24 August 2018

V's rapid fire anime reviews - Charlotte, Food Wars, Pokémon Sun & Moon and the Emiya family

About rapid-fire reviews

Ever had that moment when writing about an anime, you just can't find a good hook to write about? I get that a lot. Like writing a draft for a review and then scratching it because it looks just as bland as a wikipedia article.

And while I do have opinions on everything I watch, I just don't feel like writing a full-length blog post about everything. Sometimes anime is just "okay", or "average" or "not bad enough to rant about it".

So I came with a compromise. Once per month (or so), I'm going to do a rapid-fire post, where I briefly touch 3-5 anime I've seen in the past month and give my opinion about it. This is the first of these.

Rapid-fire review: Charlotte

Recently added on Netflix Belgium, so I gave it a try. And I enjoyed it... safe the last episode.

I liked the hook of teenagers experiencing superpowers for the first time and them not being fully useful, thus often creating hilarious circumstances. And the dramatic hook of a dark organization trying to catch them for experimenting was good enough to keep me hooked. Also, the overall music was VERY good and actually had a point in the story.

But since this was a one-cours anime (1 season of 12 or 13 episodes) of a manga that is still running, it had to be cut short. And boy, did that shortcut feel forced. A climax of sorts was reached in the second-to-last episode. And so Yuu (the main protagonist) sets on a journey to erase the superpowers from all other "powered" beings on earth. you see him go from country to country to face a very minor challenge, steal a power and move on. And it repeats for the entire episode. And it's boring.

This anime received mixed reviews on MAL and I can see why. The tone shifts a lot, some "twists" in the story don't work as well as intended and people keep mentioning that Angel Beats did this story before, but way better... Well, Guess I'll have to look up that one later, eh?

Me, I'm giving this a careful 7/10. Could've been higher if it wasn't for the last episode.

Rapid-fire reviews: Today's menu for the Emiya family

Waaaay too early to make a full review on it, but from the 8 episodes already released I can already state: best Fate series anime to have been released in the past few years (Heaven's feels movies not included, haven't seen those yet).

And I didn't want to wait to share my opinion, since studio Ufotable is only releasing ONE episode per month. So it'll take months before this anime has reached its end (if ever).

The concept of this anime is SO simple... but it works. Instead of fighting, every Fate/Stay Night character has their own daily life. And one of Emiya's core character traits from the original series has been turned into the core concept of this anime... Emiya loves to cook for his friends. So this anime is now turned into a full cooking show! No, really!

Yes, I understand perfectly that a cooking show is not what you may have been looking for. But for some reason i can't stop watching this series. When I have a chill Sunday afternoon with nothing much to do, this anime was the perfect series on the perfect moment for me.

I have no other ways to describe it. It just works. Also, if you want to try any episode, go for episode 7; it is the most meme-heavy episode with everybody going to a swimming resort. And it was this meme that convinced me to give this anime a shot. No regrets. Solid 8/10.

rapid-fire reviews: Shoukugeki no Soma / Food wars

Started watching this earlier this year on a whim, thinking I would dislike it due to the many fan-service screenshots I've seen over the years. But surprisingly I've enjoyed it more than I thought I would. and I recently finished the latest season (the Totsuki Train Arc).

Yes: The fanservice exists, but is focused on the food tasting moments. And I get the feeling if I know in advance WHEN the "fanservice" is happening, I'm not as annoyed by it compared to its abuse in other series. here, it actually fits perfectly (which is a phrase I never thought I would utter).

And yes, I know this show is a rip-off from Yakitate!!! Japan, but I loved that show as much as I love this one. But Yakitate finished airing over a decade ago (wow, I feel old all of a sudden), so I think I was yearning for an anime similar to Yakitate. And Food Wars fills that void. And since this series is far from over (more seasons!), I'll be keeping an eye on it.

So yes, i'm giving it overall an 8/10. None of the seasons have disappointed so far. let's hope they can keep it up in the years to come.

Rapid-fire review: Pokémon Sun & Moon (43 episodes)

Similar to Charlotte, the first 43 episodes have been added to Netflix BE. More will become available when the (horrible) Dutch dubs are made available (sigh, they're bad).

And on the topic of WHY Pokémon? People in the anime community have been praising the hell out of this latest season as the best thing since the original series. And I agree, it has improved a LOT!

Ash's pokémon have more personality than before, the supporting characters are a lot more likable and more varied. Not to mention, the comedy has improved a lot. I laughed my ass off so many times during this first batch of episodes. And... Meowth dies... a lot. Mimikyu is a friggin' killer and I love every minute of it (lol).

Often censored in the US, but oh so funny if you catch it.

Also, after you get used to the new animation style, you're often welcomed by gorgeous and fantastic sakuga that I honestly have never seen before in Pokémon series. Not only are the Z-moves and Team Rocket intro animated gorgeously, in several random moments throughout the series you're welcomed by great and lengthy shots in which the love and passion of the animators is clearly visible. It makes watching pokémon so much more enjoyable. For a full breakdown, I refer to Canipa's video on it (this link).

Is it all good? No, there s still the odd pokémon-of-the-week cringe episodes that instantly reminded me why I stopped watching the series (most notably "Getting the band back together" - Skip it!). But luckily there's way less of these than before. Also, I've grown to hate Bewear. While the jokes surrounding the bear pokémon were fun in the first episodes, they got real old real fast. And it occurs nearly every episode to the point of annoyance.

All in all, this series has seriously improved since the last time I bothered watching this never-ending show. Good points. A solid 7,5/10.


Well, that's it for now. I'll be back soon with another full review. Until then, V out.

PS: I simply ADORE Rockruff. Puppies forever!

17 August 2018

V reviews - Fate/Extra Last Encore: Anime in hard mode

There used to be a time where I was wildly excited about a new anime from the Fate franchise coming to TV or theaters. Oh how times have changed.

When it was announced that the adaptation of the Fate Extra game (Last Encore) would be available on Netflix, I couldn't utter more than a sarcastic "yeey". It didn't really help that when I recently looked up the score on MyAnimelist, I saw a mediocre 6.5/10. Not to mention the game this anime was based upon has a metacritic score of 58%. The most interesting thing this anime adaptation has going for it, is that it is animated by Studio Shaft. This meant that if the anime would be bad, I could at least partake in the "Studio Shaft tropes Drinking Game".

So let's say I wasn't really looking forward to watching it.

But after watching it, I've changed my mind completely. This is a really interesting piece of entertainment! But I also understand why so many people hate it, since it's clearly not aimed at a general audience. So here is my review for the first season of 10 episodes, available on Netflix since June 30th 2018.

A review of: Fate/Extra Last Encore - Anime in hard mode

A word of advice: This anime is clearly not for everyone

Now that I've watched (and rewatched) the first batch of 10 episodes, I can clearly say: there are some prerequisites before you can watch this series.

  • You should have watched at least one decent Fate anime series before watching this. This includes Fate Zero, Unlimited Blade Works (TV) or the original Fate Stay Night (which sadly enough is still the best introduction to the franchise). For easy digesting, Unlimited Blade Works is also available on Netflix, the rest depends on regional licensing.
  • You should've watched at least TWO Shaft anime, in order to get a feel of their style of animation and storytelling. Preferably I'd recommend a Monogatari series and one of their anime with a deconstruction-style narrative. Madoka Magica for example is of the same creative team and has recently been added to Netflix here in Europe (so are Bakemonogatari and Nisemonogatari).

If you have NOT experienced the above, I will say truthfully to you: You will NOT enjoy this new Fate anime. You'll just bulge your eyes out wondering what the hell you just watched.

Also, if you're a Fate fanboy who has never watched Shaft anime (or do not like their style), this might be worthy of the "skip" button. Shaft is kind of special by itself, and this game has been reinterpreted to fit a storytelling style akin to Madoka Magica.

The first episode is just awful

A lot of people who have started with this anime have dropped the series after the first episode. And I completely understand if you did as well. With the hundreds of anime coming out each year (let alone other non-anime tv-series), people have a lower attention span and a trigger finger to drop anime on the fly that doesn't meet their interest.

And yes, the first time I watched it I also had a WTF-look all over my face. The animation is off at several points, the story doesn't make a lick of sense and the editing is all over the place. For a first viewing attempt, this episode can only be experienced as "AWFUL".

Hey, we know this scene is really awful...
So let us distract you with this weirdly animated background!

The first episode - why it's awful

This anime story doesn't bother to take your hand to explain the story. Instead of storytelling, the anime instead focuses on "showing things that are happening" and have our protagonist wander between these "things that happen".

The story concept is explained in class - a person is murdered because he lost a chess match (okaaaaaay), the body is moved to the nursery (WHY?), since there are too many bodies there, the oldest dead body is moved to the trash heap (again, WHY?). Once the body is dumped, our protagonist gets a talk about why he's the chosen one (because of course). Then suddenly a purge is happening and our protagonist is seemingly killed by Shinji... Because of course Shinji is an asshole.

I am shocked at Shinji backst... frontstabbing his friends [/sarcasm]

And all the while our protagonist has no real clue what's going on, is moving around in typical Shaft environments (huge, very artistic, very detailed, but ultimately very empty looking) while contemplating on how he hates everything with that typical dull surprise on his face. No wonder people have labeled him as an Absolute potato of a man. Jeezes, how dull can you look?

You certainly look very hateful [/sarcasm]

And at the end of this trainwreck ride, you're greeted by this anime's variant of Saber. Similarly to how every Pokémon generation has its Pikachu clone, each Fate franchise has its clone of the original Saber. This one is thus: "Red Saber", also nicknamed "Umu Saber" (after her catchphrase) or "Waifu Saber". But more on her later. Her charming face is what has to push viewers past this "abomination" of a first episode and into better territories.

... and that can be taken quite literally, because one of the first scenes in the second episode is a nude scene between protagonist and our waifu Saber. Why? Because the Shaft drinking game clearly needs more victims.

The first episode - Redeeming qualities?

However, after revisiting the first episode for this review, a lot more things fall into place. It certainly doesn't redeem this first episode (it's still awful), but there were a lot off of: "Oh, that's what they meant" moments when revisiting. Case in point, I suddenly noticed that the plot is totally spoiled in the very first and very last scene of the first episode, but never noticed until I rewatched it.

You also start paying more attention to the "glitchiness" of this world and pay attention to the explanation that this world really is broken and that our hero isn't the chosen one... he's just an anomaly. The chosen one was somebody else who died in the opening scene... Although "Chosen One" and "Anomaly" basically are the same thing.

Turning a dungeon crawling game into an existential crisis

I think it's safe to say that this anime is only a "loose" adaptation of the video game. And while the die-hard fans of this game have found this a sacrilege, the rest didn't really mind it... because the game is mediocre at best. They also had to adapt the game mechanics of 128 masters in a dungeon fighting dungeon masters to raise up to another floor and... and god, it already feels boring just writing it.

So the director and writer have taken everybody on a loop with this adaptation, including the original voice actors. Only slowly have they are revealing their hand. And the end result is a weird trip to be honest.

While the basic principle of "128 masters fighting and beating floor masters to get to the top floor" is kept, everything else is changed. This is no longer a generic hack and slash game... it's an existential crisis, time and time again. And every floor has a different way of expressing that crisis.

Shinji is living in a fantasy world (in more than one way). Another master is actively wondering why he can never ascend to another floor, even if he keeps killing new challengers. Another master is no more than a monster. 2 other masters create constant AI clones of themselves to duke it out in an infinite number of possibilities. And so one and so on. Time and time again you get the feeling that this simulated world is broken beyond repair and we're the last survivors trying to crawl our way out of this wreckage.

Let's talk about: Waifu Saber

Sakura Tange (Red Saber's voice actress) noted in a panel that Red Saber acted a lot more cute in this anime than the more boyish Red Saber from the game. And she wasn't the only one who noticed. There's a reason why the nickname "Waifu Saber" was pasted on this character. This Saber acts a lot more cute, dresses weirdly (watch what remains when she takes her red coat off) and the Shaft tropes have been applied to her. Yes, this means the typical gratuitous (semi-)nudity scenes and scenes that arouse everybody except the people in the scene itself.

Yes, there is a figurine of this "ribbon Saber". Why do you ask?

Do I personally mind? The gratuitous nudity: yes (not a fan); her change in character: no, not that much.

I haven't played the game, so I don't know how she was "supposed to be". And honestly, I've seen worse in other Fate series (*cough*Apocrypha*cough*). However, what I did notice during my trip to Japan last May, was that she was being heavily marketed as a waifu character.

Every store I visited had (next to the tons of One Piece merch) one shelf reserved for Fate, and the red dress of this Saber catches your eye immediately. More than any other character from the franchise (which is saying something), Red Saber had the most figurines, and the cutest looking ones. And yes, there were a LOT of them. Now that I've seen the series, I kind of regret not taking pictures of the tons of figurines.

Personal opinion

So now that I've done all my ranting, what do I think of this series? I find it an interesting watch and even worth rewatching over time. During my second viewing for this review, I've noticed lots of details and moments I didn't pick up the firs time around. And that makes me think that there is a lot to analyze about his series as a whole (if you take the time for it and are able to stand cringe moments).

Though I will admit that the series does cross the thin red line between an interesting art piece and a pretentious piece of sh!t from time to time. When? I'll let you figure that out.

But overall it certainly gets a careful recommendation from me. I give this anime a 7/10. Worth your time, IF you take into account the prerequisites and the awful first episode.

If all else fails: The Shaft tropes drinking game

This series not to your liking? You can still partake in the Shaft tropes drinking game. Very lethal, but more fun than whatever you're watching.

A character doing a head tilt: take a shot. Gratuitous nudity shot: Take a shot. Overly complex room that looks way too large and utterly empty: take a shot. And so on and so on. For the full list, check TV-tropes.

While the term "drinking game" is said in an ironic fashion (seriously, don't do it for real. It's lethal); it makes for a fun viewing experience to count how many times you should have taken that shot. And boy... that counter went up a LOT.

In a way of closing off, here's a few examples.
But until next time, V out.

PS: No, it won't take two months until my next blog post... I promise.

nudity, big empty rooms, head tilts, etc. Fill that bingo card!