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Julia's Reviews on All Things Media

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This review was written on June 1st, 2020, and boy howdy, is it a fun one! And I kinda want other people to check it out as well.

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I give this wild, wacky anime about zombie idol girls...an 81/100!

Oh, zombies. They've been a staple in horror movies ever since horror movies started utilizing them. Some zombie related stuff is good in the right hands, and others...not so much. But let me ask you: Who in their right mind had the idea to come up with an anime about cute zombie girls becoming idol singers, and having it be a wacky, colorful, comedic satire on idol culture? Oh right, this is Japan. They pretty much allow anything to be made into an anime. If they can come up with anime about things like runaway hospital beds, cute girls peacefully living out the end of the world, or sentient sardines that wish for death, then zombie idols being cute really shouldn't be that surprising. Ironically, the people who made ZombieLand Saga didn't think it would do very well, and lo and behold, it wound up becoming the darling of the autumn 2018 anime season. But how did this random anime even come about, and why is it even so popular? Most idol anime tend to be either saccharine, melodramatic, or of general poor quality. Well, let's dig some graves and find some answers. May we all rest in hell.

In the year 2008, a young high school girl, Sakura Minamoto, is determined to become an idol. After gathering some application paperwork, she races out the door to make her dreams come true...only to find herself meeting the business end of a speeding truck and dies from the impact. But this is not the end. She wakes up to find herself in a creepy, abandoned mansion in Saga Prefecture inhabited by zombies. Terrified, she runs away and tries to find some answers...only to find out that she too is a zombie, and that ten years have passed since she died. A mysterious man named Kotaro Tatsumi resurrected her and six others girls from different eras, intent on turning them into popular idols for the purpose of saving Saga Prefecture from falling into obscurity. This can either go really well or fail miserably, especially since Kotaro spends a lot of his time yelling at them and not even bothering to explain anything to them.

When the anime was first announced, no real premise was revealed for it, as its plot was kept very tightly under wraps until its airing. Many thought it was just going to be a cute girls meet zombies kind of show, like School-Live, so imagine their surprise when they found out it was going to be about cute zombie girls becoming idol singers. It came out of the gate with guns blazing, complete with luscious, wacky, fluid animation that bursts with color and charm. Yeah, I gotta say, the animation for this one is sublime. The colors are bright, the character movement is fluid, and the many visual gags always manage to pack a glorious punch with great comedic timing. It also manages to switch between cute and scary almost seamlessly when it wants to. The only real negative thing I can say about it is that it uses really clunky CGI during the idol segments. Not all the time, but they're jarring enough to know that you're watching 3D models instead of 2D animation, and the transition there isn't the smoothest. Sorry, Zombieland, but Dragon Quest: Your Story and the later seasons of Aikatsu raised my standards for Japanese CGI, thanks. (I still haven't seen Land of the Lustrous yet, but I do plan to!)

However, the show is very versatile in the music department. Seriously, the soundtrack for this show is all over the place. Death metal, J-pop, rap/hip-hop, jazz, Zombieland Saga serves a whole buffet of music genres, whether it be singing or the background music. The opening is wacky, bold, colorful, full of rapid movement, and is downright silly in the best way possible, while the ending song is a low key, somber, heartwrenching ballad. I honestly didn't find a single song that I didn't like, even the idol songs (Though I did feel the song To My Dearest was sung way too fast in its beginning verses), and the background music was also very well done. so the soundtrack hit a solid home run here. Also, zombie girl rap battle. How can you go wrong with that?!

But again, you can't have a story without good characters to back it up, and while I don't feel these zombie girls are as fleshed out as others in other anime I've seen, I love the whole ensemble, and they have subtle layers to them that help keep them from coming off as just simple archetypes. Sakura's enthusiastic and upbeat, but she's not a ditz nor a pushover. Saki is a badass, trash talking biker chick who's a complete degenerate and stays that way, but isn't a complete bitch either (I also appreciate that the anime doesn't try to change her into a girly girl and lets her stay a degenerate biker gal), Junko's a shy girl who's not fond of how drastically the idol industry changed from her time period, but isn't so shy that she doesn't want to perform in her own way, as she justs wants to enforce clear boundaries. I also love that the anime treats its characters and their personal boundaries with far more respect than other shows I've seen (Take note, episode 6 of 22/7!), something that is sorely needed, especially with how competitive and cut throat the idol industry in itself can be. That being said, the only ones who don't get much development are Yugiri and Tae, whose backstories are unknown as of this season, and Kotaro...not gonna lie, I'm not the biggest fan of him. I mean, it's funny when he's hammy and silly, but he's also kind of an abusive jackass who constantly treats most of the girls like crap and puts them down over the slightest provocation (especially Sakura) and never explains anything to them, especially how he resurrected them as zombies to begin with. But the show knows he's a jackass and he always gets his whenever he sets the girls off, especially Saki and Ai, who don't hesitate to put the guy in his place when he treats them like shit.

Speaking of not explaining things, the anime has a lot of neat ideas and concepts, but with its short length, it leaves a lot of questions unanswered. How did the girls even become zombies? What is Kotaro really planning on doing with them? Will people make the connection and see that the girls were actually people who died in varying time periods? One person recognized Lily, so the possibility is there. Also, what's the deal with Yugiri and Tae? Or even Kotaro, for that matter? Not only that, the final episode doesn't really end the series, so much as teases the audience with a hook for a potential second season. Thankfully, a second season has been confirmed, so for all we know, we might finally get answers if and when that airs. Still, some might not be satisfied, and that's okay.

With an anime that relies on two main gimmicks, zombies and idols, one would think meshing the two would be a complete disaster. But surprisingly enough, Zombieland Saga actually managed to make it work. True, the fact that the girls are zombies become less and less relevant as the series goes on, and Zombieland Saga does play some idol tropes and scenarios completely straight even when it's parodying or satirizing them. But I never felt like Zombieland Saga was trying to paint a rosy, overly saccharine picture of the idol industry, and it does acknowledge that being an idol is, at its core, a job, a business selling you a product, even if the most it digs its claws into is tongue-in-cheek jabs at it. It doesn't try to do a full take-down of the industry like Wake Up Girls did, nor does it paint the industry as being all sunshine and rainbows like Love Live consistently tries to do. I actually did watch the first episode of Love Live and I absolutely hated it, because it was basically overly syrupy Disney fare that was bland, generic, childish, overly pandering, and tried to paint a way too rosy, syrupy picture of how the idol industry works. As a result of how it tackles the idol industry and all that it entails, any drama that comes up in Zombieland actually feels more earnest and substantial than most idol shows try to do, without ever coming across as shallow or melodramatic. Basically, Zombieland Saga uses its bizarre, off-the-wall premise to present its messages with earnest sincerity and just tells it like it is, pulling the wool from your eyes but not trying to outright trick you or throw you a curveball.

I think the show is okay with how it currently is, just a fun, wacky, biting but loving satire of the idol industry that's full of heart. It won't be for everyone, but this show is a fun, wild ride all the way through, and I'm eagerly looking forward to the second season when it comes out!
 
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I'm still sad Escaflowne is only in one Super Robot Wars game and they did it pretty dirty there: a fair chunk of the plot is dedicated to it, but it ends before the first half of the game is over. Though it lets you save the leopard girls and use them which is neat.

It seemed so obvious to include it in X though, which takes place primarily in a fantasy world AND has Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water for the whole similarities with using Atlantis as part of the lore. Maybe there's still a chance someday though: G Gundam and GaoGaiGar did make it into the most recent game due to western popularity.

Anyway it's a good show. By no means perfect yes, but stands strong today. And like I mentioned in the anime openings thread, one of the things I love about it is how distinct the artstyle is compared to most anime - especially modern ones which tend to look very samey. Again, actual noses being one of them.
 
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This review was written on July 21st, 2017, and I guarantee you you probably never heard of this book series at all.



(Sorry if the picture is of low quality. It's an old, out of print book series from the nineties, so any pictures I find are either too small or really grainy. This was the best I could find)

I give this charming modern take on A Little Princess...a 75/100.

You know how most people take certain forms of media and give them a modern coat of paint? The 90s movie Clueless is based on the Jane Austen book, Emma, despite managing to stand on its own feet as its own entity. The Romeo and Juliet movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio was also a modern take on Shakespeare's medieval tragic romance. Heck, most people I know write fan fics for their favorite anime, games, and books and make modern day AUs out of them, me being one of those fan fic writers. But one book I know, A Little Princess, also got an alternate modern AU book series, but it was very obscure, and not many people I know talk about it. That series is the Princess trilogy, by Gabrielle Charbonnet, also known as Cate Tiernan. The books are Molly's Heart, A Room In The Attic, and Home At Last. As a modern (at the time. These books were written in 1995) adaptation of an old classic novel from the 1900s, it does stumble a lot, but it does surprisingly manage to do some things better than the original source material.

Being a kids book series, the story is pretty simple. Molly Stewart is the daughter of a famous filmmaker. But when his most recent project requires him to go to Brazil, he has no choice but to send his daughter to a special boarding school in Boston, much to Molly's displeasure. Despite her homesickness and yearning for her father, she fares well. She makes some friends, gets good grades, has special privileges that most other students don't have, and has it pretty good...until the day she hears that her father died from cholera. The headmistress of the school, Miss Thacker, is appalled by this turn of events and makes Molly into a "charity" student, making her work like a servant and treating her like garbage. Molly tries hard to deal with her new situation, but it may be too tough for her to handle.

The story itself is nothing original. It's a basic riches to rags and back to riches story, not unlike Cinderella or even the original A Little Princess. If you're familiar with that book, you can easily draw parallels and see which characters are based on who. Molly is obviously Sara Crewe, Lucy Axminster is Ermengarde, Evie Lucas is Becky, Celeste Foucher and Laura Bailey (No, not that Laura Bailey) are Lavinia and Jesse, Miss Thacker is Miss Minchin, etc. The only character who escapes being compared to A Little Princess is Shannon O'Toor, a girl whom Molly befriends but eventually turns her back on her in favor of the popular crowd. But even though you can see parallels to A Little Princess, the characters still have their own personalities and quirks that differentiate them from their counterparts. Becky in A Little Princess was meek, easily frightened, and clumsy due to past abuse. Her counterpart, Evie, is more guarded, bitter, abrasive, and outspoken, never afraid to speak her mind even if it gets her into trouble. Ermengarde had to deal with an overbearing father and lack of booksmarts, and her counterpart, Lucy, was dealing with her parents' nasty divorce and feeling like she doesn't mean anything to her family. You can have characters be counterparts to others in a different form of media and still manage to make them stand out and not have them be carbon copies, and the Princess trilogy manages to succeed in this one.

The biggest standout is Molly herself. I've seen people complain that Sara Crewe came off as being rather Mary Sue-ish: always nice, never complaining, always gets what she wants even when the world hates her, etc. You won't find any of that with Molly. When her situation gets bad, Molly mourns her father, sometimes even getting angry at him for dying and leaving her alone. She complains. She calls people out when they do something bad, like abandon her in her time of need. She tries to be optimistic but has her limits. She breaks down. She makes efforts to escape, even though they don't go well. In that aspect, Molly seems to be a much better, more three dimensional version of Sara, as she's much more realistically flawed and more like a real kid trying to deal with a bad hand that fate dealt her. You never forget that she's still a kid and does things that a real kid would do, and sometimes the things she plans aren't too well thought out, which makes things more relatable and interesting. And not just Molly: most, if not all, the protagonists are reasonably well developed. Lucy is often impatient with her family problems but still tries to be a good friend to Molly. Evie is guarded and bitter due to bad experiences and is more confrontational than her peers. Shannon O'Toor once befriended Molly after she defended her from bullies, but when the latter became poor, Shannon wanted to be part of the in-crowd and went with Celeste. Another thing this book series does better than A Little Princess is that all the characters have some kind of backstory. They have backgrounds, real problems that people in their positions can relate to, and they act like real kids. You never feel like they're anything more than they are, which is great.

Of course, not every character has been given that treatment. Like A Little Princess, its villain characters are still typical cardboard evil villains who hate the object of their anger for no reason. Miss Thacker is just a clone of Miss Minchin, nothing more, and her husband, who is based on Amelia, is just an average henpecked husband whose wife always bosses him around. He was kind of a waste since he barely gets to do anything. He doesn't even call his wife out on the crap she puts Molly through, unlike Amelia who did so with Miss Minchin in A Little Princess. Miss Thacker isn't even given a suitable motivation for disliking Molly. Heck, the third book even outright says that Miss Thacker herself couldn't understand why she hated Molly so much. And unlike Miss Minchin in the book, Miss Thacker doesn't get karma handed to her, which feels kinda unsatisfying.

Now onto the rest of the books' flaws. The books themselves are very small, a little less than a hundred pages, and the prose is very beige and simple, leaving nothing to the imagination and making it easy for kids nine and up to read without much trouble. I think the books could have benefitted from either being combined into one whole book and made a lot longer, that way more aspects of the characters could be explored. Plus, the books are definitely very dated, with characters making references to the Babysitters Club books, popular boy bands from the time, fashions and trends, etc. They don't detriment the story in any way, but they might be lost on readers who were born in the 2000s or later.

I kinda feel bad for pointing out the books' flaws, because in some ways, it does things not as well as A Little Princess, but it also does things better than it, too. The Princess trilogy is definitely not a bad book series in any way. Yes, it's definitely aimed at children, but that's not always a bad thing, and it did what it set out to do: give its own modern take on an old classic, and in that aspect, it pulls it off very well, and even manages to implement scenarios and subplots into the storyline in ways that make a lot of sense. The characters are much more three dimensional than A Little Princess, though they're still admittedly kinda bland by kids media standards. Still, considering the characters have more flaws and more realistically portrayed here, I mean that as a compliment. I'd definitely recommend this to anyone who would like a good old-fashioned kids story.

Definitely one of the better modern takes on an old classic, though it's still a cute little kids series.
 
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This review was just finished yesterday.

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I give this lovely anime about a young woman painter in 16th century Italy...a 79/100!

Often times, barring fantasy settings, it's rare for an anime to take place anywhere outside Japan in some capacity. When they do, many of them take place somewhere in Europe, like in France or Germany...or some fictitious version of them at least. So I ask you: How many anime can you name that took place in Italy? Honestly, the only ones I can think of off the top of my head are this, Romeo's Blue Skies, and Gunslinger Girl. In terms of manga, I know Cantarella takes place during the Renaissance as well, but I haven't read that in years, so my memory may be inaccurate there. So yeah, having an anime take place in Italy is fairly rare. It's also rare for such anime to take place as far back as the Renaissance period. The manga by Kei Okubo is still ongoing, and earlier this spring, Arte was one of the very few anime to finish its production amidst the terrible coronavirus pandemic that's still wreaking havoc on the world right now, and didn't get delayed by several months. That, and being one of the very few anime that ISN'T a dumb isekai made it stand out from the thinned out spring 2020. After seeing it myself, I like it well enough, but it does have a lot that holds it back.

In the bustling city of Florence, art is all the rage right now thanks to the Renaissance period being in full swing. Arte, a young noblewoman, loves drawing and painting, and wants more than anything to become a professional artisan. Unfortunately for her, Arte's family forbids her artistic pursuits and want her to marry a rich man. But Arte refuses to be deterred and decides to abandon her old life to find work. However, during the Renaissance, female painters were extremely rare, and Arte is routinely turned away from every workshop solely because of her gender. Thankfully, a reclusive painter named Leo takes her in as an apprentice when she passes a test he gives her, and Arte finds herself doing all sorts of jobs and learning all she can to become the best painter she can be.

Now, as much as I don't want to be a killjoy in this review, as I really do like this show, I'm going to get the negatives out of the way first to just air them out, as if I don't point these out, somebody else will. I'm no expert on feminism, sexism, or systemic gender oppression, especially the kind that took place during the Renaissance period, but as other people I know have commented and I echo, Arte kind of plays its sexism is bad message too heavy-handedly and in a relatively one-sided manner. The first half of the series shows Arte continually being told she can't or isn't allowed to do something because she's a girl, and the formula goes as follows: She's told she can't do something because of her gender, Arte protests it and is given a test to see if she can do a man's work, she manages to do it, and she immediately wins her enemies over because of her strength and determination. The fact that her adversaries are immediately swayed when seeing Arte doing what they tell her to do just seems too idealistic to me. I mean, I'm no history buff, but women had little to no agency or rights back in that time period for a variety of reasons (Although from what I've read, there are some famous women Renaissance painters), so having Arte just prove she can do what the men can and winning them over just like that feels too rosy and pat, making its messages and entire purpose come off as shallow and really oversimplified.

Thankfully, later episodes start to gradually move away from this and make more of an effort to really explore the implications of Arte's journey beyond the ham-fisted, surface level "You go girl! Women can do anything!" But how does Arte fare aside from its core moral? Well, for one, I think the animation is quite good. People have complained that the color palette is too bright, but I personally disagree (If you want to see obnoxiously bright animation/colors, watch Sansha Sanyou). The shoujo look of the show does make some of the characters look a little too moe-ish, but the animation does make up for that by making the working men actually look rugged and hardened from years of work, along with having relatively smooth movement and beautiful backgrounds, especially when Arte travels to Venice. I also really appreciated the smaller details they added in, like showing a person's hands being cracked and blistered from using tools all day every day, and showing the different drawing styles between Arte and her fellow apprentices.

I don't have much to say on the soundtrack, as both the opening and ending songs are nice and well sung (Though I think some of the rock instrumentation in the opening didn't fit the show, as it seemed too overly modern), and the actual background music makes great use of violins and flutes, giving it a very distinctly Italian feel. As far as the characters go...I like them okay, but other than Leo, Arte, and later Katarina (No, not THAT Catarina!), the entirety of the cast is rather bland and one-note. Arte herself is a fun, dynamic, refreshing lead character who is determined, passionate, angry (Early in the show, due to everyone trying to put her in a box and dictate how her life should go when she'd rather live the life how she wants to on her own terms), ambitious, and willing to do anything to get what she wants, but is still compassionate and friendly. But I will say, one other criticism I have for the show is that it seems to just randomly introduce characters out of nowhere and expects us to just know who they are and accept them right away. For example, at one point, Arte befriends a commoner girl, Darcia, a seamstress, and decides to teach her how to read and write. Not having read the manga, the way the anime goes about introducing her...is just jarring. I mean, Darcia just appears in an episode without even a proper introduction or a brief scene on how she and Arte first met. The anime's just "Here's this character. Arte knows her. Just go with it" and to me, that just feels lazy to me. You can't just throw a character into a show, not give them any form of introduction or set-up, and just expect the audience to care about them. I honestly felt like I missed an episode, that's how jarring Darcia's appearance and complete lack of build-up was to me. The characters by themselves aren't bad or anything, but I just feel like they should have gotten more fleshed out. I can probably attribute that to the show's short episode length (12 episodes).

Shoujo anime/manga that are genuinely good are rather rare these days, but if you made me choose between this and, say, all of the really bad ecchi or isekai that have come out over the past few years, such as How Not To Summon a Demon Lord or the upcoming Redo of a Healer (Which I hear is really really bad), I'd still go with Arte any day of the week. I've also heard that Arte is supposedly based on the life of a real Renaissance painter named Artemisia Gentileschi, but I've found nothing that confirms this. Anyway, to close off: Not one of the better shoujo manga adaptations, but still fairly nice and serviceable if you want something sweet to kill your time.
 
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I think it's time I told you about my favorite book of all time. This review was originally started on July 3rd 2016, but not finished until today.



I give the book that inspired the famous Disney movie...a 97/100!

Disney has been a household name in our childhoods for years, decades even. The movies he, and his company, would put out since the 1930s have been a constant presence in our lives, whether they were actually good or not. The movies I remember in my childhood were Aladdin and Beauty and the Beast. My parents said I used to watch them all the time, though I do remember other ones such as Bambi and The Aristocats. I rewatched Bambi a few years ago, and I found it to be a lot better than I remember it being, and now I consider it to be my favorite Disney movie. But only later did I manage to find the book that inspired it, Bambi: A Life In The Woods by Austrian author Felix Salten. I know some of my recent reviews of what many consider to be classic books haven't exactly been kind, and it's nothing personal against anyone who likes those. I just didn't find some of them to be to my taste. Thankfully, that isn't the case with Bambi, which I feel not only absolutely deserves to be called a classic, but now consider it one of my favorite books of all time, ever.

Similarly to the Disney movie, Bambi tells the story of a young deer who is born into a forest, grows up, and lives his life. He experiences all that nature has to offer, from beautiful spring flowers to the harsh winters that make food scarce, meeting all sorts of animals, both friend and foe. The book doesn't really have much of a linear plot or an overarching conflict, as a lot of it consists of Bambi just living his life and learning about the world. I tend to like those kinds of stories, as I'm of the belief that while conflict can be necessary when writing a novel, it doesn't need to be so depending on what you're going for. But that doesn't mean there isn't any in Bambi at all, as during several points in the story, Bambi and the other forest animals have encounters with a human being, whom they refer to as Man, a hunter who shoots at the animals, killing some in the process, with Bambi's mother being one of his victims. Yeah, I know, spoiling a big event, but at this point, anyone who's even heard of Bambi knows his mom dies, so I don't really see any point in hiding it. It's not even a spoiler IMHO.

Just from reading the book, it's a very different entity from the Disney movie. For one, Thumper and Flower don't exist, as they were original creations by Disney. The only characters who get named or get the most focus are the deer characters, such as a male cousin of Bambi's named Gobo, his aunt Ena, mother of Faline and Gobo, an elderly deer named Nettla, a teenaged doe named Marena, and several male bucks, Ronno and Karus, both of whom become his rivals for Faline's affection. Yeah, getting this out of the way here, Bambi and Faline are cousins and they get together romantically...yeah. Apparently marriage among cousins was common in 1920s Austria, though that aspect is still rather...irksome. That's the only reason the novel doesn't get a pure 100 out of 100 from me. Furthermore, Bambi and his family are roe deer rather than white-tailed deer as depicted in the movie, and the animals aren't depicted as being overly cutesy and nice, either.

But before I get to the biggest difference between the book and the movie, let's talk about the prose! Now, from what I've heard, Bambi was originally published in Germany even though Felix Salten was from Austria, and it was translated into English by one Max Schuster, co-founder of Simon and Schuster, and then published by them in America in 1928. There have been differing views on the translation. Some see it as admirable, while some thought it was terrible, with one person accusing Schuster of projecting his own values and opinions into it. Now I can't comment on the accuracy of the translation, as I'm not German nor can I read German, but I can say that the translated English prose is absolutely beautiful. The forest and its wonders are deliciously described in sumptuous detail, from dewdrops hanging off of leaves in the morning to the wild, ravaging storms that rip through the forests. Often times, I felt like I was right there in that forest, smelling the moisture in the air and walking along a tree-lined dirt path in the woods. There's hardly any purple prose, making the writing very easy to digest and process. It helps that Salten avoids telling a lot of the time, actually showing the characters' feelings and emotions through their actions, since they're animals and don't display the same characteristics as we humans do. The characters don't talk like cutesy Disney animals, and every bit of dialogue has meaning and is impeccably written. Nothing is ever taken for granted, from how the deer behave and take care of their young, to exploring how a human's actions can impact animals. I can wholeheartedly say that Bambi: A Life In the Woods has the best prose I've read so far.

In terms of the characters, those who are more familiar with the Disney movie might be surprised to find that Thumper and Flower are completely absent, which is totally fine. There are quite a good chunk of characters in the book, with Bambi obviously getting the most focus and development, though several other characters get fleshed out as well. Faline's brother, Gobo, who doesn't exist in the movie, starts out as a shy, weak, cowardly fawn who's afraid of the world, but after being taken in and raised by some humans, he sees the humans for what they really are, but his behavior no longer aligns with how the deer live, and his survival instincts deteriorate to the point where he lacks caution when confronted with danger. Character development doesn't always have to be positive, as Gobo demonstrates, and it's utilized to great effect here. Bambi is a lot more proactive and social as a fawn, in contrast to his meek portrayal in the movie, but gradually becomes more mature and stoic as he grows up and learns more about nature's blessings and hazards. Ronno was born with a limp and puts on a tough guy act, to the point where he bullies Bambi continuously throughout the book, in order to compensate for it. Even Bambi's mother, who still doesn't have a name, is given more complexity as a character than her portrayal in the movie would suggest, as small as her scenes are. Nobody is truly good or evil here, and Salten's other books taking place in Bambi's universe build upon this. All of the characters are wonderfully layered and complex, even though they may not necessarily be three dimensional, and I love the whole ensemble.

As much as I love the book, there are times when it can get a little weird. One chapter is entirely about sentient leaves talking to each other. That chapter is a common subject of debate as to its place in the narrative. Some say it's a good chapter that has a lot of symbolism and meaning in its discussion about life and death, and possibly a metaphor for Salten's experiences as a Jewish man in Austria before World War II. Some say it's a pointless waste of space and paper that doesn't add anything to the overall narrative. I'm kind of in the middle, as while I did find it jarring, as this doesn't happen again in the book, but I didn't outright hate it, as I did like how it was written and how it raised questions about how short life is. Also, apparently Salten has inserted chapters like these in other books as well, so you might say this is his signature.

If you're thinking about maybe showing this book to your four or five year old, don't, because the biggest difference from the Disney movie is that it's not in any way light-hearted or cutesy whatsoever. Not gonna lie, this book is dark. Not Sakura Gari-level dark, nor supremely grimdark or edgy. Predators are shown attacking and eating their pray in detail (Mostly animal on animal), characters get shot and/or killed, with blood being described without any hint of censorship, and themes of life, death, growing up, and the cycle of nature play a huge part in the story. At the same time, it never goes into emo or melodrama territory, thereby staying genuine and never dragging on more than is needed. I wouldn't recommend this to children under the age of ten or so, but I also wouldn't let the book's darker moments be a reason to not read this book. Bambi: A Life In The Woods is heartwarming, intense, savage, exquisitely naturalistic, impeccably written, and doesn't talk down to its audience.

I was originally going to say Elana K. Arnold's A Boy Called Bat trilogy is my favorite book (or in that case book series) of all time, but the final book's ending wasn't the best. Thus, I can proudly claim that Felix Salten's Bambi: A Life In The Woods is my number one favorite book ever. A true masterpiece, and that is not a comment I make lightly. I love the Disney movie to pieces--hell, it's my favorite Disney movie of all time--but I highly, HIGHLY recommend the book for anyone who loves reading, animals, and pretty much everyone who wants to read something truly good. No, seriously, just read it!!!
 
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Time for something cute! I started this review on March 30th, 2017, but didn't finish it until a couple days ago.



I give this adorable short anime about moe cats...a 66/100.

Do you like cats? Would you like to see kittens anthromorphized into cute anime girls? Then Nyanko Days is the short anime for you! And by short, I don't mean it's just twelve episodes long, but that every episode runs for two minutes. That's it. Moe anime tend to get a bad reputation, mostly for putting too much emphasis on cuteness over substance, and that's understandable. Especially if they drag on for much longer than they need to. But twelve episodes of cute kittens having fun, with every episode only being two minutes long is the perfect length to digest something of this caliber. The story centers on a girl, Yuuko Konagai, who is shy and doesn't have friends at school. But she has three kittens at home, named Maa, Shii, and Rou, and they're all the friends she needs. She loves cats, and later, she befriends another girl, Azumi, because of their shared love of cats. Sometimes the anime focuses on the girls, and sometimes it dedicates time to the cats and their shenanigans.

With this show being as short as it is, both in its episode count and how long the episodes run (Only two minutes, including the ending song), there really isn't much to talk about. The animation is bright and colorful, and the cats are all adorable little toddler girls. The soundtrack isn't really memorable in any way, and the ending song is so moe, squeaky, and saccharine that I think any diabetic who listens to it will die from a sugar overload. Actually, the whole show is super sugary sweet, but its episodes running for under two minutes actually manages to be its saving grace. If Nyanko Days had its episodes go on for half an hour, or even ten minutes, it would just seem dragged out, making it dull and boring.

That said, its short length gives it other issues as well. All of the characters are little more than moe blobs with very little personality other than one basic character trait. Yuuko is the shy girl, Azumi is the popular rich girl, Ran is the hot-blooded rival who wants to one-up Azumi for no reason (We never learn why), and so on. Ran in particular doesn't really have a reason to be in this show, as she only appears in two episodes and that's it, and all she wants to do is one-up Azumi. She's literally a complete waste of space and animation, and she's not even given any sort of character arc at all, so there's no reason for the audience to care about her at all. Also, Yuuko's naming choices for her cats are uncreative as hell. They're literally the first syllables in their breed names! Were you really too lazy to give them more distinct names? Furthermore, the author seems to think having the cats do things like know how to read, watch TV, draw, and use a remote control will make them cuter, but this just goes against the fact that they're...y'know, cats! Giving cats human traits doesn't make them cute, it's just lazy writing.

Eh, even with those flaws, Nyanko Days is a cute little time killer for if you want to waste half an hour. But it doesn't have much to offer other than cuteness and moe cat girls, and I can recommend several anime about cats that are much more substantial, such as Chi's Sweet Home, She And Her Cat: Everything Flows, and My Roommate Is a Cat. But if you do want to watch this, just have some insulin at the ready.
 
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Time for a classic. This review was written on July 1st, 2018.



I give the first game in one of Japan's biggest, most famous video game franchises...a 65/100!

Full truth: Before 2017, I had never played a Final Fantasy game. At all. Ever. When I was a kid, all I ever played was Pokemon, and a bit of Kirby games. That was literally it. I never cared for Final Fantasy at all, not even the popular ones I kept hearing about. It just wasn't my thing and didn't interest me. But as I got older, got a job, and began making more money, I found myself able to buy game consoles I was never able to have access to years ago, like my PS Vita, Wii U, and Nintendo Switch. One game that caught my interest was the original Final Fantasy, or Final Fantasy 1 as it was later called. In the late 1980s, Squaresoft (Now known as Square Enix) was on its last legs, and any game that they were making just didn't sell. Hironobu Sakaguchi put everything he had in what he thought was going to be his swansong, titled Final Fantasy, and decided that if the game wasn't a hit, he'd quit the gaming industry completely and return to university. Needless to say, it was a hit, and we all know what happened afterward. But how well does the game hold up nowadays?

Originally made for the Nintendo Entertainment System, the original Final Fantasy was a very simple game in terms of story, characters, and visuals. It's been remade lots of times since then. The world is dying, and a strange darkness is corrupting the four elemental crystals that keep the world in balance. Four warriors appear, as predicted by a prophecy, and their task is to not only purify the corrupted crystals, but defeat an evil being known as Chaos. That's really it. Other than a few side quests here and there, the game is extremely linear. It's just another generic save the world story. Sakaguchi was more focused on the gameplay than the story, which I can somewhat understand. You pick four characters out of a total of six classes: Warrior, thief, monk, white mage, black mage, and red mage. They all have different strengths and weaknesses. Warriors have good attack and defense but lack speed, and white mages can heal but suck at everything else. What's fun about this aspect of it is that you get to decide the difficulty. You can make your challenge relatively easy by choosing four different classes, or you can do something crazy like have a team of white mages and really challenge yourself.

Now, this review is going to be based on one of the more recent renditions of the game instead of the original NES version. I played the PS1 version, which I downloaded from the Playstation Network onto my PS Vita. Many people say the GameBoy Advance and Playstation Portable remakes of the game are the best, but I haven't played those. I did attempt the NES version, but not only were the colors too bright and sharp for my eyes to handle, it was unnecessarily hard and grindy, so I gave up. The PS1 version I played has a LOT of improvements over the NES version. For one, there's a lot more dialogue that fleshes out the story and gives you more information on what to do and where to go, whereas hardware limitations that plagued the NES could only allow characters to say one box of dialogue and that's it. The graphics are much sleeker, the sprites are more detailed, there's more room for attack names to actually look sensical and readable, and the colors are much easier on the eyes, with the PSP version making them better and refining them even more. Furthermore, in the NES game, if you had your characters attack a monster, and the monster died before other characters would be able to damage it, the attacks would always miss, so you'd wind up wasting MP and not be able to do any damage even with other enemies around. Whereas in later installments, if you have your characters damage an enemy and it dies, the attack hits another enemy instead. The original game was a turn based RPG, but later remakes would give it Final Fantasy's action gauge system, where a character would be able to do whatever their gauge fills up.

For its time, Final Fantasy 1 was revolutionary, introducing character classes, twist endings, and class upgrades, and basically saved Squaresoft from the brink of bankruptcy. As of now, those features are a dime a dozen, and polished a lot over the years, so these days, FF1, especially the NES version, is a relic of its time. It doesn't even try to make its characters three-dimensional or fleshed out in any way, as Sakaguchi wanted to make sure the game played well, and considering the NES's graphical and storage limitations at that time, I can understand it somewhat. Plus, the game really forces you to spend a lot of your time level grinding if you have any hope of defeating the monsters and bosses. This is mitigated somewhat in later remakes, especially the GameBoy Advance and PSP versions, which make leveling up and earning money a lot easier, but the grinding aspect still dominates the game. Plus, it doesn't always tell you where you need to go in order to progress. This is especially prevalent in the NES version, with characters only saying one line of dialogue and that's it, which forces you to figure things out for yourself, and unless you had a guide (Which, back in the NES days with no internet, was next to impossible), you could get yourself hopelessly lost.

There's also the fact that some of the classes are rather unbalanced. Red mages render white and black mages pointless, because they can learn both white and black magic, capable of learning their best spells. Sure, they can't learn certain spells, but the ones they do get are still very useful, and are more durable and physically apt. Thieves are basically underpowered fighters, and in the NES game, they were pretty much worthless, and the monk could easily break enemies to pieces without weapons if you let them. So...yeah, this game may have helped Square Enix become what it is today, but that doesn't necessarily make it a great game in and of itself. Again, the later remakes polish things up a lot and fix a lot of its main issues, such as various glitches that made certain spells completely useless, and making the classes much more balanced. It's still a paper thin RPG game with featureless avatars for main characters, but I'd honestly recommend playing the later remakes if you really want a cohesive experience with this game.

Not the best game ever, but certain games wouldn't be here if Final Fantasy 1 didn't sell as well as it did. Now if only the PSP version were available through means outside of those awful UMD discs! Come on, put them on the US Playstation Network website for pete's sake! Or Steam or the Switch!
 
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Not only FF1 NES is grindier and harder, it is also as glitchy (or even glitchier) than the Gen I Pokémon games, and some of those glitches are actually pretty negative, including non-working spells or spells using the wrong stat. There's also that horrible "you can only cast X spells per day" limit.

Also, later remakes don't have the ATB system, they are still turn-based.
 
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I give this sweet, whimsical book about a cute witch girl and her trusty cat...an 83/100!

Most fans of Hayao Miyazaki are well aware of how famous his movies are. But the thing is, many of them don't know that many of his works aren't original properties, but are in fact based on books, Kiki's Delivery Service being one of them. First published in 1985 by Eiko Kadono, it served as the basis for the Ghibli movie that came out four years later. The original book won many prizes in Japan, and Kadono went on to write several sequels, though they have never been translated into English. The original book did get an English release in 2003, but the front cover was very poorly designed, and from what I heard, the translation was terrible. Thankfully, not all hope was lost. On July 7th, 2020, a brand new translation of the book just came out, complete with a new, much better cover design and a foreword from the author herself. I myself only saw a tiny bit of the movie, though I do plan to rectify that soon now that I have HBO Max. I was interested in reading the book, so I decided to buy it. I'm glad I did, as while the book itself isn't anything groundbreaking, sometimes it's nice to sit back and read something fun, wholesome, and whimsical, and considering the tough times we're living in right now, uplifting books like Kiki's Delivery Service are more important than ever.

Kiki is a young girl living in a quiet forest village with her witch mother Kokiri and human father Okino. Kiki just turned 13, and tradition dictates that when a witch reaches her thirteenth birthday, she has to strike off on her own for a year by way of moving to a new town that doesn't have a witch and find a job. But Kiki isn't too sure about finding a job, as she's really only good at flying. She and her cat sidekick Jiji find a seaside town called Koriko, and at first, they're discouraged by the townspeople's dismissive attitudes towards witches, but they are taken in by a friendly baker who lets them stay with her. She even suggests that maybe Kiki can be a delivery girl, since she's so good at flying. Kiki likes the idea and decides to take up the job, getting herself into all sorts of new adventures, from meeting new friends to to finding people that she grows to care about.

Seeing as I haven't seen the movie in its entirety, I'm going to review the book solely on its own merits. From what I've heard, there are quite a few differences between the movie and the book, but again, I haven't seen the former enough to properly judge it on that front. So first off, if you're looking to read something full of drama and action, you're in the wrong place. All eleven chapters are short, easy to read (Though the prose in and of itself is more imaginative and perfectly captures the wonder of a child seeing the world for the first time), and very episodic in nature, and often showing Kiki dealing with mundane, ordinary issues, such as a worried mother who makes belly bands for everything and everyone, a mischievous boy trying to steal her broom and impersonate her, or musicians missing their instruments. It's all fairly down to Earth, and thankfully, you won't be bored because Jiji's wise-cracking and Kiki's cheerful personality manage to carry every chapter fairly well. It helps that they as characters are fairly nice and well-rounded as far as characters in children's stories go, and they have believable chemistry. It also helps that the various townspeople Kiki meets feel like real people; occasionally frustrating at times, but good-hearted and realistic, with nobody ever truly being mean or outright malicious. The dialogue is well written and the conversations are written in ways that actually feel like how people talk in real life.

So yeah, this is very much a slice-of-life book with a touch of magic to spice it up a bit. This book obviously isn't for people who prefer their books to be faster paced and have tons of life changing drama and action. Some might take issue with the fact that there's no overarching plot and that all the chapters are self-contained vignettes. But it's a nice read for children nine and up, though lots of adults might love it solely for the fact that it's where the famous movie originated from. I just happen to like it because it's a sweet, nice, wholesome book that doesn't insult children's intelligence. My only real gripes with it are that Kiki somehow managing to find someone who lets her live with her and gives her a job just feels way too convenient. As someone who spent three years job hunting before finally finding something potentially permanent, seeing characters just be handed a job just feels inauthentic to me. Although in this case, Kiki's a child, and I suppose there wouldn't be much of a story if she didn't live with the nice baker woman. Furthermore, I'm not sure how accurate this new translation is compared to the old print run, as I didn't read the original English translation. But from what little I've seen and heard, this new translation is a massive improvement over the old one. But your mileage may vary on that one.

If you're looking for something sweet, fun, and light-hearted to read in these trying times, feel free to give Kiki's Delivery Service a try, whether you're familiar with the movie or not.
 
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Welp. Time for more Pretty Cure. This review was written on June 13th, 2014.

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I give the tenth entry in the Pretty Cure series...a 73/100.

The first Pretty Cure series I watched all the way through was Heartcatch. I got into it because of a blogger's recommendation, and I never looked back. I recently got into the Pretty Cure fandom last year, and as of now, Doki Doki is the 4th Pretty Cure season I finished. It would have been 3rd had Suite not completely won me over. I've seen a lot of hate for this series, and...well, in some ways I can agree on some things. I agree that there's a lot of potential that it could have used but wind up becoming completely wasted because of other things. Some series focus too much on different things, which affect the story in the process. Doki Doki, on the other hand, is very plot focused...which is great, but in this case it winds up being its downfall.

One thing you'll notice is that the main character isn't an idiotic ditz. Instead, she's a competent, reliable, and capable girl named Mana who's the president of the student council, and is always helping people out. One day a man gives her something called a lovead. Later on, she witnesses a warrior named Cure Sword fighting something called a Jikochuu. She becomes the warrior named Cure Heart and joins in the fight against the Selfish. Cure Sword's homeland, the Trump Kingdom, was taken over by the Jikochuu, and she needs to find the princess or else both worlds are in danger. Joining them are Mana's childhood friends Rikka and Alice, Cures Diamond and Rosetta, and a strange baby they name Ai-chan. Later on they're joined by another enigmatic warrior named Cure Ace, who's hiding a lot of mysteries.

The animation for the show is...eh, okay. The character designs are sleek and decent, but movement is rather limited except in some fight scenes, and even those come off as a little bit sub par. I do like the character designs though. For their civilian forms anyway. Their cure forms look a bit tacky. My favorite out of all of them is Rosetta's Cure design. She definitely looks the cutest. The music, on the other hand, is quite good. Not as good as other soundtracks, but it does its job decently, at best.

DokiDoki could have been a great series. Unfortunately, it has many flaws that really bog it down. One of its biggest issues is its major focus on developing its story. It's like Escaflowne where every episode moves the plot forward, with there being little to no filler. This series could really have benefited from some filler episodes, because its intense focus on its story wound up costing it time to focus on its main characters and their personal lives. Makoto and Alice are the characters that have been hit the hardest by this, as they get the least screen time and the least amount of meaningful character development. I like them as characters, but I would have liked to see more of their personal lives, such as Makoto's life in the Trump Kingdom before it got invaded and where Alice goes to school.

Another big reason for this is the show's intense focus on its main character, Mana Aida aka Cure Heart. Now don't get me wrong. I like her for not being a ditz who's dumber than a sack of bricks like most characters in the Pretty Cure franchise. She's smart, reliable, and reasonably competent. But...the problem is, as much as I like her, the creators loved her too much and pretty much turned her into an overly idealized, perfect Mary Sue spotlight hog. She's loved by everyone, she has no real character flaws, she gets whatever she wants, all the other characters give her their powers so she can use the final finishing move, and she gets all the power-ups while everyone else gets the shaft. I personally don't hate her like most people do, but I agree with them in that the creators should have focused far less on Mana and more on characters like Alice, Rikka, and Makoto.

It doesn't help that there's a lot of plot holes that never get properly explained or expanded upon, such as the royal crystals and the previous Precure before them, and the things the creators do to make every episode contribute to the story end up inevitably bogging it down. I won't go into much for the sake of spoilers, but Doki Doki really could have been better had it left out certain elements. But it's not a bad show by any means. It still retains Precure's messages of hope, friendship, redemption, etc. The music is reasonably good, albeit it not very memorable, and for the most part, it takes itself seriously and doesn't try to dumb itself down for its audience. It's a shame the show came out so convoluted as a result.

Doki Doki isn't the best Precure season, nor will it ever be. It's not bad, but again, it could have been a lot better had some elements been removed and had the creators focused less on Mana all the time.

Additional Info, July 13th, 2020: If you do plan on watching the series, please watch the Japanese version with English subtitles. DO NOT watch the Glitter Force version of this show. Names and music are changed, scenes are either edited or cut out, and they left out a ton of important episodes, which causes serious plot holes in the dub proper. No, seriously. Don't waste your time on the Glitter Force version of DokiDoki Precure. It's absolutely not worth it.
 
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Additional Info, July 13th, 2020: If you do plan on watching the series, please watch the Japanese version with English subtitles. DO NOT watch the Glitter Force version of this show. Names and music are changed, scenes are either edited or cut out, and they left out a ton of important episodes, which causes serious plot holes in the dub proper. No, seriously. Don't waste your time on the Glitter Force version of DokiDoki Precure. It's absolutely not worth it.
You know, I keep wondering why they keep doing this. I thought people learned from what happened with One Piece...
 
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For what it's worth, Saban Brands shut down, so hopefully this will be the last of that outdated practice, if Crunchyroll snatching up Healin Good Precure is any indication.

Anyway, new review. This one was just finished on July 8th, last week.

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I give this supposedly cute movie about a girl turning into a cat...a 60/100.

Oh, A Whisker Away. How I wish I liked you more than I do. When I first heard about this movie, I thought it'd be right up my alley, and it had a great staff behind it. Directed by Junichi Sato, who worked on many beloved anime such as Aria, Princess Tutu, and a few seasons of Sailor Moon, with screenplay by Mari Okada, a soundtrack by one of my favorite composers, Mina Kubota, and animated by a studio that's been really making a name for itself lately, Studio Colorido. It was originally going to get a theatrical release in Japan, but the COVID-19 pandemic put a stop to that idea, so the creators decided to slap it onto Netflix, which proved to be a great idea for those who were looking forward to seeing it early, me being one of them. So when it finally appeared on Netflix, I wasted no time sitting down to watch it, especially after I finished Her Blue Sky. Unfortunately, if the rating wasn't any indication, I am sorely, sorely disappointed. Not Ni no Kuni level disappointed, but this movie really could have been so much better.

So what's the story? A young girl, Miyo Sasaki, nicknamed Muge by her classmates, is about as weird as one can get. She has a huge crush on a boy, Kento Hinode, and does all she can to pursue him, from making butt-contact with him to shouting love poetic to him as loud as she can for all to hear, even jumping out windows to defend him from bullies. People think she's just an overly energetic girl who's obsessed with him, but she's actually very insecure. Her biological mother walked out on her, and after her parents divorced, she's having trouble reconciling the fact that her father married a new woman, even though her new stepmother is nice and wants to get to know her better. She wishes she could be anybody except herself. During a summer festival, she finds a mysterious vendor who sells her a mask that can turn her into a cat. Muge jumps at the chance, seeing it as a way to be with Hinode. After a while, she starts to wish she could stay a cat forever...but when her transformation threatens to become permanent thanks to her own actions, she and her friends need to find a way to get things back to normal.

I'll get the positives out of the way here, because...well, in all honesty, there's very few of them: For one, the animation is sumptuous. There's a reason Studio Colorido has been making a name for itself, and their animation for this movie is wonderful. Every movement is carefully animated, smooth as butter but full of life, and little details and nuances here and there tell a lot about a character's personality, such as how Muge's shirt is untucked and how messy her hair is, indicating that she herself is a messy person without outright saying such. Now, the only other thing I know that Colorido has worked on is the Pokemon web series, Twilight Wings, and while that's a very different entity from this movie, it also has great animation fitting for the fantasy setting it takes place in. The movie also has a great use of metaphors, showing Muge viewing anybody who's not people she's close to or familiar with as faceless scarecrows, showing that she doesn't have much interest in interacting with her peers as human beings. The music is also really nice as well, bubbly and fittingly treacly for a tween love story movie like this. It's a shame that Mina Kubota, the person who made the music for this movie, is so criminally underrated, because she's made a lot of good soundtracks for various anime, most of which I really love. I hope she gets more work down the line, because she deserves more love and appreciation than she gets.

Unfortunately, this is where my praises for the movie end (Except for one thing that I'll get to in a bit). Now, when I watch, read, or play something, I never go into it wanting to hate it. Sometimes I think something will turn out either bad or mediocre but wind up being really good or absolutely amazing. Of course, having high expectations can also lead to disappointment when something you try out turns out to not be as good as you think it might be. First off: The writing is all over the place. It tries to seem like a mix between a cute, treacly love story between two teenagers and a whimsical fantasy involving masks that turn humans into cats and vice versa, but there's more focus on the former over the latter, to the point where a mysterious cat island is introduced in the final third of the film, and is only used as a backdrop for an epic climax. It's jarring to randomly introduce new elements so late into a movie, especially taking into account their short run-time, because it just feels like the creators just slapped it onto the movie without trying to really balance it with everything else it set up. So as a result, the final third of the movie feels half-baked because of the clumsy writing. Other times, it introduces a variety of subplots that never really get much resolution, petering out before the movie's even half-finished.

And the clumsy writing isn't limited to just the story and the setting, either. The characters, unfortunately, all suffer from being extremely bland and milquetoast, and we as viewers aren't given much reason to really care about them. The main character, Muge, is more dynamic in her personality, but she comes with her own baggage as well, and not in a good way. See, the movie is trying to present her as a lovestruck girl who deliberately acts quirky and overly energetic to hide her tumultuous home life, and she thinks getting with her crush, a boy named Hinode, will be the solution to her problems. However, the thing is, Muge's actions towards Hinode involve stuff like jumping at him with her butt, shouting romantic poetic at him loud enough for everyone to hear, refusing to take no for an answer even when he makes it clear he doesn't want anything to do with her, and continually invading his personal space and boundaries, both in human and cat form. The movie tries to depict Muge's behavior as being cute and sweet, if annoying, but in reality, it reads as being highly disturbing, and Muge would be considered a budding stalker or engaging in sexual harassment. Even when Hinode tells her off, she never feels any guilt or remorse for her own actions, nor does she see the error of her ways and leave him alone like he asked her to. Instead, she continues to pursue him and is more concerned about her own pain, nor does she ever take the time to realize that, hey, maybe she was wrong to constantly go after him the way she did and maybe it'd be better to just leave him alone. Without spoiling anything, Muge's behavior does unchallenged and she even gets rewarded for her creepy behavior at the end of the movie. The main character, if written well or with the right amount of development, can easily make or break a movie, but in this case, I really couldn't bring myself to like Muge, even with the movie's attempts to make her more sympathetic than she really is. To see what I mean, imagine if the genders were reversed. If a boy was doing all of these things to a girl, he would no doubt be in the wrong and his actions would be considered creepy at best and predatory at worst. I mean, if someone, boy or girl, was doing what Muge does to Hinode to me, I'm pretty sure my parents would call the school and make them take action against the kid. Plus, it'd be pretty horrifying to find out that a cat you took in is secretly a human in disguise trying to seduce you by rubbing their butt against your face.

Also, the least interesting character is the Mask Seller cat. He's pretty much a non-entity as a character and a stereotypical evil bad guy who just wants to steal people's life spans and change them into something they're not (and in the dub he's played by Keith Silverstein, who's garnered a decent repertoire for doing villainous characters) so he himself can live longer. Oh, and the movie can never seem to decide whether they want him to be strong and overpowered or weak and pathetic enough to have his butt handed to him by everyone he sees. However, there is one character who manages to be a bright light in this cast of uninteresting or poorly written characters: Kaoru, Muge's stepmother. It's rare for stepmothers to be portrayed in a positive light in fiction, especially as being better parents than biological parents (You can thank Cinderella for that one). Muge's real mother walked out on her, divorced her father, and tried to make Muge live with her even though her daughter is still reeling from feeling abandoned and doesn't even consider how everything she did affected her daughter, something Kaoru calls her out on. In contrast, Kaoru tries to get to know Muge on a deeper level, be there for her, and be a part of her life, even if the two of them struggle with it due to the complicated situation they find themselves in. There's a scene where Muge's biological mother comes to their house after Muge runs away, and the former accuses Kaoru of causing her so much distress, refusing to acknowledge her own part in it, and the two get into a slap fight. Not gonna lie, I cheered when Kaoru slapped her back and called her out on her hypocrisy. Best scene in the entire movie, right there. But again, Kaoru's subplot doesn't get much resolution or time devoted to it, as does everything else in the movie that doesn't involve Muge and Hinode.

I really don't want to hate this movie. I really don't. I'm sure that if I saw this as a kid, I probably would have adored it. But I can't blind myself to its flaws, and A Whisker Away would have been so much better if it had more polished writing, actually tried to acknowledge how disturbing Muge's behavior is towards Hinode, and actually have her grow as a person. Bottom line, it's fairly cute and harmless as a surface level movie that you can probably let your older kids watch, but if you're looking for something with more substance and less clumsily written, give this one a miss.
 
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Looks like we're still stuck on the crap train, folks. This review was just finished two days ago.



I give this book about a boy who becomes a monster at night...a 38/100.

Kids, there's nothing funny about bullying. People often get picked on or bullied for a variety of reasons, but nothing ever excuses or justifies bullying. During my early school years, I got picked on because I was the weird autistic kid who thought cartoons were real and was admittedly rather annoying and didn't know when to shut up about stuff. But everyone's situations are unique, so when writing about it, there's really no one way to depict it. Some bullies are sympathetic, some are just assholes, and some are only doing it under peer pressure. The bottom line is, when trying to write about bullying in fiction, it's hard to really do it right. I myself learned this the hard way, and so have others I know of. Those who follow my reviews know I watched an OVA called Ijime which was...really bad, not just in its animation and writing, but how stupidly over-the-top and unbelievable its depiction of bullying is, even by cartoon standards. I honestly wouldn't recommend anyone watch it unless they want to see how NOT to write about bullying. Unfortunately, this is a problem that often plagues works that attempt to address bullying but often go about it in ways that don't seem very believable or authentic. Such is the case for Yoru Sumino's novel, At Night I Become a Monster. And I'm not gonna lie, IMHO, of all the novels of hers that I've read, this one is definitely her worst one. Yes, even worse than Pancreas.

The story focuses on a boy, Adachi--we never learn his first name--who one night, finds himself turning into a black gooey monster. He has no idea how this happened or why, but he decides to take advantage of his new transformation by sneaking into his school at night. He encounters one of his classmates, a girl named Satsuki Yano, hanging out in school at night, and the two find themselves spending time together. Yano is frequently bullied by everyone in Adachi's class because of some stupid things she did to some of the other students, and Adachi, knowing about it, doesn't do anything because not only does he not want to be subjected to it himself, but takes his class's side, feeling that Yano brought everything on herself. But as they begin to spend more time together, Adachi begins to question whether this is really the right course of action.

I've already mentioned a few times that Sumino's prose has never really been that engaging or interesting to read to me, namely because a lot of it is first person point-of-view and the fact that she seems to think having her characters constantly inner monologue about their unrealistically profound thoughts and streams of consciousness will make them interesting. Newsflash: It doesn't. In fact, it especially doesn't work here because Sumino doesn't seem to care about writing her characters in any way that'll make the audience care about them in any way. Adachi, or Acchi as he's always referred to, is the main character, the one we're supposed to root for, but he's got his head so far up his ass throughout 90% of the book that just reading his thoughts made me want to throw the book against the wall. He constantly whines and prattles on and on about his thoughts about everything and nothing, and doesn't even try to put himself in Yano's shoes in regards to the bullying she endures. I hear his monster form is supposed to be a metaphor for his complacency and his eventual coming to terms with it, but I don't know if the metaphor really works that well here. He rarely, if ever, tries to do anything genuinely helpful, and any effort he does make to try to help Yano is underscored by the fact that he goes back on it not a chapter later. I know the point of the book is for him to realize his actions and complacency do more harm than good, but it doesn't work here because, in the end, he only makes the very barest effort to do right by Yano, and the book just ends without any proper resolution.

Furthermore, we never know what Yano's deal is. Is she neuroatypical? Does she have a disability? Her strange actions and speech impediment make her a target for her class's bullying, but the book never fills the audience in on just what her deal is. We never even learn anything about her other than she likes Ghibli movies, occasionally twists conversations around, acts out on impulse, and that she's weird. Some of her more morally questionable actions help her stay away from just being a classic victim character whose sole purpose is to garner sympathy from the audience, but Sumino doesn't really make much of an effort to flesh her out or give her any development other than her experiences at school. We don't meet her family nor know if she does anything outside of school, like hobbies or other interests.

The rest of the characters--the ones that are named at least--are just bland, uninteresting, rage-inducing, milque toast ciphers who are given no purpose except to make Yano's life as miserable as possible all because they feel they have to self-righteously give her eternal punishment for something that isn't even any of their business to begin with, and are wholly convinced they're in the right no matter what. They're just dumb caricatures with no substance or depth whatsoever, and Sumino should really put in some effort to give them some degree of humanity. Oh, and they never receive any form of punishment for all of their reprehensible actions. Also, why haven't the adults done anything about this? Why haven't Yano's parents complained to the school about the bullying? Again, the book never addresses this, making the whole thing even more over-the-top and needlessly melodramatic. Seriously, when fan fiction of all things (Certain ones, at least) manages to not only tackle the subject of bullying in a much better, more nuanced and authentic way, but puts in the effort to flesh out all of its characters, bullies included, in a way that makes the audience actually care about them, then you have no excuse for screwing up this badly.

Which also leads me to the story in general. A lot of what Adachi does during the night doesn't really have much effect on everything else going on in his life during the day, so his being a monster becomes less and less relevant as the story goes on. You could almost say his turning into a literal monster is little more than a convenient plot device used to get him to talk with Yano outside regular school hours, which just seems lazy to me. Seriously, this book could have been so much better if it took the characters out of school for a moment and actually made an effort to get into the characters' heads and actually see why they do what they do. So all in all, this book is just a needlessly dark, mean-spirited, tasteless after school special trying and failing to address bullying, and even without that, the story is as barebones as one can get. None of the characters are interesting or three-dimensional in any way, and there are FAR better media out there that actually manage to tackle the issue of bullying much better, or if they don't do it as well, they're guaranteed to be a hell of a lot better than this slog!

Overall, don't bother with this one. At Night I Become a Monster is absolutely not worth it at all.
 
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Alright, time for an old favorite! This review was originally written on September 20th, 2011, but I think it still holds up.



I give this ever-so-sweet and charming anime...a 92/100!

I first started getting into anime in 2006, when I began watching shows that began airing in Japan, like Ouran High School Host Club (before it was licensed) and Digimon Savers. I didn't really decide what genre of anime I liked and didn't really have one...until I discovered two anime that defined my love of anime: Les Miserables Shoujo Cosette and Shounen Onmyouji. Those two anime made me love one particular genre of anime: historical fiction. Or, more specifically, nice kids who experience new things or are brought down by hardships in life. Unfortunately, most historical fiction nowadays are either totally inaccurate or turned into fan-service anime for fangirls (Kuroshitsuji). HOWEVER!!! In the midst of stale excrement there is one anime that reminds us that history is precious. And it reminds me of why I love anime and historical fiction in general. The anime is none other than Ikoku Meiro no Croisee!

So, the anime's about a cute little Japanese girl named Yune who's been interested in France since she was young. She finally goes there with the assistance of Oscar Claudel, who takes her to his store, the Enseignes Du Roy, which is inside a store chain called Galerie Du Roy (apparently means King's Gallery). His grandson, Claude, isn't too happy with Yune's entrance, but Yune doesn't mind. She's just happy to be in France and seeing new things. She goes on some little adventures, does housework in the store, meets new people (namely Alice Blanche and her sister, Camille), and learns new things about not just France, but about life as well as her presence making others learn more about her.

Once this anime started, people already had a word for it: adorable. That's right. EVERYTHING about this anime is adorable, mostly Yune herself! But before I get to her character, I want to discuss something that really baffled me: the animation. It's been done by Satelight, and if you look at this anime and then watch shows they did a few years ago (like Kamichama Karin or Macross Frontier), you'll be totally surprised by how much their animation style has changed. Their anime used to be REALLY low budget. But with Ikoku Meiro no Croisee, that's not the case! Everything is animated down to even the littlest detail, like people in the background. Plus you have to give credit to them for including ACTUAL French text in even the littlest noticed of places, like on columns and signs! You don't see anime that do that so accurately nowadays, now do you? Also, believe it or not, this anime also has THREE French people who assisted with it's production: Thomas Romain, Yann Le Gall, and Stanislas Brunet. They worked on shows like Aria, Oban Star Racers, and...get this. Code Lyoko! Well, technically Thomas Romain created Code Lyoko, but he seems to be VERY interested in Japanese anime. Yay! People who actually get it!

Now that that's done and over with, I need to gush about the soundtrack! It's wonderfully French! What do I mean? Let me explain: whenever you see shows that show people in France, the background music usually changes to BGMs played on accordions or piccolos or something. That's kinda the set background music for all portrayals of France. With Ikoku Meiro no Croisee, not only does it focus on this, but it changes it up a bit, and boy did they change it up wonderfully! Soft, warm, and melodic tunes are always present, even during the rather gloomy and rainy day-esque scenes. It's the type of soundtracks that sound like a lullaby that takes you off into a warm, happy imaginary world like you're laying on clouds. The OP theme is great because it captures the whole mood of the show and basically shows you the entire plot, but I personally love both ED themes of the anime. Sooooo cute and lovely! I'd listen to them all day!

The characters...awww! In my opinion, I think Yune is one of the best female characters I've seen in anime. She's kind and modest, but sharp, observant, and sickeningly stubborn when she wants to be, and is capable of taking care of herself. She's NOT like your stereotypical shoujo lead or anything. This anime puts her character to the test by putting her in a foreign land and meeting new people. Well, this is technically what the show is about. The people she lives with, Oscar and Claude Claudel, are nice in their own way too, though I prefer Oscar over Claude because he's not your stereotypical grandfather figure. He's friendly, laid-back, and is happy to be alive. He wants to live out his retirement peacefully. Claude...personally I think he's a bit too uptight and angsty at times, but he has good reason for it, part of it being his relationship with Camille, a girl from the wealthy Blanche family. There is one character I found VERY refreshing: Alice. While she is kinda partly stereotypical, being rich and somewhat snotty, she's NOT cruel. Normally rich and snotty girls bully the main character. Alice is a Japanophile who LOVES Yune at first sight and treats her like royalty, but has enough common sense to know when she can't sway Yune off her feet and accepts the decisions she makes. She definitely has character and is a good one, but there is one question in the series that's never answered: why does she hate Claude? I need clarification please!

Basically, the story's about two worlds, Yune's world and Europe, intertwining with one another and embracing their differences. Obviously Yune comes from a country that the Europeans know nothing about, so of course they'd think she's a bit strange. But this anime is about embracing cultural differences, and about Yune learning about Paris as the people she meets learn about her, be it when it comes to food, manners, and their beliefs. This anime challenges them, but it doesn't view them as bad. But there is one suspicion I kinda have about Yune: is she potentially biracial? Because in one episode they show that her sister, Shione, has blue eyes, and the Japanese don't like people with blue eyes. Why did they discriminate against blue eyes back then? Did that even happen in the late 19th century? I always thought that kind of discrimination didn't happen until World War 2, when America dropped the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki (or at least when Japanese people began being thrown into internment camps after Pearl Harbor). What the heck? I'm confused.

In short, Ikoku Meiro no Croisee is a sweet, adorable, and charming little gem of an anime.
 
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Hooo boy. I was not expecting this to turn out as bad as it did. This review was just finished today.



I give this new take on the famous novel...a 40/100.

Masaaki Yuasa is an anime director and animator who became pretty famous in recent years, though fans are divided on whether his works are actually good. I myself only just got introduced to his work. I didn't like Devilman Crybaby, I thought Kaiba was really confusing, I absolutely LOVE Ride Your Wave, and one of his more recent anime, Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken, turned out to be pretty amazing as well, but I haven't seen it yet. So when I heard that Yuasa was making an anime called Japan Sinks, based on the popular 1973 sci-fi novel by Sakyo Komatsu, I was psyched, because the premise reminded me of Tokyo Magnitude 8.0, one of my favorite anime of all time. Since the pandemic has kind of been screwing over the entire world, I thought it'd be nice to check this out to see if it's any good. But then it came out and people began noticing things about it that were just...wrong, not just from a narrative standpoint, but a lot of the decisions the show seemed to make really detrimented its overall quality. Seeing as I already decided to watch it, I decided to give it a fair chance.

Needless to say, they were absolutely right. I wouldn't call this the worst anime I've seen, but I'm not gonna lie, Japan Sinks 2020 is a hot mess. Yuasa, what the hell?!

So at first, you think the premise is gonna be kind of cool, focusing on a family and some of their friends dealing with a massive earthquake that decimates everything around them, realizing that Japan is going to sink into the ocean, and doing all they can to help each other and survive. People love stories about people trying their best and dealing with bad situations, and considering that disaster shows/movies tend to overdramatize or exaggerate them to the point of not being accurate to real life, Japan Sinks 2020 promising a realistic drama seemed like a breath of fresh air, and people went into it with those expectations in mind. I know I did, having seen and loved Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 myself. Japan Sinks does start off that way at first, but after a couple episodes, it quickly turns into a complete mess with weird story decisions, bad animation, random irrelevant characters and subplots thrown in that don't fit or don't add anything to the narrative, badly executed themes, and is completely inconsistent in every way. And coming from Yuasa, who actually can write a good story when he wants to, you'd think he'd have known better!

For one, the animation. Again, Yuasa is well known for being a great animator, with his works always displaying surrealist or fluid animation that really brings out the best in what he's working on. With simplistic character designs that stay away from the typical anime style, low shading, and realistic backgrounds, you'd think this would be great. Hell, the opening is fantastically animated, opting for a slow moving, watercolor look to it that absolutely encapsulates the peaceful life the Mutous lived before everything went to shit, with the song being just as good. Sadly, the animation is just one of many, many problems that plague the show. Many times the characters look plain wonky, with body parts looking out of place or have weirdly angled faces. Or other times you'll get shots like this, where they look like they were drawn by back-alley artists who can't seem to get perspective down in any way whatsoever, resulting in hilariously bad anatomy. Character motion is oddly jerky and stilted, and facial expressions always look more derpy and cross eyed, failing at conveying any kind of emotion whatsoever. In stark contrast, the backgrounds completely avoid such problems. All of the backgrounds are wonderfully drawn, from multicolored lights illuminating the forest around a shrine, to tumultuous waters during a stormy sea, to collapsed buildings and landscapes that convey just how desolate Japan is after the earthquakes that hit it, from a visual standpoint, those stand out in the best ways. Sadly, because of the lackluster character animation, this makes the overall art direction in the show very inconsistent. Also, some of the character designs are flat out strange. Go, the little boy, has a big head of hair that makes him look like he has a big mud ball on his head, one that's too big for his head at that, and the thick eyebrows just don't work. Ayumu, our lead character, is said to be in middle school, but she looks like she could be in high school at the oldest.

The music fares much better, all of it being either well performed or well sung, with the opening song being the best out of them all. But it's the usage of the music that doesn't work. It's no question that Kensuke Ushio is a great musician who makes great music. However, for some reason, the creators of this had the bright idea to place ill-fitting music in ill-fitting scenes, such as upbeat piano tunes during a disastrous earthquake, or a peppy beat when a character is brutally killed, or a sad, somber melody when cooking dinner. Great music won't work if you continually misuse it, and again, Ushio's work is scattered all over the place and used inappropriately. It really says something when the English Digimon soundtrack, as flawed as it is, manages to make better use of its music than this does, and considering many people hate the Digimon dub's soundtrack for a variety of reasons, that's saying a lot!

Speaking of somber and ill-fitting, the show seems to think that if it shoves in as many mature elements, kills people off every episode, and becomes darker and darker as it goes on, that that will make the show good. This is not the case. As shows such as Magical Girl Site, Cross Ange, and Afro Samurai can attest, continual drama, angst, darkness, violence, and mature subject matter do not automatically make something good. Again, it all comes down to execution, and frankly, Japan Sinks fails at making use of its themes, setting, and pretty much everything else. The absolute nadir of this is the random cult arc that takes up episodes 4-6, where the characters take shelter at a camp that turns out to be a cult that worships a woman who can supposedly speak to the dead. I know that in some circumstances, people tend to fall back on religion when disasters happen, but the whole cult thing just felt tacked on and pointless, along with various other scenes within it, such as a random sex scene between the cult leader and her husband (Though, to the show's very little credit, the sex scene is MUCH more tasteful than anything in Devilman Crybaby), various cultists trying to shoot said cult leader and steal her gold for no clear dumbass reason, the cult leader's child being mute, and so on. Basically, the whole arc doesn't do anything to further the story other than introduce the scientist who would later join them, and the writers could have easily written a much more organic, sensible reason for having him join them. It's just overall pointless and needlessly padded out. You could cut the whole arc out and nothing to be lost. Also, what the hell was the point of having TWO scenes were some creep attempts to rape two of the female characters?! It'd be one thing if those scenes actually furthered the narrative, but they don't, and throwing in random rapists in an attempt to cause conflict is just tasteless because they're just there to be creeps and nothing else, so they're totally vapid and one-note, serving no purpose other than trying to force drama when there doesn't need to be any.

And speaking of vapid and one-note, the characters. All of them are pretty much stereotypes with little to no real personality to them other than being eccentric in some way, and many of them get killed off without even so much as a real character arc. Not only that, their characterization is wildly inconsistent at times. Take for example Ayumu, the main girl. At one point, she disses some guy's footage of Okinawa sinking as fake news with no basis, and later on, she suddenly soapboxes about how stealing is wrong. The biggest offender is the old man with the drug problem, who isn't even named in the show (He's called Kunio in the credits, but if the show itself doesn't care to give him a name, why should we?) who wildly flips between being violent to caring to drug-addled to crazy, often within the same scene. Hell, Kite, the white haired YouTuber, isn't really so much a character as he is a plot device whose sole purpose is to replace the dad and make things more convenient for the characters. He's somehow this super awesome dude who can get anything done, and everything he does is conveniently beneficial to the characters, from flying on balloons to somehow acquiring a SEAFARING MILITARY TANK OUT OF FREAKING NOWHERE. Plus, any development the characters do get isn't even on their own, but due to some outside source. Haruo, the shut-in who doesn't talk much, and arguably the best character in this series IMHO, gradually talks more and becomes more proactive, but is it because he willingly decides to come out of his shell and help people rather than wallow in his own issues and problems? Nope! It's all because he got hooked on weed! So the development he winds up getting doesn't feel earned and is just the result of the writers having someone else force him to become more assertive because they couldn't be bothered to, y'know, write him more naturally. Furthermore, several one-off characters, such as xenophobic racists, are only thrown in there just to be a one-off adversary the main cast can soapbox about being Japanese too without actually trying to write them being more subtle and three-dimensional. Oh, and all of the issues the show tries to tackle, such as national identity, racism, xenophobia, and drugs, are all written with as much subtlety as an elephant in a china shop or a nihilistic 14-year-old emo kid thinking cramming mature subjects in will automatically make something good. Uh, no. That's not how this stuff works! Yuasa, you should know this by now!

Building off of this, I'm going to paraphrase something a fellow reviewer said about the show and why its characters and characterizations are so haphazard: Lots of anime have characters that are little more than archetypes, but here's the thing: When you promote your show as being something, such as a realistic character drama, you're giving your audience expectations for that show and its characters. Nobody goes into shows like Princess Connect: ReDive or Love Live to have realistic, grounded characterization for its cast, because those shows rely on a certain gimmick, like moe cuteness or idols. But when you bill your series as a realistic character drama, the viewers are going to expect that, so Japan Sinks throwing in all of these random archetypes, stupid subplots that either detract from the narrative or don't go anywhere, and ridiculously overblown darkness and melodrama goes against the expectations the audience has for it, which further begs the question of why the writers even decided to go this direction in the first place. Seriously, if you want a disaster anime that's actually a realistic character drama and doesn't get off on trying to be as dark and shove in as many "mature" elements as possible, just go watch Tokyo Magnitude 8.0! It may be years since I saw that show, but I can guarantee you that it has much better writing, characters, and themes than Japan Sinks could hope to achieve, and it didn't try to be something that it wasn't!

Which begs the main question: What the hell, Yuasa?! How could you go from writing awesome anime such as Ride Your Wave and Keep Your Hands off Eizouken to this?! You're good at writing well-rounded characters, stories, and know how to get a handle on your themes when you're not trying to go all out in your weirdness! You should know better! And considering this is his last TV project, as Yuasa announced that he was retiring as president of Science Saru, you'd think he would want to end his animation career on a high note! Well, there is Inu-Oh coming up, so that could change. Now, the only reason I didn't rate this lower than 40 is because it didn't make me angry or offend me like other genuinely bad stuff I've seen did, and it does have very, VERY few genuinely good things about it, so I'm going to give it what little credit it does deserve. Japan Sinks honestly isn't the worst thing I've seen/played/read (Those honors still go to Ijime, Elsie Dinsmore, and The Hate U Give), but it's just not worth it. Seriously. Don't waste your breath on this one. Just watch Tokyo Magnitude 8.0, which IMHO tackles this premise much better.
 
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I know I'm late to put this here, but whatever. If you want to make Devilman weirder, look at the LA Spanish cast: Akira and Ryo are Christopher Robin and Ash Ketchum.

I guess I even though the anime is too dark for me, that fact ruins it even further for me...
 
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Ouch, I kinda wanted to see it because it looked promising, but it sounds like it has a lot of tragedy, both in-universe and outside of it. :wynaut: Do you know how it compares to 7-Seeds, though? I thought its first season was meh but its second one was fun.
 
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I know, right? Japan Sinks could have been something great, but it was just a hot mess all around. I haven't seen 7SEEDS, but I hear that one is just a really bad adaptation of a critically-acclaimed manga.

Anyway, time for something good! This review was just finished today.

otome-game-no-hametsu-flag-shika-nai-akuyaku-reijou-ni-tense-5ec35d1442dc3.jpg


I give this comedic spin on tired isekai tropes...a 78/100!

Hey kids, remember when stories about kids/teens going to fantasy worlds were interesting? And had three-dimensional characters, creative worldbuilding, compelling stories, and actually cared about things like character development and storytelling? Yeah, me too. In recent years, a sudden wave of novels and anime involving characters being sent to fantasy or game-like worlds drowned Japan, giving rise to the term "isekai" which means "another world" and many of them...aren't good. You may recognize them by several things: Ridiculously long titles that threaten to break the Twitter limit count, milque toast male main characters with little personality but are magically given God-like powers for no reason other than convenience, a harem of beautiful girls who exist to fall all over said male character, video game mechanics, very little effort put into actual worldbuilding, character development, or any kind of compelling conflict whatsoever, and functioning as little more than male power fantasies. Unfortunately, it's still going, and I don't think it's going to die out anytime soon. Luckily, in the pile of stale excrement, there are some gems to be found, so it's safe to say that there are some genuinely good "modern" isekai anime lurking about, even if they're still not as polished or compelling as many of the powerhouses from the late 80s to early 90s. One of them is the subject of today's review, My Next Life as a Villainess: All Routes Lead To Doom!, which took the isekai community by storm.

Based on the light novels by Satoru Yamaguchi, it goes under a variety of names, but many of them are too long, so for the purposes of convenience, I'm going to refer to it as Hamefura. So what's the story? A young Japanese high school girl is killed in a car accident and finds that she's been reborn as a villainess named Catarina Claes in an otome game she owned called Fortune Lover. But she only regains her past life memories when an eight-year-old Catarina trips and hits her head. Remembering her knowledge of the game, Catarina realizes that the person she's reborn into either gets exiled or dies in all of the game's endings. Afraid that she might suffer this terrible fate, Catarina does all she can to avoid anything or doing anything that might potentially force her down that path...which basically amounts to just being a nice person and being nothing like the original character.

So yeah, Hamefura still adheres to a lot of cliche isekai tropes that its contemporaries love so much, such as MCs dying, being reincarnated into a game, gaining a harem, and so on. Thankfully, unlike its contemporaries, none of the characters do anything like level up or look at their stats (If you want to do that, just play an actual game!), nor is anyone overpowered to the point of completely solving every single problem with a snap of their fingers. Much of the show is a gentle parody of the genre, poking fun at the tropes it indulges in without seeming too mean-spirited or overly reliant on breaking the fourth wall. A lot of the comedy is fairly character driven, with Catarina being too dense to see that everyone she interacts with has clear romantic feelings for her, or trying to do something silly only to wind up achieving weird results...or overreacting to every little thing involving the conquerable characters interacting in any way whatsoever. Several of these work fairly well, but other times the comedy can be milked a bit too much, especially when Catarina freaks out about being potentially exiled or killed even though she's already avoided the bad endings by...well, being a nice person and not the character of Catarina. Thankfully, a lot of the jokes and punchlines are well thought out and full of energy.

The animation really helps sell the comedic aspects of the show here, showing a wide array of silly, cartoony expressions, zany movement, and bright colors. But even when not focusing on the comedy, the show is still well animated, with creative character designs that don't go too over-the-top, smooth character animation, pretty backgrounds, and just as much shoujo sparkle to make you feel like this is, indeed, the world of a fantasy otome game. I'm rather mixed on the music, though. I mean, the soundtrack itself is very versatile and well done, with ominous violins during the dramatic scenes, soft piano tunes for more low-key moments, and energetic fiddles and banjos for when Catarina does something silly. Seriously, when was the last time you heard banjos being used in an anime soundtrack? But the opening and ending songs didn't really wow me, per se. The opening, while well sung, seems like it's trying to mesh a bunch of different musical styles together without trying to make them form a cohesive whole, making any transition between them feel jarring. I mean, going from J-pop to classical to hard rock within several beats doesn't give it a whole lot of flow. The ending song is...okay, but again, it didn't really wow me, and it was mostly just still images of the characters framed with sparkles.

My mixed feelings continue with the characters as well. Most of them, anyway. Several of them are more developed and fleshed out than others, with Catarina having the best of it. She's a fun lead character with a lot of personality and charm to her that it's easy to see why people would like her. I'm glad the show is at least careful to give her some character flaws, such as being rather dense (Though thankfully not the obnoxious kind of dense) and being rather reckless, so she doesn't come off as an overly idealized cipher the audience can project themselves onto. Plus, it is kind of funny to see her freaking out over anything that involves the game's progression, though sometimes even that could be a little much, especially when it's made clear that she'll never meet her doom simply because she decided to be a nice person and not the game's villainess. Maria, Sophia, and Alan also receive some good development, though they aren't nearly as fleshed out as Catarina is, and I liked the whole ensemble. Even Catarina's maid, a side character, is given her own backstory and personality, and from what I hear, she's pretty popular. Unfortunately, two of them, Geordo and Nicol, don't really change much throughout the series, with the former being especially notorious for it because the show is constantly telling us that he's a black-hearted, sadistic prince, but nothing in the show indicates as such. Anime, remember to show, not tell. All he really does is be nice, a little snarky, and constantly remind everyone he's engaged to her. Plus, Nicol doesn't really do anything other than just stand around looking pretty, and his reasons for falling in love with Catarina just feel forced. "Hey, this random girl is nice to my sister. I've found my true love at last!!" As a result of the show not really doing anything with them, Geordo and Nicol just feel bland and woefully underutilized.

Which also leads me to my biggest problem with the show. It's nothing that completely turns me off to it, but the show seems really intent on having EVERYONE have some sort of crush on Catarina in some fashion. From what I heard, the light novels are marketed as a mixed gender harem, which is fine, but the show seems to bend over backwards just to have every single character Catarina interacts with fall in love with her in some way, or interpret anything she does as seduction. In one early episode, when Alan first shows up, he accuses Catarina of trying to seduce Mary, even though all she did was become her friend...and keep in mind, this is a child accusing another child of seducing a girl. First off, how in the world would a nine-year-old know what the word seduce means, much less enough about it to accuse a girl of doing so to another girl? I myself didn't learn what seduce meant until early high school! Second, episode 8, which from what I heard is a filler episode, has all the characters except for Mary and Maria being sucked into a magic book which reveals all of their deepest desires. Everyone's desires except for Catarina's involve...well, trying to either bang Catarina or seduce her. It was at this point where I was like, "Okay, now you're just trying too hard." Why make EVERYBODY fall in love with Catarina? Having every single character do so just feels forced and unnecessary, and like the writers just want them to get with Catarina because they want them to rather than just letting their friendships (or in some cases, romance) develop naturally, and the show did do the latter in its first half! I mean, a little romance is okay, but having everyone want to smooch Catarina and get jealous if any one of them so much as looks at her, even a little bit (Though they're thankfully still nice to each other, so I'm glad the show doesn't go down the cliche route of having everyone try to kill each other) just doesn't feel organic.

So how does the show fare as an isekai show? Well, it's not nearly as compelling or polished as the ones from the eighties or nineties, but it's far better than a lot of the crappy wish fulfillment shlock we've been bombarded with over the past several years. For one, even with its problems, it still TRIES to give the characters more personality and development beyond their assigned archetype, actually has a story, a little haphazard as it can be, and is overall just pure mindless fun. Hamefura is also one of the few shows that didn't get delayed because of the awful pandemic, and considering the current times we're living in, I think we can all use a little mindless fun once in a while, if only so we remember that there is some good to look forward to in this crazy world.

Overall, if you're looking for some good mindless fun and a good laugh, feel free to check out My Next Life as a Villainess: All Routes Lead To Doom! It's funny, sweet, and Catarina will surely steal your heart some way or another.
 
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Time for more good stuff! This review was written on September 1st, 2013.



Note: I only just started reading this Pokemon manga, and only have up to volume 5 so far. Because all the arcs in this manga feature entirely new characters and scenarios based on their respective game counterparts, for the time being, I've decided to review each arc individually, starting from the RGB arc all the way to the Black/White arc. Example: one review for first three volumes, another for the later four, one for the Johto arc, etc. I haven't read the entire manga series yet, but I will definitely give a review to the whole series once I've caught up. I don't know if I'll like all the arcs in the same way or prefer one over the other, so that's why I'm giving reviews for each arc, so I'll have a better idea on my personal preferences.

(As of August 5th, 2020, the day I'm posting this, I own the entirety of RGB, Yellow, Gold/Silver/Crystal arcs, Ruby/Sapphire/Emerald/FireRed/LeafGreen, a couple volumes of Diamond/Pearl digitally, all of Black/White, one volume of Black2/White2, and all of XY)

I give the first three volumes of this manga...an 87/100!

I didn't start reading manga until about 2005, around the same time I started watching anime in their original language. But while my first actual right-to-left manga was the third volume of Tokyo Mew Mew, my very first manga EVER was the Pokemon manga, which I found out very quickly was COMPLETELY unlike the anime...and I loved it! Unfortunately, the version I got was the flipped, censored version, and because I wound up getting more and more into anime, I stopped collecting it. Thankfully, my interest in Pokemon Special (or Adventures as it's called here) has resurfaced upon learning that the manga has much MUCH more going for it than the anime ever had, so I decided to get back into it...and boy, is it a nostalgia bomb for me! Heck, I still have the copy of the first manga book I ever bought (though I'm debating over whether I should get rid of it or not). But this review will only focus on the first three volumes. I'll save the rest of my nostalgic sentimentality for the entire series.

In a way, the manga starts off just like the anime. A young boy named Red wants to become a great Pokemon trainer. When he meets Professor Oak during an incident regarding escaped Pokemon, he receives his first ever PokeDex and one of the starters, a Bulbasaur. Red is ecstatic and decides to defeat the gym leaders and win the Pokemon League. But many things get in his way, like his rival, Green, Professor Oak's grandson and an arrogant little prick, Blue, a pretty girl who loves flirting and ripping people off their money (their names got switched in the English version to coincide with the American releases of the Red and Blue games, mostly because the original graphics for Red and Green were too ugly to work with American audiences), and Team Rocket, whose corrupt influence is polluting all of Kanto, with their experimenting on Pokemon and screwing their environments over, and they have much bigger plans in mind. Even some of the gym leaders are involved with Team Rocket in some way. Can Red and his friends and allies put an end to Team Rocket's tyrannical reign of terror and win the Pokemon League like he's dreamed?

Trust me, this manga is EXTREMELY different from the anime by a land slide, and you may not think so at first considering the cutesy looking art style. Just because something looks cutesy doesn't mean the whole thing looks all cutesy and saccharine (we learned that the hard way thanks to Madoka Magica. I wish people would do the same with Les Miserables Shoujo Cosette, as it really needs more love!). Yes, the art style is cutesy and chibi-looking, but not always, and when things get serious, boy do they ever! Though, personally, I think the cutesy looking art style works in this case, because we have innocent children befriending monsters and are full of hope, enthusiasm, and innocent ideals and beliefs, and that contrasts well with the dark, foreboding, stern, sterile, somewhat corrupt, and even ugly adult world they're living in, especially when we learn what Team Rocket has been doing to Kanto: experimenting on Pokemon, controlling cities, damaging the environment, etc. Oh, and unlike most anime or even manga for that matter where everything is resolved in the drop of a hat, none of these changes just automatically go away. There are lasting consequences. You know the oil spill and the nuclear disasters in Japan, right? Those still haven't been resolved yet, and even if they were, the after affects would still linger. This rule is being happily used here. By God, it's so refreshing to see environmental problems and consequences actually being taken seriously and as a genuine threat, rather than something that can be instantly resolved with magic or the power of friendship!

Don't think you're going to find clones of Ash Ketchum or those characters here. Unlike the anime, the characters here actually AGE and DEVELOP. Red starts off a bit too much like Ash at first, but he's actually smart and uses his Pokemon in smart ways. Plus, he knows his mission, learns lessons about life (and not forgetting about them for the sake of dragging on and on and on), and when things get tough, he knows when to put his desires aside, and not in a cheesy, preachy way either. Other characters like Green and Blue develop nicely too, in their own way, and have great backstories to further flesh them out. That's kind of surprising, considering the RGB arc is only three volumes long. Best of all, they're all smart and use their Pokemon in surprisingly clever and smart ways, and you never know what to expect. They use their Pokemon's abilities to their full potential. Seriously, was Kusaka a science major in college? Because the way he makes the characters use their Pokemon makes so much sense here. They rely much more on skill, strategy, and other factors, like the environment and the effects attacks of different types have on each other and how they can be used feasibly, rather than just brute force, lots of over the top yelling, and beam spams. The best, most awesome example of this is in the final chapter of this arc. It has to be read to be believed.

I can't really think of any real jarring flaws this series has, though one I noticed was that it's pacing is a little fast and brisk. We just go from one chapter to another without much transition in between, similar to Escaflowne, but unlike with the latter, the way it happens here makes sense, both in-universe and out. In universe because one character can't just stay in one place for too long (plus, in this case, unlike Escaflowne, the transition actually flows better), and in real life, it was mostly because Kusaka had to keep up with the new games that come out, so he can't just focus entirely on one adaptation of one game forever (unless it was deliberate, in the case of another Pokemon manga called Diamond and Pearl Adventure, which is NOT like Special, AT ALL), as people would have moved on to the next set of games. I did have one hissy fit over one of Red's Pokemon evolving differently than in the games until I read volume 5 today, which explained why, so I've calmed down about that. Plus, it does tend to suddenly introduce characters out of nowhere, but the manga makes up for it by developing them and giving them strengths, weaknesses, and fears, like ordinary people, so they're not total cardboard cut-outs.

It's only the first arc, but it's still a very strong start to a very strong and amazing manga so far. I can't wait to see what the other volumes will bring!
 
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This one was written on September 18th, 2013, and is a direct sequel to the RGB review.



I give the second arc in the Kanto series...a 93/100!

I was originally going to write a review of this later, as that'll be when my copy of volume 7 comes in, but I found volume 7 in my school library, so I got a library card and rented it, along with volume 8, so that proved to be a really lucky break for me! Remember in my review of the Red/Green/Blue arc that there's so much detail poured into everything? Yeah, this arc is ALL ABOUT detail, and I absolutely LOVE meticulous detail in everything! But that's not the only reason I love volumes 4-7. I may not be very far into the manga, but please give me the liberty to boast that this arc may very well be my favorite so far, even though it has its haters. There's lots of things I want to say about this arc, particularly about the new character Yellow, but I don't think they'd be able to fit into a review and they're pretty spoiler-riffic, so I'm gonna save it for another kind of post later on.

Continuing from where the third volume left off, two years pass, and Red returns to Pallet Town reigning as the winner of the Pokemon League, and has been receiving challenges left and right. One day, he gets a letter from someone named Bruno and goes to challenge him...but he never comes back. The only Pokemon of his who manages to make it to Pallet Town is his Pikachu, arriving in Professor Oak's lab completely injured and near death. He is saved, but then a blonde haired kid named Yellow appears out of nowhere and claims she's (yeah, it's not hard to figure out so I'm throwing it out there: Yellow is a girl!) on a mission to find Red. At first, Professor Oak doesn't know if he can really trust her or not, but then he sees that she's not like other trainers: she hates all forms of battle and she has strange powers no human should have, like healing wounds and reading a Pokemon's thoughts. After he sees what she's capable of, he gives her Red's PokeDex and sends her off to find Red. She isn't alone in her quest, as others are joining in her cause. But a particular group of trainers called the Elite Four are getting in their way, and it seems they have more to worry about than just finding Red.

Not much has changed since the first arc. The artwork is still very good and the attention to detail is still ridiculously meticulous and awesome. But what I like about this arc is that the pacing has improved and isn't as fast and brisk as the other three volumes are. It's easier to comprehend things this way, and it's often hard for me to comprehend new info since I'm autistic. Another good thing about this arc is that it focuses much less on trainer battles and much more on learning new things and the new, much bigger conflict at hand and what it would entail if the Elite Four aren't stopped. There's more time spent on little stuff like training, building relationships with Pokemon, strategy, and the aftermath of the events of two years before...and not much has changed since then. One thing I don't like about some anime or manga is that sometimes they focus too much on the conflict and later just outright solve it in a drop of hat and everybody's happy and nothing's damaged. Real life conflicts aren't resolved within a day, just like how the nuclear disaster in Japan hasn't been solved. It's SO UNGODLY refreshing to finally see a manga focus on how the conflicts of two years ago still affect everyone in their daily lives. Even Pokemon aren't spared from the effects of the disasters before and the ones to come. The manga also addresses issues such as pollution and how humans are destroying the environment with their industrial waste and trying too hard to make life convenient for themselves with technology by discussing how if certain Pokemon go extinct, others will follow, and plants and trees will do so as well. Even to this day, it's still a serious issue that needs to be addressed, as I learned in a college glass I took on extinct animals that humans have played a large role in making certain animals, which were once in abundance, go completely extinct, examples being the Passenger Pigeon, the Great Auk, the Quagga, the Dodo, and the Auroch. Yay, a manga that takes its conflict and the after effects on people and animals seriously!

Oftentimes, when a character, particularly a main character, gets put on a bus, a new character randomly comes out of nowhere to take their place for a certain amount of time, and more often than not, they're not very well received. Sadly, as I've found, Yellow has her fair share of haters, who call her a Mary Sue or accuse her of being perfect or a creator's pet. Honestly, I've found solid evidence that both of these claims are completely false. Sure, she has powers, but most of the time she doesn't have full control of them, and she doesn't use them that much until the end of the arc, and when she does use them too much, they suck out some of her energy and make her fall asleep for a while. Plus, even though she's not very strong in terms of her Pokemon's levels and her Pokemon team in general, she does know how to put her Pokemon's abilities to really good use, and some of the strategies she comes up with are really smart, though not completely fool proof. (I'd go into more detail, but I'd have to go into spoilers so I'll save that for a different post) Heck, two of the Pokemon she catches outright attack her at one point in the story, and it's not like everybody just blindly praises her up the wazoo for any slip up she makes. Personally, so far, she's my favorite character, possibly even my number one favorite Special character! Why? No, I'm NOT glorifying her. I like her because she's kind of everything I like in a girl character: sweet, kind, cheery, a little shy, but strong willed, smart in some areas and not so much in others, determined, doesn't always solve problems for everyone, she knows what she wants, tries to get herself and her Pokemon out of any situation by any means necessary, and even though she doesn't like fighting, she knows not everyone will agree with her and will fight if she has to. Seriously, wouldn't you rather have her as a main character than, oh, I don't know: Tagiru from Digimon Xros Wars? Miaka from Fushigi Yuugi? That girl from Amnesia? Shu Ouma from Guilty Crown? Chibiusa from Sailor Moon? I didn't think so. Well, I do agree with some fans that her powers do kind of make things a little bit too convenient for her at times, and the way she used them at the end did feel a BIT like a Deus Ex Machina, but I've seen worse so I don't have any problem with it. In a nutshell, I like her and both her charms and faults.

It's also not like she does EVERYTHING in this arc either. Other characters we know and love still have a very strong presence in the manga, like Blue, Bill, the Gym Leaders, Team Rocket (who are seriously MUCH more threatening and convincing in the manga than in the anime. Awesome!), and even the Elite Four. Speaking of which, Kusaka seems to love going against game canon (and even fanon), as instead of making the Elite Four righteous heroes, he made them evil. Personally, I kind of like this idea, mostly because it gives them more of an edge and is something different. And they're not just typical cardboard cut out villains either. For the most part, they stick to whatever plans they come up with, and they actually succeed at carrying them out and thwarting the hero's attempts to stop them, which is usually the other way around! God, yet another refreshing thing to see! Even the Elite Four are compelling and interesting in their motives for acting the way they do, and none of it is ham fisted or force fed either. The only member who hasn't gotten much development is Bruno, but that's okay. I think the Elite Four here are great villains, as they don't just sit around and look pretty and threatening. Instead of telling us they're threatening, they actually show that they're threatening, and prove it with the things they do to Kanto over the course of the manga, and, really, it is GLORIOUS. Also some positive things about this arc before I close off: it explained how Red's Poliwhirl evolved into a Poliwrath, something I had a problem with in the previous arc, and it redeemed a character I hated in that arc too, though in a weird way.

Well, that's my review of the Yellow arc, my current favorite arc, so far. Let's see if any of the other arcs can surpass it, if I have the time and money to get more of the books, that is. As of now, I managed to read volume 8, and...really, I'm surprised people are hating on Yellow when nobody I've heard of has shown any hate for Gold, and, honestly, so far, I FREAKING HATE GOLD! I'm only one volume into the GSC arc, yet I already can't stand him! He's downright intolerable! He's annoying, stupid, selfish, arrogant, loud, ridiculously incompetent, too hot blooded for his own good, he throws himself into any situation, solves them in the stupidest ways possible, has selfish ulterior motive for EVERYTHING, is always boasting about how good he is even though everyone else in the manga disagrees, thinks he's right about everything, and he practically DEMANDED that Professor Oak just hand him a PokeDex even after the latter bluntly (and awesomely) told him right to his face that he's not worthy of receiving a PokeDex, simply because he's so rash it makes Ash look like a saint, yet Gold still got a PokeDex anyway! Seriously, I could barely read the first volume of the GSC arc, he's that annoying! Red wasn't this stupid! Heck, Black from the BW arc acted way better than he ever did! He didn't just demand he get a PokeDex from Professor Juniper, and even though he was slightly selfish at times, he's never ungrateful, and knows when to show restraint and be civil. My God, and I hear people say the GSC arc is the best arc in the series! If Gold is going to act like this all throughout (I need the rest of the volumes to be sure), then I'm going to have a VERY hard time believing that.
 
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