Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid – A bundle of cuteness worth watching

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As a fan of the Yuri or Shoujo-Ai genre I’m always glad to see new anime with such traits becoming popular. It’s an unfortunate fact that people associate yuri or yaoi with hardcore gay sex, but its series like Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid which help assert the fact that not everything in this genre must feature women or men squishing their intimate parts together.

The premise of the anime seems absurd, but it works. Despite the main characters being dragons, I found myself nodding along when they expressed their own nuggets of wisdom – almost everything in this show sans the fantasy elements is oddly relatable.

And also. Dragon. Maids. Nuff’ said.

Story

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After a night of getting drunk and not remembering what happened, our main character Kobayashi exits her apartment only to come face to face with a green dragon, who then promptly transforms into a maid.

As far as first episodes go, it was a pretty epic beginning, the anime going for the shock factor and mixing it with a good dose of humour.

The dragon, who introduces herself as Tohru, soon starts living at Kobayashi’s house in exchange for being a maid.

Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid is episodic, and we mostly get to see how Tohru acclimates herself to human society, whilst pining after Kobayashi. As the anime goes on, we are introduced to various other characters like the adorable dragon that is Kanna, Fafnir the cursed dragon, an ex-goddess who is referred to as Lucoa, and Elma, Tohru’s self-proclaimed rival due to them being of opposite natures.

Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid is an anime that one would describe as a ‘comfort anime’ where its sole purpose is getting the viewer to relax. This is reflected in the anime’s laidback demeanour, complete with heart-warming and comedic moments peppered throughout.

Most of the story is set in modern day Japan, but there are several episodes dedicated to exploring Tohru’s backstory and the world she came from. It’s interesting to receive hints of a fantasy world just a portal away, and it contributes to the overall world building in the anime.

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There isn’t any overarching story other than the dragons’ eventual return to their own world. Instead, the anime shows us their everyday lives through Tohru and the other dragon’s point of view.

The situations the characters find themselves dealing are not that different to the ones we find ourselves in. There were times I found myself relating to the nuggets of wisdom dished out by the characters, and it’s eerie how Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid hits the nail on the head in regards to society’s problems in general.

It’s kind of ironic that comedies can make fun of or point out hard facts, and though we know what they’re saying is true, we can’t help convince ourselves that it’s not to be taken seriously, because hey – it’s just a show.

It gets depressing the more you think about it, but proves this anime isn’t mindless dribble. It leaves you with things to think about. It engages the audience in some way, going beyond what a normal slice of life series would do.

Characters

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Kobayashi and Tohru have great chemistry with each other. Kobayashi is level headed and logical which contrasts with Tohru’s aggressive and more emotional driven behaviour, and its fun to see how they try to get to know each other better. Their relationship inches forward with each new discovery, and in the process, they also learn more about themselves.

I really enjoyed how Kobayashi took most of Tohru’s antics in stride, including some of Tohru’s more affectionate and romantic actions towards her. The anime doesn’t explicitly state that they are a couple but it’s pretty darn clear if you know how to read subtext, and it was nice to see a yuri (or perhaps shoujo ai would be more fitting) series not overly serious or dramatic, while still being realistic.

Kobayashi, Tohru, and Kanna get the most development, with Lucoa and Elma getting the least. Considering the anime only has 13 episodes, I’m glad they decided to focus on those three because I think it wouldn’t have turned out as good.

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From the left: Fafnir, Elma, Tohru, Kanna and Lucoa

I found Kobayashi to be the most relatable of the cast which isn’t surprising, with her being a human and all. She’s not perfect and has flaws – which she is aware of – but she tries her best to be a good person, something she demonstrates through her actions.

Although she isn’t big on showing affection to the people or dragons she cares about, she does try to do so from time to time, knowing her habit of keeping a distance might be wrongly interpreted.

Tohru can come off as airheaded but is proven to be anything but. Other than having superior physical abilities and grasp of magic, she acclimates to the human world easily. She’s charismatic, friendly, and add in her keenness to learn about humans, Tohru is nothing but interesting. Her antics are usually the source of humour, and are of a light-hearted and cute variety.

Overall, the characters in Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid are the most likable bunch I have ever come across and I wouldn’t dare imagine the anime without them.

Animation

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Despite it being a slice of life series, Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid has moments where they showcase amazing fight scenes. Those were visually arresting, and coupled with some decent fight choreography, it rivals other action anime I’ve seen.

It’s clear they didn’t cut any corners. Though there were scenes where the animation looked poor, those are sparse and don’t affect the overall quality of the anime. Even casual scenes such as Tohru and Kobayashi going shopping are well animated, with detailed backgrounds that really make the area they live in feel like a living, breathing town.

Overall, Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid was a treat, both visually and story wise. It’s definitely one of the best comfort anime out there and news of a second season couldn’t have sounded any sweeter. I’ll be looking forward to seeing what the new season has in store.

9/10

Dragon. Maids.

March comes in like a lion – Prepare yourself for this feels train

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I went into this not expecting much but once again, was surprised by the sheer depth and handling of March comes in like a lion. It brings home the point that anime, as a medium, is extremely versatile, and naysayers who insist it is only for children are thoughtless hacks.

This anime might just be one of the best in 2017. I’m surprised how little it’s been mentioned in the sphere of anime youtubers, and I hope someone talks about it soon because it’s looking criminally underrated.

Story

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The story follows a 17 year old named Rei Kiriyama, who is living on his own due to certain circumstances. Being one of the youngest Shogi players to go pro, he’s able to support himself while schooling. Despite this, Rei is still burdened by his past, and is also struggling with his personal demons.

The first episode is especially powerful. It shows Rei waking up in a bare apartment filled only with necessities and using subtle imagery, told us about his life without boring exposition. I think the phrase ‘show, don’t tell’ perfectly describes March comes in like a lion.

It doesn’t drown the viewer in information and leaves us to piece together what we learn.

Also, despite the fact that the anime deals with heavy themes such as depression, it handles them with admirable grace, never once shying away from what society thinks is taboo. It presents things truthfully and earnestly, never needing to embellish or exaggerate. And for that, I cannot help but respect March comes in like a lion.

The story largely deals with Rei trying to cope with his current lifestyle, and saviour comes in the form of the Kawamoto sisters.

Like Rei, the three girls deal with their own demons; albeit of a different sort. Drawn to them like a moth to a flame, he can’t help but grow close to them. The first half of the anime is fantastic. Heck, I’d praise it to high heavens if you let me.  The second half is passable, but I can’t blame it for not living up to the perfection that is the first half.

Characters

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I’m amazed at how well-developed the entire cast of characters are. There were times were I found myself thinking, “Is this really an anime?” because each character is so lovingly developed, that it’s hard not to think they’re two dimensional beings on the screen.

A typical and unfortunate trait of anime is boiling down morality into black and white – the hero and the villain, the protagonist vs the antagonist. Several characters in the anime fit the mould of the villain pretty well…until you realize that this is only from Rei’s point of view. They too are flawed, and there isn’t a looming mastermind who’s the main cause of everything bad happening to our protagonist.

Everything in March comes in like a lion cannot be judged with a first impression. As the episodes roll by, the characters evolve in their own way, growing and learning from their experiences, or stagnating as they desperately search for a solution.

As the viewer, I got to see Rei’s journey alongside the Kawamoto sisters. He’s relatable because he’s genuine, and I think he would remind many people of themselves. There were times I found myself uncomfortable – scenes hitting too close to home drawing reactions from me that I never expected.

Animation

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March comes in like a lion frequently uses dreamlike imagery to convey Rei, or someone else’s emotional and mental state. One such scene that impressed and terrified me was the opening scene in the first episode where the viewer is immediately greeted by a haunting whirlpool of black and white.

It brings to mind stuff of the supernatural nature, while accurately conveying what the he felt, to me. The anime pulls these kinds of emotional scenes very well and on multiple occasions, even.

Overall I think March comes in like a lion is a must-watch for anyone who calls themselves an anime fan. It knocked all my expectations out of the park, and I’m sure it will do the same for yours.

9/10

Rei = Cinnamon roll

Detective Conan: The Crimson Love Letter

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Every year, my friend and I go to our local cinema to watch the latest installment of the Detective Conan franchise. We’ve been doing this since 2014, going through the movies whether good or bad.

I entered the cinema with fingers crossed and hoped for the best. After the disaster that was the 20th movie I was cautiously optimistic about this one, and while a small part of me was reluctant to watch it, the squealing fan-girl within me pushed me to give it a chance.

And so fast forward several days later – I can still recall the utter relief that rushed through me when I finished watching The Crimson Love Letter. I left the cinema with an excited smile on my face, mind whirling with thoughts and opinions to prepare for this review. It’s a little depressing to be happy just because the movie didn’t suck, but eh. We’ll just have to wait and see if the movie 22 turns out to be good, so that the spike of dread at each new Detective Conan movie will finally cease.

Story

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The case this time is simple and straightforward, no closed room murder or intricate murder mystery for the viewer to unravel. I think it’s a good thing because instead of getting a complicated mess of a story what we got instead was a simple and solid mystery. The whodunit didn’t become clear to me until they were revealed but more astute watchers might guess who it might be if the manage to piece together the evidence quicker than I could.

The Crimson Love Letter not only gives us a good mystery, it also provides a generous dollop of competitive Karuta – something some anime fans might be familiar with if they watch or read Chihayafuru. Basically, it’s a sport wherein players have to ‘steal’ cards from their opponent’s territory, a one-on-one battle to see who gets the card first. It requires a fast-reflexes and an intimate knowledge of the poems written on the cards, and the first player to get rid of all their cards, win.

A deep understanding of Karuta isn’t necessary but you would enjoy the Karuta battles more if you did, I suppose. The movie does a good job of tying it in with the main plot and character motivations, so I was slightly impressed by that. The inclusion of Heji and Kazuha also served to spice up the regular mystery formula due to the fact Heji’s childhood friend has a role to play in the story as well. Overall, I think the plot was well-paced and kept my interest for the entire runtime.

Characters

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Hattori Heji and Tomoya Kazuha stage an epic return in this movie. I really missed them as it’s been quite a while since they appeared in both the manga and the anime, and as I watched Conan and Hattori bicker like old pals I felt indescribably happy at such a familiar scene.

In contrast to Conan’s rational and sometimes cold personality, Hattori’s hot headedness provides a nice change. He spices up boring exposition scenes and makes the regular doom and gloom of searching for the murderer more enjoyable, and his ‘will they or will they not’ relationship with Kazuha makes The Crimson Love Letter more energetic and humorous. There were many scenes throughout the movie where the chemistry between the two childhood friends were downright intense – you can literally see their affection for each other through every action and remark.

This causes the appearance of the movie’s new character, Ooka Momiji, to have a bigger effect, one of the side plots being that she is ‘engaged’ to Heji due to a childhood promise. This was another aspect of The Crimson Letter that I really liked as it gave the movie a lot more personality, rather than going through the usual tired detective mystery and eventual capture of the suspect.

In many ways, the characters here felt more genuine than those in the last few movies.

Animation

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Editing was on point for this movie, and the creative use of panels from the manga to convey flashbacks was a very nice touch, and honestly, damn impressive. They really stepped up the game for this movie. The animation was consistent with several standout moments, like one scene where Kazuha and Momiji admire their surroundings from a boat. Overall, I have nothing but praise for the animation.

Conclusion

The Crimson Love Letter may not be a return to form, but it does a fine job of reminding DC fans of why they like it in the first place. A solidly written mystery with entertaining characters and impressive animation, you can’t go wrong with this one. Take it from someone who hated the last movie, The Darkest Nightmare. This movie is definitely worth your time.

8/10

A Love letter to the fans

 

Why you should read: The World God Only Knows

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Rarely do I finish a manga and feel wholly satisfied. I don’t know if it’s the norm for long running serializations, like for example Katekyo Hitman Reborn, but their eventual endings tend to range from mediocre to downright dissatisfying. This is especially unfortunate because some manga start off strong only to die off with a whimper. The manga I mentioned above, Katekyo, was one such manga.

The past week has seen me binge reading different series, some long and some short. One manga called Wolf guy started off brilliantly but ended in a way that left me annoyed. That annoyance was what led me to reread one of my favorite series – The World God Only Knows.

This manga is so. damn. satisfying. From the storytelling to the execution to the ending, it’s like the universe just knew what I needed. I believe this is my second time reading it but it didn’t matter because I couldn’t recall much of the major plot points, I felt like I was like discovering it for the first time.

Story

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The advantage of a being a popular, serialized manga is having the ability to flesh out the story as they see fit. While it might be unfair, a system that punishes its losers as much as it rewards its winners, I can’t help but be grateful for it because it gave us The World God Only Knows.

The story is mostly shown from the POV of our main protagonist, a hardcore enthusiast that specializes in gal games (video games that involve interactions with anime-styled pretty girls) who mistakenly accepts a devil’s contract to find and capture runaway devils. How? By conquering the hearts of the girls these devils hide in.

I wouldn’t blame people for immediately closing their browser after reading that summary. If I didn’t like the harem genre I doubt I’d have even read this manga.

But looks can be deceiving. The World God Only Knows is amazing in that although it uses typical anime tropes and clichés, it puts a fresh spin on it and creates omething special. Here’s a quote by Carlo Santos of Anime News Network on the anime adaptation:

“By most expectations, anything involving ditzy demon girls and gaming-obsessed geekboys and a rotating lineup of high school beauties should have been the stuff of critical derision. Yet the show’s sharp sense of humor, honest emotions, and polished production values prove that working with familiar clichés doesn’t have to result in a clichéd product. With the right prodding and poking, any anime series can indeed become greater than the sum of its parts.”

If the anime can be described as such, I can assure you that manga is twice as amazing. While the story does get slightly convoluted towards the end, I didn’t find it to be that bad overall. The important thing, to me at least, is that it still made sense and tied in to the plot. The mangaka also manages to avoid plot holes and finishes up the story in a spectacularly satisfying manner.

As you can tell already, I’d be sing praises for The World God Only Knows for as long as it takes to get you to read it.

Characters

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The main character is certainly one of the most enjoyable I’ve ever come across in a sea of uninteresting harem MCs.

Keima Katsuragi, also known as the ‘God Of Conquests’ in gaming circles, is one heck of a guy. Unlike your average harem protagonist, he actually puts in the work to get girls to fall for him. Girls don’t throw themselves at him just because he does something nice. Ignoring the fact he romances girls to exorcise the runaway spirits, it’s actually interesting to see him working his way into their hearts with his own brand of affection.

His personality might not be the best, but he doesn’t do things half-assed. Be it school work or devil hunting Keima puts forth his hundred percent if it’s something he needs to do. His analytic nature comes in handy when dealing with threats, and he’s not afraid to get out of his comfort zone (albeit with prodding) to get what he wants. It’s a nice change of pace to have a main character who isn’t ditzy or indecisive. Under the snark and gal games addiction, Keima is a catch, and the girls know it.

Speaking of. Each girl Keima ‘conquers’ has her own arc, and while some come and go, several have bigger and more important roles that tie in to the later part of the story. Another aspect that I thought was well done is the fact that even after their arcs, the manga doesn’t completely forget about them. One may say it’s because of plot, but I still thought it was a good attention for detail.

In addition, each arc is well-written and of varying lengths; some short and others, long. They explore each girl’s personality, and the ones who tie into the later story receive great development, like Tenri, one of Keima’s childhood friends.

Conclusion 

Even if you dislike the romcom/harem genre, I’d highly recommend to give this manga a try. This is an example of a harem done right.

Youjo Senki – All Hail The Empire!

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Who knew an anime about a reincarnated salary man could be so interesting? Granted, he reincarnated into a psychopathic loli, but it proved to be a million times more interesting than the generic harem and shonen series that are pumped out by the hundreds each year.

My first impression of Youjo Senki was that it was exactly what it advertised. Gratuitous action, magic, and strategic displays of one upping enemies before pummeling them into dust.

But what I didn’t expect to find was good characterization of the main character, and great storytelling interwoven with various themes like war, morality and religion. Studio NUT’s debut anime has put them on the map.

Story

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The story begins just as the life of a man, ends. As one of Japan’s elite salary men, this man’s life was going great. But everything that could have gone wrong, went wrong, and in the end, he pushed in front of an incoming train.

Just before he dies, the man who would come to be Youjo Senki’s main character meets ‘God’, or in his own words, Being X. After rejecting ‘God’s’ existence, he wakes up as a baby girl being spoon-fed by a nun. And thus, Tanya Degurechaff was born.

Tanya’s journey up the ranks of the military is equal parts hilarious and interesting. Using her past memories, she displays an intelligence that most adults would never have, as well as a brilliant tactical mind which her superiors scramble to make use of. Tanya’s number one goal in this life is the same as the last – to be promoted and live the rest of her days lounging in the sun.

But of course, Being X has other plans in store for her.

Throughout the anime, the story pacing remains consistent (save for that one filler episode) and is worthy of praise. While it may seem cut and dry at first the anime will leave you begging for more after it hits its stride. What propels the story is the ongoing war between Tanya’s country – appropriately named The Empire – with various other countries, and also how the interventions of Being X affect the war as a whole.

There’s a lot of exploration of human nature, how war affects people and warps them into the monsters they were against in the first place. I didn’t expect so much thought to be put into a story about a reincarnated salaryman but am pleasantly surprised that it was written this well. The heavier subjects are handled in way that didn’t seem overbearing or pretentious. Tanya, with her warped personality, is the perfect vehicle for those watching to navigate this chaotic landscape.

Characters

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I think Tanya is an example of how good development can do right by the character. Even when I know she’s a maniac with the propensity for killing, she still managed to endear herself to me because it’s clear that she has her own code of honor, rules that she lives by. She is very much an anti-hero, perhaps even a villain. Though she is undoubtedly a monster, she’s gained the trust of the people she’d fought with and successfully defended her country from invaders. If she is a monster in someone’s eyes, she is a hero in another’s.

This is an interesting element in Youjo Senki that other anime series lack. In other shows, we’re usually shown just one point of view – which is nearly always the good side – and the clumsy attempts to preach about morality never does get the message across because good and evil has been firmly categorized from the start.

The country Tanya is fighting for cannot be said to be perfect. Anything run by humans will not be. Throughout the show, her country is constantly painted as the evil one – but just like any other decent country, all they want is peace. The problem is how they go about it, which causes misunderstandings and grief. The anime takes its time to firmly touch upon their actions and the mistakes that follow after.

Being X is another interesting character. He can be said to be the antagonist of Youjo Senki as he is hell bent on getting Tanya to bend to his will, unknowing that his actions are actually pushing her further away. This fact ties in to the overall story very well, and there’s plenty of room for dissection and brain storming even after you finish the anime.

The rest of the cast is less developed, but none of them really caught my interest. It felt like they were given screen time just because. But overall, they were likeable and it was cute to watch Tanya act the part of a caring, but stern superior. What an amazing farce, it is.

Animation

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There isn’t much room for the animation to flex its proverbial muscles considering we spent most of our time observing Tanya on the battlefield. The magic fights in the show are eye popping, and the anime has a rather nice color palette, which shows well in the more scenic parts such as the bustling streets.

What really makes Youjo senki stand out though, is the shot composition. I’m not exactly an expert on this so I’ll direct you to this video right here. There are spoilers in it, so I recommend you watch only after you’ve finished the anime.  It’s informative and very well explained. Studio NUT’s actions have set high expectations for their next release.

All in all Youjo Senki is not to be missed if you’re a fan of shows which feature a cunning and intelligent lead with the propensity for strategy, like for example, Log Horizon. This anime is one of the few light novel adaptations done right.

8/10

Being X is an asshole

Demi-chan wa Kataritai – Absolutely adorkable

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There are times where all we need is a good anime and a hot drink to unwind after a tough day.

The perfect anime for this would be Demi-chan wa Kataritai – or if you want a name that is less of a mouthful – Interviews with Monster Girls.

At first glance, this anime seems like your typical run of the mill harem, replacing human girls with huge knockers for monster girls. I’m happy to report that Demi-chan wa Kataritai isn’t that sort of show.

It has more in common with Natsume Yuuchinjou in terms of atmosphere and slow pace, and both is the type of show to watch if you’re craving for something domestic and comfy. Overall, it’s just very pleasant and adorable.

Story

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There isn’t much meat to the story, save for the characters going about their day with random shenanigans shoved in here and there. The story mostly unfolds as the main character – a school teacher named Tetsuo – encounters Demi-humans in the school and forges friendships with them. Though the bond between them is weak at first, they grow closer and more familiar with each other as the show progresses.

What I like is that there isn’t any contrived misunderstandings shoved into the show just to cause drama. This allows for a stress free and innately pleasant experience – sort of like how one would feel when watching a video of kittens frolicking in a meadow. Because of this, characters interactions feel genuine.

I feel like there isn’t much to say here because there isn’t a fixed or overarching story. Still, the anime makes do with what it has, and proves that a lack of story doesn’t equate to bad story telling.

Characters

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The colorful roster of characters is where the anime truly shines.

Tetsuo Takashi – or more fondly remembered as Sensei – seems like your typical main character, though fairly older than traditional harem protagonists. He doesn’t show much personality throughout the first few episodes, besides being described as ‘plain’ or ‘boring’. But as anime went on, more of his personality began to bleed through.

Despite the slow start and general lack of development, I find him quite likable. His personality also fits well with the Demi-humans he interacts with, which is a plus. When compared to the rest of the other characters however, you’ll see that he’s actually the least interesting among them. Also, he reminds me that JSDF soldier from that GATE anime.

Tetsuo also befriends three girls. Hikari, the Vampire. Kyouko, the Dullahan. Yuki, the Snow woman. In doing so, he also manages to attract the affections of his colleague, who is coincidentally, a Succubus. Talk about killing multiple birds with one stone.

Out of all these characters, my favorite character would be Hikari. I don’t normally like the chipper, easily excitable types but she’s too adorkable to resist. Her antics always have me clutching my sides in laughter, be it trying to wheedle favors out of her favourite sensei or teasing her younger sister. She’s a force to be reckoned with, and has the penchant for trouble.

Unfortunately, other than the main cast, I found the side characters to be forgettable. There’s several recurring students that get featured here and there, and while I find the occasional shift of spotlight to be a nice break, I didn’t find them interesting. While I loved the Demi-human’s sense of humor, the side characters usually fail to get even a giggle out of me because the jokes they crack feel forced.

It may just be that I’m not a fan of those types of specific jokes, but I felt it was painful to sit through. Despite my apathy towards them, it’s good that they aren’t relegated to merely being the butt of jokes and do get some minor development, which leads to some interesting and thoughtful situations in later episodes.

Animation

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The animation is decent, nothing especially eye popping. The lack of bombastic colors lends to it a certain slice of life charm present in those kinds of shows, so if that’s the look they were aiming for I’d say they nailed it. There are some standout moments, like the effects of Yuki’s ice powers during one of her episodes, but overall I’d say Demi-chan wa Kataritai is pleasant to look at and is of consistent animation quality.

I didn’t expect to like the show as much as I did. I began with the expectation that it was going to be kind of ‘meh’ but it endeared itself to me enough that I can safely say that I’ll be back to watch it again. A relaxing and charming show which deserves more attention than it gets.

8/10

It’ll be criminal not to have a S2

Horizon Zero Dawn – Beware the mighty Thunderjaw!

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I’m glad my first PS4 game was Horizon Zero Dawn. Though some may disagree, I am a believer that great games make a great console. I don’t think I’ll be letting go of my PS4 anytime within the next century since it’ll be a crime not to play Horizon Zero Dawn one more time.

There will be minor spoilers in the review, but don’t worry too much as I’m merely touching the surface of what the game has to offer.

Story

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It was a delight following the game’s protagonist, Aloy of the Nora, on her journey. After we watch a lengthy cut scene of a child Aloy trying to come to terms that she is an outcast, we’re first given control of her when she falls into a hidden area – where the remnants of a destroyed civilization greet her. It’s a gripping introduction that served well to draw players in.

The mystery surrounding Aloy’s past and how she came to be kept me hooked. While the story isn’t the most complicated I’ve seen, it had its fair share of plot twists and ‘Holy shit’ moments that kept me on the edge. The writing did feel slightly cliché at times, but that’s something I can live with. All in all, the story was fulfilling and well-paced throughout.

Another thing that contributed to the story was how well the world of Horizon Zero Dawn was fleshed out, which we get to experience via side quests. There wasn’t a single thing that felt unnatural about the setting and how things played out.

Horizon Zero Dawn proved that side quests in open world games can avoid being the boring, overused filler that is a staple of other triple A games.

As Aloy, you get to rescue people from bandits, foil any and all dastardly plans, as well as explore large caves known as ‘Cauldrons’ which make the mechanical beasts that populate the world of Horizon. After the quality time I spent with the game, I can proudly give my recommendation and that it is undoubtedly worth the price tag.

One downside is that while the side quests are enjoyable and serve well to flesh out the world, they sometimes distract me too much from the main story. I could be on my way to the next location when I’ll get the urge to explore my surroundings – and end up stumbling onto another side quest to add to my ever growing to do list. It’s not a huge detriment and more of a pet peeve, so it wouldn’t be a negative if you’re a person who loves content.

But I think the story would have had more impact if I wasn’t running off every twenty minutes to help someone find their lost kin.

Characters

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Aloy talking to Sylens

At the beginning, Aloy’s your token ‘I can’t remember my childhood so I want to find out’ protagonist and as tropes go, it’s on the more clichéd side. Nevertheless, Guerilla Games did a marvelous job of showing the players that she is more layered than she seems, through the use of main and side quests. To be honest, Aloy is one of the most intriguing characters I’ve had the pleasure of following. While she does often dream of taking revenge (due to some major plot points) she doesn’t turn into the cynical, depressed protagonists we see far too often.

Throughout my time as Aloy, it was exciting to learn about her as a character. Little things like mumbling sarcastically to herself when she’s inevitably dropped into another dangerous situation. Sassing the assholes who judge her without getting to know her. Making hilarious quips that proudly showcase her dry sense of humor. Her voice actor did sound bland at times, but those moments are few and far between.

There to balance her slightly naïve outlook on the world, is Sylens. After helping her escape from her enemies, he expresses an interest in assisting her. When I first encountered him, my first assessment of the man was that he’s a dick.

But as the story progressed, I began to grow fond of his analytical, and often cold, demeanor. He’s the perfect balm to Aloy’s brashness, often preferring to look at the bigger picture. Sylens comes off as a selfish self-centered person, but really, he’s just a person with flaws. Like Aloy. Like everyone. Overall I thought he was an excellent character that contributed in making Horizon Zero Dawn a cut above the rest.

Some characters get a good chunk of development, but not all of them. It’s unfortunate, but I’d rather have several interesting and well written characters than a large roster of plain boring ones. Two of my favourite characters are Erend, a bodyguard to the Carja King, and Neil, a bloodthirsty and psychopathic bandit hunter.

Gameplay

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Horizon Zero Dawn runs like a dream. Even on my original PS4 I suffered zero lag and frame drops, a far cry from most modern titles. The only thing I was annoyed by was the long load times when I fast travelled from one point to another. This is a minor nitpick, considering there are no loading screens when you run from place to place, but it was still irritating to wait. There is also little to no bugs, and wow did that make me happy.

Another major positive was the game mechanics. Aloy’s numerous weapons provided me with an awesome and versatile hunting experience. When taking out a Stalker for example, I could shoot a ball of volatile electricity to stun it, and then smoothly switch to a bow to blow its grenade launcher off. I think a large chunk of the hours I spent in game was hunting down every single machine I could find.

The large variety of machines kept the game challenging. However, one thing that annoyed me is that the map is overflowing with hostile machines. Once, I entered a new area to explore, and was immediately attacked by three types of machines. One of them was a giant, fucking bird that could shoot electricity from its chest. Needless to say, I wasn’t a happy camper when I had to reload my save because Aloy got torn to small, meaty bits.

Conclusion

Horizon Zero Dawn is a strong contender for GOTY. Considering that I’m still thinking about how fun the game is while playing Persona 5 – an amazing game in its own right – I think Horizon Zero Dawn is worth its asking price. I’ll be back to hunt machines again, that I can guarantee.

9/10

I need a sequel…now.

Mahouka Koukou no Rettousei – Jesus kun strikes again

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Shows like this leave me torn. In a similar vein to Sword Art Online, Mahouka Koukou no Rettousei – abbreviated as Mahouka – has a protagonist who is near godlike and has plot armor rivalling poorly written self-insert fanfiction.

On one hand, this anime was ridiculous in a way that left me entertained. The overpowered main character, Tatsuya Shiba, is inexplicably fun to watch but unfortunately, any self-respecting critic will be hard pressed not to point out his flaws.

Story

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Tatsuya and Miyuki

Like most light novel adaptations, the story is difficult to judge as the anime only adapts a certain portion of it and thus only captures some of what it has to offer. The anime ends before the story really starts to take off. Despite this, I think they did a passable job of adapting the story material, though that’s not to say the show is without flaws. I believe Mahouka has adapted eight volumes of its light novel and roughly three arcs in total.

The first twelve episodes that constitute the first arc is easily the best part of this show. This is no argument, as the quality of the episodes afterwards dips tremendously. The last two arcs leave much to be desired due to poor execution and poor pacing. They are still mildly enjoyable but as a whole they make the anime lousier than it would’ve been had they stopped at episode 12.

The basic premise of the show is that in a world reliant on magic and magicians, Tatsuya is one of those with poor magic skills, and that in itself is enough to be ostracized and debased since people talented in magic think themselves superior. His sister, Miyuki, is one of these talented magicians but fortunately, she loves her brother with all her heart and is a good person – this strange combination leads to the pair getting attention, and not the good kind.

What the show does well is slowly introducing its huge roster of characters. It starts with the siblings before expanding, and as the plot unravels, the overarching story begins to come to light.

Another aspect of the anime I liked was how they told us about the inner workings of the society said characters live in, as well as explaining the nitty gritty of magic and how it works. Good world-building is a definite plus for me, but if you’re the type who dislikes being pelted with exposition Mahouka will probably not seem appealing.

Overall, the story is only passable.  Those looking for a deep and intriguing plot will probably end up disappointed. While Mahouka has plenty of world building and some politicking, it’s more action oriented.

Characters

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As I said in the opening paragraph of this review, I actually like Tatsuya. But despite me liking him, I can firmly say that he is a critic’s worse nightmare. If being ‘bland’ is a character trait, than Tatsuya has got it down to a tee. There’s an explanation for him being this way, but other than being an overprotective older brother, he is pretty much a gary stu. Again, this aspect of the show is a plus for me because I enjoy these types of shows and character tropes, but I know more than a few people who hate this sort of thing.

Miyuki Shiba gets her fair share of screen time since she’s nearly always sticking to Tatsuya, but her character – like her brother – is only skin deep.

She’s a badass. Unfortunately, she gets little to no development. She does not change throughout the show and while I can brush it off since this anime has only adapted a mere eight volumes of light novel, but the fact remains that she received no development. She is an overprotective and talented younger sister. That sentence is her character.

Continuing on, the rest of the cast is unfortunately as underdeveloped as the siblings. This leads to ‘heavy’ moments where emotional scenes which are supposed to further the characters, hold little to no sway over those watching. One might say that I’m criticizing the show for something it holds no power over, but it is because I like Mahouka that I’m critical of it.

If the show does get a second season, I hope its flaws get addressed, which would in turn attract more fans.

Conclusion

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Though Mahouka has glaring flaws, it was an entertaining watch and deserves to be given a chance. The show has a great soundtrack and decent animation, it is far from the worse anime I’d ever watched. If you enjoyed SAO then you’d love Mahouka, no doubt about that. However, if you hated SAO and are interested in checking this anime out then I’d suggest that you don’t get your hopes too high or even avoid it completely.

6/10

Onii-Samaaaaa

Sword Art Online: Ordinal Scale – The ship sails on!

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Sword Art Online – abbreviated as SAO – is infamous throughout the anime community for being trash. The protagonist is an OP harem master and the female characters are nothing but sacks of jiggling flesh for viewers to gape at and fap to. Despite this being the general consensus among anime veterans, some agree that despite its flaws, it’s a darn entertaining show.

I enjoyed SAO and would go as far as to say it’s one of my favorite anime. I’m not ignorant to the fact that it has (many) flaws, but I like it for what it is.

This show is not meant to be taken seriously and there are reasons for its popularity, one reason being accessibility. The show’s plot and characters are straightforward, making it easy to understand and enjoy.

Many people I know that don’t watch anime have seen SAO and liked it, which is partly why it was as big as it was. It appealed to people who have never watched an anime in their lives.

I think the show’s premise also played a great part in getting attention, because how many people can resist watching a show about getting trapped in a video game? Not many!

And so, after two anime seasons and several games, the movie Sword Art Online: Ordinal Scale is the latest addition to this successful franchise.

Story

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The story of Ordinal Scale is decent. After the SAO fiasco and the confiscation of NerveGear, a new device called the ‘Augma’ has taken its place as the new hot and upcoming technology. It’s a safer option compared to the NerveGear, it doesn’t have enough power to fry the wearer’s brain, and its multitude of uses made sure it spiked popularity.

While playing the popular AR (Artificial reality) game Ordinal Scale, Kirito and his hare– I mean, friends, discover that SAO survivors are losing their memories of their time spent in the death game after playing Ordinal Scale.

The mix of mystery and action was quite well done in this movie. While I would have loved to see more action, what I got from the movie was entertaining enough. It had a strong start, but the ending was resolved in a slightly campy manner. Still, it was in line with much of what I expected, but I’m glad it gave its viewers a chance to piece together the mystery on hand rather than just giving it to us straight.

The movie also has some genuinely touching moments, it’s impressive considering how much content they managed to fit into a two hour timeframe.

Characters

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Kirito received some interesting development. They managed to grab my interest with how they spun Kirito’s preference for the virtual world, as compared to the real one. Even after going through the traumatizing experiences of Sword Art Online, he still likes VRMMORPGS and prefers them to AR games, which is the opposite of how most survivors feel.

I got the feeling that what he didn’t like about the AR technology was that it breached the thin line of ‘virtual’ and ‘reality’. It makes for some good brain food and left me contemplating on the advantages of both AR and VR. Unfortunately, the movie kind of cops out at the end and Kirito solves his problems with the age old technique of ‘Hit it until it works’ but the characterization was good while it lasted.

Another thing I was appreciative of was how the movie explored ‘Survivor’s guilt,’ by showing little tidbits of events that happened in SAO but were not showed in the anime. It was a good move and made me connect with the characters. It’s too bad they never got to finish exploring it since the movie ends in a rather clichéd manner.

Like I said, though the movie had a strong start, its starts to fall into its more shonen tendencies by the end. I wish they’d taken more time to explore how people were emotionally affected by the loss of their memories, and what kind of effects they would experience in the long term.

But, well…I guess we can’t have it all.

Asuna also showed some decent growth in the movie. I’ve always liked her (except in season 2, but let’s not talk about that) for her emotional strength, which is what made her coupling with Kirito interesting. While he’s stronger in a physical sense, she has stronger in matters of the heart. She is sure of herself, and is less likely to suffer internal dilemmas. The movie does something great and takes this strength away from her, so to speak. As such, the stakes rise and give the movie a sense of urgency as both she and Kirito fight to get it back.

Conclusion

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Sword Art Online: Ordinal Scale is a must watch for any fan of SAO. Fans of Kirito and Asuna are bound to enjoy it. For those interested in characters like Silica, Lisbeth or Sinon, you’ll be out of luck since they only have minimal screen time, most of it is split between Asuna and Kirito. However, the upside is that we do get to see what they’ve been up to after SAO. It’s a decent movie that won’t take too much of your time.

7/10

My body is ready for season 3

Character Appreciation: Maho Hiyajo

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I thought I’d start something new for the blog in a segment I’m dubbing ‘Character Appreciation,’ which is basically what it means. Since I’m trying to hit three posts per month I thought it would be a nice addition to have small written pieces on characters I like.

There’ll be a number of major spoilers for Steins;Gate and Steins;Gate 0 here so if you’re planning to play either of these games I’d advise you to come back later. If you don’t care about spoilers then read on!

Maho Hiyajo is one of the main characters from the visual novel Steins;Gate 0. In the opening chapter of the story she bumps into Okabe Rintaro at a seminar where she gets mistaken for a grade schooler. After some hilarious back and forth banter, she’s revealed to be older than her appearance suggests and is actually there as an assistant to one of the professors making an appearance at the seminar.

As the game progresses, Okabe discovers that Maho was Makise Kurisu’s friend and colleague under the Institute of Neuroscience at Victor Chondria University.

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A defining thread in Steins;Gate 0 is how every major character is inevitably linked to Kurisu. Okabe is understandably distressed considering that he killed her in this timeline, the attempt to save her gone horribly wrong, but try as he might Kurisu’s shadow continues to haunt him.

Maho, like Okabe, is similarly haunted by her now deceased colleague, though in a different way.

I like how the friendly rivalry between Maho and Kurisu was written, and the parallel drawn between it and the supposed relationship of Antonio Salieri and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. As you know Maho’s brainchild is Amadeus a complex system that allows a user’s memories to be stored and then ‘grown.’ This is a piss poor explanation and more on the layman side so I apologize. But continuing on, months before Kurisu’s death, her memories were stored in the Amadeus system and has since evolved into its own entity. It is her, and at the same time isn’t.

All throughout the game Maho struggles with her feelings of inferiority and jealousy towards her friend. Before Kurisu arrived at the university Maho had been regarded as a genius and even prided herself as one. But once she realized that she’d never truly been one, she can’t help but feel as if she isn’t Kurisu’s equal.

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She does a quite a bit of self-reflection throughout the game, constantly reevaluating herself and thinking over their relationship to the point where it bordered on obsessive. But it was because of how frequently she fought to overcome these negative feelings that she became one of my favorite characters. At her core, Maho isn’t a bad person because despite her feelings of jealousy, she never takes it out on Kurisu.

One moment that really stuck with me even after I finished the game was when they struck up a tentative conversation and bonded over the same Mozart song they liked. That song was the catalyst for their friendship, and comes into play later in the game.

I think Maho’s willingness to examine her flaws with a critical eye is another reason why I like and admire her. She was the complete opposite of Okabe in that regard, considering he spent the majority of the game trying to run from reality.

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Kiryuu Moeka and Maho’s friendship in Steins;Gate 0 is another thing that came out of left field. Even in the world line the game takes place in, Moeka remains a rounder.

Given how Moeka’s personality is and her general disinterest for anything other than FB, the evolution in their relationship was shocking, with one route ending with Moeka sacrificing herself for Maho. Their friendship pretty much blindsided me because I never thought they had anything in common. It turned out they have good chemistry with one another, which made for a well written and developed relationship that added depth to both characters.

While her obsession with FB still exists, she also finds a friend in Maho. They bonded because of their similar feelings of inferiority and helped each other, not realizing that all they needed was to confide in someone similar. It was especially nice to see Moeka being happy for once. Her life pretty much sucks in every world line and while I know I should hate her for making Okabe’s life hell, it makes me happy to know that she gets to experience some measure of happiness, however fleeting it might be.

Overall, I think Maho is a splendid addition to the roster of characters and I look forward to seeing her again when I replay Steins;Gate 0!