Category Archives: Anime

Tales of Zestiria the X (Anime)

Title: Tales of Zestira the X
Episodes: 13-25

With the war on hold—for now—Sorey turns his attention to the larger issue: the Lord of Calamity. But issues from Roses’s past and Alisha’s present threaten to derail them. The second season picks up right where the first one leaves off, continuing the Shepherd’s journey.

I loved Tales of Zesteria the game, so the anime has been alternately really good and really frustrating. The frustrating part is that, by and large, Sorey has been mostly sidelined in what’s technically supposed to be his story. I’ve heard this referred to as the Rose and Alisha show, and that’s not far off. The second major criticism I have for the show is that its attempts to blend Berseria continue to feel out of place, and I think the story would’ve been stronger to ignore the Berseria bits, or just refer to them much more briefly.

That said, the anime also continues to expand on some things the game either explained poorly or not at all, and it changes some of the minor things that were rather frustrating about the game. Maltran’s whole subplot is gone, which works better—they either needed more time to expand the whole mess, or it needed to go, and the anime chose to cut it (which I like more, since I liked Maltran, and the game threw her under the bus). Similarly, Eizen’s fate is much happier in the anime. Dezel and Rose’s backstory gets more attention, and is told in a much more straightforward way (although Dezel still can’t avoid how it turned out). Alisha’s present struggles with her father and the kingdom also get more attention.

I really liked the way the anime adjusted the final boss battle (no more bullet mechanics!) to be a better transformation, and actually wish they could patch that back into the game. (Besides, Heldalf’s multi-phase fight really sucks. I had SUCH a bad time the first playthrough because I had mediocre equipment. Second playthrough, knowing what was coming and able to gear up better, was a lot better.)  The downside here is that Heldalf himself is really a nonthreatening villain in the anime. In the game, he toys with Sorey, whereas the anime just has him as the focal point of malevolence and therefore only dangerous because he exists and not so much for doing bad stuff.

I also really liked the epilogue, which is about half the last episode, and expands on a few things the game left really vague (I really like Mikleo’s future design . . . and the fact that he’s trolling random kids who are arguing about seraphs being awesome).

This is still probably best for people who have played Zesteria, and possibly Berseria, who can appreciate the various things the anime did to adjust the story. But it wouldn’t be a bad introduction to those curious about the game, either, since unlike the Tales of the Abyss anime this doesn’t feel nearly so much like a videogame.

Overall I still enjoyed this second half. The anime is at times a very different thing from the game that inspired it, so even if you disliked much of the game, this could still be worth a shot. If you’re going to get into the show, start at the beginning, so the whole journey makes a lot more sense. I rate this Recommended.

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My Hero Academia (anime)

Title: My Hero Academia

Episodes: 14-38

Izuku Midoriya has inherited the superpowers of the mightiest hero of all—but can he live up to those lofty expectations during the annual UA Sports Festival? Then, when the festival is barely over, the students get some on-the-job training from pro heros. Then again, some internships turn out to be a little more than anyone bargained for. Finally, with the end of the semester comes exams! And UA’s exams consist of both a written and a practical.

This season covers several major arcs, as detailed above. I like the tail end of the Sports Festival arc, but I’m not as keen on the beginning. Doubly so when the anime tries to cover the fact that these chapters don’t QUITE make a full episode and slap in 4 minutes of recap at the front of the first several episodes. However, once the arc gets in full swing, the physical challenges of the actual event start to mingle with the more interesting emotional and psychological challenges various characters face.

The festival also highlights several of the characters around Izuku, most notably Todoroki and Bakugou. Todoroki and Izuku make an interesting contrast: the scions of the first and second ranked heros, both expected to carry on and surpass their forebearers, but urged onward for opposite reasons. Endeavor is consumed with defeating All Might and becoming the number one hero. And if he can’t do it, his son will. All Might may not even notice that rivalry—but as a teacher, he knows he’s falling short.

The internship arc introduces a villain who challenges the “hero society” and has his own lethal way of dealing with what he considers fake heros. And the exam arc is another place where some of the non-core cast members finally get a chance to step up.

Manga readers will appreciate how the anime does flesh out several short or offhand mentions into actual fights (or in Tsuyu’s case, almost a whole episode). The pacing does suffer most at the beginning, when the recaps feel like they take up a huge part of the episode, but as the series rolls on, it settles into a more comfortable groove.

Overall, if you liked the first season, there’s plenty more to like here. The story is beginning to show bits of the world beyond the school, the world these young heros will one day inherit, and it’s not all it’s cracked up to be (just look at Bakugou’s internship). I rate this show Recommended.

Sword of the Stranger (Movie)

Title: Sword of the Stranger

Content warning: There’s a ton of blood, but not really any gore. Also a few brief scenes of someone under torture.

Kotaro is a young boy on the run. With only his faithful canine companion, Tobimaru, he struggles to avoid the soldiers after him. Then a chance encounter with a nameless samurai offers him hope of returning to a place of safety.

I watched this streaming, and liked it so much I immediately ordered a copy. This isn’t a particularly deep movie, but it’s a lot of fun. Kotaro is stubborn and a bit high and mighty, but he’s also frightened of the soldiers and loves his dog very deeply. Tobimaru alternates between being cute and rising up to defend his master however the situation requires (the scene of him riding in a sling was just adorable). And the nameless man is an excellent swordsman who struggles with the memories of the war he left behind. The journey changes all of them.

On the enemy side, we have the native Japanese who are suspicious (but supportive, for now) of a group of Chinese who are building some grand project. Of particular note is a blond-haired, blue-eyed man the Chinese brought with them, who hungers to fight a worthy opponent. (The comments about him being a barbarian and a demon are perhaps not intended to be jokes, but I found them very funny. No assumption of blond-haired, blue-eyed innocence here.)

Also the hostage situation is one of my favorite parts of the film.  I love when these kinds of things go sideways since so many stories play it straight.

Because the Funimation stream doesn’t offer the Japanese, I can only comment on the English dub, which was very good. Aside from one secondary character whose introductory lines were a weird monotone, everyone had top-notch voice acting. I was especially impressed with Kotaro and the nameless samurai. Kids in anime can sometimes sound a bit weird, but Aiden Drummond really nailed Kotaro. And Michael Adamthwaite did a great job breathing life into No-Name. I also really liked that the dub kept the Chinese portions intact (Funimation’s stream, at least, shows subtitles on these parts). Since the Japanese don’t understand what the Chinese are muttering to themselves, it’s nice to have the foreign language to reinforce that.

Overall this is perhaps a bit too eager to throw around lots of blood splatters, but is otherwise a movie I plan to show my friends. I rate this Recommended.

Granblue Fantasy (Anime)

Title: Granblue Fantasy

Episodes: 1-13

Gran longs to travel the skies, following the path of his father, an adventurer who found a legendary island—or so claims his letter. The man himself never returned. Enter Lyria, a mysterious girl who falls from the sky escaping the Empire. In helping her, Gran ties their fates together, and the two of them set off on the adventure Gran has always wanted.

This isn’t going to be for everyone, but anyone who likes older JPRGs about amnesiac heroines and kind heroes is going to feel right at home. Personally, I loved it. The style is very reminiscent of a game, but it doesn’t often get bogged down in callbacks to its game. For example, some extra characters show up for the final battle in episode 12 that are almost certainly game characters, but there’s no need to know about them to appreciate a few hard-hitting nameless characters who want to spice up the final battle.

The cast is good, too. Katalina is a lieutenant in the Empire who helped Lyria escape. She’s a strong and capable woman, but doesn’t begrudge her need of others to help her with the impossible task of protecting Lyria from the rest of the Empire. I liked Rackam too. He’s a more technical guy who likes airships, but isn’t all that interested in anything more complicated than an engine problem until the Empire drags him into the whole mess. The only one I didn’t care for as much was Io, but that was more because I found her voice annoying in Japanese.

The story in these first twelve episodes doesn’t wrap much up. It’s more a gather-the-crew series of missions that drops a bit of backstory or worldbuilding here or there. I do hope the series continues (I believe a second season is likely, although I don’t see an official announcement yet.) Episode 13 is completely skippable, although possibly fun if you wanted to see a beach episode featuring the female player character Djeeta instead of Gran (it’s mostly an excuse to get all the female characters in swimsuits).

All in all, I think the first episode or two should be a good indication of whether or not you’d like the series. I enjoyed it and am hoping there will be more episodes in the future, long enough to get to the island and whatever final boss will reveal itself. I rate this show Recommended.

Overlord (Anime)

Title: Overlord

Episodes: 1-13

Momonga has been a long-time player of the DMMO-RPG Yggdrasil. But the servers are shutting down, his guild has more or less dissolved, and he’s left to wait for the end alone. But the shutdown doesn’t work the way he expected: he’s now living in his undead avatar, with the NPCs turned sentient, and an actual world that only somewhat works like the game he used to know. In Yggdrasil, Momonga had max level, great items, and a solid team at his back. Can he continue as the Overlord of his guild in this new world?

I’m not a big fan of the “trapped in a game” scenarios (it’s just a halfhearted attempt at “transported to another world” to my mind), but this is the second show I’ve gotten into solely because I liked the opening song. “Clattanoia” is a lot of fun. And I was surprised that the story was actually a lot more to my interests than I had expected. Momonga isn’t some upstart with something to prove, or a man desperate to return to his former life. If anything, he just wants his old guildmates to join him, and he works hard to protect the place, NPCs, and memories they left with him. It’s really fitting that he’s an undead, as I think that’s another symbol that he can’t move on (it’s also hysterical that he completely breaks the convention of being handsome, and has to hide his real face in public lest people flee in terror).

Part of the fun is the intersection between the gaming world and the “real” world. There’s a good dose of gaming humor thrown in, like a guild member named Touch Me (who has a much better reputation than his name suggests), the names and types of some of the spells cast, or how HP and MP apparently are still a thing, at least for the formerly-Yggdrasil entities, and so on. And Momonga isn’t coming at this as a newbie, either—as the title implies, he’s starting from the top. It’s kind of a fantasy-flavored One Punch Man, although Momonga actually does have one opponent that can put up a decent fight. And if other players came along, which seems very likely given the end, then he’s likely going to be dealing with them at some point in the future.

I laughed pretty hard at most of his earliest encounters with outside people because he’s repeatedly toning himself down and still overwhelming everyone (this is almost funnier on a re-watch, when terms like fifth-tier magic have enough context to be meaningful . . . Momonga complains people die to “only” a fifth-tier spell when the maximum level humans can cast is third-tier). Or Momonga being embarrassed by things that others find amazing, like the Wise King of the Forest. And the scene where we finally get to meet the NPC Momonga himself created . . . (I do wonder what kind of powers it has, since most of the NPCs seem to be full of their own flavors of nasty surprises…. but that seems to have been a guild trend).

Yet Momonga’s tremendous power is balanced by his (completely reasonable) caution. I think the last fight actually did a great job of demonstrating why: even though he’s strong, he’s still got the class limitations he would’ve had in the game, but he no longer has others of different classes but similar level to watch his back. So running into another player or even just a high-level item in the hands of someone hostile could put him in danger (I do wonder what will happen when his cash shop items run out, since there’s no way he’s going to be able to restock some of the tricks he needed to use pretty liberally to win that encounter).

The art is pretty good but not amazing, and the CG is pretty noticeable. I didn’t think it detracted much from the show, though, as most of the CG is reserved for the undead, so it wasn’t as distracting as it would have been on characters. I’m also not fond of some of the shenanigans that went on with Albedo (Momonga changes her programming in the last minutes of the game so she’s deeply in love with him), but Momonga taking on more and more of his undead persona quickly kills the lust on his side, so after the first episode, he doesn’t do much to encourage her. It’s also fascinating to watch the slow shift in his personality—from someone who thinks mostly like a human, to someone who can casually kill people just for being in the way (and then take their corpses back to practice necromancy upon).

Overall I had a lot more fun with this than I expected. I watched both the sub and the dub and both are solid performances. I honestly don’t even have a favorite—Momonga’s voice in particular is great in both (he’s got a trick where his “official” voice is a lot deeper than his “normal” thoughts). I do hope a second season shows up soon as there is a lot that could be done yet with the characters and the world. I rate this show Recommended.

Twelve Kingdoms (Anime)

Title: Twelve Kingdoms

Episodes: 1-45
Rewatch

Youko has a quiet, ordinary life–except for her monster-filled nightmares. But when a strange man shows up at her school and whisks her and two of her friends to another world, her life changes forever. She didn’t want this. She’s not ready for this. Going home is not an option. If she’s going to survive, she’ll have to confront murderous monsters and a jealous king, and in the process discover her destiny . . .

It’s hard to put into words everything about this that makes it my favorite series. The first time I saw it was like the first time I read Dark Lord of Derkholm by Diana Wynne Jones—the kind of story that just makes your soul resonate. This had everything I liked in stories: fantastic creatures (bonus points for being intelligent and able to talk!), magic, swords, shapeshifters, getting taken to another world . . . and also the core of deep character building, where Youko is forced to confront herself and rise above, to become a queen in actuality and not just role. Also a huge plus for me personally was the lack of romance. With the exception of Youko’s initial crush on Asano (which he doesn’t return), the story ignores romance in favor of action and intrigue.

Youko wasn’t my favorite character initially: that was always Sugimoto, the fantasy lover, whose utter delight at finding herself in a world like her books contrasts sharply with Youko’s tendency to cry over every setback. But Youko grows up, facing herself as well as her circumstances, and Sugimoto is again her dark mirror as she sinks ever deeper into jealousy and frustration. And the story doesn’t give Youko many breaks. I was shocked at the encounter with Taki the first time I saw this, and Taki is merely one of many who may help or hinder in ways not initially obvious.

But when Youko does confront herself, and later the embedded corruption in her country, she doesn’t do it halfway. That meek little people-pleaser hid a backbone of steel. She’s constantly confronted with her own weaknesses, her own stupidity, her own limitations, but that isn’t going to stop her from pouring everything she has into the decisions she eventually makes. I love her second story arc (episodes 23-39) because they tackle a fascinating question I hardly ever see in secondary-world fantasy: having been given the throne, how does an outsider actually rule well? Youko isn’t just ignorant about government, she’s ignorant about geography, history, climate, inhabitants, everything. And that ignorance, through no fault of her own, costs her dearly.

As much as I enjoy Youko, she’s not the only excellent character. King En and Enki are two that never fail to amuse. I love Enki’s accusation that En enjoys playing the bad guy way too much–right after decking his own king in front of other people. I love that En’s introduction is “Kill monsters first, ask questions later.” He and Enki both are hands-on, stubborn, and full of surprises. En is so unconventional. It’s one thing to go down to hang out with the lay people in disguise—it’s another when your ministers are constantly needing to bust you out of jail for getting into bar brawls. En seems to exist to drive his ministers insane. (See: nicknames. En is a giant troll.) But behind that teasing, En is working out plans on a level no one expects. He and Youko are very similar in a lot of ways, but there’s also a profound gap between them. En is a leader born and raised, and he gets how people work.

And I love Taiki. One of the biggest frustrations I have is that the anime doesn’t finish adapting out Demon Child (Mashou no Ko), which gives at least a little closure to the horrible situation Taiki finds himself in. The intersection of past and present in the anime does lend an element of horror that isn’t really there in the books—because it’s obvious from the outset that something went drastically wrong if Taiki is now back in Japan with no memories of his time in the Twelve Kingdoms. (The blood on his face does provide a clue that it’s due to his horn being damaged, but the books are clearer on that point.) And I like the anime’s decision to use Sugimoto to pry into his history, because she’s a foil for him. Her venture into the Twelve Kingdoms taught her she couldn’t grab for a world that wasn’t hers, and she assumes Takasato is the same, although the situation isn’t supporting her assumptions. Taiki is also unusual in being the only kirin to really struggle with being a kirin. He’s too used to being human to really get most of what is supposed to be natural to him. And I like that Taiki unwittingly showcases Keiki as a gigantic stick-in-the-mud. Even other kirin think Keiki is too much, heh. (If you’re interested in reading Demon Child to see some additional scenes, the translation can be found here: https://tu-shu-guan.blogspot.com/2006/08/demon-child-prefacing-poem.html)

I’m less fond of Suzu and Shoukei, but I do like their character arcs. Both of them are extremely self-centered, but it plays out differently. Suzu is unconsiously addicted to being miserable, whereas Shoukei has a massive entitlement complex. Youko, compared to them, is starting from a much better place, but she’s still clawing herself out of the pit of pleasing others rather than forging her own way ahead. All three of them suffer from ignorance (though in Youko’s case, it’s at least excusable because she just hasn’t had time to get caught up on how this world, much less her kingdom, actually works). I love the challenge to Suzu about the different reasons why people cry–and that she’s stuck in a child’s mindset despite having been alive over 100 years. (This is a show very much not afraid to outright TELL its characters “Grow up.”)

And that’s just the characters. I also really like how the show approaches destiny and the will of the heavens. There is absolutely an element of choice for everyone involved—but those who challenge heaven find themselves in the way of heaven’s justice. And it raises some fascinating questions about Keiki’s first queen, and who she might have been if she hadn’t crumbled, and other questions along those lines. Destiny can be denied, thwarted, foiled at the individual level. But the heavens aren’t, long-term. Or take Youko’s struggle to figure out what makes a ruler a good one. Every time I watch this, I see some new facet that leads me to wonder about something else.

I get that this series may not be for everyone, but for myself it’s basically perfect. I only wish we had more. Even with Demon Child’s happier ending, Taiki’s situation remains grim (and what DID happen in Tai?). Whether the stories would be about Youko or someone else, I’m always happy to visit this world. I rate this series Highly Recommended.

Rokka: Braves of the Six Flowers (Anime)

Title: Rokka: Braves of the Six Flowers

Episodes: 1-12

When the Demon Lord rises, Fate chooses six warriors who inherit legendary power and fight for the peace. Adlet Mayer is determined to be one of those Braves. He’s confident he’s the strongest man in the world–and when the Demon Lord resurrects, and Adlet receives his coveted mark, he appears to be proved correct. But some sinister scheme is at work this time around: only six Braves exist, but seven have shown up! Who is the traitor? And can the real Braves determine the truth before killing each other?

This wasn’t at all what I was expecting. I thought, based on the first few eps, this would be mostly fantasy/adventure, but the arrival of the seventh Brave transforms the story into a locked-room mystery. With the Braves trapped within an impenetrable barrier, and one of them likely plotting to destroy them all, it becomes critical that they figure out who needs to die.

The traitor isn’t obvious, either. Pretty much everyone has something that casts them in a bad light, and as the episodes dig in, the probable traitor changes again and again as new evidence comes to light. As a mystery, it works well, although as a mystery I’m not going to get as much enjoyment out of a rewatch because at that point knowing who did it takes away most of the fun.

I grew to like Adlet a lot over the course of the show. At first he simply amused me because the self-proclaimed “strongest man in the world” wasn’t using strength, but dirty tricks, to win. Of course if you measure “strongest” by “winner”, then “win by any means possible” does look like a sound strategy. But for all that he’s boastful and gullible, he’s also smart enough to put together a lot of the mystery on his own.

The art is also worth a mention. The setting is Aztec rather than a traditional feudal European or Japanese society. I was also fond of the generic monsters attacking the party. I like dragonish looking beings. The flying ones are beautifully colored too, like tropical birds. However, there are a few areas where the art does slip up (a conversation on the side of a mountain was the worst one that stuck out to me), which hopefully would have been fixed for any DVD/Blu-Ray release. Since I watched the stream, I don’t know if this is still a problem for the disks.

The ending was equal parts satisfying and frustrating. I liked the reveal of the actual traitor and how that worked out, but the closing twist was annoying because there’s no chance to even get started on resolving it (and why are we repeating this line again?). I suspect this may be handled in the source material since it looks like the anime only adapted the first part.

Overall this was an interesting show on a number of levels. Primarily it functions as a mystery in a fantasy world, and the tweaks to a typical RPG adventure story make it feel unique. I am curious where it goes from here, and will have to see about reading the light novels as they come out in English. I rate this show Recommended.