Julia's Reviews on All Things Media

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Now that you mention cooking anime/manga, do you any that are interesting?
 
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I've only seen a select few, with the most recent one being Sweetness and Lightning, and for some reason that one took me forever to finish. But I do recommend it! Food Wars is well known so far, but it's personally not my cup of tea for a number of reasons. I do hear shows like Ristorante Paradiso, Yakitate Japan, and Kofuku Graffiti are pretty good, but again, I haven't seen them.
 
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Thanks for the suggestions! I'm planning to open a geeky café in the future, and I needed something to watch to get inspiration for it. Mostly for dishes since we don't want things that you could easily find, but at the same time we can adapt both to the theme and the local tastes.
 
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This review was written on December 31st, 2018, though not finished until today.



I give this creepy but still realistic and somewhat funny slice-of-life platformer...an 80/100!

This...may or may not be a bad idea. I had originally planned to review this a lot earlier, but life got in the way and I never got around to reviewing it, even after playing the game. But due to, err...recent events that came to light about the composer for this game, I decided not to put this off any longer. Night In The Woods is a short little game that really hit the ground running, going from a successful Kickstarter to getting released on many major platforms, such as the PS4, PC, and, as of last year, the Nintendo Switch, something few indie games can boast. But while on the surface it might just be a simple, somewhat creepy game about funny animals going about their lives, it actually has a surprising amount of depth to it, and it's resonated with a lot of people, me included.

The story's about a young cat woman named Margaret "Mae" Borowski, who's returning to her hometown of Possum Springs after dropping out of college. The problem is, she doesn't exactly have the best reputation, and other than her family and a select few friends, she hasn't received the warmest welcome. She struggles with the changes occuring within her hometown and among her group of friends, with one of them having randomly gone missing with no rhyme or reason. As she struggles with her identity, the demons from her past, and coping with the massive changes in her life, she begins having odd dreams and finds herself discovering a mysterious force lurking around her community...and she may end up losing herself in the process.

The creators of the game mentioned that the character designs and general art style were inspired by the works of one Richard Scarry, a famous children's book writer and illustrator who frequently designed cute animal characters with creepy-looking stares. I think it works well here, as the cutesy animal art style gives it the feel of a children's storybook, while the themes, atmosphere, and overall feel of the game make a striking contrast in how adult they really are, with the game dealing with issues like mental illness, the nature of one's existence, and what to do when life throws you a crappy set of cards. The game's art style almost has a muted look to it, like any colors used are a lot duller than they should be, likely symbolizing just how dead the town of Possum Springs appears to be. But the sprite animation is seamless, the lighting and scenery make for some beautiful imagery, and the cardboard cut-out look of the backgrounds is used to good effect.

I don't have much to say about the soundtrack, though. I thought it was nice, and the songs the characters play in the band segments are cool, but I'm not much of a music expert. The music does its job well enough. If I had one complaint, I'd say that I'm not quite sure what purpose the band segments serve from a gameplay standpoint. They don't really contribute anything to the story or progress it in any way, and they're just minigames where you have to hit certain buttons in time with the song, Guitar Hero style. I mean, the minigames themselves are decently fun (Except for Pumpkin Head Guy, which many feel is way too difficult, me included), but I feel like the band segmentd and the songs used for those could have been utilized in a way that would actually mean something. Speaking of the gameplay, there isn't really a whole lot to this game when it comes to gameplay. All you really do is jump, play a few minigames, and solve a few puzzles, and the majority of the game is character and dialogue-driven. Plus, the game is fairly short, only clocking in at 10 hours, less if you decide not to do the sidequests and minigames. I didn't find this to be a problem personally, but people who want to really invest time into games (Especially the ones that have 50-100 hours worth of content) can't really do that in Night in the Woods.

But the game does make up for that with its eclectic, three-dimensional cast of characters that are lovably flawed and interesting. Instead of playing a silent protag or a stock light novel hero who's as bland as tofu, you play a girl who has a dynamic personality and plenty of character flaws that make her feel like a real person. She's energetic, reckless, tends to put her foot in her mouth, is occasionally insensitive (Often saying what's on her mind without thinking), commits petty crimes like shoplifting, is constantly worried that all she does is mess up people's lives, and her past and present actions all have serious consequences for her. But the game still manages to make her sympathetic and someone we as players can root for by reminding us there's still more to Mae than her flaws. The side characters are all just as dynamic, providing full support for Mae in helping carry the story. While many of them don't get a whole lot of focus, they all have their own stories, and throughout the course of the game, we see them all grow, clash, and interact, making them all very memorable. It's a shame the game is so short, because I want to see more of these characters and watch them grow even more. Then again, that's what fan fics are for.

One thing I wish the game expanded on is the setting. It never specifies what kind of world the characters live in and what's beyond Possum Springs, other than mentions of other towns. Possum Springs has its own troubled history and the world the characters live in even has its own lore, Gods, and holidays that are similar to Christmas and Halloween but go under different names. I kind of wish the game expanded on those and made an effort to really give the world these characters live in all sorts of details that would make it come alive, such as its own religion, culture, customs, and so on. Some of the developers mentioned they based Possum Springs on places where they themselves lived (With one of them mentioning Pittsburgh), and while there are two short minigames that come bundled with Night in the Woods that do expand on the lore of one of the game's holidays, I still feel like more stories could be told. Also, I kind of wish the game had voice acting in it. The game is very dialogue heavy, and often times, not much happens, so I can imagine that people who are used to loud action games might find Night in the Woods to be horribly dull, which is why I think voice acting might spruce it up a bit.

Before I finish, I know this will need to be mentioned at some point, so I might as well get it out of the way: In late 2019, developers Scott Benson and Bethany Hockenberry revealed that the composer who worked on the game's music, Alec Holowka, was known to have extreme mental problems that often manifested into abusive behavior, towards not just them, but other people he knew and worked with as well. Some say he was emotionally and physically abusive, and some have come forward about him committing sexual assault. Scott and Bethany made the decision to fire him from their team in light of his behavior. However, days after he was accused, he committed suicide. Whether this was in response to the allegations, getting fired, or due to other factors, no one is really sure, but many were quick to claim that Scott and Bethany and the others who came forward "murdered" Alec with their claims, that they were directly responsible for his suicide. I personally think that's absolute bullshit, because based on the testimony from Scott that I linked above, there's no concrete confirmation that Alec committed suicide because of the allegations, or them specifically. It's kind of shitty to claim that two people who just wanted to make games, who are very open about their practices at that, and go about their lives are cruel enough to drive someone to suicide. Playing the blame game is not the way to resolve an issue like this, and how can someone really convince themselves that Scott and Bethany actually wanted their colleague to die, even in light of what Alec did? The behavior some people are displaying against Scott and Bethany is absolutely inexcusable, even more so because Alec's sister even made a Twitter post stating that internet assholes shouldn't use Alec's death as a means to harass the devs or as a weapon. But this is the internet, and people rarely listen, now do they? If you don't like Night In The Woods anymore because of this, or any other works they're making, fine. Don't play their games. But the staff in Infinite Fall are people too, and I know making the decision they did wasn't easy for them. I'm sure Holowka's suicide is hurting them just as much as Holowka's family. Unless there's EXPLICIT, CONCRETE evidence that Holowka killed himself because of them, which as of now there isn't yet, don't harass the devs and blame them for it. It's cruel, petty, and downright horrible, and there's no excuse for it. You need to stop and think about all of this instead of foaming at the mouth and blaming the first person you see. Bottom line, don't engage in this kind of behavior. It's shitty, petty, and doesn't solve anything.

Whew, I really needed to address that astral elephant in the room. But what about the game as a game? It's okay if you don't want to play it in light of recent events. However, I personally feel it's a great game that deserves all the praise and popularity that it gets, and I think the creators would want people to know it as just a fun game to play, with memorable characters, complex themes, and a story full of heart that can resonate with us all, rather than for the controversy surrounding it.
 
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This review was written on February 9th, 2016.



I give one of the strongest shoujo anime in recent years...a 94/100!

Cartoons with strong female characters (and strong as in well-written, not emotionless fighters who do nothing but kill people and look cool) were a rarity back in the old days. But now, more and more of them are popping up, all of them being well received. When I was young and discovering the true nature of anime, I was amazed by anime's boldness in wanting to show things that most American cartoons wouldn't dare touch. Even the kids shows were mature and sophisticated, and that really appealed to me. As I expanded my anime repertoire, I began to learn more and more about Japan's standards on cartoons, and I eventually came to a realization why I love anime so much: the Japanese do so much more with animation rather than just limit it to kids shows or gross-out adult comedies, from horror and love stories to questioning humanity and the progress humanity has made over the years. I even took some classes on Japan and how circumstances such as World War II and the various earthquakes it had influenced many anime we know and love, from the old ones to the contemporary anime of today. However, the growing cynic in me is aware of the anime industry's gravitation toward bad harem moe wish fulfillment anime and catering to otaku rather than telling ambitious, passionate stories full of heart that everyone can love. But not all hope is lost, as there are still quality anime that pop out in modern times. One of those anime is Yona of the Dawn. Seriously, where has this been all my life?! It makes me feel like I'm 12 years old again, discovering the true nature of anime for the very first time, TEN years after the fact!

Yona is a lovely princess who lives a wonderful, pampered life in the Hiryuu Castle, nestled deep in the Empire of Kouka, with her father, King Il, her childhood friend whom she bickers with, Hak, and her cousin, Su-Won, whom she has a crush on. Her life is perfect and she doesn't have a care in the world, and wishes to marry Su-Won, but her father is against it. However, on a dark, stormy night, she is horrified as Su-Won, her beloved cousin, kills her father in cold blood and drives her and Hak out of the castle. With the help of some friends, she and Hak manage to escape death and Yona learns that in order to survive in this world, she have a lot to learn and a lot of growing up to do, and she can't afford to sit around and cry and cling to Hak all the time. A priest and his apprentice tell her and Hak about the Four Dragons who can help her take back her kingdom. With courage in her heart, Yona and friends set off to find the reincarnations of the four dragons with intent to save the Kouka Empire and reclaim her beloved home.

With a premise like this, it's no wonder a lot of people would be intrigued. Princesses have gained a bit of a bad reputation in the Western world, as they're usually portrayed as useless, shallow damsels in distress who love tea parties and dressing up, giggling over nothing, gush over marrying their prince charmings, and pretty much do nothing of importance to anyone or anything. When bad things happen, they're usually shown to just submit to it and wait for someone to rescue them, such examples being Sleeping Beauty and Snow White. But the death of Yona's father isn't the cue for someone to come and save her, even though it does. It's the start of her journey to become strong and more worldly. Simply put, in this story, Yona refuses to be the victim. She strives to become, and eventually does become, a hero. It shows us that the problems with most shows about princesses nowadays aren't princesses themselves, but rather what we, as a society, have done to them and reduced them to. Society sees princesses as damsels in distress who cannot be put on the same level as others. But Akatsuki no Yona takes that notion and smashes it into smithereens, though not without a few jabs at the concept every now and again, especially with how some of the characters treat her, especially Kija and Yun.

Now for the technical stuff: first, the animation. It's bright, colorful, sharp, sleek, and looks quite good. The battle choreography is pretty good for the most part, the movements are reasonably fluid, the colors change depending on the atmosphere, befitting certain moments, and everything looks great. Usually, when the show wants to do comedy, they turn the characters into chibi-fied versions of themselves, probably for purposes of cuteness and hilarity, and it works pretty well here. I've heard some people say that they go a bit too far with this in that they insert these random moments in dead serious scenes as well, but I honestly had no problem with it. I think they're thrown in there so viewers can properly digest the dark and serious moments as well so it makes the scenes come off as less depressing or serious. I mean, obviously we have to show the characters in fun, happy situations before they're thrown into conflict and see what they're really like so we can have the chance to care about their struggles, right?

The music is another thing that really makes the show stand out. Since the show takes a lot of cues from ancient China and Korea, the music has a very distinct Eastern sound to it, from erhu sounds to other Eastern instruments I don't have names for. But every piece of music in the show works: whether it's a fun happy piece during a comedic moment or a roaring, bombastic violin during an epic battle scene, or soft erhus during the sad moments, every piece of music fits their intended scene, and it knows when to be subtle and when to pull out the stops. The music almost sounds a lot like Avatar: The Last Airbender, and they share a lot of commonalities, both in their music, premise, settings, and adventure-esque stories. You can tell the composer for this series is a very ambitious one, intent on bringing the show to life with his music, and if you ask me, he gets an A+. Both the opening and ending themes are very good as well, fitting the show's themes and atmosphere. I hear some say the second opening is a bit too J-poppy for such an Eastern-looking show, but while the music may not fit, the lyrics fit the show as it centers on Yona growing as a person and learning to survive in a harsh world.

The characters are easily what make the show. They may seem like typical reverse harem stereotypes, but in this show, they are actually given depth and turn out to be so much more! But the show really excels in Yona's development. All throughout the show, she evolves from a spoiled, helpless, selfish, shallow princess to a strong, worldly, mature, and more open-minded young woman who is just trying to survive in the world, while still remaining vulnerable. Her friends and the Four Dragons get just as much personality and development within these 25 episodes. Shin-Ah is the silent, quiet type who is troubled by his tragic past, but is kind, sweet, and caring and helps his friends no matter what, and isn't a typical angsty lone wolf who hates everyone. Kija is a pompous rich kid who tries to do what he's been raised to do his whole life but doesn't always succeed, and often tries to push his ideas on others, but its called out, treated as a genuine character flaw, and it never comes off as mean-spirited, and he genuinely does care for his friends despite having lived a sheltered, pampered life. Yun is basically the glue that holds the group together, doing all the cooking, sewing, and anything that doesn't involve fighting, but even he isn't a damsel in distress. Every character, sans one who appears at the end, contributes something to the show and they're all very three-dimensional, showing lots of sides to them that most reverse harems don't even try to do these days. I love them all, even the villain and the skirt-chasing womanizer! Even side characters get some personality and focus!

However, as much as I praise this show and love it and want more people to see it, it does have a very very big flaw. The anime is an adaptation of a long running manga that's still ongoing as we speak, and the show stops as soon as it introduces one character who NEVER APPEARS UNTIL THAT FINAL EPISODE. Basically, the anime really isn't much more than a commercial for the manga. But hot dang, is it a GREAT commercial for a manga! Seriously, if FUNimation ever dubs the rest of it, they should have Toonami air this, as this would probably become really popular here in the US if treated right, as shows like this need to be made!

A wonderful, compelling show with great characters and a riveting story to tell, even in spite of its constraints. I highly recommend it!

(As of 2020, FUNimation has dubbed the entire series into English and you can buy it on both DVD and Blu-Ray)
 
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This review was written on July 26th, 2015.



I give this manga adaptation of Victor Hugo's classic novel...an 83/100!

Victor Hugo's magnum opus, Les Miserables, has been adapted into a variety of mediums, the most well known being the 1980s stage musical. I hadn't read the novel nor seen the stage musical, I have seen the 2012 musical film adaptation and the 2007 anime, and as of now, there's a manga adaptation. Now I know what you're thinking, "What?! A manga adaptation?! Oh my God, it's going to suck sooooo hard!!" I had heard of a manga adaptation, but it was this one, not the one pictured above. I had no idea there was a series of manga all adapting classic novels until I saw this at Otakon 2015 at Udon Entertainment's booth. As soon as I saw that manga, I knew I had to have it, since I really liked the anime. Needless to say, it fulfilled my expectations without a hitch. But I will admit, it's not without its flaws, and since the manga's a straight adaptation of the novel, a lot has been left out.

The story is exactly the same as the novel: an ex-convict named Jean Valjean begins his new life free from prison and after a series of events, becomes the mayor of a city. When he learns the plight of a woman who worked in his factory, Fantine, he tries to help her and find her child. Unfortunately, Fantine dies from sickness, and Jean Valjean has to deal with not only poverty, being chased by a police officer named Javert, political corruption, and taking care of Cosette, but to deal with the crimes of his past. There's a LOT more to this story than this measly summary covers, as going into too much detail would give way to spoilers.

I remember seeing the anime version in 2007, Les Miserables Shoujo Cosette, which didn't get fully subbed until 2011, and despite its flaws and the liberties it takes, which people found to be very off-putting for a novel as gritty and dark as Les Mis, I honestly liked it for what it was. There's many differences between the manga and the anime. The manga is just a straight up adaptation of the novel, though it did leave out many details such as Gavroche's little brothers, some guy named Mabeuf's story, etc. There's also differences in character designs, the most notable examples being Jean Valjean, Javert, the Thenardiers, Marius, Eponine, Gavroche, etc. whereas others have designs similar to the anime, such as Cosette and Fantine. Admittedly, I do like the character designs of the manga better, because they do make them look a little more human, though I give the anime credit for giving the characters distinct designs and features to make them more recognizable. For those of you wondering, yes, the manga does, in fact, leave in Fantine's prostitution and Javert's suicide, unlike the anime. The anime was made with kids in mind, but even though it didn't keep Fantine's prostitution and Javert's suicide, it didn't shy away from Les Mis's dark themes and hopeful messages, and it showed people dying. I normally don't like it when sexual elements are presented in works, especially tastelessly, as is the case with many anime with their pointless need to throw in panty shots and boob fondling (WHY IS THIS CONSIDERED NORMAL BEHAVIOR IN ANIME AND MANGA?! IT IS NOT FOR GOD'S SAKE!!!!!). Thankfully, I found the manga's presentation of Fantine's prostituting herself was handled rather tastefully. There was enough to imply it, but it wasn't so detailed and explicit as to go above the 13 and up rating, and the artist made good use of both the environment, details, and character actions to show us what's going on, rather than just either telling us straight out or even going into graphic detail. It's just enough to make us know what's going on, but not in a way that'll disgust us or drive us away. Then again, your mileage may vary.

The art style is very pleasing. Sure, some characters are drawn in cutesy moe style, such as the girls, namely Cosette and Fantine, probably for sympathy points since they're meant to be the innocent victims of the series, but their designs, thankfully, don't interfere with the story, nor are they used to simply get people's attention, and they're still reasonably realistic enough to work in the manga's setting. The other characters also have good designs, such as Jean Valjean, who actually looks like an adult man you could see on a regular day, Marius, who is pretty much a straight up bishounen, the old men and other citizens of France have realistic designs befitting the setting, etc. There's also a very good amount of detail put into both the drawings and being as faithful to the setting as possible. It's clear that the artist put a lot of effort into recreating the cities of France as depicted in the novel, and the result is that, like the anime, it doesn't come off as being a Japan-ified version of France, but rather France as it really is, and taking the time period into account, I think the manga did great in its portrayal of the setting.

The characters are...I will admit, this is one of the manga's weakest points. Now don't get me wrong, none of the characters are bad. They're faithful to their personalities and portrayals from the novel, and not much has changed about them from the medium transfer. Then again, this is coming from someone who hasn't read the novel, but has seen the 2012 movie musical and the 2007 anime. However, the problem is that since the Les Mis manga is one volume long and the artist wasn't allowed extra screen time to allow the characters to properly develop, most of the characters come off as extremely bland, as they don't really undergo any real change in character, and some interactions come off as really contrived and artificial. The only characters who undergo any significant change throughout the book are Jean Valjean, Javert, and Fantine. Everyone else only has one character trait, and since the author was limited to a certain amount of pages, none of the characters are utilized to their fullest potential. The Friends of the ABC are an especially notorious example because we see them for only a select few chapters, we get nothing on their backgrounds and personalities, and they get killed off right afterward, so there's basically no reason for the readers to really care about them. Cosette and Marius pretty much stay the same in all of their appearances. The good news is, all of the characters have realistic character flaws, so they're not bad. They just could have been utilized better.

The second big flaw is its length. It just felt too short! I want to see more of these characters, to know more about what brought them to the situations they encountered, what made them into the people they are today, and the circumstances that encouraged their transformations and cultivated their beliefs. I feel the manga would be so much better had the artist and adaptation conceptualist been given the freedom to do more chapters and pages and dedicating them to characters and storylines that really needed to be properly fleshed out. True, the original book had problems with characterization as well, but unlike published books some of the time, comics and manga can be given the freedom to go on for however long they please, granted the reception is good. The book is just really compressed, leaving out details that would have made the manga so much better. This compression also results in a lot of telling despite the comic being primarily visual in nature. Instead of showing us some characters' backstories, like Javert, Marius, and Fantine, there's little squares that just sneeze their backstories at us, nothing more. Seeing how and what made the characters as they are now gives readers more reasons to care about them. The good thing is, even the artist is aware of how limited her freedom was, according to some extras in the end of the manga, so I'll at least give her credit for acknowledging those flaws.

In terms of storytelling and the characterization, the anime succeeds, because while the anime had its flaws, it was given 52 episodes, and the creators were able to use that alloted time to their advantage, using it to develop the characters, add extra storylines for added depth and characterization, adapt storylines that they could without fear of compression or being edited out for time, and it gave them more opportunities to flesh out characters we love so much in a way that makes them feel human, like real people we can relate to and root for. However, despite the low rating I'm giving the manga, it's still not bad. In fact, I found it to be very enjoyable. I've read the entire thing three times in one week, I like it that much! It's even on my top favorite manga list!

It's not perfect, but if you want to read Victor Hugo's classic in comic book form, this is the one to check out!
 
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This review was just finished today.



I give this time travel-based reverse harem anime...a 74/100.

Years ago, when I was first dipping my toes into the anime fandom back in, say, 2005, I watched an old anime called Harukanaru Toki no Naka de, which centered around a girl and her friends being sent back in time to Japan's Heian Era. I thought it was the bee's knees, and before Shounen Onmyouji came out, I considered it my favorite anime of all time. I later learned it was based on a video game, and a specific type of video game called an otome game. Otome games are typically visual novels aimed at women, where the main character, usually a girl, is meant to develop a romantic relationship with one of many male characters. These kinds of games don't usually come to the US, especially their anime adaptations, partly because they tend to be poor quality, and because many of the games and their anime adaptations depict the main girl character as little more than a self-insert, or submissive, doll-like, spineless, weak, and overly dependent (Amnesia and Diabolik Lovers, anyone?), among other reasons mentioned in this article here. Because Americans like myself tend to favor female characters who have more dynamic personalities and are more independent and outspoken, otome games don't really have much staying power in the US. Thankfully, not every otoge nor anime adaptation has this problem, as the subject of today's review, Meiji Tokyo Renka, is one of the exceptions in regards to the quality of its anime adaptation, though even it has its own sets of problems.

Based on the 2011 mobile game by the company Mages, which later became a PSP and PS Vita game, the anime centers on Mei Ayazuki, a young girl who's been able to see spirits since she was a kid. This has left her ostracized because normal girls can't see ghosts or spirits. One night, when there's a crimson full moon, she meets a magician, Charlie, who invites her to participate in a magic trick...only to find herself sent back in time to Japan's Meiji Era. She is taken in by the dashing writer and army surgeon Ougai Mori and meets a variety of other historical figures, from Ougai's art protege Shunso Hishida, to Shinsengumi general turned military police sargeant Goro Fujita, to young germaphobic dog-hating playwright Kyoka Izumi. She turns out to be a tamayori, or someone who can see spirits, and they ask her to help them with a variety of spirit related problems, from chasing black cats to helping distressed spirits pass on. While Mei does want to go back to her time, she does find herself drawn to her new acquaintances and finds herself more comfortable in this time period. Will she choose to say, or leave the past behind and return home?

First thing's first: Not gonna lie, the animation is kinda cheap. I guess you could say I'm biased because I've seen shows that had better animation than Meiji, but it's easy to tell that the show spent most of its budget on the guys and making them look pretty than actual motion and detail. I mean, the animation isn't really bad, but there are a lot of animation shortcuts taken in certain places, and other times, the camera focuses too much on facial close-ups and still shots, like the animators couldn't actually animate characters moving when they really need to. Some faces go off model and get too long or rounded, and there are times when the characters' clothes swaying in the wind look stiff and just flap up and down at times. Episode 11 is a pretty big offender in this department. But for all I know, maybe the animation errors got fixed for the Blu-Ray version. For what it's worth, the music is much better. It's still kinda saccharine, with classical pieces meant to convey the romance and thrill of being in a new time period surrounded by a plethora of pretty boys, but it does its job decently enough. I do love the opening and ending songs being jazz-inspired and making great use of trumpets and horns. You don't really hear those used in a lot of anime unless it's Sound Euphonium, and unlike another reverse harem anime I saw recently, Bonjour: Sweet Love Patisserie, the singers can actually sing and actually don't sound like they're phoning it in every time they open their mouth. Also, in episode 6, there's an adorable little rap that goes on about the benefits of electricity, and even though it's kinda cheesy and ridiculous, I watch that segment every day because it always puts a smile on my face due to how cute it is, both in Japanese and English.

The characters are rather mixed, but I'll start by talking about the best part of the show: Mei. It's an all too common problem for female protags, especially in otome games, to have all the personality of a wet paper towel, whose sole purpose is to swoon over guys, be ordered/pushed around by everyone, and be someone the players/audience can insert themselves into. I can assure you right now that Mei is not one of those protagonists, even though the first episode does have her start out that way at first. After a couple episodes, she's actually allowed to have a God damn personality! She's cheerful, proactive, and helpful, but not to the ridiculous saccharine degree that most kids shows try to shove down your throat non-stop (Megumi from Happiness Charge Precure is a big offender in this). She's kind and caring, but her impulsiveness does get her into trouble sometimes, and she never gives up even when things get tough. She does occasionally swoon over the guys, but she's a teenage girl, and considering how most otoge protags are portrayed, I'm willing to let it slide here since she's actually allowed to have a character and personality! Also, I highly recommend you watch the English dub for the show, because Madeleine Morris as Mei is absolutely adorable and gives her even more charm! While she isn't the most three-dimensional character ever, the fact that she's even allowed to have a personality and character development at all, as small as it is, makes her leagues better than other otome game protags who have no character or personality at all.

Unfortunately, I don't find myself singing the same praises for the pretty boy gallery. They all pretty much fulfill typical bishounen archetypes: The confident one, the snarker, the peppy nice guy, the no-nonsense badass who'll beat you up if you look at him wrong, so on and so forth. All of them suddenly start fawning over Mei over the littlest things. Helping you around the house? Insta-love! Giving you some words of encouragement? Insta-love! Yeah, I think you can see how stupid this is. While they all do get some time in the limelight (Except for one light blue haired guy who, despite being in the opening, appears twice and doesn't do anything at all! Why even shove him in there if you're not even gonna do anything with him?!), any development they get is either cliche or really rushed. For the latter case, Goro, the teal haired police officer with the sword, is especially hit hard with this, because he's firmly established as a no-nonsense, badass warrior who hates ghosts and wants to kill them all and is always annoyed with other peoples' antics. His episode keeps this characterization, but near the end, out of freaking nowhere, he suddenly goes out of character and decides he likes Mei, with no build-up and with absolutely nothing establishing how he even decided to change his view of her in the first place, so his sudden change in personality comes way out of the left field. I suppose one reason for this is because the anime only has 12 episodes, so it needed to work under those constraints, but I've seen lots of anime have more organic characterization that knew how to properly build up to it in that same amount of episodes and less! Having a character just randomly go from one personality to another without any good reason just seems lazy. Trust me, having seen The Last Unicorn, which was a pretty big offender in that aspect, that's saying a lot. Also, there are some subplots regarding some characters that could have benefited from being better utilized for character development, but instead just get shoved to the side once Mei gives them an inspirational speech and it's never touched on again, which is what happens with Shunso in episode 11. So yeah, when it comes to anyone who's not Mei, characterization is not one of the show's strong suits.

So I wouldn't consider this one of the best anime ever made. It's characterization issues, lackadaisical handling of certain subplots, refusal to address certain things that could pose great opportunities for character development, and adherence to typical reverse harem tropes prevent it from breaking any new ground or reaching lofty heights. But as far as anime adaptations for otome games go, I think Meiji Tokyo Renka is the best you're gonna get, especially if you want to follow a lead girl character who actually has a personality and isn't a submissive little doormat the audience can insert themselves into. It's cliche, but mostly harmless, and makes for pretty good popcorn entertainment. Hey, sometimes even female otaku want to have their cake and eat it too, and I'll gladly watch this over the millions of dumb ecchi and slavery-endorsing isekai shows any day of the week.

Oh, and in case anyone's wondering: Kyoka is my best boy. Fight me. Speaking of which, hey FUNimation! Can you please license the two Meiji Tokyo Renka movies that came out before this did? They deserve a Blu-Ray release! They're not even subbed, for God's sake! Let Kyoka fans have their Kyoka movies!
 
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Don't forget the part in which otome games that reach the US tend to have... awkward translations. Poe (Clyde "Tomato" Mandelin's wife), covered two in "The Legends of Localization" blog.
 
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This review was written on December 28th, 2015.

Miss_Monochrome_Promotional_Poster.jpg

I give this short but cute anime...a 56/100.

Sometimes, when reality is too much for us, we want to watch something that'll take us away from it for a while, whether its funny comedy or cute antics of cute characters. Cartoons have been an escape from reality since its first inception. But sometimes, this isn't always a good thing. I personally like serious stories, but even I like something short and sweet once in a while. One such short and sweet anime is the recent Miss Monochrome anime series that's recently taken Japan by storm. What's this? An idol anime that's not ridiculously stupid or melodramatic? Awesome! Buuuuut all of the episodes are four minutes long, and there's a lot in this anime that really doesn't make sense, so I'm not gonna lie, it is VERY flawed.

An android named Miss Monochrome has lived on Earth for years and years. When a stupid girl named Mana steals all of her money, Miss Monochrome is left penniless, living in a rundown apartment (how she's able to live there and pay any kind of rent or mortgage is never explained) with no means to support herself. She does have two things: her portable vacuum cleaner and a dream to become an idol like a woman named Kikuko. When she befriends a convenience store manager, who she's convinced is an idol manager simply because he has manager on his tag, she strives to stand out and be an idol like Kikuko. But the journey to become a singer is hard work.

Since the anime itself is extremely short in its duration and episode length, there isn't really much to talk about. The animation looks quite good and it does its job well, but for the most part, it isn't really noteworthy. All the girls are drawn in cute moe style, the movements are reasonably fluid but not enough to make hardcore animation fans gush over it, and oddly enough, the CGI in the ending is actually really good! Normally, CGI is really bad or doesn't blend well with the 2D animation. There's no CGI in the actual show, so it doesn't have that problem, but the CGI in the ending theme is reasonably fluid, it doesn't look stiff or creepy, and since Monochrome is an android, it does a good job in keeping her uncanny valley appearance without going into uncanny valley territory itself. The music is...not much to write about. Sweet piano pieces are in abundance, Kikuko's music is bland, and I don't even remember the rest of it.

For the most part, every single character is bland. Monochrome's a robotic android, Kikuko is the sweet cutesy idol whom everyone loves, Maneo is the hapless doormat who does everything he can for Miss Monochrome even when he's not obligated to, and Mana...she's easily the worst character, namely because she gets away with grand embezzlement, never gets arrested, and NOBODY calls her out on it! They even go as far as to say she's helpful and sweet even when her intentions are as obvious as a pink dress in an all-black wardrobe! But other than Mana, none of the characters are bad. The short run-time of four minutes doesn't give them time to really do much.

But bland characters and lack of a compelling storyline aren't the worst of the show's problems. There are some elements that it introduces out of bloody nowhere that don't really have an effect on the show whatsoever, such as a group of aliens destroying Earth, allowing it to repopulate, then making plans to destroy it again. Sorry, but these aliens add nothing to the story, nor do they have a reason to be there in the first place other than to show how inhuman Miss Monochrome is. There's also the fact that Ru-chan, Miss Monochrome's pet portable vacuum cleaner thingy, dies at one point in an early episode, in a way that can easily be fixed, but Monochrome acts as though its the worst thing ever...and then he's brought back in the next episode without a second thought! Consistency, people! It's not that hard!

All in all, season one of Miss Monochrome nothing great, but if you want something sweet to tide you over, feel free to watch Miss Monochrome. It's a cute show with little substance, but at least it tries. Here's hoping the later seasons will be better. Also, RIP Keiji Fujiwara, who played the role of Maneo in this. Your legacy will never be forgotten.
 
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This review was written on January 26th, 2015.



I give this girly yet charming show...a 64/100.

To be perfectly honest, I had NEVER heard of this show called Lady Lovely Locks until now. The only reason I heard about it was because someone compared it to the upcoming Go! Princess Pretty Cure anime. If I had heard about this show when I was little, I probably would not have watched it. I was very into shows like Pokemon, Digimon, Super Robot Monkey Team, Hamtaro, Monster Rancher, Kirby, Chalk Zone, etc. I wasn't into girly shows like Barbie, Bratz, My Little Pony, etc. But shows like Heartcatch Precure and My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic taught me that shows for girls weren't as bad as everybody thought. Seeing that it was only 20 episodes long, all of which are under ten minutes, I decided to check it out, having liked My Little Pony Tales. While I don't hate it, I have to admit that it's VERY flawed, and it could have been so much better.

Lady Lovely Locks takes place in a fictional kingdom called the Land of Lovely Locks, ruled by...well, Lady Lovely Locks, a young girl with blonde, pink, and yellow hair that's magical. She is the ruler of the kingdom, who gets assistance from cute magical animal fairies called Pixie Tails and Shining Glory, a sort of blind magician. She goes on various adventures with her friends Maiden Fair Hair and Maiden Curly Crown, solves problems, and tries to go up against the evil sorceress Duchess Ravenwaves, her servant Hairball, and their annoying friends the Comb Gnomes. There's also a Prince named Strongheart who is cursed to turn into a dog, and wants to tell LLL how he feels about her but can't due to various circumstances. There isn't really much of a plot, as it's mostly Lady Lovely Locks solving a problem of the week or sitting around doing nothing while everyone else does everything.

Yeah, this kind of leads me to one of the show's biggest problems. Lady Lovely Locks comes off as extremely perfect. She has no flaws, she's loved by everyone except Ravenwaves and anyone associated with her, she doesn't do anything but is praised for things she didn't do, and always knows what to do. She doesn't really have any realistic character flaws that really make her grow as a character, nor is she given the opporunity to overcome obstacles using her own power. She mostly relies on either Prince, Shining Glory, or the Pixie Tails for pretty much everything. Because of all of this, she isn't exactly the most interesting character. I don't hate her or anything. She's just bland and too perfect for her own good. The other characters are similarly bland. Ravenwaves is the typical evil villain who hates the hero, Hairball is her dopey servant, Strongheart is the love interest, Fair Hair and Curly Crown are her friends who follow her around and join on her adventures, the Pixie Tails are the cute animals that do most of everything, etc. Yeah, the characters are pretty bland and cliche at best. None of them are bad, but I would have liked it if they had been explored a lot more. Also, the Pixie Tails have a habit of adding "ix" to every single word they say, and matching it up with their impossibly high pitched voices and the bad quality of the videos make most of their speech nigh incomprehensible.

One reason for their lack of characterization could be that there are only twenty episodes, all of which are under ten minutes long. The pacing isn't too brisk, so we know what's going on, partly because the plots of the episodes are so simple and easily solved. But had the episodes been at least half an hour long, it would have given the creators opportunities to not only explore the characters and give them realistic flaws and personalities, it'd also expand on the stories and make them more interesting than they are now. Unfortunately, we will never know why the episodes are ten minutes long, and the show was never renewed for any future seasons. Plus, it was mostly made to sell toys, so I don't think the creators wanted much to do with characterization or writing a good story, just making a big commercial to make kids buy toys. And ugh, Ravenwaves' voice makes my ears bleed!

But it does have some good qualities, which I feel could have benefited from extra airtime and expansion. The setting is very interesting. Two castles controlled by magicians, a kingdom whose trees and its foundation are entirely made out of magical hair, dragons with hair whose babies look like cute piglets, metallic bugs that make someone fall into a coma, a prince that turns into a dog due to a curse, all of those are very interesting concepts, and its a shame that they not only haven't been explored more, but we never know the reason behind Strongheart's curse nor if he will ever break it. We also never know why Lady Lovely Locks has magical hair or why she even rules a kingdom to begin with. The show has so much potential, yet all of it is never used due to wanting to sell toys. There's also a continuity error I need to address. It's not as bad as the one in My Little Pony Tales, but it's still pretty prominent. In one episode, Hairball sneaks into Shining Glory's castle with some trouble along way, but in the last episode he gets in without effort with the reasoning that he used to work for Shining Glory. This was absolutely never brought up beforehand, nor was there any indication of such a relationship, and the two hardly ever interacted. There's also an episode where Prince gets an opportunity to break the curse, but wastes it in order to save Shining Glory. This wouldn't be so bad, except that the situation was so easily resolved that Prince could have saved him without the use of the golden wishbone, making the whole thing be in vain.

So with all my riffing, I must hate this show, right? Actually, no I don't. I was convinced I'd hate it, but I found it to be quite charming and interesting. It's not perfect, but nothing ever is. I think I found my guilty pleasure show! I have no idea why I like it so much. There's something about it that really pulls me in, in spite of all its cliches, preachiness, girliness, and wasted opportunities. I can't really explain it. It has its problems, but it's not a bad series in any way. I just feel it could have benefitted from so much more effort put into it.

It's nothing special, but Lady Lovely Locks is a cute little show and I like it.
 
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Time for a ride on the nostalgia train! This review was written on April 1st, 2012.



I give this classic kid's show...a 88/100!

When I was little, around six or so years old, I came across a commercial that looked like Pokemon...but it wasn't. Some time later, I found it on TV. It was Digimon Adventure. I think I saw snippets of it as it was just airing. But since then, I've followed Digimon (unless errands or circumstances forced me to miss various episodes) and have fond memories of it. Yes, like all Digimon fans, this was my first season, and boy am I glad I saw it. Even from a young age, I could tell that it was quite drastically different from all the other kids shows airing around my time and became immersed by it. Recently, thanks to my Digimon high, I managed to find, and watch, all the Japanese episodes with English subtitles, and I finished it! Wow! The memories!..and how different the English dub is from the Japanese!

Basically, the story's rather simple. During summer camp, seven young kids get swept into this new world called the Digital World, which is made up from their communication network. There, they each receive a Digimon partner who either matches or is opposite their personality. They go through various adventures as they have to save both their world and the Digital World from various dastardly villains. They go through trials and tribulations, and they come out as better people because of it.

Considering how old the show is by now (1999), the animation for this IS rather flawed. It's not fluid or totally consistent, but at my age, it certainly stood out, and it does do it's job very well. From what I hear, Digimon was supposed to be 13 episodes long and because of it's unexpected popularity, it became 54 episodes. I don't think the creators were prepared to make a 54 episode series, but they did make good use of their animation while putting in a nice, deep story in the process, even if it's just a kids show. Hey, nobody said that kid shows had to be simple and plain! Despite the animation's slight flaws, it did grab my attention when I was little, and it sure branded itself into my memory.

The music...honestly, I don't remember the soundtracks for either the Japanese or English version at all. I know that the English and Japanese versions had totally different insert songs (and that the English version used it's cheesy "Hey Digimon" insert song, which I remember very well as it used to be one of my favorites when I was a kid, much less than the Japanese insert song "Brave Heart", which I liked a lot). I loved Brave Heart, though I have to admit, I wish they didn't use it for every single episode. This seems to be a thing in all Digimon shows. They seem to LOVE putting insert songs in EVERY SINGLE EPISODE of the show! Digimon Xros Wars, the most recent season, happens to be the worst case as it uses many different insert songs in ONE episode alone, especially when the final half comes in, but I'm talking about the first season so I'll leave that alone until I finish Xros Wars. I didn't really like either ending songs for the Japanese versions of this though.

The characters, while a bit cliched, are charming in a way. I heard a few of them suffered a lot in translation, but my English dub memories are rather fuzzy as I just finished watching the Japanese version. But they're not total stereotypes either. Digimon does a great job in making them play off each other, which results in them showing more than they should. I have to admit, my least favorite out of all of them is Joe, at least in the Japanese version. He just kept on whining and whining about every little thing, and his Japanese voice really made my ears bleed sometimes. Speaking of voices, when it comes to dubbing, I prefer the English dub's casting than the Japanese version. Some of the voices in Japanese really made my ears bleed, like Agumon, Patamon (and Angemon! The Japanese made him sound like a little boy! Thank God the English version gave him a manlier voice!), Palmon, Joe, and Puppetmon! I feel that the English dub did a better job at casting and giving fitting voices to the characters than the Japanese.

I already stated the main flaws of the show so I don't think I need to go into much detail about it, for both the Japanese and English versions. It is still a kids show, and like kids shows, it does have flaws like adults being useless or not developing it's characters all THAT much, but it does do one thing absolutely right: portray the kids as real kids. I mean, kids are kids! They do stupid things, and they're not always smart. But really, so what?! I often see that in most anime nowadays kids, especially younger ones, are portrayed as too mature or too smart. Digimon portrays children and their struggles almost perfectly. I say almost because of Joe's ambitions and Matt's semi-angst, but those don't last very long so I'll cut them some slack. I do admit, Digimon does have a lot more emotion and is less preachy than Pokemon (though Pokemon will always be in my heart). It's a kid show, but it doesn't talk down to it's audience, and it doesn't shy away from dark themes and subjects either, which I think are imperative to kids shows nowadays considering all the crap we've been getting.

While it's not Pokemon, it doesn't need to be. Digimon is it's own entity, and a great one at that, and it will always have a place in my heart next to Pokemon.
 
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This review was written on November 13th, 2019. I thought I had posted it here, but it turns out I didn't.



I give this environmentalist magical girl manga...a 64/100.

(This includes A La Mode, too)

Tokyo Mew Mew has a lot of sentimental value to me as an anime fan. I actually knew that it was called Tokyo Mew Mew before 4Kids licensed it and changed the name to Mew Mew Power. I watched said dub religiously until it got unceremoniously cancelled. Furthermore, Tokyo Mew Mew was the very first anime I ever watched in Japanese, way back in 2005, but to this day, I still haven't finished watching the entire series (I do plan on rectifying this within the next year though). It's also the first real right-to-left manga I ever read and bought in its entirety, though I randomly started with volume 3, which I found at my local Borders before it was changed to a Books-A-Million. I still own all the volumes of Tokyopop's release of the manga, A La Mode included, and just recently, I re-read the whole thing. I still like it, but I'm not gonna lie, it's kinda silly and cliche, and nothing really worth gushing about.

The story begins with a young girl, Ichigo Momomiya, going on a date with her classmate, Masaya Aoyama, at an endangered animal exhibit. Later on, when a strange light suddenly engulfs her, she finds herself acting like a cat: Saying meow, sleeping more than she usually does, eating fish, landing on her feet when she jumps, and sometimes, she grows cat ears and a tail! As it turns out, she and four other girls were injected with the DNA of Red Data Animals, made into a form that allows them to become animal themed magical girls. The Mew Mews have the power to defeat parasitic aliens called Chimera Anima, normal animals mutated into monstrous beings. As part of the secret Mew Project, the masterminds recruit the girls to save the world from aliens that threaten to destroy it, while making them into waitresses serving at a cute cafe as a cover. But all Ichigo wants to do is be with Masaya and have a normal romance!

As much as I want to love on this manga, as it means a lot to me personally, I can't let nostalgia blind me to its faults, and I wouldn't be a good critic if I did that, now would I? The artwork is at the very least competent, with the characters having wide, sparkly eyes, reasonably proportioned bodies, and cute chibis used for comedic moments. The costume designs, while simplistic, are good and devoid of unnecessary embellishments. But I won't lie, Mia Ikumi's art is rather unpolished. At various points throughout the manga, the art style tends to flip flop in quality. Sometimes, the characters are outlined with bold, dark lines while other parts of them, such as hair strands, don't look as though they've been inked properly, with lots of missing spaces. There are other times when the characters' Mew Mew marks randomly go missing or are in the wrong places on their bodies. Furthermore, her chibis tend to be really weird looking, with characters' heads made even bigger than is appropriate, with their bodies looking either like sticks or jelly.

But the artwork isn't the only issue Tokyo Mew Mew has. Personally, I feel the manga's biggest flaw is its characterization. To put it simply, all of the focus is solely on Ichigo, nobody else, and the other four main characters get little to no focus or any kind of meaningful development whatsoever. They're mostly just used as props to support Ichigo, never getting any time in the limelight, nor do the readers ever get any insight into what they're like outside of fighting crime. This is one issue the anime managed to rectify, as not only were the producers given 52 episodes to work with, they managed to give any character who's not Ichigo much more development and flesh them out more than the manga attempted (Except for Zakuro, who still doesn't get much focus). Say what you will about filler episodes in anime, but the anime for Tokyo Mew Mew recognized the manga's flaws and made optimal use of its run time to give each member of the ensemble their just dues, even the villains. The sequel manga, A La Mode, exacerbates the manga's disinterest in developing its side characters by kicking Ichigo to the side and focusing on a new character and nobody else. From what I've heard, Ikumi did want to do more with Ichigo's teammates and write stories that fleshed them out and gave them more development, but apparently, higher ups told her not to do so and practically browbeat her into shilling the new main character, Berry, for all she was worth and nothing else. That's...kinda sad, really. I personally don't hate Berry, as I've encountered characters in other media that are FAR more deserving of hatred than her, but I do feel the criticisms she gets is valid, and I'm more inclined to see Berry as just a product of really bad executive meddling. As for the characters themselves...they're fine, but again, the manga's disinterest in fleshing out anyone who's not Ichigo makes them come off as cliche, bland archetypes and not much else, and Ichigo herself isn't a very interesting character, even by magical girl standards.

As for the story itself, at the time the manga was published, magical girl shows never tackled themes such as animals and environmentalism before, so Tokyo Mew Mew became well known for challenging the status quo in that manner. But Tokyo Mew Mew just seems to wear its environmentalism themes like a hat, not doing much else with it other than giving the characters animal DNA and having the villains wreck the environment every now and again. Some anime fully embrace the themes and motifs they go for, conveying the appeals of the subject matter at hand and inspiring a desire to know more (An example being Heartcatch Pretty Cure with its intense focus on botany and fashion, or if you're looking for non magical girl examples, Laid Back Camp's focus on ground camping during winter) while integrating them into its setting. Tokyo Mew Mew doesn't really try to explore the issues and themes beyond scratching the surface, so it comes off as more window dressing than anything. That being said, Tokyo Mew Mew still revels in comfortable magical girl tropes and cliches, playing everything safe and not really trying to break new ground.

It really says something when an anime adaptation turns out to be better than its source material. Though rare, Tokyo Mew Mew's manga is one of those. It had the potential to be great, but it's inconsistent characterization, tacked on themes, cliche premise, unpolished art, and misuse of its time and resources make it little more than average. Just check out the anime, as not only is it longer, but fixes many of the manga's problems.
 
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This review was written on July 9th, 2018.



I give these classic Pokemon games...a 73/100!

When the first Pokemon games, Red, Green, Blue, and Yellow, became so popular that they practically dominated the world, GameFreak, hot off their success, decided to make a sequel. It took a lot of years, a lot of coding, sorting through messed up programming, a delay, some assistance from the late Satoru Iwata, and a decision to release it for the GameBoy Color. But afterward, Pokemon Gold and Silver sold even more copies than the first generation of games, selling like hotcakes and going on to be considered the absolute best Pokemon games ever. When I was younger, my sister and I received Gold and Silver for Christmas. I got Silver and she got Gold, but I would up inheriting her games and blue GameBoy Color when she was no longer interested in Pokemon. These particular games, along with Ruby and Sapphire, really got me to dip my toe into playing video games, especially the mainline Pokemon games, and helped me to really understand how video games were supposed to work. But how exactly do they hold up today? Well, as you can tell by the rating, not too great.

Gold, Silver, and Crystal take place three years after Red, Blue, and Yellow. You play as a young trainer who goes on a journey through the Johto region, catching Pokemon, battling trainers, and challenging the gyms. But in doing so, you have to deal with a rude, cruel, red haired trainer who steals a Pokemon from the lab and abuses said Pokemon, and Team Rocket, the gang of thieves from the previous games who are trying to make a comeback. At the time these games were released, they introduced a lot of new ideas and innovations that continue to live on in the franchise to this day: A day/night cycle, the ability to breed Pokemon, giving Pokemon items, berries, shiny colorations, genders for Pokemon (Though some remain genderless), two new types (Dark and steel, which no new types created until X and Y introduced the fairy type), and the ability to battle trainers you previously battled. Nowadays, these features are nothing new, but back in 1999, they were new and really innovative, which added a whole new layer of creativity and flavor to the world of Pokemon as kids knew it. All of these new features helped to extend the game's replay value and add to the gameplay, and there's a variety of ways you can compose your team and make use of the new elements. It helps that the story is longer and isn't as barebones as Red and Blue were, so you could invest more time in it than you could before.

It also helps that with the GameBoy Color being more versatile than the original GameBoy, the graphics are much improved from Red, Blue, and Yellow. The former two could only work with one color scheme, gray, and Yellow added a variety of colors, but whenever one went to a new location, everything would just be one color and nothing else (Cerulean City was blue, Celadon was green, Cinnabar Island was red, so on and so forth). Gold and Silver manages to finally rectify this problem by integrating color into everything. The grass is green, streets and roads are white and brown, water is blue, Pokemon have more than one or two colors in their designs, the cities all have their own distinct look and color palette. Plus, Crystal later introduced choosing between playing as a male or female character and sprite animations, and Gold and Silver couldn't do that before due to technical limitations, so many people really appreciated these new additions.

But just because Gold, Silver, and Crystal are good in the graphics, gameplay, and new additions department doesn't mean it's free of flaws. For one, while many of the new Johto Pokemon were great and had neat designs, others were straight up completely useless, such as Dunsparce, Wobbuffet, and Stantler. Others question the creation of baby Pokemon, who could be hatched if you bred two Pokemon you could already catch, so there isn't much of a point to having new Pokemon if you could already catch their evolved forms early on. There's also the game's infamous difficulty curves and level curves. Early on, you have to deal with really tough bosses with strong Pokemon (Whitney's Miltank anyone?), and if you don't know what to do, they can stomp all over you. But after the fourth gym, not only are some of the gyms really easy, the game still has you fighting trainers and Pokemon with levels in the 30s, not enough to help you grind your team to get them to the high 40s and level 50, which is how high level the Elite Four and Champion's Pokemon are. This results in needing to do a lot of tedious level grinding, and good luck if you get new members of your party late in the game. This problem persists even when you go to the Kanto region in the post game, because the wild Pokemon are still laughably weak, making training continue to be tedious, and the trainers in that region still have Pokemon that are in the 30s in terms of levels. And don't even get me started on Red, who you can encounter if you get all 16 badges, whose team is in the high 80s.

So yeah, the game has very little balance when it comes to its difficulty, and can outright cripple you when you really need to get stronger. Furthermore, it's post-game was rather lacking. It introduced being able to go back to the Kanto region and traveling between the two, which was great, but you didn't have a whole lot to do in Kanto other than battle the gym leaders, fix the magnet train, and battle Red. The eventual remakes that came out years later would rectify all of these issues and then some, but I'm not talking about the remakes here. Plus, Crystal, the third version, added some new features, but not enough to really allow it to stand on its own. The 3DS Virtual Console version of Crystal does make it so that you can catch the rare Pokemon Celebi after you beat the League, which nobody could do before because it was exclusive to an online event that was only in Japan, so many people really appreciated this gesture for sure. But there's really no denying that these games are very much a product of their time. Not because they're bad, but because later games would continue to use and improve upon all the features that it introduced here, so like with Red and Blue, you can say these games gave a more polished blueprint for the franchise to utilize later on. Besides, without Gold and Silver, it's possible the franchise would have died right then and there, had it not been successful.

They're not perfect games by any stretch due to the passage of time, but they're still a fun little romp for if you want to just kick back, relax, and indulge in some good ol' nostalgia, and they still have a special place in my heart.
 
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This review was just finished yesterday, and trust me, this is a manga you've never even heard of.

SkyLetter.png

I give this obscure manga about an unconventional teacher...a 73/100.

There are some manga out there that really don't get the appreciation that they deserve, doomed to forever remain in obscurity save for a few small circles of fans. Many of my favorite titles are obscure shows or manga that never reached any great heights, and you wonder why they never managed to get popular. But sometimes you look at something and decide to check it out, just to see if it's any good or it just happens to show up in your feed. I myself would never have even heard of A Letter To The Sky if it weren't for My Anime List having it pop up on my feed one day. Plus, from what I've heard, it's been translated by a completely new manga company here in the US, only being sold digitally (You can find it on Amazon Prime). After reading its premise, I decided to check it out, and what's my verdict? Well...I want to like this manga more than I do, and it has great messages, but it's also rife with a crap ton of problems.

The story centers on a young and eager new teacher, Yoko Ozora. After only receiving temporary jobs as a substitute teacher, she finally manages to get a permanent position. But she's surprised to find that she's teaching at a hospital, and her class consists of children of varying grade levels who have to stay in the hospital for long periods of time, to the point of being unable to go to their regular schools, due to a variety of illnesses. Cancer, heart disease, kidney failure, asthma, eczema, leukemia, the whole enchilada. Although she's baffled by the unexpected development, Yoko takes the new assignment in stride, helping students find joy in learning as they battle and deal with their illnesses. But while her new job brings plenty of joy, especially when the students are healthy enough to get discharged, it also brings hardship, as several of her students get worse or die due to the severity of their ilnesses. Luckily, she has her fiance Susumu, her family, and new colleagues to support her, and every day always brings something new.

So...yeah, this is one of those tried and true inspirational teacher stories that tend to get a lot of flak, and for good reason. As you can tell by the rating, this manga could be a whole lot better, but it's overall a very mixed bag. While it does have some incredibly good parts, it does have some parts that aren't bad but could benefit from more subtlety. It's biggest problem is that it is overrun with cheese and melodrama up the wazoo. Characters scream their feelings in long screamy monologues, go into cry fests, and chapters are rife with episodic stories that pick out random side characters and give them really cheesy backstories and development. Some of them are good, but others just leave a really cheesy aftertaste. And Letter To The Sky does it over, and over, and over, with little to no sense of restraint or subtlety whatsoever. Everything people tend to say about Mari Okada and her repertoire easily applies to Letter To The Sky, often taking the cheese to ridiculous levels. For example, Yoko goes through a lot in this manga: She learns one of her first students dies, an attempt to donate bone marrow almost puts one of her students in danger, she gets German measles while pregnant, her baby daughter is born premature and then has to get life saving surgery which may or may not kill her, and later her fiance turned husband gets terminally ill. It doesn't happen often, but the manga seems to want to put this woman through one disaster after another in an attempt to be dramatic, and piling it all in every other chapter just makes it a slog to get through. I mean, come on. Could you perhaps have her get cancer as well to make this picture complete? The way all of these dramatic events are pushed into the manga makes it feel cheap and superficial, when having just one or two of them used very sparingly would be the better alternative if it wanted to yank the tears out of the readers.

Being a josei/shoujo manga from the late nineties, melodrama was pretty much the norm around that time, even before then, but overblown cheesiness and lack of narrative subtlety isn't the manga's only problem. For the most part, the artwork is fairly nice and detailed, with characters having realistic designs and the typical large, sparkly shoujo eyes. However, in the beginning, the artwork is really unpolished. In particular, the children's faces, especially when they look straight into the camera, are drawn in really weird angles, which continue over the course of the next two volumes. At first, the adults' faces looked rather wonky and crooked as well, but those actually got much better and smoother as the manga went on. But the children's faces are always drawn in a particular shape, even when they're facing forward, and it's just really jarring and not pleasant to look at. Plus, the way many panels are drawn, with close ups, thick lines, and dark backgrounds during the dramatic moments make the whole thing feel very theatrical and soap opera-ish in nature, adding to the manga's overblown penchant for cheesiness and melodrama.

However, I don't want to be a killjoy, and this is also a manga that whenever it shines, it shines like no other. Setting aside the cheesy side characters and overdramatic, soap opera-ish plots, this is a manga that aims to treat sick children as human beings with wants, needs, feelings, strengths, weaknesses, and complexities. They're not flawless little saints who face death beautifully while teaching others life lessons, nor are they milquetoast slabs of wood meant to solely yank tears out of the audience. Many of the kids that Yoko interacts with are very dynamic and full of personality, even if they don't get a whole lot of screen time, and Yoko herself, her husband, and her colleague are all nicely developed and fleshed out, so you still want to root for them when things get tough for them. So while the characterization for one off characters leaves a lot to be desired, the main and secondary characters have the right amount of background and depth to really make them steal the show when they appear.

Although, at first, one of Yoko's colleagues, a middle school teacher in the hospital named Nakano, came off as a mixed bag at first. He starts off as an adversary to Yoko who questions the validity of her teaching, criticizing her on her naivete and idealism. While he is technically in the right, the way he goes about calling her out on it is really strange in that instead of attributing it to just her having a rosy picture of teaching sick kids, he instead makes misogynistic jabs at her gender, chalking her teaching up to little more than "womanly sentimentalism." Uh, dude, that is not true. Yoko's flaws have absolutely nothing to do with her gender. He is technically right in that Yoko's teaching does come off as too idealistic and rosy at first, and she does grow from it, but if you're going to call her out on her flaws, ONLY focus on critiquing her teaching, not her gender, as that has nothing to do with it! Thankfully, he never does this again afterward, but it's extremely jarring and feels really out of place, and there are ways you can have a guy point out a woman's flaws without attributing it solely to her gender, as that's shallow and makes for bad writing, especially when you're trying to portray the guy as being in the right! Also, I'm not a teacher, so I'm not entirely well versed on how teaching protocols work, but Yoko...as good intentioned as she is, she always winds up getting way too involved in the lives of her students, to the point of overstepping boundaries that would probably get her fired if someone tried some of the things she did in real life. Some instances are understandable, but others kind of made me stretch my suspension of disbelief with how many boundaries she oversteps for her students' sake. But again, I don't know how these things work, so do feel free to correct me if I'm wrong. Plus, if she wasn't meddlesome, then we'd have no story, now would we?

One thing about the manga that did impress me is that, while its way of tackling its main morals are about as subtle as an elephant in a china shop, it stresses that while children who are sick and need a lot of treatment do need to do what they need to do to get better, they also shouldn't be coddled, treated like porcelain dolls who break at the slightest breeze, nor as hopeless sad sacks with no future, even when they're at death's door. Some stories, while again having little to no restraint in this, have a surprising amount of nuance when it comes to treating sick kids as people and the problems that come with solely defining them by their illnesses. For example, one chapter has Yoko dealing with a child whose mother is so worried about her child's sickness that she's always by his side, day and night, and balks at the idea of sending him to school and having him learn any kind of life experience, especially dealing with other kids. As a result of her coddling and overprotectiveness, her son, who in-story is eight years old, is a whiny brat who cries and throws tantrums if he's away from his mother even for a short amount of time and frequently causes trouble because he's never been made to interact with anyone his own age. It's only when he's allowed to actually interact with other kids and learn proper behavior that he grows as a person and stops wanting to be coddled. Another chapter involves Yoko dealing with a girl who was diagnosed with diabetes, and said girl has completely given up on life or pursuing any kind of future because her mother strongly believes she has none, instilling in her the belief that she has no future because of her diabetes. Yoko tries to help the girl regain her confidence and help her get closer to her dream of becoming a teacher, but the girl's mother yells at Yoko for "putting ideas in her head," i.e. trying to make her daughter think of anything that's not involving her illness. It's only when Yoko has the girl interact with another disabled boy that the girl and her mother see that defining someone by their illness is not the way to help them live. Sick children aren't saints who exist solely to teach able-bodied people life lessons, but the manga also stresses the opposite: That sick kids aren't lost, hopeless beings whose only purpose is to be poked, prodded, and to die for nothing, nor are they solely their illnesses. Treating a child as if they will never have any kind of future that's not filled with endless hospital visits because of their illness can be just as bad as lying to them about the severity of their illnesses or putting expectations on them they can't fulfill. There are very few works that tackle this kind of subject matter in this way, and I applaud Letter To The Sky for daring to tackle it the way it did, even with its lack of restraint.

They say less is more, and Letter To The Sky could really benefit from more restraint and approaching its subject matter with a more subtle touch. I don't hate this manga, as it does have a lot to like, it misses a lot of detail that realism that others like it have and manage to make use of. I'd chalk it up to the mangaka probably being too immature and inexperienced to make this work, though I can definitely congratulate her for the things she does manage to do right. I also give this manga credit for actually managing to use dying children as a means to move the story forward rather than for shock value and cheap drama (Example: One of Yoko's first students dies from his aplastic anemia due to being on the wait list for a bone marrow transplant. While Yoko does mourn for him, she decides to do something about it by becoming a bone marrow donor, so that way someone who is compatible with her bone marrow won't suffer the same fate...and thankfully, a girl receives her bone marrow and lives). While not a perfect manga by any means, it still has a lot to offer and does deserve more love and recognition. Just be prepared for a LOT of cheese and melodrama. Maybe bring some wine to go with it. But should you decide to buy it off some place like Amazon Prime, I should warn you: For some strange reason, volumes 5 and 6 are arranged in a left to right format instead of its original right to left when viewing two pages at a time. This doesn't happen when reading it one page at a time, so if you keep that in mind, you should be fine.
 
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This review was originally written on September 23rd, 2013, though I rewrote and tweaked some parts of it to polish it up a bit.



I give this uninspired, copycat anime...a 55/100.

Rip offs. They have plagued every art medium and form of expression since the beginning of time. A rip off is when one series gets popular and other people try to copy it as much as possible, thinking it'll rake in all the cha-ching they want. It doesn't always work. But having a show that likely deals with the same premise and same character archetypes doesn't automatically make it a rip off, only if said rip off is trying WAY too hard to be the thing it's trying to rip off, without giving itself, its story, setting, characters, and premises their own identity, setting it apart from other shows. The Vision of Escaflowne was seen as a rip off of Fushigi Yuugi for its girl in another world story, but the two shows are completely different in their stories, their characters, settings, and the way they execute them, and both are loved by their fans alike, for different reasons. Other magical girl anime have tried to rip off shows like Sailor Moon and Card Captor Sakura for decades, with varying success. The list goes on and on. Unfortunately for Daybreak Illusion or Gen'ei o Kakeru Taiyou, while it does have things that set it apart from other magical girl anime, the similarities between this and Puella Magi Madoka Magica are just undeniable.

The main character is a girl named Akari Taiyo who is an amateur fortune teller living with her aunt, uncle, and cousins after her mother died some years before. Things are going smoothly until a monster attacks her and she somehow manages to kill it without knowing how or why...but at a price. Her cousin Fuyuna has practically disappeared, and nobody seems to remember her. After another monster attacks, she transforms into a flame haired version of herself and kills a beast, attracting the attention of an organization called Sefiro Fiore, which specializes in recruiting girls who can see the monsters, called Daemonia, and having them fight them with their tarot cards. At first, Akari is reluctant to kill the monsters upon knowing that they're actually corrupted people, but she finds that she won't be able to purify them, so she accepts the burden of fighting.

Sound familiar? Yeah, unlike Madoka Magica, which builds up its dark mood and sets it up with the right amount of suspense, Daybreak Illusion just announces right off that it's going to be dark, without any good suspense, tension, or proper build up whatsoever. Anyway, the animation for this series...honestly, it looks REALLY weird. Seriously, the humans in this series are so disproportioned and funky looking it's not even funny. The girls' legs look way too skinny for their own good, the girls' magical girl forms are completely uninspired and don't make any attempt to be different from their civilian forms (Just slap on some extra features and boom, magical girl! Come on! I can come up with better magical girl designs than that!), they all look like their assigned stereotype, the scary faces look way too ugly and low budget to even look convincingly scary (were they taking cues from Higurashi? Because it's not working here), the eyes are too big, and the way the show draws breasts makes them look like sagging plastic bags with dog poop in them. I'd show you all a picture of one horrendously drawn pregnant lady but I can't find it anywhere, sorry! Kamichama Karin looked a lot better than this, and that show had animation problems!

The music...is actually surprisingly good. Yeah, it's a little bland, but it's still good, with decent combinations of ominous tunes and upbeat, slice of life tunes, and to be fair, the music itself does a very good job at setting the mood when it wants to. But that's about it. It's not particularly memorable in any other way. The characters...eh, too bland and stereotyped to stand on their own two feet. We have the cute and kind main character, a stoic ice queen who warms up to her later on, a genki girl, and a polite, timid rich girl. We've seen these characters before, and their vague backstories and development are still too bland and weak to give them any kind of depth whatsoever. The only girl's backstory I liked was Ginka's, only because it's so refreshing to see someone's family actually KNOW that their kid is some chosen one and is involved in dangerous things, knowing the consequences but letting them do it anyway because it's their destiny. Usually in anime like this NO normal people know what they're doing. But that's about it. The rest of the characters are bland, one-sided, and underdeveloped, the villains being the most blatant. Yeah, evil villains are evil villains who want to take over the world just for the evils...and with some really gross motives that SCREAM pedophilia. And Akari is a bit too much of a Mary Sue if you ask me. She's kind, cute, considerate, has a difficult past, and doesn't have any major flaws. I'd like to mention more, but they're pretty spoilerrific, so I won't say, but I will say that by the end of the show's run, the anime feels like its supposed to be all about her. The wooden voice acting doesn't help either. Seriously, everybody except for Ginka and Luna sounds so hushed, like they're too afraid to go all out, and when they do, they sound so hammy and forced! Akari's seiyuu is the worst of them.

And no, I'm not done with harping on the biggest flaws of the show. It starts off with a bland monster of the week format where a person gets corrupted by Daemonia, our main character angsts about having to kill them (though not for long, unlike Madoka), and there's always something lurking behind the scenes. But the biggest problems this anime has is that during times of crisis, it just loves pulling stuff out of its ass to easily resolve everything! For example, without mentioning spoilers, a character gets corrupted and another one gets her powers stolen, and as soon as the main character makes a decision, both girls are back to normal like nothing ever happened! A more egregious example is that one character gets killed off, then a few episodes later randomly bring her back like she never died in the first place! That, and its biggest failing is that its trying way too hard to be Madoka, even to the point of completely ripping off Mami's decapitation scene. The reason Madoka's rendition worked is that the show took the time to make us care about Mami, her death is given proper build-up, and is ultimately a result of Mami's recklessness, rather than just being done for pure shock value. It knew when to reveal its true colors, making the impact that much stronger. Here, it fails because it doesn't do anything to make us care about its characters, and the ways they do try to make us care about them are too cliche, lazy, and forced, making the whole thing actually come off as shallow shock value for the sake of it. Plus, the show really wants us to know its being dark, so it just keeps throwing shocking swerves at us like paint balls. That is NOT how to make an anime shocking to an audience! Granted, it does die down in some of the later episodes, but it starts back up again near the finale, and its too cheap for the audience to take any of it seriously. Again, this anime does try to be original by throwing in some Tarot cards, but it doesn't even do anything with them other then make their characters represent certain cards, that's it. Heck, the first episode in itself makes absolutely NO sense unless you watch the rest of the episodes! Aniplex, that is NOT a way to rope in an audience! Seriously, if this series got more episodes, it would have been much MUCH better.

All of this is even worse in hindsight because whoever made this expected it to be really popular. It was intended to be a multimedia project, as demonstrated by the fact that it had some light novels and a manga that came out before the anime did. But the anime did so poorly that it pretty much axed Daybreak Illusion as a franchise. I've heard the creators are trying to finish the story by way of a web novel, but this is only about the anime. But maybe it's a good thing the franchise didn't get popular, because if all you're doing is trying to completely copy an already successful anime, without trying to carve out your own identity and stand on your own, people are going to notice. So...yeah, Daybreak Illusion: a Madoka Magica copycat of epic proportions, and even when it tries to set itself apart, its still lazy, bland, boring, cliche, and stupid. At least I got some good entertainment out of it and maybe someone else will too. But if you want better magical girl anime, watch Fancy Lala, Pastel Yumi, Pretty Cure (particularly Heartcatch), or Tokyo Mew Mew. Or just watch Madoka Magica!
 
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More books to read, more short reviews!


Fifteen by Beverly Cleary
Rating
: 4/10
Blech. Out of all the Beverly Cleary books I've read, this one was not one of her best. This was just really dull and lackluster. The main character, Jane, is solely defined by her desire to attract a boy, and it consumes her entire being. I mean, she's so boy obsessed that it's her whole character, and this book pretty much reminds me of why I tend to hate romance novels. There's also a crap ton of unnecessary details and bland subplots that contribute nothing to the overall narrative. Just a bland borefest. It's such a good thing Luckiest Girl was actually good. Or maybe Cleary learned from her mistakes and wrote Luckiest Girl to see if she could do it better. Avoid this one.


Star-Crossed by Barbara Dee
Rating
: 7/10
This was my first exposure to Barbara Dee, and I first heard about this book via an article about Dee writing this book when her daughter came out to her as bisexual. It was apparently making waves for having a bi protag and I thought, "Well, let's see if it's any good." Ehh...I liked it okay, but some parts rang rather false to me, like the idea of middle schoolers performing an entire, unabridged Shakespeare play. I mean, I can understand high schoolers or college students being made to do this, but middle schoolers? I also felt like the book didn't have much substance, and every character who wasn't Mattie just seemed bland and one-note. Then again, I'm not a Shakespeare fan, so maybe this book just isn't for me. I did like its message, and Dee's later novels are a vast improvement over this one, so I'll just consider this one a bump in the road in her writing career.


Aru Shah and the End of Time by Roshani Chokshi
Rating
: 6.5/10
Goodness! I really wanted to like this one, I really did! It does have a lot of good things going for it: Wonderful prose, well developed main characters, and the frenetic pacing that makes you feel like you're really on an urgent adventure to save the world! Unfortunately, everything else is completely awful! The side characters are either stupid, bland, or needlessly mean spirited (Looking at you, Boo! He can go eat a dick!), the story takes forever to get anywhere at all, the drama is too ridiculously cheesy for its own good, many of the pop culture references just felt forced (Also, I hate Trump too, but was taking a random potshot at him in a kid's book really necessary? It didn't add anything to the narrative!), and I still can't understand how Aru and Mini's powers are supposed to work. It's a shame, because when this book is good, it is REALLY good, but other times it really falls flat on its face.


The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchet
Rating
: 4.5/10
Like with Aru Shah, this book had a great start and I liked the main character. I thought this was going to be right up my alley!...and then the Mac Nac Freegle people showed up and completely ruined the entire thing. I've never had a huge set of characters completely and utterly turn me away from a book as much as the Mac Nac Freegle did. They're all really obnoxious and their dialogue is a pain to read or decipher, making the entire book a slog to get through. The plot stopped making any form of sense when they appeared, and their antics completely took over the story! I want to read about Tiffany and witches, not this random race of tiny people who have super long names and an incomprehensible language! Not even the writing could save this book, sadly, and I can't fathom why this is so popular, and among kids, no less. If I can't understand anything going on in this book as a 26-year-old adult, I can't fathom how people expect children, the book's target audience, to be able to do so!


Shadow Weaver by MarcyKate Connolly
Rating
: 8/10
Time for something good! I really liked this one. Emmeline has the power to manipulate shadows, though her family hates her for it. When nobles come to her house to cure her of her magic, she runs away, taking refuge with another family, but her shadow imaginary friend has darker plans for her. I liked the haunting atmosphere the book created, and the engaging prose definitely helped. I liked all the characters, even the side characters, and the setting had a lot going for it. But I still felt like the book was missing something. It did get a sequel, so once the coronavirus lockdown is over and libraries open back up, I'll check out the sequel and see how the rest of it turns out.


Circe by Madeline Miller
Rating
: 5.5/10
Again, I wanted to like this one, but it's a huge slog of a book. The whole book felt like little more than misery porn that was dedicated to causing Circe as much pain as possible for no reason. A good majority of the book focuses on really mundane things that only serve to make the story feel bloated, which is because Circe is banished to live forever on a tiny island, and 90% of the book takes place in that one location. Also because of this, nothing actually happens. There's basically no plot other than Circe living on her island and doing jack-all! Also, many characters are stereotypically mean or evil with no depth to them whatsoever, making the whole thing seem like a bog standard underdog vs the world plot. Say what you will about Rising of the Shield Hero, at least that made the effort to have stuff actually happen and not be boring as shit! It's a shame, because I liked Circe as a character, and many parts of the prose were good, but it's boring as hell and fails to engage the reader in any way.
 
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This review was written on May 28th, 2020.



I give this sweet movie about an escort mission...an 83/100!

When it comes to movies, one of the biggest problems they suffer from is trying to be too epic. That's not to say movies can't be epic, and thinking big is a great way to make a conflict interesting. But some stories don't have any business trying to do that or go in that direction. But there are some movies that perfectly understand this, managing to strike the perfect balance between its story, characters, and conflict, knowing what to focus on and what isn't important. The Princess and the Pilot, or its Japanese title, To Aru Hikuushi e no Tsuioku, translated as Recollections of a Certain Pilot, flew under the radar when it first aired in 2011. I didn't watch it when it first came out because I thought it was a spin-off title from the Certain Magical Index franchise, and I avoided the Index shows like the plague back then, and still do because of the way their Japanese titles were so similar. I didn't find out that Princess and the Pilot had no connection to the Index series until much later, and only now did I decide to sit down and watch it. I must say, I'm quite surprised at just how good and candid this movie is in how it manages to avoid a lot of cliches that are so typical of movies with similar premises.

In an unnamed fantasy world, two warring kingdoms, the Levamme Empire and the Amatsukami Imperium have been fighting amongst themselves for years. In the midst of this struggle, the prince of the Levamme Empire, Carlo, declares his love for the princess Juana del Moral and vows to end the war in one year, as part of his marriage proposal. When the Amatsukami catch wind of this, they assault the del Moral residence, targeting Juana's life. As a last ditch effort to bring the prince his bride, the San Maltilia Airforce hires a mercenary of mixed blood—a bestado—to fly Juana to the Levamme capital in secret. The pilot, Charles Karino, accepts the mission...but traversing an ocean alone, into enemy territory, proves a much more dangerous ordeal than anyone could have anticipated.

The thing about Princess and the Pilot is that it's mainly a story about an escort mission, and makes that its main focus from beginning to end. There are other things going on in the background, such as the war and all that comes with it, but that's more used as a setpiece for the main story rather than the main story or even a subplot. While it would be nice to learn more about the movie's setting and have answers to the questions the movie raises, the movie smartly doesn't attempt to resolve everything in its timeframe. Because the movie keeps its focus strictly on the escort mission, it feels smooth and linear rather than bloated and like it's trying to juggle so many plotlines at once. Plus, there's very little action or fighting in the show, especially for a movie about a war, and the very few fights that are in there are not only well animated and well directed. Basically, while some may argue that it'd be better if it tried to resolve things and answer a lot of its lingering questions, the movie still manages to make great use of its time.

Also, the animation is sumptuous. The characters, barring a select few, all have realistic designs that never go too anime-esque, the various settings and towns all have their own unique look, the animation is reasonably fluid and full of colorful, detailed backgrounds, and even the CGI integrates surprisingly well with the 2D animation. Granted, most of the CGI is just limited to the planes, but they still look so seamless against the 2D skies and clouds. I don't really have much to say on the soundtrack, as I didn't find it very memorable, but it wasn't bad either. The OST did its job and is a solid effort.

Because the movie firmly focuses on the escort mission, the two main characters take the center stage, and while they're not exactly the most fleshed out or three dimensional characters ever, I still found them to be a pretty likeable duo. The movie just lets Charles and Juana play off each other whenever they interact, behaving like believable adults and have a good amount of personality that builds on the chemistry they develop together. I also appreciate that the creators made the effort to have Juana be useful and proactive when the situation calls for it, even though she's not well versed in things like combat or aerial training. Women don't necessarily need to be super badass actions girls in order to be a fully fleshed out character, and it helps that the movie is subtle in the way it presents the characters and their personalities on screen. Because Charles and Juana are the main focus and spend a good amount of time together, they work really well together. While some may argue that the romantic bits they share are rather cheesy and sappy, and I do agree with their points, I also found those bits to be well executed, because they still manage to avoid some of the typical trappings that most romance scenes in anime tend to fall into, such as realizing that realistically, they can't be together because they're just two people in two very different kingdoms and social classes, and subtling indicating with few words that acting on their whims won't do anything for them.

I unfortunately can't say the same for the supporting cast. Other than Charles and Juana, none of the other characters are given the same treatment, and all of them, especially some stereotypically evil nobles who crap on Charles because of his interracial origins, are completely forgetable or still conforming to cliche stereotypes. The bad guys especially are too stereotypically mean spirited and cartoonish for their own good, which makes the discrimination subplot come off as completely one-sided and lacking in any real depth. I already talked about how the movie doesn't answer a lot of questions in regards to the setting and some characters' actions, so I won't belabor the point on that one (Apparently, according to some supplementary materials in NIS America's Premium release of the movie, the director deliberately decided not to delve deeper into the movie's setting or spell things out because that's how he prefers movies to be). But the final problem I have is the voice actors' lackluster acting for Charles and Juana. Charles' voice actor, Ryunosuke Kamiki, is okay and does a solid job overall...except the parts where he screams. Seriously, he can't carry a high note for the life of him. But the biggest offender is Juana's voice actress, Seika Taketomi, who is really only known for on-screen acting...and it shows. Her voice makes her sound too young for Juana's age, and oftentimes, she sounds like she's trying too hard to make Juana sound high pitched, and during important scenes where she's supposed to sound genuinely angry, she just sounds pouty and petulant.

For those who want to watch it, you're in luck. The Princess and the Pilot is available on streaming platforms such as Amazon Prime and a new one called Retrocrush (That site is free, so you don't need to pay anything to watch it), and NIS America's Blu-Ray is still readily available if you live in the US, though the premium edition is now out of print. It has no English dub, sadly, and if NIS America's license for it lapses, I'm kinda hoping maybe GKids or Eleven Arts can license it and give it an English dub, as they're pretty good about that with anime movies. While the setting begs for further elaboration, barring some lackluster acting from the main leads and some cheesy romance scenes, The Princess and the Pilot is still a very good, solid movie that has a lot to like and seriously needs more love, and the things it does well, it does really well, and is a nice little romp if you're tired of the usual action-y fare that most mainstream movies tend to offer.
 
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This review was just finished today. Here's one for all you cat lovers out there!



I give this cute, short anime about a girl and her cat...an 89/100!

One of the things that put Makoto Shinkai on the map is a short film he made called She and Her Cat, which is basically about a woman and her cat. A lot of people liked it for its simplicity and could relate to the premise. Years later, the short would be adapted into a much longer manga, and someone else had the idea of expanding on the story in an anime format, called She and Her Cat: Everything Flows. I actually did see this show when it first came out, but during that time, I was hit with severe burnout and couldn't bring myself to watch more than one anime a month. Now that I've finally managed to dig myself out of said burnout, I decided to revisit this one again because Discotek Media announced they licensed it and recently released it on Blu-Ray with an English dub. That was reason enough for me to go back to it, and I'm glad to say that it's a very cute, heartwarming series that deserves more love.

When Miyu was a young girl, her father died, and after moving to a new town, she's lonely and miserable. One day, her mother brings home a cute little black cat she named Daru, hoping he'd be a good friend to her. At first, Miu doesn't like the cat and wants nothing to do with him. But after some trial and error, they eventually become friends, and Daru spends his life with Miu, watching over her, seeing her grow, and spending every day by her side. Years later, both have grown up, and Miyu has moved out of her house to live on her own, though her decision has caused some friction between her and her mother. Now an adult, Miyu finds herself looking for a job, but it hasn't quite gone well so far. But Daru remains by her side, always supporting her and being there for her when she needs comfort.

If you're looking for a short anime to watch, this only has four episodes, all of which are seven minutes long. But it has a relaxing atmosphere and is slow paced, making it perfect for it you want to take a few short minutes to wind down and have a cup of tea. The animation adds to this effect, with realistic character designs, a soft color palette, detailed backgrounds, and minimal movement, but just enough fluidity that the characters' actions, expressions, and gestures say a lot more than words do. The music is very nice as well, with gentle piano tunes that convey the slow monotony of Daru's days in his apartment, whether he's just putzing around the house or laying in his kitty bed, reminiscing about his life. The opening song by Kana Hanazawa (Which is only on the Blu-Ray version, not the TV version) is also very well done and well sung, very much like a lullaby. I'm a bit mixed about the ending song, as I think the vocals are a little too strong for my liking, but that's just nitpicking on my part.

The cast for the show is extremely small, with only four named characters taking center stage, and all of them are pretty nicely fleshed out in the short amount of time they have. The animation also adds to the characterization, conveying the character's personalities, motivations, and worries without relying too much on dialogue or exposition, letting the characters express themselves by their own actions and their interactions with others. The show is mostly told from Daru's point of view, and being a cat, he doesn't quite understand what goes on around him, only seeing Miyu and the changes she undergoes every day, from coming home exhausted after a hard day, or when she's at a low point and needing a good cry. Having grown up with animals myself, I can say for sure that the creators did a great job in depicting Daru as just a regular cat, from the way he moves around to how he gives Miyu comfort even though he doesn't know what's going on or why she's sad. I do think some of his monologues tend to be a little too self-aware for a cat or more like a romantic admirer than...well, an animal. I can see what the anime was trying to do, and his monologues are nice to listen to, but some parts were a little much. But again, I'm probably nitpicking, and Daru himself is a well done character. Plus, it's easy to relate to Miyu and her struggles with both job hunting and her anxiety about becoming more independent, and she, her mother, and friend actually behave and talk like people rather than overexaggerated anime archetypes.

This is a sweet, charming anime about a girl and her kitty that's gentle, heartwarming, and bittersweet at times, but it's the kind of anime I'm sure lots of people can relate to. I know I sure did! I had three cats growing up. Two of them died from old age, the most recent one being two years ago, and the other my family had to give away because she had health problems we weren't able to handle (Something I'm still sad about to this day), but I cherished all three of them throughout my life, and still do. I currently have a dog and she's proven to be just as sweet, loving, and nauseatingly cute as all the other pets I've had throughout my life. The anime does a perfect job of capturing the simple affection pets can offer us, and while the ending may not be to some peoples' personal taste, I personally thought it tied the show up perfectly.

Bottom line, whether you've seen Shinkai's original short or not, She and Her Cat: Everything Flows is a cute, sweet show that's sure to give you the warm fuzzies. Also, remember to cherish your pets!
 
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This review was written on June 7th, 2020, though I only just now finished writing it out.



I give this short manga about cute girls befriending giant monsters...a 71/100.

Some anime/manga creators think slapping cute girls in their works will automatically make it popular. That's not entirely true. Cute girls alone can't carry an entire story, and any writer that tried it wound up meeting the business end of failure. That's why the moe genre tends to be universally hated in various places. But in recent years, some works have actually made efforts to put out moe anime/manga that actually do have genuinely good stories and characters. Girls Last Tour made a premise of two blobby girls exploring the end of the world and contemplating the nature of life and their own existence work really well. Non Non Biyori told a series of slice-of-life vignettes about a group of friends living in the countryside, and it got wildly popular to the point where it has a third season confirmed. Laid-Back Camp had a very intense focus on camping and teaching the audience the wonders of the great outdoors, and A Place Further Than The Universe cared much more about characterization and really exploring what an actual trip to Antarctica would actually be like, both of which received high praise. So, yeah, moe alone isn't going to make a story work. As such, others have tried to follow in their footsteps, one of them being a manga I discovered recently, Monster Tamer Girls.

Monster Tamer Girls first got serialized in the magazine Manga Time Kirara, which generally focuses on moe manga and was the origin point for a lot of works such as K-On!, Kiniro Mosaic, Is The Order a Rabbit, Sansha Sanyou, and many others. The story takes place in a modern world where humans have learned to coexist alongside large monsters, which can apparently be tamed when a young girl sings to one. A young girl, Ion Hidaka, was chosen by her school to help take care of a large, Godzilla-like monster alongside her friend Sora, even though she's scared of monsters. But she is genuinely curious about Tamers, as when she was younger, an older girl saved her from a rampaging monster by singing to it. While not the ideal situation, Ion does the best she can in her new situation, and hopes to maybe find the girl who helped her out...who may be closer than she thinks.

As much as I want to like this manga more than I do, there's a lot holding it back, one of which is its worldbuilding. It's established that monsters originally threatened humanity, but SOMEHOW, voices of young girls are able to subdue them and make them tame by way of singing, so young girls are trained to tame monsters. This raises so many questions that really don't get answered: How the hell would this even work? Do monsters just respond better to women in general? Do young girls have a special set of vocal chords that have properties that can resonate with the monster? (Say what you will about Symphogear, which I hate as a show, but it at least went to the trouble to establish an actual explanation for why singing helps to fight against and defeat the monsters of the week!) Why do only young middle school girls have to be tamers? The latter especially doesn't have much of an answer, though I can only presume this is so the mangaka can have some kind of excuse to shove cute girls into the plot, completely unaware of all the plot holes and questions they raised with the premise alone. I mean, don't get me wrong, the premise is interesting to me, seeing as I'm a fan of shows such as Pokemon, Digimon, and any kind of show that features kids befriending monsters, and some parts of the show's setting are very intriguing and well set up. But often times it feels like the author just shoved cute girls into this setting instead of trying to work towards making it work and flesh out other parts of the story and setting.

For the art, it's about as typical moe as one can get. The girls all look cute and adorable, even the adults, though the men look relatively realistic. But for the girls, it kind of suffers from everybody looking the same, to the point where if you swapped their hair and eye colors around, you wouldn't be able to tell the characters apart, which is something that, unfortunately, many moe manga are notorious for. Furthermore, the manga uses a lot of very thin lines and gray color schemes, without a whole lot of prominent whites or blacks, which makes everything feel rather muted, reinforcing just how indistinguishable the girls are if you switched their hair and eyes around. Even the background art is very simple, with thin pencil lines and gray shadows. There's not much about the art that really pops, other than the monster designs, which are much more detailed and distinct, but not overpoweringly so.

Adding onto the characters, the girls do have one or two basic traits, so they're not exactly the most well-rounded or fleshed out. Ion's the shy, scared girl who learns to like monsters and has a special gift because the protag absolutely HAS to have one, Sora is a tomboyish girl who loves to eat, Kotomi is the snarker who likes getting on her friend's nerves, so on and so forth. They're not bad or anything, but they don't really stand out, so they're rather bland. I liked them all okay, but personally, I feel the Committee Chair girl, Tsukiko, is the most interesting and the best character. She starts off as a serious, stoic girl who oversees Sora and Ion's activities and isn't kind of indifferent to monsters, but actually really, really likes monsters to the point where she wishes she could be a Tamer and goes googly squeally over them. Plus, she and her friend Kotomi bounce off each other pretty well and have good chemistry.

The manga is only two volumes long, so it's a fairly short read. I kind of wish there were more volumes, because not only are there still a lot of unanswered questions about the story and the world these girls live in, I actually do want to read more of this story and learn more. But we only get a small portion of what feels like a much bigger story, and there was one subplot that seemed like needless filler to me. A few chapters involve Ion meeting this little girl named Nonoka, who it turns out is an astral projection only she can see. The real Nonoka is in a coma because of some really rare disease with no name, and there's no explanation for why she's a spirit and why only Ion can see her. Later, she wakes up from her coma and nothing about her storyline is ever given any resolution or explanation whatsoever. What was even the point of this, and what purpose did it serve? To me, this subplot added nothing to the story, and the author could have used these chapters to further flesh out the already present cast of characters and the world they live in.

I feel kind of bad for dunking on this manga, because for what it has to offer, I actually did like it. It's nothing special or noteworthy, but it's a cute little time killer for if you want to read something short, sweet, and harmless.
 
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This review was written on August 29th, 2012, though I added some new stuff to it to talk about things that happened after I wrote it, such as the new dub.



I give this epic fantasy classic...an 85/100.

I think a lot of you rabid Escaflowne fans are gonna hate me for giving out this rating, which I can understand, but in my book, an 85 out of 100 isn't a bad rating. It doesn't mean I hate the anime. In fact, I really enjoyed Vision of Escaflowne. Heck, if I have the money, I can order the box set online and show it to a lot of my friends, as I think they'll really like this kind of anime. I don't deny that I can see why Escaflowne is so revered. It's one of the first anime to throw in both shoujo and shounen elements into one show. Heck, back in it's heyday, it outsold Gundam of all shows on VHS tape here in the US, and fansubbers jumped on it during the 1990s VHS fansub era, so a lot of people agree that this anime is definitely a classic that should be remembered for all time. Unfortunately...while I do acknowledge it's classic status, I don't agree that it's that great of a show. No no! Don't get me wrong. I still enjoyed it to quite an extent. I'm just going to have to explain myself in this review.

I'm not going to tell about the plot because everybody and his freaking DOG knows that this kind of plot is as old as dirt. The characters are old as dirt, and it's ending is kind of old as dirt. I've seen a lot of people praise Escaflowne for it's awesomeness, and I do agree it is definitely awesome, but people are saying that it's a perfect balance of shounen and shoujo tropes, and how it's the greatest thing ever. Unfortunately, I have to disagree. Escaflowne is NOT a masterpiece. Why? Well, as I watched the show, I'm kind of surprised by not what people mention, but what they DO NOT mention, and Escaflowne has some pretty jarring flaws, a lot of which so many people actually overlook. What flaws? Well, if I could compare Escaflowne to something, it would be to a bullet train and an automatic machine gun that shoots bullets every second. It's pacing is so fast it's unbelievable! I feel like Escaflowne just throws stuff at you and expects you to take it all in without any question whatsoever. Basically, the show just DOESN'T CALM THE HECK DOWN! It's like it really really wants to show you this amazing, epic story so they throw it in your face and shove it down your throat without giving you time to swallow it. There are hardly any quiet moments in the show (except for the first episode and some parts in others), and the ones that are there don't last long unless stated otherwise! Not only that, there's little to no proper transition from scene to scene, and even from episode to episode! I watch an episode, then another episode pops up and doesn't even reference what happened in the last one and goes on like it expects you to go along with it without question! Everything just explodes at you and leaves a bunch of scars. Well, I can kind of see why it's execution and pacing are so chaotic. This was originally planned to be 39 episodes, but apparently due to time constraint issues and funding problems, they had to cut it down to 26, and even then the animators came up with too much animated material, so they had to cut quite a few scenes out before broadcast, and, really, IT SHOWS!! Maybe the episode extension would have rectified this problem. Well, a lot of people say this is a good thing because there's no filler. I can understand why they think this is great, and I agree. Every little frame of the show focuses on it's story and it is dead set on telling it, without any pointlessness (and I should also mention that the animators were strictly told not to give Hitomi any underwear shots. THANK GOD FOR THAT!!!) or extraneous material, so that I can praise...but maybe a little quiet, soothing, turn-off-your-brain-and-relax kind of filler wouldn't hurt.

Now I must speak of the animation. Honestly, when it can be, it can be wicked awesome, especially in that part of the opening sequence when you see Escaflowne sword fighting with another guymelef (is that one supposed to be Dilandau's? They never say)! But yes, since this was made in 1996, it IS pretty outdated, but it's definitely aged a heck of a lot more gracefully than other shows in the nineties. Another thing I notice about the animation is that it's very distinct. It's different from other anime of it's time, and it shows. The noses are kind of big, but this never bothered me because I always thought noses were supposed to look like that in real life too. Not only that, every single character has their own look. No character looks exactly the same, unlike vice versa, which is becoming more and more apparent. Facial expressions are very distinct, but at times they can be very exaggerated, in the case of one character I'll mention later on. I love the way Gaea looks, as it's very European and Indian-based. According to some sources, Shoji Kawamori was inspired to make this after a trip to Nepal. You can really see the effort that the animators and art directors put into the setting, the art, the castle designs, everything. Heck, the empire of Zaibach just SCREAMS industrial revolution, and considering it's backstory, the whole industrial revolution thing going for it really fits it to a T. But at times the animation can be a bit static, and there are quite a few still frames, but hey! This was the nineties! Those were standard back in the day! The character movement is pretty good for it's time, too.

The music...oh sweet magna carta, I simply MUST sing all kinds of praises for the music! Remember how I said once that I thought 07-Ghost had one of the most Godly, non Kajiura music in all of anime? Well, Escaflowne's soundtrack blows it out of the water here! Seriously, this was one of Yoko Kanno's first soundtracks for any anime (her actual first being Please Save My Earth). It's so hard to believe that even back then, Kanno had such an awesome knack for music, especially in terms of booming, classical, 1940s-esque orchestras and choirs, and I LOVE big, booming classical orchestras and choirs. Yoko Kanno pretty much fulfilled my musical wishes here, as every single piece of music fits every scene in show wonderfully. The epic choirs really bring out the epic in various fight scenes, though sometimes I do think some BGMs play in the wrong places, but that only happens once or twice throughout the series. I kept on wondering why everybody liked Yoko Kanno so much. Now I see the reason why, and I happily agree with them! This is a soundtrack I seriously MUST OWN!!

There's been a lot of debate about the characters lately, especially on places like TV Tropes. I'm just going to tell my personal opinions about the characters. To be honest, as much as I liked a majority of the characters, I really didn't connect to them personally. For me, in order for me to truly love an anime and put it in my top lists, I'd have to connect with the characters on a personal level, particularly a majority of them, whether it's because I relate to their personality or the problems they face or feel sympathy for them, it all has to come down to whether I connect or identify with them or not. I didn't feel that with most of the characters for Escaflowne. Now don't get me wrong, this doesn't mean I hate them. If there's one thing I love about the characters in Escaflowne, it's the fact that every single one of them is flawed. Nobody's perfect. Even the characters who even look and act perfect have secret flaws they don't want others to see out of fear that they'd be hated for it. That's what made me really like them, and I think the staff behind the show knew this. Unfortunately, despite this, I didn't find most of the main characters very interesting. Oh God, I seriously hated that Mole Man. I don't see why he's in the show! However, I do like Hitomi. Not very many people like her, but I find her to be very realistic. She's not some overly perfect Mary Sue character, a violence prone angry chick, a big-boobed bimbo who throws her privates in a guy's face, a clumsy thick-headed ditz, or other dumb female stereotypes. I think she's a strong character and if you really take the time to imagine yourself in her situation, you have to admit her actions in the show are pretty reasonable and even plausible and understandable, though I can see why people don't like her much. I mean, seriously, she's a heck of a lot better than Miaka from Fushigi Yugi, right? I also really like Folken, one of the villains. Why? Watch the show and see!

However...there is ONE character that I not only connected with on a very personal level for very weird reasons, but I actually identified with to the point where I almost relived my childhood memories from 4th grade when I still had my childish crush on a Yu-Gi-Oh character. I really like this character, and apparently so do a lot of other people! This character alone made me persist in continuing with this series despite the show's very jarring and obvious flaws. Who is this character, you ask? It is...Dilandau. Yeah, I'm a sophomore in college, yet I somehow not only strongly connected and identified with a completely psycho pyromaniac who likes abusing his compadres on a regular basis and setting things on fire and blowing stuff up for the fun of it, but am actually developing a fangirl crush on him! I know it sounds stupid, but it's true! Heck, other people had crushes on him in the 90s when the show aired! Yeah, I know, Dilandau's obnoxious, cocky, cruel, homicidal, completely off the ball, and acts like a spoiled brat throughout 90% of the show, and is basically everything that I HATE in a person, yet...once you learn about him and see him suffer horribly (even if it's for a little bit. The show doesn't go into too much detail about it for some reason), you feel your heartstrings get yanked and you want to save him once you realize he's no different from any other disturbed, lonely, scared teenager who just wants a friend, especially considering how young he is! He's basically the best and most developed anime villain that ever graced the silver screen. He's a villain, yet he's so relatable and in a way so human that you can't help but identify with him! He makes you laugh, makes you cry, scares the living crap out of you, he does it all! Why can't more anime villains be like him?!

Okay, enough of all that random babbling. I already talked about this show's flaws so I see no need to go through them...though I do admit the ending is a little weird. But I've seen worse anime endings so I can give it a pass, that and it's not nearly as jarring as the rest of the show's problems. Escaflowne in itself deals with a lot of mature and heavy themes like magic, war, missing and illegitimate children, love triangles, and the concept of fate and playing with it. Unfortunately because the show is so compressed, I wasn't able to comprehend a lot of it. I do, however, definitely give Escaflowne credit for being a fun, epic, thrilling adventure show with a lot to love, and it definitely deserves it's place as a classic. I just don't agree with a lot of people on WHY it should be a classic. Do I think it has perfect pacing? No. It's way too fast for me to fully comprehend. Do I think it's perfectly balanced? No, it needs more quiet moments, more polishing, and more development. Do I think it has great characters? Well, while some definitely stand out (Dilandau and Folken for me), the rest of them don't strike a chord with me. Do I think it looks good? Yes, definitely. Do I think it's groundbreaking? For it's time, yes. Do I think it has a great soundtrack? YES.

While in my eyes it's not perfect, Vision of Escaflowne is definitely an anime that should not be missed by anyone, and...come on! Who else agrees Dilandau is the best anime villain ever?!

Additional info: As of 2016, FUNimation licensed the series and gave it a new English dub, replacing the Canadian dub by Ocean Group. I personally like the new dub a lot better, especially since it doesn't make Dilandau sound like he's nine years old anymore and other things, but it does have a few missteps (Vic Mignogna as Folken doesn't really work, and I love Bryn Apprill as an actress, but her voice isn't convincingly boyish enough for Prince Chid). It also rectifies a lot of issues the old dub had, such as bad scripting and fixing the sound mixing. In the Canadian dub, the soundtrack was strangely muted, and you could barely hear it on the DVDs, as the voices completely overpowered it, but FUNimation fixed this, so the voices and the soundtrack have equal prominence.
 
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