Tag Archives: 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.

Vault of Shadows (The Nightsiders #2)

Title: Vault of Shadows

Author: Jonathan Maberry

Series: The Nightsiders #2

Milo is not having a good week. Milo somehow not only outsmarted the deadly Huntsman, an evil human made worse by the alien Bugs modifying him to be a supersoldier, but stole the egg containing all the Bug’s DNA and technology patterns. And the Nightsiders who helped with that—a tree spirit, a fire salamander, a rock boy, and a werewolf—are now part of the uneasy alliance with the last of humanity to take back the Earth.

But the Huntsman isn’t about to forget Milo. He’s determined to retrieve the stolen egg. And he’s got an entire race of aliens ready to support his every plan.

I still wonder if these aren’t a bit too dark for the age range, or if maybe this would work better for me if Milo wasn’t 11. On the one hand, the book doesn’t flinch away from the fact that when the Earth gets overrun by alien invaders, not even kids get a free pass. On the other, we’re not only dealing with people Milo knows dying, but it goes beyond that to human sacrifice (although this does at least happen completely offscreen).

The stakes go even higher, too. This time around a villain from the Nightsiders appears, someone who would prefer humanity to go extinct and will even join with the Huntsman to do it (parallels to the Wild Huntsman are likely intentional).

Milo’s dreams provide the only real edge his group has. Glimpses of past, present, and future warn and guide them. I did like the library, and the ghost who reads there. I also really appreciated the book pointing out that although Milo can only see his own group of resistance fighters, there is still fighting in the rest of the world, and all of them are contributing towards the hope of success.

Overall this is still a strong followup to the first book, although something about it still doesn’t quite click with me. Still, as long as the horror aspects aren’t too bothersome for the reader, it’s a good read. I rate this book Recommended.

Toukiden 2 (PS4/PC)

Monsters known as Oni are invading the real world from the Otherworld. Ten years ago in Yokohama, the Oni broke through—and threw you through a gate ten years in the future. Now you are tasked with defending the village of Mahoroba from the Oni as a Slayer.

There isn’t much to talk about plot-wise for this game. It proceeds mostly as you might expect (although I was pleasantly surprised by both Benizuki and Kuyo). I like that there is a story mode, though, which helps add some variety and meaning to otherwise randomly going out and killing monsters. The Professor was easily my favorite character, for her snarky attitude and rather dangerous inventions.

Toukiden 2 boasts a world map in addition to missions that can be taken through the base town. I would’ve liked the world map a LOT better if you could warp to any of the portal stones (you can use any stone to go back to HQ, but you can only transfer from HQ to your bases, which makes getting to certain points on the map a trek every time). Also, I was frustrated by the fact that you get a grappling claw that lets you vault over cliffs…. but you still often need to walk around relatively minor barriers, which made some maps (Age of Grace in particular) more like mazes. I am also not fond of the “miasma exposure limit” still being a thing even after you purify an area. It feels like a way to artificially limit how much you can explore without going back to some kind of base.

That said, it was still nice to have actual environments to explore. The game provides both shiny object pickups, various crests, and wooden markers with some backstory as an incentive to poke around every corner.

Your teammates are good at dispatching the Oni, so picking companions for me usually involved picking whomever I needed to max out relationships with. You don’t get any control over their skills, and you have limited ability to direct them in battle (which I never used because I forgot the button combination).

I didn’t play too much with all the weapon types, but there is a good amount of variety. I mostly stuck with knives because I like fast-hitting weapons, although a major downside is that they offer no defensive capabilities. Tutorials are available for every weapon type, and every skill type, and these can be repeated as desired, so it’s easy to sample the various weapons and choose a favorite.

Skills are handled through Mitama, which are spirits that choose to help you. They range from historical figures to literary figures to a few gods and goddesses. Each one gets a nice portrait and a little voice clip, and has a number of skills that can be learned and equipped. These can be earned through the story, sidequests, or by slaying Oni. It can be a big job to collect them all, but just going through the story and doing a little extra will get plenty for a more casual run.

I didn’t care for most of the Oni designs, sadly, with Drakwing (a more traditional western dragon) being a major exception. They do offer a good challenge, though, and fighting them feels more interesting because of a tendency to transform at about half health, which can completely change attack patterns. If KO’d, you get a limited amount of time to be revived, and if KO’d again, your revival time picks up where the last time left off, so whether or not you can even come back depends on how quickly your teammates can get to you, even the first time. This likely isn’t as much a problem for more skilled players but I die enough to find it annoying, especially when certain fights include multiple Oni and it’s easy to get slammed by the one you weren’t attacking.

On the plus side, the auto save functionality, plus the ability to manually save anywhere except inside a fight, means you probably won’t lose too much progress if wiped out, even if you were exploring the Otherworld at the time.

Overall, I had fun with this, although God Eater is definitely my hunter game of choice due to several different mechanics (ranged and defensive included on all weapons, a less arbitrary revival system, the ability to earn unlimited tickets for material crafting, more colorful monsters which are more visually interesting, better story, epic music). That said, I’m still poking around in postgame trying to collect more Mitama, craft a better weapon, finish collecting crests, and so on. I have no idea what my hour count was because the save files only indicate the last time you saved, not the total hour count, and it’s been pretty fun for the most part. I rate this game Recommended.

The Edge of Worlds (The Books of the Raksura #4)

Title: The Edge of Worlds

Author: Martha Wells

Series: The Books of the Raksura #4

A shared dream has left the court of Indigo Cloud uneasy. But with no way to tell what it means, they have nothing but speculations. When a delegate comes to ask for their help with a mysterious city that might be related to the forebearers, no one can tell if this will be the fulfillment of the dream or its prevention. So Jade and Moon set out hoping to find some answers.

Something to know going in is that this is basically part one. The ending leaves off on a rather nasty cliffhanger, so you might want to have the sequel in hand before you start reading.

Here we get to see Moon as a flustered new father, wanting to protect his children but uncertain if that means haring off on another adventure or remaining home to defend them against possible invasion. To a lesser extent, that uncertainty extends to Jade, who desperately wants to make the right decision but can’t get enough information to know what that is.

Overall this is another solid chapter in the series, although many of the elements will feel familiar (more strange ruins to explore, some weird creatures and powers, etc). I rate this book Recommended.

Attack on Titan (Anime)

Title: Attack on Titan

Episodes: 1-25

Content warning: People die in somewhat graphic ways pretty much every episode. Eaten, stepped on, ripped apart, etc. It doesn’t go much for gore, though, just blood splatters.

Humanity has nearly gone extinct under the assault of the grotesque Titans. These giant humanoids only attack humans, so to defend against them humanity built three walls each 50 meters tall. But the area those walls enclose is the only safe space left for humanity. Eren is a young man frustrated by the necessity of living in such a small part of the world, and after the wall near his home is breached, he vows to slaughter all the Titans and take back the world for humanity.

I was late to this show for several reasons, most of which still hold true now that I’ve seen it. I don’t like the Titans themselves (ugly and naked giant humans, bleagh). And Eren isn’t as compelling as a lot of other leads, because he spends most of his time angry and juvenile, and even 25 episodes doesn’t grow him up much (actually, it doesn’t grow him up at all). It’s pretty hard to care about any of the characters, because the cast is massive and the story spends most of its time killing most of them off.

But, they have zipline belts (aka Maneuver Gear in the Crunchyroll subs and ODM in the official disks). And I am shallow enough to enjoy the show solely based on watching people zip around pulling crazy stunts. And the music can be really good too, which makes those action scenes stand out even more.

Animation-wise it can be a mixed bag. There are a ton of still frames used to compensate for good-looking action scenes. This was really noticeable in the first few episodes. I also wasn’t that fond of the really thick outlines used on characters. However, I did like the towns, houses, and backgrounds.

The characters are by and large forgettable, because most of them die too fast to have any kind of arc. It was interesting to see most people’s responses to war are basically to break down in fear, and struggle to overcome their reluctance to actually go against an enemy very likely to kill them. And I liked Armin, who unlike Eren can’t just use the magical power of “I want this really badly” to get himself out of trouble. Misaka is too dull, as her role appears to be “silently menace anything that harms Eren”, although I do like watching her fight. (Although I will admit the flashback to how she met Eren had me laughing hysterically. He was ALREADY screwed up as a nine-year-old.)

The plot is a little better, but where the first 13 eps are throwing out twists and revelations, the second half of the season feels more like aftermath. The female Titan there is a single obstacle they have to survive, and the end of the season doesn’t provide a lot of new information or a good sense of closure. It’s also really frustrating to see Armin’s big encouragement to Eren is “the bigger monster wins”—those who can abandon their humanity the most will triumph. I think that misses the point in a big way, although at least Armin seems aware he might be inviting in more trouble than the Titans themselves if this philosophy actually wins.

Overall, I don’t regret watching this (zipline belts!!) because I did enjoy the action sequences (and that first opening song in particular is worth listening to; the first ending is also good). That said, since the zipline belts and the music are the only two things I really LIKED, I’m not going to bother with the manga. I will probably watch the currently-airing second season after it’s over, since this series has a penchant for really long multi-part arcs. Recommended if the slick action/horror combination appeals to you, otherwise Neutral.

The White Road of the Moon

Title: The White Road of the Moon

Author: Rachel Neumeier

Meridy has always been able to see ghosts. With her black eyes and Southern blood, she’s distrusted as a witch even among her own village. But when an encounter with a strange ghost leads her to a journey she never expected, she finds herself in the middle of a conflict that has raged for hundreds of years. And even death won’t stop the fighting . . .

I love the worldbuilding in this. The border between life and death, the ghosts, the White Road of the Moon, the real and the ethreal—it feels like the story explains everything well, but still barely scratches the surface of what might be possible. And as Meridy learns more about what is possible, and what she can do, it’s interesting to see how it compares to the daydreams she has in the very beginning, where she wants to be a sorcerer and delve into the most powerful arts. I also want to mention the bits of poetry, which I’m curious to hear in audiobook format, and whose translations are nicely lyrical.

The characters are equally solid. Meridy is young and ignorant of the wider world, but well-educated for all that. I liked how believable her journey was, both in its events and in her emotions. I also really liked Herren (poor kid). He’s vastly put-upon, but never complaining, and I think he lends a somewhat different facet to all those types of stories about young children being the Chosen One. (Technically, Meridy could also fit that role, but she’s more of the Mentor than the Chosen One herself.) Herren’s fate is something everyone’s squabbling over, but he himself only has the smallest choices in all of it. Yet they are the choices that decide everything.

The ghost characters are also a lot of fun. Being ghosts, they don’t follow quite the same rules as ordinary folk, but with Meridy there to lend a hand, things can get a lot more interesting.

And I especially liked the ending. The imagery of prophecy flows through the events, and I loved the way everything was portrayed.

All in all, this is a great book. It’s pretty self-contained, but I wouldn’t be opposed to seeing a sequel somewhere down the road. I rate this book Recommended.

Noragami Aragoto (Anime)

Title: Noragami Aragoto

Episodes 1-13 (13-25 overall; it’s season 2 of Noragami)

Yato’s trouble as a stray god of calamity are only getting worse. Bishamon, the war goddess with a huge grudge against him, has finally pushed him too far. And beyond that, Yato’s shadowed past is coming back to haunt him . . .

This season focuses on two major arcs, which was great for me since I prefer longer stories. I particularly liked what happens with Yukine this season.

Last season, Yato went far above and beyond to give Yukine every chance he could, and Yukine is determined to repay the favor. He’s too new to really know what’s expected of him, so he’s determined to learn how to fulfill his role to the best of his ability (and his abilities are considerable). The methods he chooses surprise those around him, and although he succeeds in many things, it’s still an open-ended question whether or not he can grant Yato’s dearest wish. That part will likely hinge on Yato himself.

It’s also interesting to see Yukine’s building rivalry with Nora, the other major Regalia in Yato’s life, but one Yato doesn’t seem to want—perhaps because she has multiple names from multiple masters. Yukine wants to be dependable enough that Yato can abandon Nora for good. Nora, however, has her own plans for Yato.

Some parts of these arcs felt a bit rehashed, as Hiyori loses her memories multiple times, although one of those times was a good reminder to her that she’s not specially immune from the consequences of forgetfulness. But Hiyori in general is still a great character. She knows she’s important to Yato, but he can still be really annoying to her since he has no concept of how to relate to people as friends. Still, when she does attempt to do something to make him happy, she never expects the kind of reaction she gets. She’s HUMAN (mostly), and although that puts her under basically everyone who has powers, she’s got her own strengths that none of them can duplicate.

And I liked the direction Yato took here, where his troubles are more evident and his hyper personality comes off more like a desperate wish for how he wants to be. He’s hardly mentioned his own history. Yukine and Hiyori are stuck asking the gods who knew him about a lot of the details, but even they only have fragments of the full story. Yato still has his really aggravating moments, but overall I’ve come to appreciate him more as a character, and I hope he and Yukine will be able to work out a new direction for his life.

Overall I think this is a stronger season than the first, with Yukine’s big moment and subsequent development my favorite parts. But I also liked the deepening relational dynamics, the high level of action, and the rising stakes. There’s a bit at the very end that hints at further complications to come, so I hope a third season will be announced at some point. Until then, I’ll be reading the manga to figure out what happens next. I rate this series Recommended.