Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Spring Stream 2016: Hundred: Episode 4

Hayato ends up getting roped up into working as the bodyguard for popular idol Sakura Kirishima. Sakura for her part is focused on furthering her career by getting Hayato to go out with her for the publicity it's a cold calculated move that made Sakura an unlikeable character for me by far of what seems to be the slowly growing harem in this series Claire and Emila feel more nuanced than the fame hungry idol. In fact, a part where Claire's mask starts slipping or little nice actions happen is interesting. While Emila is a different kind of female protagonist being forward without throwing herself at Hayato while Hayato's memories feel scrambled wich could lead to some twist with Sakura but so far she is the least likeable character in the episode. While fan service is plentiful in this episode and it is the cliche "protagonist accidently walks in on female, character" type stuff it's still handled humorously enough to not feel insipid. While hints at a darker edge to the story are hinted at the end. this still is not a good series by any stretch but at least the small little character moments and the performances by the Seiyu keep it from being completely artless.

Monday, May 2, 2016

The Irregular At Magic High School Volume One Review

After it's genesis as a web novel to being adapted into a 2014 Anime that drew wildly differing opinions with some hating it as an overly “talky” Sci-Fi power fantasy with questionable political subtext. To manga spin-offs. The Irregular At Magic High School in its original novel form gets a release in North America thanks to Yen Press. Up front, I am a huge fan of this series's Anime adaptation that I've seen The Enrollment Arc three times. The Irregular At Magic High School set in the year 2095 in an alternate future where magic is now a quantifiable scientific resource replete with its own special training academies for those that show enough promise in wielding it. The focus of the story is Tatsuya Shiba the titular Irregular an often taciturn but brilliant high school student who due to low practical scores on a standardized magic test is put in the “remedial course” known officially as Course One of First Academy while his younger sister Miyuki is the best student in the “advanced course” known officially as Course One. While also focusing on other students that enter into the siblings lives such as seemingly Coquettish School President Mayumi Saegusa, peppery and feisty Erika Chiba who along with Tatsuya is a course two student and becomes friends with Miyuki. Shy Mizuki Shibata (who also becomes friends with Miyuki and harbors delusions that Tatsuya and Miyuki are a “couple”). Along with a number of other secondary and incidental characters that either become friends or rivals for the Shiba siblings. In between character growth and plot development author Tsutomu Sato crafts the world that makes the technology and structure of the world believable while the finely wrought explanations of magic could be compared to the craftsmanship fantasy novelist L. E. Modesitt Jr. Puts into the explanations of the structure of the spellcraft in his novels. While the worldbuilding is the largest part of the novel it never gets tedious instead it gave it a grounded realistic feel avoiding doing things for the sake of conv nience or using the future as a narrative crutch to explain away plot holes or improbabilities. While the narrative structure switches between a third person omniscient and second person objective and occasional interior monologs. This was a little disorienting in some the fight scenes as it was hard to tell what character was being focused on until a name was mentioned. It's an interesting writing style mimicking the kind of close-ups and panoramic shots one would see in cinema but feels clumsy in execution in spots although given the perspective of characters and not knowing who everyone is helped add to the realism as the characters would not know everyone else right away. Tatsuya for his part as a protagonist is outwardly inscrutable, cold, and often enigmatic while inwardly he is more a detached observer trying to be two steps ahead while hints of an enigmatic past show up in his almost militant protection of his younger sister. Acting less like a big brother and more like a hard boiled bodyguard while also hinting that they may be the only emotional support the other has. While Miyuki only has eyes for her brother this could make her an annoying stereotype but Sato writes her with enough undercurrents of emotion that while the almost incestual feeling she harbors for her brother seem to be made from a much darker place than the usual Siscon fantasies found in lesser series. While overall she is seemingly perfect this could make her an annoying Mary Sue but that just raises all the old metatextual controversies ( see http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/MarySue for an explanation). I guess it would depend on how obnoxious you find a character that the story goes out of its way to praise as the outward embodiment of Yamato Nadeshiko, of course, this could be some sly irony as Miyuki is also shown to be violently jealous of any girl that looks to be taking Tatsuya's affections. With Tatsuya haveing to calm her down it's funny in a grim black kind of way like “oh ho, oh ho, oh ho, we could all die because of a teenage girl's jealous temper tantrum. That gets to the girls in this series Tatsuya becomes the object of the attentions of several girls in the series this ranges from Erika being an acquaintance of his to working under Mari Watanabe the head of The Discipline Council who subconsciously exudes some kind of pheromone-like magic that triggers arousal in Tatsuya but gets shut down by some kind of mental conditioning. Then there is Mayumi admittedly I love this little slip of an imp while Tatsuya for his part mostly seems bemused by the Student Body President's antics when not outright annoyed. Now as to why I love Mayumi it's that prim and proper girl persona hiding a teasing sometimes self-conscious girl that makes me smile. Mari and Erika get probably the only instances of what could be described as fan service in the novel in descriptions of Mari's legs and Erika haveing to readjust her shirt after getting jostled in a crowd. While an illustration of Miyuki in her bra and panties by illustrator Kana Ishida feels like an addition to set the scene. Ishida's illustrations have a young and fresh quality to them with the characters looking young but not so young as to look pre-pubescent. While the future honestly seems like a cleaner Cyberpunk (I came up with the phrase “Preppy Cyberpunk to describe it for lack of anything else). With an outwardly crisp and clean society with burbling social unrest underneath. If the barely hidden classism of some First Course students is any hint I expect later volumes will flesh out the socio-political questions and how it is dealt with. As is this volume sets up a strangely prim dystopia the world where even seemingly elite students are the victims of “soft bigotry” on their own. While hints at the power set of the students hint at everything from enhanced weaponry to psychic ice bullets. Tsutomu Sato has constructed a world filled with a dark underbelly hiding under its seemingly pristine futurist gloss with alienated families, confused feelings, and unspoken bonds. Engrossing in it's the world and occasionally funny or sad in its interaction with characters. The Irregular At Magic High School is a series that deserves a hearing as it has something to say what that will is will be found out in later volumes as is this a solid introduction to the world a somewhat divisive series.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Spring Stream 2016: Hundred: Episode 3 (Spoilers)

While the first two episodes were transparent worldbuilding and felt more like an exposition of the world of hundred this episode actually lets the world be the world and develops the characters while also dispensing with one of the more contrived "secrets" in the series. Animation while "melty" in spots has a fluid movement of some of the Hundred Units from the whip chain to drill lance. weapon design is inventive even Hayato's sword has interesting little articulations in it. While characters actually have some interaction, Emile is actually the girl that Hayato saved in the flashback in episode one (Emilia Hermit being the name Hayato remembers her by.)Emilia is actually an odd female lead she is not overly Tsundere (that would be Claire's purview or any of the other easily quantifiable character archetypes found in female Anime leads. She gets jelious of Hayato and Claire getting close wich is more cute than obnoxious while Claire herself is an odd mixture of girlish insecurities and hardened veteran who does not want to see others suffer. With its mixture of cliche comedy, action, and other tropes this episode feels like the series has found its place and footing making a marked improvement over the first two episodes.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Legend of the Galactic Heroes, Vol. 1: Dawn

Legend of Galactic Heroes a Sci-Fi Novel series written by Yoshiki Tanaka and adapted into what is often considered one of the classics of 80s OVA Anime. Tanaka's novel chronicles the ongoing conflict between two powers the Fascistic Galactic Empire who are involved in a war to crush The Free Planet Alliance a breakaway Republican group of states that sought freedom from the oppression of the empire. Basic structure of the novel is one of world building, character building and action while unflinchingly portraying the often gray moral landscape of warfare from the perspectives of Reinhard von Lohengramm on the side of the empire a smart almost obstinately self-assured warrior who fights not for his nation but with the ultimate goal of freeing his sister Annerose from the concubine status of the emperor and helping his friend the commoner Siegfried Kircheis while also consolidating his power. Reinhard for his part is unflinching often outwardly stoical and the only people that seem to ease his often troubled mind are his beloved sister and best friend. While on the side of The Free Planet Alliance is Yang Wenli a bookish officer with a long view of military history forced into the upper echelons of combat leadership due to political gamesmanship by those in higher positions of power. His own innate tactical genius and the loyalty of those that see him as a reforming influence in the moribund and increasingly corrupt Democracy he counts himself a citizen of. The first novel in this series of fourteen is very much Tanaka setting up his world developing the characters and their personalities none of this feels artificial but it is very many things being set up with the interior monologues developing the characters while the introduction of some feels “stagy.” Still this is a series that pulls no punches the Roman poet Horace's ((Quintas Horatius Flaccus; 65-8 B.C.) often quoted epigram“It is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country.” Is shown by this series to be at best a bright shining lie this is not a series that glories in war as the way for one to attain transcendence or the glory of battle as a romantic quest. Instead, war is an ugly unpleasant that takes the worst of human nature and makes it present while human decency is almost looked at as weakness in The Empire in short a more fitting epigram for the novel would be Hemingway's quote from A Farewell To Arms 'The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry”. (Ch. 27 A Farewell To Arms by Earnest Hemingway). With the novel laying hints that Yang may crack under the pressure of responsibility while Reinhard may end up “selling his soul” for seeing his actions met carried out. In a word a grim often unpleasant look at the futility of war and the often few examples of basic human decency. While overwritten in descriptions of battle feel fraught with tensions while even the loss of secondary characters hurts seeing them as sad sacrifices to the war that has no real winners. For setting up the world this novel succeeds exponentially filled with characters that can be cruel, kind, Machiavellian and sometimes all these things and more. An introduction to an epic world that seems dead set on breaking my heart at some point in future volumes. If anything the story in this book needs to be told even more at one point the deeply flawed invasion of Empire territory anachronistically (this book was originally written in 1982) reminded me of the failed American invasion of Iraq. Showing that sadly bad policy decisions are evergreen. Thoughtful when it does not at times feel ponderous in its world building (although I liked the world building). Worth reading

Monday, April 18, 2016

Spring Stream 2016: Hundred: Episode 2

Sometimes watching a bad series you have to find aspects of it to keep your interest Hundred opens up and not thirty seconds into the fight between Claire and Hayato the old "accidently grope the female character's bosom" trope is used. It's tiresome to see a show fall back on this hoary cliches but how it's done is at least entertaining. While the battle animation is crisp, fluid and propulsive. While also haveing the aftermath show that Claire is more than the hard-edged and punctilious student council president. Hayato is meanwhile set up as some sort of "chosen one" savant it's another cliche but Hayato while often clueless and unbelievably dense he's not insufferable more confused by the situation. While Emile is it's unbelievably painful the amount of suspension of disbelief concerning what seems like an awful attempt at a mystery. In fact, the world seems more interesting than the characters who are passable at best with it's technology and monsters I hope this doesn't go into "battle harem" territory and more action happens but I don't know this simply feels like two episodes of world building with minimal character progression although I do like the fact that Hayato's little sister Karen is still in the story as it thankfully gives Hayato and the story someone or something to focus on than transparent romantic set-up or exposition. I want to like this series and hope episode three with its promise of a battle with the hinted at Savages will bring the story to a place of full construction.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Spring Stream 2016: Hundred: Episode One

In some ways, an unremarkable series is harder to write about than an actively bad one. Hundred so far is just such a series focusing on a distant future where the world has been invaded by creatures called Savages who wreak havoc with the only hope of beating them being are people called Slayers who can control the titular Hundred which gives each person a weapon that fits their skill set and compatibility with it. In this world enters Hayato Kisaragi our protagonist who enrolls in the training academy known as The Little Garden who has the highest compatibility rating ever and has become kind of a celebrity for this fact. While also meeting a boy named Emil Crossford who takes a liking to Hayato but also has a tendency to speak his mind too much such as when speaking back to Class President Claire Harvey when the president expels two students for being late to student orientation. This leads to again more really transparent character introductions and exposition and world building some dumb jokes. Along with odd quasi-romantic interactions between Emil and Hayato, I don't think this is trying to be Number Six so I do not think BL will be in the works. As is the characterization is flat but everyone is doing the best with it Rumi Ōkubo as a Bishonen is quite cute but again like the first episode of Phantom World the only thing that may keep me invested is the performance of one Seiyu. still this has potential to be better than it should be if the writeing gets better.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

From The New World series review

From The New World based on an untranslated novel of the same name by Yusuke Kishi and marking the directorial debut of Masahi Ishihamma is a dark and disturbing Sci-Fi set one thousand years in the future after mankind has become able to use psychokinesis. In this world are four friends kind Maria, quiet and sensitive Mamoru, strong willed and tomboyish Saki brash Satoru and withdrawn but kind prodigy Shun. All friends since their early childhood in this world a mixture of psychic technology and Buddhist Spirituality. Along with a hidden slave class of Anthropomorphic Mole-Rats. All seems well for the four friends with Saki finally advancing into the higher grade with her friends but also ominous hints at a darker side to the seemingly perfect society. Large parts of the series are simply exposition or in the early part flashbacks to the previous eras of the current time a world of covert assassinations, half mad God-Kings, and psychic criminals. Along with the slow questioning of the mores of the society while the characters are left to question whether anything is as it seems. The society in question is a seeming utopia built on social control and an unspoken shadow world of undesirables being “disappeared.” The details of this are explained in a number of narrations and conversations building the society and showing it's origin as a Young Adult Sci-Fi Novel. It's a richly textured world filled with questionable choices made by almost all the characters from the casual mistreatment of the Mole-Rat slave class to the hostile future creatures from snakes that lay exploding eggs to dogs that turn into living bombs and have metal spikes for rib cages. To feral anthropomorphic mole-rats that wage wars on each other for land rights and rights to the queens of the colonies. An overall grim look at a society grown indolent by addiction to pleasure and paranoid over the potential threats they face from within and out. Then there is what the society has done for generations to keep people pacified this ranges from social engineering, gene therapy, and personality and psychic aptitude tests to even sex being used as the way to keep people docile. A latter plot point in the series is when the four friends pair up in same-sex couples when they are in their early teens with the exception of Mamoru who pines away for Maria who only has eyes for Saki. The love triangle part is the weakest aspect of the story but it's not focused on that much and the Yuri and Yaoi fanservice is there but it never felt like the series was saying this was a good thing. Simply that it was a way to further control others through social conditioning. While the presence of Mamoru thankfully keeps this from feeling like sophomoric slash fiction. While many thematic plot elements are explored the strongest story line is actually the one that focuses on the mole-rat slave class (known as Monster Rats throughout the series.) And their attempt at throwing off the shackles of humanity in a bloody revolution led by my favorite character the “fork-tongued” Monster Rat Squealer. Who while his actions are a brutal “total war” against the psychic overlords, for me it was easier to sympathize with if not condone the war. Seeing as humanity in this series was more interested in self-preservation than being well, humane. Call me a “bleeding heart” if you must but it's The Monster Rats that had my sympathy Saki and her friends may be the point of view characters but ultimately they benefit just as much from the destructive social sins and injustices perpetrated against the underclass. The brutality of the actions of Squealer and his minions are chilling it pales in comparison to the society he seeks to overthrow. That this series had me cheering for the villain of the series is a testament to the quality of the writing. None of the questions asked are easy and no easy answers are given only a vague and ill-defined belief that giving people the ability to imagine or be free can bring about change but given the choices of the characters at the end and the entire infrastructure being left intact. It frankly feels a little hollow and me much rather would have preferred the mole-rat revolution. This is a great series filled with wonderful animation touches such as the grainy distressed film stock look of the past scenes the bizarre monsters and even the interactions of the characters and scene framing. A great series that could be looked at as a “hidden gem” of the early 2000s from the grim political elements to a fresh take on Psychic phenomena that avoids the cliches and hackneyed tropes often associated with it.