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Julia's Reviews on Various Media

This review was written on November 3rd, 2019.

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(Note: I literally could not find a good quality picture of the promo art for the first season. The picture above is actually the cover pic for the second season's opening theme single, only with the part listing the artist and the song cut out. I thought it looked better than any of the first season pics I could find)

I give the first season of this archetypal fantasy anime...a 74/100.

Huh. I originally wasn't going to review this, as the second season is airing right now, and I wanted that to be done before I reviewed the series, but I found I had too much to say about the first season to keep my mouth shut about it. So why not? Might as well talk about it. Granblue Fantasy started out as a smartphone JRPG that became really popular, and is still going to this day. It received an anime adaptation, and the second season is currently airing. This anime never even crossed my radar, but I was bored and wanted something new to watch, and when I found out this had an English dub, I decided to watch it. I finally finished the first season now that it's up on Netflix, and I definitely like it, though it's not without its problems.

In a world where the skies are endless and traveling between floating islands is the norm, a young country boy, Gran, dreams of finding his father and traveling the world. But while out on an excursion with his dragon friend Vyrn, he runs into a young woman, Lyria, and her knight companion, Katalina, who are being hunted by the evil Erste empire. They want to use Lyria's powers for nefarious purposes, and Katalina betrayed the empire by escaping with Lyria. When he is mortally wounded in a battle, Lyria gives him some of her life force to save him, and summons a powerful beast, Bahamut, to drive the forces away. Thus, Gran's life force is bonded with Lyria's, so wherever she goes, he has to follow, or else they both die. Gran doesn't mind, as he wants to journey to the mythical island of Estalucia, called the Island of the Astrals, as that's where his father is. The three of them decide to do just that, and on their journey, they make new friends, encounter new enemies, and discover the secrets of their world and what the Empire plans to do with it, and by extension, Lyria.

Basically, this anime is very old school despite being relatively new. It pretty much adheres to all the standard JRPG tropes from the 90s to now: An optimistic man from a backwater village who goes on an adventure, a mysterious damsel in distress with strange powers, a cute perky animal companion, an evil empire seeking to destroy the world and find out its secrets, a ragtag crew with a variety of eclectic personalities, and so on. If you're familiar with the original cellphone game, this isn't much of a surprise, as many of the staff that worked on it also worked on various Final Fantasy games back in the day. The anime pretty much feels like an RPG, with a colorful world filled with people from all walks of life, even half-animal people, and the animation is no slouch in that it creates these beautiful, vivid settings that are a feast for the eyes, from Gran's pastoral village to the steampunk town of Valtz. It helps that the action and fight scenes are all very well choreographed, with fighting moves actually being animated.

Honestly, my only complaints with the animation are twofold, and they are pretty big flaws. One is that the CGI monsters really don't blend well with the 2D animation and could have been integrated into the scenery better. The second one is with the outlines around the characters. To see what I mean, I want you to look at these screenshots and note the parts I circled in red.

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Notice how the parts that I circled don't look all that smooth or seem to have missing spaces? I don't know if this was a deliberate art style choice, or the animators didn't have time to polish the character designs before the episodes were set to air, but seriously, all of the linework around the characters looks really sloppy, unrefined, and unfinished. Unlike the smooth linework in say, shows like AnoHana or anything by KyoAni, the linework in Granblue Fantasy makes it seem like the animators never got around to adding extra layers of ink and smoothing out the outlines around the characters, and half the time it looks like several pieces are missing. I don't know of any better way to describe it. Thankfully, from what little I've seen of season two, this has been rectified, namely because a different studio, MAPPA, is working on season 2 instead of A-1 Pictures. It's not too noticeable to the untrained eye, but once you see it, you can't unsee it. I don't have much to say about the soundtrack, as it's just awesome. I might be biased here, since it was done by famous video game composer Nobuo Uematsu and by relative newcomer Yasunori Nishiki, who you may know as the guy who made Octopath Traveler's OST, and is just as awesome. I don't think I can say much about the OST that others haven't said already.

While I personally liked the characters in Granblue, it can't be denied that they all fulfill various JRPG tropes and aren't the most three-dimensional. Gran is the typical happy-go-lucky protag who wants to help others and explore the world, Vyrn is the cute comic relief animal mascot, Rackam is the wise adult, Io is the cute little tsundere girl, so on and so forth. They're not bad, but to anyone who's tired of these particular archetypes, they can seem bland and uninspired. In all honesty, Lyria's kinda useless. I mean, she's not bad or terribly written, and her position in the story makes sense, but most of the time she hangs around Gran or Katalina or gets kidnapped. Not all the time, but since she doesn't really fight or do anything to defend herself, she's not exactly breaking out of the damsel in distress mold anytime soon. But I have seen characters who are worse and much more annoying about it, so I'm gonna cut Lyria some slack on this one. Plus, I thought Io's shtick of poking fun at Rackam's age was stupid, and any humor that was supposed to come out of it just seemed forced. Furthermore, many of the oneshot villains were bland and one-note, not doing much except doing bad things and being evil for the sake of it. But for all I know, the second season might give them more screentime and development.

Even the main story itself doesn't really seem all that special. It's just a ragtag crew exploring the world, collecting spirits, and trying to fight the evil empire. Those kinds of stories are pretty much a dime a dozen, but considering how many bad isekai anime that have been coming out in the past few years, particularly ones involving generic video game worlds with shoehorned in game mechanics and no effort into actually trying to have some substance, a pure, straight fantasy anime is pretty refreshing after so many kid-gets-whisked-to-another-world stories. It's not trying to be some epic masterpiece or have some kind of deep, philosophical message. It just wants to be an earnest, pure, fun fantasy adventure, and while certain elements could have been done better, and the dialogue less overly explainy, it's still a fun ride.

If you do decide to watch the first season, here's a little caveat: The anime is said to have 13 episodes, but only twelve of them cover the main story, with the thirteenth episode, titled Another Sky, basically being an alternate universe centering around a female main character, Djeeta, who is the female player character in the game and completely replaces Gran. It has no bearing on the main story whatsoever, and it recaps the story with quite a few changes, but it is recommended you watch the main show to get a jist of who the side characters are. There's also an OVA in that same universe that tells a Halloween-themed side story, but I haven't found it yet so I have nothing I can say on that. Furthermore, I've only seen this in English so far, not Japanese, but the English dub is very solid, with great casting and even bringing in some voice actors who haven't done much work lately back into the spotlight (such as Tara Jayne as the evil Furias). I only have one complaint about the dub: During Lyria's sad moments, Kira Buckland makes her voice come off as way too shrill and whiny. She's normally pretty good with this, but since she's using a higher pitched voice than usual, she unfortunately missed the mark on that one. But that's really about it.

Bottom line, if you want a straight fantasy story that's just plain fun, Granblue Fantasy is certainly a high flying adventure. I'll review the second season separately.
 
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This review was written on July 26th, 2017, though not finished until today. Man, it really took me two years to finish a review on this? Then again, I have done worse.

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I give this small book about a boy and his friendship with a Native American...an 82/100.

One time, when I was in elementary school, one of my classes watched a movie. It was about a boy living all alone in a house while his family went to do some stuff, and during that time, the boy became friends with some Native Americans, one of them being the same age as he. I didn't remember much about it save for two scenes: The family trying to get back home but the horse wasn't able to go farther for some reason, the father shooting the horse, and the daughter crying over the horse. I also remembered a scene at the end where the Native American boy leaves his dog for the boy as a sign of his friendship before leaving permanently. I had completely forgotten about it until I discovered information on a book called The Sign of the Beaver. It had the EXACT same premise, but I didn't know for sure if there was a movie on it. And sure enough, there was! Only it was called Keeping The Promise for some reason, and the scenes showing the family themselves were exclusive only to the movie. And yes, as it turns out, Keeping The Promise/Sign of the Beaver was the movie I saw way back in elementary school. So now that I've read the book, I think I'm ready to review it now that I've read both the book and seen the movie again after so long.

The premise is rather simple. In the late 1700s, settlers began claiming lands owned by Native Americans and starting new lives. A 13-year-old boy, Matthew James Hallowell, is asked to watch over a cabin he and his father made in a rural part of Maine while his father goes back to Massachussetts to get his mother, sister, and baby brother. It's supposed to be for only seven weeks, but the boy tries his best to guard the house alone. But through a series of circumstances, he finds himself getting involved with the Penobscot tribe, namely teaching one of the younger boys, Attean, to read English letters. In return, Attean and his tribe teach Matt how to survive and hunt for food without the use of a rifle until his father comes back. But overtime, Matt begins to lose hope of his family ever returning.

For those of you out there who like heart pumping action and having lots of stuff happening, you're not gonna find anything of the sort here. The majority of the book focuses solely on Matt and the days he spends at his cabin in the wilderness, doing mundane things such as hunting for food and learning things from Attean. The only real big thing that happens is that the kids fight off a bear and kill it, and that's it. Most books that attempt to have characters stay in one place and not have a whole lot happen often border on being boring, either because the chapters go on for too long and not doing anything meaningful with its time (Grapes of Wrath is one such offender), or the writer doesn't know what to focus on. It can also be just as bad going in the other direction, having lots of stuff happen back to back to back without a break or without being given information on what's going on, trying too hard to be ambitious and epic when its not needed. Sign of the Beaver thankfully avoids this problem, as not only does it make use of its very short length, with some chapters often being three or four pages long, every chapter has a lot of important details put into it, from Matt's chores to how he learns to make a bow and arrow and how to hunt rabbits without a rifle. With such a limited scope, it can be hard to make an interesting premise out of this, but Sign of the Beaver knows what it wants to be and makes good use of its short length and premise. Sometimes, less is more after all.

As such, there aren't a whole lot of characters that we follow either. Just Matt, Attean, and a few of the latter's relatives, and even they don't get a huge role in the story. Speare puts a lot of focus on just Matt and Attean, putting a lot of care and detail into their friendship, how it starts off rocky because of how different they are, to eventually developing a mutual respect for one another and learning from each other. While Matt and Attean aren't necessarily the most three dimensional, they had great chemistry, and since the book focuses on just these two, there's a lot of room for development between them, and Speare uses this to great effect throughout the book. It helps that since they're the main focus, they get the most time to develop and be fleshed out, and while the side characters are kind of one note because of their lack of focus, they all serve their purposes well, and they're not bad characters either. Matt and Attean have different mindsets, different personalities, and despite their rocky start, they compliment each other perfectly by the book's end. The only character I felt was underutilized was Ben, the man who steals Matt's gun. I felt like he was just there just to get the plot going, and after that, we never see him again. Ironically, the movie rectifies this and gives him a bigger role, which definitely worked.

I don't have much to say about the prose, as it's very simple and grounded, obviously aimed at kids, but in my opinion, Speare never skips out on important details that add to the setting and convey just how lonely and isolated Matt is when he's alone in the wilderness. It does its job well, and that's really all I can say about it. Now, I admit I'm not an expert on Native Americans, especially during that time period, but from what I've heard, the book supposedly gets a lot wrong about natives and perpetuates a lot of untrue stereotypes about them as a whole. I can't comment on the book's overall accuracy in regards to its portrayal of the natives, as I'm sure there are others who can do that far better. Heck, the newer versions have an introduction segment written by someone who does address these issues, so I recommend checking that out if you ever come across copies of this book.

Since I saw the movie before reading the book, and saw it again fairly recently, how does it hold up as an adaptation? Actually, pretty good. Not only is it faithful to the novel barring some changes that don't detract from the spirit of the book, it gives Matt's family members their own subplot, which takes up half the movie. Since they don't appear in the novel until the very end, the movie goes out of its way to give them much more screentime and development than the book ever did, and I think adding them to the movie was a good move, since it prevents the movie from getting too dull or padded out. Furthermore, Ben doesn't just disappear after one scene and becomes a serious obstacle late in the movie, so I'll give the producers credit for trying to do something with him. Personally, I prefer the movie over the book, as it's better paced and has better character development, but that's not to say the book isn't a good book in its own right. If you are interested in watching the movie, it's fairly easy to find. You can find DVDs of it on Amazon and Ebay for cheap, and it's even available to watch on Amazon Prime if you have it. It's now under its original title instead of Keeping The Promise.

Barring a few inaccuracies and some unfortunate stereotypical portrayals, as the book stands, it's a fairly good, short read.
 
This review was originally written on April 18th, 2014.

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I give this beautiful anime movie...an 71/100.

Milestone: this is my 235th completed anime!

The eighties were an awesome time to make anime in Japan. The economy was flourishing, money was in abundance, consumers wanted and paid good for it, and it was the time when animators got really ambitious about what they wanted to create. Lots of great anime came from the eighties, like the original Macross anime (and it's Macekred version, Robotech), Magical Angel Creamy Mami, Little Princess Sara, Nausicaa and the Valley of the Wind, Zeta Gundam, and, most notably, Akira. The eighties were also a time when anime began it's first journey to America, but not in one piece. Back then, it was the standard to change names and storylines, re-arrange scenes or cut some out altogether, and market it only to kids, not teenagers and adults. Windaria was one of those titles. It was released by Harmony Gold (people who put together Robotech) under the name Once Upon A Time (No, not the live action show!) and apparently, similarly to Samurai Pizza Cats, they never got a properly translated script so they made their own one from scratch, much to the chagrin of hardcore fans. To this day, it has not been given an unedited English dub or a proper DVD release (Yoohoo! Discotek!). Anyway, I finally got to see it today, and...I have mixed feelings about it.

It's like Record of Lodoss War in that two kingdoms are warring against each other, but the war itself doesn't break out until the second half of the movie due to rising tensions between the two kingdoms. There's another place called the Village of Blossoms which live near the Tree of Windaria, which the village people pray to when needed. One day, when Itha nearly floods, a man named Izu rushes to close the water gates, saving the town from disaster. But later on, a messenger from Paro invites him to help with a mission and be rewarded with a castle, riches, and women, even though he already has a wife named Marin and a pet Eevee-lookalike named Polipoli. He takes on the job, and Marin decides to wait for him, even as war comes closer. On the other hand, a prince of Paro, Jill (why does he have a girl's name? He's named Roland in the Harmony Gold dub), and a princess of Itha, Ahnas, are in love, and don't like the way things are going. But when war breaks out, things definitely won't be peachy keen for anyone.

There's something I am DYING to get out of the way: I hate every single character, but I love how they're executed. Every major character follows some kind of archetype: the brash, adventurous young man, a meek, submissive girl, a rebellious princess, a bland prince who hates his kingdom, and an evil king. They don't get very much development, and never grow out of their stereotypes. The most egregious example is Marin, who, quite seriously, does ABSOLUTELY NOTHING in the movie. All she does is sit around and do nothing while bad things are happening. She literally had absolutely no impact on the movie. Heck, you could cut her out altogether and nothing could be lost! Everyone else are just a bunch of one dimensional stereotypes. However! They all have one MAJOR saving grace that I feel the movie accomplished REALLY well: their flaws, and how they lead to their downfall. I won't mention anything for the sake of spoilers, but I absolutely LOVE how their major character flaws are completely realistic and actually have consequences for not just themselves but everyone else around them. Marin does nothing but sit around in a war torn village, Izu goes from one kingdom to another and becomes a money grubbing idiot when he defects to Paro, and Jill's hatred for his father clouds his judgment about the war. Their flaws drive the entire story, and not only do they make the entire story happen, when reality comes crashing down before them, the mistakes they make have grave consequences. I absolutely love that! That is a great way to use a character's flaws and mistakes! Characters in stories have to have flaws that need to be overcome and make mistakes so they can be well rounded characters! I love that!...but the only problem is, none of the characters are even remotely likable at all. It's good to have flawed characters instead of perfect little Mary Sues, but it's just as bad going in the other direction, and the movie makes no attempt to actually make them into good, well rounded, likable characters, with redeemable flaws and imperfections. The characters are basically the movie's biggest dark spot.

Now to get these out of the way: the music and animation are beautiful. Jaw-droppingly gorgeous, the animation is legendary for it's time. There's a ton of detail put into everything, like characters preparing for a battle to simple character movement, and the animators go way out of their way to make the people from Itha and Paro different from each other. I also really love the way they animate explosions and flying ships, especially the scene were Izu plays around with a flying machine for the first time. The music is also very wonderful, with some Yoko Kanno-esque orchestral tracks, even though I did find some pieces that I felt were a bit too peppy and bouncy for certain scenes. Also some things I didn't like were the evil king and a random nipple shot early on (I really need to stop being so sensitive about these things). It's definitely not a perfect movie, and it could have been better if it made it's characters more than just a bunch of one dimensional stereotypes, but I can see how this movie made an impact on the early otaku community when anime was just barely making a blip in the US. It's well animated, it's grim, it doesn't have a happy ending, and it's characters are so annoyingly but wonderfully flawed.

I don't hate the movie. I acknowledge everything it does right, and GOD, some things it does right are absolutely wonderful! But it could have been so much better if the characters were more likable.
 
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This review was originally written on February 26th, 2016.

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I give this unabashedly carefree and girly show...a 77/100!

Starting from the 70s and 80s, kids shows, especially in America, cared more about selling toys than allowing animators to create the stories they wanted and develop characters. The more toys that sold, the more money went into the cartoons. But characters would be given the shaft in favor of new ones, and the stories were very basic, the characters being boring and flat, and being aimed mostly at children. However, nowadays, even shows that come off as toy commercials are putting in more effort to just tell a story and create characters that audiences can care about, rather than just making a show just for the sake of selling toys. Anime has been doing this for a while now, probably since Pokemon, so it's no slouch in the animation and storytelling department. Some examples of good kids shows that are made to sell toys are Pokemon, Jewelpet, Digimon (some of the time), Sailor Moon, and Pretty Cure. In Japan, Pretty Cure still reigns supreme as the number one show for girls, and has done so for decades since its inception, even if it does have its drawbacks. However, even big franchises aren't immune to having their duds. Smile Pretty Cure is a good show that can appeal to a lot of people, but it unfortunately is being held back by a lot of flaws that prevent it from being truly great, although it's definitely not the worst I've seen.

Miyuki Hoshizora is a happy, friendly, amiable girl who just moved into a new town, and is excited to start a new chapter of her life. One day, a cute fairy named Candy appears before her, telling her that she and four other girls have to become legendary warriors called Pretty Cure, in order to save her world, Marchenland, from villains from the Bad End Kingdom and resurrect her queen. Miyuki accepts and becomes Cure Happy. She and four other girls have to defeat the villains, collect Cure Decor, and ressurrect the queen of Marchenland before Wolfrun, Akaoni, and Majorina resurrect their own master, King Pierrot, and save the world from heading towards a bad end. They are determined to make sure their story has a happy ending, just like the fairytales Miyuki loves and cherishes.

For the most part, the animation is pretty good. Nothing stellar, but the colors are bright, the transformation sequences are well animated, everything is smooth, there's lots of energy put into it, and the sparkles and the brightness adds to the show's goofy, light-hearted tone, even if it can be rather hard to look at sometimes. Yeah, this show is VERY bright and riddled with bright colors that'll hurt your eyes if you're sensitive to light. The music, while also nothing stellar, does its job well. Then again, Yasuharu Takanashi is well known for making good music and making sure they fit the show in every way, whether it be in tone and atmosphere. I hear this series used a lot of music from Fresh Pretty Cure, but I haven't seen that series so I won't comment on that.

The characters...well, I'm not gonna lie, most of them are pretty bland. They stay the same throughout the entire show, not really changing much. Miyuki is the happy-go-lucky friendly girl who loves being kind to people, Akane is the hotblooded sporty girl, Yayoi is the shy artist, etc. I will admit, the show does care about wanting the audience to see what the characters are like outside of fighting, showing that they have actual lives outside of being superheroes. I feel that so many shows nowadays forget that while people can be superheroes, they're still human. Smile Precure does a great job at showing that outside of their superhero business, the girls are just that. Young girls who have their own problems and worries to deal with in their lives, and yet...even with that, they barely develop in any meaningful way. What little development they do have is so predictable that anyone can see it coming, and as a result, they still come off as bland. The only character I can think of who actually got good development was Yayoi, the yellow Cure. Seriously, I love this girl. She is basically me in a nutshell: shy, cries a lot, loves to draw, loves cartoons (though she likes robot shows and I don't), has trouble making friends, tries to do whatever she can for others and herself, etc. She's pretty much the best thing about Smile. I like Miyuki and all, but I do kinda wish Yayoi was the main character. The others...stay the same, Reika especially. I like her, but she's pretty much a blank slate, and rather static, suffering from the worst of the show's characterization problems. She starts off and ends the show being the same calm, smart girl who doesn't know what she wants to do in life. Also, Candy is annoying and always causes trouble for the girls, almost ruining Miyuki's social life in one episode where they switch bodies. The villains are pretty goofy and not very intimidating except for one, but that's a spoiler.

The story, well...there is no story. There is, but its extremely basic: all the girls really have to do is collect decor, save Marchenland and the queen, and deal with the Bad End Kingdom. That's seriously it. 85% of the show is filler, 10% character development, and 5% storytelling. While I appreciate the show's attempts to get us to care about the characters, in doing so, it completely hurt the story. The worst thing about the story and the show in general? There's basically ZERO sense of urgency. The villains sans Joker and Pierrot are all goofy goofballs, the series is very episodic in nature, the girls battle a bunch of monsters, and because the show chose to favor just showing the characters having fun, villains included, and because of this, there is still little reason for us to care about what the characters go through. My problem with slice-of-life shows or most kids shows nowadays aren't that they're kiddy or marketed at kids or giant toy commercials. It’s the fact that nothing happens. I want to sympathize with the characters, but for that, they need to be put in danger. I don’t really care about characters who spend all their time eating cakes at a summer festival, or something. Same with romances. I want to see the different characters face challenges, put their lives on the line, that’ll make me care about them, if done well. Smile attempts this, but unfortunately, it falls flat on its face in doing so. Still, I don't hate Smile. In fact, I like it. I'd definitely take Smile over Happiness Charge any day.

Smile isn't the best Precure series, but it's a perfectly safe, carefree show for kids that your daughter, sister, niece, or that kid you're babysitting can definitely enjoy. I do feel Smile could have done a heck of a lot better though. I haven't seen the English dub, Glitter Force, yet, nor do I plan to anytime soon, but I hope it'll pave the way for Precure to be successful in the US.
 
I haven't seen the English dub, Glitter Force, yet, nor do I plan to anytime soon, but I hope it'll pave the way for Precure to be successful in the US.
Well, there's now a second Glitter Force dub now, but I don't know if it's good. The LA version of the first one (that one was based on the English one) was bad in my opinion, and kinda tainted Pretty Cure for me since it was my first exposure to the franchise, but maybe the second one is better, hopefully.
 
Merry Christmas everyone! This'll be my last review for the year, so I thought I'd end it on a good note, with a personal favorite show of mine. This review was written on July 29th, 2012.

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I give this charming magical girl anime...a 94/100!

Some anime in this world are just plain good. Some anime in this world are just plain bad. Some anime look like they'll be awesome, yet later on turn out to be terrible and stupid. Some anime, which by all intents and purposes should NOT be good, wind up being so wonderful and so amazing that you have to wonder why most people don't know about how awesome they really are, especially if you find out that said show is a children's show primarily aimed at young girls. Back in the 1990s, both American and Japanese kids shows tried to appeal to young boys, which was the desired audience back then. But what about shows for girls? Nowadays, people think girls shows won't sell. Thankfully, with the new cartoon My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, that view is changing, but most channels often have shows about teen idols who go around doing stupid things while looking pretty and basically being popular and hip with an imaginary audience laughing in the background. Oddly enough, the show I'm reviewing right now is an idol show, yet it is absolutely NOTHING like that I just described!

To be honest, it is rather easy for people to overlook this little gem, and I can see why. I mean, with a title like Fancy Lala, how can you not think "Ugh. It's gonna be a G3 My Little Pony-esque kids show about idols having endless tea parties, giggling over nothing, and basically acting like stuck-up brats"? Well, never fear, for this show is not like that at all! Though this show doesn't exactly have a premise that screams "Watch me!!" and you really have to watch the show in order to understand it's strengths. Fancy Lala is instead about a young, carefree girl named Miho who aspires to become a famous mangaka or model since her mother is a drama producer and her father is a paleontologist who studies dinosaur fossils. One day, after an unpleasant incident at a local store, she finds herself with two stuffed animals, which are actually little dinosaur fairies from another world. The two dinosaurs, Pigu and Mogu, give her a magical sketchbook and pen that not only allows her to bring her drawings to life, but to turn her into a 15-year-old version of herself, and upon transforming, she gets recruited by Lyrical Productions to become the next big thing! But is becoming a model/singer really worth it, especially considering all the trouble you get into to do it?

Now, for those of you thinking this is going to be some kind of clone of Bratz or Hannah Montana or something like that, prepare to be proven wrong, because Fancy Lala is NOT that kind of show. Yes, it's a children's show. Yes, it's aimed at young girls. Yes, it has magical girl elements. Yes, it has cute little animal mascots. Yes, our lead character becomes a model/singer to meet up with a man she admires. But Fancy Lala is NOT a dragged out toy advertisement (heck, considering how the episodes play out, it's not even trying to promote any toys since none exist!), NOT a glorified idol show, NOT a teen-girl popular stuck-up brat fest, and, most importantly, NOT a show that's so cutesy and saccharine that you want to shoot yourself. Well, technically, yes, Fancy Lala DOES have some cutesy moments, but like I said, they're not overly sugary and sweet either. Not only that, this was made in 1998, BEFORE all of those dumb idol shows began flooding the market! Let me tell you: Fancy Lala is a polished gem in the anime world. No magical girl anime or shoujo anime I've seen has even come CLOSE to holding a candle to Fancy Lala's awesomeness. No, it doesn't have action. No, it doesn't have an evil overlord trying to steal the joy of life and destroy the world for cliche reasons. Nobody said that all magical girl anime needed to be about saving the world! If anything, you can consider this another way to deconstruct a magical girl anime.

Let me start with the animation. This anime was produced by Studio Pierrot, the guys behind Naruto and Bleach. Long ago, in 1983 to be exact, Studio Pierrot hit it big when they produced a magical girl anime just like Fancy Lala called Creamy Mami, only it was 52 episodes long instead of 26. Lots of people loved it, so much so that it prompted Pierrot into making more magical girl anime afterward! But it didn't last long. Fancy Lala is actually a remake of an OVA called Harbor Light Story: Fashion Lala, which I did watch (and I really need to finish my review of that). But Fancy Lala is, in my opinion, a HECK of a lot better. It's animation is, for it's time, surprisingly detailed. I'd even be so bold as to say that the animation here is a heck of a lot better than even CardCaptor Sakura, which aired in the exact same year, and that's saying a lot! The show tries to make use of a lot of subtle drama by making the characters express their feelings through facial expressions instead of angsty dialogue and contrived coincidences or through cheese and melodrama, something that is a huge and oh-so-common pitfall in most shoujo anime nowadays. The character art in itself is very expressive and tries its best to convey even the smallest of emotions, whether it's through facial expressions or movement. Nothing important is said, but you don't need words to convey your emotions, and Fancy Lala does this great! Though I do admit, the transformation sequences are a bit generic, but hey! It does what it's supposed to do and nothing more.

The music...oh, the music! The opening and ending songs are nice and catchy, since they're performed by Miho's voice actress, who was back then a fledgling actress/singer as well. Don't worry, they're not overly sweet and saccharine like most magical girl anime theme songs. But in my opinion, it's the soundtrack that really steals this anime for me. For those of you who don't know, the soundtrack was composed by Michiru Oshima, whom many of you know did the soundtracks for the first Fullmetal Alchemist anime, Nabari no Ou, Le Chevalier D'Eon, X'amd: Lost Memories, and So-Ra-No-Wo-To. She also did the music for My Sister Momoko, The Glass Rabbit, and 5-tou ni Naritai. She is steadily becoming one of my favorite anime composers next to Yuki Kajiura and Two-Mix. She's known for her normally orchestral sounding music, but her best work is definitely here in Fancy Lala. Her pieces fit soooo well in every single scene, and they have her name written all over it! There's light-hearted music in the light-hearted scenes, and when there's a sad scene, the mellow but beautiful background music tugs at your heartstrings. Often times in anime, music isn't always thrown in the right places, but here, nothing is mismatched! The music matches the scenes, sets the mood, and creates a fitting atmosphere for each scene. I wish I could buy the OST somewhere!

The characters are just wonderful. They're not carbon copies of typical stereotypes, they look, sound, and act like real people you often run into in real life, from the kids to the adults. Everybody has their own set of problems whether it's their job, their background, their decisions, their actions, etc. Nobody's perfect nor overly flawed in this show. That's what makes the characters so great. Nobody's problems are over exaggerated or overly complex. Miho herself is a great character. Despite the fact that she has a lot to deal with in the adult world with her newfound magic, she still manages to remain an innocent child despite being burdened with the task of carrying the weight of both being an idol and the whole series. We get to know her through and through, and it's because we get to know her so well that the theme of adult problems going on around her works extremely well. Her voice actress only makes it better. Children in this series really do sound like children instead of squeaky 30 year old actresses who try too hard to sound overly moe, though I have to admit, Taro's Japanese voice doesn't sit well with me. I think his English dub voice sounds much better.

Now, this isn't the kind of show everyone will like, and I can understand that, but I want to explain why the show won me over. Instead of trying to do something big, Fancy Lala focuses so much more on small subjects, like the downsides of using magic and parting with things that have a lot of sentimental value, and IT WORKS SO WELL HERE. It works so well here that the above episodes regarding said subjects actually made me cry! Episode 8 especially! Just watch it and see for yourself how wonderful it is, and the message it conveys...holy shrimp, I don't think anything will top Fancy Lala's genuine and poignant way of showing us that magic isn't eternal. By focusing on something simple, the show saves the trouble of trying to do too much and blow up in the end, something a lot of modern anime tend to do, and, according to most anime fans, it happens about 85% of the time, and it's not pretty. Fancy Lala manages to accomplish so much even though it's such a simple story, and the ending, which happens to be the very best thing about Fancy Lala as a whole (why don't more magical girl or shoujo anime do this?!), is a result of that. And surprisingly enough, even though Fancy Lala looks innocent and sweet, it actually takes quite a lot of risks. Heck, I watched the entire anime subbed, and in episode 13 they mention the word sex! But it's only used once (ONLY once. Never again after that), and I don't think Miho heard it, so I can let it slide. I don't know if it's present in the dubbed version, but if it is, then I don't know if it'll sit well with other people.

While it is a nice show, it does have some flaws. For one thing, we never get an explanation from where Pigu and Mogu come from. Miho just ran into them by pure coincidence. We never learn much about the Mystery Man or why he has access to magic in the first place, and admittedly, Miho does become talented at acting and singing a little too quickly, but I've seen worse examples of this so I'll let it slide. Besides, the show makes up for it by showing an accurate portrayal of the idol scene, and by not trying to glorify it either.

Don't be fooled by this show's premise or looks. Fancy Lala is a sweet, genuine, and wonderful little anime that will leave you so fulfilled you feel like smiling at the whole world.
 
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Alrighty! Here's my first review of the new year, finished today!

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I give this manga adaptation of the epic magical girl deconstruction...an 84/100!

In the year 2011, an original magical girl anime called Puella Magi Madoka Magica aired on Japanese TV, but it was different from the typical happy, lighthearted, idealistic magical girl anime. This anime was a deliberate deconstruction of the genre, analyzing and examining it from a more critical, realistic, even dark angle. Most magical girl anime focused on young girls who encounter cute animals, transform into heroes, and fight evil. Surprisingly, it was very well received on both sides of the Pacific for its new take on the genre, though it wasn't the first to really do so. The anime came first, but it was adapted into a manga that basically told the story of the anime without much changes save for some small aesthetic ones. I already did review the first anime when it first came out, but reading over the review again, like with my original AnoHana review, it just looks way too overly gushy, fangirly, and not very professional. I plan to rewrite it in the future, once I rewatch the anime. I just finished re-reading the manga today despite having owned it for years, and I think it's a decent adaptation of the manga.

Madoka Kaname is a normal girl with a normal life, but lately she's been having strange dreams involving a furry white animal and a black haired girl. The next day, said black haired girl, Homura Akemi, transfers into her school and seems to have her eye on Madoka. Later, Madoka and her friend Sayaka encounter said furry white animal, Kyubey, along with a friend of his, Mami Tomoe, who happens to be a magical girl. Kyubey wants to make contracts with Madoka and Sayaka so they can become magical girls and fight grotesque beings called Witches, and in exchange, he grants them each one wish. But as the girls learn more about the Witches, magical girls, and what it means to become one, they start to wonder just what is going on. What is Kyubey, and what are his plans? Why does he want Madoka to become a magical girl specifically, and why is Homura intent on keeping Madoka from becoming one?

Now, trying to translate a show or game into a comic format is no easy feat. Every piece of media has techniques that make them different from each other, and what may work in an anime may not translate well into manga. Often times, comic adaptations may not be able to feel true to the source material its adapting. Thankfully, the Madoka Magica avoids this pitfall. The artwork for this manga is pretty typical of cute shoujo manga, with the characters having round, soft facial features, big eyes, and everyone being much less angular than Shaft's animation style makes them look. Shaft's art style in the anime is pretty hard to capture in manga format, especially the Witches' parallel dimensions, so it's no surprise that the mangaka skimped on those details, especially in regards to the setting. But for what its worth, she does at least manage to do justice to the Witches' designs and does a decent job at making them look just as creepy as the anime made them, with great use of shadows, shading, and thick linework. Such techniques are also used to sell the fight scenes, which manages to work here, since comics can't make use of actual animation.

But how is the manga different from the anime? Frankly, it isn't. It basically retells the anime's story completely, with no big, significant changes whatsoever. Both the anime and manga play out exactly the same, and the only real differences are mostly aesthetic ones, such as the design for Homura's shield, the town the girls live in not looking as sharp and modern as the anime, the Witches' barriers not being as detailed, so on and so forth. None of them effect the story progression in any way, and at three volumes, it's a fairly short read. But the manga does leave out some things from the anime while adding its own touches. For one, Mami makes an appearance before she officially meets Madoka and Sayaka for the first time as a magical girl, whereas she doesn't have that in the anime. The manga leaves out some funny scenes, such as when Madoka and her baby brother wake up their mother in a dramatic fashion, and the scene after that is shortened, with Madoka and her mother's discussion about their teacher's love life being left out. Unlike in the anime, Kyubey is made capable of making facial expressions instead of having the same expression all the time. Also, for all you lesbians out there, the manga cuts out Hitomi's infamous "girls can't love girls!" line, and she mostly playfully ribs them about how close they suddenly got. That's really about it. From what I've heard, the artist, Hanokage, was given a very limited page count for working on the manga, so I guess a lot of these changes were because she had to condense the anime into the limits of her allowed number of pages, which may have resulted in the decision to leave certains scenes out, which is understandable, especially since this was her first foray into manga.

The characters are the same as they are in the anime, all of them fulfilling certain archetypes: Madoka's the plain nice girl, Sayaka's her boisterous, happy-go-lucky friend, Homura's the mysteriois stoic girl, so on and so forth. They're not bad, but in any other kind of anime, like a slice-of-life one, they'd be rather bland and milquetoast, and the setting is the only reason they're so memorable. The development they do get is relatively well done, mostly because since the manga is so short, it can't waste any time on filler and meandering, so it has to lay all its cards out on the table straight out, making sure everything fits together and is utilized effectively. The fast pacing, every character having a specific purpose, the rules the story sets up, the deep exploration of the advantages, disadvantages, and consequences that come from being a magical girl, if there's anything you can say about Madoka Magica, it's that it manages to make everything fit together into one package, and it works!

I'll review the anime again once I've rewatched it, as I know my old review is little more than a crappy gush fest. As for the manga, it does its job, and is a decent read on its own. If you don't want to watch the anime, the manga is readily available everywhere, and Madoka Magica itself is wonderful for what it is, and I highly recommend you check it out.
 
Time for a stinker, guys. This review was originally written on September 22nd, 2013.

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I give this underwhelming piece of fluff...a 52/100.

Don't you just hate it when an anime looks like it'll be good and then turns out to not be so?

Seriously, I really want to like this show. I really do. The first episode was so sweet, so charming, and reminded me so much of Ikoku Meiro no Croisee, I didn't mind having a nice little slice of life anime to watch. I didn't have any expectations at first as I didn't know much about it, but when I saw the first episode, I thought it'd be a nice exploration of cultural differences similar to how Ikoku Meiro no Croisee was. I thought it'd be a really cute and sweet and interesting series, without getting into borderline saccharine and moeness. I thought it'd be different from those other cute girls do cute things anime that have been swamping the industry lately. Boy was I wrong. After the first episode, it just basically said, "you wanted an interesting slice of life anime?! Ha ha! Tricked you! Well, too bad! Here are some unfunny moe blob antics where everybody acts like idiots over the stupidest things!"...yeah. Thanks for stomping all over my expectations, Kiniro Mosaic. Now I feel like I went through the second season of K-On again, and THAT in itself wasn't a pleasant experience!

The story is about a girl named Shinobu who, as a kid, went to stay with a family in England for a while. She knows no English but that doesn't seem to bother her. She meets a girl named Alice (Seriously, what's with Japan's obsession with the name Alice? If they really had that much trouble coming up with a name for her, they should have gone on some websites or something! I would have named her something more English, like Adriana or Amy or Jolie or Cassie!), who at first doesn't like her due to being ridiculously shy, but soon warms up to her. After spending time with her, Alice soon finds a very good friend in Shinobu. After Shinobu leaves, Alice vows to learn Japanese and go to Japan someday to meet her friend again. Years later, Alice gets her chance and manages to transfer to Shinobu's school. Her Japanese is fluent and she stays with Shinobu during her stay in Japan. Soon, her other friend Karen joins the picture, along with Shinobu's friends Yoko and Aya.

As far as the animation goes, visually, its pretty and very beautiful. I like the soft colors it uses on everything, like flowers on trees and the insides of houses. It really looks like a watercolor painting come to life. But as far as character movements go, it's rather minimal, looking just like any other anime that just focuses on looking pretty and having characters do stuff nobody in real life would do. Personally, the animation is pretty much this show's saving grace mostly because it's easy on the eyes, though at times some things do look a bit blurry. I do like how skillfully it uses a lot of pinks and yellows, and not just for hair colors either. Unfortunately though, the character designs are really bland and uninteresting. Normally this would be a good thing, but everyone here just looks like a bunch of moe stereotypes, made to act like moe stereotypes too, which certainly doesn't help.

The music is nice too, and surprisingly varied for a moe show. It doesn't limit itself to just one tune, and for the most part, it does its job well. There's soft piano tunes, nice classical tunes, comedic pieces, etc. They all do their job well...but not even this could save the show from derailing into stupid moe antics. I'll discuss the first one one seriously glaring flaw that's really starting to bug me: what's with Japan and their belief that any and all English/American people are blonde with blue eyes? Not all Americans and English people have blue eyes and blonde hair! I'm American and I have dark brown hair and green eyes. I actually read somewhere that back in the forties or fifties, the Japanese asked Osamu Tezuka to make Japanese people in his stories have blonde hair and blue eyes, and this was after World War 2 ended! Seriously, talk about doing a complete 180! I don't know if this is a cultural thing or not, but the Japanese really need to see that not all Americans and English people have blonde hair and blue eyes, or even foreign people in general. Gunslinger Girl took place in Italy, and not everyone in that anime had blonde hair and blue eyes, save for only a few characters.

The characters...oh God, how the anime flanderized them over the course of the anime! In the beginning, Shinobu just started off as an innocent girl in another country, but later on she became a full on, squeaky voiced ditz! All the other characters are bland and don't change over the course of the anime, and they all fit their molded stereotype. Shinobu is a straight up ditz, Yoko is perky, Aya is a tsundere, Karen is loud and hyper. Heck, even the teacher is a moe stereotype! No teacher I know acts the way she does! Alice is the only one with some depth to her, but even then it's forced and superficial. Oh God, I HATE Aya. She started off as the level headed one of the group, someone I'd actually like, but later on all she does is blush and jump to conclusions about everything! I wanted to bash her head in every time she reacted to something or even opened her mouth! And as much as I like her seiyuu, her voice wasn't helping matters. Heck, for that matter, EVERYONE I know has a squeaky voice! No teenagers I knew sounded like they did! God, by the time the third episode came around I wanted them to just shut up, their voices were that grating! Seriously, I hope Sentai dubs this anime and gives them all realistic sounding girl voices! One thing I love about anime dubbing is that English dubbers often give girls in moe shows realistic voices, Air and Kanon being the best examples, and it works. But yeah, they rely too much on their assigned gimmicks to be funny (which they aren't) and they're completely shallow and uninteresting. Plus, trying to act like five year olds clearly doesn't help here, and the forced, artificial voice acting just makes it worse.

So yeah. Kiniro Mosaic is just yet another unfunny cute girls do cute things like idiots show meant to rake in some cash. The characters are boring, the voice acting is horrid, the jokes got old fast, and the show in itself is...well, if you like moe girls, give it a go. Otherwise, give it a miss.

(As of this writing, I have not seen the second season, as this review is only about the first season. Frankly, I really don't want to force myself to go through the second season since the first season was so bland and saccharine!)
 
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Oh look! I finally finished my review for the Astra: Lost In Space anime!

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I give this fun, compelling space adventure anime...a 79/100!

I already read and reviewed the manga before this, so I don't feel the need to belabor the point with an introduction nor the basic plot summary. All you need to know is that a bunch of kids are sent to another planet for interplanetary camping, only to get sucked into a wormhole that spits them out into deep space, and they have to find a way to make it back home. As you know, I really liked the manga, and I was super excited when I found out an anime for it was going to be made. I couldn't wait to see how it would look on the silver screen, and sure enough, it did meet my expectations reasonably enough. But the transition from one medium to another isn't always the smoothest, and I think Astra slightly suffered because of it.

The adaptation itself sticks pretty close to the manga, mostly compressing and leaving out some scenes in order to make use of its twelve/thirteen-episode runtime. But before I get to that, let's talk about the animation. It was done by a relatively new studio, Lerche, and...it shows. I mean, the character designs are nice, the colors are bright, and while the character movement isn't exactly the smoothest, it gets the job done, and any CGI that's used for things such as the spaceship and the environment is fairly well used. The background art in particular is fantastic, fully conveying every planet's beauty and underlying danger, from the plants to the animal designs. But one of the show's main flaws is that for SOME reason, somebody thought it'd be a great idea to have nearly EVERY scene, except the parts where the kids are actually in space, framed with with black aspect ratio blocks. Those in and of themselves aren't necessarily bad, but the way they're integrated here makes no sense. Visually, it winds up making several scenes look like they were chopped out of an original frame, and there are several parts where some characters look like parts of their heads got cut off because of it. It's really jarring, and I have no idea who thought this was a good idea.

Thankfully, the soundtrack is much better in this department. The opening and ending songs are great, with cheerful, upbeat tunes that convey the show's overall atmosphere and idealistic nature to a T, and the actual background music is the same way, with quite a bit of jazz influence in there, and I'm always a sucker for jazz. I couldn't find anything wrong with the soundtrack, as the entire thing is just great! I kinda wish Yunhua's songs were included in the OST, as they were beautiful. Considering she's voiced by Saori Hayami, who is well known for her elegant, mature singing voice, it's no surprise that they'd be well sung. Why aren't they included in the OST CD?!

I don't have much to say about the characters that I haven't already said in my review of the manga, other than that the anime is true to their characterizations. Plus, again, they all fulfill various character archetypes that are pretty common in anime at this point, and nothing new is done with them. I didn't find them to be bad in any way, as even if they were rather one-note, I still found them and their adventures fun to follow, though others may not. The voice acting was great though!...but Funicia's voice could get way too shrill at times, especially when she cried. It grated on my ears way too much. Luca is still awesome, and Quitterie is still an irritating tsundere girl at first.

So the anime is a pretty solid adaptation of the manga...though I do have to dock some points for several things. For one, the anime only has twelve episodes, with the first and last episodes being 45 minutes long as opposed to the regular 22 minutes. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, as the manga itself was short, so with a good staff, they can make do with the short length and adapt the manga easily, right? Ehhh...some of the decisions made in transitioning from page to screen really baffled me. For one, in the second half of the episodes, when Aries needs to be saved from being out in space, Kanata uses a rope to get to her, and when he does, the other characters use the rope to pull them back once he hangs onto it again. For some reason, this was changed to everyone never using the rope again once Kanata and Aries are together, seemingly forgetting about it while trying to force some "If you drift away at this point you'll die" drama that's extremely artificial because, again, nobody thinks to use the damn rope! Not only that, instead of using said rope, the characters all hold hands and make a human chain for Kanata and Aries to use to get back to the ship, because power of friendship, am I right? Why throw away a perfectly logical and plausible solution in favor of a forced, superficial moment of triumph when it would have been easier to just use the damn rope?! Plus, if they had used the rope, they could have saved a lot of episode time and used it to flesh out the characters and their situation more!

Furthermore, in the process of adapting the manga, the producers of the anime wound up changing and leaving out a lot of details in order to fit the episode length. Some things being left out are understandable (An entire flashback detailing how Quitterie's upbringing made her develop a haughty personality when the anime shortened it to just a few shots of her childhood, which establish things just fine, and various scenes of the kids traversing the various planets), others...not so much, such as some really important plot and character details and the main reason why the children were chucked out into space in the first place. I mean, the entire second half of volume one is crammed into one whole episode (The ones focusing on Vilavurs), so it's inevitable that some things wouldn't make it into the anime. Ironically, the anime also adds entire new scenes that weren't present in the manga, with one taking place during the final episode. I won't spoil it for you, but I thought it was a wonderfully done scene that truly gave one character some much needed closure and added a lot of depth to him.

Overall, it was a decent adaptation that unfortunately was marred by a plethora of production issues and odd adaptational decisions. But on its own, it's still a fun sci-fi adventure that deserves more love than it gets. Check it out if you feel like watching a lighthearted, plain good space adventure mystery.
 
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Wow. I didn't think I'd post another review so soon, as I prefer to pace things out, but the subject for today's review was just so infuriating and baffling that I just HAD to churn this out. Not kidding, started it last night and finished it today.

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I give this one-off fantasy movie based on Level-5's popular game series...a 50/100.

What we have here is Level-5's attempt at making a movie, and on the surface, it looks promising. Ni no Kuni is a game series that got started in the early 2010s, and it was famous for one thing: It was the first video game that Studio Ghibli worked on. No, really. Level-5 actually brought Ghibli on to animate various cutscenes and had Joe Hisaishi make the music for it. Needless to say, everyone who played it really liked it. I've been wanting to play the game myself for years, but it was on the PS3, which I could never afford. It did get re-released on the Switch, so I wasted no time buying it, but I never got to sit down and play it yet. Getting back on track, Ni no Kuni eventually went on to get a sequel game and, as of last year, a movie with an original story. When I heard about the movie, I was really excited! But then I actually got to watch it.

Good lord, I've been disappointed before, but this was just...painful. I really want to like this movie. I really do! It does have a lot going for it at first...and it crashed and burned. Hard. So what's the story? Well, it focuses on three kids: Yu, Haru, and Kotona, who are great friends and spend a lot of time together. One day, Kotona is stabbed by a mysterious pursuer. Haru and Yu try to save her, but when they're nearly killed in a car accident...they wake up in another world called Evermore. But Kotona is missing, and the princess of this world they're in happens to look almost exactly like her. In their quest to save the princess and find Kotona, they learn more about Evermore and what it has in common with Earth, but the friends' loyalty to each other get tested and strained when their actions in Evermore have consequences in the real world. Yu may have to make hard choices, especially when Haru begins acting strangely when Kotona's situation gets more complicated.

Sorry if my summary of the story isn't that great. There's a lot that I can't mention without spoiling the entire movie in the process, so I'll try to hold back as much as I can. But man, do I really want to rant about this movie! However, I don't want to be too negative, so I'll go over the positive aspects of this movie first: The animation is quite good. The world's overall look is really breathtaking, the character designs are varied and interesting, the fight choreography is top notch, and some of the fight scenes were actually pretty clever in some ways. I also really liked Yu as a character. Not only is he NOT an overpowered bland isekai protag (Though sadly, he does get powers handed to him near the end of the movie because bad writing. On the flip side, he has no harem. Thank God!), he actually has a backstory, has good chemistry with his friends, and is smart and competent. He could have benefited from more depth and had more flaws, but I'm happy with what we got. Plus, having a main character in a wheelchair who is portrayed decently well, doesn't bemoan his disability, and isn't solely defined by his disability, is pretty cool. His friend/adopted sister Saki was pretty awesome too. She got some great moments in the movie, both in the real world and in the other world. I kinda wish we had seen more of her.

Unfortunately, those are the only good things I can say about the movie, because the rest of it really doesn't fare well. While I admit I haven't played the games much, they delve into the world the kids go into in a lot more detail than the movie could even scrape, so what little we see of it is just kind of there. The setting isn't developed well enough to make its audience feel invested in it, even with the animation making it look as beautiful as possible. And that's only the tip of the iceberg in terms of this movie's many, many problems. With how well loved the games are, and how the movie is telling its own story, you'd think the creators would be able to do them justice and create an intriguing story out of it. Unfortunately, the movie is little more than a generic fantasy isekai movie, with the main kids trying to save their girl friend and the princess who is a damsel in distress. The villains are so cartoonishly evil that you'd think they'd have come straight out of a Saturday morning cartoon, and the real big bad is so obvious that you can tell who it is straight away. The whole movie follows the same story beats and cliches that have plagued other stories for centuries, and doesn't really do anything new or exciting with them.

And that's not even getting into the characters. Other than Yu and Saki, every single one of them is extremely bland and one-note. Kotona's the energetic girl whose life is in danger, Astrid is the damsel in distress princess who tries to be more active, the main villain is the chessmaster manipulating everything who hams it up when exposed, but all of them pale in comparison to Haru. Seriously, watching him made me feel like the writers really didn't know what to do with him most of the time. He starts out as the cheerful friend archetype, then gets needlessly angry at Yu for little to no reason (Case in point: Early in the movie, when he sees Yu with an injured Kotona, he doesn't ask if he's alright or offer to take them both to the hospital, you know, like a good friend would. He yells at him for holding her in an intimate way, takes Kotona away so he can run her to the hospital, and JUST LEAVES HIM THERE! Knowing that Yu's in a wheelchair and can't move! Dude, what a dick!), his motivations are laughable and poorly developed, and he's constantly being a reckless idiot who can't stop to think (Which Yu actually calls him out on in the movie!). Any development he gets is really unnatural and rushed, like the writers couldn't agree on what to do with him. Honestly, as a character, Haru is the biggest dark spot on the movie, and the other characters, while slightly more tolerable, are still too bland to really connect with on an emotional level, since the movie's only under two hours long. There's a lot of characters to keep track of, and I think the movie would have fared better if it had cut a few of them out to give the writers more wiggle room to strut their stuff.

Speaking of writing, I'm not even done with that portion yet. Late in the movie, a lot of stuff happens, but most of it is characters spouting about random plot points that were never mentioned before, are barely explored when they're introduced, and they just appear without rhyme or reason. Like, at one point, Astrid mentions that the only way to defeat a villain is some magic sword, but her father tells her it's been gone for years, and later, we see the sword again because some old guy gave it to Yu, who can activate it even though he has no reason to be able to do so at that point, and all is suddenly happy happy joy joy. Can you see how badly planned and written this sounds? Basically, the only reason the sword is even used again is because the plot demands it. Furthermore, there are a ton of other plot threads that get little to no deep exploration, such as an old man who Yu met when he was a kid. We never know his name, we never know who he is or why he's there, but when the story writes itself in a corner, he appears and gives the heroes the tools they need to save the day, and then leaves again. He's basically a Deus Ex Machina in human form, and that's not good writing. Seriously.

I don't have much to say about the soundtrack, as its Joe Hisaishi, and from what I've heard, he re-uses tracks from some of the games. Again, I haven't played them, so I can't judge them on how well they fit into the movie, but I kinda feel like Hisaishi overused his orchestra to the point where the BGMs were so loud during certain scenes that they just got obnoxious. And at other points, the music swells and gets dramatic, then suddenly just stop. Oh, and the CGI made no effort to actually integrate with the animation. My God, close-ups of various monsters walking through rugged terrain don't even try to blend in with the 2D animation, making them stick out like a sore thumb, even worse than how Granblue Fantasy did it. It's jarring and takes you out of the movie. Think looking through a closet of all black clothes and a random pink dress suddenly flies in front of your face and blinds you. That's how bad it is. It's especially obvious when important characters, who are traditionally animated, are the focus of a scene, while obviously CGI soldiers flail around in the background, their limb movements all herky jerky and the texture so computerized that you can tell they're not even trying to make them mix with the scenery.

So yeah, the movie's not great. It's poorly written, the characters are bland, the story is cliche in all the worst ways, the CG is terrible and makes no effort to try to be less jarring than it is, and any drama it tries to pull off comes off forced and artificial. But in all honesty, if Ni no Kuni had been just a generic isekai movie, I wouldn't have minded. It would have been just a generic but still serviceable movie...but then the ending happened. I won't spoil it for you, but the ending is absolutely one of the most awful, badly written endings I've ever seen in any form of media, not only by just how out of nowhere the final twist is, but how little sense it makes, and how it completely spits on everything the movie previously established all for the sake of forced drama that didn't need to happen. Seriously, I haven't been this infuriated at anything since the Card Captor Sakura: Clear Card anime's just as God-awful ending, and this one stoops to a whole new level of bad writing. I mean, you really have to TRY to be that bad.

I really don't want to hate this movie. I really don't. If the writers had made more of an effort with it and smoothed out all of its issues, it could have been a fine movie capable of standing on its own merits. Alas, what we wound up getting was a complete mess with a God awful ending that ruined an already flimsy premise to Hell and back, giving the audience a huge middle finger. So don't waste your time with this one.
 
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I don't if it's just reading what you've been saying, since I have not seen the movie (yet), but maybe this could have worked better as an anime series instead of a movie? Since I feel they could do things better if it actually had time to develop the story and characters. Don't think it might do much for the animation or BGM, though, but at least the most important parts would be improved.

Seriously, I haven't been this infuriated at anything since the Card Captor Sakura: Clear Card anime's just as God-awful ending,
May I ask what happened? Spoilers don't affect me. Also, wasn't that series left hanging?
 
This review was written on February 1st, 2019.

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I give the sequel to one of the most beloved anime ever...a 77/100.

I'll admit, I never grew up with Cardcaptor Sakura (Which reminds me, I REALLY need to finish my review for the original series). I remember seeing commercials for CardCaptors when I was younger, but I dismissed it as a shallow girly girl show that was about girls who did nothing but talk about fashion and boys. Yeah, I was a pretty judgmental kid. But I did watch bits of the original series later and my opinion on it changed, even more so when I finally watched the whole thing during college. While I wouldn't consider it to be one of my favorite magical girl series ever, I can respect the impact it had on the industry, and I do like it as a whole. I even own the original series on Blu-Ray and the entirety of the manga. So when it was announced that a sequel was being made, called Clear Card, with an anime adaptation soon to come, I and many other CCS fans were absolutely ecstatic, and devoured it like crazy. So why the low rating? Well...let's go over it, first.

About two or so years after the original series ended, Sakura Kinomoto and her friends have started middle school, ready to start new lives. Sakura and Syaoran are dating, and they even make a new friend in a girl named Akiho Shinomoto and her butler Yuna. Things are going pretty great...until Sakura starts having strange dreams involving a mysterious robed figure, and all of her cards suddenly disappear out of thin air. Strange things start happening in Tomoeda again, and when Sakura's staff transforms and she gets new cards, they suddenly become transparent, with new forms and names. It's up to Sakura and friends to figure out just what is going on before it's too late.

It's a rare feat for sequels to not only reunite the original cast, but the original staff and animators, especially if a lot of time has passed. Most creators start completely new, with new staff, new animators, new voice actors, all that stuff, due to the original staff being unavailable for whatever reason or to just cut back on unnecessary expenses, which is understandable in some cases. Not only did the producers bring the original cast and staff back, but even the same animation team and company. The animation is luscious and beautiful, just like the original, just with a new coat of paint and with some CGI sprinkled about, what with hand-drawn animation falling out of use. I can safely say that in this department, the animation hasn't lost its touch at all. The colors are bright, the animation is nice and fluid--though not without a few wonky spots every now and then--and the characters, despite being a little older, haven't changed much in appearance at all, so they're still very much recognizable, both in appearance and personality.

The music is still the same as the original, with a few new tracks sprinkled in to distinguish it from the original. Considering the same composer worked on the original and this, it makes sense that re-used pieces would be used, and they fit nicely here (Take note, Precure series). Plus, there's new music here to keep it separate from the original, so it's not like the creators were being deliberately lazy or lacking in budget (Again, take note, Precure). The new opening and ending songs are very nice too, and they even got Maaya Sakamoto to sing the opening theme again, since she also worked on the original series, which is nice.

Clear Card is full of references and call backs to the original series. It's really neat when the creators actually care about continuity and remind the viewers that certain things haven't been forgotten (You could really learn from this, Pokemon), which many sequels or reboots tend to completely forget about, especially for long running series that go on for years and years. Heck, the anime even brings back Meiling, a character who only appeared in the anime. This extends to the characters, though I'm a bit conflicted on this one. Sakura and her friends are still themselves, keeping their original personalities and the character development they received from the original series, so the creators did a good job in keeping them in character and not changing them so much that they're not themselves. Sakura's still sweet and energetic, Kero's still hotblooded and perky, Syaoran's still reserved but kinder than before, Tomoyo is still polite, caring, and Sakura-crazy, so on and so forth. But I think the creators tried a bit too hard in keeping them the same, to the point of flanderizing some of them a bit. I feel Tomoyo in particular was hit with this especially hard. In the original, while her habit of wanting to record Sakura's exploits on video is a big part of her character, it was still just one part of it. She still had other aspects to her personality, such as her politeness, her kindness towards others, and she even helped Sakura in catching the cards on occasion. Here, it seems like Tomoyo's entire character revolves around videotaping Sakura, and it borders on creepy at times. Syaoran doesn't really do much in the anime, unfortunately, and the few times he does help out are really short and severely under-utilized. There's rarely any real conflicts the characters go through and they're all so excessively nice to each other that it borders on saccharine and overly sweet and cutesy. The two new characters, Akiho and Yuna, are okay, but Akiho's constant apologizing for supposedly causing trouble and "being a burden" even when she did nothing to warrant such a claim just got really annoying after the first five times. Now, I haven't read the manga, so for all I know, things might be different there. I ought to read the rest of it later, since it apparently does explain more on Akiho's past and why she's so deferential about...well, everything.

Another problem that persists here, which was also a problem the original series had, was a lot of filler episodes. Now, filler in and of itself isn't a bad thing. Depending on the series and the execution, filler episodes can be a great reprieve from a daunting storyline and the high stakes conflicts. Some of my favorite episodes from certain series happened to be filler episodes because they were so well done and well executed. But as certain series like Naruto, Bleach, Rurouni Kenshin, and a few other long runners can prove, filler episodes that are poorly done can really hurt a series' quality. Clear Card is unfortunately no exception. Some episodes are relatively decent, but others were straight up unnecessary and I feel didn't add to the story much. I mean, there's an ENTIRE episode where everybody talks about lunches, food, picnics, making lunch for someone, and openly talking about how awesome the food is and literally nothing else (You'll know which episode I'm talking about)! I guess part of this was because the manga was still running when the anime was being made, and I can understand not wanting to overtake the manga, but Clear Card has so many unnecessary episodes that could have been better off adding to the story and explaining a lot of the series' overarching storylines. Instead, Clear Card just meanders and plods along throughout its entire run, and that's not a good thing.

Now, Clear Card's existence in and of itself isn't bad. It's still true to the original source, keeping the tone, mood, and the characters in character, which few sequels can boast. I really want to like Clear Card more than I do, and some parts of it I liked better than the original! Unfortunately, the anime has a pretty huge black stain on it, and that's the final episode. The ending was just...bad. Not only did it not feel like a finale, it was a complete and utter cop-out in that it sets up so many interesting things, but then the reset button is literally pressed and nothing is ever resolved! Every conflict it introduced and the revelations it showed are rendered completely pointless, along with the rest of the series! Why even bother building up to this if you're not even going to make the effort to address or resolve it?! You can't just go out of your way to set up this underlying conflict and just pull the rug out and expect the audience to just accept it! Not only that, it makes all of the filler episodes even worse in context, because instead of meandering through its run time, the creators could have used a bunch of those episodes to address the plot issues it set up! The fact that it didn't really hurt this series in more ways than one, making it seem much more like a cheap nostalgia cash grab than it intended to be, and all of its efforts went down the drain.

Crap. I was really going to give Clear Card a positive review, and then it has the nerve to pull this. Why must some great series have terrible endings? I try to give them the benefit of the doubt, but when it pulls stuff like this, it really leaves a nasty aftertaste. Thanks a lot, Card Captor Sakura: Clear Card. You've managed to piss me off in the end. So if you want to watch this sequel, that's fine! It's a nice little nostalgia trip! But don't watch the final episode. Seriously, don't.
 
Now that you mention filler, I find it weird it is used here. Generally, filler is used in weekly series to prevent the anime going at a faster pace than the manga it is based on, which explains the weird/non-existent plots or the lack of continuity that filler can have. Example: dragons don't exist in the One Piece world, but the anime did a filler about dragons early on. It also showed them (technically) killing someone when that's one of the things Luffy and co. don't do.

Did they start the anime too early?
 
This review was written on October 18th, 2014.

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I give this book about an autistic girl and her dog...a 38/100.

When I first read about this book in an article, I became interested, because it's about a girl with autism. I like books with main characters with autism, since I myself am autistic and strive to see my struggles depicted in fictional form. My favorite book of all time is Mockingbird (That's changed since when I first wrote the review), and I wrote a review of that some years ago. I requested Rain Reign at the library this past week so I could read it before deciding whether to buy it or not. So what's my verdict? Uh...I'm not buying it. I REALLY wanted to like this book. I really wanted to like it. Unfortunately, I set my expectations too high and it crashed and burned. Very hard. Which is a shame, because it could have been so much better, and the book has many good qualities. But there's just so much wrong with it that it leaves a bad taste in my mouth!

So the story's about a girl named Rose who is obsessed with homonyms and rules. Her teachers, classmates, and father can't understand her for the life of them, and although she tries to get by every day, things don't always go her way and she unknowingly causes trouble. One day, her dad brings home a random dog, whom she names Rain, as she was found during a rainy day. Later, when a hurricane hits, her father gets reckless and lets Rain out. After the storm, she doesn't come back. Rain is eventually found, but Rose learns that Rain belongs to another family, and she has to make a very hard decision.

I'm sorry if I sound really irritated in this review, but you know what? I'm saying it straight up: I AM irritated. Why? I'm going to get straight to the point. The book's biggest problem? Rose's father. GOOD FREAKING GOD, he completely ruined the entire book for me! He is a straight up jerk in every sense possible! He constantly berates Rose for being who she is, doesn't even TRY to understand her even a little bit, acts like he's the big boss of everything when he isn't, does stupid things, refuses to admit he does stupid things, never apologizes for anything he does (he does in one chapter but I feel it came off as really hollow, and for GOOD reason!), acts like she causes trouble all the time (which, admittedly, she does, but he doesn't even TRY to help her or teach her ways to handle situations more appropriately!), God, the list goes on! He even calls Rose a brat right to her face, tries to hit her, and makes a HUGE deal out of Rose trying to do a GOOD thing and give Rain back to her owners! Why? Because to him, she wasn't grateful for the fact that he brought a STOLEN dog to her. Why hasn't anyone killed him yet?! He is an ableist jackass, through and through! I hate him so much I smacked some pages of the book, he got on my nerves THAT much! Yes, I admit, he has his problems too, and from what I've read the Howards are poor, but still! That is absolutely NO excuse to treat Rose like that and act like she's some kind of perpetual troublemaker! Even her doing a nice thing is supposedly more trouble for Wesley! God, it's a good thing Rose had Weldon, Wesley's brother! He made the book tolerable! He's a much better parent to Rose than Wesley could even think of hoping to be! Every time Wesley opened his mouth, I wanted to throw the book at the wall! The twist at the end only made me happy for Rose.

(Horace Dinsmore is still a worse parent than him, though!)

Phew! Now that I got that elephant out of the room, let's move on. Yeah, I will admit, this book is very flawed, and Rose's father isn't the only thing that bogged the book down. I do admit, some of the stuff about homonyms annoyed me, and the fact that they always popped up in parentheses all throughout the book really took me out of the story. I didn't think they were really necessary. Plus, the way Rose's disability and struggles were presented in the book left a bad taste in my mouth. One of the reasons I liked this one book called Mockingbird was that even though Caitlin occasionally caused trouble and did some inappropriate things, she wasn't defined by them, and some people around her did learn to get past her autism and like her for who she is. Some people at least TRIED to help her understand the world around her in calm, appropriate ways, and never did they resort to yelling and berating her like she was some delinquent, and they actually appreciated the kind things she did for them. Basically, Caitlin's setbacks were portrayed as just that: setbacks. The negative aspects of her disability are brought to light, but the book didn't paint Caitlin's disability as being a bad thing. Rain Reign on the other hand...people are constantly annoyed with Rose, Rose constantly does stupid things, hardly anyone even TRIES to help her and understand her and teach her appropriate ways to handle situations in a calm way, practically everyone picks on her and loses her temper with her, and while I do agree her outbursts were unacceptable and some reactions were understandable and even justified, the way her dad and other people kept treating her made it seem like the story has it out for Rose just for being autistic. I got similar flack with my Pretty Cure fan fic, and now I can see why! There was hardly anything positive about Rose's situations, and hardly anyone made any attempt to understand Rose and see past her flaws! Weldon is one of them, yes, but a character like him can only go so far, especially when 85% of the cast consists of annoying jerkasses, closed-minded adults like the bus driver, or bullies who pick on Rose and call her retard every chance they get. No adult even scolds the kids on the bus for picking on Rose! At least in my fan fics, I try to always have an adult punish the kids for their transgressions or even call them out on it so that it doesn't get ignored or make the bullies suffer some consequences for their actions!

Now, this isn't to say the book is bad, and this isn't to say all the characters are bad or poorly written. I really liked Weldon, as he was pretty much the only character who bothered to even TRY to understand Rose and love her for who she is. Rose herself is a good, well developed, well rounded character. Even though I was annoyed by some of her outbursts sometimes, I liked that she actually was kind and compassionate, just having trouble understanding her own feelings, much less aritculating them. I liked that she did try to befriend one girl named Parvani, but I wish their friendship got developed a little more. I would have liked to see them interact. I'll take Parvani over jerbutt Wesley any day! Some characters who I initially disliked got better over the course of the book and acknowledge the things Rose tries to do for Rain. But they're still so underdeveloped that they don't really do much more than that. Other parts of the book are really well written, and I liked reading about Rose's thoughts on everything. I liked that Rose was heckbent on trying to do good by Rain and find her original owners, even if it meant losing a potential friend. She's determined, passionate, and kind. Not only that, Rain Reign actually rectified an issue I had with Mockingbird: actually having Rose understand the concept of empathy and having Weldon explain it in a way she could understand and take to heart. That was one of my biggest issues with Mockingbird: people not really teaching Caitlin how to do things and just expected her to just KNOW what to do and say. Weldon actually tries to teach Rose certain concepts and explain them in ways she understands. He's pretty much the only character who does it, yes, but better than nothing, right?

Unfortunately, I wanted to like this book, but I just couldn't. The way Rose and everyone around her is portrayed doesn't make this a very enjoyable book, especially for someone with autism. I identified with Rose, but I'm appalled and disgusted by the other characters' treatment of her. You CAN write a story without having everyone hate everything about the main character and acting like her very existence is nothing but a liability! It's ableist and offensive! Then again, I have no right to say this because I'm guilty of such things in my fan fic and got backlash for it, though I'm working on rectifying that. Sorry. I didn't enjoy this book at all. I tried, but I just couldn't enjoy it. Rose's father should die in a fire. Taking him out of the book or even revamping his entire character would be a MAJOR improvement. Sad to say this probably won't happen.

If you want to read a book about a girl with autism, go read Mockingbird or On The Edge of Gone. Rain Reign has some good qualities, but its negative view of Autism and its frustrating, detestable minor characters completely overshadow everything else.
 
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