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Action Heroine Cheer Fruits (Anime Review)

Title: Action Heroine Cheer Fruits

U. S. Distributor: Sentai Filmworks

U. S. Release Date: Sept. 11th, 2018

Format: Blu-ray / 12 Episodes / 300 Minutes

Genre: Highschool light drama

Age Rating: TV 14

Overall Personal Rating: B

Synopsis:

Cities have developed groups to represent them in action plays staring heroine characters. When Hinano City is about to loose its community auditorium from debt and declining use, Misaki ( a relative of the city leader) comes up with a plan to form a heroine group to stir up local enthusiasm. Through several means, a group of 9 is formed. They begin to perform, taking on a characteristic fruit theme that stems from the local regions lemon production. The performances amp up to include outrageous special effects and costumes. As popularity grows for their shows and more people watch the online videos, they find their group is climbing in the rankings on a national Action Heroine Project website.

Each girl approaches the group and their building friendships through a filter of their own lives and experiences. When one falters, the rest are there to encourage and cheer them on. Each finds her way to become more confident and work through her insecurities. It sure helps to know, that the others always see them in a better light and believe in them.

Commentary:

After the last anime I watched, which never drew me in with characters I could care anything about, this one had me interested in their lives from the first episode. This way it sure is a lot more fun, like visiting friends. The girl’s interactions and their back stories made them interesting.

The enthusiastic, “we can do it as a team” idea is very common in anime, but it still felt fresh enough to enjoy. In Cheer Fruits, some of the stuff seems so impossible and unbelievable (like special effects explosions), but it is tempered with the amateurish high school ideas (like all the fruit admiration and metaphors).

The animation was okay, relied a bit too much on panning still shots and other short cuts, as if they were in a production hurry. However, with the images so upbeat, colorful and fun, I really didn’t mind the weaker animation.

The title, although accurately describing the show, is doesn’t flow well and I am concerned that it will put people off. This happened to other series like Tiger and Bunny or Log Horizon. Good series, but with so much to watch, the tittle doesn’t pique very many peoples interest.

This really was a fun, happy anime. It is appropriate for almost everyone who is looking for a happy watch. I wish it was dubbed so a younger audience would enjoy it as well.

Overall Grade: Even though it wasnt up to the same level of animation quality, for people who like Love Live! or Tamakos Market,  I think you would enjoy Action Heroine Cheer Fruits.

 

Frame Arms Girl: Complete Collection (anime review)

Title: Frame Arms Girl: Complete Collection on Blu-ray

Director: Keiichiro Kawaguchi

Studio: Zexcs, Studio A-Cat

U. S. Distributor: Sentai Filmworks, Section 23

U. S. Release Date: Sept. 4th, 2018

Format: Blu-ray / 12 Episodes / 300 Minutes

Genre: Mecha, Fantasy, Action

Age Rating: TV 14

Overall Personal Rating: C+

Synopsis:

When Ao found the package on her doorstep, she thought it was a present from her father, but inside the box was something truly unexpected: Gourai!

A Frame Arms Girl, Gourai is a walking, talking, miniature artificial person with the intelligence of a ten-year-old human and a selection of snap-on weapons and armor. And the reason Gourai needs armor quickly becomes clear as two more Frame Arms Girls, Stylet and Baselard, arrive intent on testing Gourai’s combat capabilities! It seems that Ao has been chosen to help test a new toy line and the good news is that she’ll get paid for hosting her diminutive charges’ battles! Of course, since they’re mainly interested in fighting and gathering information, things are going to get awkward when they follow her to school.

Commentary:

Frame Arms Girl is taking off where Gundam Build Fighters left off. The big difference is that the Frame Arms Girls are anthropomorphic girls which has an even deeper history in the anime world leading back to Hand Made Maids and Chobits, but that is were the similarities end. The basic plot is simplistic and rather straight forward with not too many surprises. The one area that the series falls apart for me is the animation itself. The heavy handed computer graphics (CG) put me off right away. In the late 90’s and early 2000’s this style of animations was kind of cool, but with all the advancements in animation software this hard edge CG just doesn’t cut it anymore.

The thing about Frame Arms Girl that makes it special is the fact that it focuses on the younger female audience. Build Fighters brought girls into the mix and recognized the inclusion of girls in the genre, but Frame Arms Girl takes it to the next step and makes them the focus of the entire story. This is the star aspect of the entire series. Funny thing is that over the last few years I have come across more men who want to build these models and it almost seems as though the series has attracted a much difference demographic.

Overall Grade: C+

There is a lot that I liked about Frame Arms Girl, but it has to be the animation production values that stands out for me. The out dated  hard edged CG almost shut me down completely. The saving grace is the fun of the story and the fact that there is an honest attempt to include the younger female audience in the genre.

I really want to recommend this series to everyone because of the overall fun it brings and also to see how series can be more inclusive. I just find the overall endorsement to fail me because of the CG. If you enjoy bad CG and have a younger female viewer who would enjoy this story then you need to rush out and grab a copy. Frame Arms Girl is a minor hit for me and think it could find a broader audience if it had an english dub and better animation. If you are curious then you should defiantly check it out!

No Game, No Life Zero (anime review)

Title: No Game No Life Zero on Blu-ray

Director: Atsuko Ishizuka

Studio: Madhouse

U. S. Distributor: Sentai Filmworks, Section 23

U. S. Release Date:  Aug. 28th, 2018

Format: Feature Film / 105 Minutes / Blu-ray

Genre: Fantasy

Age Rating: TV 14

Overall Personal Rating: A-

Synopsis:

No Game, No Life Zero is the prequel movie to the anime series.

6,000 years before Sora and Shiro rocked the world of Disboard, black rain falls from the sky and multiple species fight a desperate battle for survival. Constantly caught in the crossfire between the more powerful magical races, Humanity is on the edge of extinction, always on the retreat. But amidst the chaos and destruction, one young man, Riku, has a vision of a better future. And the first step towards achieving that goal comes in a dead city, where he encounters Schwi, an exiled female android who seeks to know one thing: what it is to have a human heart.

The mysterious past of the world of Disboard is unveiled and the ultimate game begins in the spectacular prequel to the hit TV series!

Commentary:

No Game, No Life Zero manages to do something the series failed to do, win me over. The original series seemed to obsessed with Sora and Shiro relationship. In Zero it was exactly what it needed to be. It manages to setup the world in a way that makes sense. Of course you have to believe that gods are petty and could become fixated with ruling it all through war.

No Game, No Life Zero gives us rich full characters who care and are sympathetic by nature. Not weak and pitiful characters you want to hate from the moment you meet them.

Overall Grade: A-

I loved the concept and execution along with 90% of the animation production quality. There is still that pink and blue pallet that dominates after about half way through the film. The thing about pink is that it is by nature a psychotic color that does not impart clam and beauty, but rather nervous tension. Blue on the other hand does create a natural calm state, but when it is heavily paired with pink there is not much peace.

The characters of Riku and Corounne are very well written and easy to like. They provide us with a pair of humans that you want to rook for. Add a cold yet somewhat loving Schwi then you have a trio that makes sense. You want them to win and can only hope for the best.

No Game, No Life Zero is not the No Game No Life many know and love, but rather it is something better. It happens to be one of the best prequel anime movies I have ever seen. I only wish the series was this good.

Vatican Miracle Examiner

Title: Vatican Miracle Examiner: The Complete Collection on Blu-ray

Director: Yoshitomo Yonetani

Studio: J. C. Staff

U. S. Distributor: Sentai Filmworks, Section 23

U. S. Release Date: Sept. 11th, 2018

Format: J.C. Staff

Genre: Mystery, Drama

Age Rating: TVMA

Overall Personal Grade: A-

Commentary:

Vatican Miracle Examiner contains episodes 1-12 of the anime directed by Yoshitomo Yonetani.

Miracles don’t happen every day. But when something impossible happens that seems to be the work of supernatural forces or higher powers, it’s the duty of the Assembly of Saints and their agents to investigate. Their job is to determine whether each incident is explainable via previously undisclosed information, a part of some plot to take advantage of the people’s faith, or a genuine miraculous event. Priests Josef Kou Hiraga and Roberto Nicholas specialize in unveiling the truth and unearthing secrets that others might wish to keep buried, but when they’re sent to Mexico to investigate reports of a virgin birth, they end up in danger of being buried themselves. Murder, demonic summoning and deals with the devil are just the beginning of a new war against the ultimate darkness.

Overall Grade: B

Vatican Miracle Examiner is one of a very short list of solid drama, mysteries coming out this year. It is also placed is world that is really rather foreign to the Japanese public and tackles a subject that is hard to understand for most Catholics much less the rest of the world. Vatican Miracle Examiner also takes us down a path that is dark any fraught with danger. It creates a mystery that opens the door for other forces to rule the day. I did find myself thinking back to Le Chevalier D’Eon.

The one thing that stands out for me is the well executed writing for the series and the lovely animation that helps draw us in while we hare exposed to the unnatural forces brewing. Even though I liked the production values I felt like it took on an almost shojo style of rendering that left me just a tad cold. I understand why things happen on a rather overall level but I did expect a fuller richer production value.

As for the character development I felt like we began to understand who we were interacting with, but because of the shortness of the series I came away feeling a little left out. All-in-all Vatican Miracle Examiner gives us a solid mystery drama that will not disappoint.

Battle Girl High School (anime review)

Title: Battle Girl High School Blu-ray Collection

U. S. Distributor: Sentai Filmworks

U. S. Release Date: 7/24/18

Format: Blu-ray/12 Episodes / 300 Minutes

Genre: high school girl/action

Age Rating: 14+

Overall Personal Rating: C-

Synopsis:

The planet endures random attacks by alien invaders called Irousu. The team responsible for resisting the invasion are the high school girls who form the Hoshimori. They are all that stand in resistance to the destruction of their world. Their skill is developed at their exclusive school and their power comes from the Holy Tree. Team work is vital to their success, but when a new student joins the group, her advanced skill comes with a smug and angry attitude.

Something different is on the horizon, the beast are no longer the only attackers. Now a cloaked and hooded enemy has entered the picture. They bring to light the complexity of the universe and its connection to other parallel universes.

Commentary:

Originally the concept for Battle Girl High School is from an online game. I guess that might explain things. Now, if you wrote down the outline of the series, it sounds good, something I would find interesting to watch. However, in the detail and development the anime never went anywhere interesting. So, it’s not the premise, but what fills it out that was lacking. I never felt empathy or even interest in the characters. Somewhere in episode 10 I was a bit intrigued with the parallel universe, but basically I was just sticking it out, at first hopefully then only for the sake of an informed review.

Visually, the style, colors and costume design were the best part of the anime, but it wasn’t enough to make it worth watching. The animation was not as good as I’m used to. There were lots of still scenes with a panning camera views, I guess trying to simulate movement, was overly utilized.  It makes for dull battle scenes that don’t invoke any excitement. And while I’m on that, the battle scenes were lame. Magically the student don their fighting outfits as weapons appear at their sides. Usually with one strike, poof the beast disintegrates.  Here seems like a good time to mention there is no army or defensives or care taken by the population against the repeated monster appearances. Really? Doesn’t make sense. The elements of everyday life and battles didn’t even see to belong in the same animation.

With all the choices of anime out there now to watch, to earn out time, there needs to be something that stands out, wether it is concept, story, characters, fun, excitement, etc. Battle Girl High School just didn’t seem to have much to offer.

Overall Grade: C-

 

Aura Battler Dunbine Blu-ray Collection (anime review)

Title: Aura Battler Dunbine Blu-ray Collection

Director: Yoshiyuki Tomino

Studio:  Nippon Sunrise

U. S. Distributor: Sentai Filmworks, Section 23

U. S. Release Date: Aug. 28th, 2018

Format: Blu-ray/ 49 Episodes / 1225 Minutes

Genre: Fantasy, Mecha, Action, Drama

Age Rating: TV 14

Overall Personal Rating: C+

Synopsis:

Aspiring racer Sho Zama finds himself pulled into a strange realm in the middle of a motocross accident and into the mystical land of Bryston Well, where lords in castles settle disputes with unicorn-mounted cavalry and giant mecha called Aura Battlers!

Initially forced to pilot a Battler for the powerful Lord Drake, Sho soon discovers that he’s not the only person from the Earth drawn to Bryston Well, and worse, that he may be fighting for the wrong side. But once he’s joined forces with Dallas-born Aura Pilot Marvel Frozen, tiny fairy Cham Huau and other resistance fighters, Sho’s rapidly growing Aura powers may prove to be the deciding factor in a war unlike anything either world has ever experienced. From the acclaimed creator of Mobile Suit Gundam comes the wildest fantasy adventure ever in Aura Battler Dunbine!

Commentary:

Middle Earth meets Gundam. Aura Battler Dunbine is one of those older series that tried so very hard to mix Mecha and Fantasy. The fairies and weird mecha don’t always mix. In the first episode there is an honest attempt to explain how they manage to have the technology to build such amazing war machines when their existence is really rooted in the middle ages. In other words it take a leap of faith to allow this world to even exist.

With all of the fantasy and mecha going on it would need a great character or set of characters to tie it all together. The fact that there were weekly episodes produced between February 1983 and January 1984 should help tell you that it wasn’t the hit you might think just because there are 49 episodes. A one year run does not equate a great series, but then most hit series now don’t last much more than 24 to 26 episodes.

Overall Grade: C+

I don’t want you to think that Aura Battler Dunbine is a complete loss. It is a great example of the type of stories that were being told in the late 70s and early 80s. Much of which are fantasies with a twist of science thrown in. I found Aura Battler Dunbine to be a rather typical melodrama that lacks much imagination or surprise to it. I also found the attempt to explain the technology they possess made things even harder to believe.

If you love the early Gundam series you will love this. If over-the-top melodrama with some crazy mecha and funny little fairies all mixed up is your thing, then Aura Battler Dunbine is definitely your thing. For me I found it old and lacking but funny and interesting because of the age. I guess that in many ways it is a great reminder of where much of our favorite series might have come from and a idea of how they may be looked upon in 40 to 50 years.

 

Armed Girl’s Machiavellism (anime review)

Title: Armed Girls Machiavellism: Complete Collection

Director: Hideki Tachibana

Studio: Silver Link

U. S. Distributor: Sentai Filmworks, Section 23

U. S. Release Date: Aug. 21st, 2018

Format: Blu-ray / 13 Episodes / 325 Minutes

Genre: Harem, Comedy, Action

Age Rating: TV 14

Overall Personal Rating: B-

Synopsis: 

When Aichi Coexistence Academy converted from all-girls to a coed model, the female students were so concerned about male misbehavior that they armed themselves! Now the school is ruled by the lovely but lethal Supreme Five Swords, and the boys are forced to dress and act like girls or suffer the razor sharp points of the Swords’ anger.

Unfortunately for the Swords, new transfer student Fudo Nomura thinks that sounds like a total drag, and he might just have the martial arts chops and rapier wit needed to slash through the Swords’ defenses and carve a new niche for himself in their feisty feminine hearts! It’s a whole new kind of slice of life High School Drama, extra heavy on the “slice”, as one Bad Boy meets some very Dicey Girls!

Commentary:

As time rolls on, and we often see things that go around come back around, another somewhat questionable harem anime is about to release.  Armed Girls Machiavellism: Complete Collection is aimed to provide the typical bad boy who ends up getting all the powerful girls to fall hopelessly in love with him. Of course, he doesn’t really care too much about their affection but sure does know how to use it is his favor.

Nomura is basically to ideal bad boy who refuses to follow rules and seems to only know how to fight. He also happens to be a incurable romantic who feels like he will do whatever he must to control the moral high ground. The five swords appear to be girls who want to be in charge, but secretly need a strong man in their life. Lets not forget the “Empress”, who must have something special going on.

Overall Grade: B-

In the world of action harem anime Armed Girls Machiavellism: Complete Collection is just fine. It hits all the high points a high school battle harem should hit, but doesn’t manage to provide the character development that makes the viewer want to like the characters. In short this anime series is long on fan service and short on substance.

Armed Girls Machiavellism: Complete Collection provides plenty of action and many of the fights are layered with a sexual tension most anime fans will expect. There is even a nude bath battle that is both expected and somewhat anticlimactic.

I think that if there had been more work on making the characters likable and a deeper understanding of their background Armed Girls Machiavellism: Complete Collection could have been a real hit.

For fans of harems and high school battle anime, Armed Girls Machiavellism: Complete Collection, is a must see. For everyone else, I think there is some reasonable humor and action to keep you entertained and maybe bring a smile to your face.

 

BanG Dream

Title: BanG Dream

Publisher: Sentai Filmworks

U. S. Release Date: June 19, 2018

Format: Blu-ray, 13 Episodes plus 1 OVA ,  350 Minutes, Subtitled

Genre: School Girl slice of life/comedy

Age Rating: 14+

Overall Personal Rating: B

Synopsis: 

Kasumi Toyama is a happy can-do girl. She is alway looking for the feeling which she calls “sparkle”, which she associates with the symbol of  a star. This feeling can be described as an exciting and hopeful experience/feeling.

One day, following a trail of stars, Kasumi finds herself at an old store where she sees a “star shaped” guitar. This is a seed planted in her mind that begins to grow after she sees a local girl band playing at a small music venue hall. She feels the “sparkle” and becomes determined to form her own band so she can find the excitement she is seeking-wanting to share and inspire others in the future.

Commentary:

BanG Dream is more than a single anime. It is rather like a whole universe created. There is a live band, manga series, this Blu-ray edition and at least 2 more “seasons”(They seem to be listed with extended titles instead of labeled numerically.), and a game.

This anime centers around music as a story telling element, but friendship is really the overwhelming theme to me. As the band is formed, new friendships are forged.

Now, Kasumi as a character brushes way too close to annoying, but manages to squeak by. She has to be rather pushy and persistent to get someone to join the band. I don’t think she sees it that way, she is just so enthusiastic  and doesn’t give up. In her ever optimistic way, she just keeps going for what she wants and knows in her mind is what the other person is supposed to do. True, because the outcome is good, her techniques as a recruiter  are redeemed.

One thing I found annoying because it seems so impossible, is that Kasumi has never played guitar before and is now first learning. Even so, she makes it on stage in a matter of months. The anime does address this by saying it isn’t her skill but her enthusiasm and heart that she brings to the band. Other band members have already been playing instruments and are key to her learning. They value her friendship and know she is the glue that holds them all together.

I didn’t feel like I could rate BanG Dream higher than a B, because I  have been seeing too many of these similar story themes of an enthusiastic student forming a club or group, whose passions become contagious and though there are minor set backs, they prevail spectacularly. Always fun to watch, and this is a good one, but sometimes to compete in this growing selection, something extra would go along way.  As an example, Kabuki-bu is unique by bringing in a the elements of tradition thriving in the modern world, not forced but embraced by a young person.If you like BanG Dream, I think you’ll also like Kabuki-bu. )

BanG Dream may have two more seasons (or series), but this one ends in a way that feel whole and complete in a satisfying way.

Overall Grade: B 

A light and bubbly anime to encourage all to follow their dreams and feel good when your done watching. A fun visit with characters that will feel like friends.

A Spirit Of The Sun (anime review)

Title: A Spirit of the Sun on Blu-ray

Director: Masayuki Kojima

Studio: Madhouse

U. S. Distributor: Maiden Japan, Section 23

U. S. Release Date: June 19th, 2018

Format: Blu-ray, 2 Episode TV Special, 154 Minutes

Genre: Drama, Seinen

Age Rating: TV 14

Overall Personal Rating: B

Synopsis: 

In the movie A Spirit of the Sun, it was the worst-case scenario. When the twin disasters of the eruption of Mt. Fuji and a massive earthquake hit Japan, the island nation was literally shattered and torn in two. With millions dead and the life-sustaining national infrastructure destroyed, mass evacuation of much of the country’s population was the only alternative.

But now the Japanese refugees living in Taiwan find themselves in conflict with the native citizens. There’s not enough work, the living conditions are terrible, and what remains of Japan is occupied by China in the North and the U.S. in the south. Genichiro Ryu is just one of the survivors, but having been adopted by Taiwanese parents, he has a foot in both worlds and seeks to find a way to bring peace between the conflicting sides in the movie A Spirit of the Sun directed by Masayuki Kojima.

Commentary:

The Japanese have a history of telling very sad stories about major strife, devastation and the struggle to survive. A Spirit of the Sun is no different. It really shows off the real trouble that can come from nature and economic disaster and reminds us of how fragile our world is. I’m not too sure the American audience will understand this concept too well, but I do know that other film like Grave of the Firefly and Barefoot Jen have found some rather interesting fans in our country.

In the case of A Spirit of the Sun we see how hard life can be when you are the outsider in a country that has old deep feelings toward you. I think it is rather poignant in todays environment with the travel ban having just been upheld by the Supreme Court. I guess a world where we can live together without hatred and anger just isn’t possible.

Overall Grade: B

I think in may ways I wish this could have been just a little better. I found the animation to be relatively low quality even for 2006 production and some of the writing felt overhanded. I get that the story is trying to teach something very important, but see it as missing the mark just a little.

I also find it rather interesting that the Japanese could see bigotry and hatred coming from the sides without being more open about their own nationalism that exists. I guess that there is some discourse here that show the separation and hope along with a vision that just might bring some understanding in its wake.

I would recommend A Spirit of the Sun if for nothing else to see how so many Japanese still have a inferiority complex that plays itself out in these types of stories.

The Tibetan Dog (anime review)

Title: The Tibetan Dog – on Blu-ray

Director: Masayuki Kojima

Studio: Madhouse

U. S. Distributor: Maiden Japan, Section 23

U. S. Release Date: July 10, 2018

Format: Blu-ray/ Feature Film/ 90 Minutes

Genre: Adventure, Chinese Tale

Age Rating: TV 14

Overall Personal Rating: B+

Synopsis: 

In The Tibetan Dog movie, life hasn’t been easy for young Tianjing since his mother passed away. Forced to leave the city and move to the grasslands of Tibet where his father is the only doctor for a remote community, Tianjing finds himself becoming even more isolated as he works the lonely job of a shepherd.

It’s a dangerous task as well. Wolves, packs of wild dogs and other animals prowl the countryside… something that Tianjing discovers all too soon. Fortunately, he also finds a protector and friend in a stray golden mastiff that comes to his aide. When a new menace comes to terrorize the community, both human and canine will have to protect each other. Standing against the savagery of nature and the cruelty of men, this is the story of a boy and his Tibetan Dog.

Commentary:

The Tibetan Dog is a classic story that teaches moral lessons and honors deep friendship bonds between man and animals or rather dogs. Having had a pet dog for almost 18 years I can relate to the relationship between Tianjing and his golden mastiff. Of course there is plenty of struggles and a nasty adult who is naive and stupid. Even though is is a Chinese tale it feels over much like a Disney film with all of the personal drama in Tian’s life.

Overall Grade: B+

The Tibetan Dog is a simple film that tugs at our heart strings in several different ways. It also manages to roll several different tropes into the story along with reminding us how wonderfull a bond can be between a boy and a dog.

The animation production level is relatively good for this 90 minute film. It does showoff Madhouses ability to provide beautiful and following landscapes. The english voice acting is average. I didn’t find anything that stood out as a solid voice performance everyone did a reasonable job. I guess the thing that lost me the most was the almost hollow feeling I got from some of the side characters. I never connected solidly with any of them.

The other thing that I found curious was the fact that this film is rated TV14 when it could have or should have been rated PG because it would be a great film for viewers under 12. Honestly, I thought it was a solid attempt to create a story that gives us those warm feelings that come with kids and pets along with the twist that are common in Japanese and Asian stories.

If you want a family friendly anime this one is for you. If you want a Studio Ghibli quality film then it doesn’t quite reach those heights. I do recommend The Tibetan Dog if for no other reason that it is heart warming.