthful of a game that has you buying the stories you want to customize the experience to you. It didn’t quite do it for me, but the presentation makes it very clear that this Kickstarter was a labor of love.

 

  • Plot

 

Miss Tsubasa Fujimoto is back in Japan to start her very first year at Hagiwara University. She’s ready to get started on her business degree to help run her father’s prestigious company, Shinomora Industries. But tragedy strikes when a meeting with her mother turns into a dark, magical ritual. Miss Shizuka is the last sorceress, but the carrier of an evil curse. Her only way out is to push her curse onto a perfect copy of herself, the homunculus she raised as her daughter.

Shizuka

When it’s all over, Tsubasa wakes to see her college schedule has been altered. Since her powers have awoken, she’s been enrolled in Hagiwara’s secret magical program to learn how to use and control her new-found magic. But after seeing that her power is far too strong to be left unattended, her handsome professor says that she needs a mentor. He suggests one of the three boys she met in the school’s business club, especially since they seem to take a shine to her.

And from there, well, that’s all up to you. Will it all end in serendipity or pure tragedy?

 

  • Gameplay

 

After the intro, which I just described to you, the story depends on which of the five boys you decide to have tutor you (which does include your professor). The rest of the game is typical: you follow the plot and occasionally make choices that shift the plot in one direction or the other. You also have choices that change your ending from Mystic, Passionate, Dark or one of the bad endings. You’ll also get some gorgeous CG’s as you play the game, CG’s that shift through the dialogue. It’s quite simple and the story hits all the usual tropes.

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<from AeonDreamStudios.itch.io>

As you go through, however, you’ll notice a few hiccups. Some of the sentences are in need of tiny edits as they read a little unnaturally when reading aloud. You also quickly notice that the protagonist is quite passive, even by regular Otome standards. Her quiet, standoffish personality doesn’t seem like it would inspire that much chemistry. It makes for a very traditional, slow-burn romance style that I was never really all that into. I did like how her outfit changed depending on which story you picked; that was cute.

Outfits

But where I think the game suffers is the “DLC.” What you get from Steam is the demo, and you to either purchase the stories and epilogs individually or buy a huge bundle of all of them. They market it as DLC, but the choice seems strange to me. But, it is clearly labeled as a demo on the Steam page, so I don’t have much to gripe about. Then again, I have seen other titles pack 30+ hours into one game and hand it over for free, so it ultimately comes down to the player feeling like the material is worth the money.

Choose your destiny

 

And these four are interesting enough to make me consider it
  • Art

 

I may not have been too thrilled with the game’s purchase policy, or really some of the Romance Novel tropes, but I will give credit where it is due for the artwork. This airbrushed, ethereal artwork is downright beautiful, with some realistic styles that are quite immersive. Everything is very Shoujo and dreamy, which I believe is what the studio was going for.

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<from WhimsyNimsy.blogspot.com>

The only area I feel a tad disappointed with is the art on the protagonist. In this sea multi color anime hair, pierced lips and leather jackets, Tsubasa looks average and forgettable. This might make it easy for the average reader to slip inside, but it doesn’t do much for the eyes.

 

  • Romance

 

As mentioned above, which guy you decide to chase after will change the content of your story – hence why you have to shell out money for them individually. I did not have the time (or the cash) to delve into the fine details of each story but I’ll be presenting the main plot and a link for where to buy it. Free advertising for my non-want to finish, there you go.

Shinji

Shinji

I gravitated towards this quiet genius right away; the chill dude with the cool hair and the cute smile is a good draw. My first impressions were quite adorable –  he was the musical hipster just floating through life – and they only got better as the main plot presented itself front and center. It turns out Shinji is a lost prince from the kingdom of Avalon, kidnapped when he was a baby by his father, Lord Lachlan. His birth mother claims Lachlan was an evil man who did it for selfish reasons, all with a saccharine smile on her face. But Shinji isn’t sure he trusts his spring-haired mother and will need Tsubasa’s help to sort this whole mess out. This will mean doing the one thing he has the most trouble doing: opening up to others.

Shou

Shou

Hyper and bright as the sun, the Emotional Drama King somehow manages to have a darker story than his counterparts. A drama student, and mythical Phoenix, Shou has had some trouble getting his magic to work properly. He either can’t get it to work at all, or it goes out of control and sets everything on fire. Still, he’s optimistic and eager to help – and the less likely to get hurt should Tsubasa explode in an emotional fit. But for all his overflowing optimism, it’s clear there’s a big heart that’s been damaged a lot. And things take a turn for the worst when a mysterious figure starts following Tsubasa and even goes through her bag. Is someone after her father’s company secrets? Or is a blast from the past about to burn everyone?

Tatsuya

Tatsuya

The Hot and Cold Intellectual is a skilled CryoKinetic, able to create and shape ice in deadly, artistic fashions. He’s a sweet, take-action kind of fellow with a terrible tendency to speak bluntly. Thanks to the intense control he has over his emotions, he comes off as that cold jerk that you know I am all over. Is there a way to break his icy exterior? Could it be through this mysterious family drama he has?

Furthermore, on Tsubasa’s end, there’s an important business deal going on between her father and the equally enigmatic Mr. Kaisema. But this bold, blue-haired man has the clear hots for Tsubasa, and the successful deal may depend on her sucking it up and going out on that date.

Takumi

Takumi

Here we have our first oddball of the group, Takumi Arai. And when I call the boy odd, I don’t mean his strange choice in hair. No, I mean his choice in occupation as a private detective in the supernatural district. Complete with Ninja Parkour skills, a magic bag of holding loaded with cool gadgets, Takumi proves himself a veritable badass. It’s all cool and dandy, a nifty little “screw this, I do what I want!” path that deviates and provides a completely new take. Especially since Takumi himself is non-magical, and a close friend from a very long time ago. Still, just how much has the sweet boy from your past really changed? And why is he so insistent that he hasn’t?

Either way, he’s gonna do what he can to help Tsubasa track down Shizuka and make her pay. Maybe then she’ll be able to find out what happened to Takumi along the way.

Hikaru

Hikaru

Last – and I stress this, play this one last – is the Date Your Professor Option, Hikaru. Professor “K”, as he’s called, is a man of cold eyes and stern mind. But he’s known to be a genuinely good guy, and hey, who better to teach you than your homeroom professor? But things get just a little strange, as Hikaru admits that you look and act similar to someone he knew a very long time ago. He seems very emotionally attached to that person as well, making things all the more curious when you take in Tsubasa’s history…

In short, Hikaru-sensei’s whole, two-book story reeks of a finale. It has a romantic mystery, a big dramatic build up, and the pictures look like a final fight just waiting to happen.

 

  • Final Thoughts

 

In the end, I’m kinda sad. Mystic Destinies has a pretty sweet cast of dateable characters, with detailed stories that will pull you in pretty hard. But the nature of our protagonist pulls me right out pretty hard, and I just don’t find her as interesting as her counterparts. Furthermore, I just don’t care for the idea that I should pay for not only their stories but also their epilogs. Cinderella Phenomenon was also a Kickstarter project, but it gave you the whole 30+ hour experience for free. People are willing to get a game this big, they really are.

But they do offer a large bundle on Steam for about $40, so if this story does it for you then, by all means, reward them for what was clearly a labor of love. Despite my misgivings and my disinterest, it’s far from a bad game.

 

Next Time: Purra Academy

 

The Top 5 Dark Anime

 

Not all art is a shiny happy place.

Entertainment has to be, well, entertaining but it doesn’t always cover content that makes us happy or feel good for watching it. Sometimes it goes into places we don’t talk about very much and forces us to ask some difficult questions. This kind of media is usually called “dark,” where the subject matter is serious and the visuals often disturbing. This doesn’t necessarily mean horror but, rest assured, horror and dark do walk hand in hand.

Since anime is one of the more artistic mediums out there, it naturally has its fair share of dark shows. Since I am eager for Halloween and other such spooky materials, I decided it would be fun to recount a few shows that did an excellent job of taking us to those unmentionable places. These are the top five dark anime because Halloween cannot get here fast enough.

Honorable Mention: Berserk

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I can already hear the cries of “heresy!” from the original anime’s fan base. Rest assured, this is not a slight against the grandfather of all dark, gory anime. This is a recognition of the show’s importance and an admission that I haven’t watched it. I likely never will,  meaning I won’t ever have a fully formed opinion on the matter. But just because I don’t have the guts (heh) to finish it doesn’t mean it shouldn’t at least be brought up.

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From what I have seen of Berserk – the original anime that is – the show is unapologetic in its dark subject matter. Violence, gore, rape, and abuse are all on the table and none of it gets censored. But, and this is the key, it also boasts well-written characters and a good tragic plotline. So, while I may think it’s an endless void of suffering, someone else will enjoy the rawness of it. It’s not my taste, but I do applaud it.

5. D-Gray Man

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Losing a loved one is never easy. The sorrow that comes can be so overpowering that you’d do anything to bring them back. Well, there’s a being out there who would gladly prey on that weakness with a solution that’s too good to be true. The Millennium Earl will promise the return of your beloved, but at the cost of your life and that loved one’s soul. These poor spirits are turned into Akuma, mindless machine demons who help the Earl conquer humanity. It’s up to priest-like fighters called Exorcists to stop him, using an ancient substance called Innocence to fight and cleanse these poor tortured souls.

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Some may consider D Gray Man’s plucky story and tendency towards comedy as de-qualifiers for this list.  But make no mistake; this anime has moments of pure evil about it. From one of the generals being tortured to the point of insanity to watching an Akuma slip on the skin of someone who used to be their loved one, this story knows how to turn up the freakishly horrible when it wants to. That being said, most of the action is pretty standard shounen, so it gets the highest spot on the list.

4. Shingeki no Kyojin (Attack on Titan)

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Number four is another one that I have yet to complete. However, having seen a significant chunk of this unfinished marvel, I have a much better grip on it than I do Berserk. Besides, watching just a small section of season one will give you more than enough hints to just how dark this pit of despair can go.

Imagine the world where humanity has been driven to hide like cattle behind thick stone walls. And then, to their horror, those walls are knocked down like sandcastles by the very creatures they were hiding from: Titans. They are disturbing, monstrous creatures that are driven to mindlessly devour humans and are near impossible to kill. But it’s up to the army to rise up and protect what’s left of humanity from the rising Titan menace, even when it seems like there isn’t a way to stop them. 

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I know it seems a bit overdone to mention the show here, but you cannot deny that even an early view of AOT showcases a shocking amount of deep story and psychological trauma. The show relies heavily on the Uncanny Valley but also on some pretty animalistic wills to live by the characters themselves. Eren is the embodiment of humanity’s will to fight and shows the rest of his crew that survival is possible, but only if you refuse to lay down and die. Plenty of characters are not gonna make it but that doesn’t mean we, the audience, should give up.

3. Pet Shop of Horrors

 

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I want you all to remember this old show from way back in the day: the famous serial called The Twilight Zone. The show usually centered around a self-contained narrative that takes a strange and unusual turn towards the end, usually to pass on some kind of moral. Imagine that, twisted, and exposing some of the nastier, selfish aspects of being a human.

My friends, that is Pet Shop Of Horrors in a nutshell. The enigmatic figure known as Count D has a quaint little pet shop set up in Little China, a cute place with exoitic animals, exotic food, and an air of danger. He sells pets and all manner of hopes and dreams, but there is almost always a catch. Follow the rules of the contract and you’ll be happy in your purchase. But humans break those rules – it’s only natural – and the horror that follows only goes to show the petty, ugly truths that those people worked so hard to keep hidden.

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Even though this series only lasted a few episodes, I was so thrilled with what I did see. The show displayed the themes and beauty of the manga near perfectly, encapsulating the gritty horror aspects as well. Very bloody and disturbing, give all four episodes a go before you try the manga; because it holds back even less.

2. The Gregory Horror Show

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What’s this, 3D and a distinctly un-anime look? How dare you put this cult-classic on your list, Helain, shame on you!


That’s what I thought, originally. But – surprise, surprise – The Gregory Horror Show is indeed a CGI anime, or at least it’s defined as such. Originally produced in Japan, the show centered around an unfortunate Japanese Businessman who finds himself at a strange hotel in the middle of nowhere, run by a wrinkled, wart-covered mouse by the name of Gregory. Something is off about Gregory from the get-go, who somehow sees everything and knows far more about you than he should. His guests aren’t much better, stalking you and screaming at you to get out while you still can. But you quickly find that there is no way out of this madhouse of the broken; even insanity won’t save you from Gregory and his prisoners.

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The biggest draw to TGHS comes from its first person perspective. We are thrust into the role of this poor salesman, trapped in a prison-like hotel ready to drive him up the wall. Along the way, we’ll not only meet a variety interesting characters but explore some inconvenient truths about our dear protagonist. Extra points if you guess the big twist at the end.

1. Death Note

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This one is, and I admit it, predictable and overplayed – but so, so very true. Death Note, both in anime and manga, is the ultimate morality play on justice and crime, and an impressive character study.

Have you ever wished you could do something about the rampant crime in the world? Have you ever just been beyond bored with the ugly world and wished you could make a real difference? That was the biggest wish of Boy Genius Light Yagami, a pampered perfect student who discovers a notebook that can kill anyone with the stroke of a pen. So, he decides he’s going to kill all the world’s horrible criminals and be the new ruler of a perfect world. But not everyone sees his work as heroic; in fact, enigmatic private detective “L” denounces him a murderer, and dedicates himself to tracking Light down. 

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The show sets up two very distinct sides and takes great pride in showing them clash. Furthermore, as the show explores the real morality behind killing the accused (and I must stress, it is the accused and not the sentenced), it also lets us watch a boy of decent morals slowly spiral down into sociopathy thanks to the immense power he’s gained. You might need a flow-chart to keep up with the plot, but anyone watching this show will eat up the hard questions it asks, all while basking in the dark and gloomy atmosphere all around it.

In short, Death Note is the standard for dark anime. It isn’t really gory or all that scary, but it explores some uncomfortable places of the human mind with a story that is gripping and entertaining. And at the end of the day, that’s really all you can ask from any dark anime.

 

What’s your list for for dark anime? Feel free to share it below and don’t forget to like and follow for more content just like this.

Otome Review: Ascension Chapter 3

There really is a beauty in watching a writer go from rough draft to finished product.

That’s how I viewed the Ascension series when I got to the third and final chapter. The beauty of this series splitting into three parts is that it shows us the journey that Rinmaru took when she made it. How she must have felt when she revisited chapter one and two to make this portion. Do you think it felt like opening that first fanfic from your high school days?

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“DON’T READ THAT!”

But this retrospective has really helped me appreciate what Ascension became, despite its odd format. Chapters one and two can best be described as eating your veggies and meat; now it’s time for the dessert. Let’s cap this adventure and see where the magic takes us.

  • Plot

    This next part spoils a great deal of Chapter Two, enter at your own risk. See the rest of you in the next section.
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Aida’s life changed a lot in the past two years. She’s risen from the ashes of death twice now: once with a fresh batch of emotions, and then again with the new title of secret crown princess. Now that it’s clear she isn’t after the immense power of the old kingdom, The Eagles are using their vast wealth of resources to help Aida defeat her evil twin brother, the current king, but things are tense. They get worse when Aida hears that the king has kidnapped her good friend from Sundrop Island; Victor.

Victor

Well… shit.

So, Aida suits up and gets ready to infiltrate the castle and get him back. But the best plans of Mice and Men oft go awry, and this one goes belly-up so fast it has whiplash. To fix the mistakes she’s made, and make her homeland safe again, she must defeat some inner demons and get a country of strangers to rally behind her against the deadly Silver Order. Easier said than done, but this girl is used to a little danger and a lot of help from her gaggle of misfit friends.

 

  • Gameplay

Here is where Rinmaru needs to shine the hardest. We’ve had three different games now, meaning two chances to sift through ashes and recover what was good. I am proud to say that Rin didn’t play it safe; she polished what worked and took some rewarding risks.

We’ve kept the far easier UI from the second game, but made it much easier to interact in the world. We’ve plopped down once again into Aida’s perspective, where we move around and interact by clicking objects, arrows, and people. But everything has been stylized and simplified in these nice, compact hubs. Now, instead of random people sitting around, you see symbols that represent NPC’s you can mingle with. If they got a quest, you’ll even see an MMORPG style question-mark above their head. Our companions are different as well and get their own portraits.

 

The aforementioned quests introduce our new mechanic: reputation. Once again, when we interact, we get to choose the goodwill, cunning or aggressive response. However, these points now go towards your success in solving a variety of problems, either by persuading, lying, or intimidating. Your success depends on how high your points in any of these are, meaning your best bet is to spam one trait for the whole game. The kind of solutions you pick will increase your reputation: Are you known for being clever? Peaceful? Fierce? You get to decide?

 

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Our last bit of tasty-flash candy is a mixture between the last two games. We have the return of the mini-games from the first game, but far more involved than chapter two. Chapter two and one had one instance of a little minigame, while three features an alchemy maker, a gambling card-game, and a broken ship fixing game. It also borrows game two’s “finding” mechanic. Basically, some NPC sends you out into the wild to collect items hidden on the screen for some quest. I wouldn’t mind this collec-a-thon if this incarnation wasn’t so damn infuriating.

Forest collection

Find the items in this image. I dare you.

 

  • Art

Talking for all three of these games was always a bit rough. Because, all through the series, the art style has basically remained the same. It’s still the same bright, cheery, anime-esque look, but sharper. We still have the same, awesome customization skills, and the only real change now is the addition of one moving scene that may be rated T for teen.

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But Rin still deserves props for being so ambitious. It can’t be easy to make game scenes for a variety of different hairstyles on each character and an impromptu love scene.

  • Romances:

When it comes to love and love lost, here we come to a crossroads. If you so desire, you can make Aida the independent, loveless warrior-princess who has avoided romance all this time. But if you called out for one of three eligible bachelors in the last game, they are now your Beau for the rest of the game. However, there is also a third option for one last romantic hurrah. Otherwise, it’s time to expand upon our favorite relationships one last time.

Zander

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The moon elf lordling from Ildis has grown up considerably now. While he’s grown a bit stuffy, he still has that soft heart for his friends and loved ones that really sold me on him way back in game one. Essentially, his character has been refined to a proper, well-rounded specimen, making the romance that follows more interesting. Now he and Aida bounce off each other like a straight man and comic foil, and it is hilarious and sweet. If you like them pretty and slightly broody, then Zander is now most definitely your guy.

 

Jace

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On the opposite end of the spectrum, we have perpetual jokester and all around bro, Jace. We’ve thankfully slid away from the fratboy-esq knight we met in Northcliff all those years ago and solidified into a more jovial goofball who just so happens to be really good with a sword. He’s still far from my ideal date, but his heroic sense of right and wrong, combined with his skill in battle, is sure to trigger the princely attraction for someone. But if you were expecting him to be any more mature, be prepared for disappointment.

 

Faelern

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Grumpy McSomber Sun Elf has returned, now completely attached to Aida at the hip (not as literally as she’d like, alas.) As the resident “older man” of this dating pool, he’s got some nurturing tendencies that hilariously manifest as snobbish rants. But hey, only the best for his selfish and immature Solyn, the key to him. For all his strict, blunt, and insulting tendencies, there still beats a heart that’s fiercely loyal and protective of all under his care. You’ll get some hard truths if you take this route, but the relationship in question is very solid.

 

 

Kole

Kole

Last, but certainly not least, we have our newcomer to the party. Kole is a Kalek, a race of nomadic bards in Valond that are known for their sweet voices and utter mysticism with any instrument. Kole lost his tribe when he was young due to his blindness being perceived as a curse. He joined The Eagles shortly after due to his amazing skill with his fists and has been assigned to be Aida’s bodyguard. Kole is a stuttering sweetheart most of the time, but a dangerous man when angered or thrust into a fight. The relationship is a bit hurried due to this being the last chapter, but still enjoyable for what it is.

 

  • Final Verdict

As I said in my intro, revisiting this series was a blast for me on so many levels. The first chapter is a bit of a nostalgia-coated slog, but game three really is where all Rin’s hard work shines. It’s slick, well-written, loaded with interesting places to explore, and easy to get lost in. Aida’s a fantastic protagonist and the cast of characters around her make this whole thing one of the more enjoyable rides.

But now, it’s time to say goodbye.

Real best friends

Next time — Mystic Destinies: Serendipity of Aeons

Have you enjoyed this journey? Was this game a sueish-pile of garbage? Whatever your opinions are, feel free to share in the comments below. And don’t forget to like and follow for more content just like this.

The Real Magic Behind Studio Ghibli

Media are in odd places these days. It seems they’re locked in a perpetual cycle of re-releasing classics or making sequels nobody asked for. Between Blade Runner 2049 and the new Mary Poppins, we now have Studio Ghibli set to release new editions of the movies that made them so famous. Yes, North America is finally getting pristine DVD’s and Blu-Rays for Howl’s Moving Castle, Kiki’s Delivery Service, and the movie that changed my entire anime landscape: Spirited Away.

Reading this got me thinking about Studio Ghibli, this omnipresent company all through my childhood. They didn’t stalk me like Disney, but they had a large enough presence that I could mark milestones in my life with their film catalog.  Miyazaki’s very name conjures a certain quality of entertainment and a high-bar in anime storytelling. It stands to reason, then, that anime owes its current form to the work that was the Miyazaki Classics.

As always, the following is just my opinion and open to debate.

  • Genius Stories To Leap and Bound Over Any Barrier

The first Ghibli film I ever saw was,  as mentioned above, Spirited Away. That year, 2001, I had already been watching Toonami every night I could, meaning I was binging on Outlaw Star, Cardcaptors, Big O, and even more Dragon Ball Z long after I should have been in bed. But I had never sat through a full anime movie. I didn’t even know there existed feature-films in anime at all.

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“I can’t. Look. AWAY!”

Enter Spirited Away. I had little to no idea where the story took place or any of the background behind it. All I knew was that it was about a girl roughly my age, trying to save her parents while trapped in a strange, unforgiving place. You didn’t have to understand Japanese culture to understand poor Chihiro’s predicament.

 

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Or the stuff of nightmares she faced.

Whether it’s the epitome of sugar (My Neighbor Totoro) or sadness incarnate (Grave of the Fireflies), Ghibli films can bypass language barriers, culture blocks, and anything else that prevents anime from getting a hold overseas. The stories are almost always fantastical with well-written characters and motifs that will easily resonate with any audience, Asian or otherwise. Because, when we boil it down, there are emotions and things about being human that we can all relate to.

  • A World So Lush

Speaking of that world I hadn’t understood, does anyone notice the insane amount characters, insignificant or otherwise, that fill up these films?

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Look at all the people!

The cream of any movie comes not just from the star, but from the world swimming around them. Part of the reason anime does so well is the insane worlds they tend to create around their characters. Even in anime that’s supposed to be realistic drama have to work hard and bring that setting to life in order to make everything else pop.

I like to think Miyazaki played a huge part in this. If you watch even one of his films, you get a world so pumped full of detail and beauty, it’s blinding. Princess Mononoke is a prime example, bringing the world of ancient Japanese Spirits to horrifying and beautiful heights alongside a gritty, hard-stone world of Irontown. And oh, the art; pretty is a word not strong enough.

 

So beautiful….

To my eyes, Miyazaki threw down the gauntlet when his first few movies hit the theaters. He took animation to a whole new level of eye-candy and detail, and so anyone who came after would have to step up their game.

  • From Super Serious to Super Childish

I believe one of the worst things you can say about any production company is either “monotony” or “generic.” I.E, if they put out the same kind of story, with the same kind of action, with the same type of characters. If any distributor or animation studio produces the same product multiple times then they have signed their own death certificate. They will be tossed aside into the pit alongside 4kids to repent for their sins.

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We won’t forget, 4Kids.

So, thank the Otaku Gods, Studio Ghibli was anything but bland. The first movie, Castle in the Sky, was an adventure – fantasy film. Then we have later titles like Grave of the Fireflies and Princess Mononoke which feature darker, grittier, more tragic plotlines. Then, lastly, we have movies aimed at children, such as My Neighbor Totoro and Ponyo. In other words, Ghibli could have sat in a niche and kept the money coming, but choose to experiment and do as many types of stories as they could.

  • Ghibli in The Future?

With such an impressive background to their name, the question now lingers on what Ghibli will do know. Anime has evolved considerably since the studio founded – as it always will – and Ghibli movies have not struck the same chord that they did ages ago. They’re still making massive amounts of money, sure, but they don’t have the same groundbreaking effect they used to.

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Quick, we’re losing them!

But I truly do not believe that this marks any kind of end for the them, or at least I hope not. I wanna see more innovation from Ghibli; I want to see them experiment with stories and animation styles again. But, in terms of finances, I can understand the need to re-release their classics on easy to access DVDs and digital release. After all, Nostalgia is a powerful force, and that money can be the fuel for something in the future. Here’s hoping to see something more amazing down the road.

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Otome Review: Ascension Chapter 2

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the point of a sequel is to improve on the original. In more simple terms, it’s a chance to look at the ashes and see what went wrong. This also gives rise to another of my favorite phrases that I came up with: Everybody sucked at one point, even Dickens.

In short, your first attempt at anything will be riddled with issues. But the point is to do it anyway, so you can learn from those mistakes and grow. Nowhere is this truer than with writing. It’s why I always encourage fan fiction writing of any kind. Yeah, the first fics you produce will be Mary-Sue-driven, plot-hole-riddled monsters, but how else are you gonna avoid writing it again if you don’t make that first mistake?

And that was why I was super happy when I kicked up the second chapter of Ascension, our coming of age story for the impulsive little thief, Aida. Because, for all the first chapter did right, we had some glitches and story issues to spoil things somewhat. But, now that we’ve had our first try, what do we have to show?

  • Plot

Now, if you haven’t read my post on Chapter One, I suggest you go do so. Otherwise, this entire post will be nothing but spoilers. Otherwise, well…

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After being tricked by Diago into opening a gate to the Old Kingdom, Aida is presumed dead. But the lucky girl somehow survives a tower collapsing right on top of her. Aida tries to protect her friends by hiding out on Sundrop Island, but she’s been plagued by terrible nightmares of silver-skinned people calling her to join them. And she can’t shake the feeling that something sinister is going down.

Silver People

She’s got a good reason to be suspicious

Of course, she’s right; the Eagles are looking for the other gates to the old kingdom, and a great evil is coming whether Aida hides or not. The King and the Silver Order are ready to tear open the gates to gain some mysterious power.  So she’s gotta show her face again and find a way to stop those gates from slipping wide open, lest the whole country be wiped out.

  • Gameplay

Rinmaru mentioned on her page that Ascension was her first visual novel, and the bumps in it make that obvious. Round two, however, smooths most of them out and adds some new material in the process. We are still heavily immersed in this story, but now we have far more dynamic scene changes, more frequent action sequences, and even some more actual interaction.

Hand

Press forward for the creepy

As for actual gameplay, we’re in familiar territory. We interact in Aida’s world from her perspective, jumping to about three different intractable areas in-game. Each area has several sub-areas to explore, with clickable objects and people. You’ll either find items important to quests later on or dresses/earrings Aida can wear, so it’s advisable to explore as much as possible. You’ll even get a friendly warning when you’re about to leave an area and be unable to collect stuff anymore.

 

But when you aren’t being a kleptomaniac, you’re chatting with your peeps. Once again, our only means of shifting the story around comes from how you, the player, shape Aida as a person. Each conversation you have with characters will produce three different responses: goodwill, cunning, and aggressive. However, they aren’t color-coded for easy use this time around. The only ones that are color-coded are the romantic responses, ranging from cute to aggressive. The romance mechanic has been expanded upon this time around. This time around you can flirt with all theromanceablee men, but you will be forced to pick one at the end.

Flirt Choices

 

 You can earn these points in each home area. Each area has a “hub” where you can click on items that are supposed to represent your friends. This is where you can continue to raise Aida’s traits or throw in a little romance should you wish. It raises the relationship stats either way, though I can’t tell if it affects anything besides your romantic partner.

Pick yer Companion

  • Art

The second time around also shows some visible improvement in Rin’s art style, though it still remains uniquely hers. We still work with bright, flashy cute images. But now we have nearly twice the amount of artwork we normally ge. You get to cosmetically alter Aida’s hair, add some tattoos, and change the look of your companions (mostly the hair). This helps make each playthrough more visually interesting.

Customization

The static art, meanwhile, looks more clear and sharp than last time as well. We have some beautiful artwork with places like Ildis, covered in crystal snow, and even the sunny beaches of Sundrop Isle. It’s a far cry from the somewhat boxy streets of Northcliff and I like it quite a bit.

  • Romance

Now here, the game got interesting. Last time we only had two options to choose from, a la tween fantasy. You can pick up where that romance left off, thanks to the above-mentioned customization screen, but you can also start fresh or pick a new third option. In other words, Aida’s story has some more flexibility.

Zander

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The sarcastic and brooding moon elf has returned. You’ll find him teaching a tribe of lith children in Taran, a make-shift penance for the way his people treat them. It’s added a mother-bird like trait to his personality but the dry-wit and pensive parts of him are well intact.  Course now, with better control of his magic, you’ll find a refreshing splash of confidence to his attitude. 

You have the choice of picking up where you left off first game, in which Zander promptly freaks out and gets real clingy, or you can romance him here in game. Since the ending is the same either way, the new romance does feel a little rushed. BUT the pick-up romance feels like the much-needed fleshing out from the first one.

Jace

Jace2

Y’all remember the dude-bro, drunk, fairly perverted ex-knight from game one I’m sure. Well, when he learned the big secret behind Aida and Diago, he decided to head back out to Ildis and restart up his Knight Order. He is “Knight-Captain” Jace now, far more disciplined, but still the “Loveable idiot” that the girls surely fell for last time. I was still unamused by Jace, proving that there really is no accounting for taste.

Just like Zander, you can already have Jace on your arm or pull him in via some flirts. Once again though, the ending is much the same.

Faelern

Faelern

Our new addition is a sun-elf: a tanned, tattooed, forest-y elf who rarely seems to smile (if at all). You meet Faelern on Sundrop Island, his new home after someone very close to him was killed by a moon elf lord. He sees Aida purely as “Solyn” or “the key,” and the two get along like chalk and cheese. Or, if you play your cards right, she is the drug he’s desperately trying to tell himself he can’t have. But enough prodding and communication can do just about anything, including an unlocking of a stubborn heart.

As mentioned, Faelern is the new romance for game two. I am always a fan of the cold jerkass, as I’ve made it clear several times, but girls here should be weary: He will not treat you that much nicer this time around.

  • Final Thoughts

Chapter Two of Ascension is the expansion that I was craving when I first played number one. It’s visually a lot better, with more meat on the romance, and a story that looks to be building up quite a bit. With more content, more places, and just more immersion overall, the game proves that you can build something great on the bones of your first try.

 

Next Time: Ascension Chapter 3