Shiki: The Frightening Science of Vampires | Review

A brief spoiler-free review of the 22-episode summer 2010 anime “Shiki,” produced by Daume, based on the novel by Fuyumi Ono.

How would you feel about being given a second chance at life? Was there work you left behind unfinished that just needed a few more final touches? What about reuniting with a loved one from your past life? An opportunity like this rivals that of winning the lottery–a dream fulfilled, is it not?

Now, what if you were forced to return to this wretched earth, strained out of the dead to continue maintaining your fragile body at the expense of friends and family? You’d be a burdensome leech, a selfish and disgusting virus which feeds off of the innocent and the ignorant alike just to preserve your own rotting corpse. If you could kill people without consequence, would it be easier to do? Would you feel more inclined to repeat your actions?

Shiki presents us with both scenarios of life for the undead, but its grim tone and somber character stories have us believing that life after death is truly and rightfully morbid.

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Welcome to Sotoba – Population: Fear, Hysteria, and Death

This tale of madness descending is set in a remote rural village isolated from “modern” society. (We’re talking a town with traditional wooden Japanese houses and only one clinic to visit in case of emergency.) From the get-go, we already know that what will happen in the village will stay in the village. At first the atmosphere is cheery, starting us off through the eyes of hot n’ dangerous teen Megumi, a girl who feels like an outcast among the villagers because of her fashionable and trendy fantasies of city life (quite relatable, might I add). She lusts after a transfer student by the name of Natsuno who would be, as anyone could guess, charming yet mysterious “boyfriend material.”

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But much of her young life changes when an enormous castle-sized mansion is built almost overnight–the extravagant yet seemingly-elusive Kirishiki family has moved into that vacant lot high in the mountains. They are reserved and elegant divas of the night, but what terror, if any, lies beyond their walled stronghold on the hill?

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And exactly like clockwork, strange disease and paranoia begin seeping through the cracks of these closed-off country minds. Villagers grow pale and unresponsive, only to pass away within days of their diagnosis! All of this perplexes our [arguably the] main character, the good doctor Toshio, and his battle against these unseen and mystical forces quickly causes his ironclad rationale to teeter on the edge of self-destruction.

Themes! Themes for all!

The story is loaded with conflicts of the individual vs. culture and society that would make any philosopher or English teacher quiver in delight. If you continue to dissect its characters apart, you’ll notice a healthy amount of psychoanalysis to be done. There’s also the very nature of these vampiric beasts that’ll surely give you goosebumps if you’re just in it for the action. All things considered, Shiki’s premise is well-crafted and cleverly presented through its many different viewpoints. The anime tries to handle the scenario through every set of eyes possible, and actually does a fair job at it.

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Watching Occupation Shaping Perception

If this show is trying to preach one lesson to its viewers, it’s that OCCUPATION SHAPES PERCEPTION. First we have Toshio the Rational who wields science and logic as his guiding torch. His hands-on experience and repeated failure with his patients shape his view on how the village should act. Given this firsthand account of horror, the trauma is enough to eventually shake his mental stability. “Empty your hearts. In order to kill these demons we have to become demons.”

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Then there’s Muroi the Romantic writer and priest who believes through feelings that these demons are just like us. Even now, they only have special requirements to live. His benevolent approach leaves him without any clue as to how to fight a back, however, for his inexperience and urge to document the case rather than seek justice cause him to remain sane but forever alone.

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And finally we have Natsuno and Megumi, both Angsty Lovers who embody mixes of the doc and the junior monk. They remain rational and understanding of all that takes place, but their struggle against striving for the lives they desire to live under supernatural circumstances leads them to consequence. All of the villagers, save for these four, are static characters designed to move the plot forward and advance growth in our leads.

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A Damn Good English Dub

A fair point is that I fell in love with the English dub voices before I did the characters, so props to FUNimation for that win–especially to Tia Ballard as Megumi, holy crap! Also, while there are a dozen characters that I loved (and a dozen that I hated), my heart goes out to nurse Yasuyo (yay for more Wendy Powell!), the busty, compassionate sweetheart clad in fishnet-leggings. What a frickin’ saint she is!

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Relying on Story Horror Rather than Visual Horror

Onto the animation side, studio Daume actually did a very decent job. Several excellent cinematic shots and moldy/bold color choices were used to convey the eerie atmosphere. But I did have a few problems. As much as I took great pleasure in the Shiki black ombre eyes, too many different kinds of eye styles made me really dislike the ugly, small-pupil look that was overused on “insane” characters. Also, what’s up with that hair shaping? Natsuno’s nasty cut reminded me of the salad leaves I was munching on! (Yes, I did tweet about this).

I’m sure you’ve heard Shiki’s main theme “Shi-Ki” in one of your “emotional anime music 2 hours” compilation videos. But don’t just stop there! Check out the melodramatic tracks I left below which utilize a haunting choir, chimes, bass drums, a soothing macabre orchestra to create the illusion of nightmares stalking the shadows. They are a bit overused, but hey, you get so consumed by the atmosphere that repetition doesn’t matter. Composer Yasuharu Takanashi (Log Horizon, Oda Nobuna, Fairy Tale, Sailor Moon Crystal) remains one of my favorites, for he always does such phenomenal job in mashing together atmosphere and action.

“Day and Night”

“Eau de Vie”

“Pendulum”

Also, the second opening, “Calendula Requiem” by kanon x kanon totally rocked the house. Just look at those visuals–and the song, ooh the song!

Why is it Popular? Fresh Spin on a Legendary Concept

Shiki is praised for its ability to tell the same story through every character viewpoint possible; you get attached to individuals from both sides, which is quite a wonderful thing given the premise. It’s a nice rational approach to an ancient, typically fantasy or magical subject–The Science of Vampires, if you will. It presents us with a very well-thought-out tale of morality vs. rationality, never taking the easy way out to show its claims.

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In a world where monsters and humans alike are pitted against each other, fear, especially of abandonment, consumes all who let it. Common people who are unwilling to let go of pre-existing notions are the ones that get left behind. It sounds harsh, but in this brutal and vicious cycle everyone except the sane ultimately lose. What draws the line between superstition and simply being afraid is how disturbingly far people will go to preserve their own “sanity.” It’s only after the smoke clears, however, that humans realize the error in their ways, and that any God has long since abandoned them . . . or at least some believe.

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Final Thoughts

Anyone can die at any time; no one is safe/excluded from the elements listed above, which is also why I really enjoyed Shiki. Fear of uncertainty through the supernatural catches us off guard, in that fear CAN and WILL strike at any time. The use of gory sound effects and beautifully ghastly music help to establish that fearful tone. Shiki may not have visually scared me, but its raw content sure was creepy, gruesome, and more interesting than any Hollywood horror film.

“This is what a world ruled by order looks like. Those who accept order can live together peacefully, protected from the unknown safe in their belief that all is as it should be. But when something happens to threaten this orderly existence, they will fight to the very death. By eliminating the threat, they hope to preserve the fabric of their lives–the order that holds their entire world together. And so they realize what a fragile world it is.” – Seishin Muroi

Final Assessment

+ Frequent tonal shifts, led by the many viewpoints, leave strong and vastly different impressions from beginning to end

+ Death can strike anyone, anytime

+ True fear and creepiness created by the supernatural STORY ITSELF, not necessarily the visuals (never takes the easy way out)

+ Wonderfully presented themes of morality between individuals, culture, and society, and how people are only as safe as their surroundings make them feel

+ Nailed the village horror atmosphere with frightful perfection; intricately woven web of characters and interactions between them and setting

– Eye and hair designs on some characters just looked dumb

– Fantastic and complementing soundtrack, but some tracks are a bit overused

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What a Halloween break well-spent, no? Well, if anything could be said, it’s that those Japanese need real doors, not the paper-thin stuff you can hear through the walls, yikes! What did you think of this anime? It’s another “Caffe Mocha” over here! Were you completely freaked out or more invested in its thought-provoking messages? Let me know in the comments so we can talk about this beloved title! I’m so happy I got to finally watch this very peculiar classic. Until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

Extravagant Divas of the Night, the Kirishikis

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Loss Has Little Meaning in Yuki Yuna | Hero Week Review

A brief review of the 12-episode fall 2014 anime “Yuki Yuna is a Hero,” produced by Studio Gokumi, based on original story by Takahiro and Makoto Uezu.

For the third segment of Hero Week, I’ll warn you now that this anime is extremely hit or miss, especially if you’re familiar with Madoka Magica. Despite any polarizing comments I make, I’d like to let you know that this happens to be my favorite of the three Hero Week anime I’ve reviewed, regardless that it is indeed the “worst-written one,” should I even have to pick. I found that it had the most to offer, and I have to be critical of it because something that means so much should be sought in full light.

Five middle school girls—Yuuna, Togo, Fu, Itsuki, and Karin—are on a quest to save the world. That is, community service, volunteer work, and puppet shows for local children. It all seems trivial on the outside, but their Hero Club is determined to do good deeds for love, justice, and happiness, goals which are outlined and pursued religiously in the club’s Five Tenets. Such is the sweet and simple life of Yuuki Yuuna.

The club’s charismatic president Fu is living two lives, however, and upon phone call is forced to drag her friends into a mystical realm. There, they are to protect the God of the natural world and human blessing, the Shinju, from strange geometric entities called Vertexes. By the single tap on a phone app, the girls are transformed into the extraordinary heroes they so desired to be. But transcending the realm of God and obtaining unimaginable power comes with a price almost not worth paying.

As the girls fight for their lives and the people they love, their perception of the world dramatically warps into a cruel land of delusional grandeur. In the depressing struggle for power, the girls might have to point their guns at beings besides the Vertexes in order to preserve their very belief of what it means to be a true hero.

One of the biggest problems I had with Yuki Yuna was the lame world building. Had I not read the summary provided by Crunchyroll, I wouldn’t not have noticed that the story is set in the far future—YEAR 300, the Era of the Gods. WHAT, but it looks like modern-day Japan?! I enjoy it when stories have good reasons to break the rules set by the setting, but you can’t rebel against an outline that otherwise doesn’t exist!

My second beef with the anime was the lack of each girl’s unique drive to be a magical girl. They just sort of accepted the role because of the club’s influence. Individual motive is largely what make hero stories interesting and standout, so to have such weak trope characters (besides Fu and Togo) was a huge shame. For instance, what if the wheel-chair-bound Togo wanted to keep fighting because she could walk once again? That’s much more compelling than “I’ll do it because Yuna needs my help.” The way Yuna clings to the club tenets is also a bit cheesy and a weak excuse for ‘development.’

This is obviously less apparent if you are unfamiliar with it, but the last somewhat spoiler-free issue I had were the painfully obvious similarities to Madoka Magica. The magical girl system, character destinies, and dark, depressing themes in the second half all have strong correlation with its critically-acclaimed predecessor. Heck, even the music (which is still really, really good) and the animation sometimes feel like snippets borrowed from Madoka. While it is occasionally disappointing, Yuki Yuna managed to have fun longer than Madoka did, heavily maximizing its slice-of-life side for the earlier parts. And while I wanted darker, more twisted, nastier Madoka narrative, watching those girls have fun was what I needed more.

On a positive note, the animation was surprisingly incredible. The Vertexes themselves are CG, but because they are basically Evangelion angels crossed-over with the zodiac, it all works to create a fantastic off-putting vibe. I also appreciated the vivid color patterns for the Shinju realm and the cool magical girl outfits (Yuuna’s elegant armor was actually what got me into this show). The style was more rooted in Asian culture (petals, shrines, zodiac), while something like Madoka featured more European-like classical culture (columns, gates, witches).

HERO WEEK SEGMENT: Archetypical Hero qualities represented by Yuuna

I’ve taken a quick trip to Google to provide qualities of the typical hero. Let’s briefly exercise each prompt:

  • Hero is of humble origins
    • Yuuna is a very friendly and open girl, often willing to accept help and help others at no cost.
  • An event, sometimes traumatic, leads to adventure
    • The Taisha, the organization dedicated to the Shinju, calls upon Fu to advance on the incoming Vertex. Yuuna, even though given a choice, steps up to bat and becomes a magical girl
  • Hero has a special weapon only he can wield/always has supernatural help
    • Yuuna is a hero just like her friends. What makes her stand out is her unwavering devotion to the hero cause and her gifted fighting abilities. In episode one, she doesn’t just suddenly transform like the other girls, but is able to gradually make her armor appear upon demand. Her unusually rare strength and “true maiden’s heart” make her unstoppable on the battlefield.
  • The Hero must prove himself many times while on adventure
    • Besides fighting off the Vertexes, Yuuna must be able to lift the spirits of her comrades as the show’s ideal hero. The others will lose their way, and it’s up to Yuuna to lead them back on the path of righteousness. She doesn’t seem like a main character, nor does she change much as a character, and that’s mostly because I believe she’s not supposed to; she’s the guiding light of hope and justice, and as such doesn’t stop fighting even at the end.
  • ***SPOILERS START HERE***
  • PLEASE CONSIDER THIS THEORY TAG BEFORE PROCEEDING
  • The journey and the unhealable wound
    • In the end, the effects of going through Mankai so many times and taking on all of her friends’ pain leaves Yuuna in a catatonic state. When she does reawaken, her physical body is only a crutch for her soul, which is always off fighting. Upon the rebellion, Shinju-sama must have changed the rules so that girls don’t have to suffer long-lasting disabilities in the real world. This makes ALL LOSS ESSENTIALLY MEANINGLESS—All of the heartache the girls go through, then you turn around and say, “Oh, yeah, they don’t have to suffer anymore.” Now, I didn’t want a sad ending for the girls, especially Yuuna, but doesn’t that take away most of the emotional weight? Yuuna’s dedication to the heroic spirit causes her to be Shinju-sama’s ultimate protector, and is forced to keep on fighting even though her friends are retired.
  • Hero experiences atonement with the father
    • I like to consider the “father” not as Shinju-sama or the Taisha, but as the intelligent Togo instead. At first, Yuuna finds most of her purpose for fighting in protecting her friend and vice versa. When Togo is able to walk again at the end, she somewhat pities herself for letting Yuuna burden everyone’s pain even though she shouldn’t. Yuuna is praised like a goddess but somewhat frowned upon as a fool for sticking so close to the hero path.
  • When the hero dies, he is rewarded spiritually
    • Because I find the theory to be so interesting and quite possible, we can conclude that though her real-world body is somewhat “dead,” Yuuna is still alive and fighting behind the scenes. Her reward? She transcends the mortal world and becomes a goddess who will never stop fighting. Not exactly the prize I would want, but because Yuuna fell hook, line, and sinker for the whole hero bait, I’m sure that’s exactly how she would have wanted it from the beginning.
    • In the end, everyone’s illnesses go away, which contradicts the heavy theme of sacrifice Yuki Yuna spent its entire run on building up.
  • ***SPOILERS END HERE***

Much of Yuki Yuna is unexplained or at least not evident in the anime adaptation. Should the prequel light novels and the sequel manga ever make it here in the U.S., then I would be thrilled to revisit the franchise. Its fascinating world and the somber warriors fighting to protect it have so much more depth to them, and that lack of depth in the anime hinders a truly wonderful experience. The entire story and production of Yuki Yuna also has too many underdeveloped and forced ties to Madoka Magica, which sadly tampers with the mind-blowing aspect of it.

As a fantasy, drama, slice of life magical girl anime that attempts to see Madoka in a different light, I can appreciate all that it tried to pull off. It tackles the painfully realistic hero themes in the most interesting (and very dark) way that just excites me, yet also has rare moments of joy for our characters and a real built sense of unease instead of just scary/dark imagery like Madoka. Even though it stumbles in appreciating loss, we do wind up with one solid ideal: Ultimately, fight for what you want to save, not for what you are burdened by.

“You know that the fairest flowers fade first. But I made it.” – Fu Inubouzaki (best girl)

I award Yuki Yuna is a Hero with a benefit of the doubt 8/10, narrowly allowing it to breach the “Caffé Mocha” classification. It combats the fantastic with heavy ideals and characters that are honestly cared about (can’t say that for most series). Yuki Yuna won’t impress all—most are quite hard on it, actually—but I still encourage people to try it out especially if you like the wildly mentioned Madoka Magica. I’ve been forgetting, but both ERASED and Yuki Yuna is a Hero can be viewed for FREE on Crunchyroll! While I’d LOVE to own it on DVD, Ponycan is releasing these ‘premium’ sets with an okay English dub for a ridiculous $70 each—AND THERE ARE THREE OF THEM. How do you think Yuki Yuna did? Also, do you think Yuuna is a good hero? How about the other girls? Comment below!! Until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

Charlotte Weaves an Entertaining Web of PLOT TWISTS | Review

A spoiler-free review of the 13-episode summer 2015 anime “Charlotte,” produced by P.A. Works, based on the original story by Jun Maeda (Angel Beats!, Clannad).

 – View in browser, not app, for best experience –

“What the heck, Takuto? Charlotte? Really, Charlotte??” Actually, yes, I’m not pulling your leg. I originally wasn’t going to watch this anime, as I heard it didn’t live up to the hype, but something in me clicked (my love for P.A. Works), and I found myself attempting to marathon this thing at 1 A.M. It took me three days to finish (sad, really) but I thought I’d share why you actually might want to check Charlotte out. Surprised? Keep reading.

Yuu Otosaka is what I would call a lucky bastard (at least in the beginning). Blessed with charm, wit, and outstanding looks, he also possesses a secret ability to take over a person’s body for five seconds at a time. Being a teenage boy, Yuu abuses his gift to slip into female bodies (wouldn’t blame him), have some fun with bullies, and cheat on tests to slide into a prestigious high school

Just as life couldn’t be more sunny for Mr. Cheater, camcorder-wielding Nao Tomori, a deadpan invisibility-user, catches on to Yuu’s tricks, leaving him and his li’l sis one option: Transfer to Hoshinoumi Academy, a school for students with these supernatural abilities. Yuu, incredibly flustered, agrees solemnly.

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BUSTED

 

There, he is forced to join the student council led by Tomori, where their task includes stealthily tracking down ability-abusers like himself and dragging them back to the academy. As these reconnaissance missions push the student council to their limits, however, Yuu unravels more shocking truths of the world around him, and that his own ability holds much, much, more potential than merely peeking down a girl’s shirt.

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Jun Maeda has this gift for instantly allowing me to fall in love with his characters through simple, occasionally childish actions. That said, he’d be a lot better writer if his stories didn’t have 500-FREAKIN’ teenagers in them! I’m not criticizing him in ANY way at all, and I understand that the story needed a new dude or two, but the anime’s latter half could have gone without the introduction and glossing over of ten new characters. Why not just use-rinse-repeat with the student council members? We already fell in love with them.

Before I move on, I’d like to enforce how much I love the Otosakas, Tomori, glasses-friend-kun, and the moe idol “Yusarin~”/fiery sister. Had this been all the story had, I probably would have enjoyed it much more. Frankly speaking, less characters = more time for others to shine, and in Charlotte‘s case – sparkle. I waltzed into Charlotte thinking, “Hey, we learned our lesson with Angel Beats! right?” Apparently not. But much like its angelic-battlefront predecessor, it only takes a three-minute cafeteria scene to score big with the heart.

On another note, boy, Maeda certainly prefers his supernatural teenagers “paying the price for being special,” eh? You’ll explore that with Yuu Otosaka and his unsteady mental rise and decline. Charlotte doesn’t sugarcoat depression, and it’s scary good.

 

 

P.A. Works puts on yet another flawless depiction of high-school livin’ on the animation front. It’s fluid, high-powered action scenes contrast with the gorgeous backdrop to create a very supernatural and off-putting vibe when it wants to. I always thought of P.A. Works as KyoAni’s older sister, showcasing maturity over cuteness yet still being very youthful. Character designs are attractive, comedic moments will make you laugh, and that signature P.A. Works sky is simply to die for!

The only disappointing scene from this department was the concert snippet we get. It wasn’t poorly animated, it was just so lackluster compared to its predecessor’s, which even gets a blatant reference when Otosaka is watching anime at a computer cafe. At least the story involving the ‘post-rock’ star was a touching one.

For soundtrack, what we get is . . . actually pretty nice. It’s apparently arranged by ANANT-GARDE EYES and Maeda himself, so make of that what you will. The feeling I get listening to these tracks is in fact similar to Angel Beat!‘s, but again, make of that what you will. Playful and relaxing, energetic and intense, grim and remorseful – It all blends in really well with the atmosphere.

“Bravely You” by Lia is our opening, and if I haven’t made enough comparisons to AB! by this point, then you’ve got to be blind . . . kinda like half of the cast (OHH, BURN). The song fairs particularly well, growing on me as the series progressed. What really got me was the animation sequence that pairs with it. Lia has always been good at breathing life with P.A. work’s visuals (or vice versa, rather), making them seem like they belong hand-in-hand; It’s not just a sketch set to a song, but a moving, breathing piece.

I held my opinion of the story until now because here’s where things get real messy, really fast. Charlotte is pretty much firing on all cylinders until we hit the last third portion of the series. Until now, we’ve been wasting time at school steadily chugging along, makin’ memories and enjoying ourselves with a memorable cast, but a second sudden PLOT TWIST throws everything into the shitter. Maeda must’ve gotten bored with the slice-of-life school romance and PLOT TWIST shot the anime down a rugged path looted with amnesia, sudden-death, insanity, identity disorder, the questioning of humanity and sin, and PLOT TWIST, time travel. Great. Fans are never going to live this down, are they? Granted, it handles these attributes immensely well, but the PACING is horrible – as if the situation wasn’t drastic enough – and then BAM, another PLOT TWIST. Charlotte fell of the map in the last leg of its race, and I won’t even mention the final episode – An episode so diverging and literal that it could’ve been the foundation for an entire series by itself. What the frick???

While I can’t say I was in love with Charlotte the entire time, I still give it props for knocking me off guard at least a dozen times. Its unpredictability matched with likable main characters, stellar animation, and a semi-linear plot is still enough to hold much emotional appeal. Charlotte was trying to accomplish way too much in such a short run, and it begs the question as to whether some of its PLOT TWISTS were even worth sacrificing a good batch of characters (Yuu’s journey was excellent, though). Entertaining? Oh God, hell yeah! Artistic? Meh, it felt like several great stories mashed together to create something pretty wicked. It could have taken many different directions, but instead Charlotte decided to swing us waaaaaay outta orbit, sprinkle on its character development, hammer the plot, then soar right back out until the very end . . . Kinda like a comet.

“Do you know the story of the geocentric model? Today, we know it’s complete nonsense, but it used to be accepted as common knowledge. However, reality did not agree. What do you think happened to the first person to ever question it? They were called a heretic, cast out, and stripped of all their power.” – Scientist Tsutsumiuchi *cough theme cough*

+ Core characters highly likable (and PHENOMENALLY VOICED!); Yuu has one crazy journey

+ Balanced comedy, action, drama, and even romance nicely

+ Emotionally gripping even when plot goes down the drain

+ Absolutely gorgeous and consistent animation

– You don’t need a dozen PLOT TWISTS to keep me invested

– Plot pacing so horrible it hurt to breath

– Misplaced character focus (too many of them); glossed over vital characters

So that’s Charlotte. If y’all are scrounging for something unpredictable, here’s a winner. It’s a sweet “Cake” for me! Fans of P.A. Works should also get a kick out of it, despite its misleading direction. Lastly, consider watching if being critical isn’t your thing – it’ll at the very least keep you very entertained (watch me on Crunchyroll for FREE)! Did Charlotte mindf*ck you repeatedly until you didn’t even care anymore, or were you pleased with the end result? Let me know in the comments and we’ll chat! Also, I figured out how to put in videos thanks to the Otaku Judge and Rocco B!!:) Thank you for spending your time to visit little ol’ me, and until another review next year, this has been

– Takuto, your host

Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works 1st Season English Dub Thoughts

As you all know, I once again sold my left arm and my magic circuits over to Aniplex of America so that I could purchase their DVD set of the first season (episodes 1-12) for Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works (TV). The fantasy action anime all about the 5th fight for that elusive chalice includes an all-new English dub. This is particularly exciting considering that I’m a veteran who watched the original Fate/stay night (2006) and the Unlimited Blade Works Movie (2010) in SUBTITLES. Curiosity did get the best of me, and I ended up watching segments from these Studio Deen adaptations, but their dubs sucked (just cuttin’ to the chase). Luckily, I pretty much only have positive reviews for the Ufotable version, so read on for more depth!

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This is just epic. To watch it go from simulcast, to Japanese set, to English DVD is a beautiful journey.

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While the image above is the cool slipcover art, the DVD case itself contains this absolutely stunning artwork. The only difference is that where the text is, the English logo for F/sn: UBW is stamped.

Let’s kick things off with Shirou Emiya, portrayed by the infamous Bryce Papenbrook. Now, Papenbrook has quite the streak in misplaced voice acting, his role of Kirito being my biggest turnoff. But for a character like Shirou, his age and position, I thought Papenbrook pulled things off without a hitch! He does a damn good job at imitating Noriaki Sugiyama’s rather high and somewhat obnoxious voice, so my hat’s off to you, Papenbrook!

On to everyone’s favorite tsundere mage, Rin Tohsaka is voiced by Mela Lee. Apparently Lee’s been with Tohsaka since the first dub of the adaptations, but every one of her performances lacked the natural stuck-up attitude I’ve been searching for – Until now. Once you get past the first hour-long pilot, Lee’s voice stops ringing in my ears and becomes one of the more fun – and pretentious – performances to hear from. It sure isn’t as great as Kana Ueda, but it’ll do.

B*tchy-Mc-B*tch-Face Archer is brought to life by the smart-assy Kaiji Tang (as you can see, I don’t fancy Archer). Brilliant in every way possible, Tang milks all that he can out of Archer and puts up a stunning fight on the vocal front. He, too, fits the range of voice necessary to Archer’s arrogant dialect. Love it!

And last (but certainly not least) for the main cast, Kari Wahlgren once again dons armor and all to surmise Queen-friggin’-Arthur herself – Saber! *Slight spoilers* Because she is no longer partnered with the cold and distant Kiritsugu from Fate/Zero, Saber speaks with much more curt and “oogly” expressions as she develops her relationship with her idiot partner. And since I don’t speak Japanese, Ayako Kawasumi’s five-star performance doesn’t come for me as naturally as it does with my native speak. I’m obviously biased to this [literally] English role, so I stop before the sparkles start gleaming ^.^

Since those are the main characters, I’ll just list the minors with a brief reaction:

Todd Haberkorn as Assassin – F*ck yeah, even though I kinda forgot whom he was in the original, I’ll now never forget! Just YES, YES TO ALL!

Megan Hollingshead as Caster – THIS RIGHT HERE was surprisingly fantastic! Caster’s sly, mature voice reflects so well in Hollingshead’s performance. It was also so darn sexy 😉

Matthew Mercer as Kiritsugu Emiya – He’s only around for a couple of flashbacks, but those are just enough to bring tears to your eyes as you recall Fate/Zero‘s tragedy.

Julie Ann Taylor as Fujinee, or Taiga Fujimura – Always. Excited. Is the Taiga. Fujinee~ has a very nice English voice actress, simple as that!

David Vincent as Gilgamesh – More F/Z carry-over drama, and in fact, Vincent has such a pompous and snarky that its perfect for the King of Heroes. We’ll hear more of him in the second season, though.

Dorothy Elias-Fahn as Kane Himuro – One of Tohsaka’s classmates, can’t say she was very memorable, but not bad either

Crispin Freeman as Kirei Kotomine – This is one “fake priest” that you don’t want to run into on a dark night. Freeman will never be as solid as Jouji Nakata, but so, so damn close! It was a pleasure to listen to Kirei’s rich, melt-in-your-mouth voice again.

Lex Lang as Souichirou Kuzuki – “Mr. Kuzuki” as he is in the dub also shares the same voice as Count Cruhteo from A.Z, who just happened to be one of my favorites! Ironically, he was Issei in the old dub, the student who shares residence with Kuzuki.

Tony Oliver as Lancer – Oh boy, oh boy, Lancer’s English voice will not disappoint whatsoever! I’ll admit, Nobutoshi Canna was excellent, but Oliver wins it for me!

Erica Lindbeck as Kaede Makidera – Another one of Tohsaka’s gals, nothing fancy

Kyle McCarley as Shinji Matou – Now, this might be the only exception to an otherwise wonderful English dub. McCarley’s not by any means bad; Hiroshi Kamiya just has a skimpier edge and superiority to the damned Shinji we all know and hate :>

Cristina Vee as Sakura Matou – Agh, it’s Cristina Vee – and aww, it’s Sakura! This combo goes hand in hand, but I’m interested to see if they’ll keep the same actress when “Heaven’s Feel” makes it over here in the States, fingers crossed.

Brina Palencia as Ayako Mitsuzuri – Mitsuzuri is given a shocking amount of lines despite her role, and it was on the tip of my tongue as to who voiced her – and it was this chick all along! Hooray for Brina Palencia, I just love hearing her voice 🙂

Melissa Fahn as Rider – And the most enchanting voice goes to Rider without a doubt!! *Slight spoiler* It’s a shame she doesn’t last very long, as I could listen to Rider talk on and on. Yet another reason why they should’ve adapted F/sn instead of UBW, but I digress. Fantastic job, Fahn!

Robbie Daymond as Issei Ryuudou – Just another guy in glasses, what can I say?

Jessica DiCicco as Yukika Saegusa – A friend of Tohsaka’s? Gosh, I don’t even remember who this is.

Stephanie Sheh as Illyasviel von Einzbern – We’re gonna finish this dub reaction strong with another veteran from the original series and Fate/Zero. Sheh’s “Time to kill you” cute/deadly Illya voice is one I really enjoy. While she did sound too mature in F/Z, her older reappearance tosses that issue away easily. I love Illya, and Sheh does her justice, she really does, and I can’t wait for the epic fight in the second half. The only thing I’ll miss is her charming “Bah-sah-kah” *cue superhuman barbarian with a huge-ass club charging at you*

Below is the English Dub Trailer Aniplex posted a while back. See it for yourself!

I don’t care who says they hate this dub. I don’t care who thinks Papenbrook is a terrible Shirou. I don’t care how much people think Rin’s voice is a letdown. I LOVE THIS DUB, and I will be buying the second season, mind you! It’s gonna be a tragic long wait for the second half, and yes, it will break my wallet, but what can I say – I support things that I like! For those curious, the sub is still superior, and I recommend watching the entire series on Crunchyroll before blindly buying this uber-expensive dub (cause it was an atrocious $80 USD for only the first half on DVD only). However, like with A.Z, I had so much fun each night plugging in each of the voices and watching the first half of the Fifth Holy Grail War play out all over again . . .

But you mages and Masters, what did you think of this new English dub? How do you think it stands up to all of the previous versions and the Japanese itself? I’ll await your answers in the comments below, and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your Servant, in this war or the next

Tokyo Ghoul Review

You know when you launch a firework there’s a thrilling rush as you flick the match and light the string? After, there’s this awkward wait to see if it takes off and, if it does so correctly, then it’s followed by a long, dry pause, everyone just staring at it, most losing sight of it. Finally BOOOOOOMMM!!!  it explodes furiously, and everyone applauds, expecting more to come, right?

That, friends, is Tokyo Ghoul,  a new dark fantasy/horror anime that starts and ends with quite the bang, but in the middle leaves us squinting our eyeballs to spot any real development.

Creeping around the dark alleyways of modern Tokyo are the Ghouls, monsters that devour human organs as food. Everyone knows about them, and some even fear for their lives of taking a daily death stroll, but most just continue on with their day. Why would you do something so insane?? Because these Ghouls look exactly like normal people: adults, teens, children, elderly, husbands, wives, etc. The only distinguishing feature of these demons is their black and crimson eyes that burn when they exhibit fierce emotions.

Kaneki Ken is your average college student who frequents a local cafe for one main reason: the enchanting Rize. Since they both enjoy reading from the same author, Kaneki musters the courage to ask her out, thinking that they have so much in common. Kaneki’s date quickly soils into a blood fest when Rize “the Binge-Eater” reveals her wicked Ghoul powers and then tries to kill Kaneki. Suddenly, an accident occurs in their location, and the critical medical situation results in her organs being transplanted into Kaneki to preserve his life.

But now Kaneki feels strange. All normal food makes him want to vomit, and instead he craves . . . human flesh. The story is about Kaneki’s struggle as this new “Half-Breed” for his remaining humanity, and what he’ll risk to remain moral no matter what – or give in to Ghoul within!

Right from the start Tokyo Ghoul latches on with an interesting predicament for our protagonist. The show quickly appeals to your senses when, after the operation, Kaneki tries to cram his face with his favorite foods, all to no avail. They taste like charcoal and rotten dung. Those incredibly morbid realizations that he’s become a monster attack the heart, causing you to feel all of the suffering that he does. This deep argument of human VS Ghoul develops as the show progresses, mostly to build around Kaneki and a little girl named Hinami, though.

I think Kaneki fits the mold for the intense themes of humanity and life better than any other character could have. Cocky like let’s say Eren Yeager (Attack on Titan) and everyone at the cafe will despise him. But too kind like Armin Arlert and I don’t think we’d get anywhere. Kaneki embodies the middle ground of what I’d like to call a “real human being.” He’s never too innocent, yet never totally ridiculous either, and that makes him easily likeable.

Hanae Natsuki portrays all of Kaneki’s hardships believably well, be it screaming in Ghoul mode, conversing calmly with friends, or choking on blood. He’s amazing!

The rest of the characters range from a tsundere teen somewhat goth girl, to an overly-attached whimsical genius, to a desperate family, and finally to a pair of Ghoul counter team members. Even with all of the variety, however, I just didn’t feel the characters nor relate to them in any way. In fact, I can hardly recall names, which is crucial to note because I hardly ever forget a name. Other than Kaneki and possibly Touka, another cafe Ghoul refugee, Tokyo Ghoul lacks in the character department.

Quite stunning is the art and animation by Studio Pierrot (Yona of the Dawn), who puts together intense action sequences with outrageously beautiful and surprisingly colorful animation – especially of the Kagunes, the Ghoul blood weapons. Supposedly, there’s a lot of gore, but I couldn’t see half of the screen because of all of the DAMN CENSORING!! Sheesh, like seriously, they’re only gonna make me more curious about what’s going on. And you know what, it probably wasn’t that bad of gore anyway! But I suppose that’s not the studio’s fault, as the various censoring depended on what your source you watched from.

Yutaka Yamada provides a supportive soundtrack that easily surpasses your average OST. Loneliness, tragedy, melancholy, and epicness are all packed into his tracks. “Licht und Schatten (Light and Shadow)” and a battle theme entitled “Symphony” are model examples of his high-quality work. Though the OST is a rather small one, the few tracks played are not only longer than usual but great to listen to. Quality over quantity is what I believe wins the day!

I’ve gradually become more and more familiar with Ling Tosite Sigure’s opening “Unravel,” which is a step up considering that I don’t care for that high-pitch screamo voice. The song matches the show perfectly, and it became one of my favorite parts of the experience. 🙂

As mentioned previously, the anime’s ending is an unexpected thriller, one that I didn’t see coming a mile away. The show steps away from its usual routes to do something very, very interestingsomething that hopefully pays off in the second season. If you can watch the end without flinching, then congrats to your balls of steel.

And now for my major problem with the show: we don’t have explanations for anything! Where did Ghouls come from? What determines their powers? Do the Kagunes have special properties, and how can normal people wield them? What can a half-breed do better than anyone else? How is the main antagonist roped in with all of this? How did Rize actually die?? Tokyo Ghoul has a crap ton of potential, enough to be considered one of the best – that is, if the second season pans out well, because at this point, Tokyo Ghoul is definitely unfinished. If you’re gonna get into it, just be sure you can stomach the gore, and please, watch it uncensored. It tastes better that way >.<

“What is this? What is it to be a Ghoul? Killing people . . . killing each other . . .I’m not like that! I’m . . . human!” – Kaneki Ken

+ Easily likable, non-annoying lead character with good development

+ Gripping start, intense, bloody and sweaty cliffhanger

+ Quality colorful visuals, gorgeous fights, matching OST to back it up

– SO many unanswered questions, literally no explanations!

– Weak secondary character development

– Middle of show deviates from an psychological alley horror to a slice of life coffee shop drama (no JK, but seriously, what?)

I’m pretty excited for the sequel! It has a lot riding on its shoulders, and I can only hope it doesn’t disappoint (even though I heard it sucks, I will be the judge of that myself). What did you think of Tokyo Ghoul? Were you thinking “Welp, this makes absolutely no sense, why aren’t people screaming for their lives? At least it’s pretty :3” FUNimation has licensed the anime for North America with an English dub on the way, though you can watch it for free on their site if you’re +18. Clobber that like button for more material like this and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

From the New World Review

I always used to think that sci-fi was robots, high-tech cities, and people in black suits shooting guns at other people in black suits. Flying cars, neon lights, and stainless steel, right? Well I’m not all wrong, but I’m certainly not right, as here is Shinsekai Yori (From the New World), a psychological mystery drama that uses themes from the supernatural and the occult to create – yep, you got it – a science fiction anime. Prepare to abandon all sense of worldliness and jump into your traditional Japanese village, where, for some reason, something doesn’t feel quite right . . .

Unknown apocalyptic events have passed which destroyed most of the world. Taking place 1,000 years in the future, we are met with a small Japanese village of humans that have supernatural, psychic Power. Two Committees maintain peace and judgment: Ethics and Education. On the surface, they are the ones maintaining this masterful, humble utopia, but these Committees actually regulate information and manipulate reality in the village. Whether it’s by “banishing” troublesome individuals or even subverting one’s own memories, they will risk any and everything to maintain order.

There’s always this dangerous aura that spurs from the setting, making each and every day in class risky. Adventures outside of the village barrier, which no one is allowed to leave, are hazardous, yes, but exhilarating and unknowing. As far as you know, everything outside the gates is desolate and menacing. Rules upon rules established by the Ethics and Education Committees allow for “thinking in the box only,” and actions that go against these authoritative groups warrant unimaginable punishment. Thus, the theme proven most effective to preserving protection in the village is to use FEAR as a means to influence and control the youth. Well done, From the New World.

Our actual story centers around Saki and her four friends: Satoru, Shun, Mamoru and Maria. We witness the development of their Powers in school (some more than others) and the truths of the real world outside the village. From child to teen to young adult – innocence to rebellion to experienced –  we follow five youths that will inspire the drive for hopeful future of change.

What’s obviously the best part of this anime is the particular care that went into telling a great story. It seems that at all times, we are shown only what we need to be seen for the time being, much like a novel, filling holes and uncovering twists at the end of each chapter. Speaking of, the show was based on “Shinsekai Yori,” a Japanese novel by Yusuke Kishi. That’s right, not a light novel, not manga, a “book” book. That explains why the anime feels like something all teachers would make their kids read. It requires that kind of technical thinking.

But it’s not all smooth sailing – no – because like books, each “chapter” of the characters’ lives begins so painfully slow. Told from Saki as the narrator flashing back on the events, the time skips include life at ages 12, 14, 26, and 36. The pace only picks up towards the end of each arc when they decide to info dump us, a reoccurring problem.

Another issue I had with the show was actually the Powers. To what is their extent?? Levitation (of body and objects including giant rocks), pyrokinesis, the ability to reassemble glass, drawing with the mind, creating reflective surfaces out of nothing – seriously! What can they not do? I understand that each person has some sort of practice unique to them, but still, with all things considered, I feel that they could at least be living in a city with their powers rather than some weird collection of occult shanties (no offense). Also, they cannot kill another human due to the “Death of Shame,” a genetic trait which causes them to die instantaneously if they use their powers to kill another . . . umm, I guess it’s conventional, but that’s it.

The characters are developed well enough to identify definite progression since episode one, especially Saki and Satoru, but that development comes with discovering the events that led up to present-day. Well, that and the Monster Rats, humanoid mutant rats that live in colonies and obey the psychic people like gods.

In fact, the most interesting character in the entire series is a Monster Rat known as Squealer, a helper of Saki and Satoru in their early days outside the barrier. I literally can’t say anything due to spoiler’s sake, but do keep an eye on this creepy fellow – he performs some very very commendable acts as a main character . . . some wicked, Machiavellian acts we’ve all seen sometime before . . .

I found the animation by A1-Pictures to be gorgeous: soft sunrises, intense sunsets, luscious forests, and beautiful character designs. While it contributed to the atmosphere of the show marvelously, including the vast difference between the village and “Tokyo,” it’s not 100% satisfaction.

Apparently there was a change in staff when it came to design work and animation around earlier/mid episodes that fluctuated between two totally unlike styles – neither of which were bad, just noticeably different. Another weak point was the Monster Rat Colony fight scenes. The boulders are so CG and glaringly horrendous that I just laughed the whole time!

Sound-wise, hair-raising tracks boost the suspense and inevitable horror. In contrast, subtle adventurous songs for exploring helped establish various moods. A standing ovation, however, goes to “Ienikaeru (Going Home),” which is actually composed by Dvorak and coincidently, from the 2nd Movement (Largo) of the “From the New World” Symphony. Being a classical nut, this tune as the evening “children, return home” theme that plays over speakers in the village completely through me off. One of my all time favorite classical works, on the verge of tears when this played at the end 😥

Oh yeah, Yuki Kaji’s freaking awesome as always, performing the role of Satoru with such strong conviction and youthful stress. Always great to listen to him!

One of the biggest reasons I love From the New World is because it reminds me sooo much of No.6, another one of my first anime that I hold to heart. Soundtrack, dystopia, youth, romance, suspense, thriller, science fiction – it’s got it all, too, but this anime did what No.6 didn’t, and that was deliver with a fulfilling ending. I never, ever got closure from watching that anime a couple of years back, no matter how much I searched for “anime like No.6.” I can finally rest easy.

Despite being just a science fiction story, this anime feels more scary real than anything else I’ve encountered in a long while, and that could be because of its realistic characters and their actions. Its analysis of the human condition through a dark, manipulative plotline adds so much depth and curiosity that you’ll be guessing until that last episode, but no more than that. Why? Because by the end of the show, From the New World does not get very far at all, but it paves the way to a more hopeful future instead, and after all of the wrong, disturbing, and twisted carnage that I bore witness to, I could not ask for more than that.

“We have to change our way of thinking if we really want to change the future.” – Watanabe Saki

+ Mastered storytelling, made gripping and curious until the very end

+ Incorporation of “Going Home” really made the mood shine

+ Thriller tone so realistic like nothing I’ve seen in a long time; fresh, clean slate after viewing

+ Satisfying ending that delivers justice to the show

– Brief animation issues

– Info dumping in the beginning/middle of each new arc made for rugged understanding

Wow, this anime was so hard to talk about! It’s such a beautiful story that you should defiantly check it out. It’s not for everyone, but for those seeking something completely different than the norm and/or are wanting a clean slate by the end, you can watch the whole thing on Crunchyroll for FREE! Thanks so much for reading my emotional report over From the New World, and in fact, thanks world for the joyous experience! Beware the Trickster Cat, and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

Bakemonogatari Review

So I decided to take up another large anime project and have settled on the Monogatari series. Famous for its dialogue-driven stories full of supernatural phenomenon, I thought “hey, sounds like a blast.” What I got instead, sugar coating scraped off, was a hit-or-miss subtitle-heavy anime that, with all careful decision in mind, I might not explore to its fullest.

“Ghostory” centers on Koyomi Araragi, a high school boy who, after surviving a vampire attack, became half-vampire himself, giving him various powers such as regeneration and heightened vision. To the best of his abilities, Araragi lends a helping hand to five different girls who have also become entangled with ghosts and spirits. His first encounter with the sadist tsundere Ms. Senjougahara Hitagi, however, sets him down the path of frustration yet eventually love.

I came into this anime expecting dark, twisted stories about ghosts and the occult, but instead I got a romance harem. *sighs* The series is divided into five different arcs – one for each girl – and while each one is interesting and rounds out a particular character to a considerable degree, the lack of coherence to each story chops up Senjougahara and Araragi’s overarching relationship. In an anime filled with nothing but dialogue, each arc manages to keep the story fresh, but their relationship suffers heavily.

In terms of character dialogue, there is nothing wittier than this, well, besides Okabe and Makise from Steins;Gate. Crafty wordplay, playful teasing, and intense argumentative banter are so well presented in Bakemonogatari that often times than not, it’s even worth reading in subs. Sure, some of the comical value of the puns is lost, as I sadly do not know Japanese, but the interactions are still super entertaining. A downside to this factor is that these quirky conversations can last the span of half an episode, where the characters are just standing around or sitting on a park bench. AS SUCH, THE SHOW CAN BE EQUALLY BORING.

Another disappointing thing was that arcs would begin mysteriously and uber creepy (YESS!!), but then they sometimes build up to a lackluster finish. For instance, I really liked how “Nadeko Snake” started, but man, it was such a boring finish. This show was good, but not a masterpiece by any means, and I honestly don’t know if I want to watch the second season.

Each of the girls have been “cursed” so-to-speak by an apparition, and as a result carry some sort of deformation that affects their body: Hitagi’s physical weight was stolen from her, Mayoi can’t seem to return home, Suruga’s arm became that of a monkey’s, so on and so forth. In addition to their dilemmas, each girl is a personification of various anime girl stereotypes – but with a twist. Take Hanekawa: class rep, studious, kind, but has parental problems at home. Suruga is the loud athletic girl, but she’s extremely perverted as well as a hardcore lesbian! These additions not only help personalize characters, but they feel more realistic, too.

Watching all of the characters interact with each other is where this anime shines. Because the show has such a small cast, each of the characters are explored and developed quite thoroughly. Even Araragi is hilarious to watch, witnessing his switch from lolicon to pervert, serious man to joker! The comedic skits are fast-paced while the “return fire” in arguments are just as quick-witted! Great voice acting, especially for Araragi and Senjougahara, also helps to bring out the sass talk!

Animation studio Shaft brings it all together with its attractive presentation. Silhouettes, background shadows, geometric lining, extreme symbolism and color balance are all presented with such unity that it’s truly remarkable to watch! Not to mention, varying camera angles and flash frames attempt to keep those long conversation scenes as exhilarating as possible. Also, it’s hilarious to watch the characters anger Araragi; I love all of the cartoon faces that he makes!

About the flash frames, though –  while some shows flash a couple of words that can easily be read, Bakemonogatari seizures us with occasionally paragraphs of plot-important text. I found myself slamming the pause button every five seconds during the episode openings where they are most abundant.

As for OST, the fight scenes are not necessarily well-supported, but the lengthy conversations have several strange and upbeat scores playing in the background. While the OST is not worth mentioning, the fourth opening “Ren’ai Circulation” by Kana Hanazawa and the fifth opening “Sugar Sweet Nightmare” by Yui Horie are both really catchy!

Bakemonogatari is a very surreal anime built around cursed characters that try to fight their own nightmares. They speak cleverly, some a bit smart-assy than most! I strongly recommend walking into this anime with an open mind, as lots of information are thrown at you – and you gotta read fast! Underneath all of the jokes is a memorable cast of colorful and deep characters, each complete with a story of their own no matter how grim, and it’s all about diving into their personal hell and finding the cure so that they can be at peace once again.

“If I kill you, that means I’ll be the one closest to you when you’re on your deathbed. Isn’t it romantic?” – Senjougahara to Araragi

+ Incredibly well-developed characters with entertaining dialogue

+ Sense of “something’s not quite right” establishes great tone

+ Shaft’s unique animation adds to the series quality

– Lots of subtitles to read

– Drastically boring during periods without suspense

Haha, Senjougahara, I’m not sure if that’s romantic, but it’s definitely true (and freakin’ weird)! If you want, you can watch the first 12 episodes of Bakemonogatari on Crunchyroll for free, and you’ll have to find the last three episodes somewhere . . . umm . . . on the web. What did you think of this anime? Does it get better after the first season? Staplers and head tilts!? Let me know in the comments, thanks for reading, and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host