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.

 

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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.”

 

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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.

Top Five “New to Me” Games Late-2017

As in the past, I’d again like to look at some of the best games that I’ve tried for the first time (relatively) recently.

 

Ground rules:

  • The only qualification for this list is that I personally played the game for the first time since my mid-2017 list.
  • As usual I’ve tried 10+ new games since then, so it was difficult to narrow this down. Honorable Mentions include, but aren’t limited to Triplock, Einstein, and Thunder & Lightning.

 

 

 

5. The Captain is Dead

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If ever there was a game that exceeded my expectations, it’s The Captain is Dead. The odd premise is incredibly fun and engaging from the moment the game begins, as well as being ingeniously integrated into the gameplay and highly engrossing. There’s a real sense of entropy that the players need to get ahead of to succeed. Great co-op all around that’s highly recommended for anyone who’s ok with reactive gameplay and the quirky sci-fi setting.

Full review.

 

4. Magic Maze

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The premise of Magic Maze completely ridiculous. The pawns represent a party of adventurers that need to resupply and have decided to rob the … local mall. Yes, really. 🙂 The players share control of all four of them and try to map out the mall, get each adventurer to their favorite shop simultaneously, then get everyone out.

Overall Magic Maze is a fantastic real time co-op that features phenomenal design and brings something new and fun to the genre. It made a strong positive impression on everyone I’ve played with, and is a great addition to the game closet.

Full review.

 

3. Exit Series

 

The Exit games are the best Escape Room inspired home games I’ve played. Embracing a low cost point so they could make the games single use, the designers take full advantage of having components that can be cut, drawn on, and otherwise destroyed to create really clever puzzles and thoroughly engaging experiences. All three I’ve tried have been quite impressive and fun, and capture some of the wonder of playing actual escape rooms.

More thoughts on the series.

 

2. Near and Far

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Near and Far is a gorgeous adventure themed game with high production value, great atmosphere, and a real feeling on progress and exploration. The story elements are wonderfully integrated and enhance, rather than disrupt, the competitive game mechanics. With several game modes, maps, and variations this is a deep game with high replayability.

 

1. Yamatai

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Yamatai is a great area claiming game that’s reasonably accessible yet achieves significant depth due to modular setup, the variety of action choices available, and needing to properly exploit boats/resources placed by opponents. There are a lot of interesting choices every single turn and subtle underlying strategy and tactics to experiment with. I’ve played two and three players and the dynamics were quite different while still retaining the same feel and appeal. This is a fantastic new addition to my collection that jumped right into my list of favorite games.

 

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That’s it for now. It continues to be a great time for gaming, and everything here is well worth at least giving a try.

What are everyone else’s new favorites?

The Ancient Magus’ Bride Episode 1 Review

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

 

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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. 

 

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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.

 

 

 

Thor: Ragnarok Review

“Kneel before your queen.

 

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I enjoyed the first Thor movie and its epic feel that really hasn’t been replicated in other Marvel movies, despite some pacing issues. The second one was fine, shining in the interactions between Thor and Loki amid a serviceable but somewhat lackluster plot and paint by numbers villain.

Third time is the charm here, and this was a flat out blast. Ragnarok feels like a music video come to life in places in the best way possible. Thor and Loki again provide the movie’s emotional core, and with a logical plot that still manages a couple of nice twists and a larger than life antagonist the layered story shines. Of course on top of all of that are healthy layers of action and humor.

Said humor largely works and several awesome moments had me unexpectedly laughing out loud. However in other parts it admittedly tries way too hard, and the characterization of a certain green supporting cast member felt really odd, with depth and consistency often sacrificed for running gags. The movie also drags just a touch in the middle and the use and/or absence of certain characters from the previous movies was … interesting. On the other hand, there are also great new cast additions.

Overall though I thought this was fantastic, with a strong story featuring compelling characters and numerous fun moments.

Blood Engines (Marla Mason Book 1) Review

Marla Mason has temporarily left the city she rules as guardian to seek help from another sorcerer in dealing with what should have been a minor problem that’s become much more. With little interest in anything except saving her own skin, arriving to find San Francisco in the middle of magical problems of its own is the last thing Marla needs.

 

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Urban fantasy is a favorite genre of mine nowadays, and I’ve previously read short stories by T. A. Pratt that were great. As such I came into Blood Engines pretty excited, but while it’s decent I have to admit I left a touch disappointed. It’s one of those books where I wanted to like it more than I actually did.

Marla’s world contains a wide array of interesting magic systems with accompanying philosophies and practitioners. It was all creative, well designed, and explained in depth. However that last bit was part of the problem. Each magic specialty was presented info-dump style by an expert in it explaining why it was foolproof moments before it proved not to be.  The repetitious slog through technical explanations of how magic worked killed the pacing, particularly given how obvious it was that something was going to go horribly wrong whenever the speaker finished lecturing. It’s a weird feel. Pratt seems to try so hard to properly present his imaginative environments that they somehow get a little boring. Also, while pretty tastefully done, some of the subject matter is going to seem out of the blue and unnecessary to some readers. 

Marla herself was largely intentionally unlikable. She’s pretty much neutral to anything other than her own goals. I’m all for flawed protagonists and room for character growth, but it falls flat here. Rather than achieving shades of grey with her, the outlook and actions Pratt gave her just made her someone who’s hard to root for or care about.

The story was fine and there were definitely gripping and fun portions in the book, but honestly the hints dropped about Marla’s past and home town were more interesting than the side trip to San Francisco this entire book is about. Several twists walked the line of trying to be too clever and neat, including what I found to be an anticlimactic end. It was logical, but lacking in drama. Unfortunately the epilogue struck me the same way, meaning both storylines that built tension throughout the book kind of whimpered to a close.

Blood Engines is less than the sum of it’s parts. The characters and the world that surrounds them show significant potential and the writing style is solid enough, but the weaknesses I talked about above undermine it all. It’s ok overall, and I’m curious enough that I probably will give book 2 a try, but this should have been better given the quality of the underlying ideas.