Amagi Brilliant Park: The Most Fun I’ve Ever Had With KyoAni || OWLS “Believe”

Chances are that if you were linked here from another blogger pal, then you might be new. To those first-timers, “Hi, I’m Takuto, welcome to my anime cafe!” For the OWLS blog tour’s eighth monthly topic of 2019, “Believe,” I wanted to spend some time revisiting one of Kyoto Animation’s most fun yet often overlooked titles: the incredible, the amazing Amagi Brilliant Park!

Kyoto Animation. We all have that one anime we enjoyed from Kyoto Animation. Whether it is pain or joy, Kyoto Animation has brought to life stories that can touch our emotions. For the month of August, we will be honoring Kyoto Animation and all it has done for art, storytelling, and popular culture by discussing some of our favorite Kyoto Animation series. We will discuss what we love about these series and what they taught us.

The fire that happened at the studio is indeed a tragedy. We pray for the lives that were lost in this tragedy and the families that are suffering at this time. Fires may be dangerous, but there are flames that burn within us that spark passion, hope, and belief in ourselves.

I think it’s so wonderful that bloggers, YouTubers, and fans in this community have been reacting to this tragedy by sharing what they love most about the studio and its people. Although my words will not likely reach them, I hope our collective sentiment does, even it’s just to say a heartfelt “Thank You.” Lyn, thanks for this prompt!

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A brief discussion of the 13-episode fall 2014 anime “Amagi Brilliant Park,” animated by Kyoto Animation, directed by the late Yasuhiro Takemoto, and based on the light novel series of the same name by Shoji Gatoh.

A Land of Magic and Fun

Seiya Kanie is one good-lookin’ high school dude, and boy does he know it. Of course, this smart yet extremely narcissistic guy would believe that the quiet and beautiful Isuzu Sento has invited him on a date at an amusement park (even if she threatened him at gunpoint to get him there). His expectations are shattered when the bus pulls up to a run-down facility, where Seiya discovers that the titular Amagi Brilliant Park is running itself into the ground.

An employee herself, Sento takes Seiya through various disappointing attractions. Eventually, she brings him to see the owner of the theme park, Princess Latifa Fleuranza, who reveals to Seiya that Amagi is no ordinary amusement park. That very sentiment wins him over when Latifa bestows upon Seiya magical powers of his own. To further prove her point, she tells him that many of the park’s employees hail from her kingdom of Maple Land, and that they are mysterious magical beings who are nourished by animis, or the energy created by people having fun.

Because of his impressive intellect and natural charisma, Sento recruited her classmate not for a date, but to become the park’s new manager. Why so desperate? As per the park’s land-use contract, Amagi has less than three months to meet a quota of 500,000 guests. If they fail, the park will be closed for good, and all of its employees will have to scrounge up jobs—and a living—elsewhere. Entrusted with the hopes and dreams of this far-off enchanted land, Seiya declares he’ll use his many skills to bring Amagi back on its feet within this three-month span, or else watch it crumble to the ground.

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Amagi Brilliant Park is a fun fantasy romp that balances comedy and drama surprisingly well. You come for the stupid gags and lewd humor, but stay for the heartfelt character moments and the blood, sweat, and tears that come with hard work. Although the end wraps up a bit quicker than I’d have liked, this is ultimately just an adaptation of a much larger story.

Meet the Cast of AmaBri!

Seiya Kanie’s time at AmaBri challenges his character in a sort of redemptive way. As he comes to know the quirks of the park and its staff, he realizes that his boundless narcissism won’t help him through all situations. Sometimes he needs to lend a hand; other times, an ear will do just fine. That doesn’t stop him from gazing at his own reflection to remind himself of his dashing good looks.

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Our broad-shouldered, dead-panned Isuzu Sento is our female lead and Seiya’s partner in crime. She means so, so well by her actions, but her history as one of the Princess’ soldiers from their Maple Land days has whipped her into a prim and proper manager’s secretary that just can’t take a joke. Many of the park staff have a love/hate relationship with Sento, as her soldier instincts lead her hand to her magic rifle to solve any problems with rascally customers or staff. As she watches Seiya and learns from his diplomatic skills, however, Sento’s feared reputation slowly dissipates, as does that expressionless face of hers.

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The majority of AmaBri’s other staff are magical misfits from Maple Land, from cute talking sharks, digger moles, and dragons, to an anthropomorphic wrench and . . . a globe? Yeah, they’re a buncha of weirdos for sure. But the true stars of the park are the biggest freaks—and in the most unconventional way. Who knew a perverted cat, a foul-mouthed sheep, and an overly aggressive, umm, Moffle (?) would be Seiya’s biggest headache.

Seriously, Tiramie the flower fairy, Macaron the music fairy, and AmaBri’s sweets fairy mascot Moffle are an absolute HANDFUL, but man are they THE trio of goons. Most of the series’ hilarious moments come from Macaron’s laziness (a true artist must “take time off” if they’re not feeling inspired), or Tiramie’s perverted gawking and awful facial expressions. Overall, such a fun, endearing cast, even if their main purpose is just to put a smile on your face (kinda like . . . a theme park’s staff). 😉

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KyoAni IS the Magic of AmaBri

Animation lies at the core of anime, and like any comedy series, delivery is everything. Timing hilarious visuals with outrageous sounds is the goal with these kinds of shows, and in regards to humor, Amagi Brilliant Park is one of the bests out there. For me, much of Tiramie and Macaron’s slapstick comedy landed so hard I was left laughing hours after the episode ended. Not only do their faces twist in wacky, grotesque expressions, but the dialogue itself is absolutely hysterical.

Seriously, the dub script is GOLD, and the delivery by the actors has gut-busting potential. Can Adam Gibbs just voice every KyoAni male protagonist from now on, because he just has that perfect blend of charisma, charm, and awkwardness down pat. He can be goofy, but also attractive, which fits very well with Seiya’s personality. Molly Searcy’s Sento is much stiffer than what even the writing makes her out to be, but it grew on me throughout the series. Other fave performances included the dynamic duo of Tiffany Grant and Allison Keith as Moffle and Macaron, respectively. Hearing two of Eva‘s most iconic characters as giant stuffed cussing mascots was just awesome beyond words.

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Despite how perfect I thought the anime’s comedy skits were executed, I actually found the drama moments to land even better. Moments of bitter pain or sudden realization are captured perfectly by not only the characters’ facial expressions, but the space they inhabit. When Sento and Seiya were deeply pondering how much one meant to the other, deep blue shadows are cast over a blinding orange sunset, filling the screen with contrasting colors and conflicting emotions.

And of course, the all scenery is just beautiful to take in. The bright-colored landscapes work well with the cheery, cartoonish character designs. Plus, Seiya and Sento, as well as the other “human” characters, look very pretty—the KyoAni standard. In fact, had any other studio adapted AmaBri‘s story, I can bet you money that it wouldn’t have turned out as nearly as magical and fun as it did here with KyoAni.

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On the audio side of things, Shinkichi Mitsumune’s soundtrack supports all the laughs and the feels with incredible emotion. And if there’s a song more positive and upbeat than AKINO and bless4’s OP “Extra Magic Hour,” I haven’t heard it yet!

The humor hits home, and the drama is very much respected by the late Yasuhiro Takemoto’s sensitive directing style. Sure the story and characters were written long before the show was created, but Kyoto Animation, YOU were the ones who put the real magic into this series, and it shows with every laugh I gave and every tear I shed while watching. You are the magic that saved AmaBri, and I honestly can’t celebrate my enjoyment with this series enough!

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Dreams Only Come True if You Believe

Amagi Brilliant Park is a story about a boy who prides himself above others, thinking that he is good at everything, and that same boy’s struggle to help those that don’t believe in themselves become proud of their own abilities. It’s a story about give and take, hard work, and at the end of the day, finding the fun in what you do for a living. Seiya may manipulate and play on the staff’s whims and emotions throughout the series, but a strong sense of trust always lies at the core of his plans.

Seiya’s magic doesn’t stem from his newfound power—it comes directly from his belief in the resilience and strength of all the people of Maple Land. Seiya makes an investment in these people, pouring all his time and energy into transforming the workers of AmaBri into employees worthy of their gifts.

Seiya draws out the inner passion for their work, and with a little faith, is rewarded with the park’s continual success. It is a belief driven by transformation and grounded by trust. Trust in Seiya’s process, and you, too, will enjoy one of—if not—Kyoto Animation’s most fun creation they’ve ever given us.

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If you wanna make people dream, you’ve gotta start by believing in that dream yourself! — Seiya Kanie


Afterword

At LAST, I’ve written the post about AmaBri that I’ve been wanting to ever since I saw it a couple years back. Again, I’d like to extend my thanks to the lovely Kyoto Animation for giving us the gift of fun all wrapped in a pretty little bow—I hope I was able to do the series justice! Amagi Brilliant Park is one of the studio’s most underrated series, and I hope some of you will decide to watch this hilarious and heartwarming “Cake” title! To those few who have actually seen this gem, you ought to let me know your thoughts!

This concludes my August 10th entry in the OWLS “Believe” blog tour. Mel (Mel in Anime Land) wrote about Free! and Tsurune, two of my favorite series by the studio, that you can enjoy right here! Now, look out for Scott (Mechanical Anime Reviews) also with a post on Tsurune (ahh, all the love!) tomorrow, August 11th! Thank you so much for reading, and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

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Sarazanmai & the Price of Connection | OWLS “Vulnerable”

Chances are that if you were linked here from another blogger pal, then you might be new. To those first-timers, “Hi, I’m Takuto, welcome to my anime cafe!” For the OWLS blog tour’s sixth monthly topic of 2019, “Vulnerable,” I wanted to give some character spotlight to this spring season’s craziest title: Ikuhara’s Sarazanmai. 

In the month of June, we will be discussing what it means to be vulnerable. To some individuals, being vulnerable could be seen as a sign of weakness, but in fact, vulnerability is actually a sign of strength. We will explore what it means to be vulnerable and how certain characters in pop culture glamorize vulnerability. When do we show our vulnerability? How do we express vulnerability? Why should we show vulnerability? These are questions that we will be discussing in our posts featuring characters that show vulnerability and/or sensitivity and what we can learn from them or even our own personal stories.

I was pretty stoked when this month’s theme was announced. “How unusual, yet cool,” I remember thinking. Sarazanmai definitely fits the bill well, and what do you know—it’s even got some queer representation in it, perfect for pride month! Thanks Lyn for the prompt!

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A brief discussion of the original, 11-episode spring 2019 anime “Sarazanmai,” animated by MAPPA and Lapin Track, directed by Kunihiko Ikuhara and Nobuyuki Takeuchi, and written by Ikuhara and Teruko Utsumi. SPOILERS for episodes 1-3 will be present. 

We’re All Connected

What does it mean to connect? Middle school boy and Asakusa local Kazuki Yasaka is trying to figure that out for himself. After accidentally breaking a statue of a kappa, Kazuki and his friends Enta Jinnai and Toi Kuji find themselves transforming into the very creature of Japanese folklore at the behest of Keppi, prince of the Kappa Kingdom. To become human again, they must fight against the kappa-zombies, even stranger beings birthed from human desires and created by Keppi’s enemies: the Otter Empire.

If that weren’t already enough, to kill the kappa-zombies, the trio must perform the “Sarazanmai,” a sound produced only when the three are united. But making such connections are much easier said than done. What’s even worse is that each time they emit the sound, one of their secrets are revealed to the others! (Vulnerable in every sense of the word, am I right??)

For their efforts, Keppi cuts them a deal: Collect the rampant desires of the kappa-zombies and he’ll bestow upon them the “Dishes of Hope,” plates Keppi can create from humanity’s darkness that can make their wishes come true. When Kazuki, Enta, and Toi find that it takes five plates to make even just one wish come true, however, the friendship of these three boys is challenged. With every new fight springs forth another one of their innermost secrets, whether they like it or not! It’s only a matter of time before one of the boys breaks—but will the connections to their loved ones shatter with the fall?

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Sarazanmai is equal parts sarcastic and dramatic in its storytelling. During half of it, you are allowed to laugh at the silliness of it all. Probably for more than half, actually. To obtain the desires of the kappa-zombies, Kazuki and friends must enter the, ehem, *anus* of the demons and steal their shirikodama, a mythical orb said to contain the desires of one’s soul. Sound kinda dumb? Well, don’t blame the writers (or do for going through with it), because that’s actually how the legend of the Kappa goes, believe it or not!

And that’s just the beginning of the absurdity. Wait till we introduce the fortune-telling idol girl, the boy who cross-dresses as said idol, the other boy who shot a yakuza when he was just a wee tot, and the gay cops!! Oh Ikuhara, you’ve really created art with this one!

Joking aside, Sarazanmai is a neat little coming-of-age fantasy story for three poor youths who can’t seem to understand their place in the world. They don’t feel connected to anyone, lost adrift the tumultuous sea of love, and that’s what makes the moments when they realize the true meaning of their bonds so tender. Unconventional in execution, perhaps, but still immensely entertaining to follow.

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So, What is the Sarazanmai?

Is it a song? A dance? Something you can eat? Keppi says that: “Sarazanmai” refers to a connection of mind and soul. You share all your deepest secrets as well.”

So it’s abstract, but still simple to grasp. Humans are connected through their shirikodamas. When they lose them—as when Kappa Kazuki steals it to perform the Sarazanmai with Enta and Toi—they become incapable of connecting with anyone else, and they get kicked out of the circle that makes up the world (also quoted by Keppi). Yeesh, talk about a soul-siphoning ceremony!

By uniting in the Sarazanmai, Keppi can obtain these captured desires. Much like a double-edged sword, however, some of the users’ own desires inadvertently “leak” in the process. We’re talking about these boys’ private diary-grade secrets, which is what I want to talk about next. Trust them on this one: it ain’t easy being green.

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I Want to Connect, But . . . 

Reaching out to others is hard. It can be especially scary if you already think little of yourself. For whatever reason, trust me, we’ve all been there, and so have Kazuki, Enta, and Toi. Because Kazuki’s backstory carries more significance with the latter half, Toi’s with the show’s ending, I’ll be focusing on the Enta, our glasses wearing member of the “Golden Duo” meant to last all time!

Kazuki and Enta have been best friends ever since they met. After watching the other boys kick the soccer ball during practice for several weeks, a young Kazuki finally extends a hand to Enta to join the team. He was invited inside the circle, and granted permission to interact with an all-star like Kazuki. It sounds like a cold way of viewing their initial exchange, but this is how Enta, with all his self-doubts and insecurities, felt towards soccer and this new life.

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But feelings of more than just friendship blossomed for Enta. A closeted gay kid, Enta fell in love with his straight best friend. He felt blessed for having such a friend in his life, but cursed for feeling things that otherwise conflict with both the object of his affection and the status quo.

So like any shy gay boy, Enta hid these unacceptable feelings. He hid it all, months, years—

Until he performed the Sarazanmai. 

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Despite how hard he sheltered his secrets, all finally came bursting at the seams. Enta was left 100% unguarded, vulnerable. The boys saw how Enta inhaled Kazuki’s scent on his jersey in the locker room—how Enta’s expression glowed with lust when he placed his lips on Kazuki’s recorder—how Enta even KISSED Kazuki’s lips while he lie asleep. It was too much, way too embarrassing!! Kazuki was shocked, but blew it off under the assumption that his teammates dared Enta to kiss him. For Enta, however, his feelings were rejected, and not just trivialized, but entirely unacknowledged.

To be looked away by his love crushed him. Enta wanted to connect, but it wasn’t meant to be. Enta wanted to connect, to lie about what he did, but the Sarazanmai only reveals the truth. Enta wanted to connect, but to take more than what he could have. He wanted to connect, but Kazuki was so far away. And at the very end, when Enta stole the dishes for the chance to satisfy his own selfish wish, he couldn’t be forgiven. Lover became stranger, and Enta lost sight of himself.

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Love Yourself, & Cherish the Bonds You Form

I think if Sarazanmai has a bigger message under its themes of connection and expression, it’s this. When his whole life came crashing down on him, Enta first had to learn to be happy with himself if he was to not give up on his wish. Sure, he betrayed his friends, but he never gave up on Kazuki, even if Kazuki hated him for his actions.

We have to learn to be happy with ourselves if we are to form genuine connections with others. That said, we can still dislike parts of ourselves. I don’t think Enta ever wanted to have the feelings that he did for Kazuki, nor did he like feeling like a bystander all the time. But he eventually embraced those parts of himself, and found that all of these aspects—the good and the bad, the black and the white, the lustful and the loving—made up who he was as a person.

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Underneath its wacky, circus-like presentation, Sarazanmai is story about victimization, victimizing, and inadvertently hurting the people you love most to protect yourself. It shows us the price of maintaining connections with others, the deadly costs and the sinful pleasures alike. Each of the boys got to the point where they couldn’t even tell their closest friends about what was going on in their life, and that’s deeply eye-opening. Some connections cause you pain, yet you have to hold on to them.

Full of hidden meanings and rife with cultural symbolism, Sarazanmai delves into messy territory with philosophy on what it means to form genuine connections with others. How much should I give in a relationship? What should I be receiving in return? Is a connection supposed to be completely reciprocal, or . . . is it ok for one party to wind up with more? 

What does it mean to love someone, as opposed to desire something? How can my dreams help others, or why do my desires always hurt someone else? Merely living might be the hardest part, but true human connection and love make it all worthwhile. So long as we try to reach out to others and form connections, we’ll always be vulnerable to attack, physical or emotional.

But more importantly, just by trying, we’ll always have the chance to be happy—and not even a desire-snatching kappa can steal that opportunity away from you.

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Never forget that only those who connect their desires through the pain of loss can take the future in their hands. — Azuma Sara


Afterword

There’s A LOT going on in Sarazanmai, and a lot of good, might I add. This was easily one of the most fun watches I’ve had in a long time, and I hope the series stays on the radar for longer than this spring season. I would’ve loved more time with the characters, but I don’t feel like anything essential was left out. Maybe I’ll revisit it in a future post, but until then, Sarazanmai is honored here at the cafe as a “Cake” title, a show too sweet to miss out on. (Although if you’re not careful, this one might give you a cavity!)

So many people dropped this series, and that saddens me immensely considering that the ending is so rewarding. What did you think of Sarazanmai? Was it too weird for you, or right up your alley? Who was your best boy? I’d love to know in the comments! My love goes out to these precious kappa kids!

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This concludes my June 29th entry in the OWLS “Vulnerable” blog tour. Carla over at Pop Culture Literary gave us a very interesting post about Jen Wang’s comic The Prince and the Dressmaker that you can read right here! Now, look out for Fred (Au Natural) as he rounds out this exciting pride-filled month with his own take on vulnerability on Sunday, June 30th! Thank you so much for reading, and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

Izetta: The Fairy Tale That 2016 Slept On | Review

A brief spoiler-free review of the 12-episode fall 2016 anime “Izetta: The Last Witch,” animated by Ajia-do Animation Works, directed by Masaya Fujimori, and based on the original story by Hiroyuki Yoshino. 

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Die Letzte Hexe: The Last Witch

Back during the ages of old, a witch with pristine white hair wielded her powerful magic to protect her country of Elystadt, defending its people until her last dying breath. Years later in 1939, militaristic giant Germania invades a neighboring country, plunging Europe into a devastating war. Boasting far superior technological prowess in this industrial era, Germania sets her sights on Elystadt, a significantly weaker alpine country in the way of Germania’s great conquest.

To make matters worse for the tiny country, Germanian soldiers capture their princess, Ortfiné “Finé” Fredericka von Eylstadt, as she is heading to a decisive meeting with Britannia. When trouble aboard the transport plane breaks loose, another piece of precious cargo, Izetta, the last witch alive, escapes. Recognizing Princess Finé from a childhood memory, Izetta transforms a soldier’s rifle into a flying “broomstick” and rescues Finé.

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Now reunited with her princess, Izetta pledges to protect Elystadt from the clutches of Germania—just as the White Witch of legend once did—and with the last surviving witch on their arsenal, Elystadt hopes to turn the tides against the imperialist war titan.

Original projects excite me. There’s nothing more freeing than hearing a studio trying to bring together a story from the their own combined passions, and then seeing the results. Izetta was no exception. While underwhelming in its finale, Izetta provides a magical spin on a historical setting where a world war is fought . . . by a witch.

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What if a World War had a Witch?

Izetta is a bumbling little mess of emotions and crimson hair. She’s kind and overly humble, but often disregards her own well-being for the object of her affection: Princess Finé. Speaking of, our Princess of Elystadt herself is quite the noble woman. Just as Izetta, she’s loyal to her countrymen and responsible to a T. Respect is another quality that runs deep in the Elystadt family’s lineage (or at least the legend has us believe), but trust me when I say that Finé is the genuine article.

The two are a power duo, and many of my favorite scenes don’t revolve around the engaging combat, but rather the quiet nighttime conversations that are exclusive to the pair. Although they act selfishly so as to preserve the others’ safety, Izetta and Finé are undeniably a cool couple bound together by lore and destiny.

Aside from Izetta, Finé, and a young Germanian spy boy named Ricelt, none of the characters’ motives felt resolved, however. If this were an adaptation of a larger work, then I could understand why some details might’ve gotten left out. But Izetta is an original story with an entirely original cast, and to have interesting characters that serve little more purpose than to act as mere decorative pawns is a crime. If one character’s role can be performed by a separate entity and the story pans out the same way, then that’s a sign you should probably rethink your character count.

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Banking on Design: The Art of Izetta

Ajia-do isn’t a studio known for producing the most outstanding works (the most noteworthy to me being Emma: A Victorian Romance‘s second season), but they definitely did Izetta justice. The magical dogfights featuring Izetta flexing her powers are super fun to watch, as she enchants a variety of guns, swords, and missiles to fly by her side and “aid” her. All of the CG armaments gliding around the battlefield are well animated, and the background villages, landscapes, ballrooms, and regal offices are splendidly colored.

Speaking of colors, the character designs are surprisingly detailed and ornate, especially Ortfiné’s. BUNBUN’s light novel-esque character designs mirror the quality of Abec’s works of Sword Art Online fame. The hauntingly gorgeous ED theme “Hikari Aru Basho e” by May’n features the beautiful original artwork in an elegant slideshow fashion. As for the rest of the music, Michiru delivers wonderful militaristic anthems for on and off the battlefield. Overall, the soundtrack supports both the dramatic and the more lax moments of the series fairly well.

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For dub fans, Funimation’s got you covered with another high quality English script. Mallorie Rodak brings a nobility to Princess Finé that is very reminiscent of her lovely work as Space Battleship Yamato‘s Yuki Mori. Derick Snow’s young boy voice for the soldier-spy Ricelt was, wow, perfect, and Jad Saxton’s Sophie makes for a wicked antagonist, even if I dislike the character. I found Skylar McIntosh’s Izetta to be the weakest performance here, but even then I grew to enjoy her natural naivete that fits so well with the role.

The End of Magic and Fantasy

Amidst the hype of the incredible fall 2016 anime season (which included Drifters, Bungou Stray Dogs‘ 2nd Season, Haikyuu!!’s 3rd Season, and the phenomenon that was Yuri!!! On ICE to name a few), Izetta slipped by the radar fairly undetected. Its flashy moniker and simple yet exciting world-wars-meets-magic premise was pretty well received by fans that somehow didn’t have enough that season to chew on, although few stuck around for very long. (Don’t worry Izetta, I made time for you back then.)

After the first stunning and smart six episodes, the promises and high stakes let on by this thrilling first half see a weak follow-up (and even weaker conclusion) come the end of the story. The introduction of a villain, aside from the uninteresting Germanian emperor, in the latter half serves more thematic purpose than anything else. That is to say, the addition of an actual antagonist to directly oppose our titular witch doesn’t make this story of war any more exciting.

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Prior to this reveal, the series was building up to one big narrative conclusion: that war is bad. It’s not novel, but it certainly fits. Seeing as how there are radicals, spies, and heavy losses on both sides of the border, I would’ve been quite satisfied if Izetta had held a more neutral position.

But then they go ahead and say, “Aha, this new villain is TRULY evil,” and any hopes of an appeal to the enemy side are lost in the muddy trenches. Maybe that kind of story works for you, but I just wasn’t a fan of the big baddie because it didn’t feel like the finale Izetta was building up towards. As an original tale, you could’ve gone anywhere . . . and this is what you decided on? At least Izetta looked great soaring high in the sky on that rifle of hers—I’ll certainly miss our little witch and her magic, even if just for that.

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I, for one, am glad we saw the magic. It may not seem like much, but I think the fairy tale of the White Witch who appeared in modern times left something good inside the hearts of people all over the world. — Izetta, the last witch


Afterword

It’s been three years in the making, and it took receiving a physical copy of the Izetta Blu-ray as a gift from my brother to finally make the time for a rewatch and give this series a proper review. Even if I was disappointed with parts of the ending, the final sentiment of leaving magic behind and looking towards the future will always bring a tear to my eyes. More than not, I’m so happy this project became realized by the production team behind it—it’s a noble little piece, and an achievement in my eyes. Izetta: The Last Witch receives the “Coffee” rating, a title that you, eh, might enjoy, but I wouldn’t recommend like crazy.

Were you one of the few who stuck around to see the end of the magic, or did you bail out of the plane halfway like Finé did in episode one? Let me know, because literally no one talks about this series! Really, the show is kinda dumb, but it’s fun popcorn material if you just want to turn your brain off. On another note, I’m in the reviewing mood, so I’m hoping to churn out a few more before the inspiration passes! So, until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

WorldEnd — The Lack of Connection Between You and Me | Review

A brief spoiler-free review of the 12-episode spring 2017 anime “WorldEnd: What are you doing at the end of the world? Are you busy? Will you save us?”, also known as “SukaSuka,” animated by Satelight and C2C, directed by Junichi Wada, and based on Akira Kareno’s light novel series of the same name.

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At the End of the World

Awakening from a cryogenic slumber 500 years after his ferocious fight with a mysterious monster, Willem Kmetsch finds himself to be the last human alive. During his icy slumber, creatures of terrifying proportions known as “Beasts” emerged on Earth’s surface and destroyed the human race—all except for one, that is. Together with the other surviving races of this fantasy world, Willem takes refuge in the floating islands, living in fear of what terror still lies below. His new life feels lonely and meaningless, for all he has tied to him now is a number of odd jobs to merely get by.

One day, a surprise offer to become a weapons storehouse caretaker graces Willem’s presence, to which he takes thinking nothing of it. When arriving at this “warehouse,” however, he finds it not to be filled with guns and other arms, but instead a handful of young girls. And boy are they a handful. Connecting the dots, Willem realizes that these Leprechauns, though resembling humans, have no regard for their own lives, as they identify themselves as mere weapons of war. These are the weapons he was tasked to look after.

Becoming something of a father figure for the young Leprechauns, Willem spends his days watching over them fondly and supporting them in any way he can. Among them is blue-haired Chtholly Nota Seniorious, the dutiful yet stubborn eldest who is more than willing to sacrifice herself if it means defeating the Beasts and safeguarding peace. The two strike up an endearing relationship, and as Leprechauns are sent off to battle at the end of the world, Willem—who knows the tragedies of war all too well—can only cling to the hope that those who fight bravely will someday return home safe and sound.

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I remember this plot stirring up a lot of hearts back when it aired in 2017, but I found myself emotionally detached from not only most of the characters but also the story itself. It’s kind of like Seraph of the End‘s opening in that you are shown a deeply impressionable first episode (made notable largely for its music, which I’ll get to), and then directed to an entirely different story. For me at least, the show has a hard time of maintaining a particular mood, be it happiness, sadness, or somewhere in between.

It also quite honestly feels like WorldEnd is trying to balance so many different genres that it fails to excel at any of them. While it’s certainly not an action series, it wouldn’t be proper to label it as slice of life. But it does have enough excitement to be this weird sci-fi/fantasy blend, something that definitely makes it feel like a light novel adaptation. Romance might be a better genre category, but even then the dramatic intensity is ALL over the place, hardly a fit for a “true” story of love and romance.

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All the Lolis in the World Can’t Make You Relatable

Ready for me to break some hearts? Alright, well I’ll start with Willem, the story’s “hero” who falls for the girl doomed to a terrible fate. While I enjoy the message of defying said fate and cautiously yet optimistically gazing toward the future, I just couldn’t get into Willem’s character. Let me explain.

His unusual circumstances as “weapons keeper” places him with the undivided attention of all the lolicauns (heh, get it?). Each of their little problems are designed to unfold around him with the intent of unlocking a new facet of his character. Oh, so we find out everyone is afraid of him? Makes sense, he’s a human and a dude at that. But he’s a good cook? And he’s able to make them all love him through food? How convenient. But wait, he can also tune their weapons, a quality that is unique only to him. And we can’t forget that he’s a lover of little kids, a pro nurse, and a massage therapist, too. Plus, even though he can whoop all of these magical fairies in combat, he’s totally willing to die for them at any given time, OF COURSE.

Willem is just . . . too perfect, and I just couldn’t connect with him because of his overwhelming home-ec expertise. And speaking of disconnection, I never really cared for Chtholly, the lead female, as much as I was *supposed* to either. The two are cute together, don’t get me wrong, but I only recall like one or two instances where I thought their chemistry felt honest and true—and not being manipulated by the choppy plot lines.

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“Are you going to Scarborough Fair?”

Studios Satelite and C2C team up to animate this breathtaking fantasy world and it’s . . . alright? Aside from a few gorgeous landscape shots, the animation merely gets the job done. WorldEnd’s characters are drawn delicately, and the copious amounts of crimson blood that spill out during the fight scenes create quite the stark contrast (which I believe was the point). Given the lack of brazen fanservice we’ve come to see with these LN adaptations, the modesty here sure is appreciated. All in all, it may not be worth solely watching for the animation, but there is one production component that makes WorldEnd stand above the crowd: Tatsuya Katou’s soundtrack.

I’m a sucker for insert songs. They can hype up a scene to unbelievable levels and allow emotions transcend logic, a quality which can be tricky to master. But oh man does Tatsuya Katou have it down. Specifically here, he arranges traditional English ballads and folk songs as insert songs. Between the rich and powerful “Scarborough Fair” opening up this story’s curtains in episode one to the deeply resonate “Always in my Heart” closing out the final fight, it’s easy to be moved to tears. I still get goosebumps thinking about it. Both sung in English by the graceful Tamaru Yamada, these insert songs become perfect representations of WorldEnd‘s tragic duality.

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The rest of the OST maintains this same orchestral beauty: soaring strings, somber violin solos, cheerful guitar, blissful piano—a winning combination. Absolutely fantastic, and perfect for the fantasy atmosphere. Also worthy of mention is the series’ OP “DEAREST DROP” by Azusa Tadokoro, a song that easily made it into my personal music playlist.

For English dub fans, Funimation’s got you covered. Perhaps it’s because I didn’t exactly enjoy Willem’s character, but this isn’t my favorite Micah Solusod performance. Amber Lee Connors’ Chtholly definitely grows on you if you allow her a few episodes, though. Overall, I’m still curious about how the Japanese handled the emotional scenes, but the dub works just fine.

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Hinging on Feelings

Between a story that is neither this nor that and a bland protagonist that I just couldn’t seem to connect with, we’ve got a few touching scenes weakly strung together by a heavy reliance on the viewer loving the cast. The romance genre hinges on your attachment to (at least one of) the leads, making it almost entirely based on personal preference (to which I didn’t quite fancy here). At least it has some encouraging messages on embracing oneself through the process of change.

I wanted to love this anime with all my heart—after all, it was the talk of 2017 for quite some time. But in the end, a lack of connection—between plot points, characters, and myself as the viewer—prevents me from recommending the series unconditionally. There’s something special going on here, there really is, but I don’t think this anime adaptation showcases WorldEnd at its true best.

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I can’t find happiness, meaning there’s really no reason to pursue it. How can one pursue what they already have? Don’t you understand—I’m already the happiest girl in the world. — Chtholly


Afterword

I admittedly feel terrible for spitting on this beloved title. But if it makes fans feel better, I would like to check out the original light novel series some day, as I’ve heard wonderful things from people who are reading it. By the way, THAT TITLE THO. This is LN culture at its peak. For all those curious, WorldEnd: What are you doing at the end of the world? Are you busy? Will you save us? is rated a “Coffee” here at the cafe, a show that’s rich in all the right areas, and quite possibly satisfying if its characters can win over your heart.

Do you have any thoughts on this sweet little title? Let me know if you share some of the same disappointments or praises of WorldEnd that I do in the comments. I’d totally be willing to give this title a second try if given the reason to, so come and voice your thoughts on WorldEnd or this review! Thanks for reading, and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

Granblue Fantasy: Endless Blue Skies, But Not Enough Time to Explore Them All | Review

A brief spoiler-free review of the 13-episode spring 2017 anime “Granblue Fantasy The Animation,” animated by A-1 Pictures, directed by Yuuki Itou, and based on the video game series of the same name by Cygames. 

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A World of Skies and Islands

Awash with a stunning canvas of roving blues and fluffy whites is the world Granblue Fantasy is painted on, a famous franchise which has amassed a great following thanks to its many JRPG titles. While I am unfamiliar with this particular adaptation’s origins, the story still follows its titular character, a young boy named Gran, and his adventures throughout the wondrous skies that surround him. Accompanied by a talking winged lizard named Vyrn, the two embark on quests that tend to question the governing bodies of their world, such as the menacing Erste Empire and her sprawling military factions.

Alone in the forest one day, Gran stumbles upon a young girl with cerulean hair. Her name is Lyria, and she just recently happened to escape from the Empire after being subjected to sinister underground experiments on magic and the mythical. Alongside Katalina, a once-high-ranking knight of the Empire assigned to guard Lyria, Gran and the crew set out into the vast skies to escape the Empire’s treacherous plots. With ship set to starboard, Gran’s party aims to protect Lyria, as well as head for the famed land of legend mentioned in the last letter Gran received from his father: “Estalucia, Island of Stars.”

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I’ll be frank, the story of Granblue Fantasy The Animation is not a new one; girl is used by evil organization, boy protects her, boy meets a bunch of new allies while traveling around, yada yada. Even still, the heart of a fantasy adventure series lies in the lands we are taken to, and the variety of peoples we meet along the way—this pattern may not be a new one, but it doesn’t need to be new to be a fun watch. In that regard, this anime exceeds, but the overarching story—the hero’s main goal—is still a bit fuzzy. One moment Gran merely wants to watch over Lyria, but the next he insists on defeating (or rather purifying) these godlike mythical beasts to obtain magic crystals for . . . what was it again? I honestly can’t remember, but it’s still formulaic enough to follow along.

The Crew Aboard the Grandcypher

As a main character, Gran is without much personality. He’s kind and strong, yet remarkably bland, and although the show tries to convince you that he’s a real stellar guy with “special powers,” Gran’s actions and words fare just as interesting as a silent protagonist’s.

Oh wait, he originally was one? *sigh* This is another reason why adapting games into anime is hard . . . and somewhat a mistake.

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Obviously, the show pins most of its character love on Lyria, and thankfully, she does seem like someone you’d want to care for. Her curiosity and blind love for the world may not be executed as well as Tale of Symphonia‘s Colette, but the idea still transfers alright. Even our dutiful knight Katalina and reliable ship’s helmsman Rackam felt like characters I would enjoy partying up with. Same goes for new recruits, like the fiery (yet ironically ice magic specialist) mage Io and Team Rocket-esque dungeon thief duo Karva and Mary. Anyone else, well, the show just doesn’t give much screen time to learn about, but I’m sure they can be just as likable if given a fairer shot.

All the while, the Empire is looming in the dark and new faces, friend and foe alike, keep poppin’ out like the skies are just one big circus tent for JRPG tropes—there were like +10 new characters in the second to last episode alone, it’s ridiculous! If Granblue Fantasy The Animation had one big problem, it was that it tried to compensate “character development” for “5 seconds of fame,” and, in the end, not one of the side characters stood out as a result (which is a real shame given how cool some of these outfits were).

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Painting the Skies–The Magical Watercolor Touch

While I couldn’t give a damn about some of the characters thrown in at the last minute, I did have an incredible appreciation for what A-1 has done with their latest fantasy anime. Say what you will about their method of adaptation, but from their work on shows like Fractale, From the New World, Fate/Apocrypha, Sound of the Sky, so many others and most infamously, Sword Art Online, I’ve found A-1 to be one of the best animation studios where the fantasy genre is concerned. From the luscious color palettes and beautiful blends to the “old ruin aesthetic” of their utterly enchanting scenery, A-1’s always been on top of the game, and Granblue Fantasy is no exception. If anything, it’s the model, the paragon of what a high-quality fantasy production should look like.

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But especially with Granblue, the studio preserved the original art style from the games by giving it a softer, almost watercolor appeal to the backgrounds, much like the magic they did with Grimgar. And the characters and fight scenes, agh, WOW! I believe I recall an ANN article explaining that the adaptation’s delay was due to preserving all of the characters’ outfits, armor, leathers, buckles, trinkets, etc. in the anime style, and boy did A-1 bring out all the bells and whistles for this one. Highlights, shadows, bevels, rivets, textures, blends—what can only be imagined as an animation nightmare turned out to be well-worth the extra effort!

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Just watching the Grandcypher and its beautiful, colorful cast soar through the airy clouds across majestic seas of water and light took me to an entirely different land altogether. Put its spiraling architecture together with Square Enix and Cymusic native Tsutomu Narita’s epic orchestral soundtrack and you’ve really got a solid, powerful combination.

Lastly, can I mention how much of a bop the OP “GO” by BUMP OF CHICKEN and ED “Sora no Parade” by HARUHI are? Like, these songs about living the best lives we can are the total chill vibes that I LIVE for!

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Will We Ever Reach Estalucia?

Afraid not . . . maybe . . . ? At the end of the day, Granblue Fantasy The Animation is an absolutely gorgeous fantasy adventure anime that is hurt by its weak direction, weak antagonists, and lack of character development (and proper introduction for that matter). After its pinnacle fight scene in episode 12, one would imagine that the last episode would take us to the isle of lore where the reunion (and final showdown) would commence—WRONG. Instead, we are “treated” to a random bikini-filled beach episode with the cast of ladies that were introduced a mere episode prior. What a letdown.

But there is hope, as supposedly a second season was announced not to far back (no sure date as of yet). The anime just came out last year, after all, so I would assume that this is just the first half of the big adventure to come. Will I watch it? Of course, I’m in it for the long haul! But should you? Granblue Fantasy The Animation definitely feels like it’s more of a treat for fans of the game, but if you love magic, fantasy, and adventures as much as I do, perhaps Granblue is worth the “grand,” if not slightly frustrating, investment. It was bland, sure, but never did I really get “angry” with the show—in fact, it kinda made me want to start playing the games! Your eyes will love what they see, and your heart will yearn for the fun in-town shopping and traveling to last forever, but you may be able to guess the end long before A-1 decides to give it to us.

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Our destinations could be totally different, but I think this is our fate. As we continue our journey, we keep meeting new people. I treasure the connections that we make—just like the one we feel with you now. — Gran


Afterword

A softer, much more light-hearted take on the fantasy genre than typical game-to-anime adaptations, I have trouble recommending Granblue Fantasy on the grounds that at this time, it is currently incomplete (the worst kind of ending IMO). Should we truly stop here, I’ll award Granblue Fantasy The Animation with the “Breads” rating and a recommendation to SKIP it unless you’re a fan of the franchise and want to see your favorite characters brought to life by A-1’s genius. If we get more, however, that value is instantly reappraised to a “Coffee,” or even higher depending on how the second half turns out. Here’s to more Gran-seeming-important, more Katalina-obsessing-over-Vyrn’s-cutness, and more pretty-artwork-for-days!

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As a last minute addition, should you take up Gran and Lyria’s quest, I CAN safely recommend the English dub by Aniplex (although I still condemn their $80 releases). Both the sub and dub of Granblue Fantasy can be found on Crunchyroll for FREE, so hit it up whenever you’re next in the fantasy neighborhood! Be sure to let me know what you thought of this series, its characters, or this review down in the comments, as I’d love to know! Thanks so much for reading, and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

Fate/Extra: Last Encore – A Horrifically Beautiful Nightmare | Review

A brief spoiler-free review of the 10-episode winter 2018 anime “Fate/Extra: Last Encore,” animated by Shaft, directed by Akiyuki Shinbou and Yukihiro Miyamoto, and based on Type-Moon game “Fate/Extra.”

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The Dungeon Horror Genre Meets Fate

Hakuno Kishinami is a high school student—no, was a high school student? Doesn’t matter, because in a flash and flurry of visions pertaining to both the past and the future, Hakuno awakens in a strange virtual world styled much like a video game. He remembers neither his former life, nor how he got here, but before he even has time to comprehend his wacky situation, Hakuno is forced into a fight unlike one the world has ever seen: the Holy Grail War. Only this time around, supposedly over a hundred masters are competing for the coveted wish-granting chalice! Thankfully, a servant adorned in a maelstrom of crimson rose petals and shimmering gold manifests and comes to Hakuno’s aid. Her name is Saber, and together the two set out to conquer the seven enigmatic “floors” of this Grail War’s stage, as well as answer the burning question in Hakuno’s mind: “Who am I?”

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I borrowed that last quote from the official synopsis because, within both the characters and the story itself, there’s a vague sense of emptiness surrounding the situation. As an alternate route for Fate/stay night set in an entirely different universe, countless questions about the world and its origins arise. Unfortunately, very few are answered, and as each episode progresses, it becomes harder and harder to care about Hakuno, the entities he encounters, or this chapter of Fate in general. This new Grail War also presents itself weakly, rarely calling back to the fact that Hakuno should be fighting other servants and masters along the way when, oddly enough, each floor seems abandoned, which brings me to my next point.

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I like to call Last Encore a weird Dungeons & Dragons take on the Fate universe for its similar adventure style setup. On each floor that Hakuno, Saber, and eventually Rin climb to (or rather soar up to via magical elevator), the trio confronts 1) the floor’s master, 2) the floor master’s servant, and 3) a helpful ally (or tricky foe) who resides/is trapped on that floor. Each floor’s denizens offer a new lesson in character, survival, or how to live, and deciding who the party should ally themselves with or stay away from serves as decent entertainment.

Not-So-Familiar Faces

Last Encore‘s master and servant pairs reveal very little about themselves, which is a crying shame considering that you can typically count on Fate characters as ALWAYS being some of the most interesting crew you’ll ever run into. Heck, much of this historical fantasy cast—Robin Hood, Francis Drake, and a certain red Saber—receive better backstory and development in Fate/Grand Order, and that’s a FREAKIN’ MOBILE GAME.

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With so many characters encountered in such a short 10-episode time, it can be hard to remember who is who and what they do when you know that at the end of the episode, Hakuno and Saber will prevail and ascend to the next floor. As such, the other masters and servants NEED to be interesting, and sadly, the opposite happens since there’s not enough time for me to invest care. Philosophical as they may be, the interactions between characters in Last Encore are hollow, save for maybe one charismatic lass . . .

No Guts, No Glory!

Never does our red-clad hero proclaim this famous idiom, but boy does it typify her personality. To keep this review spoiler-free, we’ll just ride by the servant moniker. That said, prepare the “Umu!” counter, cause here’s our Maestro’s beloved servant! Unlike the others in this series, Saber is characterized quite well. Even reoccurring favorites like Rin and the not-so-much-favorite Shinji fail to truly grasp the viewer’s attention like Saber does. Charming, wise, experienced, and loves to show off her vast wealth and skill accumulated from former days of glory, Saber practically steals the show any time she gets the chance. She’s unapologetically boastful and confident, and her ridiculous remarks make her fun to watch. Shaft may promote her allure through annoying underskirt shots (or straight-up nudity), but we know the real reason she captures our hearts is because of her valor and chivalry in battle, as well as her playful charisma on the side.

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I will admit, Saber really doesn’t change much over the course of their journey, but that’s not why she’s there. She’s Hakuno’s guide, his partner, and through her ideological dialogue, she mentally keeps Hakuno thinking in the right mindset—and from succumbing to his darkest thoughts.

Fate in the Hands of Another Studio

Though the [very few and short] fight scenes look splendid, Shaft captures the individual essence of each floor’s quirks and qualities even better through unique landscapes, backgrounds, and art styles (including a floor designed to recreate Madoka Magica‘s eerie cuteness). Though the environment helps craft Extra‘s story, proving on multiple occasions to be more interesting than its characters, the alarming number of rough transitions between fantasy and reality, past and future causes immense confusion and boredom. The plot is already such a jumbled up mess, and to place Shaft at the head of this project is both genius and a horrifically beautiful nightmare. Arguably, with all the random floating objects and unnatural physics, it’s “too much Shaft” at times. At least that lighting is gorgeous.

 

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SIDE NOTE: I appreciate the endeavor to animate more of this massive franchise, but between an OK Apocrypha and now an even worse Extra, I can’t help but think Fate should be left not only to quality animators like the masters over at Ufotable, but also to its core writers. Shinbou excels at bringing the strange to life, but this sci-fi/fantasy adventure RPG style isn’t his strongest suit. 

Lastly, Satoru Kosaki’s score left a brilliant ambiance where the dialogue often tangled itself up (probably helps that he’s no stranger to studio Shaft’s style, having done much of the Monogatari OST). Also, the OP “Bright Burning Shout” by Takanori Nishikawa has an uplifting shounen fight song vibe to it, while the ED “Tsuki to Hanataba” by Sayuri allowed the bittersweet moments in the series to shine.

For the Fans Who Wanted One Last Encore

Trailing the viewer along through the bizarre sounds like something Fate/Extra: Last Encore would be excellent at, but Hakuno’s narrative is simply boring. And while a degree of mystery helps keep the mind engaged and asking questions, come episode ten you’ll be disappointed by this series’s lack of a proper ending. As one would imagine, Hakuno and Saber eventually reach the top floor, but to what end? The story abruptly stops upon the elevator reaching floor seven, and though a 20-minute finale OVA awaits us this summer (oh my god), no one will care by then.

Ultimately, it’s all a real shame, as I was finally hoping to branch out of the same old Fate and see what all the hubbub of Extra was about without having to sit through the PSP game. Several elements like changing the character design, recruiting a different studio, and twisting the story to fit as an anime series, seemed right, but just fell apart by the end. Watch the beginning of this shoddy cyclical Fate adaptation and I’m afraid you’ve already seen the end. Perhaps this is my “roundabout” way of saying that you shouldn’t advertise yourself as the encore when those unfamiliar with the original haven’t even properly enjoyed the main show.

I should do what I am capable of. That is all anyone can do. — Saber

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Afterword

It’s hard to write a review about a show that I really wanted to enjoy, especially something from Fate. Nevertheless, I must be honest with myself here. There were moments of true beauty, in which the shot composition, character animation, dialogue, music, and emotion all synced together spectacularly. But those moments only made up a small part of this already very short adventure. Such is why I award Fate/Extra: Last Encore the “Breads” rating, and recommendation to pass on it unless you have played the game and are wanting to enjoy a “similar” story in anime format—to which I say, enjoy, Praetor!

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I’d love it if you could sway my mind on this title, so let me know what you thought about it or this review down in the comments! Thanks for reading, and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

Completing My First “Tales” Game! | Blogmas 2017 Day 7

Hey everyone, welcome to day 7 of Blogmas!

Another quickie today, but a celebration nonetheless! This past early spring, I completed my first Tales game. For those unfamiliar with the massive franchise, the title Tales refers to a sprawling series of games, most unrelated, created by the game company Bandai Namco in Japan. They’re known for their iconic and elaborate character designs, fantasy-inspired landscapes, Celtic-inspired soundtracks, and most of all, their deep, thought-provoking adventure stories that can take just as long as a Final Fantasy game to complete. We’re talking about clocking no less than 30 hours per game!

Anyway, the Tales franchise means a lot to me. Not because I am overly familiar with the gameplay (as you can see by the title of this post, I’ve actually played very little Tales in my life T__T), but because I get my roots as a fan of entertainment in general from the fantasy genre, the Tales franchise being rich in the source. I’m a kid born and raised on attending Renaissance Festivals and Madrigal Feasts, often loosing myself in the adventurous worlds of tabletop gaming like (our adapted version of) HeroQuest (anyone remember that), TCGs like Pokemon and Magic the Gathering, books like John Flanagan’s Ranger’s Apprentice series, or even iconic films of the genre, Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit to name a couple. I love fantasy—essentially, its themes of valor, honor, and justice compose my heart for entertainment.

Most importantly, Tales of Symphonia: The Animation is one of only a handful of shows to get me started on anime. If  didn’t come across the Japanese opening of the game, “Starry Heavens,” which I’ll link below, I would never have discovered the wondrous world of Japanese animation.

So here we go: to the best of my ablility, I will briefly discuss my experiences playing both Tales of Symphonia and Tales of Zestiria on the PS3 from the weak non-gamer perspective that I have!

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Loose Discussions on My Experiences Playing a “Tales” Game

(These will DEFINITELY NOT be formal reviews.)

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Tales of Symphonia

Looking back on it, Symphonia‘s anime does a really, really good job at sticking to its source material. It’s got all the major locations, major backstory elements pertaining to the main characters, and even some of the minor characters. Heck, even most of the theme songs for specific characters and towns were brought back for the anime! But this isn’t about the anime, I suppose. Back to the game.

One of the biggest problems I had with the game was the use of annoying side mazes that involved using a “magic ring” to properly traverse. It’s gimmicks like these that tend to ward me off of games—I JUST WANT TO SEE THE STORY. Some of those were really hard, too; as a beginner, I found myself referring to YouTube walkthroughs more and more as the game’s climax neared just to get passed these stupid little travel puzzles.

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OH MY GOD WELGAIA’S FREAKIN FLOORS SCREW THIS

Another beef I had with it was the English audio. As a who’s fan loyal to what I hear first, that being the anime in fansubs, I couldn’t stand the English voices for Lloyd or Zelos. This was easily fixed by changing the game’s audio back to the original Japanese, however, so it’s not so much of a problem as it was just a preference. Raine’s VA for both  was good though, so way to go Kari Wahlgren!

Where it has its minor issues, I found myself immensely enjoying all of the sidequests or story elements that were dropped in the anime adaptation; piecing together the events and locations, however major or minor, that were missing from the anime was tons of fun, as I learned many new things about Symphonia‘s two worlds and their peoples. And while I did think that the final confrontation with Mithos, the ultimate antagonist, was a bit lousy in game format (or at least it had way less of an emotional appeal to it, though movies do tend to resonate with me more), I much rather preferred the game’s handling of tying up all the loose ends—specifically, resolving the pact with Origin and the birth of the new World Tree. It had more time to fully explain itself, and now after all these years I FINALLY understand who Origin is! Woohoo!

All-in-all, finally getting around to playing (and actually finishing, holy shit) Tales of Symphonia (PS3) after six LONG years of putting it off, I can’t help but feeling so complete—the story has finally come full-circle, the adaption introducing me to anime as a media and the PS3 game engrossing me in JRPGs. Do I now despise the anime for excluding so many “crucial” plot points? Absolutely not. I still hold Tales of Symphonia: The Animation in the highest regard, as it’s still a beautiful, moving tale of the harsh realities of racism and revenge, and the hope that comes with uniting two fundamentally broken worlds—I love both iterations of the story, and I probably always will. I DO recommend both the anime and the game, so pick your poison and head out on your own adventure ASAP! (Or be like me and experience both! More Symphonia is a very good thing.)

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Ultimately, I was just so happy I could say I completed my first Tales game, but I immediately knew that It wouldn’t be the last. In fact, my second Tales adventure was awaiting me just around the corner—the end of a good school year, and the start of a brilliant summer!

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Tales of Zestiria

I remember seeing a promotional poster for the anime Tales of Zestiria the X circulating years back, and I do recall being excited for it despite not knowing anything other than that it was another Tales adaptation by the GOD STUDIO, Ufotable. After getting to see the English voice actor for Zestiria‘s MC, Robbie Daymond, in person at this year’s Naka-Kon, I knew the first thing to do as soon as I got home: purchase the PS3 game (I actually ended up doing it in the hotel room, tho >.<).

My recent success with Symphonia set my passions ablaze for tackling the next big JRPG. Once you’ve played one JRPG, you’ve played them all, right? Or perhaps, you want to play them all. From the reviews alone, I already knew that this one was going to be the easiest-to-understand in the entire franchise so far, and that it was arguably the “not-very-smart one” in the series. The character designs charmed me too much, however, and the sparkling armitization sequences just blew me away! The real draw-in for this series, voice actor meeting aside, was the anime’s OP theme, “Kaze no Uta” by FLOW. It was just the smooth, crisp 60 fps display plus the ridiculously catchy tune that made this show a MUST for me. Anyone see a trend here?

That’s right, both Tales games that I have played drew me in through their gorgeous, catchy openings. I suppose that should speak volumes about their music choice and soundtracks, no? Easily some of the best stuff I’ve ever listened to. And I still jam to this song every time I’m working out (which is rare) or whenever I need something to lift my spirits (which is often).

Unlike Symphonia, however, Zestiria had yet another thing winning for it: the fandom. Oh the ships, all the ships, I tells ya!! I’m such a sucker for anything Sorey and Mikleo, Alisha and Lailah. They’re all just so pretty, AHH!!

EHERM. Tales of Zestiria, despite all my senseless fanboying, is a beloved game that, honestly, treads many of the same lines that Symphonia did: two races trying to coexist, one “chosen” person designated to heal the land, a loudmouth (yet adorable) MC and his reserved, intelligent best friend. “Best friend ;)” All of the parallels and similarities just make me glad that Zestiria, though argued as the “dumb one,” was my second Tales game.

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As a PS3 game itself, the reviews ARE true in that the game is likely one of the easier ones in the franchise. I had very few problems in it . . . as in literally none at all. Sure, the story isn’t as deep or intricate (or emotional) as I would have wanted it to be (AKA more like Symphonia’s darkness), but that in itself makes Zestiria‘s almost overwhelming optimism contagious, and fun to play regardless of whatever mood you’re in. The visuals are, holy god almighty, some of the finest I’ve ever seen in gaming (THOSE SKIES THO F*CK ME), and the orchestral soundtrack should be on EVERY tabletop gamer’s background music playlist. Like, shit, need something that sounds absolutely LEGENDARY for a whole freakin’ hour, here you go:

To recap the Zestiria (PS3) experience, it was easy, simple, fantasy fun at its finest. You don’t need to collect many bonus items (if any at all, I skipped most of them), and the fights themselves are, WOAH, WHAT’S THIS, the most FUN part of the gameplay! I’m no gamer, and I found swingin’ around Sorey’s massive armitized swords, bow, giant fists—what have you—to be greatly pleasurable. If you’re not looking for the deepest Tales game, but one that’s great for a first-timer, Zestiria is the one for you. I recommend it.

FUN FACT: After meeting Robbie Daymond, I played through all of the game in English and loved it—proof that once again, whatever you hear first is likely your favorite. I was also incredibly hyped for the anime adaption, as it looks like the best thing to come from Ufotable besides Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works, and that’s one of the most top-tier anime you could ask for! I’m currently watching the anime, and while the inclusion of the Berseria *promotional episodes* were pointless and time-draining, it’s a pretty good show. I won’t make any judgement calls now, but I’d love to review it whenever I finish! Also, for all I know, Berseria could very well end up being my next Tales game to experience, as it, too . . . well, I bet you can already guess.

It had a rockin’ OP. 🙂

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What did you think of Symphonia or Zestiria? Any opinions on their anime adaptations, either? For the record, I have seen the Tales of the Abyss anime, but that was also very long ago, so want to rewatch that some day. Lastly, are there any particular favorites or recommendations from the Tales franchise out there? Let me know! I’ve heard that Symphonia is actually one of the bests, and though I haven’t played the others, I’m gonna probably call it as my favorite. Sorry, it’s just first-timer’s bias. This wrap up Blogmas Day Seven of the 12 Days of Anime! Thanks for reading, and I’ll catch you all tomorrow!

– Takuto, your host