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Made in Abyss (anime review)

Title: Made In Abyss

Director: Masayuki Kojima

Studio: Kinema Citrus

U. S. Distributor: Sentai Filmworks, Section 23

U. S. Release Date: Oct. 23rd, 2018

Format: Blu-ray / 325 Minutes / 13 Episodes

Genre: Fantasy, Action, Adventure, Drama

Age Rating: TV MA

Overall Personal Grade: A-

Synopsis:

No one knows what’s at the bottom of the Abyss. No one who’s ventured that far has ever returned. What is known is that the Abyss is filled with strange creatures and priceless relics that have lured generations of fortune hunters into a diabolical trap. Because while anyone can descend into the Abyss safely, coming back up triggers a nightmarish series of transformations and madness. And the deeper you go, the less chance you have of coming back unchanged.

But when 12-year-old Riko receives a message that her missing mother might still be alive deep in the Abyss, she knows she has to go to her. She must go even if it’s a one-way trip for her and her robot friend Reg as they brave the ultimate darkness in Made In Abyss.

Special Features: Japanese Trailer & Promos, Kevin Penkin Interview, Jouel Event, Making of Made in Abyss 1 & 2, Music in Abyss, Clean Opening Animation, and Clean Closing Animation.

Commentary:

Made In Abyss is good, very good. It manages to take a simple adventure anime and turn it into something much deeper and provide a real mirror into what make us all so very human even when it is reflected in the form of a robot boy. Made In Abyss reminds me of why I like anime and that is simply the way the stories are more complicated than they seem and the overall outlook on the universe that surrounds us. We often just move through life without the wonder of what is happening around us and small things can be great wonders. There is a real symbiosis with life in Made In Abyss that is magnified by the abyss itself and there is also a metaphoric relationship between the abyss and life itself. The series gives us much to think about in a rather simple story telling fashion and also provides us with the escapist vehicle that take us to places very unexpected.

Overall Grade: A-

Made In Abyss does all this well, but the best thing it does is develop a few wonderful characters. Riko and Reg both are rich full wonderful characters that are very easy to like. Then we are given a few mysterious side characters that end up being something of a overwhelming positive support cast and finally we are introduced to Nanachi, an outstanding character that has such a tragic back story that it make you want to just hug her and hold her close.

The animation is lovely and very easy to watch even when it is giving us the brutality of the Abyss. There is a simple art design that is rich and colorful without being overbearing and allows for some of the hard edges to be just a little softer.

My real complaint comes with the overall story development and where we are left off. I guess this is a sign that I really like this series because I want to see more and am eagerly awaiting the films that will follow.

So, if you are ready for a great fantasy adventure anime then Made In Abyss will be a must have in your collection.

The Princess Principle Anime Review

Title: The Princess Principle

Director: Hasaki Tachibana

Publisher: Sentai Filmworks

Format: Blu-ray /  12 episodes  / 300 Minutes

Genre: Drama

Release date: 9-25-18

Age Rating: 14+

Overall Rating: B-

Synopsis:

The story takes place back in an alternate Great Britain, where a civil war has split the county (called Albion-on a side note, this is an old name for the island of Great Britain).  The “Kingdom” is ruled by the traditional monarchy and the “Commonwealth”  made of the working class that split off.

Inside the Kingdom’s Queen’s Mayfair school where Princess Charlotte attends, Dorothy and Ange, who are spies for the Commonwealth, have taken roles as students. They are joined by Chise, an student from Japan, who retains her cultural identity. The skill and tactics she brings assist them in many ways. Unexpectedly, Princess Charlotte joins them along with her attendant Beatrice. Can these two be trusted? What are their real motives?

Missions are assigned to the group in order to protect the Commonwealth. Violence is common in these cases and the women can handle a gun. They are spies willing to take the risk and carry out the orders.

There is more to the uncanny resemblance between Charlotte and Ange. They have a history that could destroy them both.

Commentary:

Twists and turns with the characters and relationships are the star of this anime. Included in this are trying to figure out who really works for which side and who is in charge. The history and relationship between Charlotte and Ange was my favorite part. That’s all I will say about that, the surprise is part of the intrigue.

Visually, I felt the anime to be okay. The costume were interesting in the context, the character designs were fine. What didn’t work for me was they mixed art and animation styles which did not mesh together, like overlapping universes.  The Queen especially looked comically out of place.

I watched all but one episode in English. It just comes across odd to watch a show set in an England type of world and everyone speaking Japanese. It was also true for the anime Emma, but my disc was only in English subtitles. I am glad they dubbed Princess Principle. It was done well and really added to the appeal.

Most of the episodes are stand alone “cases”.  The mission is completed by the endow the episode. There is an thread of story that winds through the whole season. Some of the background information is revealed through a step back on the timeline, but it never gets confusing.

I found the ending to be satisfying but open to the possibilities of more episodes.

Overall Rating: B-

Just when you think they are friends, they’ll say they are just spies. So when you expect them to be all business, they’ll do something friendly. The Princess Principle has an interesting story and a small touch of steampunk, but not the qualities I watch anime for.

Scum’s Wish (Anime Review)

Title: Scum’s Wish

Publisher: Sentai Filmworks

U. S. Release Date:9/25/18

Format: Blu-ray / 12 Episodes /  300 Minutes

Genre: Drama

Age Rating: 17+

Overall Personal Rating:B

Synopsis:

Hanabi is a high school girl, seemingly normal but for one thing (I guess it could be more than one thing, depending on how you look at it.). Well, this thing is normal, but it’s how she thinks and reacts to it that is outside the norm. She is in love with Narumi, but what adds the twist is they have a history together and this year his new job makes him a teacher at her school. Their families have been friends ever since she was a little girl. His mother had died and her father had left. Narumi came to her house for home cooked meals and was always kind and brotherly toward Hanabi, stepping into the role of protector for her. Already when she was a young girl, she fell in love with him.

Hanabi’s deep, true love and desire for Narumi is not reciprocated. He sees their relationship as friends or family. He is the big brother oblivious to her feelings that go beyond that roll. He warns her that they must not act familiar at school. Right away, Narumi is attracted to the music teacher, Akane. In despair for her unrequited love, Hanabi enters into a relationship of agreement with a fellow student, Mugi, who also has a hopeless love (for Akane). Since they can’t have who they desire and their feeling are too strong to let go, they turn to each other, basically as surrogates. They use each other to explore their physical desires and pretend emotional attachment with each other.

It doesn’t end there. Sanae is in love with Hanabi, so Hanabi takes advantage of that with Sanae’s permission, Noriko loves Mugi and will take whatever pathetic attention he will give her. Atsuya confesses to Sanae. Mei and Takuya use whoever they want and get used in return…phew, it gets tangled and even crosses the student and teacher divide.

Commentary:

What did I think about Scum’s Wish? First, this is definitely for an older, mature audience. Although they talk about love, they really are exploring sex and sexuality as a major part of the anime. There is no nudity, but things are pushed pretty far and its obvious what it is they are doing.  Also, someone older would be better able to sort out the characters weird confusion of love and loyalty with obsession and being a martyr.

I was definitely intrigued by the drama, interested to see what would happen in this set of love webs. What I got tired of seeing was the pathetic streaks the characters had. Their concepts of true love,  specifically one that doesn’t give in, will wait forever and take what they can get. As in, how can you dare think of someone else when the one you love doesn’t love/like you back? Overly dramatize self-importance, like they are some sort of special person who can feel deeper love than most. Uh, no, just more of a fool. People were claiming love, but using each other selfishly or letting themselves get crapped on and appreciating the attention.

I think the title is off-putting. It can lose and audience with a title. I understand where it comes from, the characters who are using another person for their own purposes without regard for them, some of them feel bad about it, so, knowing they are scum. Yet it doesn’t stop them, They desire/wish for what they think is true love to be reciprocated.

The characters are interesting enough. All plausible, they give back story to prove it. Luckily, there is character growth for almost everyone. I never thought that they were standard. Even though some were annoying or socially creepy, they held my interest and I cared about what they might do and what their future held.

A few last comments. I watched the the English dubbed and thought it was good. A little over done on the sound of whispering-thinking-inside-their-head dialogue, it got a little grating. I enjoyed the animation style too. It really seems to support the story.

Overall Grade:   B     A different sort of drama than regular anime stock. Interesting to watch for a mature audience.

Seven Heavenly Virtues (anime review)

Title: Seven Heavenly Virtues

Director: Shinji Ishihara

Studio: Bridge

Format: Blu-ray / 10n episodes and 2 OVA / 48 Minutes

Genre: Fantasy, Ecchi

Age Rating: TV MA

Overall Rating: C-

Synopsis:

When the fallen angel Lucifer starts raising hell down below, Heaven decides that it’s time to start looking for a new savior to keep humanity from succumbing to the lure of Sin. Unfortunately, the seven beautiful angels assigned to the task of finding a new Messiah may not be the best choices.

Their nominal leader, Michael, the Angel of Faith, is plagued by self-doubt. Gabriel, the Angel of Chastity, struggles to defend morality in a costume that’s sure to lead men into Temptation. Metatron (Charity) has a surprising bondage fetish while her sister, Sandalphon (Diligence), has trouble focusing. Uriel (Patience) has bladder control issues and… well, let’s just say that none of them are exactly qualified and with guardian Angels like these, Mankind is almost certain to be doomed!

Commentary:

Wow, I haven’t see such a blatant ecchi anime in a long time. I am not sure why there is any story line, because there isn’t. This series is one step shy of hentai and that is being generous. I understand why the episodes are so short and why we never really get to know anyone.

Overall Rating: C-

As the Seven Heavenly Virtues progressed through the short severely pointed episodes I began to realize that the creators must be 28 year old shut-ins who are rather fixated on the 2D girls. Or, maybe they are 40 something producers trying to take advantage of those 20 something shut-ins. Of course in Japan they could easily be 16 or older.

I found the series to be amazing it its lack of story, but rather focused in its attempt to provide true ecchi experience. So if you are old enough then Seven Heavenly Virtues will provide enough sexual tension to make you want to take a cold shower.

Gunparade March the Complete Collection (anime review)

Title: Gunparade March the Complete Collection

Director: Katsushi Sakurabi

Studio: J. C. Staff

U. S. Distributor: Maiden Japan, Section 23

U. S. Release Date: Sept. 18, 2018

Format: DVD / 12 Episodes / 300 Minutes

Genre: Sci Fi, Mecha, Romance, Action

Age Rating: TV 14+

Overall Personal Rating: B

Synopsis:

In 1945, the alien invasion ended World War II and united humanity against a common enemy. Now, more than 50 years later and after countless deaths, a new group of teenagers has been drafted to train as pilots of the advanced combat mecha known as Humanoid Walking Tanks (HWTs).

For Atsushi Hayami and the rest of Unit 5121, the odds of living to see their twenties now depends on the hardened battle steel of their armor, the courage and strength of their comrades in arms, and the tactics of superior officers who see them as game pieces to be played against the Phantom Beasts. Friendships and love blossom against a battle-torn landscape, and every day is another desperate struggle to survive a seemingly endless war!

Commentary:

In the world of Mecha anime it is widely believed that Gundam and Evangelion reign supreme. I am not too sure that there are that many decent Mecha anime, but Gunparade March falls right in the sweet spot for the genre. Of course there are very few that get much more than a B rating from me. They often get overly wrapped up in their own dramatic existence. Gunparade March didn’t get too lost in itself and it did provide a reasonable plot and development to keep my interest. I just had a hard time getting too sympathetic toward any of the characters and felt a little apathetic toward the entire series from time to time.

Of the main character I guess that I felt more aligned with Atsushi rather than Mia. Atsushi is a little timid and does reflect a very human ability to let his self esteem get in the way. May is way too angry and comes across stuck up. I did warm to Mai the way that Atsushi does. This relatively confused relationship adds a tension to the series, but also takes away from the real action.

Overall Grade: B

Gunparade March is an early 2000’s anime that tried to play off the success of other Mecha anime like Full Metal Panic (one of my favorite) and the continual obsessed fandom of Gundam. Gunparade March does a decent job of giving us a plot that is interesting and a romance that is so awkward that it kinda works.

To be perfectly honest, I liked Gunparade March better than 90% of all of the Gundam universe but nowhere near as much as Full Metal Panic or Evangelion. It is a solid Mecha and if you enjoy these series you will be surprised how good it really is.

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-