Friday, July 8, 2016

Anime Review: Berserk 2016

I feel like mal's gonna delete this so here's a backup

Berserk is one of the most beloved manga series of all time, with a successful anime in the nineties that covered the famed “golden age” arc. But the manga is so much more than that arc, so when a series of movies were announced, fans were rightfully disappointed that it was a retelling of the same arc. Well, come 2016 and we’re finally out of the golden age, with an anime promising to show us Guts as the “Black Swordsman,” but can it do justice to the legendary manga it spawned from? Let’s find out!

When adapting a long, dark fantasy manga with highly detailed art, what studio would you think to pick for the anime? Madhouse, famous for the stunning visuals of Claymore or Overlord? Bones, with their amazing talents for action like the 2003 Fullmetal Alchemist and Kurau: Phantom Memory? Perhaps a-1 pictures, known for Sword Art Online, or maybe Deen, creators of widely acclaimed anime series Fate/Stay Night?

No, none of these studios can handle such a complex, detailed narrative, nor can they even hope to live up to the chaotic scenes of battle from the manga. And of course, none could possibly live up to the incredible artwork present in the manga. No, there’s only one studio clearly cut out to do this job: Studio Millepensee.

With their work on teekyuu they’ve shown they can tell complex, long form stories in a short span of time, which means that they won’t need 100, 50, or even 25 episodes to tell the story of Guts. No, a mere 12 episode run time might as well be the same as the total length of Detective Conan to them! And the frantic nature of the animation shows they can do justice to berserk’s fight scenes.

Art: 10

Move over 2D, your time has come. Far too many anime feel the need to bow to the pressures of tradition, following the old methods that were pioneered back in the 20s for gods sake! It’s time to move forward, and Berserk 2016 is a perfect example of this. The 3DCG animation featured in Berserk is stunning, the best CG I’ve seen since Knights of Sidonia. It really feels like you’re living in the world of Sword of the Berserk: Gut’s Rage, the classic dreamcast game.

The way the camera cuts so as to obscure most of the action is a daring, bold choice. It shows just how larger than life both Guts and his sword really are, so large they can’t even fit into the screen.

Sound: 9
To accompany this torrential storm of cgi animation, we have a kick-ass rock soundtrack, exactly the kind of music you’d expect out of a dark fantasy series. Each song would sound right at home on a nickleback or disturbed album, and never once do they fail to fit the tone of the scene.

The sound effects however, are a different beast entirely. No cheesy sword shwing noises here, no sir. Only gritty, realistic metal clangs. The static, low quality nature of the effects only further enhances how realistic they sound. If I had one complaint, it would be that sometimes guts’ dragonslayer doesn’t clang loud enough for such an impressive weapon.

Story: 10

Millepensee has made the brilliant decision to only adapt the good parts of the manga, much like Mappa’s recent Ushio and Tora. Skipping the black swordsman arc entirely, it jumps straight into the real action of the series. Never in my wildest dreams would I have expected them to reach Farnese by episode two, but they pulled it off somehow.

Character: 10

Each character has been distilled down to their base, root personality traits. This is a good thing, as often times the manga can be too subtle and detailed for its own good. This is much easier to follow, meaning this anime is actually BETTER then the manga it’s adapting, similar to FMA 2003

Enjoyment: 10

If you like shows like Claymore, Overlord, Knights of Sidonia, or Sword Art Online, watch this anime immediately. I was shocked every second of this show, I couldn’t believe my eyes, Berserk 2016 is an experience you have to have for yourself, I recommend checking it out on my favorite streaming site, Kissanime.

Overall: 10

Rarely does a show come around that does everything as well as this, thanks for recommending this to me Kotaku, you’re the best source for anime news I can think of.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Book Review: Soul Stealer: Legecy of the Blade

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book for the purpose of review from; this will in no way affect my objectivity in the review, but it’s best to point these things out.

Soul Stealer is a book that caught my interest right away, and by that I mean the coverart. You know the saying, “Don’t judge a book by its cover?” Well, I’m quite bad at following this rule, and thankfully this book has a gorgeous cover.

But we’re not here to talk about the coverart, we’re here to talk about the book. And I’m happy to say I was hooked right away; the humorous writing style combined with a dark fantasy setting leads to an extremely enjoyable read that I blew through in two days.

However, that’s not to say it was perfect, and I like to go a bit in depth with my reviews of things, so before I get into what I liked too much, let’s talk about the few things I didn’t like first!

Number 1 on my list of complaints would have to be the overuse of certain narrative style choices. I can tell it was intentional, but a few of them bother me a bit in a rather nitpicky way. Nothing about them is a dealbreaker, but the book could have flowed a tad smoother without them.

These narrative choices are a slightly rambling, repetitive inner monologue, and an overuse of short sentence fragments.
I love using sentence fragments in my own writing.
But they get annoying.
If you keep using them.
All the time.

It breaks the flow and makes things hard to read, when most of them could be done much simpler, especially the shorter fragment sections that could have easily been one line with a semicolon.

And the sometimes repetitive nature of the narrative can grate on a mind a bit; having read four different versions of the same thoughts about the main character’s house in the opening, I was starting to get a little tired of it.

Another problem I have is a slight overuse of ‘fancy’ words, such as mayhap or perchance. I get that this is a medieval fantasy setting, but their use often feels more tacked on than anything else to me, and almost any time they come up a more modern variant of the word would fit much better.

And please, do not use perchance twice on the same page. It’s too uncommonly used a word in modern English to not look really out of place when overused, and frankly is something that I would have removed.

However, this is a minor issue overall, and I found the book highly enjoyable.

The narrative, while a bit flawed at times in the ways I mentioned above, still managed to remain highly engaging, and the comedic bent to it really helps the book stand out. The main character Saedeus in particular, is an outstanding character.

Disregard whatever you’re imagining in terms of fantasy novel heroes, Saedeus is not them. His often downright pathetic attempts at being heroic in the first half of the book are highly entertaining, and his companions, a sentient pet rock with no dialog but somehow a charming personality, and Alric, the hero you would expect to be the main character, are entirely in a support role of the story.

And those are essentially the only characters, at least the only ones who ever matter. Saedeus never joins a merry band of adventurers, there is no forced romantic subplot, nothing you’d expect in a traditional fantasy novel.

And that’s fantastic.

I have no real comments on the story; it’s engaging and manages to be original enough for a guy like me who basically only reads fantasy. I approve of the ending; it was exactly my kind of conclusive but still open ending, good stuff.

I would recommend it. At only three bucks on Kindle, it’s definitely worth checking out if you’re looking for something slightly different from your fantasy stories, so long as the slight flaws in an otherwise interesting narrative don’t bother you too much; they certainly didn’t stop me from reading it.

Also Soul Stealer: Legacy of the Blade is a really cool title; this is totally unimportant, but damn if it isn’t.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Novel Review: Angel Notes

As per my policy after one of my reviews on myanimelist was deleted without warning, this serves as an archive of my random reviews of things on that site

One of the earliest works by writer and co founder of the company Type-Moon, Kinoko Nasu, Notes is the foundation of the shared universe across most of his works such as Tsukihime or Fate/Stay Night, which is commonly referred to as the Nasuverse. It’s a bit strange to say it was the foundation when the timeline of Notes makes it chronologically last, as it’s set far in the future.

Notes, or Angel Notes as it’s also known is a short story written for an angel themed anthology magazine, and it’s also an incredibly hard thing to describe. I’m not sure if I’m even fit to judge this story, as its experimental nature defies a lot of what you’d expect, but rest assured it’s a unique experience.

Notes plays with the chronological order of events, something that Kinoko Nasu would return to in the Light Novel series Kara no Kyoukai, another Nasuverse work. The story itself is quite simple, but its non standard presentation elevates it over the merit it has as an idea. Despite being incredibly short, a massive amount of worldbuilding is thrown into the mix, most of which is irrelevant to anything else in the story or nasuverse as a whole. This is, in my opinion, one of Nasu’s greatest strengths as a writer, his stories are so packed with minor background details of the world that it really feels like more is happening then just the story you’re being told right there.

Most of the worldbuilding is done in an almost encyclopedia entry style throughout the chapters, detailing the elements of this fictional world to a needless degree, never does Ado Edam, the Slash Emperor become relevant to t5he actual plot of Notes, but yet he is described in entries of past events. It might sound like I’m being critical of this but I’m really not, without details like this there really isn’t much going for it.

The encyclopedia entries along with it’s strange, barebones narrative craft a short story that is more of a puzzle then it is a piece of fiction, leaving much of the events up to the reader’s interpretation, and as such I find it hard to really rate something like that. Now, I find it hard to rate anything, because how can I accurately describe my complex thoughts on something with a single number score? But that’s how we do things around here, so I’ve tried to figure out what I would rate this and finally came to a decision on 7/10.

Why 7/10? It’s probably my subjective bias as someone who’s as close to being a fanboy of the Writer and universe in question as you can get without being obsessed with it. As a standalone story it has some interesting things going for it structurally, but it’s real value lies in it’s relation to the Nasuverse, as that’s really all it is, an extremely rough prototype for the workings of the shared fantasy universe of type-moon’s light novel, visual novel, and anime series.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Would I have bought: Unepic?

Hello one and all! (So one) The famed blog series you’ve never heard of is back for more, so welcome to Would I have Bought Season 2! As always this is a first impressions series, it’s not a review of the game, I play stuff I got in humble bundles and forgot about for a bit (around a half hour) and describe why I would or wouldn’t have bought the game on its own.
The visual style is definitely my favorite aspect
Unepic is a platformer / rpg hybrid that takes very obvious cues from action platformers in the metroidvania style. And for the most part it succeeds at what it’s doing. I found myself easily able to familiarize myself with the controls, and the castlevania like aesthetic drew me in right away, so it seemed like a promising start for me.

However, problems start to arise in the gameplay, with no real way to block or dodge outside of jumping and crouching (this is normal for this style of game but bare with me there’s a point here), and your attacks essentially stunlocking any enemy you com across in the early game, combat quickly turns into one of two things: a boring slog where you’re in no risk of even being hit, as such with any one on one encounter, or a clusterfuck of shit happening you can’t react to, like a battle in which 6 bats and three goblin things swarmed me and prevented any escape as I couldn’t move fast enough to flee.

Here’s the main reason for this, every action you take, be it walking, jumping, or attacking, is very slow and methodical, think a 2d dark souls if you will. You have to be very sure of your actions as they’re so slow and hard to recover from, a massive problem when you’re faced with tons of fast paced enemies at once. With jumping being your only dodge I’m aware of, and your jumps being incredibly stiff and realistic for this kind of game, I found myself getting hit far more than I would like.

So that’s my problem with the platformer parts, but what about the rpg parts you say? They might as well not exist, so you level up after killing enough enemies and get some stat points, and you use them to make your weapons do more damage or get more health, there’s no interesting progression here, it’s just pure stats going up.

Let’s talk about the story for a bit, as there’s dialog everywhere in this. The first thing of note is the opening cutscene makes fun of videogames for letting you break barrels or fight skeletons with swords, then shows you exactly why videogames do that. When you switch weapons you play a slow animation for a second, then you can act, so every single time you want to break a barrel and get at the loot, you have to switch weapons, an utter nightmare when playing on a controller. I just realized this is gameplay complaints again but I digress.

The story is taking the parody route of comedy, and by parody I mean, let’s reference pop culture and be done with it. The references are kept mostly to the player character, thankfully as none of them are very funny, I hate this style of comedy and if I had seen a trailer or video featuring it I would have never bought this game because of it. and that there lies the answer, I would not have bought this based on the comedy.
This boss looks pretty cool, too bad I didn't get that far before this post

One of my favorite parody games is Dungeons of Dredmor, which also does the reference style of humor, but instead of just having a character say “my name is Dark Helmet” in reference to spaceballs, they would add in dark helmet’s helmet, give it a funny description and wouldn’t directly mention what it was, that’s how you do parody.

Despite these complaints I did find myself drawn in to the game, before it crashed after 45 minutes and I decided to write this, I’d probably play it again, but would I have bought it?

Nah, probably not.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Anime Review: Mahou Shoujo Lyrical Nanoha Vivid

Mahou Shoujo Lyrical Nanoha is a franchise I didn’t think I would enjoy, I wasn’t really into magical girl shows at the time but I’d heard good things so I gave it a shot. I love Nanoha now, it’s a great series, I even like the less popular StrikerS season quite a lot.

So when I heard they were adapting the manga Nanoha Vivid into an anime, I was pretty excited, more Nanoha couldn’t be bad right? Oh boy, here we go. Where do I even start with this thing, one of the most disappointing sequels in my recent memory?

One of the biggest complaints about Nanoha StrikerS was that the title character herself, Nanoha, was reduced to a supporting roll while it mostly focused on new characters. Oh what I wouldn’t give for her to have StrikerS level of involvement, while in that show she was mostly secondary, she was still story relevant and drove the plot along, even having a major scene in the finale.

In Vivid she’s a housewife.

Yes, Nanoha, one of the most powerful magical girls in any series has been reduced to a housewife. Outside of a single training fight in the midpoint of vivid, she has done literally nothing else. This show is now about her adopted daughter Vivio, something that I’m not totally against in concept, but it continues to get worse. As of episode 10, the last I’ve been able to watch as I wait for some brave soul to subtitle it (no fansub groups bothered picking it up) Vivio herself, the new title character (Vivid) has also turned into a supporting cast member.

Sure, the first season has a dual protagonist dynamic with Nanoha and dark magical girl Fate Testarossa, but those were the only characters in focus. A’s managed to add new cast without detracting from the fact that Nanoha was the lead character, and StrikerS is slightly infamous for it’s lack of nanoha. But at least in StrikerS Nanoha is actively training the cast in focus, making their victories a victory by proxy for Nanoha, their trainer.

In Vivid it’s as if they realized that Vivio is a super boring character, she’s almost instantly sidelined by her Chinese knockoff Fate-chan, Einhart Stratos. It gets worse as the show progresses, with episode 10 featuring less then 30 seconds of footage of Vivio OR Einhart, as it shows us a completely irrelevant tournament fight about characters we know almost nothing about. That fight was a joke, they built up one of the girls as a threat, but she’s totally wrecked by somebody we’ve barely even seen before, making it complete filler for a series with a very limited episode count.

This show is boring, I mean really, really boring. There hasn’t been a single exciting event of note in 10 out of 12 episodes, because nothing has any consequences. Gone are the first season’s world effecting, galactic level crisis events. Now we have hotsprings, loli fanservice (not that we had none of that before, but there’s more now), and tournament battles with simulated damage. That’s right; nobody is even in any danger of getting hurt at almost any point in this show, if there’s no threat then why should I care what happens? It’s not like they developed any characters into somebody I would want to root for in a sports competition.

I guess if you want a fluffy slice of lifish story with magical girls you could enjoy this. But the almost completely different tone of the series is extremely off-putting to me, a fan of Nanoha for its darker take on magical girls. And don’t even get me started on Vivio and Einhart’s magical devices, some of the dumbest shit I’ve seen in years. Nanoha’s magic device is a necklace that turns into a staff; Fate’s is a wristband that turns into a poleaxe. Vivio’s magical device is… a STUFFED RABBIT!

How am I meant to take any of this seriously when a goddamn cartoon rabbit is involved in Vivio’s transformation sequence, where she also turns into a more adult mode (when Nanoha was able to kick ass as a loli, I guess Vivio just sucks). Oh yeah, Einhart’s device is a cat, not a stuffed animal cat, an actual, normal cat. Her device is just a cat, what, why?

On the animation side of things, A-1 Pictures does an adequate job of animating the fight scenes, though there is no standout animation like you might see in an Ufotable or Madhouse production. However I do have a problem with the style of the show, and I’m not sure if this is a problem with the manga which I have not read, or the adaption. That problem is the setting backgrounds, Nanoha as of season 3 is set on an alien world full of magical technology, and Vivid is set in the same world. So why does it look like Japan? Did they forget the setting was no longer modern Japan or something; everything looks so standard it barely feels like the same show anymore.

The music is so utterly unremarkable that I have nothing to say about it, other then it’s not offensively bad so I guess that’s a plus! But no really, I don’t know much about music, nor do I really pay attention to it unless it sticks out in a big way, like Gurren Lagann’s soundtrack.

Now, this part is just personal theory, but let me try and explain what went wrong. Seasons 1 though 3 of Nanoha were all written to be a TV anime, they have a distinct beginning middle and end paced for their episode counts. Vivid however, is an ongoing manga, adapting only a fraction of the content. This would certainly hurt the concise, well planned pace of the other three seasons. It still doesn’t excuse the baffling design decisions and lackluster characters however.

I was going to write here “this is an anime I’d only recommend to hardcore Nanoha fans” but no, a hardcore Nanoha fan would probably be even more disappointed then I am. This is barely a sequel to StrikerS and almost feels totally disconnected to the rest of the series thanks to this far more lighthearted tone, I really can’t recommend this unless you’re desperate for some magical girls, but you’d be better off watching a different magical girl show instead.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Manga review: Omoi no Kakera

(This is a copy of my MAL review)

Continuing my habit of reviewing things I like that have only one or no reviews, we have Omoi no Kakera, a short romance Manga in the Shoujo Ai genre.

Now, I’ve you’re reading this review you’ll probably have an idea of what Shoujo Ai is, but for those that don’t I’ll give a short summery.  Shoujo Ai roughly translates to “Girls Love”, and is exactly what it sounds like, romance between girls.

So why is a grown man reading Chinese comics about gay girls?  Well I have no shame in admitting that I started reading Shoujo Ai as a dumb teenager who thought lesbians were hot.

But as I got older, I started to appreciate them on a different level; the writing is often very deep even though the art leans towards lacking on average.  For some reason Shoujo Ai stories seem to have a higher average of compelling series compared to other romance manga; that is when you can find a Shoujo Ai that’s longer than two chapters.

Omoi no Kakera consists of two stories, Fragments of Love and Love & Piece, A sidestory.  As of this review the translations of the side story Love & Piece appear to be incomplete, I may edit this review when I finally get a chance to read the rest.

So in this review I will focus on Fragments of Love, the main title of this book.  A short but sweet fifteen chapter manga about a highschool lesbian who works at a cafĂ© in the “gay district” (its words not mine) of the city.

Like most Shoujo Ai, this series is slice of life, very down to earth and normal.  Shoujo ai is not the thing to go to for high octane action, but that’s to be expected.  Now I might have brought up romance a lot so far because Shoujo AI is somewhat linked to it, but this series is a pure drama that happens to be about gay characters. 

The romance is somewhat lacking in that regard, there is no actual “romance” that you might find in another manga, no couple that persists across the story.  As the title implies, the story is about love and the different forms or “fragments” it comes in. This is very much a story about love, but not necessarily romance, which I must say is something I’m finding a very hard time accurately describing.

Instead of a romance we have a character driven drama, though it’s not a very heavy drama. It’s more the kind of drama you would see in a teen drama on tv, only far and a way more well done.

Now I’m going to be honest here, the art is quite bad, to the point I was confused sometimes trying to figure out who characters were because they all look so similar.  This is a big problem when you have a decently large cast of characters across two stories; I sometimes had trouble remembering which storyline I was reading thanks to this.

This is a very internally focused drama, with the characters development all revolving around coming to terms with their feelings. Western drama tends to focus on the external elements, things happening that effect the characters; this focuses on why the characters are affected, not how.

Our main character, Mika Takaoka, is a far cry from a standard Shoujo Ai protagonist. In a genre that often have very insecure young girls who don’t understand their sexuality as the leads, Mika is a breath of fresh air; a very strong, mature girl who fully understands her own sexuality.

I’ve probably rambled on far too long about a 15 chapter story about lesbians, so I’m going to end it here. Omoi no Kakera is a nice short series that shows a strong grasp of the genre and pushes itself beyond the average, but falls short in a few areas.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Would I have bought: Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams

Continuing my series of semi-review first impression... things, we have another indie side scrolling platformer! What a twist! Today is different however, this game is in 3D!
More accurately, this is what people tend to call a 2.5d platformer, a game with full 3d graphics but gameplay similar to oldschool titles.

Remember, this is less of a review and more of an impression on whether I would have bought this outside of a cheap bundle of games.

Giana Sisters is a game with a very strange history of which I only learned after I had already played this game, had I known it my interesting might have gone up somewhat.
Originally a game for the Commodore 64 released in 1987, it was essentially a clone of Mario Bros, even copying the mushroom theme of the levels.

It was followed up by a Nintendo DS remake many years later in 2009, removing its nature as a clone of Mario, it was met with decent reception but no widespread acclaim. It also received an iOS port later on.

Now we come to this game, the third game in the series and a complete reboot of the series by the developers of the second game, who formed an Indie development studio after their parent company went under.

The spite art is replaced with crisp 3d visuals, the classic platformer gameplay replaced with modern, speedrun focused gameplay designed to be replayed over and over to maximize your score on a level.

When I got this in a Humble Bundle I must admit, I didn’t care about it at all, I played it for about four minutes and put it down. Only after coming back to it did I understand that this game is actually good.

Like most Indie Platformers, this has one main gimmick, the ablity to switch between a light and ‘dark’ version of the titular protagonist Giana, both with a different skill.
The light Giana can do spin jump that slows her falling, and the dark Giana has a rushing arial dash useful for defeating enemies and smashing things in your way.

One thing I really liked is that when you change characters the stage seamlessly morphs artstyle into a dark or light version, but the levels are reversed; light Giana gets the dark level and vice versa. The music also switches from a classic soundtrack made by the original game’s composer, and a hard rock remix of the same songs.

The gameplay is fast; when you die you instantly restart at a checkpoint with no lives to worry about like older games, leading to a game that even when it gets hard isn’t frustrating to play, because you can just try again right away.

Would I have bought Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams? Not at all, and that’s a damn shame. The title and screenshots on Steam were not something that intrigued me, but I’m very glad I gave it another chance.

So, would I have bought Giana Sisters? No, but I’m sure glad I did.