ROGUE ONE: A Star Wars Story

rogue-one

3 stars (out of 4)

Released 2016

ROGUE ONE details the events immediately leading up to Star Wars: A New Hope. It explains how the Rebel Alliance managed to procure the plans to the Empire’s Death Star weapon and gives faces to the brave operatives who took on the task.

The plot is not extremely complicated, and there’s no deep message or theme. What we do get is a lot of space warfare and fighting and explosions and death. There is a tiny bit of character development, and also some humour, much of it courtesy of former Imperial droid K-2SO. Basically, it’s an action piece with high production values, good acting, good special effects, and a likeable cast. It is completely consistent with what you would expect from a Star Wars film.

As an unrelated aside, one of the previews at our screening was for the upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 movie, starring Baby Groot. Groot was already cute before, right? Oh my god, they’re killing me with this Baby Groot!

Mid-Autumn 2016 Anime Ranking

yuri-on-ice-07
01. Yuri!!! on ICE (ep. 1-10) – For much of its runtime, Yuri!!! on ICE exists as a sports anime about competitive figure skating. As such, it stands just fine, more than fine actually. The narrative and detailed animation is as good, or almost as good, as a top-tier production such as Haikyuu!!. The professionally-choreographed skating is brilliant and gorgeous to look at. There’s plenty of humour throughout. And it’s easy to cry and to celebrate right along with the well-written characters.

The best sports shows can be really excellent at handling sports drama, but, and I’ve said this before, I often want to know more about the athletes’ personal lives. This is where Yuri!!! on ICE goes above and beyond. I wasn’t originally rooting for the characters to get together (apparently I’m not much of a shipper in general), but I really like the casual way in which the romance has developed, interwoven with the skating plot. Having a love story tie everything together adds so much depth to the overall picture.

Plus, the fact that it happens to be an unconventional romance, taking place in a widely popular anime, is very unexpected and makes for a momentous social statement.

Sadly, the positive and tolerant environment of this anime is not the real world that we live in, but Yuri!!! on ICE shows us how the world could be if we just live and let love. And that’s beautifully inspiring.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

ajin-14
02. AJIN (ep. 14-23, or Season 2 ep. 1-10) – If anything, I think the CG animation and the facial expressions have improved this season. The theme songs are kind of crap, though, especially compared to the first season’s offerings.

As an intellectual action story, it doesn’t break any new ground; however, everything AJIN does, it does exceptionally well. So in terms of sheer excellence in pacing and logical yet thrilling story progression, AJIN 2 probably surpasses Yuri!!! on ICE. However, Yuri!!! is my number one, because it is well rounded and truly groundbreaking.
(to stream on NETFLIX)

bungo-stray-dogs-2-dazai
03. BUNGO STRAY DOGS (ep. 13-23, or Season 2 ep. 1-11) – The first 4 episodes were amazing. No offense to Atsushi, he’s fine, but I greatly preferred Oda as the main character. The flashback storyline was darker and more serious than anything in the show beforehand. Plus, there were 2 jaw-droppingly cool temporary versions of the OP (which were both superior to the actual version of the OP, by the way). And, it was the only time I can recall hearing my 3 favourite seiyuu, namely Miyano Mamoru, Suwabe Junichi, and Miki Shinichiro, all in the same show, in significant roles, and in the same episodes together. That was some incredible ear candy!

The rest of the season covers the 3-way war between the Armed Detective Agency, the Port Mafia, and The Guild. Honestly, the Guild members haven’t really captured my interest. Dazai, however, continues to be a fascinatingly nasty yet loveable character.

Incidentally, Mamo is starring in all 3 of my top favourite anime this season. Since Dazai and Nagai Kei are both pictured above, I was almost tempted to put a picture of JJ at the start of the post, instead of Yuuri. How wrong would that have been?
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

haikyuu-s3
04. Haikyuu!! 3rd Season: Karasuno Koukou VS Shiratorizawa Gakuen Koukou (ep. 1-10 complete) – Yes, this whole season is about Karasuno’s one match-up against Shiratorizawa.

It’s also very good. The plays are riveting, the animation continues to be top-notch, and there’s character development too. It’s really satisfying how Tsukishima has become a major force for Karasuno.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

05. The Disastrous Life of Saiki K. (Saiki Kusuo no Psi-nan) (special ep. 66-100, or ep. 14-20) – Still highly enjoyable week after week, even if this cour has so far not been quite as crazy imaginative as the first one. Of course, a certain plot twist that I have been expecting (due to a spoilerific casting announcement back in early October) is still to come.
(streaming at FUNimation and DAISUKI)

06. JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: DIAMOND IS UNBREAKABLE (ep. 27-37) – For a long time, I had my doubts about Rohan; I thought it was creepy the way he would try to buddy up to Koichi. But what do you know, I genuinely like the guy now! He’s smart and analytical, definitely a good asset when the rest of the team consists mostly of idiots and the villain you’re up against is an over-powered genius psychopath. The best part is his awkward and antagonistic relationship with Josuke; it’s so real, and so funny.

We’re finally nearing the climax of the Yoshikage Kira story arc which was being built up all season long. I’m kind of lukewarm about what’s happening right now, since I’m not sure all that time travel stuff actually makes sense.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

07. Mobile Suit GUNDAM: IRON-BLOODED ORPHANS (Tekketsu no Orphans) (ep. 26-34) – This is shaping up to be one super-complicated war/politics story. There are so many different factions in play that it’s hard to keep track of everything. Tekkadan, which now has ties to a number of these groups, including Turbines/Teiwaz, McGillis/Gjallarhorn, and Arbrau, is caught in the middle of it all. If they play their cards right, the potential rewards could be great, but there’s no telling if their “allies” can be trusted or how great the costs might be.
(streaming at DAISUKI and Crunchyroll)

izetta
08. Izetta, The Last Witch (Shuumatsu no Izetta) (ep. 1-11) – Pseudo-WWII-themed Izetta, the Last Witch is pretty impressive most of the time. The episodes focused on the war battles, the tactical strategy, and politics are well done; and the narrative is presented in a way that’s reasonably easy to follow. Finé is a great depiction of a strong and proactive leader who happens to be female.

Unfortunately, the occasional down-time episodes have been consistently cringe-worthy at worst, yawn-inducing at best. In those interludes, we get to see the female characters grab each other’s boobs, feel insecure about their bodies, and have tea-time with cake, because that’s what girls do!
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

dream-fes-kurofune
09. DREAM FESTIVAL! (ep. 1-10) – At first, I was not very impressed with DREAM FES; it looked like it would be just another second-rate idol anime. Mostly, I hated the Dorika (Dream Card) time stuff. The anime is pretty grounded otherwise, so the transformation sequences, in which the idols not only change clothes magical-girl style, but also transform into CG versions of themselves, are just weird.

But once I got past the Dorika Time and CG performances and unnecessary recaps, the characterizations and personal drama were actually pretty solid. The music is also nothing special, but it does come across as being slightly above average for an idol program.

I actually really liked the KUROFUNE rival duo introduced in ep. 7. I can see how their personalities would make them popular. I think I would totally be rooting for them if not for my awareness that Kanade is the main character and he and his group-mates are really hard-working!
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

10. DRIFTERS (ep. 1-9) – DRIFTERS is graphically violent and loaded with potentially offensive material. For example, one respected, competent female character is constantly referred to as “Boobs.” There are also significant hints that the hooded leader of the villains is none other than the Son of God. Nevertheless, it can be pretty entertaining.

What the show does an excellent job of is illustrating Nobunaga and Toyohisa’s battle strategy and goals. In particular, Toyohisa’s methods of building loyalty while amassing troops are very smart; it’s no wonder so many people will take his side and fight for him voluntarily.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

utapri-4-tokiya-eiji
11. Uta no Prince-sama Magi LOVE Legend Star (ep. 1-10) – I was half-dreading this sequel after the terrible third season, but thankfully Legend Star has been way, way better than Revolutions. There is some purpose to the narrative and the dialogue is much improved. UtaPri is the granddaddy of idol shows, and it proves to be as much a pro at storytelling as at dishing out the tropes in this incarnation.

It’s nice to see some of the STARISH guys’ backgrounds expanded on finally, as they individually participate in duet projects with the members of their new rival HEAVENS, almost all of whom have a screw or two loose.

The theme of the season seems to be “kizuna” (bonds), so many of the stories, although varied, come back to the members having to re-evaluate whether or not they belong in their boy band; and that does get a little bit tiring.

One of the highlights for me was seeing 2 of QUARTET NIGHT’s meanies turn on each other in the second episode. It always annoyed me whenever Camus or Ranmaru bullied Nanami or Reiji, so getting to see the two of them rip into each other was really satisfying.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

12. Kiss Him, Not Me (Watashi ga Motete Dousunda) (ep. 1-10) – You know? In this show, it doesn’t bother me much at all if the guys only like the main girl for her looks. Because what else is there to like really? She’s a diehard fujoshi who only cares about her BL. She isn’t personally interested in any of the guys except to ship them together. Other than that, Kae’s a reasonably nice, decent person, but not in any way that particularly stands out. If they want to be with her, they will constantly have to accommodate her otaku tendencies. So if she isn’t at least hot, what’s in it for them?

I do give the series credit for its honest, self-deprecating portrayal of the obsessive insanity of a raging otaku. Despite some occasional offensive content (such as Kae’s fat voice and sexual harassment-sensei), it is a very funny show.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

days-kimishita-ooshiba
13. DAYS (ep. 13-22) – I still don’t care much for Tsukamoto, or Kazama for that matter. It’s Kimishita that keeps me coming back to DAYS; I love his angry personality and I enjoy his interactions with all the other cast members. Now that he has been playing a bigger role in the series, it’s no wonder my opinion of DAYS is also improving.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

nanbaka-02
14. NANBAKA (ep. 1-10) – For no reason at all, this show has more sparkles than Magic-kyun (see below). It is ridiculously shiny and blindingly colourful, which is especially confounding as NANBAKA takes place in a prison.

There isn’t a lot of substance or depth here, but it is pretty fun to watch. You certainly don’t need to worry about tiring any brain cells in the process.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

15. Bloodivores (ep. 1-10) – It is really hard to say if this Chinese-Japanese co-production is good or bad. A lot is going to ride on how well the ending ties the pieces of the mystery together. So far, all I can do is give it the benefit of the doubt and trust that this vampire/monsters/survival game series has a plan. We will see.

(End of season edit: The naysayers were correct after all; it is bad. Bloodivores continues to raise questions right to the final episode and ends with nothing resolved.)
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

16. Magic-Kyun! Renaissance (ep. 1-10) – While this anime is supposed to be about exceptionally gifted artistes, the actual art produced is decidedly lacklustre. Of course, talent in Magic-kyun! is not measured by aesthetics; rather, it is all about the obscene amounts of sparkles that each artiste can produce. It’s hard to just take that on faith as a viewer, though. One standout fail for me is Ichijouji’s music. I would have expected an elite singing prodigy such as himself to have a deeper, more classical-sounding voice. Somehow the lightweight pop songs don’t get across the depth of emotion the show seems to want to convey.

Most of the characters are likeable enough, I guess, but Magic-kyun! will likely prove to be just another forgettable confection.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

17. ALL OUT!! (ep. 1-9) – I don’t really get rugby, and muscled guys in skin-tight uniforms are not my kind of fanservice.

As a sports anime, it has some similarities to DAYS, as they both feature a diminutive first-year main guy who is a newbie to his respective sport. By comparison, ALL OUT!! comes off as a more realistic portrayal and a more competent production overall, although it’s arguably a bit more boring from its lack of stand-out sympathetic characters. (Which is not the same as stand-out hairstyles – ALL OUT!! has those in spades.)

The soundtrack might be my favourite part of the show. They’re doing a good job with the frequent rock music as well as the lovely piano pieces.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

nobunaga-no-shinobi
18. Nobunaga no Shinobi (Ninja Girl & Samurai Master) (ep. 1-10) – The first of 2 shorts on my list, Nobunaga no Shinobi is a cute, comedic take on the events of the Warring States Era starring a cute ninja girl named Chidori. Some of the episodes are pretty funny, but often they’re too short or quick to get that much out of. The more familiar you are with the events of the time period, the more likely you are to appreciate the gags presented. My knowledge of Japanese history is only so-so.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

19. GAKUEN HANDSOME (ep. 1-10) – It seems kind of unfair, yet obvious, to put this one last, as its charm lies in the fact that it is intentionally bad. GAKUEN HANDSOME is a willfully low-budget, horrendously drawn BL anime full of supposedly hot guys who don’t actually look anything remotely like handsome and a main character who doesn’t even have eyes. It is a series of 3-minute shorts parodying probably every trope in BL/harem/highschool anime, and your enjoyment level may vary. I know mine does.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

~ Well, I think I’ve pictured all the characters voiced by Mamo in the shows I’m watching. I can’t possibly forget about you, JJ. Representing Canada: Jean-Jacques Leroy!
yuri-on-ice-jj

Batman: Assault on Arkham

batman-assault-on-arkham

3.5 stars (out of 4)

Released 2014

Batman’s name is in the title and he has top billing, but he is not actually the main character in this movie. The Suicide Squad, a group of baddies forced to work together, is the primary focus of the show. Their task is to break into Arkham Asylum to recover stolen information. The Caped Crusader is on a different mission, mostly in the background, but it all intersects neatly eventually.

Assault on Arkham features some really great characterization and clear agency for most of the squad members. I actually loved the frequent in-fighting between them. Generally, when teammates start bickering or throwing fists in the middle of a mission, I find it ridiculous that they would be childish enough to lose focus so easily and at such an inopportune moment. Here though, it happened so naturally as a result of their personalities that it was believable, and also very fun to watch!

Viewing this kind of made me nostalgic for the days when I used to watch Batman: The Animated Series and Batman Beyond on the TV back in the 90s. (Kevin Conroy reprises the role of Batman in this film.)

Assault on Arkham showcases excellent narrative direction and its action scenes are beautifully animated. The content is more mature and dark compared to the old TV programs, including some coarse language, implied sex and nudity, and of course plenty of violence and murder, so this one’s definitely not for the kiddies.

Mid-Summer 2016 Anime Ranking

By the numbers:
30 – series I started or continued this summer season. Of those, at least…
3 – series already finished airing mid-season
3 – anime involving time travel/re-living the past
2 – cooking anime
3 – sports anime
2 – spoon-bending psychic lead characters
47 – idol singers/band guys (WALKURE: 5, Odd-I’s: 5, Procellarum: 6, Six Gravity: 6, Kitakore: 2, THRIVE: 3, MooNs: 5, VEPPer: 2, MIVV: 1, Fluna and Seleas: 12)
7 – idols cast in the role of Shinsengumi members for in-show stage plays
5 – idols cast as Shinsengumi member Okita Souji for in-show stage plays
4 – series airing Christmas episodes during the month of August (Cute High, Saiki K., CHEER BOYS, Scar-red Rider XechS)

91Days - 02
01. 91 Days (ep. 1-9) – In this dark prohibition-era mafia revenge story, there are really no good guys, just a matter of who you might be rooting for at the time. Our protagonist is just as evil as they come, and he’s more conniving than most. Characters in this show get brutally killed off all the time; it would not surprise me in the least if even Angelo does not survive past the end of the series.

After 9 episodes, story progression continues to be pretty much flawless. Also, I like how the angsty OP theme, “Signal” by TK from Ling Tosite Sigure, effectively evokes a sense of tragedy amidst all the violence and bloodshed.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

Saiki Kusuo 01
02. The Disastrous Life of Saiki K. (Saiki Kusuo no Psi-nan) (special ep. 1-50, or ep. 1-10) – Saiki is an ESPer who can move things with his thoughts and read other people’s minds. In turn, we’re privy to the rapid-fire snarky comments in his head and it’s devastatingly funny.

Considering that Saiki claims to not give a damn about anyone or anything except for not drawing attention to himself, he’s actually an unexpectedly good guy. While he’s not beyond judging people (he does it all the time), he does go out of his way to help friends and strangers alike with surprising regularity.

Apparently even telekinetics call their mama when there’s a bug in the house. Who knew?
(streaming at FUNimation and DAISUKI)

ReLIFE Kaizaki
03. ReLIFE (ep. 1-13 complete) – ReLIFE had the most unusual release schedule, with all 13 episodes made available immediately at the start of the season. We watched the first half of it almost right away, then put it aside reluctantly to check out the other new offerings of the summer, then returned later to finish the rest.

Underemployed 27-year-old Kaizaki is recruited to take part in a social experiment. He takes medication to age down his appearance and must redo a year of high school for unknown reasons. The characters are very well-written and their conversations mostly ring true. The way little bits of the mystery are revealed gradually as the students go through their experiences makes it hard to stop watching.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

Orange 01
04. orange (ep. 1-10) – The group of friends in this show is really convincing and likeable. Unlike KIZNAIVER from last season, for instance, it’s easy to understand why someone would want to be friends with these people.

This anime deals with mental illness and I appreciate the way it handles the topic. Depression sufferers don’t go around moping 100% of the time. It often is hard to tell that someone is thinking about hurting themselves until it is too late.

What’s really a shame is that the animation quality has been declining steadily week after week. Lately, the characters’ faces sometimes look so off-model that I have trouble telling who’s who.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

Macross Delta 22 - Freyja
05. MACROSS Δ (ep. 14-23) – This newest iteration of MACROSS is only my second foray into the musical-combat space opera franchise. My initiation was its immediate predecessor, MACROSS Frontier from 2008.

That there is also a love triangle in this MACROSS anime is not at all surprising. What is refreshing is that Mikumo, the lead singer of the musical unit WALKURE, has a different role to play and is not part of said triangle. Additionally, DELTA has none of the fanservice that Frontier had; that alone makes me respect this series so much more.

The most notable element of this production has got to be the music. The show generously trots out a new song every few episodes. These musical numbers don’t sound generic, either; they are consistently well-crafted and frequently sung by the voice actors specifically for the scene (as opposed to only using the recorded versions).

06. Cute High Earth Defense Club LOVE! LOVE! (Binan Koukou Chikyuu Bouei-bu LOVE! LOVE!) (ep. 1-10) – It’s the sequel, and our colour-coded Battle Lovers are back with frilly new upgrades to their combat outfits. Now that they’ve been around the block a few times, they have a good understanding of when they need to mobilize, and when it’s okay to just stay in the bath.

Unfortunately for our attention-seeking villains, the Beppu twins, the Defense Club has deemed them to be not a threat. The Beppu brothers are also known as the pop duo VEPPer, because obviously, in an anime environment so chockfull of idols, Cute High would surely have at least one or two.

I quite enjoyed the weaponized words in ep. 3. It reminded me, likely intentionally, of Aquarion LOGOS, which was based on the whole bloated premise of physical word attacks. Being used as the passing assault of the disgruntled-student of the week in this show was the proper treatment for that particular lame concept.

Also, the aforementioned Christmas episode was pure comedy gold.

Season one ended pretty conclusively. There didn’t need to be a second season. But these writers are confident and highly self-aware about their material. I have no doubt they know exactly what they’re doing and I’m happy to be along for the ride.
(streaming at Crunchyroll and FUNimation)

srx-01-yousuke
07. Scar-red Rider XechS (ep. 1-10) – I’m not into the generic sentai action, nor am I particularly interested in the alien attack storyline. Even the band stuff is sub-par; the guys seem to talk about music way more often than they actually make any. How SRX has won me over is with its oddball characters, which goes to show how important that single factor can be in determining whether or not I can find a mediocre series enjoyable.

The way Yousuke beats around the bush instead of saying things directly makes me laugh. And I especially empathize with his serious and self-conscious best friend and group leader Takt. Their conversations together are hilarious!

I even kind of like the romance subplot. Three of the guys (so far) seem to have a crush on the same (oblivious) girl, but they each have their own reasons for admiring or feeling protective of her. Because their personalities are well-written enough, it’s actually convincing.

Unfortunately, I’m not super-enthused about the recent dark turn of events. The show is better when it doesn’t bother with the serious plotline as far as I’m concerned.
(streaming at FUNimation and DAISUKI)

08. MOB PSYCHO 100 (ep. 1-9) – Of the psychic-themed comedies this season, this is the more serious take of the two. Mob is young and inexperienced, but he has strong principles regarding the use of his special powers, at least when he’s able to control them anyway. His part-time employer Reigen is a real personality. He’s a self-serving liar and professional con man, and yet, he improbably manages to be a decent mentor to Mob; and it’s all completely in-character.

If you’re into detailed action animation, MOB PSYCHO delivers on that front, offering creative camera work and fluid motion in its fight sequences. If I’m honest though, I’d have to complain that the character designs are all pretty ugly.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

09. Food Wars! The Second Plate (Shokugeki no Souma: Ni no Sara) (ep. 1-10) – As the Autumn Elections continue, Souma is challenged harder than ever and is even forced to acknowledge some of his shortcomings in the face of fierce competition. At the same time, we’re seeing more collaboration among the Totsuki students.

Shokugeki continues to be a fun watch, especially during mealtimes, but it does feel a bit repetitive in how it’s mainly just been one tournament after another.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

sweetness-and-lightning
10. sweetness & lightning (Amaama to Inazuma) (ep. 1-10) – Kouhei is a single father juggling the demands of his job as a school-teacher and the needs of his young daughter. It concerns him that Tsumugi rarely gets to eat a decent home-cooked meal, so he ends up joining forces with one of his students and the 3 of them learn to cook together. There is some mild development in other areas of their lives, but basically a new dish is served up every week.

This is certainly a sweet and pleasant show. Probably the only thing I really have trouble believing is Tsumugi’s curly, below-the-bum long hair. I can’t imagine any parent, let alone a single dad, having the time and patience to handle such an unruly mane. I think it could even be a safety hazard for a pre-schooler like her.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

11. The Morose Mononokean (Fukigen na Mononokean) (ep. 1-10) – Ashiya starts working for Abeno, the Mononokean, after the latter helps him to remove a fuzzy yokai that attached itself to him and was draining his energy. Other than an arc in which the pair enter the underworld themselves, the show consists of a series of sentimental stories of yokai needing to make peace with their worldly issues so that they can be exorcized.

The 2 main guys are pretty entertaining to watch, but the best characters are Fuzzy (Mojya), who is expressive with just his eyes, and the yokai wall scroll of ep. 4. That wall scroll deserves more screen time!
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

12. JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: DIAMOND IS UNBREAKABLE (ep. 14-23) – JoJo’s is just as good as it always is as far as story, characterization, and humour goes. The reason I’ve been liking it less this season has more to do with the content rather than the quality of the show. I can’t help it; things like severed body parts and spider dissections (I had to look away) are huge turn-offs for me.

If there was one episode I enjoyed immensely, that would be the standalone ep. 16, in which Josuke teamed up with Jotaro to hunt down a rat. Josuke’s thoughts and reactions throughout the ordeal were so funny!
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

arslan-senki-fuujin-ranbu
13. THE HEROIC LEGEND OF ARSLAN: Dust Storm Dance (Arslan Senki: Fuujin Ranbu) (ep. 1-8 complete, overall ep. 26-33) – The first series ended without resolving anything, so this is basically a continuation of the story. I liked that they revisited the slavery issue and the effect that Arslan’s position on the topic could have on his potential allies. I also enjoyed the political stuff toward the end. Otherwise, the animation was not great for the most part, and I’m not sure I agree with how the limited time this series had was spent. The pirate arc took up a pretty big chunk; and (spoiler) they still don’t make it back to Ecbatana, though the pieces are now in place for what could be an explosive season 3.
(streaming at FUNimation)

14. Re:ZERO –Starting Life in Another World- (Re:Zero Kara Hajimeru Isekai Seikatsu) (ep. 14-23) – I’m definitely not enjoying this second half of the series as much as I did the first half. The supporting cast are mostly new and we don’t seem to be getting any closer to solving the underlying mysteries from before. Maybe it’s me, but I don’t think I’m really getting the point of all the Witch’s Cult and White Whale stuff and how it relates to the big picture.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

15. CHEER BOYS!! (Cheer Danshi!!) (ep. 1-9) – The men’s cheerleading anime. This was pretty enjoyable for the first few episodes, when the core group of 7 guys were assembling and preparing for their first performance. Then the troupe suddenly ballooned in size to 16 members! Not only did I no longer know who was who, but I was also a bit bored that the main focus was on a personality clash between 2 of the newcomers.
(streaming at FUNimation)

b-project-01-thrive
16. B-PROJECT~Kodou*Ambitious~ (ep. 1-9) – Both B-PROJECT and TSUKIUTA. this season feature multiple boy bands, making it pretty challenging to keep everyone straight and remember which unit they each belong to. We’re talking about a total of 22 idol guys between these 2 programs alone! God help me.

Of the two, B-PROJECT seems to be the slightly better series in terms of characterization and providing insight into the Japanese idol/music industry, well, up to ep. 4 anyway…

They lost me a bit with the incurable illness stuff in ep. 7. Was it supposed to be sad or funny? Sad, I would assume, but I was laughing when I realized the same character who shares a voice actor with Okita Souji (from Hakuouki, whose name as a Shinsengumi member came up previously in this very show) also has a TB-like infectious disease.

They lost me a lot with boring ep. 5 and the spirit-possession stuff in ep. 6. Also, those trashy naked end cards seem out of sync with the not-nearly-so-sexually-suggestive content of the show proper.

Personally, I do enjoy the musical and cultural references in B-PRO. I have twice attended T.M.Revolution’s real-life INAZUMA ROCK FES that the RAIZIN Festival of ep. 4 was based on. Also, ep. 6 had a scene in a Jangara Kyushu Ramen restaurant, one of my favourite ramen joints in Tokyo. However, the way the material plays to an in-the-know audience could be potentially alienating to an average viewer.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

17. BATTERY the Animation (ep. 1-9) – A talented but abrasive young pitcher joins the baseball team at his new school after befriending the catcher. This anime is about baseball, however, the potential BL is frequently acknowledged in-show, as our pitcher-catcher duo is often teased with romantic/sexual innuendo by family, friends, and others.

It started out pretty good, actually. I thought Takumi’s attitude was believable and I was interested in what was going on with his little brother Seiha. However, it’s been very slow moving and it seems like we’ve gotten derailed with the current story involving the rival-team couple.

18. The Highschool Life of a Fudanshi (Fudanshi Koukou Seikatsu) (ep. 1-10) – A fudanshi is a male BL fan. This short series focuses on Sakaguchi’s experiences and his friends’ reactions to his unusual hobby. Generally, it’s pretty funny, but no kidding it really is short, at about 3 minutes runtime per episode only.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

19. planetarian (ep. 1-5 complete) – This five-episode adaptation of a Key visual novel is about a cute-girl android and the junk-collector who encounters her at her planetarium years after the apocalyptic destruction of the city (and maybe the world). It is intended to be a terminal illness-type moe tearjerker, as Yumemi is running on her final few hours of battery life. I thought it was all right.
(streaming at FUNimation and DAISUKI)

tsukiuta-01
20. TSUKIUTA. THE ANIMATION (ep. 1-10) – One of my least favourite parts of this show are the CGI dance sequences, which never seem to look good in any idol series I’ve seen using that technique. I can understand that doing them that way allows for a greater amount of detailed movement, but it’s just too weird here, especially when the characters are suddenly singing with doll-like faces.

Incredibly, both TSUKIUTA. and B-PROJECT each had an episode where some of the idols were training to star in a Shinsengumi stage play, portraying Okita Souji specifically. Is that a really common thing for boy bands or something? Anyway, TSUKIUTA. won that round; its version, which involved a tough veteran actor (and no supernatural elements) was definitely the better take.

TSUKIUTA., like B-PRO, is vastly different from episode to episode since its focus changes to a different character every week and there is limited linear plot development. So far, I’d say episodes 3 (Animate), 4 (stage play), and 6 (where TSUKIUTA. suddenly became a whodunit comedy) were worthwhile. All the rest were okay, I guess, but I don’t feel like I gained anything from watching them, and I still can’t keep the guys straight! (It turns out there are 12 idol girls in this show too, but don’t even get me started on that. I give up.)
(streaming at FUNimation and DAISUKI)

kuro
21. SERVAMP (ep. 1-8) – Way too many characters just keep showing up, some of whom have had memory-wipes and/or memory implants. Meanwhile the plot is very unclear. I almost dropped this after 3 episodes – actually, I really did drop it. But eventually, I came crawling back to give it another chance because of the voice cast and because Kuro is so damn cute. I had to completely start over in order to get a better grasp of what was supposed to be going on in this stupid vampire anime.

One thing SERVAMP definitely has going for it is its delightfully heavy OP “Deal with” by OLDCODEX, my choice for best theme song of the season. Additionally, in what other entertainment do you get to see pretty men conversing with and fighting each other while carrying cute dolls and kittens in their arms? Then again, maybe nobody needs to see that.
(streaming at FUNimation)

22. DAYS (ep. 1-10) – My brutally uncharitable take on soccer anime DAYS is that it’s nothing but self-insert wish-fulfillment sports fiction. I totally don’t buy all the opportunities Tsukamoto gets, or the admiration he inspires in teammates and opponents alike, when he is so clearly unskilled. That said, the show is not wholly unlikeable. Several of the supporting cast have amusing personalities, including team captain Mizuki, who has his own unique way of expressing himself that everyone finds hard to understand, and team tsundere Kimishita.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

23. OZMAFIA!! (ep. 1-10) – Not much happens in this series of 4-minute shorts about a new student at Oz Academy. There’s no point in watching weekly, so I marathoned a bunch of episodes at once. OZMAFIA!! functions primarily as companion content for the otome game it’s based on, as far as I can tell, not being a player of the game myself. To its credit, the character designs are really cute, but seriously, this show isn’t good. Don’t watch it.

The ending sequence alternately features several songs by Article One, a defunct Christian rock band from London, Ontario that I’d never heard of before. Once again, it amuses me to learn something about my home country through Japanese entertainment.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

Also watching:

thunderbolt-fantasy-05
Thunderbolt Fantasy (ep. 1-10) – the Taiwanese/Japanese co-production puppet show, which is technically not an anime at all.

It takes a bit of effort to get used to the puppets’ movements and expressionless faces, but the personalities and storytelling are quite involved. I guess we’ve come to expect no less from writer extraordinaire Urobuchi Gen. I’m still struggling with the Chinese names, though, since they bear no resemblance to their Japanese pronunciations.

Sawano Hiroyuki’s soundtrack expertly adds drama and gravity to the narrative, while the voice actors do a stellar job of breathing life into each of the characters as well.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

BROTHERHOOD FINAL FANTASY XV (ep. 3-4) – The latest installment was the one I had been anticipating the most. Finally the Ignis episode! Suffice it to say I was not disappointed. Ignis is totally like a mom to Prince Noctis. How can you not love him?
(streaming at Crunchyroll and YouTube)

Active Raid 2nd (ep. 1-6) – since it’s the sequel. However, you may recall we weren’t terribly impressed by the first season, so it’s no surprise we weren’t that keen on this either; and we’ve fallen behind. I must say, though, ep. 5 was pretty great. Sena’s impassioned takedown of a garbage-strewing idiot was the highlight. But let’s not overlook MIVV’s sugary, Satanic pop tune; that was pure fabulousness.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

PARASYTE (Kiseijuu) Part 2 – Completion

Parasyte-2

3 stars (out of 4)

Released 2015 (in Japan)

When I watched this part of the story in the anime series, I thought it was a little too stretched out and overly preachy about its environmental and humans-are-the-real-monsters themes. Therefore, I rather enjoyed the faster pace of this movie by comparison.

Tamiya Ryoko didn’t get as much development as in the anime. Regardless, her vision and wisdom came through concisely over the course of the film.

For all the action sequences that got cut, I was surprised that they decided to retain the love-making scene. I didn’t really feel that it was necessary to the story in the first place; and by having it take place at a waste management facility… that just was not very romantic, to say the least.

CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR

captain america civil war

3 stars (out of 4)

Released 2016

The Avengers are coming under fire from the public, and feeling their own regrets, over the collateral damage that happens during their missions. The UN proposes the Sokovia Accords to govern the deployment of the Avengers; but this divides their members, as some of them cannot stomach the political interference into their activities.

It’s a valid argument: what is the right amount of autonomy or oversight for an organization such as the Avengers? The film does a fine job of presenting both angles of the dispute, represented mainly by Captain America and Iron Man on opposite sides. Meanwhile, a number of other plots are unfolding which further threaten to tear the team apart.

The movie features great characterization, as usual, of each of the superheroes, especially Captain America and Iron Man. I really liked Black Widow too. Peter Parker makes an appearance in this film and he’s really funny, as Spider-Man ought to be. Is it too soon for another Spider-Man reboot? I don’t know. If what we get here is any indication, I think it could work!

RUROUNI KENSHIN: Kyoto Inferno / The Legend Ends

rurouni-kenshin-kyoto-inferno-the-legend-ends

Both: 3 stars (out of 4)

Both: Released 2014 (in Japan)

These represent the second and third films in the trilogy and cover the Kyoto Arc. The first film came out in 2012.

Compared to the source manga, the narrative is much compressed and rearranged, as with the first Kenshin film. It works okay as a movie, but once again, some transitions don’t completely make sense if you think about them.

Most of the individual fights between various characters have been cut; a necessity, as the intricacies and meanings would have been difficult to convey in this medium. I do regret we didn’t get to properly see the battle at Aoi-ya, in which 2 or 3 of Shishio’s Juppongatana were defeated by “women and children,” namely Kaoru, Misao, and Yahiko.

That brings me to my primary complaint, which is still the weak characterization of Kaoru. My image of her is of an open-minded young lady who is also bossy, strong-willed, and courageous. She lives by her progressive ideals of forgiveness and protecting life, but it’s not to say that she is a childishly naïve pacifist, either. From the manga (and anime), I could understand how she would be a source of strength and inspiration for Kenshin, but here she seems like just a nice girl with a pretty face.

Sadly, Yahiko, and Shishio’s woman, Yumi also lost a good chunk of their personality in the transition to film.

Soujirou was so good, though. Ryunosuke Kamiki really got his character’s scary-polite killer-child nature down. Soujirou represents an extreme version of what Kenshin used to be, and I’m glad his scenes were well-depicted in the films.

The many action and sword-fighting scenes throughout were absolutely gorgeous and thrilling; honestly, those alone are enough to make these movies worth seeing. There’s a whole lot to like in this adaptation of Rurouni Kenshin and I’m happy I got to experience these live-action films on the big screen at long last.

PARASYTE (Kiseijuu) (Part 1)

parasyte-part-one

3 stars (out of 4)

Released 2014 (in Japan)

This is the live-action retelling of the story of Parasites invading human bodies and turning them into cannibals. Shinichi’s quick thinking stops his Parasite from taking his brain when he is attacked, but now he is part-Parasite (in his right arm) and he and Migi are caught in the middle of the conflict between humans and Parasites.

I have not read the PARASYTE manga, so my reference for comparison will be the anime series which aired in 2014-2015. As far as I know, it was a fairly faithful adaptation of the original source material. Basically, this film was a streamlined, nicely compressed version of the tale. While it covered a lot of material in a short time, the important pieces, including the horror and humour, were left intact.

The arc involving Kana was skipped entirely, which was wise considering the time constraints, however, Kana fans may be disappointed at the exclusion. And there was not as much detail on the gradual evolution of Migi (or Shinichi), but I think the gist of their development came through; it’s hard to say for sure how effective it was, since obviously, this was not my first exposure to the story.

In contrast to the Rurouni Kenshin films, which screened on the same day as this, I do like what they did here with the female lead. Satomi of the anime was a pretty bland nice-girl. In the film, they eliminated 2 of the secondary female characters, with the result of Satomi ending up with a greater role and more personality.

The monstrous creatures looked great; the special effects in general were fantastic. Foley artist Goro Koyama was even on hand at the screening to give a demonstration of the techniques he used to create the sound effects in the film, which was a nice treat.

The Magnificent Nine

the magnificent nine

2.5 stars (out of 4)

Released 2016

In 1700s feudal Japan, several people devise a plan to save their suffering village from ruin by lending money to their lord in order to earn interest. Some of them get the money by selling off all of their belongings. There is no personal benefit for each of the participants, as all proceeds go to supporting the village.

It takes years for the funds to be collected and more years to convince their lord to accept the deal.

This is apparently based on a true story, and if the film is to be believed, what’s really remarkable is that even though some of the men were more miserly and self-interested than others, there was no dishonesty at all. Multiple times, just when it seemed that someone or other would be out for themselves, it was revealed that they actually had good intentions.

It certainly was a feel-good story and pretty inspiring that it could happen. It was a real miracle that so many altruistic people happened to come together and managed to accomplish something great.