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Julia's Reviews on Various Media

This review was written on May 22nd, 2023.


Rating: 82/100

Man, the US has been getting a lot of autobiographical manga these days, hasn't it? My Brain Is Different, A Life Turned Upside Down, Blank Canvas: My So-Called Artist's Journey, I'm a Terminal Cancer Patient But I'm Fine, the stories by Kabi Nagata, X-Gender, The Bride Was a Boy, and so on. Personally, I'm pretty happy that manga companies are bringing them over, as I think it's interesting to see people draw comics about their own experiences no matter which country you're from. They also help to dispel some myths and stereotypes about Japan that most people don't think about. Japan may be a different culture than America or Canada, but Japan and its people aren't a monolith. My Brain Is Different, which I reviewed previously, tells the stories of people dealing with neurological conditions like Autism and ADHD and how they navigate the world. A Life Turned Upside Down tells the story of the authoress' experiences dealing with her alcoholic father and how his actions affected her and her family, along with critiquing the society that enables his alcoholism. The Bride Was a Boy is about the author realizing she's transgender and the story of her transition and eventual marriage to her partner. The subject of today's review, Embrace Your Size, is all about the author Hara's experiences with obesity, eating disorders, and above all, body positivity and the different forms it takes.

If you're wondering what the phrase "body positivity" means, Wikipedia defines it as a social movement focused on the acceptance of all bodies, regardless of size, shape, skin tone, gender, and physical abilities, while challenging present-day beauty standards as an undesirable social construct. Embrace Your Size details mangaka Hara's journey from a disillusioned teenager who struggled with eating disorders to learning about Japan's own body positivity movement and creating this manga. To her, being body positive means knowing it's okay for her to not fit into a single mold, along with being about empowerment for every body type, and considering Japan is pretty infamous for enforcing values of conformity, even at the detriment of people's mental health and well-being, it's an anvil that really needs to be dropped. Hara goes into detail about how body-shaming in the form of other people making fun of her, making fun of other obese people, not being able to fit into the clothes she wanted, and her own insecurities about her weight negatively affected everything about her life at some point. Even someone commenting on how she draws people in her art felt like a jab at her weight, so she chose to hide her authentic self out of fear, and any obese person can tell you that words can hurt just as bad as physical beatings. But even without being obese, I'm sure a lot of people can relate to Hara's feelings of insecurity about whether she even deserves to dress nice, or worry that people will laugh at her as soon as they see her.

Hara also goes out of her way to critique both the stereotyped portrayals of obese people in anime and manga, while highlighting some more positive portrayals, such as the 2007 movie Hairspray. Did you know that Japan has this unfortunate tendency to give obese characters in anime deep voices that make them sound almost male? Sadly, that's a common stereotype in a lot of Japanese media depicting obese people. Even shows like Sailor Moon and Little Witch Academia got in on this, though Embrace Your Size doesn't really mention it much. Hara points out how a lot of the stereotyped portrayals of obese people, particularly those who are only defined by either eating a lot, their size, or things that contribute to their size, make people think that they all have the same personality, which anyone can tell you is obviously not true, and I appreciate that Hara shows how being exposed to a lot of these portrayals affected her life and how learning about body positivity and meeting other plus-sized people helped to broaden her own worldview. I also appreciate that Hara points out that sizes can change due to a variety of factors, and not just eating a lot of food, such as illness or side effects from medicine. She even flat-out says that even if some stereotypes do have some basis in reality, it in no way justifies anyone being cruel. Hara also takes the time to point out that body positivity doesn't mean just rejecting working out or dieting, because she herself does plenty of it, only at her own preferred pace and using the methods that work for her, rather than going full keto like most people tend to assume, even highlighting examples of obese people who do work out, not because they want to be thin, but for a variety of reasons, and that whatever peoples' reasons for working out and dieting are valid to them, and that's what matters.

As for her art, it's definitely not Urasawa-level or anything like that, but Hara's artwork does its job nicely. All the people are drawn cute and chibi, but with plenty of variety and distinction so you can still tell who's who a lot of the time. There are a few color pages in the beginning, and they're all very nice to look at, so Hara has a good grasp on things like color composition, paneling, page flow, and so on. Hara mentions having gone to art school, and it shows in her art, even if it's not on the level of people like Kaoru Mori or Naoki Urasawa. The manga keeps a light but realistic tone throughout, with Hara showing her experiences growing up and learning about body positivity through her own lens. Like with My Brain Is Different, Hara tells her story in a simple but quiet way, with no grand triumphs or overcoming the odds with everyone clapping at the end. Hara only learned about body positivity through seeing a magazine in a bookstore, and it's often the little things that can make the greatest impact. Hara also interviews a plus-sized influencer near the end of the manga and they both share their experiences with eating disorders, learning about body positivity, and the steps they took to become more confident in themselves, which I thought was very sweet. Sometimes all you really need is a support network, people who genuinely care about you without making jokes at your expense and share your experiences, which is a message that can hit home for everyone.

Seeing as I've never experienced an eating disorder myself, I can't comment on its portrayal here, and Hara's experiences with it are her own, so I have no right to judge how she deals with it and manages it. But on a personal note, I am classified as obese according to my doctor, along with having high cholesterol, even though I only weigh 169 pounds as of this writing, and it is due to eating a lot of stuff I shouldn't. As much as I try to exercise and eat healthy food, I don't do it as often as I should, and because of a lot of my sensory issues due to being autistic, I can't tolerate the taste of a lot of healthy foods like asparagus, oranges, milk, and so on. Believe me, it's not for a lack of trying, and since I work from home, I can't leave the house as much as I want to. But that's just my own personal experience with my own weight issues, as everyone's experiences are different, as Hara mentions. While I myself admit that I'm still struggling with my own journey with body positivity, I'm sure others who read Embrace Your Size will feel understood and validated, just like My Brain Is Different did for me. It's great that we're getting more non-fiction manga like this, and I highly recommend Embrace Your Size for any person who is struggling with the way they view their body without feeling patronized or condescended to.
Yet another wonderful reminder that Japan is a country — with people — not a giant living stereotype for us Westerners to slap on it. Many different ideas and attitudes make up the whole (even if not all of them make it to pillars of power, sadly). Anyways, this is awesome! And she looks so adorable on that cover; who could possibly dislike her? I guess this shows us anime — even otherwise good ones! — that can be just as much proverbial “junk food” when it comes to representing real people as the worst of our media in the West can be, even though we tend to put anime on a pedestal in comparison. Everyone has a lot to learn here!

Good luck on your own health and weight journey, too! Hopefully stories like this will help encourage and empower you. Let’s hope for more of them!

And +1 for teleworking, haha.
This review was written on May 13th, 2023.


Rating: 80/100

Huh, now this is a manga I didn't expect to find. I just randomly stumbled across Bones of an Invisible Human while scrolling through AniList and found that it had a complete English scanlation. I decided to sit down and read it, thinking I'd kill some time...and read the whole thing in almost one sitting. Not gonna lie, this is actually a surprisingly heartfelt manga that tackles the subject of child abuse and patricide with sensitivity and nuance. The story centers on a young girl named Aya Kinomiya, whose life isn't exactly the best. Her father rules the household with an iron fist and frequently hits her mother. At one point, Aya wishes she could just be invisible...and to her surprise, her wish is granted! Aya somehow gains the ability to turn invisible, and she wastes no time putting it to use. When she gets older, she does the unthinkable: While invisible, she stabs her father in the middle of the street, murdering him in retaliation for all that he put her family through. But the deed brings her no respite, and guilt weighs heavy on her as she starts high school, convinced that she has no right to live a normal life. She contemplates turning herself in, but when some new friends enter her life, she begins putting it off more and more...

If you're worried that the girls on the covers being nude means that there'll be scenes showing the underaged female main characters nude in this manga, don't worry. Other than the covers, which never go past the top of the girls' chests, there's no nudity, sexualization, or ecchi scenes in this manga. I read the whole thing and checked. Just wanted to throw that out there. Anyway, onto the review! For a story that starts out with a murder, Bones of an Invisible Human is surprisingly grounded in its narrative approach. A lot of the manga focuses on just Aya, the time she spends at school, and the friends she makes. This isn't a story where Aya uses her powers willy-nilly and does whatever the heck she wants. But I think the story's more grounded approach here works, because it spends a lot of time characterizing Aya, fleshing her out, and focusing on her life after she does the deed and how it affects her, allowing the audience to care about her and see her not simply a criminal, but a normal, desperate teenage girl who had to make hard choices with no right answer, who's been through things no child should ever have to go through. The drama is always quiet and never leans into emo territory.

Because of the author's choice to make the narrative more grounded and down-to-earth, Aya as a main character really carries the story on her back. Yes, she did something horrible out of desperation, with the story making it clear that her bad home life has resulted in her being constantly in survival mode. She's constantly grappling with conflicting desires or whether she even deserves happiness or normalcy in light of what she did. But the story has her slowly, gradually change over the course of the manga, and how experiencing a life with guilt constantly hanging over her like a shadow, alongside navigating it with the support of her new friends, helps her evolve and change her perspective, making her a much more complex character. My only complaint is that I wish the other characters, such as Aya's family and friends, had received this treatment as well. As much as I like Kana and Shiori and the roles they play in Aya's life, they don't really have much to them other than their primary character traits, and I would have liked to learn their backstories or why they turned out the way they did. Even Aya's family doesn't have much to them, especially her older brother, who doesn't even so much as talk until the penultimate chapter.

Going back to the manga's reliance on subtlety and grace over exaggerated melodrama, even the art reflects the series' grounded nature. The art itself has a slight ruggedness to it that sells the kind of story its telling, though the linework itself is sharp and clean, with a lot of hard contrast in the shading. The character designs are deliberately simple, leaning far more on the realistic side of things, though the mangaka makes up for this by having the characters be much more expressive in subtle things like eye movements and posture, using those to communicate the characters' emotions and show us what they're feeling. For example, when Aya is invited to a friend's house, she asks said friend if it's okay for them to play video games with the friend's dad, and her friend says yes. Aya has a blank, confused expression on her face, which shows that something completely ordinary to us speaks volumes of what she was made to experience at the hands of her own father. I will say, Jun Ogino is a master at showing over telling, along with using panels that have no dialogue at all to great effect. Since the manga is only four volumes long, it's a breeze to read through, with the steady, deliberate pacing moving the story forward without rushing things.

One thing I'm sure that some readers will take issue with is the ending, where it stops right before a certain event that Aya talks about. Some may call it inconclusive, and it doesn't show what happens next. I personally had no problem with it because with how short Bones of an Invisible Human is, I didn't think that event would be the focus, and it's clear the manga is much more about Aya's arc than having a conclusive ending. To quote another review, the manga feels less like a fireworks show and more like a cold, winter night, even down to the ending, and considering the nature of the story, I think that's fitting. Some time ago, I read another manga about a girl contemplating killing her abusive father called May My Father Die Soon, only it doesn't have supernatural powers and the MC is both physically and sexually abused by her father. That manga doesn't have a full English scanlation yet, and from what I've read, while I respect what its trying to do, parts of it come off as pretty tasteless because of the fetishy, almost Male Gaze-y way the mangaka chose to draw the scenes where the MC is sexually abused by her father. Between that and Bones of an Invisible Human, I find I like Bones a little better by virtue of the fact that it treats the subjects of domestic and child abuse with more tact and sensitivity without the tasteless elements that May My Father Die Soon has.

Bones of an Invisible Human is a quiet, poignant, and surprisingly wholesome manga about a girl coming to terms with the decision she made and how it affects her life afterward. While it has its issues, I still found it an intriguing, thought provoking read, and I recommend it for those who like their crime stories to be more grounded and tackle sensitive issues with sensitivity and grace.

Update, 5/27/2023: Okay, I found out I was wrong about one thing. Some time after the manga ended, Jun Ogino wrote an extra chapter that's exclusive to the tankobon, called chapter 22.5. Said chapter shows Aya and Kana having sex in explicit detail (Though not at the level of hentai). Apparently, Jun Ogino wanted to have Aya and Kana be in a lesbian relationship, but the comic imprint that was publishing Bones was against him showing openly LGBT characters for some reason. Ogino would get around this by publishing this extra chapter outside of the manga's imprint when the tankobons were released. The chapter itself can easily be skipped if you're not into that, but I'm personally glad Ogino found a way to stick to his original vision. Plus, I will say I am SO happy that Aya and Kana's sexual encounter is explicitly mentioned to be consensual on both ends. If it wasn't, I would have thrown a shitfit and rated this manga a LOT lower.
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This review was written on May 3rd, 2023.


Rating: 84/100

Hey, wait. Didn't I already review something like this with the exact same title? Yes, I did, but I reviewed the manga, which I can say with certainty is not only an absolutely amazing adaptation of the Mizuki Tsujimura novel, but a very well-thought out, wholesome, and heartwarming manga that tackles the hot topic of school bullying and its effects on children with sensitivity and grace. The movie aired in Japan back in December, and I managed to see it today, which I'm totally happy about. But having read the manga, while I do enjoy the movie for Lonely Castle In The Mirror, it does leave out quite a lot of important things, making it not as good as the manga or the novel, though that's not to say it isn't a good movie in its own right. The story is the same as the novel: The story centers on a young girl named Kokoro Anzai, who was so traumatized by a violent bullying incident that she refuses to go to school anymore. She spends what seems to be months confining herself to her house, and she doesn't feel like she can talk to her parents about her trauma, both because she doesn't want to relive it, and because she's afraid no one will take her seriously or believe her. One day, the life-sized mirror in her room glows with light, and when she touches it, Kokoro is pulled through into a fantastical castle, where a young girl in a wolf mask, calling herself the Wolf Queen, tells her that she and six other middle schoolers have one year to find the key that will grant the wish of whomever uses it. As Kokoro begins to get to know her fellow castle-visitors, she starts to think about her own situation in comparison to theirs…and what the price of a wish might actually be.

And yes, I still haven't read the original novel. I need to remedy that. But even without that knowledge, and having read the manga myself, it's easy to see that the Lonely Castle In The Mirror movie leaves out quite a bit of important parts of the kids' personalities and backgrounds, probably because the movie is a little under two hours and can't cover all of its material in that time. While I can understand leaving things out for the sake of time and pacing, the choices made here kind of both make the characters come off as a little less three-dimensional and result in a lot of the emotional moments not hit as hard when they're shown in the movie. For example, there's a subplot where Masamune is so disheartened by not seeing the group at school after they make their important promise, due to having been betrayed by his former friend group previously, that he doesn't come to the castle for several months, probably due to hitting rock bottom, leaving the other kids extremely worried about his welfare. This subplot is treated as a huge deal, and when Masamune does return, it's touted as an extremely heartwarming moment. But in the anime, the subplot is reduced to just a brief line of dialogue, and Masamune's return is given no fanfare at all. Secondly, the movie also leaves out the fact that Ureshino's so-called friends were taking advantage of him financially, so his backstory in the movie comes off as rather hollow. There's also a scene in the movie where Kokoro and her mother go to the mall, but in the manga, it comes right after Kokoro finally opens up about the bullying she went through, with her mother telling off her homeroom teacher for not even trying to hear Kokoro out. The trip to the mall is a huge milestone for Kokoro because it shows Kokoro's growth in that she's not only finally able to leave the house without feeling like the bullies will be out to get her, but it allows her to finally communicate with her mother and talk things out, which shows she feels safe in confiding in her when she felt she couldn't before. But the anime movie doesn't show Kokoro and her mother talking to each other, which results in their trip to the mall losing the significance that it had.

The movie also cuts out some smaller nuances to the characters, like Kokoro at first being dismissive of Masamune's love for RPGs and then apologizing for it later, and Aki's issues with her school volleyball team. So yeah, as a result of having to work with a more restricted format, Lonely Castle In The Mirror loses a lot of the depth and nuance that both the original and the manga had, resulting in both the characters and parts of the story coming off as a bit more shallow than the source material, which is inevitable for every adaptation of any media, really. That being said, the base premise is still the same as the novel and manga, following the exact same story beats and its depiction of bullying and the effects it has on children is still sensitive and respectful, even if a lot of the more emotional moments don't hit the same way as they do in the manga and novel. The fairy tale allusions are kept as well, and the movie also retains the ending twist, even if, again, it cuts out a lot of additional background as to how the twist happens and the backstory for the character it involves.

As far as how the movie fares from a technical standpoint, it's not a powerhouse in any way, but the animation itself is really well made. A-1 Pictures has always been really good with fluid character motion, with Lonely Castle In The Mirror being no exception. The castle has a great design, and the way its used for the backgrounds really make it feel like a place that's out of this world. I will admit, I'm more familiar with the characters' manga designs, but I do appreciate that the anime's renditions of them still manages to strike a good balance between being cartoony and realistic, and in contrast to the manga, the anime doesn't rely on exaggerated cartoony expressions or having the characters turn chibi sometimes. The soundtrack is also really nice, though it does try a little too hard at some points. The only thing I didn't like about the soundtrack is that there's this really random bit of hard rock guitar music that plays during what's supposed to be a tense, dramatic moment, and it just feels really jarring and out of place, taking me out of the moment. It really made me feel like it was trying way too hard to sell the drama when it could have relied on more subtle music. The voice acting is good too, but I have two complaints about it: The girls' voices sounded too similar, making them hard to tell apart at points, and I have to question why they made Mana Ashida use a lower pitched voice for a girl who looks and is said to be 6-7 years old in age when she's used a higher pitched, cuter voice for similar characters of that age in previous roles she had. It worked for when she was in Misaki no Mayoiga because she played a teenager, so it made sense for her to have a low pitched voice there, but I don't feel like the voice and the pitch she used for the Wolf Queen matched very well with the character. That's really about it in terms of critique I have for the film.

Overall, Lonely Castle In The Mirror as a movie loses a lot of the nuance and scaffolding the novel and manga had, but I think it's still a fairly serviceable adaptation. It's certainly not a bad adaptation in any way, as it could have been a whole lot worse. I'm just glad it turned out better than Bibliophile Princess at any rate. If you're interested in watching the movie, I'd recommend waiting until it gets shown in theaters or after the Blu-Ray comes out in the US, because while a fansubbed version just got released, the subtitles are really bad. Seriously, the fansubs make a lot of serious grammar mistakes, spell some characters' names wrong at times, and, most egregiously, outright refers to the Wolf Queen by the wrong gender! The hell?! So yeah, don't watch the fansubbed version, just wait for the theater showings and eventual Blu-Ray release, because those will have much better quality and will be more worth your time. Speaking of which, I really hope GKids shows the movie in theaters in my area, because while I do like the manga better, I do want to watch the movie through legal means and support it because there need to be more movies like Lonely Castle In The Mirror.
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This review was just finished today.


Rating: 65/100

Hey, kids! Remember back in 2018, I reviewed a game on the PS Vita called Adventures of Mana, which is a remake of an old GameBoy game called Final Fantasy Adventure? Well, guess what? I decided to hunker down and play the actual GameBoy game! Since it was included in the Collection of Mana, which came out on the Switch (Which sadly means the remake won't be ported to new consoles anytime soon), it's come back into the limelight for fans of the Mana series. I was bored one day and decided "Eh, why not?" I liked the remake, so I did have a feeling that I wasn't going to like Final Fantasy Adventure as much, and now that I've played it...yeah, not gonna lie, the remake is better. The story is the same as the remake, but for the uninitiated, I'll reiterate it: The Dark Lord has near complete control of the world, and the only thing he needs to complete his reign of terror is the fabled Tree of Mana, said to sit high atop of Mt. Illusia. In the midst of this, a combat slave named Sumo and two of his friends are forced to fight for their masters' amusement and want nothing more than to be free. Unfortunately, one of Sumo's friends dies after a grueling fight, and it's his death that finally spurs him into action. During his escape, he runs into a mysterious girl named Fuji, who accompanies him on his quest for freedom as thanks for helping her. But things quickly spiral out of control as the two find themselves at the epicenter of preventing the Dark Lord's dominance of the world once and for all.

So I'm just gonna get this out of the way: A lot of the remake's problems are the exact same as the original GB game's flaws. The characters are all one-note stereotypes, the story is your standard "save the world from an evil overlord" plotline that was already becoming cliche even back in the nineties, some characters that join you on your quest aren't always the most useful, and the game is extremely short. Considering this is a GameBoy game that clocks in at about 8-10 hours on fairly primitive hardware that didn't allow for much in the way of storage space, I can understand the creators trying to make do with what they had. Plus, Final Fantasy Adventure did start off as a spin-off of the Final Fantasy games before the creators decided to retool it into the first game in the Mana series, which is why elements such as Chocobos and Moogles are in this game but absent in the later ones.

That being said, Final Fantasy Adventure's gameplay is still pretty fun, and is the exact same as the remake. The strength of your attacks comes from filling a gauge, and if you let it go all the way, you can unleash powerful attacks that do a lot of damage. Plus, the game expects you to switch your spells and weapons around a lot. An enemy can be immune to fire attacks but weak to ice, or you won't be able to hit one with a sword but with a long flail. Unfortunately, there's nothing in the game that tells you which enemies are weak to what attacks or spells, so unless you figure it out yourself, you'll have a really hard time defeating certain bosses. Enemies are fought in the overworld, save for the bosses, and you have to be really careful when fighting them in the beginning, because they can deplete your HP just by touching you. From a graphics standpoint, the 8-bit sprites and backgrounds are pretty good for their time, and I like that your travel companions are constantly moving, even when you're standing still.

I will admit, I do generally prefer the remake Adventures of Mana, mainly because it smoothes out a lot of problems that FFA has. For one, the translation for this game is really clunky. Because of the limited space in the text boxes, the sentences are pretty short and simplistic, with few contractions, and characters' dialogue comes across as really awkward a lot of the time. There are several sentences that have some pretty blatant grammatical errors, such as "Tree of Mana grows with the energy of will from each and every thing of this world." Shouldn't there be a "the" in front of Tree of Mana? And what the heck is "energy of will"? Seriously, the remake's translation is a lot more polished. The map feature isn't as smooth, as the map only shows what square you're on, and it doesn't always indicate where you are or where you're going, which the remake fixed. There are a lot of areas that require keys to access, and if you don't have any, you're gonna be royally screwed. There's also one puzzle that really threw people off when they first played FFA, involving the palm trees, which is because the dialogue given to you in regards to accessing a cave through said puzzle doesn't really indicate how you're supposed to solve the puzzle. It took years for people to figure out how to solve it which, again, the remake remedied.

There are two things that Final Fantasy Adventure can boast that are truly, genuinely good. For one, Kenji Ito's chiptune soundtrack is awesome. While I do prefer the orchestrations in the remake, I never get tired of the soundtrack for FFA in any capacity. It was awesome in 8-bit form, and it's still awesome now. There are reasons why people who played FFA adore its soundtrack even to this day. The second is that FFA managed to get away with having a good majority of its characters die and being really sad, in a time period where game companies were still trying to censor anything related to or implying death in any way whatsoever. Keep in mind, Nintendo was still in its "censor everything" phase when FFA came out, so the fact that FFA was allowed to actually get away with not only a lot of character deaths, and have a genuinely sad ending, which was really uncommon for JRPGs back in that era, is pretty awesome, even if stuff like that is much more commonplace in games nowadays. This effectively makes FFA the saddest and darkest GameBoy game in terms of its narrative and presentation. Is it any wonder people consider FFA one of the best GameBoy games to exist, to the point that it spawned its own original franchise?

Granted, I admittedly don't have the same attachment to FFA as others do, and I do prefer the remake for the refinements and improvements it did make, even if it didn't do much else. That being said, if Final Fantasy Adventure didn't exist, the Mana franchise would never have come to be, so fans of the Mana series do owe FFA that much.
Man, I really should have finished my review for this a lot sooner, but I am glad I got it done when I did. I originally tried to review this on August 25th, 2018, but didn't finish it until this year.


Rating: 80/100

Unlike most people I know, I never grew up with home console video games. I never played things like the SNES, the Nintendo 64, the Playstation, or anything of the like. For me, it was all GameBoy and handhelds, for Pokemon and Pokemon only. It was only about a few years ago that I started branching out and trying out other game series, like Harvest Moon and Chrono Trigger. But I would never have even HEARD of Octopath Traveler if it weren't for one of my favorite webcomic artists doing a piece of fan art for it before its release. After seeing it, I decided to check out some trailers and early videos of the demo. It looked like a good game, and I wanted to try it out...so I bought it completely blind, and then I saved up for a Switch. What? I bought a new console and my first game for it ISN'T Pokemon?! What a concept! But seriously, it's one of the best blind buys I ever did, because Octopath Traveler is a REALLY great game, though with a few flaws holding it back from being a masterpiece. But I'm not lying when I say this game has consumed me over the past month or so, and I'm proud of it!

Octopath Traveler is a game where you can choose one out of eight characters and play through their narratives and scenarios as you go, but you play through the other characters' stories alongside your main one. You can play as Olberic, a wandering warrior whose kingdom fell to ruins; Cyrus, a professor searching for a missing book; Tressa, a young merchant making her way in the world; Ophilia, a young cleric carrying out a family ritual; Primrose, a noble-turned-dancer searching for the man that killed her father; Alfyn, an optimistic apothecary searching for the man who saved him as a child; Therion, a cocky thief, and H'aanit, a warrior in search of a rogue beast that's been terrorizing the continent. Each character has their own origins and goals, and as you and your party travel the contient of Orsterra, you get to choose wherever you explore and gradually learn the secrets of the world and what ties the group together.

While Octopath is very much a turn-based RPG akin to similar games of the SNES era, Octopath does some interesting things with its combat system. For one, instead of simply attacking an enemy to defeat it, enemies come with a set of shields that muffle the amount of damage they take from any attacks. You have to break the shields in order to land higher amounts of damage to them, and breaking the shields helps paralyze the enemy for a turn, so the game really encourages you to strategize before going all out. The game also has a Boost Point system. Every turn, you receive something called a Boost Point, and you're allowed up to five total. Using certain amounts of them can power up your attacks, strengthen your buffs, or increase the number of turns in which you're able to use buffs on yourself or others. Furthermore, you're able to change a character's job class if you manage to unlock said job class, so you can do things like make Olberic into an apothecary or Tressa into a thief, and if you train them, they can learn the same skills as the character who primarily uses that job class. There are even secret job classes you can unlock, and several of them can make the game into an absolute cakewalk if you learn how to use them. Granted, the game does require you to do a lot of level grinding and making use of every support skill imaginable, especially for the later bosses. I liked these aspects of the game, but I know others taking issue with how long the game make you take to utilize everything. One thing I really like is what they did with the thief class by giving it attacks that not only sap health points to heal themselves, but even magic points, along with attack/defense impairment skills, making the thief class much more viable than other games did, so it's not just a fragile speedster here.

With Octopath priding itself on having 2D sprites mixing with 3D backgrounds, I can wholeheartedly say that the graphics are pretty strong. The 2D sprites have a lot of personality to them, feeling very reminiscent of SNES-era graphics, the enemy sprites have a lot of thought put into them, and the 3D backgrounds and set pieces are all very well designed, a few generic dungeon maps notwithstanding. To the untrained eye, at least. One issue someone pointed out is that lantern lighting in dungeons is strangely executed. No matter which direction you’re facing, there will always be a huge shadow being cast northward due to your body being between the lantern and that direction... no matter where your sprite shows the lantern to actually be. Even when you walk in that direction and the lantern is completely unobstructed by your body, the light acts as if it's coming from the south. I'm not an expert on this, so don't quote me on that. Even the attack animations are pretty flashy and eye catching. I will say though, the absolute BEST aspect of the game is the awesome soundtrack by Yasunori Nishiki. Seriously, I've never heard of the guy before this, but after hearing the amazing, versatile, and varied BGMs this guy made, I want to hear more of his work. Every track in the game is distinct and pleasing to the ears, from the soft, soothing tunes in Ophilia's hometown to the battle themes that get progressively more and more epic as the game goes on. Others have already explained how awesome the soundtrack is in detail better than I can, so I don't think I can really add anything to it that hasn't been said already.

I'm a bit mixed on the characters. By themselves, they're all fine. Every character's personal journeys show their growth, strengths, weaknesses, and reasons for doing what they do, and as individuals, they're all a fun bunch. I picked Tressa as my main player character, but as far as the character with the strongest story goes, I'd have to pick Alfyn because his tale is the most well-written, personal, compelling, and complex. But even the weakest characters and stories here are at least a 7/10 minimum, and I've seen far worse when it comes to execution. One thing I found interesting is that each character has what's known as a Path Action. In the overworld, each character has an ability they can use on NPCs, such as challenging them to fights, gathering information, taking them with you on your journey, or buying/stealing items from them. All the interactable NPCs have their own backgrounds and backstories, ranging from funny to downright tragic. It's not to the level of, say, Radiata Stories, though. If I had to name one huge flaw with the characters in this game, it's that...well, even though all eight MCs are shown traveling together, they rarely, if ever, interact outside of small amounts of banter between story intervals, and some brief events in taverns outside of chapters. The characters' stories don't change no matter who you have recruited/in your party at the moment, nor do they really talk outside of party banter. Not even during the final dungeon, where their stories all tie together and there are no small amount of revelations that directly affect a lot of the MCs and even side characters, and you'd think the characters would at the very least react to them...but they don't! And I'm not the only person who has a problem with this either: A lot of other people who played the game share the same sentiment that having the MCs interact would have made them richer as characters, and made the game feel more involved.

So yeah, individually, each character's stories are fine on their own, but when the stories come together with little to no payoff for any of the characters involved, things start to get messy. And that's not even getting into the brutally unfair final dungeon that's extremely hard, if you even know it exists because for some reason it's hidden behind a bunch of optional sidequests that you can easily miss if you're not actively looking for them. Seriously, I once thought the first battle with Heldalf near the end of Tales of Zestiria was the hardest boss battle I had to deal with, as it took me almost six times to defeat it, and this is on easy mode! But Octopath usurped ToZ's crown on that front for me. Wanna know how many times it took me to even get past the first stage of the final boss fight? NEARLY TWELVE TIMES!! Yeah, I can totally understand people not being a fan of this particular boss.

That being said, I don't want to end this review on a negative note, as even with all those issues, I still enjoyed Octopath Traveler as a game. It's not a game for people who hate grinding or a lot of exploring, or who want their characters to be super three-dimensional and complex. But what OT lacks in characterization and polished storytelling, it makes up for with its gameplay and mostly seamless mixing of 2D sprites and 3D backgrounds, and I've heard that the team that made Octopath Traveler want to use this HD-2D style for other games as well. I really hope they do so, because Octopath Traveler could open the doors for other games that could really make great use of OT's aesthetic. I found Octopath Traveler to be an enjoyable JRPG romp, and I hope more games like it come out in the future.
This review was literally just written and finished today.


Rating: 62/100

Man, when did Korean webcomics start getting popular? Enough so that they actually get animated? I have no clue. I have to admit, my first exposure to the long strip Korean webcomics, or webtoons as they're called, was when I first heard about one called The Monster Duchess and the Contract Princess (Officially localized by Tapas as The Monstrous Duke's Adopted Daughter), and first reading it, I had a really hard time adjusting to the fact that every chapter was just super long strips with a LOT of space in between panels. But I liked the series enough that I read more of it, though I stopped because MangaDex got hacked and I couldn't read more of it. But since then, I've started dipping my toes in more of them and learning more. One such webtoon, Why Raeliana Ended Up At The Duke's Mansion, is one of many that got adapted into an anime this past year. It pretty much follows the premise of a lot of reincarnation isekai shows such as My Next Life as a Villainess and Mushoku Tensei with a more openly shoujo bent. I'm not really sure why I decided to watch this one, as I didn't have any interest in doing so previously. I was probably bored or something. But having actually watched the anime now, maybe I was right to initially avoid Raeliana, because...to be blunt, for as much as this show claims to be more interesting than it is, it's actually flat-out boring. And if the anime is this bland, I can only pray the webcomic its based on is better.

So what's the story? College student Rinko Hanasaki (Original Korean name Eunha Park, for some reason Japan changed her nationality) is down on her luck, but just as she finds she got accepted into a college she applied to, she's pushed off a building by a mysterious assailant, which leads to her death. But she finds herself reincarnated in the body of a character from a novel she once read. Things get complicated when she realizes just who she's been reincarnated as: Raeliana MacMillan, the daughter of a nouveau riche baron whose untimely death by the hands of her fiance triggers the plot of said novel. Determined not to face death a second time, she tries everything she can to break up with said fiance, but all attempts fail. Remembering one particular plotline in the novel, Raeliana decides to blackmail one Duke Noah Wynknight into a contractual marriage so she can finally save herself. Threatened by Raeliana's knowledge, Noah plays along and gets engaged to her.

Seriously, reading the premise for this, I really should like this more than I do. A female MC who takes action to prevent her demise within the constraints of a fairly well-developed fantasy setting? I should be all over this! Especially since Raeliana isn't the passive, swooning girl who just accepts her fate like her contemporaries tend to do...but I'm not, and there's so many things about Raeliana as a show that just don't work. One of the biggest things is the animation, which really doesn't do the story justice. Raeliana is one of those shows where the still shots look good, but whenever something has to move, it looks either janky or weird, or extremely limited and stiff, usually the latter. The backgrounds are fine, but for some reason, the faces of people in the background are grayed out, the show seems to go out of its way to avoid animating anything resembling movement such as sword fighting, and there are several instances where horses and carriages are animated in really bad CGI that make no effort to blend seamlessly with the 2D animation whatsoever, and in general are really jarring and out of place. Plus, the characters' facial expressions have no variety to them, ranging from either deadpan or dull surprise. Seriously, the company hired to animate this were not the best people on the job. A story like this should have been done by either Wit Studio or Kyoto Animation. If done by the latter, it probably would have looked as good as Violet Evergarden. I didn't find the soundtrack to be very memorable either. I couldn't tell you the first thing about it.

Sadly, the characters are where Raeliana really suffers as a show. I found Noah in particular to be very irritating because other than being handsome and unnecessarily smarmy, he's about as memorable as styrofoam. Most of his scenes consist of looking stoic, or irritating Raeliana with his constant vague, lifeless dialogue that either confuses her because he can't be bothered to explain things clearly or makes her blush, that's it. He has nothing in the way of depth or personality to him other than being a manipulative douche who riles up Raeliana when she calls him out on not communicating properly. He almost feels like a teenage girl's idea of what an ideal love interest should be like than an actual person with strengths, weaknesses, depth, and so on. Half the time I wanted to punch him in the face because of his insufferable smarminess. Plus, the story claims that all the girls want to marry him, but I can't fathom what they even see in Noah to even want anything to do with him. Seriously, I'm playing a visual novel called Jack Jeanne right now that has much better, more romantic, more three-dimensional, and more developed love interests than Noah could ever hope to be. I don't know what he's like in the manhwa, so for all I know he might be better there, but I don't know when I'll get around to reading it. None of the other side characters do anything for me either, other than Ansley. I actually liked her and wish she could have done more. The villains are all so stereotypically evil that they might as well have come out of Saturday morning cartoons, with Vivian being the most obvious one with her creepy obsession with Noah and wanting to ruin Raeliana's life because how dare she even so much as talk to the guy she has a crush on.

It especially sucks that I can't like Why Raeliana Ended Up At The Duke's Mansion because Raeliana as a character is perfectly fine! I would have been all over her if the animators and story really bothered to do her justice, but even here, they royally screw up. Again, I haven't read the manhwa so I can't comment on how she is there as opposed to the adaptation, but there are several things about Raeliana that I do like. She's proactive, she's smart, she wants to take charge of her own destiny, she's nice to the people she cares about and treats the servants like people, and she doesn't fall for any of Vivian and her posse's petty middle school clique antics...she's everything I wish Elianna from Bibliophile Princess should have been! But a lot of Raeliana's inner monologues feel like they're trying to create the illusion that she's smart rather than actually bothering to have her show why she's smart. Plus, since this is a reincarnation isekai, I wish we could have had some insight on who Rinko was as a person before she got reincarnated as Raeliana, but we know absolutely nothing about Rinko, what she was like, what her hobbies were, and so on, which makes me question why this story even has to be a reincarnation isekai to begin with. They could do away with the whole reincarnation thing and nothing would be lost because they don't really bother to do anything with it here.

Even the premise, which really could have been good, suffers from not making much sense. A lot of the politics in this show consist of people being catty to one another, and the mysteries of who's doing what can be easily figured out by anyone over the age of 12 because the culprits may as well have flashing neon lights over their heads. Furthermore, because Raeliana is 12 episodes long, it doesn't cover the whole manhwa, ending on a pretty open ending that's pretty blatant with its "Read the manhwa!" message with nothing it established being resolved in any way. This whole anime feels so stiff and workman-like, it's in dire need of some flair and life to make it more interesting than it is. There's a good premise and good characters in here just begging to break out of this stiff shell that the anime is in. In the end, Why Raeliana Ended Up At The Duke's Mansion is an anime that really could have been good or even great, but was animated by people who were too immature and inexperienced to really do it justice, and they were the wrong people to put on this project. Granted, I'd still watch this over Bibliophile Princess any day, and it helps that Yen Press is putting out the manhwa under its label Ize Press, so anyone who lives in the US will eventually be able to read Raeliana's saga in full.
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Thanks for pointing that out. I forgot to copy/paste the numerical rating. Whoops. Now I added it.

Time for another review that I just finished today.


Rating: 80/100

Hey wait, wasn't there a short movie with this exact same title and premise? Made by the guy who illustrated for light novels such as Vivy: Fluorite Eye's Song and I Want To Eat Your Pancreas? Indeed, loundraw's debut film Summer Ghost not only got a manga adaptation, but a novel adaptation as well, both of which are going to be released in the US sometime this August thanks to Seven Seas Entertainment. I saw and liked Summer Ghost, enough that I bought the blu-ray, and am definitely looking forward to owning both the manga and novel when they come out. But I did read a scanlated version of the manga in advance just to see how it adapts the film. I was convinced the manga would just be a one-to-one rehash of the movie, since most manga versions of movies tend to do that (As was the case with Josee, The Tiger, and the Fish), though not always. But after actually reading the manga, I'm genuinely surprised and pleased with what the manga decided to expand on compared to the movie, even if I don't always agree with some of its decisions.

The premise is the exact same as the movie, but for the uninitiated, here's a refresher. Summer Ghost centers on three high schoolers: Tomoya Sugisaki, Aoi Harukawa, and Ryou Kobayashi, who are all very different from one another and are going through their own struggles. Tomoya's controlling mother disapproves of his desire to paint and wants him to focus only on his studies. Aoi is being bullied at school, and attempted suicide once, and Ryou found out he doesn't have much longer to live. But all of them have one thing in common: They're interested in meeting the supposed summer ghost, said to be the ghost of a woman who committed suicide. After spending some time lighting fireworks, they manage to meet said summer ghost—a red haired woman named Ayane Satou. Mission fulfilled, Aoi and Ryou go back to their lives, but Tomoya begins seeing her alone, and after learning more about her, he, Aoi, and Ryou find themselves looking into just what happened to Ayane to make her like this, sorting through their own issues in the process.

When I say the manga expanded on the movie, what I mean is that the manga adds entirely new scenes that weren't present in the movie. While I liked the characters in the movie, it was a 40-minute film that didn't really flesh them out a whole lot, and I had wished that more had been done with them. The manga somewhat remedies this by adding in some extra scenes of the trio spending time together. One scene shows Ryou teaching Aoi how to play basketball and the two of them getting to know one another better, which was really cute. Another scene the manga added involving the two of them shows them skipping school and almost getting caught by truancy officers, managing to throw them off while laughing about the whole thing, which added some levity to an otherwise serious story. The characters' circumstances are also slightly expanded on more here. While the story still doesn't explain exactly why Aoi is being bullied, the manga adds in some details on her background such as her planning to go someplace so she can commit suicide (Where exactly, it doesn't explain) and that her parents fight on what seems to be a regular basis. Tomoya benefits the most from this, as I mentioned in my review of the movie that I found his angst a little too overwrought. The manga goes into more detail as to just how controlling his mother is, making her even more of a jackass to him than she was depicted in the movie. Seriously, the manga has her coldly admit to Tomoya that she threw away all of his art supplies and show that she really couldn't care less about him as a person, making his angst a lot more understandable. Ayane even gets a little more personality to her, being a bit more blunt and exasperated, not liking the fact that her death was made into an urban legend.

Even the way they help Ayane in the end and Tomoya's internal crisis are played out very differently from the movie, though I won't spoil it here. The core premise of Summer Ghost remains the same, but the manga is significantly longer than the movie in terms of the material it not only adapts but fleshes out, allowing for slightly more freedom in its storytelling. But not every decision the manga makes manages to hit a home run. For as much as I liked the extra scenes the manga gave Ryou, I didn't like how he treated Aoi after storming off after his argument with Tomoya. In the movie, Aoi tells Ryou about the bullying she's dealing with, along with trying to console him over both his incoming death and his attitude toward Tomoya, and Ryou feels remorse over storming off on him. But in the manga, when Aoi tells him about what she went through, he coldly dismisses her and treats her no differently than how the bullies did, which the manga implies is his way of trying to push her away so she won't have to deal with the pain of his death. Aoi and Ryou wind up getting into an argument of their own, and Ryou continues to berate her even when she's trying to be there for him. Granted, they do patch things up after the fact, so their conflict doesn't last long, but I really don't feel making Ryou into a jackass towards Aoi—the person who he spent a lot of his time with and considers a friend—and adding onto her insecurities was necessary, as his outburst towards Tomoya was enough. This just felt like unnecessary angst thrown in for the sake of making the manga longer, and it really didn't need that.

As for the art, it's okay. Compared to the movie, the artwork in the manga is a little more polished and less angular, and there's quite a bit of exaggerated chibi faces here, which the movie didn't have. The manga uses a lot of gray tones, and for stuff like backgrounds or texture, the mangaka uses a lot of lines and vector dot patterns for shading, and I'm not quite sure how to feel about its constant usage of dot patterns. It doesn't really stand out compared to other manga I've read, but Summer Ghost's art does its job. Nothing noteworthy, but definitely not bad. Plus, there is some creative use of paneling, and since manga don't really have a lot of restrictions compared to movies in terms of content, it's able to get away with doing more, like even showing Ayane's overall fate in more visceral and even graphic detail. In the end, the manga adaptation of Summer Ghost does a fairly good job at not only adapting the movie in a comic format, but even expanding on elements that the movie left ambiguous, even if I feel it could have done more. I don't know if the expansions made here were loundraw's idea or the mangaka's idea, and again, I'm not a fan of the manga making Ryou a lot meaner than he was in the movie. But I still enjoyed reading the Summer Ghost manga, and I still plan on buying it along with the novel when they come out in August, and I'm curious to see the novel's take on Summer Ghost and how it adapts the movie.
This review was written on December 22nd, 2022.


Rating: 55/100

As far as video games go, the World of Mana series is one of Square-Enix's lesser known franchises. I personally never got to play the games until about 2017, when I bought a PS Vita for the first time and bought Adventures of Mana. So far, I've played that, Secret of Mana (Finished the remake, haven't finished the original yet), and Trials of Mana. I've heard the later games aren't as good as those three, so I've personally never sought them out. One game has a bit of a divisive reputation among Mana fans, Legend of Mana. Some say it's a very creative if flawed experiment, one of the last Mana games to be good, while others say it's way too tedious and non-linear for its own good, lacks true direction, and throws a lot of the Mana series' conventions out the window. I've never played Legend of Mana myself, and I have no interest in doing so now. So imagine my surprise when it was announced that an anime for the game was announced, titled Legend of Mana: The Teardrop Crystal. Now, visual media based on video games tend to vary in quality, with most of them not being very good due to it being very hard to adapt certain things from said video games to screen. Seeing as I have no interest in playing the game due to parts of its gameplay not appealing to me personally, I thought The Teardrop Crystal would make a good alternative, especially since it was confirmed that the anime would only adapt one of the three over-arching plots in the game rather than tackle all three, which was a good move on the creators' part. Unfortunately, as much as it tries, Legend of Mana: The Teardrop Crystal doesn't manage to go above bland and mediocre.

In the magical land of Fa'Diel, a young man named Shiloh lives a quiet, idyllic life in the town of Domina. One day, he comes across a man named Elazul, who is searching for his missing friend Pearl. Both Elazul and Pearl are known as Jumi, a race of people born from gemstones. Shiloh helps Elazul find Pearl, but after the two of them leave, Shiloh hears news that a woman named Sandra has been killing Jumi left and right, harvesting the gemstones embedded in their chests. Sympathetic to his friends' plight and worried about their safety, Shiloh decides to leave his hometown and journey with Elazul and Pearl so he can not only keep them safe from Sandra, but help them find other Jumi. Joining him on his quest are a young woman named Seraphina and her Jumi friend Esmeralda. Shiloh's journey leads to him and his friends uncovering devastating secrets about the Jumi and the woman hunting them down.

One thing that the Legend of Mana game has received near unanimous praise for is its lush, detailed artwork, melding watercolor backgrounds with kinetic spritework, giving it a storybook feel. Even a lot of the Mana series' promotional art consists of detailed watercolor paintings of jungles, courtesy of the late great painter Hiroo Isono, though he never worked on Legend in any capacity. The anime's backgrounds pay some homage to Isono's art, especially in the beginning when Shiloh is still in Domina, but they don't exactly pop like the games' backgrounds do. They're serviceable and do their job, but no more than that. I can't exactly say the same for the character designs. On their own, they're fine, but I don't think they transitioned well from game to screen. They lost a lot of the rustic look the game's designs had, and as a result, they just look like generic pretty boy/girl designs, made more sleeker and with a lot of their rougher features smoothed out. Shiloh's exposed abs in particular are pretty badly drawn, looking much more like somebody crossed a bunch of lines than actual muscle. There are several moments throughout the show where the characters go off-model, especially near the final episodes, and it's especially noticeable during the fight scenes. Hell, one fight scene straight up uses footage of Seraphina using her spear from the opening wholesale! Lazy, much?

I have a little less to say about the soundtrack, as I'm not familiar with Yoko Shimomura's soundtrack for the game other than three pieces of background music, so I can't comment on how they were adapted into the anime. I've heard the anime uses the soundtrack from the game sparingly and throws in its own music, but I can't be sure. I will say one thing though: You can't go wrong with Saori Hayami singing the opening and ending songs. Both are well animated and well sung. I also have less nice things to say about the characters because they don't have much in the way of depth and personality to them other than one basic personality trait and that's it. I have read that Elazul was originally a LOT meaner in the games, but the anime made him slightly nicer and more willing to admit to his mistakes, so good on them for that, but other than that, and giving Seraphina a bigger role in the story, that's really the only positives I can say for the characters. Honestly, Pearl was the worst one, because she's little more than a useless damsel in distress who is constantly putting herself in danger, mainly because she cannot follow basic directions. I can only assume she was a more active party member in the game, but if that was the case, the anime really did her dirty here. It says a lot that I like Blackpearl better, but that's still not saying much.

But they're nothing compared to Sandra, the main villain. While her motives are revealed to be much more complex in the end, her whole origin story raises way too many questions, none of which are really answered whatsoever. I was originally going to rate Teardrop Crystal a little bit higher, but the weirdness of her origin story and all the questions it raises. combined with the fact that the anime really rushed through its ending and had no time to even flesh out any of the ideas it introduced, made everything the anime tried to do fail because it just wanted to rush through everything rather than take the time to make the audience care about what's going on. Because frankly, I couldn't bring myself to give a shit about anything that was going on, both the story and the characters, and the anime seemed to think it was good at making the audience care about everything about it when it really isn't. Granted, Bibliophile Princess is much worse about this, but similarly to that, Legend of Mana: The Teardrop Crystal, as much as it tried, doesn't do the game it's adapting justice. I can only assume the anime was solely made to promote the remaster for the Switch, which is fine, but this really isn't the best way to promote your game if you care this little about the anime adaptation's overall quality.

So yeah, in the end, Legend of Mana: The Teardrop Crystal is a tedious, incoherent mess that has no idea what its doing, and is yet another addition to the pile of bad video game adaptations that doesn't do its source material justice.
I'm sorry you didn't like the anime adaptation--the game is one of my all time favorites, and the HD version does a lot right (I do give them kudos to give you a choice between the original PSX music or the remastered music--most of the remastered music is meh at best, so I have the original PSX music on when I play.
This review was started on July 16th, 2023, and just finished today, and man, I've wanted to gush about this game for soooooo long.


Rating: 87/100

Not many people know this, but visual novels, in spite of their seemingly limited gameplay and interface, are actually a more versatile medium than they're usually given credit for. This is pretty common knowledge in Japan, where the medium of visual novels has been around since the eighties, but North America only ever had them through hard to find fan translations, with no official releases until the 2010s. But even with the genre's renaissance in the US and people learning what they can be capable of, certain types of gamers are quick to dismiss visual novels as nothing more than either moe waifu porn games or digital picture books. Games such as Ace Attorney, Steins;Gate, Digimon Survive, AI: The Somnium Files, and everything in Visual Arts/Key's library (Clannad, Air, Kanon, Little Busters, and so on) disprove this, but would you believe me if I told you that there's such thing as a visual novel that also has rhythm game elements and was the brainchild of one Sui Ishida, the man who created Tokyo Ghoul and Choujin X? Ladies, gentleman, and everyone in-between, I introduce to you Jack Jeanne, one of many visual novels brought to the US by Aksys Games. I remember first seeing ads for the game in the Nintendo eShop while browsing through it, and the premise did intrigue me, but I initially had a bit of a hard time getting a hard copy. It took my dad showing me a random game store while on our trip to New York for me to find a copy, and I gotta say, I have him to thank for this, because Jack Jeanne is not only one of the best otome games in existence, it's one of the best, most immersive visual novels period, barring a few flaws preventing it from achieving true greatness.

Now, the premise itself isn't really anything special: Ever since she was a child, Kisa Tachibana has always looked up to her older brother Tsuki, and after watching him perform in a play, she decides she wants to get into the art of theater acting. Tsuki once attended the famous Univeil Theater Academy, so Kisa hopes to enroll there as well. But her hopes are dashed when she learns that Univeil is an all-boys school. To make things worse, after graduation, Tsuki disappeared without a trace, and Kisa's family is experiencing financial trouble, so she figures she has to give up on her dream and take up a job to make ends meet. That is, until she was found by the principal of Univeil Theater Academy, who recognized her as the talented Tachibana Tsuki's sister, and soon enlisted her to be enrolled into the school to change the age old tradition of the theater academy, and accomplish her dream...but under a few conditions: she has to aim to be the lead role in all the plays throughout the year, to earn the trust of the students, and to never let anyone in the school learn that she is a girl, which includes not telling others that she is related to the famed Tsuki Tachibana. Since this is an otome game, you can choose one out of six romantic interests: The energetic, happy-go-lucky Suzu Orimaki; Kisa's sheepish but supportive childhood friend Soshiro Yonaga; the grumpy, easily annoyed singer Mitsuki Shirota; the dashing dancer Sarafumi Takashina; the stoic but kind-hearted Kai Mutsumi, and the eccentric, loud, and dare I say theatrical playwright Kokuto Neji.

I admit I haven't played much otome games, and the only one I've really played to completion is Code;Realize. But otome games, like some visual novels I have played, usually have a choice-based system, where choosing certain responses to questions or answering some characters' questions positively, or pursuing said character in general, will lock you into their route should you decide to go after them. While this is somewhat true in Jack Jeanne, the game adds a little more to it. In-game, it's not enough to simply pursue your desired character or choose responses to their questions, there's a stat raising system where if you choose to raise one out of six of Kisa's skills (Spirit, Insight, Voice, Charm, Drama, and Dance), your chances of getting into a character's route will increase. Making this easier is that each love interest's name is color coded and correspond with the stat that the player is required to focus on if you want to lock into their route. Kisa even gets her own route that you can unlock if you 1. Don't pursue any of the love interests, and 2. Unlocked the best endings for all the LIs beforehand, and you can do this by achieving SS scores in every single singing/dancing rhythm game during the plays. There is one factor that the game doesn't tell you though: In order to make sure you've actually unlocked your desired character's route, you need to raise their required stat to at least level 20 or above and max out their affection before the in-game date of December 25th. For some reason the game doesn't mention this, and many players wound up locked in Kisa's route without realizing it.

Another aspect that makes Jack Jeanne stand out from other otome games is that it has rhythm game segments. Since the game takes place at a drama school, the characters partake in singing and dancing, both of which take the form of the rhythm game sequences. With singing, you have to just highlight your cursor over the diamond-shaped symbols, and with dancing, you have to press certain buttons in time with both the music and the symbols the second you highlight them. I admit, this is my first real exposure to rhythm games, and I found them to be pretty doable, especially on the easiest difficulty. Plus, you can't have a game that places a heavy emphasis on music without a good soundtrack to back it up, and thankfully, the soundtrack is one of Jack Jeanne's biggest highlights. Not just the background music, but the wide variety of songs made for the various plays, all sung (amazingly!) by the seiyuus for not just the LIs, but Kisa's seiyuu herself. It helps that Sui Ishida took it upon himself to write the lyrics for all the songs and really make sure they were all relevant to not just the in-game plays and their narratives, but the game's cast of characters and their growth as performers. Also, can I just say how happy I am that the game actually bothered to give Kisa a voice actor? Most otome games don't give their MCs voices because the MC is supposed to be a cipher for the player to insert themselves into so they can immerse themselves when pursuing a game's love interest. The fact that Jack Jeanne not only actually bothered to give Kisa a voice actor, but made her sing alongside the LIs for any relevant songs cements the fact that she isn't just a self-insert prop, but the actual protagonist of the story with her own personality and arc. Adding onto this, hot damn, this game really shows off Yuka Terasaki's range and talent here.

Speaking of the characters, they're also the biggest highlight of Jack Jeanne. While at first they do adhere to your typical bishounen archetypes: The happy-go-lucky sunshine boy, the tsundere, the smart one, the eccentric, and so on, as you progress through both the main route and their individual routes, they get more and more fleshed out, and with Ishida-sensei at the helm, the way he writes all the characters make them feel a bit more nuanced and three-dimensional than your usual otome game fare, even if they don't reach, say, Naoki Urasawa levels of development. Even several characters, who while not relevant to the narrative, do help to give some flavor and flesh out the game's setting, what with it being a theater school and all. Not every character gets this treatment (Poor Ichinomae. I may not like his design much, but he really should have been allowed to interact with more people than just Kisa), but it's still more than most otome games care to give. Helping this is that Jack Jeanne as a game is LOOOONG. You know how Digimon Survive's routes tend to run to about 30-40 hours without skipping? One playthrough of Jack Jeanne alone caps at about 25-30 hours without skipping, and since the game has seven routes with many different endings and over 100 CGs to unlock, the game is NOT short on content. Seriously, I know people whose playthroughs of the game capped at 130 hours going through the entire thing. Ishida-sensei even mentioned that the game has, and I quote, "20 novels" worth of content. That being said, while I appreciate the effort that did go into developing the main cast and most of the side characters, there are some things I feel could have been fleshed out more, like what the characters' lives are like outside of Univeil. It even leaves several questions and plot threads unanswered, such as: What's the deal with Mitsuki's mother and why does she treat him the way she does? What the hell happened to Tsuki in the end (The game never explains this, BTW)? Why did Kai's relatives not like him and just throw him into an orphanage? Is there something more to Soshiro's lack of confidence, like a troubled family life or something? What did he do between Kisa moving and their eventual reunion at Univeil? What was Kisa's life like with Tsuki and the rest of her family before his disappearance? As much as I appreciate what was done with the characters already, I feel like some more details would flesh them out even more and make them more three-dimensional.

Plus, while I loved pretty much all the cast (Save for Kamiya and Momonashi, who are villains that you're supposed to hate), not every route hits a home run, though even the worst route is a 7/10 minimum. Out of all the characters' routes, I found Soshiro's to be the weakest. I can understand having a character that struggles with a lot of self-confidence issues and insecurity, which is fine, as flaws make a character interesting, and having them deal with their flaws makes for compelling conflict. But Soshiro tends to indulge in his angst way too much, dragging the story down with him, and doesn't stop angsting even when other characters are also struggling with their own issues and looking to him for support, especially Kisa. Every struggle she winds up having, whenever she tries to get Soshiro's support, instead of helping her, he makes every issue all about him and makes her feel worse. I really wanted to like Soshiro more than I did. Seriously, Kai has a lot of Soshiro's problems, but he still tries to support Kisa whenever she's having issues and doesn't make everything all about him! Granted, Soshiro does get better, but honestly, I found him to be more tolerable and likeable in every route except his own...and that shouldn't be. Though even he's still not as bad as other love interests in other otome games that border on being super toxic and abusive, even with the games romanticizing them and trying to make them out to be super amazing. Gag me. Out of all the routes, Kai's is my personal favorite.

If there's one thing that Jack Jeanne absolutely nails, its the graphics and artwork. Jack Jeanne has an absolutely beautiful aesthetic, packed with over 100 lusciously drawn/painted CGs that are a feast for the eyes. The visual novel portraits for all the characters are great too, save for some little quirks, and I love that the characters' clothing and costumes change over the course of the game. The unique portraits they get doing the plays are also very well-designed. The only character I had a problem with was Kisa's friend Ao, though not because of her design or personality (Though I will say that her voice is kind of annoying), but...this is a personal nitpick, but for some reason, the way her mouth is drawn when its open looks really off. I don't know what it is, but it just looks weird when she's talking in her portrait. That's really the only problem I had with the game's art style. The 3D dance sequences that come on during the rhythm segments (Only during the actual plays) are well made and have some great, fluid choreography, with their only issue being the occasional bit of clipping. I also like the little in-game music videos that occur during the singing segments, and each one has its own unique art style.

(Oh, and I'm gonna be biased here and say one thing: Fumi is so fucking hot. Seriously, look at this man. I would totally let him seduce me. He is objectively the sexiest character in the entire game, no cap.)


One last thing that admittedly bothered me: Does Univeil have absolutely no concept of auditions in this universe? I mean, the characters audition to get into the school, but when they're casting for the plays, rather than have the teacher make the students audition for roles in the play, for some reason the playwright does the casting, without any auditions at all. I can only assume this is because the game needs to have all the main characters be prominent and it'd be too hard to have to accommodate NPCs, but...I don't know. I never participated in any kind of play and my knowledge of theater is limited, but even I know enough about theater that most theater companies or troupes hold auditions so everyone can have a fair shot, and I feel like letting the playwright just auto-cast whoever he wants would just cause problems. Hell, Kokuto casting Soshiro as a nameless ensemble character in the fall performance does just that! I can't imagine any school just letting a student playwright have free reign in casting people in their plays without auditions. I don't know if this is a cultural thing in Japan, or wanting to work within the limitations of the game and its narrative, but this just seems odd, and I can't be the only one who thinks this.

Though the fact that I literally just spent 8-9 paragraphs gushing about an obscure visual novel should tell you that I think Jack Jeanne's strengths far outweigh its flaws and missteps. There's a lot of love, passion, and care put into every aspect of the game. One cute detail I noticed is that when you get through the plays in-game, you get to unlock their whole scripts. I do wish it'd be possible for them to be downloaded via a PDF file so whatever theater company or school could put on their own version of the productions in real life, though I doubt that'll ever happen. I haven't even gotten through all the routes in the game yet, but Jack Jeanne is certainly an experience, and I'd go so far as to say it's one of the best visual novels ever made, though there are some I like a little better. It's packed with mostly loveable characters, an immersive story that really pulls you in, immaculate artwork, an amazing soundtrack, and a ton of replay value. I've heard some people criticize the game for not having much in the way of romance, which in their mind means that the game doesn't dive into it right away. I personally don't think Jack Jeanne is lacking in romance, as having played through several routes myself, it's more that Jack Jeanne is much more focused on its main narrative and actually requires you to build chemistry between Kisa and whichever love interest you have her pursue, via activating their character events and raising their required stat. I personally like this approach, as having you actually work towards a romantic relationship makes the romance feel more genuine and earned, rather than just having them dive right into it straight out and have them be strangled by the red string as a result. People might also not like that you have to go through multiple playthroughs just to get all the CGs (The skip option activates once you get through your first playthrough, mitigating this somewhat), and the gameplay can get repetitive after a while. But for me, that's no reason to skip out on Jack Jeanne. Seriously, if you're looking for a unique otome game that actually puts effort into everything and stands out from the pack, give Jack Jeanne a shot even if you're not into visual novels. But physical copies are starting to get hard to find, so if you want to own it, you can still buy it off the Nintendo eShop, and last I checked the only place that stocks the standard edition of the game is GameStop's website, though Aksys Games has some really nice limited editions available on their own website as well. Dammit, Jack Jeanne is so good and just play it!!
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This review was originally written on June 4th, 2023.


Rating: 73/100

If there's one sad truth I've learned about being an anime fan in North America, it's that magical girl anime really get the short end of the stick when it comes to licensing and localization. Whether it be huge amounts of censorship, people believing the stereotype that anything made for girls is always bad or saccharine, or corporations refusing to have a little bit of faith in them or give them the treatment they deserve, anything that's not Sailor Moon or Cardcaptor Sakura tends to be unfairly dismissed as rip-offs of them, even though magical girl anime have existed long before those two ever came into being. One such example, Saint Tail, did get episodes 1-15 dubbed, but for reasons that nobody seems to know, the dub just stopped and Tokyopop just re-released the series subbed only. And for a while, that was all Saint Tail fans could hope to get, and the manga falling out of print not long after didn't help matters. Luckily, this past year, Discotek re-released the entire series on a shiny new blu-ray, complete with the dubbed episodes. I had been curious about the series for a while, and Discotek's license of it did convince me to buy the blu-ray and watch it. Now that I've finished it though...while it is a cute series in its own right, there are other series I enjoy more, and Saint Tail does have a pretty significant slew of issues, all of which have to do with the anime's choices on how it adapted the source material.

Based on the manga by Megumi Tachikawa, the story centers on 14-year-old Meimi Haneoka, who by day seems like your every day, average Catholic schoolgirl who enjoys janging out with her best friend Seira Mimori...who happens to be a nun in-training. But Meimi actually has a secret: By night, unbeknownst to all but Seira, she is the enigmatic phantom thief going under the moniker Saint Tail, who goes out of her way to steal illegally obtained items and return them to their original owners. Not only that, Seira helps her out. Seira listens to the troubles of the people who visit the church she works at, and afterward, gives Meimi all the details, from the item being stolen to who stole it and where it's currently at. Although Meimi limits her heists to people in need, the police still see her as a criminal to be arrested. One person in particular, Daiki Asuka Jr., Meimi's classmate (Who she constantly argues with on a regular basis), has been assigned to capture her, and no matter what comes his way, he's determined to catch Saint Tail and bring her to justice.

I have to say, for an anime that was made in the nineties, Saint Tail looks amazing. The watercolor backgrounds are beautiful to look at, the character designs are pretty cute without being overbearing (Even if most of the characters have the same hair style), and while the series doesn't use dynamic movement a lot of the time, it's always saved for when it really matters, like action scenes and Saint Tail's magical girl transformation. It especially looks amazing in HD. Granted, it's not as consistent and fluid as, say, CardCaptor Sakura, but it does its job pretty well. I liked the soundtrack too, which consists of a lot of lofty, soothing orchestral pieces...though for some reason later on in the series, the show uses this really weird, really annoying disco riff whenever Saint Tail uses her powers during her heists, which just feel really jarring and doesn't feel like it fits with the rest of the show. The only other thing I didn't like was the second ending song, which I found to be a bit too cutesy and syrupy for my tastes, but other than that, everything else is fine.

That being said, I'm a bit more critical of the characters because...well, they don't really change throughout the entire show. Saint Tail is very clingy to its formula, more so than the Pretty Cure series can be, and every episode pretty much consists of "Seira hears a problem from someone, Meimi sends a warning note to Asuka, Saint Tail gets into shenanigans with Asuka while trying to steal the item, item is returned, happy ending." The characters only have one or two prominent personality traits and are pretty static and one-note, so as a result, they're not all that interesting to follow. I found Rina Takamiya in particular to be really grating, because she has no purpose to being in the show other than to chase after Asuka and be jealous of Meimi just to be a petty bitch, and the few nice moments she has don't absolve her of some of the pretty terrible things she did previously. There are even some characters whose capabilities really, REALLY pushed my suspension of disbelief, the biggest one being Seira. Seriously, she raises so many questions: How in the world is she, a 14-year-old girl, even able to get all the information about the items that Meimi needs to steal? Does she know people in those lines of work? Does she have family that helps her out? Did the people who visit her do their own research and tell her about all this stuff after the fact? Is she secretly a detective? There's no internet in Saint Tail so she couldn't have looked there or scoured social media, which would actually make sense if this were made today, and a lot of the intel she gets seems too important for people to just casually leak to a nun-in-training, especially if it involves important treasures that other people could try and get their hands on if they got access to said information.

And that's not even getting into a lot of the...liberties that Saint Tail takes in regards to its portrayal of Christianity and catholicism. A lot of it is just window dressing most of the time, but Saint Tail gets a lot of really basic details wrong when it comes to portraying a nun. Seriously, I don't know much about how nuns work, but I did do some research and learned a few things. One: Nuns-in-training actually aren't allowed to wear veils/habits (Something Tachikawa-san herself admitted that she found out too late when she started the manga). Two: One of the biggest doctrines in the church is that priests, nuns, or whoever is in charge of hearing people's confessions are forbidden from telling others about what they hear unless it's a reportable offense, like if someone says they want to murder someone, and even then, they're not allowed to force or coerce the confessor to report it to outside authorities, only suggest that they either get help or turn themselves in at most, though do correct me if I'm wrong. Seira, while her intentions are good, repeatedly violates this rule by telling Meimi about the information she hears from the people who come to confess to her. This would get her excommunicated straight up if her superiors were to find out.

Really, all of Saint Tail's problems as a show come down to how it was adapted. The original manga, while it had its own issues, had a linear plot that actually evolved as it went on, fleshing out the characters and making them change and develop over its run. It even explained how Meimi became Saint Tail and received her pendant. The anime, on the other hand, decided to make it a "victim of the week" episodic show, and since it was running around the exact same time as the manga, it completely ignored any sense of continuity or progression. A lot of this is due to putting in a lot of filler episodes, which by themselves aren't necessarily bad. But the producers behind the anime apparently thought it'd be a great idea to adapt every chapter in a vacuum, setting up plot threads that seem like they'll be addressed right away, only for them to be put off until a whole 30 episodes later, resulting in characterization and plot developments being completely invalidated, and the series as a whole to feel like its lacking a coherent plotline. The final arc is especially egregious as it was adapted wholesale from the manga with no changes, but because of the anime's weird adaptational decisions, it was written to follow up on things that either don't matter anymore, or feel like they came out of nowhere because of how much the anime put off actually addressing said plot threads in the first place. Granted, I only learned about all this thanks to TVTropes, which is inevitable because while TokyoPop did put out the Saint Tail manga back in the day, it went out of print not long afterward, resulting in the few existing copies to be really expensive and hard to find, and the only attempts made to digitize it online only reached halfway to volume two, making it nigh impossible to read the source material and really compare the changes the anime made to the manga. It really makes you wish someone would re-release it in better quality. Hey Kodansha, care to re-release Saint Tail?! You're already re-releasing every other famous magical girl manga out there, why not do the same with Saint Tail?!

Although...even with a lot of the show's problems, I still enjoyed watching Saint Tail whenever I had the chance. It's a largely wholesome, inoffensive anime that's clearly meant to be for kids, and it can be a lot of fun, what with seeing whatever tricks Meimi pulls out of her magic top hat. The fact that Discotek licensed it and put the whole series out on Blu-Ray after it got ignored for years shows that there are people that still care about it even now. While Saint Tail as a show has a lot of problems, it's a cute little caper for your kid sister, daughter, or niece if you want to introduce them to anime.
This review was written on June 10th, 2023.


Rating: 91/100

So...this happened. I have no clue who at Kodansha decided to finally bring this to US shores through their new K Manga app, but I was honestly not expecting the manga adaptation of Nahoko Uehashi's The Beast Player novel to ever come to America at all. Even the anime isn't available for legal streaming anymore, and that never even got a DVD/Blu-ray release. The novel eventually did, but I doubt it's received much in the way of popularity. Seriously, did ANYONE expect the manga version to come out at all? Whoever decided to convince Kodansha to translate this into English, I am forever grateful. Granted, I wish that the only way to access the manga wasn't through K Manga because of its very controversial and divisive points system, but I'll take what I can get. So anyway, Kemono no Souja was adapted into a manga by Itoe Takemoto in 2008, a year before the anime aired, and went on until January of 2016. The manga has a very different art style compared to the anime, looking a bit more stereotypically anime-like, but adapts Uehashi's book pretty faithfully. Having read the book, I can confirm that the manga makes no real changes from the book other than adapting it to a more visual medium.

I already reviewed the book, but for those who are unfamiliar with it and the manga, it's basically the same as the book, so I'll repost the summary for efficiency's sake: In the fantastical kingdom of Lyoza, 10-year-old Elin lives with her mother Sohyon in territory governed by the Aluhan, or the Grand Duke. Their village raises Toda, dragon-like creatures ridden by the Aluhan's army. Sohyon, who is from a secretive nomadic tribe called the Ahlyo, is the head Toda doctor. One night, the Toda under her care mysteriously die. Sohyon is blamed for their death and sentenced to be eaten alive by wild Toda. On the day of the execution, Elin attempts to save her mother, but Toda surround them before they can escape. Sohyon saves Elin by putting her on the back of a Toda, and it carries Elin away while the remaining Toda devour Sohyon. Elin finds herself in land governed by the Yojeh—the divine ruler of Lyoza, and gets adopted by a reclusive beekeeper. After a four year time skip, Elin decides to enroll in a school called the Kazalamu Royal Beast Sanctuary to become a beast doctor after some experiences seeing and learning about creatures called Royal Beasts. It's there that she encounters and befriends Leelan, a Royal Beast whose fate becomes intertwined with Elin's own. Later, the two of them are tossed head-first into a civil war as Elin challenges ancient beliefs and traditions in an attempt to live as she wishes and give Leelan the life she deserves.

Since the manga was conceived before the anime began airing, Itoe Takemoto opted to adapt the manga in her own style, and I gotta say, while the character designs might skew a little too similar to other manga that I've read, they're still pretty good in their own right. Special attention is paid to the Toda and the Royal Beasts, who look positively beastial, with the Toda's slithery bodies and fearsome crocodile-like features, to the Royal Beasts' thick fur, long wings, and long muzzles. Takemoto also uses a lot of smudging for things like shading and conveying mystique, such as when Sohyon tells Elin about the Ahlyo people for the first time, or conveying a character's deep despair, such as when Elin goes numb after her mother is taken from her. Of course, she's no slouch in every other department, and the splash pages depicting the various vistas of Lyoza are breathtaking, making great use of fog, shading, smudging, and truly conveying both the beauty and danger of the world Elin and the people inhabit. The panels have a good sense of flow to them, making everything easy to follow. It's easy to see that a lot of passion went into this manga, and that's no surprise considering Takemoto-sensei mentions at the end of volume one that she's also a fan of the Beast Player novels, with Uehashi-sensei thanking her personally for the adaptation. If Uehashi-sensei is impressed by the manga's adaptation, then that's a sign of good quality right there.

Of course, the characters are the main driving force of the manga, and thankfully, they're just as lively, unique, compelling, and complex as they are in the novel. To reuse something I said in my review of the novel, Elin in particular is the most memorable character in the series, and the series skips no details on her growth from childhood to adulthood, making her the most developed and three-dimensional character in the entire book. The side characters also all get their time to shine, and everyone in this series has their own story to tell. The manga does share some issues with the novel, that being the villains, while compelling in their own right, border on being cheesy and the politics take over the series in the last quarter, but that's more the manga trying to adapt the novel as faithfully as possible than an inherent flaw of the manga itself. The main draw of Beast Player as a series is its focus on raising wild animals and the sheer detail that's poured into it, such as their eating habits, breeding habits, observing how they react to certain stimuli, and so on, making them feel like real animals rather than just generic fantasy birds. The manga also stays true to the novel's core themes such as how human care for animals doesn't necessarily translate to better care and how even people with the best intentions ultimately raise wild animals to use them for their own selfish purposes.

There is one thing that I feel the manga does better than the novel: the pacing. While I did genuinely enjoy the original novel, there were times when I felt that some passages bloated certain scenes, many of which involved expositing the history of Lyoza that could have been better off shown rather than told. Granted, a novel written in prose is different from a visual medium like a comic book, so it's inevitable that Uehashi-sensei wound up needing to throw in some exposition to flesh out the setting. But there were some passages that I felt either could have been moved later in the book, as they interrupted the flow of some scenes, or cut down to be more digestible. I admit, I did skip a few paragraphs because I wanted to focus more on the story itself than the infodumping. Luckily, the manga remedies this issue by not only evenly distributing the expository bits across various chapters, but accompanying them with images that directly play into what happens in their accompanying chapters, making them feel much more organic and digestible as opposed to having it just be info-dumped on you for you to process, as well as relevant to the plot.

Really, the manga for The Beast Player does a fantastic job at elevating the source material and bringing it to life, and considering Uehashi-sensei was happy with the work Takemoto-sensei put in to faithfully adapt the novel to a manga format, that's a sure sign of a job well done. I was genuinely invested in Elin's story, and the manga absolutely did the story justice, to the point where I'm adding The Beast Player's manga to my list of favorite manga of all time. Seriously, whoever at Kodansha decided to bring this to the US via their K Manga app, thanks for giving this manga a chance and putting it in the limelight, because it absolutely deserves more love and appreciation than it gets. Now if only they'd either put it up digitally on Amazon or print it, because I'd pay good money to own physical copies of The Beast Player. Now all that's left is the anime, and I hear it makes some changes to the story that...aren't exactly the best, but I'll have to see it for myself. Actually, I'm happy that Uehashi-sensei's work is starting to become more accessible in the USA now, especially with the news that Yen Press is bringing over another one of her novels, The Deer King, along with its manga adaptation, both of which are due out in the next few months. So if you're looking for a genuinely fun, intriguing, and compelling fantasy manga that cares about its characters and world, then give The Beast Player a shot...even if the only current legal means of reading it is through the K Manga app.
This review was written on August 10th, 2023.


Rating: 70/100

On April 3rd, 1952, Osamu Tezuka started up a new manga that would later become not only one of his most iconic works, but become a staple in Japanese children's media that still continues to be beloved to this very day. That manga was Astro Boy, or its Japanese title, Tetsuwan Atom. Astro Boy as a character became a popular icon, helped by the fact that the 1963 anime adaptation of the manga was the first ever serialized anime series to ever air on Japanese television (Or at least, one with an ongoing plot), running for a full 193 episodes across three to four years. Said anime was also the first Japanese animated TV series to be brought over to the United States and dubbed into English, though not every episode was dubbed. I've only seen one episode of the 60s anime for a college class, and...it's definitely a product of its time, mainly because its animation, while it may have been considered good when it was first made, by modern standards is extremely primitive. Seriously, most of the action scenes in the 60s Astro Boy consist of nothing but still images and cutaways, that's it. Though it seemed even Tezuka and his team realized how poorly the 60s series had aged, as later on, they decided to form a company called Tezuka Productions for the sole purpose of remaking the Astro Boy anime from scratch, which would come to fruition in 1980. Said 80s remake of Astro Boy is the subject of today's review, as last year, the mad lads at Discotek Media managed to license it and put it out on Blu-Ray. Now that I've seen the entire series, my verdict is...it's okay. It definitely looks amazing for its time, and is a pretty good kids show in its own right, but even without having seen the 60s series, the 1980 remake has some problems of its own.

The remake does follow the same storyline as both the manga and the 60s anime: In Japan during the year 2030, a scientist named Dr. Tenma is trying to create a robot capable of expressing human emotions, so engrossed in his task that he forgets to take his son Tobio to the amusement park. In his anger, Tobio tries to go to the amusement park himself, but gets into a terrible accident and dies from his injuries. Unable to move on from the loss of his son, Dr. Tenma decides to mold the robot into what is basically a replacement for Tobio and succeeds in bringing the robot to life. But not only does the robot child act differently from Tobio, he's unable to control his strength. Angered at how things turned out, Dr. Tenma disowns the robot, and it winds up being recruited to work for a back alley circus. Luckily, a scientist by the name of Dr. Ochanomizu manages to save the robot from the ringleader's mistreatment, renaming him Astro (Atom in the Japanese version) and bringing him to Tokyo, assigning him as the defender of the city. Other than the first few episodes and a running plot thread about another robot named Atlas, Astro Boy as a series is pretty episodic, all of which show Astro solving various problems with his robot powers and saving people.

Considering this remake was made solely to improve on the sixties series and give it better animation, I can definitely say that Tezuka Productions succeeded in their goal, because the animation here is MUCH better than the sixties version. While parts of it are held back by the limitations of the technology of the time, the action scenes are extremely fluid and are bursting with kinetic energy. The backgrounds are well rendered, character designs are more detailed while still maintaining Tezuka's iconic style, and the series being made with hand-painted cels really give it a rustic look that you can't find in most anime anymore. That being said, it's not without its issues, and there are times where several characters go off model. The animation does start to dip in quality later in the series, but not by much. There's also the fact that this rendition of Astro Boy is only 52 episodes long as opposed to the sixties series' 193, which prevents the series from overstaying its welcome and dragging itself out. I haven't seen the 2003 anime beyond half the first episode, so I can't comment on how that series' pacing and plot progression is compared to this one or the sixties series.

The soundtrack is pretty good too, even if it's not particularly memorable. I did find the opening theme song to be pretty cute, and I like that it had a children's choir sing it as a call back to the fact that NBC's dub of the sixties series did the exact same thing...which apparently inspired Japan to do that for all its anime openings from then on. Funny how something from America influenced Japan, though Tezuka's art style did take inspiration from Disney, so there's that. Something I find to be both interesting and funny is that sometimes this series uses public domain classical music at points. One episode used the Can-Can, others used Night on Bald Mountain, Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake, and one I'm not as familiar with, Mars: Bringer of War from Gustav Holst's Planets. Hell, in episode one, Astro's "birth" is accompanied by a literal beat-for-beat recreation of Richard Strauss' 1896 composition, Also Sprach Zarathustra, specifically the rendition from Stanley Kurbick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, which had only come out twelve years prior. Not only is this a great call back to another piece of famous sci-fi media that influenced the genre for generations to come, it also makes for a nice meta in-joke because not only is Tezuka a HUGE fan of the movie itself, he was personally invited by Kubrick to be an art director for the movie, but couldn't do it due to other obligations. It makes me wonder if Tezuka threw that in as a homage to 2001, or just for funsies.

I do think the remake kind of dropped the ball in terms of fleshing out its characters. With the show's episodic nature, the characters don't really change all that much, with some exceptions. I don't know if this was the same in both the 60s and 2003 series, so I can't compare it to those. I also feel like the show missed some opportunities to develop its characters. For example, when Uran is first introduced, Astro is at first annoyed with Uran's behavior, to the point where he flat-out abandons her in the middle of town...but here's the thing: Dr. Tenma did the exact same thing to Astro when he was first born, and you'd think the show would follow up on this and have Astro realize he did the same thing to Uran what Dr. Tenma did to him, maybe have him feel that he's no better than Dr. Tenma and resolving to reconcile with Uran and accept her for how she is, not wanting to be like Dr. Tenma and repeat his mistakes. But the show doesn't do that, and when all is said and done, it's never brought up ever again. There are also times when the show's character writing is wildly inconsistent, even in the same episode. In one episode, Astro's dog Jump gets hurt, and Uran is constantly flip-flopping between worrying about his welfare and not giving a shit and wanting a robot dog. BTW, I think Uran is the worst character in the show because she's an annoying brat who is constantly causing needless trouble and tons of property damage, has no remorse for anything she does, and is an unrepentant bully on top of it. It really says a lot that Naoki Urasawa of all people managed to write Uran a lot better and make her more likeable while keeping the essence of her character.

Because of the show's episodic formula, some episodes are better written than others, and not every episode hits a home run. I actually think the best episodes are the first four or five, the ones that tell Astro's origin story and show how he integrates into Tokyo under Dr. Ochanomizu's care...and usually Uran is the focus of some of the series' worst episodes. Actually, in my opinion, the episode I feel is the weakest one in the series managed to make me feel sorry for Uran, and I don't think it was supposed to. In that episode, Uran steals a kid's toy car and blows it up like usual, and everyone has had enough of her behavior and decide to do something about it. But rather than making the issue about Uran's lack of self control and teaching her to be nicer to others and be less of a bully, for some reason everyone thinks the issue is her being a tomboy and their solution is to sign her up for music and etiquette classes to make her more ladylike, which plays into Japan's super strict enforcement of gender roles and the whole thing of "Girls who are tomboys need to be more feminine and ladylike, because that's the only way we as a society will give a damn about them!" One episode just felt like an excuse to be a crossover with other Tezuka works such as Black Jack and Princess Knight. Hell, there's even one episode that flat-out causes a massive continuity error that contradicts how Astro's origin story was told in the first few episodes. Said episode involved an astronaut discovering he was really a robot, and his father would rebuild him every few months to give him the appearance of aging like a human. When asked why, his father explained that he heard the story of when Dr. Tenma made Astro to replace his deceased son Tobio, but after discovering he couldn't grow, he rejected him and sold him to the circus. This is a call back to Astro's origin story from the manga and the 60's anime, but in this 1980 remake, Astro had unintentionally embarrassed Dr. Tenma on a cruise, he scolded him out of anger (and got separated from him due to the ship crashing into an iceberg), and the ringmaster of the Robot Circus found Astro and led him astray, rather than being sold to the circus by Dr. Tenma. It's rather strange that the 80's adaptation made mention of this story when it didn't happen like that this time, and I'm honestly surprised nobody at Tezuka Productions caught this and fixed it. How in the world did they allow such an obvious mistake to slip past them like this? You'd think that Tezuka, being more involved in this series' production, would bother to keep things consistent!

This next thing is more of a personal nitpick than anything, as it yet again involves Uran, but I need to get this out of my system: Whose bright idea was it to have Uran constantly flash panty shots every single time she takes one step?! I know she's technically a robot, but it's really creepy that in nearly every single scene, her underwear is constantly shown whenever she so much as moves around, and the fact that she was deliberately designed as a child really doesn't help matters! It also doesn't help that her dress is so short that it makes her look like she's wearing just a shirt and nothing underneath. I know this was the eighties and Japan has a different view of this sort of stuff, but...the fact that there was SO MUCH of it here was just really off-putting to me. Sailor Moon also had this problem somewhat, but that was slightly remedied by the fact that the girls' magical girl outfits consisted of leotards and that whatever panty shots there were were at the very least much more spread out across the five seasons and not constantly shoved in your face every nanosecond. I hear this issue was fixed in the 2003 series by giving Uran a new outfit, but I haven't seen it, so do correct me if I'm wrong.

Okay, I better get off my Uran soapbox. So yeah, while not a perfect remake of the sixties series, Tezuka Productions did achieve what they set out to do by giving Astro Boy some much needed polish and fixing whatever issues plagued the original show. Plus, as flawed as this series is, I am glad I blind-bought Discotek's blu-ray for Astro Boy 1980 and watched it, and there's no denying the massive influence Astro Boy in general has had on pretty much the entire anime industry before and since. This is especially good since the Japanese version of the 1980 series is finally made more accessible to American audiences when it wasn't so before. Here's hoping Discotek manages to wring the rights to the 2003 series from Mill Creek and put that out on BR, Japanese version and all, since I hear the dub for that made a LOT of changes from the original. So yeah, if you like Osamu Tezuka and want to see Astro Boy but are put off by both the limited animation and sheer length of the sixties series, give the 1980 series a shot...if you're able to or willing to handle Uran's incessant brattiness, that is.
This review was written on September 6th, 2023.


Rating: 66/100

Ah, Heaven Official's Blessing. Seriously, I have no idea how I first learned about this show, and if I'm being honest, I wouldn't have known this had even existed, both in its original danmei format or the donghua, if I hadn't heard people gushing about it on the internet long after the fact. Like...how the hell did this donghua become so popular? I had no idea what donghua or danmei were before 2021, and the only thing I knew about Chinese animation was that there were some old news headlines years ago about some studios stealing and plagiarizing assets from other movies and shows for their own stuff. I guess China decided to step up their animation game or something. I don't know. But I was bored one day and figured I might as well finally watch Heaven Official's Blessing to see what all the hubbub is about, especially since its long-delayed English dub finally got released. Though maybe checking out the donghua first wasn't the right call, since as of right now Seven Seas finished putting out the original novels in English, and the donghua only covers a small part of them. Having only seen the donghua...yeah, I'm still not quite sure why people are going ga-ga over this.

The story goes as follows: Once upon a time, Xie Lian was the Crown Prince of the Xian Le kingdom. He was loved by his citizens and was considered the darling of the world. He ascended to the Heavens at a young age; however, due to unfortunate circumstances, was quickly banished back to the mortal realm. Much later in his immortal life, after being banished twice by the Emperor of the Heavenly Realm, Xie Lian again ascends to the heavens to work as a godly official. Now known as a peculiar, peripatetic scrap-collector with perennially bad luck, Xie Lian is ridiculed or ignored by most other heavenly officials, reduced to a laughingstock. Nevertheless, he retains his good-hearted nature and only wishes to fulfill his duties as a god. For Xie Lian's first assignment of his third ascension, he is tasked with solving the mystery of a number of brides who have disappeared during their wedding processions through Mount Yujun in the mortal world. During his investigation, he is unexpectedly greeted by a ghost who calls himself San Lang, who seems to resemble a feared ghost king named Hua Cheng. After his first mission is complete, Xie Lian encounters San Lang once again, and the two of them become friends, working together and becoming steady fixtures in each others lives, unaware of just how long their pasts have been entwined.

As far as the animation goes, the 2D animation for this is alright. The backgrounds are picturesque and fit the feel of the show's fantasy setting, the actual animation is serviceable, costumes are amazingly designed even if the character designs themselves lean a little too far into the generic bishounen look, and the watercolor imagery in both the opening and ending themes are absolutely luscious. This is admittedly my first exposure to Haoliners Animation as a studio, and I think they do a fairly good job here. Unfortunately, their CGI is utter crap. Seriously, there are several CGI monsters and animals that are so obviously 3D-animated that they make no effort to even remotely blend with the 2D animation whatsoever, making it stick out like a sore thumb, and they're animated in a very stiff, janky manner. They may as well have come right out of a bad Nintendo 64 game, the CGI is so poorly rendered. Sorry Heaven Official's Blessing, but in that department, Link Click has you beat. Thankfully the soundtrack fares much better, even if I didn't find any background music that didn't use the erhu to be particularly memorable. All the opening, ending, and insert songs, on the other hand, are all amazingly sung and are used to great effect, the insert songs in particular. I knew nothing of Jeff Chung and Li Xinyi before this, but God damn, they have amazing voices and I want to hear more of their work now.

Sadly, I can't extend that same level of praise for the characters. I'm not gonna mince words here, I found all of them to be pretty bland and uninteresting, though to be fair, this particular season of the donghua largely serves as set-up. At eleven episodes and one extra OVA, it doesn't have the time to really delve into and flesh out the characters, main and side characters, in detail. I heard later arcs of the novel are much better, but I haven't read it yet so I can't confirm. But because of the series' nature as a prologue to a much bigger story, none of the characters really grow or change, nor are they really challenged in any real way. Hua Cheng in particular just comes off as a living plot device who always seems to figure things out and always knows what to do, to the point where he almost comes across as a Gary Stu. I especially hated Fu Yao because he spends the entire series being nothing but a needlessly cynical jackass who can't seem to keep his temper in check and never stops arguing with Nan Feng over petty shit. Even what little information we have on Xie Lian doesn't really amount to anything because, as I mentioned before, this season of the donghua is largely just set-up consisting of episodic mysteries that establish something bigger going on, something that we ought to be in for the long haul, but never really addresses. It doesn't help that while some episodes run for 30 minutes as opposed to the usual 22 minutes, some episodes are surprisingly short, running around 15-18 minutes including the opening and endings, with their pacing becoming too fast and suffering as a result of the short episode length.

That's pretty much this season of Heaven Official's Blessing in a nutshell: It's an incomplete adaptation of a much larger novel series, and this season serves as just a prologue. Because it began on a few episodic mysteries, the best way I can describe this show is that it has interesting ideas, but all the depth and follow through of a kiddie pool. There's no real overarching narrative that drives the season, and nothing that happens into the show feeds into one in the first place, other than Xie Lian wondering who the heck this guy in red is that suddenly latched onto him like a lost puppy. Granted, a second season has been announced, and for all I know, it might improve on this season's flaws, but at this point, I don't know if I feel like watching it. I might read the novels if I feel like it, but I don't know when that'll be. At least Seven Seas put them out in English in their entirety, so you can read the entire saga of Heaven Official's Blessing beyond what the donghua covered. But tl;dr, I'm kinda meh on this season of Heaven Official's Blessing, but if you're into stuff like this, good for you. You got more enjoyment out of it than I did.
This review was written on September 3rd, 2023.


Rating: 55/100

Man, I really wanted to like this manga more than I do. I've been reading quite a few short manga lately, many of which have been really good, such as the following: Yumi and Kurumi, an intensely heartwarming and wholesome manga about a sentient doll wanting to make a put upon woman happy; Yume no Hashibashi, a melancholic LGBT story that treats its characters with kindness even with its potentially problematic premise; Summer Ghost, a wonderful adaptation of the short movie that adds a lot more information than the movie could include; Kagome Kagome, a beautifully colored period piece about a nun yearning for a life beyond her convent; The Knight Blooms Behind Castle Walls, a story about a girl's dream of achieving knighthood that is incredibly well researched and full of solid world-building, and The Bones of an Invisible Human, a down-to-earth drama about a girl dealing with having murdered her abusive father and the fallout from it. But I admittedly found one that turned out to be a dud, Ms. Itsuya, which is a shame because I like its premise and it really could have been something good, but its overall execution was all over the place, leaving it feeling like an incoherent mess.

The story centers on a boy named Toki Sakamoto, whose life has been rough. He left his parents due to not fitting in with his stepfather's family, and has been living with his grandmother. But his grandmother is dealing with dementia, and he wants to take up a job to support her, but his school wants him to pursue his education rather than give it up. To ease the burden on him, his school arranges for him to live with the quirky substitute art teacher, the titular Itsuya Tsuruta and her ward, a girl named Kon. Yes, her first name is actually Kon, not her surname. Why this is, I have no clue. Itsuya is flighty and is not very good at drawing, but she seems to have the power to make her drawings come to life, using it to help those who cross her path, Toki included. Toki isn't sure what to make of her, and Kon's bad attitude doesn't make things easy for him either, but slowly, Toki becomes accustomed to his new situation.

You'd think a premise like this would lead to something heartwarming, and sure enough, Ms. Itsuya TRIES to be that. But honestly, its whole handling of its premise leaves a lot to be desired. For one, a majority of the characters are always shown bickering and being unnecessarily mean to each other with very little provocation. Seriously, Toki and Kon's interactions consist of the two of them being literally NOTHING but extremely rude and insensitive towards one another, even when it isn't warranted. Any time the two of them do try to help each other out, it's always undercut by some snarky comments they make leading to yet another needless argument. As a result, any scenes where they actually manage to have a civil conversation and whatever "heartwarming" scenes they get wind up feeling really hollow and unearned. The fact that the two of them marry at the end of the manga is especially baffling because every interaction they've had consists of them bickering and arguing, and I honestly cannot see why these two would ever get in any kind of romantic relationship whatsoever. I have no problem with characters having huge flaws, and Toki and Kon having character flaws isn't the issue here. I would have appreciated it if the mangaka had Toki and Kon not get along at first, but then gradually get to know one another and have them slowly come to respect one another. But that doesn't happen, and any time it does, the two of them immediately go back to arguing and making out of nowhere, insensitive comments to one another. Why is this manga trying to convince me that these two are made for each other when its attempts at doing so clearly state otherwise?

The other one-off characters aren't much better, as they're just as unnecessarily mean-spirited as Toki and Kon are, yet the manga wants you to believe that they're actually good people on the inside. For example, there's one early chapter where Toki's school tries to get him to live with his gym teacher Oniguma, and the manga really wants to convince you that this gym teacher is a good guy who cares about his son. But the first scene this gym teacher shares with his son is him flat-out slapping the kid, yelling at him for coming back to town after leaving his job, and calling him a weakling for not wanting to stay in the city, not even bothering to hear out why his son quit his job in the first place. Eventually, Oniguma and his son "supposedly" reconcile. I say supposedly because this reconciliation consists of Oniguma begging his son to come back not because he's sorry for what he did and not bothering to understand him...but because he's terrified of cockroaches and can't be bothered to kill them himself. The manga tries to make this seem super heartwarming, but all it does is make the dad come off as a massive jackass who only uses his son for his own convenience and hasn't learned a thing from his mistakes, so their so-called reconciliation falls completely flat and it makes it really hard to sympathize with this guy in any way. There's another chapter where Toki saves a kid from bullies, but not only is the kid an ungrateful brat about it, he even insults him right to his face by judging him for watching a children's cartoon. Ms. Itsuya, if you're trying to make me feel sympathy for these characters, don't make them into jackasses who are needlessly cruel to Toki or everyone else for no reason. Kon is especially egregious because all throughout her time in the manga, she's hotheaded, quick to anger, and extremely judgmental, using Toki for whatever the hell she wants without even asking him, is constantly on his case about stuff that doesn't need to be made into a big deal, and criticizes both him and Itsuya for liking a children's show. Oh, and the second volume throws in a character who, I'm not kidding you, pulls up Kon's skirt, loudly announces what color her undies are to everyone, and he gets barely any comeuppance whatsoever, and everyone just...forgets about it later. The hell?!

Do you see the problem with Ms. Itsuya yet? I want to like this manga and its premise, but it has an utterly unbearable cast of characters who seem to go out of their way to be as obnoxiously abrasive and jerkish as humanly possible, and its attempts at making the audience sympathize with them or make them grow nicer fall completely flat because of this, and it constantly undermines itself each time. The only character who escapes this is Itsuya herself, and even then, she has the problem of coming across as a bit too perfect, rarely showing any real character flaws of her own. She mostly exists just to be some guiding force to the kids rather than a character in her own right. The only real positives I can say about Ms. Itsuya as a manga are, 1. The art is alright, and 2. I actually liked the ending twist and the revelation it revealed about Itsuya's whole reason for magically creating art.

It sucks that I couldn't enjoy this manga, and believe me, I really want to! If you love Ms. Itsuya, good for you. It just didn't appeal to me personally. Luckily, the mangaka Mizu Sahara (real name Sumomo Yumeka) has made plenty of other manga, including an adaptation of Makoto Shinkai's Voices of a Distant Star that I read a long while ago. I should probably re-read that. But yeah, give Ms. Itsuya a read if you're into short manga that don't overstay their welcome, but if you can't tolerate the obnoxious characters, give it a miss.
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