Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Death March To The Parallel World Rhapsody Volume One: Review

Satou Suzuki a twenty-nine-year-old computer programmer falls asleep in the middle of an all night shift trying to finish up a mobile game before launch. Only to find himself in a content of mystery and magic at first thinking it is a dream. Satou slowly learns about the mysterious lands carrying out adventures and coming to enjoy the daily life of the city he ends up inhabiting called Seiryuu City. Being shown around by his friend the magic knight Zena. While also being aged down to the age of fifteen and gaining three beast people slaves while having to fight a demon in a labyrinth that the monster has created while all the while trying to hide his massive powers and proficiency in magic and effortlessly gain skills and navigate the culture and politics of the city he now calls home. Death March To the Parallel World Rhapsody takes the trope of the overpowered hero to ridiculous extremes with Satou gaining skills and applying experience points with ease. No that's not a metaphor Satou literally has a display screen only he can see that has him acquire skills and marshal points he get from actions he carries out. Often breaking the narrative momentum of the story to announce that Satou has acquired a new skill, In between interior monologues and the slice of life capering with Zena through a good portion of the book along with some exposition of the society of this new world. That includes slavery and demon lords along with poverty prostitution and a simple almost medieval era feel. Satou for his part while not a complete cipher is mostly in the story to carry out adventures and be blandly genial for most of has actions have to balance his being mentally twenty-nine years old while looking fifteen and gaining female admirers and acquaintances left and right. It almost feels like a foregone conclusion that this series will turn into a harem series in future volumes. that being said the few named girls that have significant interactions with Satou while simplistically written and easily summarized in one-word descriptions. The story was able to make me care about them. Although in the labyrinth battle Satou's newly acquired slaves the beast girls Liza the Lizard Girl, Tama the loli Cat Girl, and Pochi the loli dog girl. Feel less like people and more like items to be equipped of course this could also be because of the heavy use of RPG mechanics as the means by which the story is told as well and could be less about objectification and more about the party and quest dynamics being used in the world as Satou tries to make sense in the hostile demonic labyrinth. One should not think this will be an swash buckling adventure despite the opening scene of Satou wiping out a horde of Lizard Men with a meteor shower or the dungeon crawling adventures in the latter half which is the best written part of the book in my opinion capturing a sense of gloom and isolation while also showing Satou's concern for Tama, Pochi, and Liza and the growth of their relationship. With its mixture of chilled out slice of life elements and RPG and Table Top gaming mechanics and combined with a protagonist who is written with the minimum amount of characterization. This could be a dull wish fulfillment power fantasy yet it ends up being engaging more for the slice of life elements than the fantasy battles although the labyrinth fights are more based around Satou using strategy or his companion's strengths to defeat or out outsmart enemies and defuse traps. While my favorite character ended up not being Satou but Liza who has a loyalty to her new found master combined with her aptitude with a spear and sisterly affection for Tama and Pochi make her for me a character I loved to see in the novel and would like to see get more development and growth as the series continues. Overall a sometimes sleepy Fantasy series that has an engaging secondary cast that more than makes up for the bland lead. Often simple but Ainana is able to construct the world and make it feel real not simply a poorly constructed aping of RPG tropes despite the use of game mechanics. While hints of differences in the world compared to Satou's world give some hope for a more complex world be it the prejudice against Beast People or the standards of beauty the society has as well. The inclusion of slavery may be a deal breaker for some but Satou's treatment of his newly acquired Slaves as his extended family at least makes it a little more palatable than it could have been.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Mobile Suit Gundam Thunderbolt: Volume Four Review

With The One Year War over and an Armistice signed between The Earth Federation and The Principality of Zeon Io Fleming and Daryl Lorenz try to navigate a post-war world. With Io having to play the part of Hero to the remnants of The Moore Brotherhood and eventually being put into a position of authority in a battle against a Religious cult that has found out how to construct the Psycho Zaku due to rescuing a research scientist that had a hand in creating it. While Daryl has teamed up with a Zeon Loyalist Militia seeking to continue the fight despite the armistice signed between The Principality of Zeon and The Earth Federation all the while waiting for Karla Mitchum to come out of her coma. Mobile Suit Gundam Thunderbolt is probably one of the more grim entries in the Gundam franchise chronicling a world of militarized religious fanatics, Nationalists, and Cynical real politic. Io for his part only wants to get back into the thick of battle and willing to do anything to get there but still there is a haunted quality to Fleming partially due to Yasuo Ohtagaki's character design giving him a world weary look. While he is also written with a certain amount of hard won knowledge and knowing how to manipulate not only others but the media to get what he wants. While Daryl is still very much a boy at heart but still aged prematurely one of the best moments in the volume being when after Daryl's Mecha having been repaired is now given an emblem for his Gundam and a patch displaying his' Squadron's crest. Interestingly this comradery and simple thoughtfulness are juxtaposed with. Io and his frosty relationship with the powers that be. From his sister who now holds all political power in the Moore Brotherhood to his Fiancé's brother. While neither is particularly valorized or condemned for actions or loyalties it is odd that the remnants of Zeon end up feeling like the more likable of the two even though they are little more than terrorists. While the fight scenes are a tight almost claustrophobic mix of space battles in the first few chapters with panel layout that makes the chaos almost palpable. with small panels framed to give a sense of depth while the latter half on earth captures not only the space of earth but also the character's state of loneliness and alienation. The use of music a constant plot device throughout the series showing externally the interior state of the characters while also having a kind of dark irony given that most of this volume it is Daryl's love for Pop music with its lyrics of love and loss. Before his sortie for the mission to meet up with an intelligence agent in Baoa Qu. While not as unremittingly bleak as the first three volumes of the series this volume feels more like a quiet before the storm that helps establish the post-war world and never feels easy. While the introduction of the religious cult makes for something that often is not seen in Gundam series that is the place of Religion in warfare while the shaven-headed acolytes of this warrior monk cult feel eerily similar to the infamous Ultra-Nationalist group The League of Blood. Time will tell what will happen with this group but it is an interesting new development in a series that while deadly serious makes for a gripping mature story of war and politics.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Goblin Slayer Volume One: Review

Chronicling the adventures of the titular Goblin Slayer this debut Light Novel written by Kumo Kagyu and illustrated by Noboru Kannatsuki chronicles a world filled with monsters, quests, and adventure in an often harsh and uncaring world where adventurers try not only to survive in a hand to mouth world as they try to advance in a guild system with ranks but also realize that sometimes the seemingly weak Goblins which are usually the first quest a newly minted Adventurer goes on is often times a lot harder to kill and craftier than one might be left to think. Something that Priestess a neophyte adventurer learns when her party of adventurers is with the exception of herself summarily killed or left so traumatized by their first interaction with a nest of goblins with the only reason she survives is the taciturn Goblin Slayer rescues her and slays the entire nest of goblins. Saving Priestess and continuing to fulfil his vendetta against the goblins while Goblin Slayer also works to protect his childhood friend Cow Girl and at one point gets roped into helping out a party of Adventurers slay another Goblin nest and gather a group of adventurers toward the end of the volume in a climactic battle against a raiding party of Goblins. As a story Goblin Slayer is cut from the mold of Japanese middle brow Fantasy based on Table top RPGs like Ryo Mizuno's Record of Lodoss War with its world mechanics feeling very much like an RPG but in some places grittier with the goblins being sadistic, animalistic, and violent along with a barely seen other world of arcane gods. While it's dark and often brutal depictions of Goblin savagery doing everything from using mentally and physically broken prisoners as literal human shields to cold blooded torture and rape. None of it is ever exploitatively graphic but is given just enough detail to make clear that the creatures that are so often referred to as "weak as small children" are not to be thought of lightly. Kagyu for a first-time Novelist is adept at writing action scenes that feel tense and cut throat often time leaving one unsure of what will happen in the next few pages with each victory feeling hard won no accusations of the by now cliché of the over powered Light Novel protagonist. with Goblin Slayer often winning by being craftier or learning to combine his knowledge of Goblins with the strengths of other party members such as Priestess or later on the party of Adventurers High Elf Archer, Dwarf Shaman, and Lizard Priest. While also being able to express honest emotions such as the sense of horror and loss when Priestess and Goblin Slayer find a nest of Goblins on a quest to save a party of adventurers only to find those adventurers either dead or mentally broken and the descriptive dialogue capturing Priestess's sadness at being unable to help. Even the banter between High Elf Archer and Dwarf Shaman is a nice touch giving them something beyond their class and racial stereotypes from old D&D guides to be as characters. Or the still murky past of Goblin Slayer that is obliquely hinted at but makes for a compelling mystery. While the seeming gimmick of referring to the characters by their class or job title would seemingly create an inability to connect to them on the audience's part it never really ends up becoming that alienating due to the dialogue and interiority of the characters. While the chapters that flesh out the world or build up some of the secondary characters cause the story's flow to drag a little but not so much as to completely derail the plot momentum.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Generation Witch Volume 1: Review

Generation Witch chronicling the daily lives of witches in an alternate world where magic exists and the problems, struggles, and lives of those who have magic abilities are told. With each chapter telling a different story of a different witch with no consistent protagonist from story to story. Opening story A Witch's Prayer telling the relationship between a younger sister who has no magical abilities and her older sister who has magic abilities and is assistant to The Great High Witch the top witch in the city. This story has mood changes from being goofy domestic comedy to a semi-serious treatment of sibling relationships and feelings of inadequacy it captures the ethos of the world while not over burdening the reader with expository introductions. Making it a great introduction to the world and allowing to build the structure of the fictional universe without having to have it connected to only one character or retell the framing narrative in each chapter. Next is the longest story in the volume at two chapters A Witch's Helping Hand involving a cynical high school male witch named Masuda who has renounced using his magic and ends up getting roped into helping his eccentric female classmate Kouno who happens to be a middling witch who does odd jobs simply because she likes helping people. While this story was long it captured the growth of Kuno and Masuda's relationship and how they are able to make up for the other's deficiencies in magic. It's sweet to see Kuno do her best and while Masuda is very much the narrator it is never felt like his cynical dismissal is supposed to be agreed with by the audience and by the end he lets his guard drop a little which I have to appreciate that it's subtle and it does not end with a relationship beyond begrudging friendship on Masuda's part as it would be easy to stick Masuda and Kouno in a relationship because it's easier but that would just feel hackneyed . While the two strongest stories in the volume are A Witch's Good Luck Charm about a married couple with a plain mortal husband Ryou who works as a hair stylist despite his own clumsiness and his ageless housebound witch wife Miyo who looks more like his small child daughter with only her hair and finger and toenails growing while she never physically ages past what appears to be the age of eight on top of having uncontrollable power which is why she is housebound. While it could have been creepy having a never aging pre-pubescent looking wife with an adult husband it's ultimately a charming little day in life story about a couple that may have unique hardships but still, love and care for each other very much. Making for another odd aspect to the magic system of the world in Miyo's seeming overpowered state but not being explained to death either it is simply another aspect of the fictional universe the characters inhabit making it all quite organic and never getting lost in tangential information dumps. While the final story is A Witch and Fireworks a bitter sweet tale of first love that leaves the series on a melancholic but wistful note and makes for the most impactful story of the volume having to deal with problems like how to mourn when to move on and questions of coming to terms with one's own mortality closing the volume out on a downbeat note. Overall the first volume of this series captures the world in an understated way that ends up not making it feel like an over written exercise in world building. With its episodic structure built around an otherworldly or magical conceit, it could be easy to have magic used as a Deus Ex Machina. Generation Witch is a quiet series that while unafraid to sometimes deal with difficult emotions or circumstances feels in a word emotionally nourishing. Filling a need for stories that have a sense of wonder but also are grounded in the reality of the fictional universe never having to make the audience question the rules of the fictional universe or break their suspension of disbelief. This may never be a series that is loved by multitudes but those that find a place for the eccentric, ditzy, and kind witches in this volume will feel as if they have gained a new collection of friends. Be it a dorky and protective older sister, a selfless eccentric high school girl or any number of other magic using witches. This will be a small shining gem of a series that nourish its small cultic fan base of which I proud to call my self a member of.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Waiting for Spring Volume One: review

Mitsuki an introverted girl who longs for friendship but can't find the right way to broach the interactions with her classmates ends up becoming the friend of the four most popular guys on the basketball team after a misunderstanding in which one of them accidentally confesses to her when they want to confess to one of her co-workers. Forming a relationship with her classmate Towa Asakura who of the four seems most interested in helping her come out of her shell. While Mitsuki also gains a friend in Yamada the fan girl of the fabulous foursome and at the end being the unexpected reunion with her childhood friend Aya-Chan only to learn something surprising about the cool girl she idolized. Waiting for Spring captures the pains of being an introvert while also trying to juggle the fraught social politics of adolescence Mitsuki is a girl that it's easy to cheer for as she gamely tries to deal not only with her newly gained guy friends who are just as prone to tease her as do little kind things like play a pick up game with local kids and while Towa is the boy Mitsuki seems to be falling for through out this volume. He is mostly kind of spacey and above the pack of squealing fan girls. In short, he is "chill" but also a bit flirty as the volume progresses with Mitsuki which given the school's strict "no dating" for the Basketball team will surely have some kind of drama in later volumes. In short while not much happens just the simple ebb and flow of life combined with Mitsuki's interior monologs and halting attempts at trying to interact with others. For a girl who seemingly gets lost in the background, Mitsuki is an engaging heroine filled with realistic concerns when it would be so easy to write her as a flat self-insert for the audience she gets a sense of interiority that is all her own. While the boys are very much so far a mysterious other with the exception of Towa. Which it could be argued that it makes them flat but given that the story is told from the perspective of Mitsuki that flat or one dimensional element can simply be chalked up to a girl not knowing how to deal with it all along with the fact that other than Towa Mitsuki only has limited interactions with the other three boys. This was a series I highly anticipated in 2016 and made one of my most anticipated series of 2017 and honestly, it does live up to my expectations making for a refreshing and sweet look at growing up, putting yourself out there to interact with others, and falling in love.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Dreamin' Sun Volume Two Review

Shimana tried gamely to work up the courage to confess her feelings to Asahi while Zen thinks he's coming down with some kind of disease because every time he sees Shimana his heart feels "funny". While Miku still pines for Taiga and tried to help Shimana look her best for Asahi. While Shimana finds out about Asahi's own unrequited love and the complex relationship he has with his childhood friend Manami. While Shimana also has her arguments with Zen who is still prone to tease her and Taiga remain the adult in the household. Except when it comes to rebuffing Miku's feelings for him because he can't stand women or basks in being praised by High School girls which cause Shimana to stick up for Miku who has become Shimana's Big Sister for all intents and purposes. While volume one felt like the set up of the narrative volume two gets to what Ichigo Takano does best in writing characters taking seemingly simplistic characters on the outside and giving them complex interior lives be it Shimana putting herself down and getting mad at Taiga for Miku and while Zen may be my best boy. Takano takes Asahi and makes him more than the shallow wish fulfillment boyfriend of the first volume making for a sweet and self sacrificial guy who really is a prince not merely because he is pretty but because he is willing to help his friend Manami and let her do what she needs to do given the complex personal issues she has to deal with and while this part of the story feels this way for the sake of drama and probably hold up, in reality, it works in the story's fictional universe and is not so fantastical as to take me out of the fictional universe of the story and nitpick that plot point to death. While Shimana is still insecure and feels self-conscious she's able to be assertive or be shown negative feelings like when she criticizes Taiga which while this is an element that is still not explored as to why Taiga despises women so much. It's nice to see Shimana stand up for someone else and Taiga have another side to him other than cynical adult although I was a little worried he may have ended up written like Shigure Sohma from Fruits Basket. This thankfully was not the case and while I like Shigure his interest in High School girls was always a little distressing. Thankfully for Taiga, it's more that he likes being praised as "cool." Showing an element or vanity to the often gruff lawyer. It's a small bit of character development but it helps make him have some interiority and dimension. Then there's Zen who is the reason I put off writing this review for a day because if I had written this review immediately after finishing this volume it would have just been "Zen is cute" for a paragraph. Zen continues to very much be a Tsundere towards Shimana and while him thinking his burgeoning feelings of love might be some kind of sickness is cliché. He's such a bumbling kid that it's all kind of adorable from him enthusing over pandas or awkwardly trying to comfort Shimana only to be misunderstood and lash out blowing his chance. In short, I want the guy to win something because he's so realistically awkward that at times it hurts to see him flail about and try to be honest with himself or express himself to Shimana. Art wise Takano's character design remains consistent being able to range from realistic to comedic chibi designs and panel layout has a good grasp of the cinematic elements of Manga storytelling from close-ups that get the reactions of characters or black backgrounds used to give a sense of past events. It makes for a visually communicated story that does not use dialogue as a narrative crutch i.e. you can tell Zen is feeling awkward when trying to apologize not because of an interior monolog or expositing how he feels but because you can see it on his face, body language, and framing of the panel. Also, a nice small touch is the little "Easter eggs" like Zen's stuffed panda taking on his emotions or mental state or the Corgi that is hidden throughout the Manga as a sort of game beyond the story itself. In conclusion this volume develops the characters beyond the first volumes in ways that are both endearing and at times wistful while never become either too heavy or too light striking a good balance and laying groundwork for future volumes while some characterization and plot points may seem overly cliché to those familiar with Shōjo Romance tropes Dreamin' Sun never feels stale for it or that it's being written from a template.

Summer 2017 Simluicast First Impressions

Now that the Summer Anime season of 2017 has begun, I'll give my first impressions of the Summer series I've picked up this won't include Kakegurui or Fate/Apocrypha as those series got picked up by Netflix and I don't subscribe to Netflix and my rule is if a series is picked up by a legal streaming service I don't subscribe to and I can't afford it I don't watch it. So I'd love to talk about those series but cold hard economic reality prevents me. Also, I won't be talking about anything that is a holdover from Spring 2017 as they didn't premiere in the Summer and that would defeat the purpose of being the first impression. Also as of this writing some series only have one episode up and others I've seen two of. Love and Lies: An adaptation of the manga of same name this is set in a dystopian universe where the government of Japan decides who you will merry at the age of 15 our protagonist Yukari is a retiring and quiet boy with a crush on beautiful and popular girl Misaki Takasaki who than is assigned his marriage partner in the prickly Lilina Sanada. The dystopian government program aside this is very safe Romance. With two female leads that are sure to appeal to someone. Some have compared this to Scum's Wish but Scum's Wish was self-importantly riddled with all kinds of "angst" and being in the characters heads Love and Lives is a lower stakes how not attempting to be some grand declaration on the human condition or sexuality and instead a very simple love triangle story and that's fine it's enjoyable both female leads have their charm points and while the male lead may have a spine of a wet noodle he is at least trying to fight for his love. It's more the direction and art style that turns me off the story may feel a little cookie cutter but the Dystopian element gives it enough difference to not feel overwhelmingly cliché. It's overly bright at times while having really stock unoriginal character design. The story and it's twists and turns is at least enough to keep me engaged despite the lackluster visuals. My First Girlfriend Is a Gal: The story of a virgin High school student who asks out a "Gal" (A fashion subculture known for being flashy) girl classmate so he can hopefully lose his virginity to her because of the perceptions that Gals are sluts. This is very much a harem series with a number of other girls sure to appeal to the audience while the fan service is heavy it's also heavily censored on Crunchyroll so if one just wants the fan service uncensored Crunchyroll won't have it but overall it's not bad for what it is despite censorship but it's more an entraining trifle that feels like a throwback to early 2000s harem comedies. Aho Girl: A short series about a ridiculously stupid girl and the put upon male friend who can't stand having to mind her and who comedically abuses her. This is very much a series that trades in comedic slapstick violence and an idiotic and obnoxious lead played expertly by Aoi Yuki to play off the put upon straight man. The humor is very often dark but overall enjoyable due to the voice acting and direction. New Game Season Two: The second season of the cute girls doing game design and programming Anime it's really more of the same bright and cute design and color scheme that season one had with some character development from season one. It's, in short, an enjoyable trifle. With some office culture sub plots as of one episode Gamers: A series about a boy who plays video games who gets scouted by the most popular girl at his school to join her Gaming club full of oddballs wich he rejects so he can continue playing Mobile Games simply for fun. It's a goofy comedy and the lead simply wanting to be left alone is an interesting twist but all of it in the first episode feels like placeholding and none of the characters really feel fully developed more like poorly written stereotypes of people who play video games. It's funny in places but as I don't play video games a number of the references are lost on me. Slight but enjoyable. Restaurant To Another World: The Story of a restaurant that periodically ends up in random fantasy lands is a simple slice of life series about enjoying good food while also having various middle brow fantasy characters show up it's episodic and the attention to detail in the food animation is nice while everybody from the half demon waitress to the female adventurer find out the joy of food and honestly this is the kind of thing I like in cooking series is showing the enjoyment one gets from eating good food. With each dish being the center piece it has a decent economy of story telling but the focus is on the food front and center. Making for a calming and relaxing series. Classroom of the Elite: Set in a future Japan and in a school for the gifted that allots points to the students to cover living costs and basic needs while the class feels way too lenient until the last minute twist at the end. It's a dry kind of unpleasant series with a protagonist that feels more like a plot device than an actual protagonist. I think the basic idea is interesting but it's so dry and insular that while not labors to watch it felt overly expositional and needed to build the characters more. Has promise but this will probably be a minor series in my book. Princess Principal: An original series chronicling an espionage team staffed by young girls, in short, it feels like early episodes of Joker Game combined with a steam punk aesthetic looking nice but feeling like an attempt at being mature and confusing cynicism for depth. If the quality of animation continues it could be a nice technical exercise but not much else. Saiyuuki Reload Blast: Caught in an early 2000s time warp this is very much action with not much else with Sanzo and his merry band still trying to make it to India and getting caught in "fight of the week" stories and shenanigans. It's enjoyable but not much is different very much an if it's not broke don't fix it kind of attitude. No real dip in quality but nothing particularly exciting outside of the main formula very much for established fans but enjoyable to have something I liked from the early 2000s that helped get me back into Anime. Tenshi No 3p!!: From the Light Novel series by the author of Fast BReak comes a series about a shut in High School boy who gets blackmailed into helping a band of Elementary school students combined with Loli Fan Service this is a series for a very particular kind of taste. I find it enjoyable but am not particularly invested in any of it simply finding the character design and music fun. While backgrounds are nice and music has the same vigor that early K-On! Had except with a younger cast. Convenience Store Boy Friends: a cheap looking romance with Lawson's knock off being the meetup for the cast it's very much a slow High School romance that honestly feels like those Anime ONAs based on Vocaloid songs that have been released as of late. It's not terrible it's just average. Comparable to Winter's Seiren Anime Clione no Akari: based on a web novel about bullying this one just felt off with the bullying victim simply being held up as a victim waiting to be saved this could end up being insufferable after school special of a series. While visuals are plastic and imagery feel heavy handed could be better in a few episodes but so far it's not really anything other than being manipulatively sad. Action Heroine Cheer Fruits: A series combining Prefectural tourism and live Sentai shows it's cute and has good voice acting while the fight for your dreams ethos is nice as well. Other than being cute and having M.A.O. Is a supporting role not much else but looks fun Made In Abyss: Based on a web Manga chronicles a fantasy world where orphans are forced to excavate artifacts and a young girl discovers a robot that looks like a boy. With its hint at a dark and rather unpleasant world this could have the potential to be a really dark look at a fantasy world from the perspective of a child so far it's the best thing I've seen this season. Mahojin Guruguru: A loving send up of old RPG tropes this is a fun little series that is the remake of an older series based on a gag Manga. It's very much a throw back to things like Dragon Half and the first season of Slayers. Fun and nostalgic while also being aware enough of genre conventions that it does not feels stale.