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Kokoro Connect Complete Series (anime review)

Title: Kokoro Connect The Complete TV Series & OVA on Blu-ray

Director: Shinya Kawamo

Studio: Silver Link

U. S. Distributor: Sentai Filmworks / Section 23

U. S. Release Date: March 14, 2017

Format: Blu-ray / 13 Episodes + 4 OVA / 425 Minutes

Genre: Supernatural, Coming of Age, Romance, Drama, Seinen

Age Rating: TV 14

Overall Grade: A

Synopsis:

The five members of the Cultural Study group that meets in class 401 have spent a lot of time wondering what it would be like to be in someone else’s shoes. But they’re about to learn that there’s a huge difference between thinking about it and literally BEING in someone else’s shoes! That’s exactly what happens when, suddenly and inexplicably, they each find themselves inside the body of the girl – or boy – next door!

What happens next? Well, besides bringing a whole new meaning to the term “exchange student” and the to-be-expected freaked-out runs to the bathroom, it’s not hard to do the math: take one wrestling geek, the resident cool girl, the class clown, the popular chick and one sultry maid of mystery, scramble thoroughly and divide, and you can bet that pretty soon they’ll be answering ALL of the questions they never wanted to know about the opposite sex in ways they never anticipated!

Commentary:

I always cringe a little when I hear that a show is about people swapping bodies. Kokoro Connect only made me cringe because it is so good and how it manages to hit some genuine nerves with respect to the human condition. I have not felt this strong about a series since AnoHana made to our market. Kokoro Connect goes straight for that dynamic of exploring our relationships and our own frailties.

The animation style reminds me of the simplistic intimacy the K-ON! delivers or many of the other straight forward slice of life series. The one major difference is the solid development of the characters and the superb writing that brings the series to life. Each one of these students have a plenty of experiences that have helped form who they are, but they are just discovering the people they have become and how to move forward. Each are full and rich with plenty to say and it is very easy to become sympathetic toward them and their world.

The one thing that hit me the hardest was the honesty that came from the writing and exposed itself through these characters. This is where it made me cringe because of the way that they allow these characters to expose themselves and the things that they confess. There are things said that I can honestly say I would never expect to hear from anyone, but seeing it in this format makes those comments seem even more honest and revealing.

Overall Grade: A

Kokoro Connect is not for everyone and because of some of the conversations that happen I would say that it should really be rated 16 +. That doesn’t take away from the quality of the series and in fact adds to its overall attractiveness. Don’t expect this to be a sexy romp through adolescence, but rather a honest view of humans at this age and the things that make us who we are. There is one area that the Japanese are great at and they are coming of age stories that tug at our heart strings and Kokoro Connect hits a home run and made it on to my to ten releases. Be sure to check this one out.

Kokoro Connect  found it’s way into a top pick of mine for the series releases and with the addition of the 4 episodes / OVAs it is clear that it is now more than deserving of that list. I loved the way the series explores relationships without turning it into a silly redundant body swapping series. With the added emotion swapping that goes on in these OVAs it gives us another level of complexity and asked the question “how do we hide our feelings from our friends”? Funny thing is that we have all gone through this but not at this level of stress. The way that it is approached is both interesting and painful, but at all times it still keeps us grounded in both the characters humanity and the humanity of the viewers. There are plenty of other series that explore relationships such as Anohana or even Clannad, but Kokoro Connect does something that even they don’t do and that is touch a nerve that is so universal and at the same time so personal that they almost never come up and are almost never discussed among friends. To place young coming of age kids in the position of having to experience what others feel and all the while be bonded together through both friendship and the fact that they are all placed in this position without their consent. These simple factors make the series powerful for what it is and with the added awkwardness of those highly personal secrets rolling out from time to time makes Kokoro Connect something very special.

If you are looking for a series that makes you look at yourself and your friends in a new light then Kokoro Connect should be high on the list.

Similar Anime:

AnoHana: The Flower We Saw That Day, K-ON! , Tari Tari and Hanasaku Iroha are all in line with Kokoro Connect. AnoHana does explore the aspects of relationships and the dark secrets that we all hold back from each other. K-On!, Hanasaku Iroha and Tari Tari follow a much simpler format of exploration of coming of age but they still deal directly with how we discover how to maintain relationships with those close to us as we age and life becomes more complicated. There are plenty of other series that take on relationships and if you want to feel something other than just a punch of adrenaline then you should be sure to pick one of these series up.

Knights of Sidonia: Battle for Planet Nine (anime review)

knights-of-sidonia-season-2Title: Knights of Sidonia: Battle for Planet Nine

Director: Kobun Shizuno

Creator: Tsutomu Nihei

Studio: Polygon Pictures

U. S. Distributor: Sentai Filmworks, Section 23

U. S. Release Date: November 29th, 2016

Format: Blu-ray / 12 Episodes & Feature Film/ 442 Minutes

Genre: Sci Fi, Mecha, Drama, Action, Seinen

Age Rating: TV MA

Overall Personal Rating: A-

Synopsis:

Knights of Sidonia Battle for Planet Nine (Daikyuu Wakusei Seneki) contains episodes 1-12 of the second season of Knights of Sidonia plus a movie, a chipboard box, art cards, and a poster.

Discovering the nature of one’s individual identity is a question every sentient being confronts. Do you only count if you’re entirely human? What does it mean to be a person?

In a war with the alien Gauna, capable of absorbing and re-purposing human DNA, these are no longer abstract questions In these uncertain conditions, pilot Nagate Tanikaze finds himself developing an obsession with the Gauna clone of his deceased beloved, Hoshijiro.

Meanwhile, his close friend, Izana, a manufactured non-binary human, goes through an alarming change as their feelings for Nagate grow. Existential and romantic problems will have to wait though, as the Guana step up their attacks and a virtual coup d’état threatens to throw Sidonia’s leadership into chaos, while even darker forces stir within.

The very definition of what it means to be human is about to be questioned as the battle to survive continues in KNIGHTS OF SIDONIA SEASON 2: BATTLE FOR PLANET NINE!

Commentary:

Being a major fan of Knights of Sidonia I was thrilled to see the second season finally release. I have heard plenty of disappointment regarding the heavy Computer Graphics use, but I’m not too sure it doesn’t end up adding to the overall feel of the animation. Add Nihei’s gritty imagery to the hard edge of CG and you end up with a true dystopian future that has a look of tired worn-out existence.

The plot continues with mush intrigue and mystery as to what is going on. We are introduced to plenty of new strange aspects to the story and of course there is  Tanikaze who manages to provide plenty of wonder as to what he really is.

Overall Grade: A-

If my only grade for Knights of Sidonia was based on the story it would be an A, but because there is simple failure to wrap the series up I ended up feeling left with a great start and no finish.

The animation may put some people off and in some ways it does get a little tiresome. I still think the hard CG helps create that aged future where humanity is at it’s final battle. Now if we can just see that battle and discover what the outcome will be.

I know that Netflix has had plenty of opportunity to show this series and that a lot of people may not like the English dub, I feel as though it should be a top pick of those mecha lovers who are looking for something more original than Gundam or EVA. Of course, there are plenty of Mecha series out there and it should be noted that Knights of Sidonia is not finished. You should give it a try and if you haven’t seen season one you should watch the movie before you watch Battle for Planet Nine.

Kawai Complex Guide To Manors & Hostel Behavior: Complete Collection (anime review)

kawai-complex-guide-blu-rayTitle: Kawai Complex Guide To Manors & Hostel Behavior: Complete Collection on Blu-ray

Director: Shigeyuki Miya

Anime Writer: Takeshi Konuta

Original Creator: Ruri Miyahara

Studio: Brian’s Base

U. S. Distributor: Sentai Film Works, Section 23 Films

U. S. Release Date: December 6th, 2016

Format: DVD / 12 Episodes & OVA / 325 Minutes

Genre: Seinen, Romantic Comedy, Slice of Life

Age Rating: TV 14

Overall Personal Rating: B+

 

Synopsis:

Some say a home is where your heart is. Others say that a home is where you send people whose brains aren’t functioning quite properly. So, when Kazunari Usa’s parents send him to the Kawai Boarding House while they work abroad, it may take a while to figure out whether this is really his new home, let alone what kind of home it is.

On the one hand, his new roommate is a pervert and a masochist who peeps at girls’ schools, while his new landlady thinks leaving a variety of weapons lying around the girl’s area is a proper form of feminine protection. And when it comes to the trouble-making college girl and the perpetually grumpy working woman… well, let’s just say that those two have some serious issues to work out. On the other hand, Kawai is also home to Ritsu Kawai, who stole Usa’s heart from the first second he saw her on his first day at his new high school. And that alone may just make living in this strange new house worth it!

Commentary:

Kawai Complex Guide To Manors & Hostel Behavior is a simple straight forward coming of age high school romantic comedy. The comedy aspect is what is front and center with this silly story. The love story is between two rather shy kids who for their own reasons aren’t able to show their true feelings, but as the series progresses things are clear that they are headed to a similar place. The strength is based on the comic relief and the other main characters who give us the extraverted side of the tale. From the very beginning the humor is pushing some boundaries with several of the characters, but they hold the situation back just enough to keep things on a relative level playing field. It would have been very easy for the writers to go too far with the perversion that a couple of the characters clearly would like to exhibit.

The other strength happens to be the animation and much of the background and the use of highlights and polished surfaces. With in the first few minutes I was reminded of the work of Mikoto Shinkia. The work my not reach that high of a quality, but it clearly show how the rest of the anime world has watched and learned the power of reflection and highlights. I found the school hallways and classrooms to exhibit much of the slick styling and one you get to the Kawai Complex there is a great deal of time spent on the polished floor and the rich look it provides. There was even an obligatory  railroad crossing scene early one that cemented some of the reference to Shinkai.

Overall Grade: B+

Kawai Complex Guide To Manors & Hostel Behavior is a silly and light comedy that gives us all hope that two rather shy sweet kids can connect even in a world of absurdity swirling around them. Innocence still has its place in todays world and thanks to show like this it is honored and showcased. I would recommend this for the younger crowed but can’t because of the perverted humor that is found in every episode. It is a good story for those 13, 14 and 15 year old girls who want to watch a silly show about a shy bookworm and a sweet nice guy. But, I am sure that the majority of the fan base will be 20 something guys who like slick production and plenty of silly humor and cute gils.

I really did enjoy Kawai Complex Guide To Manors & Hostel Behavior even if it did come cross a little heavy handed form time to time. The animation is stellar for a 13 episode series and the writing kept pace and the story was able to survive under its own weight. So, if you are looking for something that will make you laugh and feel just a little better at the end of the then you should check out Kawai Complex Guide To Manors & Hostel Behavior.

Black Lagoon Complete Series + OVA Premium Edition Blu-ray (anime review)

Black-Lagoon-Premium-EditionTitle: Black Lagoon Complete Series + OVA Premium Edition Blu-ray

Director: Sunao Katabuchi

Studio: Madhouse

Music: Edison

U. S. Distributor: Funimation Entertainment

U. S. Release Date: November 17, 2015

Format: Blu-ray/ 29 Episodes / 600 Minutes

Genre: Drama, Action, Adventure, Crime Drama, Seinen

Age Rating: TV MA

Overall Personal Rating: A

Synopsis:

Take a twisted trip to the city of your nightmares in this hard-boiled shootout inspired by masters of action like John Woo and Quentin Tarantino!

Rokuro was an ordinary Japanese business man. A suit hired to entertain corporate high rollers and serve as a whipping boy for the big bosses with the real juice. A mission to deliver a mysterious disk to the deadly waters East of China seemed like his big break, but some things just weren’t meant to be. A ruthless gang of mercenaries fronted by a gunslinging femme fatale in scandalously short shorts kidnapped Rokuro and held him for ransom. When his company refused to pay, he became their property. To survive, he was forced to reinvent himself as Rock, the brains behind the beauty and brawn of Black Lagoon: the most cutthroat crew of mercs ever to hustle the mean streets of Roanpur. A nightmare of a metropolis where the bad guys are really bad – and your friends might be even worse.

Contains episodes 1-12 of Black Lagoon, episodes 1-12 of Black Lagoon: The Second Barrage, and episodes 1-5 of the OVA, Black Lagoon: Roberta’s Blood Trail.

Commentary:

Black Lagoon is an action packed seinen title often with dark and depressing undertones. Taking place in the fictional modern-day city of Roanapur, Thailand, the anime centers around the life of Rokuro “Rock” Okajima as he is attacked out at sea by some pirates and is taken hostage. After being with them when one thing after another goes wrong possibly due to Stockholm syndrome. If so, Rock never regrets it, although he continues to use words over fighting. The Lagoon Company, the pirate-mercenaries Rock works with, all are much more jaded and his unwillingness to fully embrace the ideals, or lack thereof, of the darkest of the underworld and pick up a gun causes tension, especially for Rebecca “Revy”, the company’s main fighter and one of the deadliest around.
Black Lagoon  is a great example of existentialism with a myriad of examples. None of the major characters are at all flat and most of the secondary characters like Mr. Chang all have twisted and distorted pasts. All of the ones revealed make Rock’s past look kind of mild in comparison. The best two examples of this are third (episodes 8-10) and fifth (episodes 13-15) mini-arcs.
The third arc has the Lagoon Company transporting Garcia Lovelace for the Columbian mafia. En route to their destination, they discover there is more to the situation they weren’t told. Garcia is convinced that he will be saved by his maid, Rosarita “Roberta” Cisneros, a unbeknownst former FARC guerilla trained in assassination known formerly known as “Hellhound”. After Garcia saw Roberta in battle, he did not know what to think. However, as the arc went on her devotion to saving him and seeing her like that and comparing it to the happy memories of his past reminded him that he really cared for her, not a maid, but as family member. The arc ends on a happy note with Belilika, a former Soviet military officer who now works for the Russian mafia out of Hotel Moscow, helping out Garcia, Roberta and the Lagoon Company for Roberta’s unexpected aid in helping the Russian mafia and a sense of owing the  Lagoon Company help for their past dealings.

 Roberta’s Blood Trail is a continuation of this arc with the Lagoon Company thrown back into the mix trying to save Roberta from her own madness and Rock begins to become much more of the chess master which is a little out of character for him.

In contrast, the fifth arc does not have such a happy ending. It is about two twins, Hänsel and Gretel, who have dissociative identity disorder in which they can both reverse the role of  Hänsel and Gretel, but in such a way that those personalities are distinct from each other in both voice and mannerism. The twins were taped by the Russian mafia for guro pedophilic films and later were forced to kill other children in order to escape this kind of treatment. There is evidence to suggest they were based on the twins from Stephen King’s The Shining. It’s not known what gender either are, although it is implied that they are both females. In the anime they are hired by Verrocchio because of their ability to be overlooked. However after killing one of Belilika’s men, they decide to dispose of them. Before that happens, the twins realize this and slaughter Verrocchino. However, Belilika, pissed at the death of her comrade, hunts the twins down. After splitting up, Gretel contracts the Lagoon Company to save her and befriends Rock, the only person other than her “brother” she felt comfortable with since she could remember, she is shot in the back from the contact they went to who was paid by Hotel Moscow.
These two arcs, along with the final arc (episodes 19-24), show that outside Rock, Belilika is possibly the most complex character. Unlike Rock, she does not put her feelings above business and getting the job done, but also seems to have a side who would still like to see things have a happy ending when it doesn’t cause her problems. In the case of the twins, the death of her comrade by some of the most torturous means imaginable was too much as she considered all of her military comrades as family. This is also why she probably goes out of her way to find a reason to help Garcia and Roberta and praises Garcia for the way he acts in the end.
Overall Grade: A
Black Lagoon works on many levels. On the surface it is just another action anime with some comedic elements to break up the often bloody and intense atmosphere and could easily be mistaken for that just seeing one episode. However, the series really deals with the human condition and what would make someone turn their back on a normal life and seek a life in the underworld of crime. For Revy, that answer is simple; she never had a good life to begin with; Revy’s past was seen to be the worst for much of the series having never had a good life living in a crime filled neighborhood where she had to kill just to live. However, the fifth arc showed that there is always someone worse off.  For Rock, his life was going just fine, but when confronted with the choice he wanted the life of freedom. In spite of his weak-willed personality, he really enjoys the intense moments to the point that their boss, Dutch, fears the consequences should he really be pushed that far; instead he prefers him to work as the accountant and negotiator.
The series constantly has Revy and Rock arguing about idealism in this world. For Rock he wants to hold on to it because of his past and for Revy she never had it because of her past. She is constantly berating him for putting his morales first and causing him, and by extension her and the Lagoon Company, trouble. In the final arc he is confronted by another who also berates him for living within the twilight ― not wanting to live a normal life in Japan, but not wanting to fully embrace the life of the underworld and crime.

More than that though the series plays upon the general themes seen in such epics Paradise Lost by John Milton. In this all of the characters start out with great dreams and ideals hoping to make the world better or even just their family happy. However, each one is tempted after some incident and falls from grace to the underworld of crime or the like. Unlike the poem though, it wasn’t some incarnation of evil itself that caused these people to fall; instead, it was the betrayal of other humans they knew personally or the general abandonment by the rest of humanity as trash. Even then, they still long for their ideals; however, their eyes are opened and they knew ideals will never come to pass. Sometimes, like with Roberta, they could find a new ideal to live for, but for others, like the twins, it was too late.
In the end the only thing I am disapointed about the series is that it did not explore Rock’s persoanlity enough. Outside the first arc, he wasn’t really pushed to the edge and his ability as a skilled negotiator capable of resolving disputes without the need for bloodshed was only hinted at. As mentioned before, Rock still is one of the more idealistic members in the series and it seems clear he has not reached the level where he comfortable with what he’s become (and not criticizing those around him) while still maintaining his ideals.

If you enjoy hard hitting series and have not been introduced to one of the more thoughtful existentialist series then you need to check it out. It is a great reminder that if violence is needed then the story needs to say something other than kill, kill, kill and hey don’t forget we are humans. Black Lagoon shows us how easy it would be to turn someone into a heartless killer and how we are not as wonderful a species as we might think.

Invaders of the Rokujyõma!? (anime review)

invaders-of-rokujyomaTitle: Invaders of the Rokujyõma!?: Complete Collection

Director: Shin Õnuma

Music by: Zero-A

Studio: Silver Link

U. S. Distributor: Sentai Filmworks, Section 23

U. S. Released Date: Nov. 17th, 2015

Format as reviewed: Blu-ray / 12 Episodes / 300 Minutes

Genre: Fantasy, Moe, Seinen, Harem

Age Rating: TV 14

Overall Personal Rating: C

Synopsis: 

When Kotaro Satomi discovers an apartment for the ridiculously low rent of 5000 yen a month, he knows there must be a catch. But it’s not until AFTER he’s moved in that he finds out that he’s not the only one laying claim to Room 106 at Corona House, starting with teenage girl ghost, Sanae, who’s currently haunting it!

Still not enough to break the lease? Let’s add in a Magical Girl, Yurika, who wants to take control of the room in order to block its powers from evildoers, a luscious Subterranean bombshell, Kiriha, who needs the room to launch an invasion of our world, and a fiery space princess, Theiamillis, who… well, you get the idea. Can a lone high school student on a limited budget withstand the combined forces of the supernatural, metaphysical, subterranean, and alien worlds? Especially when they’re all also incredibly adorable?

Commentary:

Kawaii, oh so very Kawaii. Invaders of the Rokujyõma!? is so very Kawaii, but that is where the fun stops. IN the world of harem anime I would have to place this series in the lower half. In many ways it was a homage to the genre and offered plenty of parody to many of the great harems, unfortunately it missed the mark. I think the problem was that it tried to hard  and came off a little bland with the plot and the story devices that drove the series as a hole.

Overall Grade: C

Invaders of the Rokujyõma!? lacks the punch that would make it stand out. The characters are easy to like and at times less aggressive than they should be. They are almost shadows of what they should be. I can’t say that any one of them stood out and all together they gave enough charisma to make the series enjoyable but not great.

Simply put is you are hooked on harem anime and need a fix then Invaders of the Rokujyõma!? is the show for you. You will get plenty of the 4 to 5 way love triangle mess you can handle. There is also a full spectrum of anime girls involved to make you question which type of anime girl is the best.

Invaders of the Rokujyõma!? an easy watch with several funny situations. If it was better written and the characters more compelling it would have rated much higher.  I would have loved to be Kotaro Satomi, he had it better than he thought.

Knights of Sidonia (anime review)

Knights of SidoniaTitle: Knights of Sidonia 

Director: Kobun Shizuno

Creator: Tsutomu Nihei

Studio: Polygon Pictures

U. S. Distributor: Sentai Filmworks, Section 23

U. S. Release Date: June 9th, 2015

Format: DVD / 12 Episodes / 300 Minutes

Genre: Sci Fi, Mecha, Drama, Action, Seinen

Age Rating: TV MA

Overall Personal Rating: A-

Synopsis:

A thousand years after the alien Gauna destroyed the Earth, a small remnant of humanity still fights on to survive, fleeing on the gargantuan asteroid-based spaceship Sidonia. But centuries of flight and warfare have changed mankind in incredible ways: genetic engineering has allowed humans to photosynthesize like plants, reproduction occurs through cloning, and a third gender has been created to balance the population.

Even though it’s been a century since the last encounter with the Gauna, military service is mandatory, with all those able enough enlisted to pilot the Garde robots that stand as Sidonia’s front line of defense. For Nagate Tanikaze, whose grandfather secretly hid him in the forgotten bowels of the asteroid, it’s a strange new world as he’s forced to come to the surface and join the ranks of defenders.

Yet his recruitment comes just in time, for the Gauna have suddenly reappeared, and what could be man’s last battle will require every resource humanity has left. And what no one knows, yet, is that Nagate is not exactly what he seems, and a secret buried in his past may change the fate of all mankind!

Commentary:

This is the season for fine Mecha Anime and Knights of Sidonia leads the pack. The essence of the series is depicted in both its visual appeal and the continual slow development of the plot. It is not like this a new idea in the world of Sci Fi, but Tsutomu Nihei has a very defined vision of the future and it is both dark and somewhat reassuring. With the success of the manga it was easy to get this series picked up as an anime and with the incredible way that Nihei manages to tell the story and the fine adaptation that is complete it is easy to watch and even easier to get sucked into.

Looking at a dystopian future that has both its wonders and drawbacks is a speciality of Nihei. It was seen in both Blame and Biomega but Knights of Sidonia does it in a way that makes the world much more accessible and thus entertaining.

Overall Grade: A-

Knights of Sidonia takes you to a future that I wanted to be a part of and still never want to see happen. Their world is full of far reaching ideas like human photosynthesis and having limits on a individuals longevity along with protecting the human right to speak your mind and the freedom to protest. Their lives may be bleak, but they all appear to be in some form of symbiosis with the life that they have to lead and the struggles in keeping the human race alive.

The one thing that I was disappointed in is the quality of computer generated animation. The CG comes across a little blocky and awkward. With the visual aesthetic that Nihei created I feel like the GC let it down in ways that it should have been uplifted. The hard edge to the decaying world made the series look a little forced when it should have come across with ease and grace. I guess the budget for the series just wasn’t there. Maybe the movie and second season will prove to be worthy of Nihei’s vision.

If you are looking for a solid Sci Fi that takes a slightly different angle to the future then you should be at your anime store right now picking this future classic up. Knights of Sidonia is a genuine hit in my opinion.

Ping Pong (anime review)

Ping PongTitle: Ping Pong 

Director: Masaaki Yuasa

Studio: Tatsunoko Productions

Music: Kensuke Ushio

U. S. Distributor: Funimation Entertainment

U. S. Release Date: June 23rd, 2015

Format: DVD/ Blu-ray/ 11 Episodes / 275 Minutes

Genre: Seinen, Coming of Age, Sports

Age Rating: TV 14

Overall Personal Rating: A-

Synopsis:

Smile and Peco. Peco and Smile. Besties from the beginning, both with a badass backhand. Peco is known for his arrogance on the table tennis court, and Smile for his silence. But with a new school year and a new high school table tennis team, both boys are in for a challenge, on – and off – the court.

Peco’s slacker ways are hurting his game, and after getting crushed in a tournament, he decides to quit. Smile is finally learning to harness his natural talents, but can he squash his sympathy for his opponents enough to beat them?

Commentary:

Several years ago I had the opportunity to review a live action adaptation of Ping Pong and when I heard that the anime was being done I was very edited. The story is not so much the tail of Ping Pong players as it is the story of how these young men are finding their way in the world and how things change as they come of age. There is also the underlying question “Will the Hero Arrive”?

Anyway as I started watching the series I was at first blown away but the animation stylings and the free flowing aspects to the artistic choices. As I got further into the series I began to find it somewhat of a copout for shortcutting some of the visual language. I understand what they are trying to do with this loose and free line work, we have seen it may times in other anime when there is a reason to slip in a new perspective to a series. In the case of Ping Pong I think there should have been a little more attention to the solid conformity to the characters rattan than give us a loose depiction of the overall settings story. I think that with some more attention to detail there would have been a much more solid understanding of these characters as a hole.

The great thing about Ping Pong is that it is such a powerful story to begin with that even a loose free flowing artistic style did not fail the essence of the series. We live through self assurance turned self doubt and also see self loathing turned into loathing of all external forces. We get to taste how one owns understanding of who they are can make all the difference in the world and how powerful just playing a game at your best just for fun is where all the true fun lies.

Overall Grade: A-

Ping Pong is a powerful story that deserves a chance. If you do not like the animation style just give the story a chance. It won’t take long before you don’t care how it looks and just want to see how things turn out. I promise that this story will make you rethink your own ambitions or lack there of.

After you have watched the series you should check out the film, it was done by Sora, the same director who did Appleseed and a few other high profile CG films. But remember this film is not about special effects it is about the human condition and understanding ourselves.

Find out for yourself if the Hero arrives.

D-Frag!: The Complete Series (anime review)

D-Frag!Title: D-Frag!: The Complete Series

Director: Seiki Sugawara

Written By: Tomoya Haruno (Original Story), Makoto Ueze (Anime)

Studio: Brain’s Base

U. S. Distributor: Funimation Entertainment

U. S. Release Date: April 28th, 2015

Format: DVD/Blu-ray/ 12 Episodes/ 300 minutes

Genre: Comedy, Harem, Seinen

Age Rating: TV 14

Overall Personal Rating: B+

Synopsis:

Kazama is a wannabe delinquent on a mission to rule the school, but a run-in with the cray cray cuties of the Game Creation Club derails his plan for power. Instead of conquering Fujou Academy with his fists, Kazama is plunged into a hilariously-twisted world where pain is the name of the game.

Ruled by the adorable underground boss Roka, the Game Creation Club is comprised of pretty psychopaths who enjoy snacking, setting things on fire, burying adversaries up to their necks, and tazing the ???? out of anyone who stands in their way! As Roka vies for ultimate control of the school club scene, Kazama scrambles to maintain his sanity and survive the whacked out games these girls play. There’s no escaping the Game Creation Club!

Commentary:

D-Frag! started off with a real dud for me. I was thinking how painful it will be to sit through 12 episodes of some rather base humor that looked to be going nowhere. It wasn’t funny, it was sad the way they introduced the characters and it felt like a bad derivative of some many other comedy anime that I just cringed. Although after the first few episodes I began to see the writing begin to come together and provide a few solid laughs and hit home on some rather quirky personalities that are always present in large group settings. Even if I do feel like they tended to go for the hyper caricature of a couple main personalities. Things did manage to come together and I thought the comedy is what saved the series.

Of course the plot was all over the place and tended to meander in the woods from time to time. I had a feeling that the writing was more concerned with the punchlines rather than have a plot that took us somewhere. I know that it is a honest genre option to stick with absurdity when it comes to following a plot line, but in the case of D-Frag! I don’t think it was intentional.

Overall Grade: B+

There is plenty to praise about D-Frag! and the animation itself was very nice. Brain’s Base proved why they are getting more and more work over the last 13 years. It is clear and clean with a color pallet to match the tone of the series. It would have been very easy to lean toward a fan service profile with the series but they didn’t. Of course there is the obligatory young lady who is well endowed, but it was the exception rather than the rule and because it wasn’t the focus to the story it help make some of the humor more viable.

D-Frag! gave me grave concern at the beginning thinking that it was another silly series that missed the boat when it could have been a very funny series, but instead it ended up making laugh out loud enough to praise it for the simplicity of where it takes us. I would have like to see the plot be a little bit tighter, but the laughs took me where I really needed to go.

If you are looking for a series that is all about the funny and doesn’t seem to need to turn to mean spirited pranks to make it funny, then I can say with certainty that you will enjoy D-Frag!

Freezing: Vibration season 2 (anime review)

Freezing VibrationTitle: Freezing: Vibration season 2

Director: Takashi Watanabe

Studio: A.C.G.T.

U. S. Distributor: Funimation Entertainment

U. S. Release Date: April 21st, 2015

Format: DVD / Blu-ray / 12 Episodes / 300 Minutes

Genre: Seinen, Drama, Supernatural, Sci Fi, Fan Service

Age Rating: TV MA

Overall Personal Rating: B-

Synopsis:

Satellizer el Bridget and some of the most powerful – and desirable – Pandoras in the world are summoned to a secret base in the wilds of Alaska. These gorgeous warriors arrive primed for battle, but they soon discover the true purpose for their presence: to assist the clandestine Chevalier organization in forging a new breed of soldier – E-Pandoras!

Once normal girls, these eager beauties volunteered to have their bodies genetically enhanced in order to join the fight against the deadly alien invaders plaguing the planet. But there’s more to becoming a superhuman battle vixen than tattered uniforms and sultry slugfests. Rumors of heinous experimentation haunt the E-Pandora project, and only Satellizer and her loyal companion Kazuya can unravel the mystery before it’s too late!

Commentary:

There are long string of sexy girl battle anime and most of them fall apart pretty quick. The first season of Freezing may have help some promise for season 2 and amazing enough there is something here that manages to rise above the bouncing boobs, just barely. The great failure of these series is that they aim to entertain just one thin section of the anime fan base and many of those young men between 16 and 25 will be getting in line to pickup their copy of this wild series. Being a little older than that and liking my women to be 3d and flesh and flood would not make me one of the army of fans running to the nearest store to get this action packed series.

I thought the plot was stimulating enough to stand on its own and at the same time found the nude women rather distracting, plus every scene seemed to be more focused on boobies or panty shots. If there would have been less of this silliness it is very possible that Freezing Vibration could have become a classic along the lines of Claymore. I’m not here to discount the power of fan service, there can be opportune times to use sex or sexuality to give more power to the story and for some reason anime has a hard time understanding a solid balance.

Overall Garde: B-

If it weren’t for a solid story line I would have write Freezing off as just another bouncing booby show that is there to prove that the understanding of the human anatomy continues to elude all too many animators. I does continue to re-enforce the age old complaint about anime and manga and that is that it is created by too many men who use this medium as their idealized world.

If you prefer real bodies and a world that is more interested in the problems at hand then freezing is not for you. If you prefer your world to be full of buxom women who would rather not wear cloths then you need to rush out and get in line for the release of Freezing Vibration!

Tiger and Bunny vol. 4 (manga review)

Tiger & Bunny vol 4Title: Tiger and Bunny vol. 4

Art By: Mizuki Sakakibara

Planning / Original Story: Sunrise

Script: Masafumi Nishida

Character Development: Masakazu Katsura

U. S. Distributor: Viz Media

U. S. Release Date: Feb. 11th, 2014

Format: Manga, 184 pages

Genre: Sci Fi, Super Hero, Comedy, Action, Adventure, Seinen

Age Rating: T for teen

Overall Personal Rating: B+

Synopsis:

The heroes face down the deranged NEXT killer, Lunatic. Lunatic’s vigilantism has the city on edge, and the heroes find themselves having to convince everyone that NEXT are working for the good of Stern Bild City. Lunatic is in the wrong, but there is much more to the madman than anyone knows.

All the while we find Origami, Tiger and Bunny asked to visit Origami and Bunny’s alma mater. This sends Origami into a real funk and makes him question his entire existence as a hero. Tiger is quick to be supportive and is also put on the spot by the students to judge their powers. Of course they all have very strange powers and it forces him to come up with powerful idea for them. All of his enthusiasm from Tiger  and Bunny just listening ends up helping  Origami out and giving him something that he has needed for a long time.

Bunny is still charging forward looking of anything or anyone connected to Ouroboros and when he gets the chance to confront Lunatic he learns something he would have never expected. Does Bunny get any closer to discovering the truth and will Origami become a Hero who is interested in being in the forefront rather the side line?

Commentary:

As much as I like the Tiger & Bunny anime, I must say that it is a much better story in manga form. I don’t typically have that reaction, but in the case of this series there is something more personal about these heroes that is not caught in the animation format. I get a much better sense of who these characters really are by the emotional essence of their personas thought the print media. I think that when animated everything moves rather fast and some of the nuances are lost. Most of the time voice acting is able to bring the character to life and portray the emotional aspects of the character, but for  Tiger and Bunny I see it the other way. It may also be this volume that brings that to the forefront because of Origami’s personal struggle.

This volume also is a great example of the difference between Japanese graphic novels and American Graphic Novels. In most American hero stories there might be some emotional issue that the characters are dealing with but they tend to be rather dark and depressing. In Tiger & Bunny and many other super hero style manga the personal issues tend to be somewhat more mundane or even something that most of the readers can connect with. There seems to be a real empathy for the reader that we just don’t get with many American stories. I’m not saying that it doesn’t happen, but most of the time the personal trauma’s are much more melodramatic and supercharges.  They just don’t spotlight a young mans lack of self confidence because he is having a hard believing in himself.

Overall Grade: B+

Tiger & Bunny is a many layered series that reaches across the ocean to try and blend with the west’s superhero genre and at the same time add that very eastern touch to the story. For all american comic and graphic arts fans I would seriously recommend Tiger & Bunny. I might not be as dark as the new generation heroes on our side of the pacific, but it does provide a great picture of a group of heroes that still have to live their lives just like everyone else.  Don’t be afraid to give it a try!