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Dusk Maiden of Amnesia is a twelve episode anime series, currently available to buy in the UK from MVM Entertainment. The series takes place at Seikyou Private Academy, a school that has a prolific history of ghost sightings. Most of the institution's spooky myths revolve around Yuko Kanoe, a teenage girl who is said to have perished years ago prior to the school's renovation. As it turns out the spirit of Yuko is indeed haunting the halls of Seikyou Academy, but only a few select people are able to see her. Freshman Teiichi Niiya happens to be one of the chosen few, which he discovers after spotting the busty poltergeist roaming around a dilapidated wing of the school building.
Thrilled at finding someone who can see her, the lonely Yuko strikes up a friendship with Teiichi. The pair decide to form an after school Paranormal Investigation Club to research the school's many ghost stories. Yuko hopes that doing so may shed some light on her past, as all memories of her death have been exorcised from her mind. The club's investigations would probably go more smoothly if Yuko could keep her hands off Teiichi. Given that Teiichi is the only one able to touch her normally incorporeal body I guess you cannot blame her for engaging in some playful flirting. Good thing then that, as far as apparitions go, Yuko is easier on the eyes than Slimer from the Ghostbusters films.
In terms of tone, Dusk Maiden of Amnesia skirts through various genres over the course of its twelve-episode run. The early adventures of the Paranormal Investigation Club are comedic capers were viewers see the group tackle occult cases whilst the bashful Teiichi gets embarrassed by Yuko's tendency to shed clothing. Given that she is invisible, to most people, she doesn't see the harm of scampering about nude, although she does blush on one occasion when Teiichi stumbles upon her decomposed body. Apparently spying someone's skeletal remains is paramount to be ogling a person at their most naked.
Things start to get more serious around the show's midway point once the chilling manner in which Yuko met her demise is uncovered. Adding to the darker narrative is the revelation that, in addition to Yuko, there may be other more sinister entities patrolling Seikyou Academy. Yuko herself may not be as innocent as she first seems either, as she gets increasingly possessive of Teiichi as the plot advances forward. In addition to humour, mystery and horror Dusk Maiden of Amnesia also dabbles with romance during its finale that seeks to explore if love can blossom between a human and a ghost. I don't see why not. If dorks can marry pony plushies then surely dating the undead is acceptable.
As far as the cast goes Yuko is the clear star of the show. At first glance she comes across as a stereotypical anime chick whose sole role is to aggressively pursue the show's male lead. The episodes focusing on her backstory however prove that there is more depth to the character than your average harem lass. Sadly the same cannot be said of Teiichi. He's a dull do-gooder, lacking any real personality other than having a phobia of cute girls throwing themselves at him. Thankfully the other two members of the Paranormal Investigation club are more interesting.
Momoe Okonogi is the hyperactive comic relief that often falls prey to Yuko's pranks. She joined the Paranormal Investigators after the club saved her from a curse involving a stabbed toy bunny and a bizarre game of hide & seek. Although Momoe cannot see Yuko, her fellow club mate Kirie Kanoe can. I would best describe Kirie as the show's voice of reason. Despite being the serious type she does have some amusing quirks. The main one is an insecurity over her lack of cleavage and she is also prone to bursting out into tears during scary situations.
Four stars is what I am awarding Dusk Maiden of Amensia. I enjoyed it from start to finish and was impressed by how the story successfully incorporated elements of comedy, mystery and romance. My only beef with the series would have to be its length. I would have happily watched more episodes so it is a shame that they didn't adapt more stories from the manga the series is based off. One thing that may infuriate viewers is how the series ends. I was okay with it, but it is clear to see that the creators were uncertain on whether to settle for a happily ever after finale or a bittersweet resolution. Depending on your taste you may or may not approve of the outcome they settled on. Either way I still recommend giving the show a (ghost of a) chance.
Being stuck in school, until the end of time, is not something I would enjoy. Thinking back to my comprehensive days I recall spending more time studying my wristwatch, counting the hours in anticipation of the final bell, than listening to what was being taught. Hmmm perhaps that is why I flunked all my exams. Anyways, in the PS Vita title Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc, an eternity in high school is the nightmarish prospect awaiting the freshmen of Hope's Peak Academy. I guess they should have read the fine print before signing up. It's now too late to enrol at Cambridge instead.
Despite my bashing in the paragraph above, Hope's Peak is considered to be a prestigious school that accepts only the most talented of students. This semester's class includes an established novelist, a world-class baseball player and an exceptional gambler who has amassed a small fortune via games of chance. The player controlled character Makoto Naegi is however nothing special. Despite being an average teenager he has managed to enlist into Hope's Peak after winning a raffle (thereby earning him the title of Ultimate Lucky Student.) As it transpires "Unlucky Student" would be a more apt nickname.
On his first day at school Makoto faints, much like a teen girl subjected to ear-splitting Justin Bieber "music." After regaining consciousness Makoto finds himself inside an empty classroom, where all the windows have been boarded up with thick metal plates. Upon exploring the rest of the school it soon becomes apparent that he is trapped inside the building. All the exits are blocked and worryingly surveillance cameras appear to be tracking his every move. After arriving at the school gym he meets fourteen other students who are equally puzzled as to what is going on.
It's at this point that headmaster Monokuma shows up to reveal what is happening. Apparently the fifteen students are forbidden from ever leaving the premises, unless they are able to graduate. On the plus side the school will provide them with food and lodgings for the length of their stay. That's pretty bizarre, but things only get weirder from that point on. In order to graduate a student must kill a fellow classmate and not get identified as the guilty party in the ensuing class trial. Not strange enough for you? Okay, how about this. Monokuma is a sadistic teddy bear... pretty much what you would get if Rupert and Jigsaw, from the Saw movies, ever decided to have a kid.
To escape this nightmare Makoto needs to search for a way out and ultimately determine the identity of the mastermind pulling Monokuma's remote controlled strings. Unfortunately his classmates are not united in this goal. As the days tick by things start to get more desperate. Squabbles begin to erupt between the group and it is only a matter of time before someone gets murdered. It's then up to Makoto to investigate the crime scene to determine whodunit. Guess wrong and the bloodthirsty fiend graduates, dooming the remaining students to a gory execution.
Danganronpa's cases are divided into two stages. When a body is discovered the player needs to collect evidence by using a cursor to question characters and examine a particular room's highlighted areas. Once this is accomplished the trial proper begins. The evidence you have amassed is turned into "truth bullets" that are used to shoot down lies/contradictory statements made by Makoto's classmates. Occasionally your evidence is called into question, which triggers a rhythm mini-game that needs to be won in order to refute the arguments being made against you. Once a case has been solved all that remains is to sum up what happened by using a series of pictures to complete an unfinished comic, which highlights the key events of the solved homicide. It's a little hard to explain, but overall the trial system does a good job of injecting some action into what is a text heavy game.
My verdict in the Danganronpa trial is five stars. If you have a Vita I would say that it is a must own title. The well-plotted storyline should hook in players via its clever mysteries and surprising twists. The likable cast of characters all boast distinct personalities, although I would warn against getting too attached to any of them as most of the students won't survive long enough to see the game's six trials. Visually the game doesn't push the Vita to its limits, given that it was originally a Japanese PSP release, but it does have a stylish look to it. The environments you explore are presented in a 3D first person view whilst the characters you encounter pop up on screen as two dimensional anime cut outs.
The main story lasts for around twenty hours, which is good value for money. Although there isn't much point in replaying the game, once it is done, anyone doing so will be rewarded with coins that can be used to purchase images for the various artwork galleries. Completing the main campaign also unlocks a neat "school mode" resource game were you can build up relationships with Makoto's classmates. Completing this mode, after maxing out a friendship, gives you a unique character ending, which is pretty cool. Overall I loved Danganronpa and I am looking forward to seeing its sequel get localised. If you are a fan of the Phoenix Wright series this game should be right up your alley.
Arakawa Under the Bridge is an anime series based on a comedic manga, written by Hikaru Nakamura, which has been going strong since late 2004. The show stars twenty-two year old Kou Ichinomiya who is the heir to the successful Ichinomiya Corporation. Kou attributes his success in life to following a philosophy of never being indebted to anyone. Just the thought of owing someone a favour is enough to trigger an asthmatic panic attack. I suffer from a similar affliction, every month, when I realise how much I owe on my credit card bill. Expensive anime DVDs and a low paying job are not a good combination.
Kou's life is turned upside down, one day, when a group of kids takes off with his pants. You'd think with expensive mobiles being all the rage in Japan that thieves would rob something better than a guy's trousers, but whatever. During an attempt to retrieve his slacks Kou falls off a bridge, into the icy depths below, and almost drowns. Thankfully a blonde bombshell named Nino saves him from a watery grave, although doing so puts Kou in the unenviable position of owing her his life. To square things off with his saviour Kou agrees to her demands of moving in with her and becoming her lover.
Escaping death and scoring a girlfriend may sound like a sweet deal, but as you may suspect there is a catch. Nino's place of residence is a cardboard box located under a bridge... oh and she also thinks that she comes from Venus. As it transpires she's not the only weirdo who lives under the bridge. There's no trolls to be found (they all moved away to torment the internet) but there is a nut job who dresses up as a kappa, a guitarist with wears a star shaped mask, a chap who will only walk on white lines and a nun who in actuality is a gun totting scarred man. When it comes to homeless people Japan has other nations beat. That colourful assortment of characters sure beats the smelly winos, who push trolleys, that we get over here.
As you may expect, adjusting to his new life, as an under bridge dweller, is a bit of a culture shock for the wealthy Kou who has had a pampered upbringing. Slowly but surely he does however integrate into the community of oddballs and begins to develop genuine romantic feelings for Nino. He even ditches a promising career to become a riverside teacher, although his attempts to instil common sense into his students rarely bears fruit. By the end of the season he's so settled into his new routine that he is willing to confront his father's company, which is trying to boot his chums out of the area so they can redevelop the land.
My rating for Arakawa Under the Bridge is three stars out of five. I didn't dislike the show, but it's not something I would describe as a must buy. When it comes to anime I generally prefer shows that have a bit more story. What we get here however are episodes composed of a few short skits. The gags provide consistent light chortles, although I seldom burst out into a gut-busting laugh. On the plus side the wacky humour never goes so over the top that it becomes annoying, as can be the case with other shows. If zany animes are your thing it's worth checking out and I would recommend it over something like the similarly weird Cromartie High School.
Virtue's Last Reward is a visual novel/puzzler developed by Chunsoft that is available to buy for both the Nintendo 3DS and PlayStation Vita. The game is a sequel to the DS title Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors, which sadly was never released in Europe. I was originally apprehensive about buying VLR, as I feared that missing out on its predecessor would make its plot incomprehensible, but having taken the plunge I can report that I do not regret my purchase. I had no problems following the plot, despite being a newcomer to the series, and as it transpires the rock solid story ended up being one of my favourite video game tales in recent years.
Players take control of a college student named Sigma (I can't imagine that's a moniker that features highly in the list of popular baby names) who at the start of the game is attacked by a mysterious masked assailant. During the assault Sigma is rendered unconscious by knockout gas and when he awakens he finds himself trapped inside an elevator with a silver haired lass named Phi. Using their combined intellect the pair find a way out of the lift only to then discover that they are trapped in a futuristic facility along with seven other kidnap victims. It's at this point that a talking bunny named Zero makes an appearance to inform the group that they have been selected to unwillingly participate in the deadly Nonary Game.
Said game involves having the kidnap victims split up into groups of three, comprised of a solo player and a two man team. The trio in question must then enter a sealed room and solve a series of fiendish puzzles in order to escape. Once that has been accomplished the real fun begins. Friends can potentially become enemies as the triad of chums is split up and forced to anonymously vote to either ally or betray. If the participants both select to ally everyone gets two points. If someone betrays and the other person picks ally the betrayer's score increases by three whilst the gullible ally loses a point. In a case were both parties choose to betray no one gets squat for being an untrusting douche.
What is the purpose of these points you may ask? Points mean prizes... specifically the prize of freedom, as Zero has declared that the first person to hit the nine point milestone will be freed from the prison they find themselves in. To make matters even more interesting, anyone whose score drops to zero will be eliminated from the game courtesy of a lethal injection, administered via a bracelet that all the competitors are forced to wear. I don't know about you, but I may have actually tuned into Big Brother if their voting sessions adopted similar rules to the Nonary Game.
Given that Virtue's Last Reward is a visual novel a good chunk of the game involves reading text, which is more fun than it sounds thanks to the exceptional science fiction storyline. The narrative is interrupted whenever the player enters a room, switching the action to a puzzle game were you use the touch screen to interact with objects in order to suss out VLR's expertly crafted puzzles. Some of the brainteasers were a little too taxing for a dunce like me, so I was grateful for the easy setting that offers hints courtesy of Sigma's teammates. I found the puzzle segments to be fun although the finicky touch controls did frustrate me on occasion. If you don't tap precisely on an object you may fail to interact with it. This happened to me several times, which resulted in me getting stuck as I was left thinking that a key item I required was just part of the background.
Virtue's Last Reward is easily a five star game. Solving the puzzles is always satisfying and there's plenty of content to explore, as the game boasts multiple endings. To view everything the game has to offer you'll have to replay the game numerous times to see how your decisions impact the eventual finale. I liked how Chunsoft included a flowchart of the branching storylines, which allows players to skip past parts they have previously completed. It's a real time saver when revisiting the game for another run. Even if puzzle games aren't normally your thing I can still recommend Virtue's Last Reward for its compelling storyline. Ingenious sci-fi packed with surprising twists are the "reward" for anyone who buys this gem.
Is this a Zombie: Of the Dead is the second season of the Is this a Zombie anime, which is based on the Shinichi Kimura light novels of the same name. The series continues to tell the adventures of Ayumu Aikawa, a Japanese high school student, who has been brought back from the dead as a practically indestructible zombie. Ayumu's only weakness of note is the sun's rays, which wreck his complexion faster than that of a British tourist sunbathing at the Costa del Sol. Remember kids, use plenty of sunscreen when playing outdoors because lobster coloured skin is both unsightly and painful.
Adapting to life as a member of the undead is tough enough, but to complicate matters even further Ayumu finds himself having to adjust from living by his lonesome to sharing a house with three eccentric ladies. The trio of beauties in question comprise of a busty vampire ninja, the silent necromancer who resurrected him and a magical girl who is a genius when it comes to cooking omelettes (she's egg-cellent at preparing that dish.) Culinary puns aside, one horny teen and three quirky gals is the perfect "recipe" for a comedic harem show. If that sort of thing tickles your fancy you can currently buy the complete season two set from MVM Entertainment for around fifteen pounds.
I approached this second season of Is this a Zombie with trepidation because the original series felt like it was running out of steam by the time it concluded. The early episodes were hilarious, but I began to lose interest towards the end due to the show's weak plot. The only way I could see the creators sustaining the franchise would be by adding more girls to the cast, which is precisely what they did. In addition to Ayumu's roommates, the female quota is increased by the introduction of Ayumu's classmate Taeko and Chris, a mysterious gothic Lolita who is constantly plastered on booze. Sarasvati, the bloodsucking singer from season one, also makes a return. She's still an ice queen, but she now harbours a crush for Ayumu after discovering that he has an irresistible hiney.
This all means that my fears have come to pass. What little plot the series had has been abandoned in favour of eye candy. As I mentioned earlier the first season's storyline wasn't great, but it was deeper than what we get here. To give some examples, the episodes we get involve a day frolicking at the pool, Ayumu living down the embarrassment of his classmates spotting him in drag, Ayumu trying to score a free dessert by charming the maids at a cosplay cafe and Ayumu using an invisibility spell to sneak into the girls' physical examination. He's there to find a cursed pendant and not to ogle the ladies who are getting their breast measurements done... honest!
So what did I make of the series? I rather enjoyed it! Normally trading away story for fan service would be a strike against a series, but surprisingly it works in the show's favour. Discarding the dull plot has allowed Is this a Zombie to focus solely on its biggest strength (wacky comedy) making it all the more fun to watch. The set is also good value for money given that it contains eleven episodes, an OVA and commentaries from the English voice cast (which is a more substantial extra than most anime releases get.) My final score is four stars. Prior to watching season two I wasn't too keen on sampling more of Ayumu's antics, but after viewing this enjoyable instalment I have to say that I wouldn't be averse to checking out a season three.
Sword Art Online (part one) is a DVD release from Manga Entertainment, which contains the opening seven episodes of a series that adapts Reki Kawahara's light novels into anime form. The show focuses on a newly launched online roleplaying game named (yes you guessed it) Sword Art Online. Unlike games like World of Warcraft, which are played with a keyboard and mouse, Sword Art Online immerses players in a fantasy world via the use of virtual reality technology. Although replacing a traditional controller for a VR headset sounds cool, you may want to cancel that Oculus Rift pre-order because if this series is to be believed the use of such gizmos carry an inherent risk.
On the first day of the game's release it is revealed that Sword Art's creator is suffering from a serious case of God complex. Much to the players' dismay, SAO's developer announces that he has disabled the system's log out command, effectively trapping their consciousness in the game. If the MMO's players wish to return to their comatose real world bodies they'll have to clear SAO's tower, which contains one hundred floors filled to the brim with traps and monsters. This would not be so bad were it not for the fact that the game's safeties have been disabled, so players who die in the game will also cease to live in the real world. Gulp. I'm glad that my PS3 collection doesn't function in the same way. I wouldn't be around to type this review if titles like the rock hard Dark Souls murdered you just for getting a Game Over.
The series follows the adventures of Kirito, one of Sword Art's trapped players. With no hope of rescue from the outside world (as it is revealed early on that removing someone's VR helmet will fry their brain, much like a convict sentenced in Texas) we watch as he gradually fights his way past the tower's many challenges. Although initially presented as a bit of a loner, who favours soloing over grouping with others, he's actually a pretty friendly guy -which is just as well, given how his relationship with the other players is what drives the show forward.
Despite all this talk of virtual reality and other fancy technology, the series feels like a fantasy anime as the action is focused squarely on the medieval world Sword Art Online's servers are running. The stories will have Kirito and chums clearing out dungeons, smacking kobolds and acquiring rare magical items. At first glance the show doesn't come across as being especially deep, but the number of touching episodes included in this first DVD surprised me. Highlights include Kirito helping a girl find a flower that can revive her pet dragon, a tale were Kirito teams up with a blacksmith who develops a crush on him and a bittersweet yarn were the protagonist abandons his soloing ways to temporarily join a guild of low levelled players.
I'm giving part one of Sword Art Online four stars out of five. This is a strong start to an anime, which eventually develops into being one of the more memorable shows that I watched in 2013. The music is great and so are the visuals that make good use of light CGI effects, which makes sense given that Sword Art Online itself is an elaborate computer simulation. In terms of value for money I wish the series would have been released over two boxed sets instead of the four DVDs we are getting, but I understand that decision has more to do with demands by the show's Japanese licence holder rather than Manga trying to milk the property for all it's worth. If you enjoy fantasy cartoons I can highly recommend Sword Art Online and I am sure anyone who has dabbled with MMO gaming will appreciate it too.
Guilty Crown is a twenty-two episode anime series directed by Tetsuro Araki (whose other works include the blockbusters Death Note and Attack on Titan.) The show is an anime I have wanted to check out for quite some time, after being impressed by an episode screening during my first ever visit to an anime convention. Two years later I am finally able to sample the series in its entirety thanks to the folks at Manga Entertainment. UK fans can watch the first part of the show on this recently released collection that contains eleven episodes across two DVD discs.
The show takes place in the near future (2029 to be precise) when disaster befalls the nation of Japan (atom bombs, nuclear meltdowns, tsunamis... the creators of my favourite cartoons seem to be cursed with the worst luck.) This time round a meteor crashes on the place unleashing a lethal virus that crystalizes the skin of anyone unfortunate enough to contract it (that sounds almost as bad as man-flu.) The situation is ultimately brought under control when an organization known as the GHQ shows up and uses their medical expertise to halt the spread of the infection. Unfortunately for the residents of Japan the GHQ decide to take over the country as well.
A decade later a resistance group named Funeral Parlour is formed to liberate Japan from the GHQ's oppression. The group's trump card is Shu Ouma - a high school student who accidently acquired the Power of Kings after becoming exposed to a mysterious concoction. Shu's ability allows him to plunge his hand into an individual's chest and extract the person's void (which can be anything from a robot busting sword to a ray gun that manipulates gravity.) It's a useful skill to have and much less messy than ripping out a heart, which is the normal consequence of driving your arm into someone's torso.
Whilst watching Guilty Crown I couldn't help but be impressed by the show's spectacular visuals. The high production values are one of the things that caught my eye during the aforementioned convention screening. Unfortunately after watching the opening eleven episodes it has become apparent that the eye candy on show isn't supported by a deep story. Guilty Crown is ultimately "guilty" of robbing most of its ideas from other animes, which have handled the pilfered material better. A teenage protagonist, fan service courtesy of cute girls, fighting robots, relationship drama, conspiracies revolving around the hero's past... gripes its almost as if the creators were working off a checklist of anime clichés when they came up with the series.
The show's biggest weakness would probably have to be its leading man. I didn't warm to Shu as he seems to have graduated from the Shinji Ikari school of whining. Although he isn't as intolerable as Evangelion's lead he is certainly guilty of excessive moping. Most of the time he moans about being a reluctant freedom fighter and don't get me started about how he sulks when teen idol Inori Yuzuha blows off his romantic advances. I would have been happier if the narrative would have focused its attention on the more interesting supporting cast. Funeral Parlour's respected leader Gai Tsutsgami for example is easier to admire given that he is a master tactician who keeps his cool under fire. I also took a shine to Ayase Shinoiya who, in her limited screen time, shows how she overcomes the handicap of being wheelchair bound to become the resistance's top Endlave pilot.
If I had to rate part one of Guilty Crown I would give it three stars out of five. It's entertaining and blessed with sublime visuals, but content wise it has yet to wow me. Given that it borrows so many ideas from better shows, the series struggles to establish its own identity, not knowing what it wants to be. The anime's tone feels disjointed as it uncomfortably transitions from comedy to heart wrenching drama. One minute we are expected to laugh, when Shu's failure to extract a girl's void ends with him groping her breasts, and the next moment we are meant to weep tears when it is revealed that one of Shu's friends has a terminally ill brother.
This first part of Guilty Crown ends on a doozy of a cliffhanger, so fingers crossed that the next instalment takes the story in a more interesting direction. What I've seen thus far has potential, and I can recommend it to sci-fi action anime fans, but as a show handled by the director of Death Note I was expecting something a little cleverer for the twenty quid I paid.
Nisemonogatari is the follow-up series to Bakemonogatari, which was released last year in the UK courtesy of British anime distributor MVM Entertainment. For those of you not familiar with Bakemonogatari (and you really should watch it if you hope to make any semblance of Nise's plot) the series revolves around Koyomi Araragi, a high school student who has a knack for attracting supernatural trouble. Koyomi's circle of friends include a phantom girl who is perpetually lost, an ace basketball player who has a monkey paw for a hand and his class president happens to be a former cat girl. Oh, did I also forget to mention that a loli vampire has taken up residence in his shadow?
This first collection contains the seven-part Karen Bee saga, spread across two DVDs. From the looks of things Nisemonogatari's stories will focus on Koyomi's younger siblings who are better known as The Fire Sisters. Tsukihi Araragi is the kimono wearing sis with an unstable temper that causes her to get "platinum mad" whilst the less feminine Karen pursues martial arts as a hobby (you can see her posing on the box art in a banana coloured tracksuit.) After a couple of episodes, reacquainting viewers with the Bakemonogatari cast, the story gets down to business chronicling the ramifications of Karen confronting a shady con man who has been peddling his wares on her unsuspecting classmates.
Karen, who sees herself as a champion of justice, tries to strong arm the hustler out of town but regrettably things don't work out as planned. The encounter culminates with the Kung-Fu prodigy getting stung by a mystical bee that afflicts its victims with a potentially deadly fever. It's now left to big brother Koyomi to sort out the mess. Can he track down the con man responsible and coerce him to lift Karen's curse before it's too late? The way things pan out is rather interesting, particularly as it is revealed that the evil doer in question (Deishu Kaiki) has some history with Koyomi's current girlfriend. Trying to outsmart a swindler is never an easy task and Koyomi may have bitten more than he can chew, given that Kaiki is no slouch when it comes to paranormal matters.
My rating for Nisemonogatari is four stars out of five. As was the case with its predecessor, the show's highlight is not horror or action (as you may expect from a series that dabbles with the occult) but rather its witty banter. By the time an episode's end credits roll it will dawn on the viewer that they just spent the last twenty minutes watching two people chat, but amazingly the exchange flew by without ever getting dull. The fast paced dialogue, that will test anyone's subtitle reading skills, is packed with gags that I appreciated (even if some of the puns get lost in translation.) The director also deserves special praise for his visual flair, which keeps the onscreen imagery lively, even when the scene is nothing more than two people yammering in a room.
Out of the two shows I liked Bakemonogatari a little more as its script was a bit punchier. I found the shorter story arcs more entertaining than the prolonged seven-parter we get here. Bakemonogatari also has the benefit of a stronger cast. The girls we were introduced to in the first series are much more interesting than either of Koyomi's sisters. On the plus side Nisemonogatari reveals that Koyomi's vampiric partner Shinobu isn't mute and can in fact be mischievously playful when she speaks. Meanwhile those of you seeking fan service will no doubt revel in how Nise's artists are guilty of fetishizing the girls on show. One sequence in particular has a minor challenging Koyomi to a game of twister (which I am sure is responsible for the title's eighteen age rating.) The combination of eye candy and clever writing on offer should ensure that Bakemonogatri fans will think this series is the Karen Bee's knees.
Inu X Boku is a thirteen episode anime series based on the manga comics penned by illustrator Cocoa Fujiwara (I'd rather have a bowl of cocoa pops.) Despite foregoing high school, to pursue a career as a manga artist, Cocoa's series revolves around students who happen to be part human and part Yokai (monsters from Japanese folklore.) Said high schoolers are based at Maison de Ayakashi, a lavish dormitory that comes complete with secret service agents who are tasked with protecting the complex's residents from harm. The show's main character is Ririchiyo Shirakiin, a wealthy teenager who has recently moved into the Ayakashi building.
Despite having a pampered upbringing, Ririchiyo isn't much of a people person, as her parents neglected her in favour of her sister when she was growing up. The lack of affection has resulted in Ririchiyo developing a rather unfriendly personality. Whenever someone tries to interact with her she cannot help but counter their advances with sarcastic rhetoric, which has left her alienated and lonely. All that changes however when Soshi Miketsukami is assigned to be her bodyguard. No matter how rude she is to her protector, Soshi takes the abuse with a smile and comes back for more.
As you may suspect, all this leads to romance blossoming between the pair. Miketsukami is clearly smitten with Ririchiyo, although she isn't as forthcoming in reciprocating his feelings. Many of the early episodes have Miketsukami smothering his love with embarrassing compliments much to Ririchiyo's annoyance. Although, in public, she lambasts her servant for his amorous displays, in private she cannot help but feel touched by all the attention he is bestowing upon her. The question is can Ririchiyo summon up the courage to pursue a relationship with Miketsukami or will she be unable to enact on her true feelings?
When I finished watching the first two episodes of Inu X Boku I wasn't sure if I would have the fortitude to see the series to its fruition. I detested the show's opening, mainly because the linchpin of the story is the romance between the leads, which I didn't care for. As far as courtships go it feels as forced as something you would find within the pages of a Twilight novel. I found the cycle of Ririchiyo spurning Miketsukami's kindness and then scolding herself for being rude a real bore. On the flip side Miketsukami's stalker like infatuation with Ririchiyo is downright unhealthy. The age difference between the two is also a tad creepy. Ririchiyo is in her mid-teens, and looks considerably younger, whilst Miketsukami is well into his twenties. It's not Gary Glitter like outrageous, but I still felt uncomfortable watching the whole thing play out.
Ever the glutton for punishment, I persisted with my viewing of the series (partly because I had spent good money on the DVDs) and thankfully I was rewarded for my tenacity. Although the romance aspect of the show never won me over I managed to find some entertainment courtesy of the funny supporting cast. The leads are grating, but at least I managed to chuckle at the antics of the busty lesbian Nobara, who is lumbered with protecting a womanizer. Another funny character is Watanuki who tries to act like a delinquent, only to have his badass persona foiled by random bouts of transforming into an adorable racoon. The funniest character would however have to be Ririchiyo's masked fiancée Kagero Shokiin. He's a sadomasochist who brands everyone he meets a human toilet. Given his raunchy outbursts I am surprised that the series only carries an age rating of twelve. Perhaps the censors fell asleep during the first two episodes prior to him making an appearance?
I struggled on deciding what to rate Inu X Boku. The weak opening made me fear that I had purchased a one star show, so I was relieved when the subsequent comedic episodes managed to salvage the series. The love story wasn't my cup of tea, but at least it succeeded in subjugating my expectations. For a while it looked like it would culminate in a cliché clash between the heroine's true love and her mean fiancée, but right at the end it manages to pull off a neat twist. Despite my bashing of the story I was considering awarding Inu X Boku a three out of five, but my final rating sadly has to be two stars. I am knocking off a star due to a number of scenes being affected by image pixilation. It's the first time I have experienced that on my hardware and given that it occurs on both discs I suspect it has something to do with a mishap during the DVD authoring process. It's a shame that my overall opinion of the series was soured by a technical issue that should have been picked up by quality control.
Disgaea D2: A Brighter Darkness is the fifth instalment of the Disgaea saga, which has been pleasing strategy RPG fans since its inception back in 2003. D2 has the honour of being a direct sequel to the original Disgaea, which is a novelty in the series given how new Disgaea games tend to be set in their own universe complete with a host of new characters. That's fine with me as, in my opinion, the first Disgaea had the best cast. As a fan of the franchise it is great to spend more time with immature overlord Laharl, Flonne the love obsessed fallen angel and Etna the tormentor of Prinnies (exploding penguins who are forced to perform slave labour as punishment for sins committed in a previous life.)
Story wise D2 isn't anywhere near as grand as its predecessor, which revolved around the reawakened Laharl exerting his dominance over the Netherworld whilst at the same time fending off a human invasion. D2 instead prefers to plonk its cast in goofy situations and let them resolve the matter over the course of a strategically violent chapter. Some of the tribulations Laharl will have to contend with include facing off against a diminutive angel who is claiming to be his long lost sister, quelling a rebellion led by his father's former vassals, preventing the Netherworld from being overrun with cute flowers and erm getting transformed into a woman. Those seeking a more serious narrative will have to wait until the finale, which provides some backstory for Etna.
When it comes to gameplay Disgaea's motto is "if it ain't broke don't fix it." All the Disgaea games play pretty much the same, with future iterations merely refining the experience with minor tweaks such as the addition of high res graphics, which give the 2D anime sprites some extra pop. Levels are set on an isometric map were the goal is to eradicate all of the enemy's forces. Combat is a turned based affair were players summon their characters from a base panel and proceed to order them where to move and what actions to perform. Attacks range from a plethora of weapon skills, magical spells and some really over the top special moves (such as Flonne's ability to transform into a Godzilla monster that wrecks everything on screen, including marionette jet fighters.)
As is the case with most role-playing games, difficulty spikes can be overcome by repeating earlier chapters to beef up your characters. The Disgaea games in fact encourage grinding. Characters can attain astronomical levels via the killing of enemies, special attacks grow stronger every time they are used and gear can be upgraded by completing a series of randomly generated levels at the Item World. That's not to say that you can brute force your way past the main campaign just by power levelling. Certain stages contain geo-panels that confer status ailments (life sapping zones, inaccessible magic walls etc) that demand a tactical, almost puzzle solving, approach to complete.
Two new features introduced to D2, which are worth mentioning, include monster riding and the cheat shop. As with past titles killing enemies earns you mana that can be spent on recruiting new underlings. Recruitable characters come in three flavours - monsters, humans and strawberry (okay I made that last one up.) Humanoid characters tend to be superior to their monster counterparts, so to make monsters more relevant it is now possible for humans to mount them (that sounds rather kinky given that the monster classes include Cat Girls and Succubi.) The benefit of this is that the monster mount absorbs damage in place of its human rider. Of the two new features the cheat shop is however my favourite. It allows players to tweak certain settings (for example you can lower the amount of mana you earn in exchange for gaining more experience for killing foes.) This is great as it really speeds up farming for money or levelling up new characters.
My rating for Disgaea D2 has to be a resounding five stars out of five. To be honest I would give full marks to most of the games in the series, as they are the epitome of what a strategy RPG should be. Overall I thought D2 was superior to Disgaea 4 as it is blessed with better-designed levels and far funnier humour (D4's gags were too reliant on repetitive catchphrases for my liking.) The cheat shop proves to be a marvellous idea given how it steam lines the levelling process, making it much less of a chore. If you enjoy tactical games and wacky anime themed comedy I can highly recommend Disgaea D2. Who would have thought that a title featuring a gender bending overlord and a giant lizard morphing angel could be so much fun?
Another is a twelve episode anime series based on a novel penned by Japanese author Yukito Ayatsuji. The series has been available to buy in the UK since November 2013 via a two disc DVD set courtesy of anime distributor MVM. British animation fans, with a thing for horror and mystery, can purchase the collection from Amazon for around twenty quid. Alternatively, if you are the patient type, you can wait to see if it appears on MVM's deal of the week, were a random title in their catalogue is temporarily put on sale for a mere tenner.
The series stars transfer student Kouichi Sakakibara who is forced to move from Tokyo to his grandparent's home in Yomiyama after his pop gets a job abroad in India. Unfortunately for the show's protagonist, after enrolling at Yomi High School, he gets placed in Class 3 that happens to be afflicted with a deadly curse. Twenty-six years ago one of Class 3's students passed away and to honour their memory his classmates decided to pretend that said student was still alive, even leaving his desk and chair reserved. The whole situation is pretty bizarre, if you ask me, but what is really creepy is that when the class' end of year graduation photo was taken the deceased student can clearly be seen posing in the background.
Why this photographic evidence that the afterlife exists doesn't make news headlines across the globe is beyond me, but that's not important. Ever since that day future students of Class 3, and their immediate family, have been known to suffer from an unusually high mortality rate. Given that this is public knowledge I'm not sure why anyone dares attend that particular school. Perhaps the institution is renowned for having a stellar cafeteria no one can resist. I hear the meatloaf they serve at lunchtime is to die for (no pun intended.)
Anyway, during his first day at school Kouichi is pleased to learn that Mei Misaki is in his class. Kouichi first met the eye patch-wearing girl during his stay at hospital where he was on the mend after suffering a collapsed lung (perhaps she took his breath away as he has a fetish for pale ladies who clutch creepy dolls.) What's strange however is that no one else in his class can see Mei, who sits at a decrepit desk at the back of the classroom, or even acknowledges her existence. What is going on? Do we have a case of a phantom turning up to school to learn calculus? Come to think of it Kouichi's inaugural conversation with Mei did occur outside the hospital morgue. Right on cue one of Class 3's students dies in a most horrific manner. As it turns out she will be the first of many. Is this all just a twisted coincidence or has the fabled curse resurfaced?
Commenting on Another is a difficult task as it is one of those shows you cannot describe without giving away major spoilers. With that in mind I'll just say I enjoyed it and am giving it a rating of four stars. The art style and chilling kills remind me a little of Elfen Lied, although the two shows are nothing alike in terms of tone. Elfen Lied shocked audiences visually with gore and mentally with disturbing subject matter. Another is much more slow paced and dialogue heavy. At its core it is a mystery tale although the case the cast are trying to decipher is how to lift a supernatural curse as opposed to who committed a crime.
Overall I enjoyed seeing how the relationship between Kouichi and Mei grew from episode to episode. Sadly a lot of the supporting cast aren't as well fleshed out, partially as many of them are doomed to perish before being given ample time to develop. My only real complaint with the series is that in order for the whole thing to work the viewer is expected to make a few leaps in logic. Supernatural forces conveniently erase evidence that would unravel the mystery and inexplicably some characters choose to keep vital information to themselves, when in the interest of their survival you would expect them to be more forthright with their classmates. Those quibbles didn't bug me too much though and I suspect if I give the show "another" go I'll enjoy it even more as I'll pick up on subtle hints I missed during the first viewing.
Appleseed XIII is a thirteen-episode CGI anime series that takes place in the distant future. Based on a manga comic book, the show is set in the City of Olympus which is populated by a diverse group of regular humans, cyborgs and genetically engineered beings called Bioroids. The show's leading characters are Deunan and Briareos, two agents of the elite ESWAT group who are tasked with protecting Olympus from extremist groups, such as the Human Liberation Front, who are against pure humans mingling with artificially created life forms. Maybe they'd change their views if they watched some episodes of Battlestar Galactica and realised how sexy robots can be?
This isn't the first time Masamune Shirow's manga has been transferred from the page to screen. The eighties saw the release of an Appleseed cartoon OVA whilst my DVD collection contains two CG animated movies that came out in 2004 and 2007. Like in those adaptations, a good chunk of the story revolves around Deunan's relationship with Briareos, which has been put to the test ever since Briareos was injured in the line of duty. The wounds he suffered were so grave that Briareos' body was turned from that of a dashing young man to a bulky mechanical tank complete with eight eyes and antennas... man that's got to put a dampener on your sex life.
For the most part this sounds like what you would normally find in an Appleseed adaptation, but there are some differences. The most notable one would have to be the change in Deunan's personality. Although the show's heroine remains a skilled ESWAT operative her disposition is far more temperamental than I recall from the 2000 movies. Maybe the story takes place during that time of the month? Either way the character seems to have regressed to an emotional teenager, which may not go down well with fans of the franchise. I don't know how poor Briareos puts up with her childish outbursts... oh yeah he got turned into Robocop. Becoming a machine does somewhat reduce a person's pool of potential girlfriends (please ladies, no comments about how certain devices are more satisfying than a regular man.)
When commenting on Appleseed XIII the elephant in the room is definitely the visuals, which frankly are awful. Production IG's decision to make the show via computer generated animation ends up being a poor choice as I suspect they either didn't have the time or budget to pull it off. It's a shame as I was very impressed by the style of the 2000 CG movies, which looked like three-dimensional cartoons. If 2007's Appleseed Ex Machina is Kate Upton then Appleseed XIII is my ex... the morning after a binge drinking session. The ghastly artwork is reminiscent of a PS2 game cut scene or an early CG kids show like Beast Wars. Mechanical models such as cars and robots are passable, but the marionette like humans are not. The designs are terrible, they fail to convey emotion and their movements are often stiff.
Thankfully the Appleseed XIII stories are better than the show's aesthetics. Granted they aren't anything spectacular, as far as sci-fi shows go, but I was entertained whilst watching them. When the series kicks off it looks like each episode deals with an unrelated ESWAT case, but once the show's villain is unmasked it is all revealed to be part of a grander master plan. The main storyline runs for twelve episodes, which each are loosely based on the Labours of Hercules. The show's creators are not subtle about where they got their inspiration from, frequently cutting to statue shots of the Greek hero (which gets annoying after a time.) Episode thirteen is a standalone tale, which is ultimately skip-able as it concludes with a goofy twist ending that soils the exciting action that preceded it.
I'm giving Appleseed XIII a low three stars, although if you are the type of viewer that cannot overcome the hurdle of poor artwork you may want to reduce that rating from three to two stars. The Deunan personality change won't go down well with some, but at least it resulted in lively squabbles, which are more dramatic than two mature adults discussing relationship issues. Overall the series fails to live up to the Appleseed legacy and isn't strong enough for me to enthusiastically recommend purchasing. It is however worth a rental for any science fiction fans seeking a less brainy Ghost in the Shell to pass the time.
Project X Zone is a 3DS strategy RPG, featuring a host of famous gaming characters. The game stars Kogoro Tenzai (a ninja detective) and his partner in crime Mii Kouryuuji (a gun toting high school monk) who are embroiled in a grand adventure that will see them travel across numerous worlds that gamers should recognise. PxZ's main selling point, without a doubt, is its huge roster of playable characters that include notable names from Sega, Capcom and Namco. As the story progresses players will be able to assemble a small army made up of heroes from the Resident Evil, Tekken and Virtua Fighter series to name just a few.
As you would expect from a strategy RPG, player movement involves commanding tiny chibi versions of your fighters across isometric grid based maps. What distinguishes Project X Zone from something like Final Fantasy Tactics is the way in which combat is handled. When two units clash the action switches to a 2D view akin to what you would find in a 1v1 brawler, such as Street Fighter. In this mode players are able to execute a limited number of attacks by pressing the A button in unison with a direction on the circle pad. Many of the strikes you dish out will send opponents flying up into the air with the trick to scoring major damage comprising of juggling a hapless victim by punching them as they descend back down to earth.
The game pretty much revolves around executing combos. Chaining a series of uninterrupted attacks gradually increases your cross meter that powers your special abilities in addition to defensive manoeuvres such as counter-attacks or guarding, which negates incoming damage. Aside from timing your attacks, how much damage you dish out is dependent on your party composition. Most of the characters you recruit come in teams of two that can be paired off with a soloer who can be summoned mid-combat to temporarily freeze enemies in place. All this means that you'll need to experiment a bit to see what combination of characters work best at stringing attacks together.
As is the case with most role-playing games, defeating enemies earns you experience points. Once enough experience is accumulated your characters level up, which unlocks new moves for them to perform. Levelling up also increases a character's attributes slightly, but the benefit to their stats from growing in this manner is negligible at best. Any boosts your characters receive are negated by the fact that the enemy forces you face get tougher with each passing level. That's a shame as in RPGs I like seeing my teams develop from a squad of weaklings to a team of badasses. Alas I never got that sense of achievement when playing Project X Zone.
Much as it pains me to say it, I can only give Project X Zone two stars out of five. I really wanted to love this game, as it features some of my favourite video game characters of all time, but in the end things got too tedious for me to stomach. The combat system seems fun at first, but once you suss out the most efficient combos you'll pretty much be performing the same moves over and over, which gets monotonous. This wouldn't be too bad if the levels were short and sweet, but inexplicably the creators decided to drag out the latter stages by forcing you to fight waves of enemy reinforcements. Two hour long conflicts is way too long, especially when the game is severely lacking in the tactical department. Forget organising battle formations, all you are expected to do to win is dish out combos.
Perhaps I would be more forgiving if the story was decent, but it isn't. The plot is just a thinly veiled excuse to have Kogoro and Mii travel to alternate dimensions so they can team up with the likes of Ryu, Megaman and Dynamite Cop (aka Bruce Willis.) Given that the cast of characters is huge everyone is relegated to spouting one inconsequential line before passing the dialogue baton to someone else. After a while I started to skip the story segments as they were littered with puerile gags that I didn't care for. Although I am normally tolerant towards fan service, even I have to say that the featured female characters were overly sexualized. Bouncing boobs are the order of the day and even cartoony characters like Tron Bonne are not spared from having a mini-skirt that exposes her posterior. Don't get suckered in by the all-star cast on the box art. Save your money and give PxZ a wide berth.
Daphne in the Brilliant Blue is a twenty-six episode anime series, set sometime in the future, where global warming has submerged most of the planet forcing humans to live on floating cities. The show's protagonist is fifteen-year-old Maia Mizuki who is one of the unluckiest animated girls you'll ever find. After finishing school Maia had set her sights on working for the prestigious Ocean Agency, but her dreams are dashed when she flunks the agency's entrance exam. Poor Maia, I can so relate to you. I once dreamed of becoming a mad scientist, but I eventually had to settle for being just plain mad after flunking my chemistry A-Levels.
Maia's bad luck doesn't end there however. After the death of her grandfather she is made homeless, forcing her to venture into the seedier part of town in a desperate attempt to seek employment. Once there she gets assaulted by muggers, thereby completing a hat trick of unfortunate events. Thankfully for her, the scantily clad members of the Nereids group rescue her from the hoodlums. Her saviours sympathise with Maia's predicament and offer her a spot on the team, which she duly accepts given that she is in no position to decline a source of income. The question is how will the meek teen adapt to the life of a gun for hire whose job description includes tackling dangerous criminals?
If I was in Maia's shoes I'm not sure I would have accepted the job. A risky occupation is fair enough, but I have to draw the line at the Nerieds dress code that comprises of bikinis that leave nothing to the imagination. The justification for the skimpy garments is that in Daphne's aquatic world the team are often called to leap into the ocean during a mission. Fair enough, but wouldn't a more modest dry suit satisfy the business' needs just as well? Ah who cares. This is an anime show. Fan service comes with the territory.
As the series progresses we are gradually introduced to Maia's Nereid co-workers. First up is the team's leader Rena who is a red headed femme fatale. Next up is the group's tech whizz Shizuka whose defining character traits include an insatiable appetite along with the inability to hit anything with a handgun. If Rena and Shizuka are the brains of the outfit then Gloria and Yu are the muscle. Gloria is a loud-mouthed moneygrubber who earns her spot on the team thanks to her sharpshooting skills. Yu on the other hand is the silent and serious type who is without rival in melee combat.
My rating for Daphne in the Brilliant Blue would have to be four stars out of five. It's a show that won't win any awards for deep storyline or fleshed out characters, but I had a lot of fun watching it. For the most part what you get are one off action packed episodes dealing with the Nereids group battling against lawbreakers. Throughout the series there are however hints of a conspiracy revolving around Maia's past that ultimately gets resolved in the finale. Even if the series isn't perfect it is easy to overlook its flaws as it doesn't take itself too seriously and delivers on rib tickling laughs. In a way it harkens back to the nineties when a lot of the animes I watched consisted of predominately female teams kicking arse. I would best describe it as a tamer Burn Up Excess. Recommended for action fans and anyone who appreciates swimwear made of dental floss.
Persona 3 Portable is a handheld remake of Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3, which was originally released in Europe, for the PlayStation 2, back in February 2008. The game sees players take control of a high school student who is able to summon powerful Personas by placing a gun shaped evoker to their temple and pulling the trigger (kids please don't try this at home.) When the story begins the protagonist transfers over to a dorm sponsored by the Specialized Extracurricular Execution Squad who are made up of fellow Persona summoners. As a member of SEES your goal is to lead a band of brave teenagers (along with a super intelligent canine and a smexy android lass) in battle against the sinister shadow entities that prey on humans during the post midnight Dark Hour.
Even though P3P is on a handheld device the game has not been watered down, boasting plenty of additional features that were not present in the PS2 original. The first of these extras is the choice to play through the campaign as either a boy or girl. It's a great addition as it gives cross-dressers the opportunity to don a virtual skirt, as well as allowing fans of the original to experience the game through a different perspective (and who wouldn't given that the PS2's male hero is an unlikable emo.) What gender you ultimately select is not a decision that should be taken lightly as it will affect what relationships you can form over the course of the story, which is a big deal as a huge part of the Persona games involves building social links that boost the power of the Personas you employ in battle.
Speaking of battle, another significant tweak that fans should appreciate is that Persona 3 Portable allows players to control all four active party members. For the most part I stuck to the default option, of controlling the main character and allowing the A.I to handle my partners, but there are a few tough boss fights were I appreciated having the option of directly telling my companions what to do (a strategic feature that was sadly absent in the PS2 iteration.) Other new goodies of note include extra tunes for the already excellent soundtrack (I love the song titled Danger Zone that plays during the female's boss fights) along with extra story segments (including a cameo featuring someone from the Persona 4 cast.)
Sadly there's only so much you can squeeze into a PSP title with over a hundred hours worth of gameplay content. The most notable sacrifice is the loss of the animated story sequences, which are now presented using in game graphics. The game over world has also been transformed into a series of visual novel style still pictures were you click on the destination you want to travel to. This may annoy fans of the original, although I feel it is a blessing in disguise. Using a pointer to fast travel to a location saves time and cuts down on needless walking, which as a chubby person I approve of given that I loathe using my legs.
Thankfully the core gameplay remains untouched. For the most part you simulate the life of a high school student, although your routine gets interrupted every full moon when you are expected to take down the powerful shadow creatures that manifest at the end of each lunar cycle. You'll have to manage your time wisely in anticipation of those encounters by attending a part-time job to make money, playing at the arcade to boost the stat of your personas and explore the randomly generated floors of the Tartarus Tower, which is the source of the evil shadows. With so much stuff to do you'll have to think up a good excuse to convince your professors why you didn't complete their assignments on time... do you think they will buy that a demonic shade ate your homework?
Persona 3 Portable gets full marks from me, as it is virtually flawless. Playing through the story is a real treat thanks to the likable characters whilst the turn based combat never gets old as it manages to be both fast paced and strategic. Whether you enjoy it more than its successor Persona 4 will ultimately come down to personal taste. Mechanically speaking both games are equally competent. Although I slightly favour P4, due to its cast, I am sure many other players would give P3 the nod due to its darker narrative. Either way Persona 3 Portable is a must have if you own a PSP or Vita. If you can't appreciate a masterpiece like this there's no hope for you, so do us all a favour and try to summon a Persona with a regular handgun.