ERASED (Boku dake ga Inai Machi) Review

Mystery thrillers is a genre that anime does particularly well with, especially when it comes to drawing in more casual and newer fans; which actually makes a lot of sense. If you take into account that types of shows that are popular in western media, this type of storytelling innately works with new viewers. But when you stop to look at the major anime hits that tackle mystery elements well, they are usually coupled with action. A bombastic visual storytelling that anime particularly excels in, and can be for many the mediums main draw.

But Erased really isn’t that kind of show, there is little to no action and the story doesn’t solely rely on intense melodrama or over the top reveals and cliff hangers to keep drawing viewers back. Despite having its fair share of hard to overlook flaws it still excels, mostly due to how beautifully it captures mood and executers on keen directing and vivid storytelling in a very understandable way that resonates with a wide array of anime fans.

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The story revolves around by all purposes the hero of this story Satoru, a 29 year old aspiring mangaka and part type pizza delivery driver with the peculiar ability of time travel. Now this isn’t your use at will super power nor you scientifically reasoned time paradox like in a show like Steins;Gate, but an ability that kicks in when he is around a bad situation that he would have the ability to change. Outside of the show’s initial episode, Erased pays little mind to the specifics of this ability. Is it supernatural; is it something that can be explained away with an elaborate backstory? We never really get to explore any of those options, and while that may sound like a dreaded plot hole to some it actually works incredibly in the show’s favor. See this isn’t a time travel story in the slightest; Satoru’s ability is nothing more than a plot device to get him to where they want him to be for the sake of the story. Any time the show could spend on nailing down the specifics of this phenomenon would just load the show down in unnecessary pseudo-science that they would never be able to write off to everyone’s satisfaction.

See the show is much more concerned with being a character drama, and rightfully so. The show has a knack for writing character relationships that grow meaningfully off small moments. For the majority of the show the pace is scripted very tightly with little to no wasted space. Whether it is small conversations or awkward admissions of feelings, each scene is crafted and directed in such a way that carries an immense amount of character progression. And this is no more apparent than in the relationship between Satoru and Hinazuki.

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Hinazuki is a young girl who is a victim of abuse and just like in any story that approaches this subject it really needs to be handled with respect. And forgive me for not being immediately convinced in anime’s ability to use subtlety instead of being edgy as fuck for shock value. But thankfully they never show much of what happens, because they really don’t have much of a reason to. The results of the events are made very clear through both the physical and emotional strain it takes on her as a character. But better yet the show doesn’t make her someone who is solely defined by her trauma. They take the time and care to build her relationship with Satoru, and thus the audience in a subtle, sincere, and meaningful way that highlight her as someone more than just a sympathetic backstory.

Take for example a small scene from episode 3 of the series where Hinazuki and Satoru are taking out the trash after an intense exchange with another student. While the character in question gives one of the most vivid examples of straight up poor shaming and the raw unempathetic nature of most children, Hinazuki recalls an event where said girl invites her over for a Christmas party, obviously with the sole intention of showing off her extravagant tree. And while Hinazuki is keen enough to realize this she doesn’t act resentful about it and is even able to call out that is was in fact a pretty sweet tree. Even so she isn’t a one note super sweet angel either, she’s not above throwing out you shitty mechanical pencil if you cross her. The show goes out of its way to highlight Hinazuki’s earnest nature and give the audience a reason to cheer for both her and Satoru in escaping their situation.

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And all of this is conveyed in a small scene where two characters are just chatting while doing a chore. The show is littered with these natural moments that are written with the purpose of getting something very specific across and setting up meaningful payoffs letter in the show. Whether that is insight into characters motivations, clues into the source behind the mysterious killings, it’s all done in a way that is scripted well enough to convey all the information needed but also directed so that it fits naturally with the viewer.

For the bulk of the shows run it isn’t even interested in being a ‘who done it’ type of mystery story. A lot of mystery anime miss the mark in terms of keeping a good balance of getting people invested and delivering satisfying payouts. The failing of several of these shows come from how the characters handle solving the mystery. A lot of the solutions or resource gathering comes from logical jumps that only the character in question would be capable of. These are normally characters that are billed as being innately brilliant and thus them explaining their complicated line of thinking is what is supposed to compel the audience, but in turn leaves little to be invested in especially if the mystery does not directly involve the character in question. Some mystery shows can get away off mood and atmosphere alone as long as the mystery serves a greater purpose in character building, but unlike Erased these types of shows do little to draw in a more mainstream audience.

In the case of Erased the mystery and story are laid out primarily through the perspective of Satoru. We are presented clues from his narrow view point; hence the letterboxing which does as much narratively as it does for a sleek visual appearance, and go at his pace with very little deviation. This allows the show to be much more focused and precise in how it conveys its story and puts the viewer on even footing with Satoru. Being presented with clues and going along with Satoru’s internal monologue and thought process has us coming to conclusions at a more controlled pace, and the way the show decides to end most of its episode not on info baiting cliffhangers but in favor of more natural narrative end points, allows us to speculate more open ended and creatively than if our attention was pointed in any particular direction. The show is much more about cheering on Satoru in his attempt to change history and save a single life than it ever is about making a compelling run of the mile murder mystery.

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Unfortunately all of this isn’t the case throughout the entirety of the show. Erased obviously shines when it’s attention is focused on the more human elements of it’s narrative, but the second it steps out and broadens its perspective it losses much of what makes those smaller moments work.

There are two obvious points in the show where the focus of the story is suddenly changed, one in the middle and one near the end. While trying to avoid spoilers as much as possible both these parts of the show take a step back. Having Satoru shift his attention to solving the overall nature of the mystery and thus losses it attachment to much of the cast, setting, mood, and tone that it had previously been building on. Now drastic shift in narrative is not inherently bad, but everything I’ve said up to this point about character writing, visual cues, and story layout do not apply on nearly the same level in terms of its craftsmanship when applied to this side of the show. The characters at this point are much less compelling, not given enough time to come into their own or have emotional hooks that form a natural identity and connection with the audience.

The visual cues the were done with a subtle hand and brought so much life to the scenes earlier lose that touch and are instead so obvious they feel like the staff was scared that the audience might miss how smart and clever they were being. Specifically in instances as harsh as have a painting of The Last Super foreshadow an impending roadblock to having Satoru “Erased” from the opening at a very specific time.

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Much like the time travel element, the haunt for the identity of the killer and the truth behind the murders are not what the show does best and considering how it all turns out, maybe should have been avoided in favor of something more low key to fit with the rest of the show’s tone. And it’s not like the show is bad at handling villains. Hinazuki’s mom is an ever present and dominating antagonizing force who is as cartoonishly evil as she is genuinely loathsome. Someone who dominates the entire presence of any scene she is in and is a constant fear in the back of the viewers head. They may avoid the actual abuse but in a scene where Hinazuki’s mom submerges her daughter in ice water, ice in this scene to heal wounds representing the healing and nurturement of motherhood brilliantly emphasizes the disconnect between her parental position and her deplorable actions. And they even give her a final reflective moment grasping at whatever hope of redemption she has left and having it ultimately fall on deaf ears.

This show obviously knows how to write good characters and when they are focused and the story is built in a way that their presence compliments what the show is trying to accomplish they can be a very important and needed aspect of a potentially great show. Continuing to speak in broader terms to avoid spoilers the elements they use to wrap up the story are not only underwhelming and telegraphed in such a way that is really disappointing as a viewer, it is done in such a way that almost single handedly ruins the main theme the show was trying to get across, or at least was in my eyes.

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The need for community and trust between neighbors is something that was being established through the entirety of the story; even the middle part which I’m not a fan of hammered that theme in with the blunt force of a runaway tractor trailer at several points. But the way it builds to its conclusion undermines a lot of the shows overall goals and turns the show from an amazing character drama with an albeit simple but still potent message into little more than a 10 dollar murder mystery airport paper back designed to be consumed and thrown away at your final destination, leaving little to chew on.

With this being the case the final stretch of the show is a mixed bag of emotional payoffs and narrative turns. The ending of the show by design brings together most of the narrative through lines it had established throughout the series. And since these could run the gambit of great too bad according to the viewer, it was constantly switching between genuinely heartfelt and meaningful payoffs, some of which are my favorite single moments of the show, to me audibly booing at the screen.

So here we are at the big question, is Erased actually a good show? Well it’s definitely polarizing, at times feeling like two different ideas on how to handle a mystery story meshed into one with obvious seams. The fact that I can plot my reaction to the show and come to the conclusion that I really only like about 6 and two halves episodes of a 12 episode show isn’t really a huge stamp of approval. But the moments that Erased does do well make up some of the best examples of why I love anime, and the fact that the tonal shifts correspond almost too perfectly with the progression of the story, it is really easy to separate the two in retrospect.

The impact of a weak middle I believe could be lessened in the context of marathoning the show, when the momentum and sheer strength of the better parts of its story can carry you through two or so rough episodes. So how much the show ultimately succeeds or disappoints can come down solely on to whether or not you are satisfied with the final reveal of the main mystery. Something that if the writing staff gave more care to, I think they could of come up with a much stronger alternative.

While a sloppy finish can discredit many seemingly great shows, Erased still manages to tie up what it does best in a separate way with its own unique, low key, and self-contained conclusion that fits well with the tone of the better parts of its run. It won’t go down as a top 10 anime of all time for me, but an easy early contender for one of the better shows of 2016? Yeah, you betcha.

Using my scientific method of picking out whatever number sounds good, I will give Erased or Boku dake ga Inai Machi, which ever title you prefer a 7 out of 10 for being a show with enough great moments and a sleekly produced and memorable main arch that manages to outweigh its unfortunate shortcomings.

Kizumonogatari Part 1: Tekketsu Review

Kizumonogatari at this point has gone well beyond being a simple franchise film. Quality aside franchise films are an afterthought; a way to extend the lives of characters for fans and celebrate the series in a larger production while simultaneously cashing in on a major hit. But unlike other franchises Kizumonogatari has always been present, as a natural ending or climax on the production side and an established beginning narratively. On the narrative level Kizu has been a series of events that has always been a past major event in any Monogatari series. Whether a sequel, prequel, or side story, it has been written with the fact that Kizu and the events that established many of these major characters and the narrative through lines that establish the world have already transpired. Spoke of not in hushed tones, but as indisputable truisms that don’t need to be retold. So Kizu has been a promise to fans both narratively as the missing piece to this story and on the production side with this being the very first piece of Monogatari animation announced to be in production after Bakemonogatari, over 5 years ago.

Bakemonogatari and its myriad of sequels have many different features that have made it a very distinguishable franchise, but probably none more so than its vivid and unorthodox look. I hesitate to say animation because it’s very much a combination of several different visual ideas, from its framing of scenes, reliance on distinct color pallets, quick cuts to on screen text and sudden animation changes, and moments of just pure stunning animation. I have always been a fan of this style of house animation Shaft has made for itself through a number of series, probably more so in monogatari than any other.

But of course the series has always had its detractors, pointing out how messy and meaningless framing can be and how visual cuts and tricks do nothing but distract from what is essentially the same bare bones animation we get in most other television anime. While I can see these points I’ve always felt the chaotic nature to the way it looks combined with its reliance on visual tricks to be what makes it work and shows the signs of great direction. And Kizumonogatari doesn’t do anything to change this style, but by being the purist distillation and perfection of what this series has tried to achieve, it will try its hardest to convince everyone of its brilliance.

The real life production isn’t as messy or essential to understanding the film as certain other anime movies but it is important to point out for context nonetheless. Kizumonogatari has been a focal point for fan interest due to a delayed production or at least the perception of that due to an early announcement. Not only has it been presumed to have been in constant production leading fan speculation on how dense this film could even be, it is the first piece of Monogatari animation to have Bakemonogatari series director Tatsuya Oishi attached to it; in fact the first new piece of any animation in the half decade in between the two to feature his name.

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Source: AnimeNewsNetwork Encyclopedia

And honestly this is what happens when you give highly creative talent forever on a project. The film is a brilliantly animated watch. Everything that makes monogatari look spectacular is there and enhanced to an astonishing degree. Characters are constantly moving creating fluid animation that you don’t see any other Japanese animation attempt at quite the same level. But not just the characters; the camera, environment, lighting everything has been so lavishly detailed not just in the art direction this time but in animation as well.

With that being said the establishing environmental shot that impressed me the most was the first introduction of the abandoned cram school. An iconic environment from the series that had the look of an overly ambitious art school project in the show was now shown as an expansive sprawling building, a look that throws the idea of visual continuity out the window in favor of impressive theatrical environmental design.

The characters have their own distinct look to them as well, still resembling the now iconic designs by Akio Watanabe, but with a more free formed jagged edge to compliment the way they move. It’s a style that is hyper detailed as to not match the attention to clean line work that the television series had, and the camera is constantly shifting around characters giving a very keen perceptive of space that make the environments they occupy pop out and feel comparable.

But it’s not just tricks and fast cuts that bring out emotion. For once monogatari feels like it’s comfortable with lingering shots on a character. My favorite scene of this film comes at the train station; it’s a scene that conveys fear and terror better than any other piece of animation I’ve seen. It’s a scene that deserves this level of intensity due to its importance in establishing much of the future plot and is really the first taste of the supernatural world of aberrations that Araragi comes into contact with.

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As a nice production choice the film has a heavy consistency in its reliance on a soft color palate. Skin has a peach glow, lighting illuminates its surroundings in gold; it’s something that the show had always done in individual scenes that was only apparent in flashbacks when shots of varying color palates would be shown in rapid succession, but it has never been done it to this degree and it creates a great and distinct look for the film as a whole. Looking at the poster for the second film, its colors are mostly vibrant blues and yellows, making me wonder if the next film will be based around an entirely other look when it comes to its coloring.

The quick cuts to written dialogue are still here but with much more diversity in how it used. Morse code, undistinguished or muffled audio, and other ideas give me the impression that this is the first true evolution they had made to this idea since it was first implemented in Bake. I had always thought they were perfecting the idea, using it more sparingly and in better situations in later series. But compared to this it almost seems like recycling, getting better at using a tool set rather than innovating. For me the quick on screen text cuts were a way to slow down and break up scenes, almost control the pace of scenes that had more emotional presence than it could convey directly through dialogue. Which doesn’t really play in a theater or probably when I want to watch this at home and have the film wash over me. It’s a way to still express the same ideas but keep people with obsessive tendencies like me from constantly pausing and thinking the scenes over. If the other two films stand up to the bar set by this then I have no doubt on the production of this being in constant development to achieve such a level of immense detail.

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On the story side the bulk of the film is centered on the introduction of four major characters; Araragi Koyomi, Hanekawa Tsubasa, Oshino Shinobu, or in her original form Kiss-Shot Acerola-Orion Heart-Under-Blade (somehow I’m going to butcher that more than the Japanese names) and Oshino Meme.

After spending years with this series spanning over 80 episodes to say we know these characters well would be an understatement. These are characters that have been fully defined throughout the series, going through layers of character development where we see what makes them tick as people; through their flaws and motivations down to what their goals are in even simple interactions.

Now while writing these characters in a story from a regressed perspective afterwards with all of the built character development stripped out has its own challenges as an author, returning to them in an underdeveloped state as a viewer is similarly uneasy. Thus why shows with non-linier story telling have fans who insist on watching them chronologically.

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Source: Reddit

They capitalize on this by having them play into those roles they had spent so much time growing out of, almost insincere or over confident to a fault but trying their hardest to fit into these social roles they have made for themselves. It’s a great way to emphasize how they’ve grown as characters throughout the entirety of the series, and is why this film even as the first piece of the story in a linear timeline plays best when the characters are familiar.

The film adapts a novel that is dense as all hell with exposition, less about establishing setting like most pros, but about establishing trains of thought. The Monogatari anime has always had to deal with this and has found interesting ways to handle it.Unlike the other Monogatari series this will be the first piece of animation available in the west after the official release of the light novel, meaning fans like myself will be going in for the first time with a perspective that many Japanese fans would have. What reading the novel beforehand helped emphasize is how much of the unspoken character depth the film covers in pure animation. The book spends almost an obnoxious amount of time talking in circles and playing literary tricks to discuss the most mundane of topics and experiences. Obviously without an obsessive amount of inner monologue taking up most of the films run time this wouldn’t be able to be captured in the anime.

What they do brilliantly is tackle the same idea of grandeur with the over the top way they animate more low key scenes. The book spends two pages discussing the brilliance and beauty of Hanagawa’s under garments? Make that scene visually expressive and overly animated with quick shots from multiple angles, detailed expressions, a wind that could knock down a building as well as lift a skirt, and framing of her said undergarments in an equally grandiose, detailed, and absurd way. Kizu highlights what Monogatari does best, capture Nisioisin’s flowery detail in the best way anime can, with pure animation.

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And one last small detail, go ahead and watch the opening to Bakemonogatari’s first episode again for when the flash over the events of Kizumonogatari, and just compare the vast difference between the two. The television series always had a cinematic flair to it, but Kizu really amplifies this making for a very thematically satisfying experience. It’s not a film that’s going to be an entry point for new fans. But it is the visual climax fans of the series have wanted and will become even more of a reason for more anime fans to check out the franchise, or at least Bakemonogatari in order to watch the film.

In context of a single film it is hard to grade, seeing as the perception of the film will change drastically with the conclusion of the project as a whole. But if this keeps up at this level of production and direction through the next two films this could be easily go alongside Garden of Sinners as my favorite modern anime film projects and be the defining exclamation point placed at the beginning of an already spectacular Monogatari series. As of now I’ll give Kizumonogatari Part I: Tekketsu an Outstanding score of 9/10 for being a brilliant first chapter of a hopefully equally inspired work.

What Makes A First Episode Special? – The iDOLM@STER Cinderella Girls Analysis

Cinderella Girls opens up elegantly; subdued scenes overlooking girls we yet to know, as various voices remark on the journey ahead. Unobtrusive shots make way for an extravagant opening animation that doubles down on the opening shots in terms of presentation; this all in service to a happenstance meeting between two girls with opposite trains of thought.

The 2011 iDOLM@STER series was upfront with its characters, spending an episode from the viewpoint of a producer (us) getting to know the various personalities and how they bounce of one another; 765 was established and we were along for the ride. Cinderella Girls first episode may be the polar opposite, instead spending its time focusing on two girls who have yet to embark on their journey, the dreamer and the natural.

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Uzuki Shimamura is the dreamer, determined to be an idol, dress up in pretty clothes and sing on a giant stage, even if she doesn’t quite know exactly what it will take to get there. Uzuki works hard, in training so long that the rest of her classmates have either had their debut or given up. One day her dream comes true, a producer accepts her to fill a spot in the Cinderella Girls project, which she had auditioned and been passed up on several times before. Uzuki’s main asset is her smile, always shinning with determination with faint glimpses of apprehension when things move slowly. Her dream has come true, but has still yet to begin, placing her in a state of uncertainty as she waits anxiously for things to change. Uzuki’s smile is always there, because it has to be; Uzuki isn’t a natural idol, she strives for success even though she is passed over, spending all her time training at the off-chance that she may be chosen to be an idol.

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Rin Shibuya is the natural, initially reluctant to the idea of being an idol and dismissive when approached continuously by the same producer. Rin doesn’t have to try to be an idol, as the natural she is already positioned to be one, without knowing so and even as she rejects the notion. Her main asset is also her smile, which is never shown, because it doesn’t have to. Giving off a withdrawn demeanor, content with covering a shift at a flower shop, without an answer when asked what she is passionate about or if she even enjoys her life. But after seeing Uzuki’s determination and hope Rin decides to at least dip her toe into the idol world just to see what is there.

It seems unfair; Rin didn’t want to be an idol and was adamantly against it. So why does she get to fall into the same position that Uzuki worked so hard for? Well because the moment Rin has the thought that maybe she should join this girl, Uzuki became an idol. What defines an idol? Idols give hope to their fans to do their best, finding your dream and moving forward. Without Uzuki Rin would have never thought to be an idol, even if she was a natural fit, she needed to be inspired and have an idol of her own. Just as Uzuki was inspired by idols to find her dream and follow it, she did the same for Rin. Without a CD release, without a live show, without a television appearance, Uzuki took her first and most important step at being an idol, giving people hope and inspiring them to follow their dream. This is what an idol is after all.

Why the Live Action Attack on Titan Is a Good Film- Part 1 Review

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Anime is inherently goofy, thus the adaptation into any live-action medium is bound to turn out silly and possibly a bit uncanny. The Attack on Titan live action film by being Japanese, and while maybe not fitting the definition of low-budget by their domestic standard, can certainly be considered b-tier when released to an American audience already pre-disposed to the extravagant special effects in U.S. made productions. That along with differences in our traditional idea of framing, pace, and scripting; as well as the language and a small cultural barrier, can add up to a major detraction from the casual fan base going in with unhindered expectations for the film release of arguably anime’s biggest export into the west in the last decade. While all of this wouldn’t excuse a bad film, Attack on Titan is not a bad film; at least in my opinion.

first-badass-footage-from-live-action-attack-on-titanWhile Attack on Titan is an action anime, this film is almost a 50/50 split when it comes to its action and horror elements. Without delving into too much needless plot synopsis or major spoilers, the first 20 minutes are a truly apocalyptic spectacle. Scenes of intense crowding lead to a claustrophobic atmosphere that gives much more gravity to the initial titan attack than the anime’s almost sparse and wide open village did. That along with the final moments of the opening act that drown the town in a scene of misery and death shows that this film is ready to pull no punches in its vision of shock and dismay from the start. In fact the entire film’s premise is almost entirely built around shock and spectacle with its sometimes overly grotesque scenes of dismemberment as titans bite into flesh and tear people limb from limb. Sound effects like the crunching of bones is a very unnerving touch that never really wares off as the titan attacks continue latter in the film.

A benefit the film has by being live-action is being better able to sell a lower class village setting. The city looks early European renaissance with only slight glimpses of post-modernization left littered across the world. While this of course is the same setting as the anime, the film gives better context to the borderline poverty levels of the farming district that I never got a good sense of in the show; Faces are dirtier, clothes are tattered, while the environment doesn’t give much hope being washed out in browns and greys. I guess saying animation looks too clean is a weird criticism, but seeing that world in live-action really brought that to my attention.

The main complaint I heard about this adaptation was not about the film’s content, but based around the adaptation itself. Not just from online commenters either, I also overheard a group of aggravated fans after the screening who were discussing what they called, “the film’s many inaccuracies.” Last time I checked (which I must admit I never actually have) Attack on Titan is a work of fiction. There are already two quite well regarded ways to see the original Attack on Titan story out there through the original manga and quite faithful anime adaptation, why on earth would you want a third completely superfluous way to consume the same exact story? A film covering the same exact material sounds like one of the most boring proposals to me. It doesn’t take long to tell that, aside from major plot points, the film is not interested in following strict guidelines on how not to be considered revisionist; and quite frankly that is how this movie turned out so exciting. The option to wonder what exactly is going to happen next is intact instead of having to rely on comparing how they handled framing certain material and needlessly picking apart every scene because the story I consumed one too many times at this point is not enough to keep my attention. Also if creator’s intent trumps all critical analysis of artistic works in your view then keep in mind that original creator Hajime Isayama was involved in the production of the film and gave the creative team the blessing to do something different with the material. To me complaining about inaccuracies in the live-action adaptation is just as silly as doing the same for AoT: Junior High.

feel free to make whatever you can and make it something that is interesting and that is something that only live action could do. Mr Higuchi, make it your own thing.”– producer Aki Yamauchi recalling an early conversation with original creator Hajime Isayama (source: Anime News Network)

Attack_on_Titan_(live-action)-003With this difference in story we get a difference in character motivation and general feel for most of the main cast. At this point I can understand a slight frustration in how the characters differ from their manga counterparts. At some point I wish the film would of went with a new cast and set it in the same canonical universe. You don’t have to Nikki and Paulo new characters into the same unit, situations and events as the main cast. The world and key events are vast enough to tell other stories in the same universe without threatening continuity errors. Nevertheless our main cast is here with a few slight changes in how events play out and differences in personality and motivations that range from slight to totally ruining a great independent and strong female lead in Mikasa. While Mikasa is one of the most well realized characters in the original work, her film counterpart is portrayed as weak and doting until certain events force her to be strong in appearance alone; seeing as any action she takes aside form killing Titans is in service to her feelings towards a male character. In fact the film is oddly perplexed with sexual tension, which could have come off a lot worse than it did.

The characters overall are portrayed pettier, weaker and overall less motivated and determined. While being first assigned into the ranks, the idea that they are just there to either perform an impossible task or die because their immigration is too much of a burden on the middle and upper class population who just want to live comfortably hits home a lot harder than it did in the manga. I don’t want to come off as if I believe the characters in this adaptation are better realized than the original. In the manga the characters are determined and seem capable in completing their task while their flaws are something to overcome and flesh out who they are. In the film all that these characters have are their struggles to define them; a need for survival, wondering where their next meal will come from and who to bang out with. Much of the grandiose plot devices such as the mystery of the Titans origins, major battle strategy and political intrigue are left out, leaving the focus on a scrappy fight for survival. This may not lead to a great character study, but it does add to the apathetic sense of misery and inescapable annihilation. Also of note are the actors playing off some of the more frantic characters. Captain Levi’s daunting presence and manner of speech as well as Hange’s eccentric mannerisms when brought into a real life setting are even more emphasized and bizarre leading to surprisingly engaging and humorous results.

The film has its flaws when it comes to characters for sure, but those flaws are from taking a new direction with the material and not with how faithfully they were interpreted comparatively, which I have a much easier time overlooking. These more simplified and weaker characters matched up with a more horror minded approach in scripting and framing leads to a very well realized and compelling film. While I’ll never go as far to say this is the definitive or superior version of the work, I do appreciate what it does accomplish and find it to be not just a competent film, but a good film.

This review is just of Part 1, as of the published time I have not seen “Attack on Titan: End of the World”

Anime Blast Chattanooga 2014 quickpost!

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Origins flyer tba final

My third year at Anime Blast Chattanooga is in the books and by far my favorite year yet. Met some great people, gave out a bunch of zines, and put on some of my best panels. Obscure Anime had well over 40 people and since I had a few people asking me for a list of titles, I thought I’d do a quick post of those titles here. Also to keep up on the zine please head to animechatta.tumblr.com I forgot to put that in the second issue which I handed out a bunch of.

Inferno Cop

Flowers of Evil

Star Blazzers 2199

La Maison en Petits Cubes

Franz Kafka’s A Country Doctor

Mobile Police Patlabor

Legend of the Galactic Heroes

Blue Blazes

Kyousougiga

Next A-Class

Death Billiards

Sword Art Online II review… so far (Episodes 1-6)

"My feelings exactly."
“My feelings exactly”

Sword Art Online is back with a second season of one of anime’s most polarizing and talked about shows of the last few years, and with good reason. While the show’s first season capitalized on a fanbase of viewers who were excited to dive into a sci-fi future where game worlds match the real world, the show’s weak plot, hollow characters, and alarming views on gender roles made the show an agonizing watch for anyone digging under the show’s admittedly pretty surface.

Sword Art Online II starts just a few months after the events of Alfheim Online. After the mysterious deaths of two players of the virtual game Gun Gale Online by the shadowy figure known as “Death Gun” Kirito is sent in as a spy to figure out the identity of this masked killer because he is the world’s greatest gamer or something and apparently not scared off by being almost murdered in these virtual games several times prior.

This second season further confirms that the series is not interested in exploring the ramifications for being imprisoned in a video game or the moral quandaries of a youth finding refuge in near perfect virtual worlds. By finding loose narrative reasoning for now a second time, the show is more interested in setting up adventures in its newly crafted game worlds. While themes and plot points may be frustrating to anyone who cares to look at the show past a surface level, what has always made SAO shine is the presentation of these various worlds. The show, if nothing else, is compelling and gorgeous. While none of SAO’s three game worlds ever get nailed down to specifics, the worlds do allow a story that relays heavily on cliffhanger endings and plot twists from episode to episode to keep its compelling, albeit, flawed story going.

Pacing continues to peg its ugly head in as a hindrance to even caring about the big grand new world they create in a polar opposite to its first arch. While the initial 14 episodes SAO’s first season franticly jumped around its two year time frame like it didn’t want to bore you with any details outside of major plot points, SAO 2 is more than happy to spend as much time as possible on every little thing that happens early game, spending an entire episode on one group party fight and another on Kirito choosing a character class and load out. This turns out to be just as interesting as watching someone play with the character customization options in a real mmo for 25 minutes, which is to say not very much.

While the theme of escapism is never directly addressed in narrative, it sits on the surface like a loud beating drum for anyone who cares to ask, “why is Kitito (or anyone for that matter) continuing to go into these worlds after the events that transpired during the first season?” Kirito is a blank slate, free for any fan to project him/herself onto, and why wouldn’t they? With his lack of real problems or personal flaws as well as his overpowered video game skills that go beyond him just being good at a game, but so good that he can beat the game’s rules all together, he makes a perfect escape for people who would try to contribute skills at playing a video game to real world satisfaction and personal strength.

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One of my several complaints concerning the series is its use of female characters, which is quickly doubled down on in these first few episodes as a new character “Sinon” takes the place of our imprisoned heroine Asuna as the on the surface strong and independent main female character who evidently needs the help from our perfect male protaignist Kirito in order to conquer any personal struggles. Asuna is merely swept under the rug in the first few episodes, and, outside of wanting to continue a relationship with her hero Kirito, does not seem to have any meaningful desires or goals in her new life outside the game.

Sword Art Online II continues to be frustrating to watch, while it is silly to wish for something more than what the show has already showed that it is, the idea of its virtual worlds carries with it potential that I wish it could capitalize on. But with several other similar shows popping up with the virtual world motif, including “Log Horizon”, “No Game, No Life”, and the classic “.hack” franchise, SAO is fortunately no longer the sole source for this interesting idea.

Highschool DxD review

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Ecchi. Harem. Fanservice. Highchool DxD falls into these categories of shows that Funimation loves to scoop up so they can sell replacement soft core pornography on Xbox Live for 13 year olds who have their parent’s credit. These T&A focused shows are the bane of most advocates of artistic anime out there since they tend to be the anime punching bag for most conservative straight arrows who like to ridicule anything different by using its most provocative qualities. While most shows of this type try their best to hide their sex filled fantasies with some simple action, convoluted  plot devices, and dry humor; DxD comes out a step above the rest by being both undeniably drenched in sexiness and a fun and un-embarrassing watch.

Issei is an ordinary high school boy who has only one thing on his mind: sex. Actually it is more that he is really into boobs because he is so juvenile and innocent that I am not sure he would even know what to do with a girl if he got one. After suddenly being asked out on a date by one his classmates, he is one step closer to making his dreams of having a girlfriend come true. That is until she turns out to be a demon, puts a spear through his heart, and leaves him to die; you know the typical first date stuff. His life is soon saved by a beautiful red haired girl from his school who is another demon from a rival faction. An heir to the devil’s thrown actually, and he soon becomes a part of her court of chess pieces (or lesser devils) and now must use his life, as well as a great power only he possesses, to carry out the whims off his new master… and blah blah blah we get it… this a fantasy light novel adaptation, the formula hasn’t changed much since Shakugan no Shana.

Story wise DxD does falls into a great number of genre convictions that have been well treed territory by similar fare for the past decade. But what makes this show work is that it rises a step above the rest in both its shonen style action and slice of life humor while not being afraid to take itself less serious. The story is easy to follow while keeping with these genre trappings and even offers an interesting and vaguely original concept in the way it uses its devils vs angels motif. The devils being the good guys (or at least the faction we follow) is a weird divergent from how most stories handle this rivalry. This is echoed by a chorus of new to the group characters (including a once devout nun of the church) who find out that god doesn’t really care for devils that much; a concept that is established through a running gag of praying to god leading to a horrible headache in return. The show recycles many running gags other shows of the genre have done, but always in innovative and funny ways, even Issei’s typical male mc “Baka! Ecchi!” moments of running into girls in provocative situations are less infuriating and mind numbing than other series. The humor stays consistent and genuinely funny as tasks to fulfil mortal wishes to gain a contract of the person’s soul (another play on the devils motif) turn into hilarious and bizarre misadventures, and a battle with a dreaded tentacle monster is less of a commentary and more a bizarre parody or homage to an old established trope.

The character archetypes run the gambit from sweet masochist, clumsy moe bait, and bishonen hottie, but also have a few refreshing takes. Mainly Rias Gremory who ventures out of tsundere territory, and her noble aristocrat manner of behaving makes her an actually compelling love interest as her character develops through the series. Some characters achieve more development while the side characters with less screen time back up events just enough to be notable additions and are set up well enough to have interesting arches in the second season. While the show goes to great lengths to treat its primarily strong female cast with respect, it does fall victim to the male power fantasy “got to save the princess” trope near the end of the first season. It at least does not dive into complete misogyny like other series that have done the same plotline such as Sword Art Online. It is funny that a show that gets off on female nudity handles female characters better than a popular show like SAO that tries to hide its hideous portrayal of gender roles.

As you may have noticed thus far, Highschool DxD’s nudity brings in a very deserving mature rating and not something I would suggest for viewers who would find this offensive. That being said, as someone who has unfortunately set through a good deal of this fodder, the art and animation of the show has some great um… angles… of … the ladies. Okay let’s not dance around this, if you like fanservice than the camera work and art direction is second to none, sure to leave no one wanting on this side.

When it comes to sound design, DxD comes through with an impressing opening and closing performance while the show’s score does its best to capitalize on both the tension and shenanigans found in the series. A worth-while English dub produced by Funimation features a diverse cast of old guard and new talent, that does not disappoint in terms of its script. Jamie Marchi as Rias Gremory lends an elegant performance, would be hard pressed to find a better fit. While Jad Saxton as the petite but strong Koneko Toujou delivers some great and punchy one liners. The English adaptation is not afraid to play around with explicit language, and for a show that already has mature themes in other departments, this is a welcome addition.

The ecchi genre is by far one of the more popular genres of anime today. The top anime of many streaming services like Netflix tend to have these shows in the top spot, while companies like Funimation and Sentai spend a good deal of marketing on them. While the genre can be over-run with weak and embarrassing shows, Highschool DxD finishes a step above the rest and is must watch for anyone interested.

Highschool DxD continued through two additional OVA episodes, aired a second season titled “Highschool DxD New” in 2013, and the home release in both Japan and North America feature a half dozen additional mini side episodes.

Story: 7

Characters: 7

Art: 8

Animation: 6

Sound: 7

English Dub: 8

Overall: 7/10 (Good)