Juni Taisen Zodiac War Episode 1 Review

Every twelve years warriors representing the zodiac gather to “compete” until only one remains. To the victor, a granted wish. The Boar, haughty daughter of last tournament’s victor, arrives with destiny in mind and is determined not to be one of the eleven consigned to oblivion.

 

junitaisen

 

Like Recovery of an MMO Addict, this is another anime I checked out as part of Crunchyroll’s Passport contest and as such was going in totally cold information-wise.

But while I had no foreknowledge of Juni Taisen Zodiac War, the basic idea was readily apparent. Twelve hardened warriors representing the zodiac have gathered to “compete” until there is only one left. The tone is dark and unsettling, and the entire premise and rules are set up for gruesome deaths and establish tension. Flashbacks to Boar’s background help establish the (disturbing) scope of the show.

The atmosphere and execution is where this sets itself apart, and Zodiac War is interesting and well done overall. I admittedly could have done without what I found to be “meta” spoilers (and I’m very glad I avoided Crunchyroll’s episode description, which is as blatant a spoiler filled summary as I’ve seen), as I readily predicted where things were going. But getting there was still fairly compelling. I wonder if this initial episode will be a template for future episodes. I hope not, because while it worked well enough here as a formula it would drain all suspense from the series. I’m interested in watching more, and cautiously optimistic about the potential this has.

 

Kino’s Journey: The Beautiful World Episode 2 Review

“Revenge is ludicrous.”

 

kinobeautifulworld

 

The first episode of Kino’s Journey: The Beautiful World was a decent return to the universe of my favorite anime of all time.

The questions about whether this is a sequel or reboot are answered here, as we get a complete retelling of a story from the first series. Comparisons are thus unavoidable, and to be honest this version doesn’t fare well.

Colosseum is one episode now instead of two in the original, leading to pacing problems and straight up rambling exposition at various times to to set up the plot background. There’s no drama nor proper time to the fights now, and all character development of the other participants and support cast is gone. The absence of certain aspects (tiered society, face to face meeting with the king, etc) modify the philosophy of the story, removing depth and completely changing the implications and meaning of Kino’s actions. I feel all nuance has been lost, and this plays more like a plot outline of the original episodes than a fully formed story.

I’m extremely curious which is closer to the light novel this is based on, as while still justified this Kino is much less relatable/likable compared to the original anime, particularly since this is presented in the second episode with much less opportunity to get to know Kino before these events. It will be interesting to see what new viewers think without the old series to compare to.

I really hope they stick to new material going forward. There’s plenty from the light novels to draw from, so half hearted remakes of stories already adapted don’t seem necessary. Keeping the old series as cannon and providing background exposition as needed would have worked just fine, and certainly wouldn’t have been any more awkward than the info dumps present here. In a vacuum this wasn’t bad, but as a remake it was disappointing.

The Ancient Magus’ Bride Episode 1 Review

“Their kindness and favors don’t necessarily benefit a human.”

 

magus

 

The Ancient Magus’ Bride starts out with an unsettling and ominous opening with heavy atmosphere as we see a young girl dejectedly signing a contract then being put in a collar, chains, and a robe. She’s purchased by mysterious figure for exorbitant amount, and isn’t even remotely expecting his intentions.

The underlying premise and setup are of course uncomfortable, but things settle into a lighter atmosphere in short order. The heavy themes are of course still there, but the themes move into the territory of acceptance and dealing with coming out of the depths of despair. Chise’s burdened and cursed with powers that are now appreciated and valued, and she has no idea how to react with the possibly fortuitous change in her fate. It’s a delicate subject well handled and this first episode is captivating as her story starts to unfold.

The feel has a touch of “slice of life” as the details of Chise’s new situation are revealed, and the world has a fascinating layer of magic behind it. Being set outside of London and a great animation style combine for a wonderful aesthetic. I’ve been curious about this series and found this first taste of it quite intriguing. Looking forward to watching more.

 

Recovery of an MMO Junkie Episode 1 Review

Thirty year old Moriko is a NEET by choice who wants nothing more than to escape back into the comfort of the online world. In a bit over her head trying a new MMO, her character Hayashi attracts the assistance of the sweet and more experienced Lily, and Moriko’s solo adventure suddenly becomes more of a group effort. 

 

mmo1

 

I checked this series out as part of Crunchyroll’s Passport contest, involving watching the first episodes of several new series. So I knew absolutely nothing about it going in.

The opening caught my eye, with vivid, fluid animation and a couple of intriguing glimpses. The strong initial impression continued as the main character walked into her apartment and threw a bouquet of flowers in the trash. Nice, striking way to immediately convey volumes about her. In general I thought there was a really great balance of how much to explicitly reveal and explain vs what to imply here.

This was a cute, good first episode laying the groundwork of Moriko forming relationships within the game world she’s using to try to avoid having to do so in the real world. It appropriately focuses primarily on establishing the internal game world and what she’s experiencing in it in this initial episode, but I expect more of a spotlight on her in the real world as the series progresses. There’s a lot to like and both the comedic and romantic/interpersonal elements are extremely well done so far. Definitely considering continuing with this one.

 

 

 

Kino’s Journey: The Beautiful World Episode 1 Review

“Traveling is fun, and even if I have to kill others, I still want to continue doing it.”

 

kinobeautifulworld

 

I was admittedly a little trepidatious as I watched the premiere episode of Kino’s Journey: The Beautiful World, wondering if it would live up to the heights achieved by its predecessor. The original Kino’s Journey anime is my favorite of all time, so I was both excited and anxious to see this what this new rendition 13 years later would have in store.

The opening two minute quasi-monologue establishing Kino’s philosophy and outlook, including the extremely odd quote I opened with, was a bit worrying. It did set the tone of the series though, somehow having both a touch more melancholy and whimsy at first glance. The scene also made more sense in retrospect once the rest of the episode’s story was told. It was thought provoking and intriguing overall, which is exactly what I want from Kino’s adventures. The joy as always is watching Kino’s visit unfold, so I’ll avoid specifics, but the story here and the country visited were good choices for an initial impression.

The animation doesn’t have the “softness” of the original, but absolutely has the right feel and is beautiful in its own right. Likewise so far I don’t feel the music is quite up to level of original, but again it’s still good.

Overall I’m extremely happy with Kino’s return, and this first episode has a lot of what made the original so special.

 

 

 

Your Name. Review

“Who am I? No, who are YOU!”

Mitsuha and Taki are strangers living very different everyday lives that change dramatically when they start waking up in each others’ bodies at random intervals in dreams that are all too real. Getting to know each other by proxy the longer this goes on, something more is happening in the shadow of their strange situation.

 

yourname

 

Your Name. is as striking and impactful as Makoto Shinkai’s previous works, with perhaps a touch more polish. As always the visuals are absolutely breathtaking, both in the gorgeous environments and backgrounds that bring the movie’s world to life and in engaging character animation that adds great emotional impact to the story through facial expressions and body language.

Such detail and precision to the animation is used to great effect to make the story engaging, which is particularly important in the body switching scenes. The film would not have the resonance it does if the audience couldn’t immediately tell the difference between Mitsuha and “Taki in Mitsuha’s body” and vice versa.

I found the pacing here interesting, with the first half of the movie having a tv feel to it. The opening sequence and certain montages particularly bring to mind the pacing and certain elements of a tv series rather than a movie. It’s executed well and works nicely to allow establishment of a specific atmosphere as the baseline of Shinkai’s tale.

Your Name. walks a fine line thematically, but does it well. It’s infused with Shinkai’s usual evocative, sometimes biting, observations of the human condition, but well balanced with light and heartwarming touches among an emotionally affecting journey. There’s of course more going on than it appears, but the story always remains strongly centered on the characters and grows from their desires and actions. Shinkai’s trademark ability to pull on his viewer’s heartstrings was also in full effect, and I certainly felt my emotions being played like a fiddle at moments (and I mean that in a positive way).

While I’ve been impressed with all of Shinkai’s movies, I’ve liked some much more than others. I feel this is one of his best, right up with Children Who Chase Lost Voices as my favorite. Add in the previously mentioned incredible animation, and Your Name. is well worth catching during its limited theater run.

 

 

Ocean Waves Review

On the verge of his high school reunion, Taku recalls how all his problems began with a transfer student’s arrival.

 

oceanwaves

 

The 20+ year old “lost” Studio Ghibli classic featuring high school love and all the awkwardness that goes with it finally sees a US release, and I had the opportunity to catch it during limited screenings in NYC.

For context, I’m a middle of the road Ghibli fan. I appreciate the general quality and have favorites among their films that I consider incredible, but I don’t go crazy for every movie they do and was lukewarm on several I’ve seen (and outright hated one).

So I had no preconceived expectations really, which made it even more interesting when this fell firmly in  the gray area of my personal opinion. Most things have high and low points, but usually there’s a predominant overall impression, be it good, bad, or indifferent.

Recently I played a video game (Zero Time Dilemma) that bucked that trend for me in that I both liked and disliked in pretty much equal measure. That same conflicting batch of feelings perfectly describes my reaction to Ocean Waves.

Given that most of the film is told as a memory, there’s a fog of “unreliable narrator” feeling that envelopes the story. It’s the epitome of a double edged sword here. It makes sense that certain things would be more vivd in his mind than others and that he wouldn’t always notice or know other’s motivations, which helps establish the drama and his personal point of view as main character, but it also presents characterization issues with regards to the rest of the cast. A big part of the problem is that the film conveys early on that most of what we’re seeing is a memory, but then presents that memory in the style of objective reality, which leads to thematic and empathy issues.

Arguably the third most important character in the film felt like nothing more than a story prop to me after a decent introduction. He acted as the plot demanded instead of naturally, and needed to come across as much more likable than he was for the themes to click properly.

The narrator’s narrow field of view also causes a particular moment that should have been meaningful and dramatic to instead end up uncomfortable and cringeworthy. I know the point is supposed to be that he doesn’t understand where the other person is coming from and acts out because of it, but without due exploration of the other person’s side of things the movie appears to be taking sides, to ill effect.  All in all I spent most of the movie wanting to like everyone more than I actually did.

Yet there’s still something incredibly captivating about Ocean Waves, particularly in the latter half. I really wanted to know what happened to Taku, Rikako, and Yutaka almost despite myself. Their reactions felt authentic even when not built up fully and the oddness of everyday life and everyday worries was captured with a deftness I’ve seldom seen. The movie shines in its small moments, when the story gets out of its own way.

I wouldn’t give Ocean Waves a strong recommendation, but again I did like as much about it as I disliked. I think overall what it does right overcomes its flaws enough to be a worthwhile watch despite my highly mixed feelings (and of course others end up loving it if their tastes and tolerances are different from mine).