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Dive!! The Complete Collection (anime review)

Title: Dive!! The Complete Collection

Director: Kaoru Suzuki

Written By: Tōko Machida

Studio: Zero-G

U.S. Distributor: Sentai Filmworks, Section 23

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

Format: Blu-ray / 12 Episodes / 300 Minutes

Genre: Sports, Drama, Comedy, Slice of Life

Age Rating: PG

Overall Personal Rating: B+

Synopsis:

Tomoko Sakai has loved the sport of diving since he was a child, and there’s no place he’d rather be than the high board at the Mizuki Diving Club. Unfortunately, the MDC’s having hard time staying afloat financially and there’s a sinking certainty that the club is about to drown in a sea of its own debt. Fiery female coach Kayoko Asaki has a bold plan to throw the club a lifeline, but it’s going to require achieving something that’s almost impossible: get one of the club’s members on the National team for the next Olympics! Can this struggling group of young athletes pool their talents in time to resuscitate their club, or will they make the ultimate belly flop? It’s time to sink or swim as the whole team leaps for the gold!

Commentary:

Dive!! jumps into the deep end of the many sports and swimming anime that have littered the screen over the last few years thanks to the popularity series like Free and Haikyu!!. Most of the series that come out tend to be heavy on sports and drama and light on character development and substance. Dive!! on the other hand play lightly with the sport and focuses on the character development. This helps the short series rise to a level most don’t manage to find.

Being a serious fan of Haikyu!! I expect a sports anime to give me more that just cheesecake I want to care about these young athletes and really want to see then succeed. Dive!! manages to provide me with 3 characters that each have their own reason to compete and also have good reason to become friends. The fact that we don’t have the revenge rivalry amounts these 3 is great. They have their reasons to compete and go for the top, but they also see the best in each other. Often you find a team spirit that is only at the surface with some other deep seeded envy or unhealthy competitive nature lurking in the dark areas of the characters existence. Dive!! makes these young athletes friends before they become true competitors which helps them root for each other in a very natural way. That in itself would make the series work watching, but add that to full character development and you have a solid series that makes you smile more often than not.

Overall Garde: B+

I know you are asking why is it that I praised the series so highly and only give it a B+. The answer is simple, there series is just way too short. Everything seems to flow naturally through the first 10 episodes then like a flurry the story is wrapped up. There is a rush to complete that both disappoints and also lets these wonderful characters down. I wanted to learn more about all three of these main characters and get a better feeling of the struggles they each have to go through. In other words the series let itself down by being so short.

The rest of the production was solid from the animation to the voice acting. There were a few moments that I felt a softer tough with cell shading would have worked better, but they are not paying me to be a technical advisor so I guess that is just a personal issue.

If you enjoy sports anime and are looking for a quick fix then all I can say if Dive!! into it, you will walk away with a smile.

 

 

UQ Holder! (anime review)

Title: UQ Holder! on Blu-ray

Director: Youhei Suzuki

Studio: J. C. Staff

U. S. Distributor: Sentai Filmworks, Section 23

U. S. Release Date: Nov. 27th, 2018

Format: Blu-ray / 12 episodes + 3 OVA / 375 Minutes

Genre: Shonen, Harem, Super Natural, Romance, Fantasy

Are Rating: TV MA

Overall Personal Rating: B+

Synopsis:

When you’re the grandson of a famous hero, you’d think that your life would be interesting, but Tota Konoe is stuck in the dullest place he can imagine! He can’t even leave his tiny village until he can defeat his teacher and foster parent Yukihime, and she seems to be impossibly powerful. Then everything changes when Yukihime is attacked and Tota learns that both she and Tota himself aren’t who or what Tota thought they were! Now Tota has a new, impossibly long life ahead of him and an amazing destiny that ties in with the fate of his grandfather, the legendary Negi Springfield! Get ready for vampires, demons and magic users galore as Tota discovers the perils of being a member of the world’s most exclusive organization as a UQ Holder!

Commentary:

UQ Holder! is a continuation of the much beloved Negima series it might be hard to live up to all the hype surrounding the past. UQ Holder! manages to do a fine job of taking the past and melding it into the current series. I am a little disappointed that some of the answers that are provided are rather simplistic and maybe a little over contrived, but the simple fact is that UQ Holder! is fun. The plot is straight forward with few surprising twist and a rather solid underlying hopefulness that makes many Shonen anime so popular. The main character, Tota, is very much as simple as his forefather Negi, but he also has a naivety that Negi did not completely have. It is almost as if there was a mix of Goku from Dragon Ball Z and Negi to make this odd rather incomplete being. Of course his discovery of himself along the way is all part of the strength of the series.

Overall Grade: B

There is something wonderful about Tota and some of the other characters, but the insane mix of harem anime culture really detracts away from the true positive aspects of the series. The area that it shines is the real love story amount Tota and Yukihime along with his simplistic bonds with some of the other characters. I found myself liking Tota against my will and also feeling sorry for Yukihime when maybe she didn’t deserve it. Most of the others were more or less comic relief and sometimes got in the way.

My great sadness comes form the week reliance on fan service to provide silly events and even push some absurd moments forward. I would have really like to see this series put forward without the major loss of clothing if only ended up detracted from the content of the plot and making serious situation rather silly isn the end. I understand that the audience for the series is that 16 to 25 male group, but there is also a latent fanbase of young women who loved the manga series and who would have really like this series if the girls managed to keep their cloths on.

Bottom line is that UQ Holder! is a fine continuation of the Negima series and also opens the door for more to come.

Love, Chunibyo & Other Delusions! -Take On Me- (anime review)

Title: Love, Chunibyo & Other Delusions! -Take On Me-

Director: Tatsuya Ishihara

Studio: Kyoto Animation

U. S. Distributor: Sentai Filmworks, Section 23

U. S. Release Date: November 20th, 2018

Format: Blu-ray, Feature Film, 94 Minutes

Genre: Comedy, Slice of Life, Romance

Age Rating: TV 14

Overall Personal Rating: A

Synopsis:

Yuta and Rikka may have finally started to come to terms with the various delusions that have run their lives, but as their relationship becomes progressively more real, their development as a couple seems to be increasingly in danger of stalling out! When your relationship is partially the result of a series of fantasies, what can reality serve up that’s equal to the make-believe?

Rikka’s sister decides that she’s going to move to Italy and take Rikka with her, and the solution that Rikka and Yuta decide on is both improbably logical and unrealistically practical: They’re going to elope! For real! Get ready for the ultimate fantasy road trip as our two young would-be lovers take off a whirlwind tour of the real Japan in Love, Chunibyo & Other Delusions! -Take On Me-

Commentary:

Love, Chunibyo & Other Delusions! -Take On Me- takes us further along in the saga of Rikka and Yuta which finally gives us some real closure on their relationship in ways that make total sense and feel very natural for such an absurdist type of romance anime. Honestly, the struggle for these characters to deal with their chunibyo is worth the watch and at the same time begin to understand that the real world has a great deal to offer.

This installment of the series points us to a bright future for everyone and allows us to continue to like everyone for who they are and not what others might want them to be. Yuta may just be the only one that understands this more than anyone but he also appears to be further along on his road to maturity than the other, especially Rikka.

The real fun to the film is the way they all interact to help Rikka and Yuta evade Toka. The beauty is that there is a symmetry to everything that goes on and a blast of humor that does not deny the original series.

Overall Grade: A

I am often worried when I come across short films that could be nothing more than toss of money grabs for a series. In the case of Love, Chunibyo & Other Delusions! -Take On Me- it is clear from the very beginning that the intent is to tell even more of the store and find a wonderful stopping point for the story. Now I can’t be sure that the series is done with this film, but I would not be disappointed if it is. I feel like I can believe that they will all be fine as they mature and that Rikka will grow into a beautiful person who maintains a rich fertile imagination that will blend perfectly with Yuta’s pragmatism.

For all the fans of the series I know you will not be let down by Love, Chunibyo & Other Delusions! -Take On Me-.

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.

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.

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.

Uta No Prince-Sama Legend Star Season 4 (anime review)

Title: Uta no Prince-Sama Legend Star Season 4 on Blu-ray

Director: Takeshi Furuta

Writers: Tomolo Konparu, Sayaka Konno

Studio: A-1 Pictures

U. S. Distributor: Sentai Filmworks, Section 23

U. S. Release Date: April 3rd, 2018

Format: Blu-Ray / 13 Episodes / 325 Minutes

Genre: Reverse Harem, Musical Slice of Life

Age Rating: TV 14

Overall Personal Rating: B

Synopsis:

Uta no Prince-Sama: Legend Star contains episode 1-13 of season 4.

The contest to become the opening group for Triple S may have been shaken up by the arrival of the now seven-member group HEAVENS, but QUARTET NIGHT generously declines to take advantage of the decision in their favor… as long as the other two bands agree to an unexpected new phase of the competition!

Are the other two rival groups ready for a new series of cross-band duets, with each song pairing one member of STARISH and one member of HEAVENS? Will Haruka be up to writing yet another round of spectacular songs? It’s time to pick up the tempo and sing to the balconies as the musical one-upmanship only gets wilder!

Commentary:

I never really minded reverse harem anime and I must say that I found the first few seasons of Uta no Prince Sama a little more entertaining than most. Season 4 Legend Star manages to fill some of the requirement and also left me a little flat at times. I guess that it really all comes down to the music with Uta no Prince Sama and for this season I just didn’t connect the way I had hopped to. It was still very happening and if this genre of music is your bag then you will be up dancing your heart out.

Overall Grade: B

With all the drama and competitive vibes going on I believed that Legend Star would have given me more. It is clear that the series is a real hit in Japan and it clearly has its following her in the states, but it is very possible that these types of bands just don’t have the staying power in the west the way they do in the east.

I will say that the animation, writing and storyline manage to prove very adequate and fluid. The production values are by for the strong point followed by the writing. The story is rather basic and shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone.

Uta no Prince Sama Legend Star keeps things rolling but also left me sitting way to still for the 13 episodes. I realize that I am not the target audience and that the true believers will love every minute. If you are looking for a boy band reverse harem that has some lively music the the Uta no Prince Sama series is for you. If you haven’t seen any before then I would suggest starting at the beginning with season 1 and working your way over to season 4. If you are already into Uta no Prince Sama then you are ready for season 4 and please move straight ahead.

Ajin: Demi-Human Season 2 (anime review)

Title: Ajin: Demi-Human season 2 on Blu-ray

Director: Hiroyuki Seshita, Hiroaki Andō

Written By: Hiroshi Seko

Studio: Polygon Pictures

U. S. Distributions: Sentai Filmworks, Section 23

U. S. Release Date: April 10th, 2018

Format: Blu-ray / 13 Episodes, 2 Movies / 325 Minutes

Genre: Seinen, Drama, Supernatural, Action

Age Rating: TV MA

Overall Personal Rating: B

Synopsis:

Ajin: Demi-Human Season 2 contains episodes 1-13 and movies “Comfort” and “Collide”.

Kei’s stopped running, but his decision to stand and fight comes just as Sato launches his second wave of terror. Angered by the governments’ refusal to admit the truth about the live experiments on captive Ajin, the Ajin terrorist has begun assassinating a list of the key individuals connected to Ajin research, and only someone as unkillable as he is has a chance of stopping the man in the hat.

With Sato being better trained, more experienced, and allied with other Ajins, Kei has only two chances at heading off the final apocalypse: to somehow learn how to better control the Invisible Black Matter being he generates or to recruit other Ajins into the battle. The shadow war explodes and the world burns as the ultimate warriors face off in immortal combat!

Commentary:

Ajin season 2 takes us to the war. It also does something that is very, very typical for anime and the protagonist. It gives us the over-the-top brooding protagonist that consistently misses all the right clues in becoming a better person and demi-human. One thing does become clear and that is the fact that Ajin does fall into that trap of the anti-hero complex which manages to slow down the development of the story.The series is very slow where as the movies help complete the circle in a much more favorable pacing.

The most difficult aspect to Ajin is the animation itself. The rough flat computer graphics may have the sole purpose to creating dramatic effect, instead it makes the series look unprofessional and second rate. I have no idea why this artistic rendering was accepted in the creation of the anime. It would have been very easy to clean up the look and still give some of the original creator look and feel. I found myself loosing my attention all too often due to this second rate animation.

Overall Grade: B

Ajin: Demi Human has such a great opportunity to tell a compelling story and the writing manages to pull off the essence of what it should be , but the animation and typical hero Kei just put a damper on the entire series for me.

Amin: Demi Human is a solid A in writing and has plenty of high points that lead you to a somewhat satisfying series. I just wish they would have re-thought the anime styling.