Anime Catch-Up Review: Fafner: Dead Aggressor

written by Laurie Tom

fafnerdeadaggressorFafner: Dead Aggressor is a series from ten years ago, and it shows in the character designs and the 4:3 aspect ratio of the original broadcast, but those do not detract from making it one of the more unusual mecha shows I’ve seen.

While Fafner starts with the usual teenage protagonists as the pilots, what draws me in is the attention paid to their parents, who are both their commanders and their support crew in the war that suddenly finds their figurative Eden.

Twenty-nine years ago, long enough that many of the younger adults were born post-crisis, an alien entity emerged and most of Japan was destroyed. But a small group of researchers hid on a mobile, artificial island with a cloaking device, taking their research with them.

There, they built weapons to fight the alien Festum and also raised children to pilot the special robots called Fafners, that are the only weapons powerful enough to routinely destroy them. The Fafners are named after the giant in Der Ring des Nibelungen who turned into a dragon to protect his treasure, and they are finicky things that will only accept pilots that meet certain genetic criteria.

Then as the pilot ages and their brains continue to mature, they lose the ability to sync with the machine (all controls are neural). Hence one of the best rationales I’ve seen for having teenage mecha pilots.

Most of their history is unknown to the teenagers, who grew up thinking that the rest of Japan still exists and that they simply live on one of the smaller islands. This is an intentional choice by their parents, who want the children to have as ordinary a childhood as possible. The adults work as shopkeepers, teachers, craftsmen, and so on until the day a Festum finally finds them, at which point it becomes apparent that all of the adults know the truth, even those that were born on the island and were former Fanfer pilot candidates themselves.

Once exposed again to the outside world, the island’s inhabitants are forced to deal not just with the Festum, but the rest of humanity that is still out there and has been searching for them for the last twenty-nine years in hopes the advanced technology the researchers fled with will save them.

Though the protagonists are essentially tools created for the day they might be needed, it’s clear that many of their parents love them regardless of the fact they were born to be the island’s primary line of defense. One of the most moving scenes is when Commander Makabe and Dr. Tomi go around to all the parents of the best pilot candidates (most of whom have second jobs as part of the island’s military command and support staff) and let them know their child is being conscripted.

How the parents react, even knowing this day could come, touches on emotions that most mecha anime never address. One of the fathers is a Fanfer mechanic, and there’s a short scene where he tells his wife he can’t put off work that evening because of their son (who will be going into battle soon).

The result is something quite unusual, as I can’t think of any other anime that spends so much time on family, whether its parents, children, or siblings. It does make the cast rather difficult to keep track of since there are several pilots and parents for almost every one of them, but I think the effort’s worth it, as every death (and there are several) means something to someone.

That said, Fafner: Dead Aggressor does not entirely come together. The alien Festum aren’t meant to be understandable, in fact the core of the problem is that neither humans nor Festum can abide each other’s existence, but even if their mind is alien, some things about their behavior just doesn’t make sense if examined too closely.

And if one hopes for an explanation for why a giant robot is the best weapon against alien invaders, there isn’t one. It is still a mecha series at heart.

The quality of the characters varies. Lead protagonist Kazuki isn’t bad per se, but he’s not very interesting. He’s the lens through which the audience views most of the show so he’s ignorant of everything and is a little idealistic, even when the audience knows what he wants is a bad idea given the situation (granted, we’d have a less interesting show if Kazuki’s idealism didn’t keep causing trouble).

Some of the series’ most trying moments come when Kazuki decides to talk enemies into defeat, which can strain believability.

The rest of the cast has significantly less time, but enough to feel like individuals rather than cut-outs, which is an accomplishment, since there is only so much time the show can give any one character. Aside from Kazuki, the rest of the cast gets about the same amount of attention, including several of the adults, whether they are parents or previous Fafner candidates.

In a way that works since it’s harder to tell if someone is wearing plot armor and if they’re going to make it to the end of the series, but because of the greater distance between the audience and individual characters, it’s more that we feel for those who keep living than those who’ve been lost.

Even though Fafner isn’t perfect, it’s memorable for what it accomplishes, and putting a human face on war. While I initially thought it was naive for the adults to have worked so hard to maintain the illusion that the world outside still existed, by the end I understood. Fafner is a loss of innocence story for the pilots, but they are grateful they had the innocence to lose.

Number of Episodes: 26

Pluses: teenage protagonists with parents just as invested in the fight as they are, more realistic treatment of the costs of war than most anime

Minuses: not much character depth, backstory reveal is on the slow side, sometimes the amount of information withheld from the protagonists doesn’t make sense

Fafner: Dead Aggressor is currently streaming both subbed and dubbed on Hulu. The subtitled version was watched for this review.

laurietomLaurie Tom is a fantasy and science fiction writer based in southern California. Since she was a kid she has considered books, video games, and anime in roughly equal portions to be her primary source of entertainment. Laurie is a previous grand prize winner of Writers of the Future and since then her work has been published inGalaxy’s Edge, Penumbra, and Solaris Rising: The New Solaris Book of Science Fiction.

Winter 2015 Anime First Impressions (with Fall Bonus)

written by Laurie Tom

Unlike last fall, which had an anemic number of shows that interested me, this winter has several. It’s also becoming more common for TV series consisting of more than 13 episodes to split their cours to run in staggered seasons rather than back to back. Hence last summer’s Aldnoah.Zero and Tokyo Ghoul are both returning for their second halves this winter, and this winter’s Durarara!! x2 will take a hiatus in spring and return in summer.

With Aldnoah.Zero and Tokyo Ghoul returning, and two of the fall shows I did enjoy continuing into winter (Yona of the Dawn and Parasyte), this winter is experiencing something of a logjam and something’s gonna give, but I’m not sure just what yet.

Assassination Classroom

assassinationclassroomWhy I Watched It: It has an absurd premise where an octopoid being blows up the moon and then agrees to teach a class of teenagers to kill him within a year. If they succeed, he won’t blow up the world. The alien’s yellow humanoid octopus design is very distinct, making the show easy to recognize.

What I Thought: Despite its life or death premise, the show is largely a comedy and rolls with its bizarre premise. Kuro-sensei moves as fast as Mach 20 and none of the world’s governments have managed to kill him, so they’ve agreed to let him teach a class of students as he’s requested. Oddly enough, they’re the E class, made up of the school’s lowest performers, but their strange genocidal teacher is also the best one they’ve ever had, praising them when they do something well (even if its an attempt on his life), and honestly trying to get them to do their best. It makes for an interesting dynamic since they need to kill their teacher, but they actually like him.

Verdict: I’ll save it for later. It’s off to a good start and I liked it, but because it’s based on an ongoing manga I’m not sure we’ll get a satisfying ending and there’s too much else to watch right now.

Where to find stream: Funimation and Hulu

Cute High Earth Defense Club Love

earthdefenseforceWhy I Watched It: It certainly wasn’t for the title. Rather, it looked like it might be an interesting twist of the magical girl genre in that the protagonists running around in frilly outfits and using sparkly attacks are all male this time around.

What I Thought: It’s better than the premise sounds and there are a lot of good laughs. Four male high school friends and a sudden fifth are arbitrarily chosen to save the world with the power of love by an alien that looks like a pink wombat. This includes magical girl style transformations into their frilly combat outfits, though they are wearing either shorts or pants instead of skirts (the tail of their coats is the nod to the skirts). The boys take this about as well as can be expected. But despite compulsions to pose and say weird things (they try and fail at getting their costumes off), they finally give in and fight this episode’s monster, which in frequent magical girl fashion, is a transformed classmate. I about died laughing when they used their wands and instead of calling out a magical girl-style attack they used things like “Something-or-Other Storm!” and “I Am Awesome Fire!”

Verdict: I have no idea how I’m going to find time to watch this, but I really want to. Might end up being a save for later.

Where to find stream: Crunchyroll

Death Parade

deathparadeWhy I Watched It: Based on a previous short film, Death Parade is one of the more mature offerings this season with no signs of teenagers. It takes place in a sort of purgatory for people who have died, where visitors are asked to play a game to determine their fates.

What I Thought: Death Parade won’t win awards for originality, but the execution is spot on and beautifully animated. A couple on a honeymoon are the purgatory bar’s first visitors and are convinced to play a game of darts with their lives on the line, unaware that they are already dead, and what a game of darts! As they play the game the audience is led and misled regarding the truth about their marriage and how they died. My only concern is that the deceptively energetic opening credits features a lot of other bar employees besides the bartender who managed the game in this episode and I’m not sure I want the focus to shift off the visitors. I’m completely down with a Twilight Zone anthology format.

Verdict: I’ll be watching. Unless the format changes too much, I’m going to try to find space for this one.

Where to find stream: Funimation and Hulu

Durarara!! x2

durararax2Why I Watched It: I really enjoyed the first Durarara!! in 2010, even though the series defies a convenient plot summary. The closest thing I can say is that it’s about some of the inhabitants of the Ikebukuro neighborhood of Tokyo and all the very weird, even supernatural, things that happen around them. Why and how it all happens makes about as much sense as it does in real life, and maybe that’s the point.

What I Thought: Durarara!! x2 is just as mind-bending as the original, and goes to pains to show how nothing has really changed in Ikebukuro. The style of the opening and ending credits are direct callbacks to the distinctive look of the original, and the episode itself follows the same non-linear storytelling that has encompassed all animated versions of Ryougo Narita’s novels since Baccano. I can’t honestly say I know what’s going on other than it looks like all the weirdness will probably revolve around a serial killer eventually since that plotline is the only one that is not directly a part of anyone’s life… yet.

Verdict: In another season, I would probably watch this right away, but because of the non-linear storytelling that looped back and forth, between and within episodes in the original, I think Durarara x2 would be better saved for later marathoning so I can better keep things straight in my head.

Where to find stream: Crunchyroll

Fafner: Dead Aggressor: Exodus

fafnerexodusWhy I Watched It: The sequel to 2004’s Fafner: Dead Aggressor and it’s 2010 movie, Heaven and Earth. Presumably problems continue with the alien Festum trying to deal with their own changing nature and trying to annihilate humanity. Exodus is supposed to take place two years after Heaven and Earth which should make most of the protagonists adults now.

What I Thought: Exodus doesn’t waste time, giving viewers a breakneck intro to where humanity is in the war with the Festum before moving on to glimpses of almost everyone who survived the original series and the movie. I was pleasantly surprised by the original Fafner: Dead Aggressor because of its unusual focus on whole families being part of the military structure while still trying to be a family, and I’m honestly not sure where Exodus is going to be able to go thematically now that the original protagonists are adults. It’s not clear if they can still pilot the Fafners (compatibility slips once past the teenage years), so I’m curious how the show will continue to involve them, especially those that chose to avoid full-time military work. New pilot candidates have been introduced as well, so there will definitely be enough characters to pilot the Fafner mecha, but I’m hoping the show will focus more on the original cast and where they go from here.

Verdict: I’ll be watching. I don’t know where the show is going, but enough of the key staff from the original series have returned, along with just about all the voice actors, that I want to give this a chance.

Where to find stream: Crunchyroll

Gourmet Girl Graffiti

gourmetgirlWhy I Watched It: I’m not normally much of a fan of slice of life shows, but Gourmet Girl Graffiti is about a girl who’s good at cooking, and I hoped to see lots of delicious anime versions of Japanese food.

What I Thought: It was definitely a good idea to watch while I was eating, and not while I was hungry. The level of detail on the various Japanese dishes was great, and the main character Ryou is obviously really into cooking so there’s a lot to be learned about how food is prepared and how leftovers from the making of one dish can be made into another just from listening to her dialogue. On the other hand, some of the animation of Ryou eating seems to have the wrong idea about what people mean when they say “food porn.” It’s a small part of the show, but very noticeable.

Verdict: Interesting side adventure, but not likely to be going back.

Where to find stream: Crunchyroll

Maria the Virgin Witch

mariavirginwitchWhy I Watched It: The art style isn’t quite to my tastes, but I heard good things about it and the Hundred Years War between England and France is a really unusual setting for an anime.

What I Thought: There are a lot of jokes about Maria’s virginity and the naivete that comes along with it, mostly from her succubus familiar. Aside from that, this is a version of the Hundred Years War where witches exist and meddle with battles out of patriotism or for profit (or to enforce peace in Maria’s case). There are surprising historical touches, like the English giving the French the bowfinger or capturing knights for ransom, that I wasn’t expecting in what easily could have been generic medieval warfare.

Verdict: I might come back to it later. It’s not my usual cup of tea, but the historical part of the story piqued my interest.

Where to find stream: Funimation and Hulu


Quite unusually, there was one show picked up for winter simulcast that actually started in the fall and it’s still running. Back episodes are being added at a pace of two old episodes for every one new.

Magic Kaito 1412

magickaitoWhy I Watched It: Set in the same universe as Case Closed, Magic Kaito focuses on a high school student who becomes a master thief to fight against his father’s killers. Case Closed (also known as Detective Conan) was one of my favorite anime series back in college and I always wanted to see some of the manga artist’s lead character, Kaito.

What I Thought: The opening episode feels a little dated, which isn’t surprising given that the manga was started in the 80s. Even though there are touches to show it’s modern day (video calling on a laptop), the show’s core sensibilities, how quickly Kaito both accepts and assumes his new position as a master thief appeals to an earlier time.

Verdict: I’ll be watching it when time allows, hoping that it has the same crime-solving (or crime-committing!) attention to detail that the Case Closed series is known for.

Where to find stream: Crunchyroll

Fall Leftovers

There are the only three shows I was interested in last fall, and all of them I continued to watch. Fate/stay night is now on break and will resume in spring. Yona and Parasyte continue into winter.

Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works

fatestaynightunlimitedWhy I Watched It: This is supposed to be an alternate telling of the well regarded Fate/stay night series and it has a female protagonist so I figured if I was going to jump in, this would be a good starting point.

What I Thought: Rin turned out to be a decoy protagonist, only starring in the zero episode, and it’s still the same main character, Shirou, as in the original series for the rest of it, but apparently we are going through a different storyline from the visual novel series (which has multiple endings). The series has beautiful action sequences between the mages and the Servants they command, but the worldbuilding falls down if looked at too closely. It works best as a popcorn show.

Where to find stream: Crunchyroll

Parasyte -the maxim-

parasyteWhy I Watched It: Parasyte originated as a Seiun Award-winning science fiction horror manga that questions what it is to be human. The manga was first translated into English back in the 90s and no other story I’ve read has so eloquently pointed out the many flaws in humanity while still saying it’s okay to be ourselves. I mainly had two concerns going in. 1) Parasyte is at times very gory and will have to be censored for its broadcast run. I’m rarely an advocate for gore, but Parasyte might be one of the few stories that is less powerful without it. 2) I’m really not digging Shinichi’s new character design. It makes him look like an introverted nerd, which he never was, and I’m concerned that might mean they’re changing his personality.

What I Thought: The adaptation made some changes the bring the story to modern day, and the rapport (or lack thereof) is spot on between main character Shinichi and alien creature Migi, who has taken over his right hand after a failed parasitic invasion. There are odd additions to the story while at the same time condensing others, but it’s still coherent and I found I liked the changes more as time went on. The gore is partially on screen, but toned down, and there’s no escaping the fact people are being eaten. Shinichi initially comes off as a bit more of a wimp than in the original manga, but he’s not unbearable, and I can understand why they gave him the glasses since it allows for a later transformation to become more pronounced. If it hadn’t come out against Aldnoah.Zero it would probably be my favorite show to have started in 2014.

Where to find stream: Crunchyroll

Yona of the Dawn

yonaofthedawnWhy I Watched It: Asian fantasy adventure story geared towards the female audience with a female lead character who does not appear to have a prominent love interest in the promotion art. Plus she’s holding a sword.

What I Thought: The early episodes are a bit slow as Yona tries to come to grips with the fact that the cousin she loves has just killed her father the emperor and usurped control of her nation in one fell swoop. But after being on the run for a few episodes she finally comes to accept that she can’t let things stay the way they are and we see the birth of a warrior. She’s not particular good at the start, but she’s persistent and I like that the show makes it a point to show how hard Yona is training every day as she and her guardian, Hak, journey in search of the legendary dragons who will be able to help her reclaim her country.

Where to find stream: Crunchyroll

laurietomLaurie Tom is a fantasy and science fiction writer based in southern California. Since she was a kid she has considered books, video games, and anime in roughly equal portions to be her primary source of entertainment. Laurie is a previous grand prize winner of Writers of the Future and since then her work has been published inGalaxy’s Edge, Penumbra, and Solaris Rising: The New Solaris Book of Science Fiction.

Anime Catch-Up Review: Puella Magi Madoka Magica

written by Laurie Tom

Originally airing in 2011, I didn’t watch Puella Magi Madoka Magica because I dismissed it as another magical girl show, which I’ve largely aged out of. The magical girl genre typically features elementary to middle school aged girls (more rarely high school) who get nifty transformation sequences to turn into superheroes that combat evil. Themes typically include love, friendship, and doing the right thing.

Despite the innocuous character designs showing a typical magical girl cast, Puella Magi Madoka Magica is not typical at all and what comes out of it is a hideously dark and twisted take on the genre, where doing the right thing doesn’t mean you’ll be rewarded for it in the end. Most magical girl anime is perfectly fine viewing for the pre-teen set, but I wouldn’t be comfortable showing Madoka to anyone younger than twelve.

There is blood, there is death, and the show takes everything that makes a magical girl what she is and makes it sick and sinister.

Though it takes until the end of the third episode to really ram home that this isn’t your little sister’s anime, there are enough “tells” in the first two episodes that it’s not following the usual playbook.

For one, in most magical girl series, the main character Madoka would have become a magical girl in the first episode and it would have been the start of her adventure. Instead, she is given an extraordinary amount of time to consider what she would wish for in exchange for becoming a magical girl.

For another, in the first few minutes, there is a dream sequence where Madoka sees another magical girl fighting a losing battle against a clearly superior enemy, and she’s told that the girl cannot give up or she will lose everything. While it’s true that magical girls in a typical series will fight for their friends, family, and even strangers, it’s rare that the stakes are laid out so plainly with the implication that giving up is not an option.

The result is that Madoka plays an unusual role as the heroine who actually doesn’t do much for most of the series, but suffers along with everyone else. She has the potential to be one of the most powerful magical girls ever, but she sees the toll it exacts on the other magical girls and is rightfully scared to step up to the plate, at least not without a wish that would make all her sacrifice worthwhile.

The obligatory cute sidekick character Kyubey isn’t immune to being cast in a different light, either. Like his counterparts in a typical magical girl series, he’s the one who gives the heroine her magical girl powers, but unusually, he does it in exchange for a single wish. At first it sounds like a good deal, until the show reveals what eventually happens to all magical girls. (There are two possibilities and neither of them are pleasant.)

While the take on the genre is certainly refreshing, its execution probably could be cleaner. Once it’s apparent what kind of show this is, then one of the most important twists (from the perspective of the characters) becomes obvious as early as episode 2. Puella Magi Madoka Magica still had some surprises in for me and I definitely would not have predicted the ending, but the dark point two-thirds of the way through the series had been telegraphed so far ahead of time that it felt rather weird seeing the characters experience it as a shock.

My other issue is that a lot of the problems the characters have is because no one talks to each other. If someone had asked as early as episode 1 or 2 “Where do witches come from?” the show would have gone a completely different direction.

Mysterious transfer student Homura Akemi is the prime offender because she knows almost everything and tells no one anything, especially not Madoka, who she is trying to prevent from becoming a magical girl at all costs. Homura has enough at stake that it’s arguable that she rather than Madoka, is the real protagonist of the series, but it takes so long for her story to get out there (including why she doesn’t talk about what she knows) that it’s a little frustrating.

I realize that accepting that weird enemies coming out of nowhere is a staple of magical girl shows, but if the show is going to address the emotional and physical toll of being a magical girl, it should also give its cast a bit of a brain. Just because the protagonists are in middle school doesn’t mean that they won’t have questions or suggestions on how to fight better, things they would be able to address if they knew their enemies. That said, Homura’s backstory episode is probably my favorite episode of the series.

Puella Magi Madoka Magica is very short at only 12 episodes and is completely self-contained. Though it pulls on the heartstrings (depending on the viewer, having tissues during the final episode might be a good idea), I have a little trouble recommending it because of the need for certain things to play out in a certain fashion or the story will not work. That said, it’s very short and can easily be binge watched since the entire series is only six hours long.

Number of Episodes: 12

Pluses: Darkly unique take on the magical girl genre, haunting soundtrack captures the despair perfectly, all loose plot threads are wrapped up by the end

Minuses: Plot requires certain questions not be asked or things would not turn out the way they do, foreshadowing is a little too heavy handed sometimes

Puella Magi Madoka Magica is currently streaming at Crunchyroll and Daisuki and is available subtitled.

Anime Catch-Up Review: Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood

written by Laurie Tom


Fullmetal Alchemist has been around since the early 2000s. It was one of those anime series famous enough that it was hard to be a fan and not have heard of it.

In 2009, a few years after the first FMA wrapped up, it was rebooted. That felt unusually soon, but the first series had deviated heavily from the original manga (at the creator’s request, since the manga was still ongoing) and the second series was going to be true to the soon-to-be ending manga. The buzz around the second series, titled Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood in English, was even stronger than the first one.

But I didn’t think much of the two teenaged protagonists. What I knew was that Edward and Alphonse Elric had tried to resurrect their dead mother through alchemy (that never goes over well) and as a result of that botched attempt Ed lost his right arm and left leg, and Al lost his body so his soul had to be bonded to a suit of armor. Much of the story involves them searching for a way to become whole again, and I wasn’t really interested in following two teenagers trying to fix themselves after having done something horribly stupid.

Fortunately, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood is a lot more than that.

Manga creator Hiromu Arakawa has built a world that invokes the look of 1930s England, with cars, telephones, radios, and trains; a world where alchemy is considered a science. The country of Amestris lives and breathes independent of the Elric brothers’ existence, which allows the series to be so much more than two teenagers trying to fix a childhood mistake.

I’m sure Ed and Al do well enough with their target demographic of pre-teen and teenage boys. They’re incredibly talented and kick-ass for their age with just enough emotional insecurity to make them relatable. Much of the show’s humor centers around the antics of the two of them, and Alphonse’s animations are adorable when he’s out of sorts (though Ed’s sensitivity about his height is a little overdone the first few episodes). But for me, it’s the parallel conspiracy story that gets me going.

The brothers are searching for a way to restore themselves and a possible key to that is finding or creating a philosopher’s stone, which magnifies an alchemist’s ability. Normally alchemy requires an equivalent exchange; alchemists cannot create something out of nothing. Since a philosopher’s stone reduces or outright negates the need for exchange, it’s a highly desirable object for alchemists beyond the Elric brothers.

This sets up the parallel storyline.

While the Elric brothers are dealing with their own issues on the center stage, there is another story involving a conspiracy within the military, philosopher’s stones, and a civil war from six years ago. The two overlap from time to time, and eventually merge later in the series, but for the first half of the series the Elric brothers are largely in the dark or only tangentially involved with what’s going on.

This segment of the story is spearheaded by the ambitious Colonel Roy Mustang who understands that there is something rotten in his country’s military and he intends to root it out. Roy’s storyline is fascinating to watch, because he’s very aware he’s playing a dangerous game against an unknown enemy who outranks him, and his enemy is equally aware that Roy is getting too nosy for his own good.

Roy plays his moves intelligently and shoots for the long game; so long that his real agenda doesn’t even come out until halfway through the series (a rarity for a protagonist). And since he’s not the titular character (Ed is the Fullmetal Alchemist) the moments when he finds himself in trouble are a lot more nerve-wrecking since there’s less of a guarantee he’ll make it out intact.

The two plots connect through the Elric brothers’ pursuit of a philosopher’s stone and because as a state alchemist Ed reports to Roy Mustang, though Roy seldom gives him any direct orders or involves him in any of his plans (probably because he knows the Elric brothers are uncontrollable wild cannons). Roy himself is also a powerful alchemist, specializing in fire.

I have a suspicion that the manga writer/artist made Roy too powerful a secondary protagonist because he frequently gets hamstrung in ways that keep him out of the action. While the Elric brothers often start fight scenes at full strength, Roy is usually wet (he can’t start a fire when damp), crippled, or both when faced with a potential battle. When he finally does get some action in, it ends up being one of the most badass scenes in the first half of the series.

This isn’t a show that I would have watched on my own, but it’s better than I expected and I can see why it was so popular. The use of alchemy throughout the series is not only well designed and integral to the story, but allows for some creative problem solving that just wouldn’t be possible for protagonists in most other series. Given the 1930s setting, this can mean knowing the chemical composition of what they’re transmuting. It feels very smart.

Though Ed and Al aren’t my typical cup of tea, I don’t dislike them, and they eventually grew on me by the end. But I would have found the series more difficult to get into if Roy had not been working in the background. I really needed that more mature storyline and the element of danger and uncertainty that came with it. It’s a bit of a shame that when their enemies become one that Roy’s role becomes diminished in much of the third quarter of the series (more hamstringing), though he bounces back in a spectacular way by the end.

I wasn’t entirely satisfied with the grand revelation of the villain’s plans at the end of the story, but I can’t deny that the final episodes demanded to be watched one after another. What comes together in this series is greater than the sum of its parts. It’s probably one of the best I’ve watched in a long time.

Number of Episodes: 64

Pluses: Uncommon period setting, cool alchemy system, good sense of suspense, Roy Mustang makes everything better

Minuses: Ed and Al feel like they’re unconnected to the greater storyline in the early episodes, the final villain’s motivations don’t quite come together

Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood was reviewed on Blu-Ray and watched in the original Japanese with subtitles. The first four episodes are available for free both subbed and dubbed on Hulu.


laurietomLaurie Tom is a fantasy and science fiction writer based in southern California. Since she was a kid she has considered books, video games, and anime in roughly equal portions to be her primary source of entertainment. Laurie is a previous grand prize winner of Writers of the Future and since then her work has been published in Galaxy’s Edge, Penumbra, and Solaris Rising: The New Solaris Book of Science Fiction.



Chains is a color-matching app-style game released by At first glance, it looks like other color matching app-style games like Bejeweled and Candy Crush. Not that there’s anything wrong with those, mind you, but Candy Crush already does what it does so well that most people don’t need another Candy Crush.

The concept is similar, to link up adjacent like-colored objects to clear them out. But Chains goes above and beyond by giving a much more varied level design and with different objectives. In some levels the objective is simply to reach a certain level of matches, or to reach a certain level of matches without losing more than x off the side of the screen. Still others require an extended chain of more than X balls to pass the level, to exactly match two pails full of balls that each have a “weight” value, or to make exact change with numbered balls. My personal favorite is a level where the balls are flowing in a river through a partial obstructed streambed and you have to make matches to keep the stream clear. Fast paced twitchy fun.

What you’d expect for a color-matching game.

Good instrumental museum.

Some of the levels are pretty challenging, trying to keep up with the high pace of matching.


Session Time
None of the fast-paced levels take more than a few minutes. You only lose your progress within the level, probably just a few minutes.

Very easy to pick up–click on a colored ball and drag across nearby ones. Release button to clear or right-click to cancel. Easy peasy.

Depends on how “record” oriented you are. If you like to try to beat records could replay for that, I guess.

Not super original, being more of the color-matching variety. But I thought they did as good a job with level variety as they could.

It took about 2 hours to play through the 20 levels.

Fun game, of the app variety, does a better job with level style variety than most color matching games. $5 on Steam.


Anime Movie Review: Hal

written by Laurie Tom


Hal is an original animated movie from Studio Wit about a robot sent to help the bereaved. Specially, the titular character, Hal, is sent to the young woman Kurumi after a fatal airplane accident.

Hal is told that it’s his job as a robot that looks and sounds like the original Hal to help Kurumi through her grief. Initially I had to question why it would be a good idea to send someone a care robot who looks exactly like the person they had lost, but as the story progresses I can see why it works, as it allows the bereaved to address the misgivings and unsaid feelings they never got to say to the unexpectedly departed.

Watching Hal learn to become human is touching, especially as he tries to figure out how to reach Kurumi. He discovers that it’s not enough just to show up and be kind, but he needs to understand who it was that she had lost, which is most often done through the puzzle cubes that Kurumi and the original Hal had made for each other.

Essentially a 5×5 Rubik’s Cube, the puzzle cubes have a colored face on each side, and on each face the couple had inscribed wishes they wanted to come true, then scrambled them, because there is a saying that fixing the cube will make the wishes come true. As Hal solves the cubes, or gets help from others around him to do so, he begins to see what the relationship between Hal and Kurumi was like and what kind of person Hal had been.

At an hour in length, Hal is on the short side for a movie, but it’s exactly the length it needs to be, as it doesn’t burden itself with complicated subplots, and it allows the story to focus on Hal and him finding who he really is.

There is, however, a twist towards the end of the story that has virtually no foreshadowing. It worked for me, and I think it dovetailed nicely with the premise, but others viewers might be less forgiving. It’s possible to detect on a second viewing as there are subtle animation cues, and a couple lines of dialogue that make more sense, but I would be very surprised if anyone figured it out the first time around.

I really enjoyed Hal and would recommend it to anyone who likes animation. Anime outside of Hayao Miyazaki films and assorted TV series rarely get much attention in the U.S. and with its length I’m sure Hal would never have gotten a theatrical run here, but it’s a touching bit of science fiction that deserves to be seen by more people.

Hal was reviewed on Funimation’s YouTube channel as part of a limited time promotion, with the first viewing dubbed and the second subtitled. The trailer and the first seven minutes are still available for viewing. Hal is available on Blu-Ray and DVD from Funimation.


laurietomLaurie Tom is a fantasy and science fiction writer based in southern California. Since she was a kid she has considered books, video games, and anime in roughly equal portions to be her primary source of entertainment. Laurie is a previous grand prize winner of Writers of the Future and since then her work has been published in Galaxy’s Edge, Penumbra, and Solaris Rising: The New Solaris Book of Science Fiction.

Anime Review: Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun

written by Laurie Tom

monthlygirlsnozakiI had considered watching Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun back when the summer season first started, but at the time I thought it was going to be a more straightforward romantic comedy and with everything else premiering that I wanted to check out, Nozaki-kun got pushed to the side.

Fortunately, I came back to Nozaki-kun and this is one of the few shows that actually made me laugh out loud. It starts out looking like a rom-com, but it’s really just a comedy. The characters are a bunch of screwballs who tend to play against type, which makes for hilarious scenes where nothing happens the way it should.

Chiyo Sakura is a second year high school student who finally works up the nerve to confess her feelings to her crush, a fellow second year called Umetarou Nozaki. But the words don’t come out right so he confuses her for a fan of his work, gives her an autograph, and invites her over for his place.

It turns out that under a pen name Nozaki is secretly the hugely popular shoujo (girls) manga artist behind the series Let’s Fall in Love. But Nozaki isn’t the typical romantic. In fact, he admits he’s never been in love at all (and he’s completely oblivious to the fact Sakura is crushing on him). He just happens to be really good at the shoujo style and has a feel for the tropes needed for a series to succeed.

The real reason he asked Sakura over is that he’s seen her work as part of the school art club and he needs someone to do the beta coloring for his manga. Sakura, just happy to get involved in his life, accepts, setting the stage for the rest of the series.

Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun runs a lot like a sitcom, with one or two plot lines per episode that may or may not be referenced later. There’s not much of an overarching story, with most of the episodes focusing on things like Nozaki doing research, but the supporting characters are what make it worthwhile.

Like many authors, Nozaki draws on things around him for inspiration. Everything turns into research for Nozaki, from visiting a toy store to an unexpected sleepover consisting entirely of male classmates, but the most fun is how Nozaki chooses to model his characters off the people he knows.

For instance, the protagonist of Let’s Fall in Love is a teenage girl who gets easily embarrassed by the opposite sex, discouraged at the drop of a hat, but ultimately gives her best.

She’s based on Nozaki’s classmate Mikoshiba, who is male, and in any other series he’s the guy with the good looks who would be the lead.

When Nozaki needs a rival character for his manga’s male love interest he ends up basing him on Sakura’s brash and unthinking classmate Seo, who is female.

The fun is in seeing how the characters transition from life to the page, and how Nozaki tries to craft ways in which he can research or observe what he has no experience in himself. The image I chose for this review is from the first episode where Nozaki wants to figure out how to do a romantic bike ride as a couple. (Hint: It doesn’t go over well.)

Being teenagers, most of the characters have no frame of reference for how relationships are supposed to work (both romantic and non), and nearly all of them draw on popular media to see how things are supposed to go, with unintended results. Some of the best scenes are when Nozaki will witness something that plays out completely wrong “in real life” and then transforms it into something that manga readers will eat up once it’s on the page.

Not every episode has every character, but the show manages to keep most of them engaged in some manner or another, and truthfully it’s a little crowded once they’re all introduced, with a primary cast of seven and then a few others.

Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun isn’t a show that demands to be devoured in large chunks, but it’s a great pick-me-up for when you need a laugh and reminder that it’s okay for real life to not be like fiction.

Number of Episodes: 12

Pluses: Lots of gender role reversals, hilarious insight into creative types, fantastic cast of characters

Minuses: Sitcom nature means that the series wraps up without actually resolving anything, lots of characters and not enough time to focus on all of them

Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun is currently streaming at Crunchyroll and is available subtitled. Sentai Filmworks has licensed this for eventual retail distribution in the US.

laurietomLaurie Tom is a fantasy and science fiction writer based in southern California. Since she was a kid she has considered books, video games, and anime in roughly equal portions to be her primary source of entertainment. Laurie is a previous grand prize winner of Writers of the Future and since then her work has been published in Galaxy’s Edge, Penumbra, and Solaris Rising: The New Solaris Book of Science Fiction.

Daily Science Fiction March Review

written by Frank Dutkiewicz

It has been a very long time since we last appeared. A busy schedule and active life is our excuse. My apologies to Rahul Kanakia for pestering him for an interview, then dropping off the face of the Earth. I recommend that you all visit his blog (very interesting, entertaining, and insightful) and consider reading his latest book.

With much regrets, next month’s review (April) will be our last. I won’t be getting all gushy with you about it now. I’m saving that for my next review (need to fill up some space). But please take a gander of our thoughts of March’s tales, then visit go Daily SF and read them for your own amusement.


“Wedding Day” by Brian Trent (debut 3/3 and reviewed by Dustin Adams)

Because this story relies on its secret, a review is impossible without :spoilers:

Men from the future have come back to marry some of the most brilliant women of our time before an asteroid strike. This is a cool idea, but I had trouble with some inconsistencies, like why are they so hungry? And certainly the asteroid didn’t destroy the planet or there would be no future men to travel back.

I did like the story because of the details and the teasing that something unusual was going on, leading us on just enough to get hit with the hammer of the last line.


“Love is a Component of This Story” by Liz Argall (debut 3/4 and reviewed by Dustin Adams)

Indeed, the title sums up this story about the customs of a foreign people, and two volunteers being tested/examined with various sexually stimulating scenarios and machines.

Although I couldn’t exactly find a connection between the two concepts, nor a reason for the female character being named Bruce, (a constant distraction) I found the story fun and easy to read. And of course, being a romance, with a most unique path to the characters’ meeting, I felt the aww factor.


“Luna City, At Night” by Karl El-Koura (debut 3/5 and reviewed by Dustin Adams)

Hard-edged descriptors give this story its grim feel of a future gone mechanical (automatic, not robotic). A man, a future player if you will, finds and beds women who he assumes are interested in his wealth, (his silver watches, and bulging wallet). He seems to be a working man, yet has money to allow the women to steal, in the night, when he pretends to be asleep.

Interesting concept that he accepts the women’s thievery as payment for getting what he wants, but is he happy in his mundane world of repetition? Only after a woman doesn’t follow through with the expected, does the man begin to see the unexpected.


The price for survival is a long outstanding debt. “The Alien Tithe” by Eric Brown (debut 3/6 and reviewed by Frank D) is the tale of colonists who crash landed on their new home. The native aliens saved and healed the survivors of the disaster but have demanded a tithe for their good deed. The story follows along the trek of one the colonists as he leads his children to the aliens to pay for the debt.

“Alien Tithe” is a chilling tale. The gratitude the colonists had to their alien hosts has evolved into a yoke of guilt. I found this short tale to be intriguing and told well.



Life goes on after the world is dead. “Through Dry Places, Seeking Rest” by Megan Arkenberg (debut 3/7 and reviewed by Frank D). Is the tale of a mute. Civilization has collapsed shortly after angels have appeared. The protagonist’s brother was murdered and now he wanders alone, seeking a running train while he walks the rotting planks and rusting rails that mark their mythical tracks.

The protagonist of this tale is a drifter with no place to go. He has lost the last person who ever meant a thing to him in a world without hope, a metaphor that proves fitting for “Through Dry Places” theme. The story, like the protagonist, simply drifts without much of a purpose.


Holes are filled in a popular fairy tale. “All Upon A Time” by Dani Atkinson (debut 3/10 and reviewed by Frank D) is a series of backstory narratives around the Cinderella tale.



A stop at a coffee house will put you in just the right mood. “Surprise Me” by Andrew Knighton (debut 3/11 and reviewed by Frank D) is the tale of Yan, a counter worker at a coffee house with gift of pouring the emotion you need into your cup. A special girl, a customer who always orders ‘surprise me’ has been the object of his affection. He has brewed himself up some courage for her arrival but needy customers, and the fading effects of coffee, may sap the drink’s powers before he can ask her for a date.

“Surprise Me” is a tale of a boy trying to gather the nerve to express his feelings. It serves as a neat metaphor on the awkwardness of dating.


Yeast from the stars stumble upon a horrible world. “We Don’t Believe That They Are Friendly” by Sylvia Spruck Wrigley (debut 3/12 and reviewed by Frank D) is a report from a surveying crew of a yeast-based life form on their findings of an isolated world.

Fun piece.


“This Doesn’t Appear to Be the Alien I Paid For” by Andrea G. Stewart(debut 3/13 and reviewed by James Hanzelka)

When my seven year old daughter asked for a pet I sensed an opportunity to teach her about the universe. After all I’d seen your ads everywhere, at work, watching holo, even while using the urinal. So we ordered the Plum eared Noggin offered in your catalogue. It arrived not in the seven days promised, but in 12; however I chalked this up to the fact that it had to travel half way across the universe. We immediately opened the package to ensure it arrived in good shape and were relieved to see the little heart monitor ticking along in time with the creatures beating heard. When the little fellow didn’t pupate within the two weeks as promised we made the first of our calls to your customer service department. They assured us that the pupation time can vary and we were relieved when a few weeks later the pupa was occupying the terrarium. However when the creature that emerged did not have cute pear shape ears as shown in your catalogue and had a red strip down its back a second call was made to your customer service. Unfortunately it would not be our last.

If you think dealing with earth-bound customer service desks can be trying, imagine dealing with one half ways across the known universe. That is exactly what this author imagined. He did an excellent job at it. This story is infused with a dry humor that really had me chuckling all the way through. Well Done, sir.


“The Sentence is Always Death” by Ken Gerber and Brian Hirt (debut 3/14 and reviewed by James Hanzelka)

I’m forty-three, well beyond needing a nanny, but nanny is in the audience like she always is. It’s fitting she should be there since I’m taking the rap for her. There are a few cases ahead of mine. “Case 1201, Miz Gravona,” the Judge says. The alien shuffles up front. “Miz Gravona, given your crime the sentence is death.” Of course it is, the sentence is always death.

This is an involved tale of happenstance, planning and criminality. The author envisions a future where an individual can be “erased”, removed from their own existence; then imagines the possibilities that future presents. It is fairly well written, but could have used some trimming in places. This overwriting tended to detract from the story a bit, but it’s still a piece worth reading.


A bulimic girl returns home with a tool to help. “Measures and Countermeasures” by Beth Cato (debut 3/17 and reviewed by Frank D) is the story of Colleen, a young woman whose eating disorder landed her in the hospital. Tonight is her first dinner, but she has smuggled in a piece of technology so she can keep her calorie intake low. If only her mother knew.

“Measures” is a story of trust. Colleen is like many girls with her disease, sure that the people that are trying to help her are against her. Ms Cato demonstrates trust runs deep. The ones truly in need have a small bit still in them that trusts we will do what is best for them.


A new god finds his first follower. “Produce 1:1-10″ by Mur Lafferty (debut 3/18 and reviewed by Frank D) is the tale of a lesser god and His flock of one. New gods have been springing up everywhere, spreading their word on things like the merits of exercise at the gym and such. The protagonist is an atheist who stumbles upon the god weeping at her local Piggly Wiggly. The prices of healthy food are too high and the labels are misleading. The new god of supermarkets needs an advocate to bring the truth to the masses.

A light hearted tale.


The dead cannot move into the next world while Death morns his loss. “Death and His Lover” by Getty Hesse (debut 3/19 and reviewed by Frank D) is a tale of the dark angel embracing the spirit of his lover. Death alone can open the Gates for the dead to travel beyond, but can’t bear to let his Jerome to leave. The din of the departed grows as they cry out to be released.

“Death” is a tale of closure. The angel knows too well the length of eternity and is unwilling to let his lover go. Touching.


The nanobots have come. “Goodnight, Raptor” by A. Merc Rustad (debut 3/20 and reviewed by Frank D) is the story of the end of the world. Little Benny alone survives the destruction tiny nanobots have done to house, town, and family. He managed to rescue his favorite possession, a picture book on dinosaurs. The final few bots have assembled to recreate the image on the books cover, giving Benny the thing he always wanted , his very own raptor friend.

“Goodnight, Raptor” is the tale of a child’s dreams. The enormity of the disaster has not registered in his innocent mind. The last of the destructive bots coalesced to form a talking dinosaur for Benny. The tale would be cute if it wasn’t so sad.


What we will do for love. “Because My Heart Is Pure” by Rahul Kanakia (debut 3/21 and reviewed by Frank D) is the story of a man who is perpetuating a lie for the man he loves. Lyle is a gay man who has been pretending to be pure of heart , a genetic mutation that has made them emotionally stagnant individuals. His boyfriend, James – a reckless, passionate, self-absorbed man , is the opposite of an even keeled pure heart. James attends orgies, disappears for stretches of time, but will only shack up with a pure heart. The emotional rift Lyle feels for James he must conceal or he will lose his eccentric lover forever. But can he continue to be something he is not?

“Because My Heart” is a story of sacrifice. The pure-hearted are people who feel neither highs nor lows. Passion is all but gone from their being. They are able to absorb insults and are impassive to feelings of envy and pettiness. The obtuse nature of a pure-heart is just what a selfish free-spirit like James needs. But Lyle isn’t a pure-heart. He forces his feelings down because he knows he will lose the man he loves if they come out.

A warning to readers who haven’t read this piece: heed the warning on adult content. A short segment of this tale could have been cut out of a Penthouse like forum of a gay magazine, very graphic. This story, although well-written, rolls out as a tale of man who is putting himself through needless torment. James is not just a bad-boy of the story, he’s worse. People are just playthings to him, and for a group of people who are as close to automatons as you can get, it is no wonder why he would seek out pure-hearts; all the fun of a superficial relationship with none of the consequences. The tale is a lesson on the hazards of succumbing to your desires. Some things just aren’t worth it.


A man recalls why he married his wife in the last moments of their lives. “Till Death” by L.L. Phelps (debut 3/24 and reviewed by Frank D) picks up during an impending disaster. The space station the married couple has lived on has been hit by a missile and is breaking apart as it falls back to Earth. The images of their wedding day fill his head as the reality of the disaster makes it clear that it is all about to end.

“Till Death” is the sweet niche in a sad tragedy. The story takes place during the horrible moments of a terrorist attack. The tale brought back memories of 9/11 for me and thoughts of what must have been going through the minds of the victims when it became clear that their end was near.

A chilling tale.


“The Signal” by Spencer Sandoval (debut 3/25 and reviewed by Frank D) is a journal entry written by a worker at a SETI observatory. The protagonist of this tale has simultaneous extraordinary events. News of another civilization very much like their own has been discovered and his first child that is on the way.

“The Signal” is a story I found compelling but not original. The ending has a twist that I have seen before.


A bid to overthrow the machine’s human masters can be accomplished for the low price of $99.99. “Robot’s Revenge” by Sylvia Spruck Wrigley (debut 3/26 and reviewed by Frank D) is another installment in Ms Wrigley’s Postmark Andromeda series. This one is a tongue-in-cheek look at the evolution of spam into an untapped market base.

Funny. My favorite of the series.


A dying boy is given the gift of a full life. “Gnostilgia” by Ronald D Ferguson (debut 3/27 and reviewed by Frank D) is the tale of 14 year old hero, Karl , the boy who helped prevent a massacre in his high school. His heroics have left him a death’s doorstep. His doctors have an experimental dream making machine. With it, they can give him memories of life he deserved.

“Gnostilgia” is a tale where Karl’s handlers struggle with what is ethical, and what is right. They know what they are doing would not be tolerated by Karl’s parents or with the public , implanting false memories into this boy’s head , but they know there is no hope for young Karl. The full they give him is their gratitude for sacrificing his own life.

A thought provoking and sweet work of flash.


Reincarnated lovers meet again in the segregated south. “Starcrossed” by M. Bennardo (debut 3/30 and reviewed by Frank D) is the tale of a young black waitress in a wartime navy town. In the back, a lone white man sits by himself. She recognizes him as someone she has met before, a forbidden lover of from a hundred previous lifetimes.

“Starcrossed” is a romance. The two characters are appropriately named Romeo and Juliet. For generations dating back thousands of years, the pair are destined to meet as people on different sides of the tracks. Their romances are always forbidden, customs of the times deeming them unfit to be together, and like Shakespeare’s play, always end in tragic finale.

Growing up, the past lives always seemed like a dream to Juliet, but when her Romeo appears, she can feel the pull of their destiny drawing them together. Unlike before, this time the pair is older, and Juliet has already started a life, with a family if her own. Her tale becomes a struggle; will an ordained desire drag her onto a familiar path? Or does she have an alternative choice.

“Starcrossed” is recreated and reworked look at a familiar trope. I found the story inventive, engaging, and well worth the read.


The world outside is falling apart in Light and Ash by Alan Bao (debut 3/31 and reviewed by Frank D), but for two romantic lovers, it might as well be another world. War rages in Asia but for a couple in New York, it is of little consequence. It is Christmas, and it is snowing, or is that ash?

A haunting tale.



Rahul KanakiaRahul Kanakia

Our short-lived author spotlight of Daily Science Fiction‘s most prolific authors features an artist known for creating flawed protagonists. His much anticipated YA novel ENTER TITLE HERE is a story described as Gossip Girls meets House of Cards. We wanted to know a little more of what made him tick, so we asked him 3 questions that we drew out of a hat.


Do you have a favorite author of short fiction? A writer whose work we should sample at least once in our life?

Well, if we’re talking prescriptively, then no. Plenty of famous authors haven’t read Ulysses, and it’s no big deal. You gotta read what resonates with you. However, if we’re just talking about short story writers who’re really good and who I recommend highly, then I’d say that Borges is pretty worthwhile. He writes stories that are completely unlike anyone else’s. No one else could spin a long entirely-plotless story about a library that that contains all human knowledge. However, since most people have probably already heard of Borges then I’ll also note that Maureen McHugh’s After The Apocalypse is one of the best collections I’ve read in the past five years. I get chills even thinking about it. Her stories changed the way that I approach science fiction. Some of them are so beautifully subtle. I’m reminded, for instance, of the story “Useless Things,” which is about a woman living on an isolated ranch who has to deal with the unwanted reputation for kindness that she’s acquired amongst the migrants who’re traveling north in a future United States where life is just ever-so-slightly worse than it is now.


What do you consider to be your greatest accomplishment as an author?

Hmm. In a specific way, I think the best story I’ve ever written is forthcoming in a literary magazine called Birkensnake. It’s called “Sexual Cannibalism,” and it’s told in a series of vignettes as a young boy grows into a man and comes to terms with his sexuality while he researches the mating habits of praying mantises in a world that is wracked by and then overcomes the effects of climate change.

In a more general way, I’m not sure I could sum up my writing career that way. I guess the thing I’m most proud of as a writer is just being persistent. I just sold my first novel after writing and submitting for ten years. I’ve had years-long periods where I didn’t sell anything, or where I felt like I’d regressed, career-wise, but I just kept going. At times it didn’t really make sense, but I did anyway, and I owe a lot of gratitude to the version of me who could have quit, but didn’t.


Is there a Daily SF story you would like to recommend for us to read? Anything especially memorable?

Out of all the Daily SF stories that I’ve read, I’d say that I like Sarah Pinsker’s “Twenty Ways The Desert Could Kill You.” It’s playful and inventive and chilling work about a mother and a child who suddenly move to the desert in order to escape…something.


Rahul Kanakia’s debut novel,
Enter Title Here, will be published by Disney-Hyperion in the fall of 2015. He has sold stories to Clarkesworld, the Intergalactic Medicine Show, Apex, Nature, and Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet. He holds an MFA in creative writing from the Johns Hopkins University Writing Seminars and a B.A. in Economics from Stanford, and he currently live in Oakland, CA. If you want to know more about him then please visit his blog at or follow him on Twitter

Anime Review: Blue Spring Ride

written by Laurie Tom

bluespringrideThere were a couple times when I thought I was going to drop Blue Spring Ride just because it’s not quite my thing, but it’s managed to surprise me; probably because the relationship between Futaba and Kou continues to be rocky beyond the point it would be in most girls’ manga, and in that way, it’s more realistic.

In junior high Futaba and Kou were friends on the verge of something more. Just before the summer holiday Kou asked Futaba to go to the summer festival with him, and she agreed, but later that afternoon at school she made a comment about hating all boys in order to fend off unwanted advances. Kou overheard.

When the time came for them to meet at the festival, Kou never showed, and when summer break ended, Kou did not return to school. He had moved away.

Flash forward to the second year of high school and Futaba meets Kou again, but he’s a completely different person from before. He remembers her, his crush on her, and is happy that he was the exception to her hating boys, but has no interest in picking up the relationship because they’re both different people now.

For her part, Futaba tries to reconcile the Kou she knew with the one she sees now and is not sure she can fall in love with the new version of him, who is distant, inconsiderate, and just a bit mean. It’s a poignant epiphany that anyone who’s had a failed reconnect with an old friend can sympathize with.

While Blue Spring Ride has a lot of potentially romantic moments between Futuba and Kou, they are largely thwarted by the characters themselves rather than external influences, and the show revolves more around acceptance, whether it’s accepting one’s own self for who they are and accepting that there are some things you just can’t change.

Probably the biggest shock is that the expected romance does not happen, which I mention because on the surface this looks like a romance series, but it ends up being more about dealing with the loss and learning to move on. Though it has plenty of comedic moments (including one of the most hilarious instances of a girl accidentally crashing into a boy I’ve ever seen), the final couple episodes realistically show the toll that Kou and his family have paid.

He’s gone through a rough time in the years he’s been away and Kou isn’t about to open up to anyone about them. Against conventional storytelling, Futaba is not the magical girl that he suddenly can speak to either. She eventually comes to realize that even though they have a shared past she has to accept that he’s not the same person he was.

I had a good time watching Blue Spring Ride, although it’s a little slow at the start. Kou is difficult to like at first and it’s not until more of his backstory shows up that he’s of much interest as a male lead. The supporting cast takes a while to assemble since Futuba is coming off a failed reset of her social life since starting high school. Once everyone’s there the show is much more interesting.

Number of Episodes: 12

Pluses: Futuba is very likeable and relatable female lead, realistic depiction of how complicated relationships of any kind are, nice balance between comedy and drama

Minuses: Pacing is slow in early episodes, Kou is initially difficult to like, romance fans may be disappointed that Kou and Futaba are not a couple in the end

Blue Spring Ride is currently streaming at Crunchyroll and is available subtitled. Sentai Filmworks has licensed this for eventual retail distribution in the US.


laurietomLaurie Tom is a fantasy and science fiction writer based in southern California. Since she was a kid she has considered books, video games, and anime in roughly equal portions to be her primary source of entertainment. Laurie is a previous grand prize winner of Writers of the Future and since then her work has been published in Galaxy’s Edge, Penumbra, and Solaris Rising: The New Solaris Book of Science Fiction.

Anime Review: m3: the dark metal

written by Laurie Tom


Don’t let the fact there is a mecha in the opening credits fool you. m3: the dark metal is more of a drama than an action show, and it’s one of those series where what you see in the beginning doesn’t indicate anything about where you’ll be by the end.

At first glance m3 is rather by the book. An eclectic group of high schoolers are brought together in a special class to learn how to pilot the latest technological advance, a combat vehicle called a MA-Vess that is capable of exploring the mysterious Lightless Realm that is slowly swallowing the city they live in. But the story takes a much darker turn than the norm.

The Lightless Realm first appeared ten years ago and anything in its borders slowly becomes corrupted, turning into a crystalline substance called necrometal, and haunting creatures called Admonitions roam within it.

The eight selected students have no memories of what happened to them prior to the appearance of the Lightless Realm, but it becomes apparent that all of them have met before and have a latent telepathic ability. It’s not an accident that the eight of them are in the class because it turns out their shared history and ability to Link with one another is why they, and only they, are able to explore the Lightless Realm without being driven insane as quickly as normal people.

The series is a little slow when it comes teases out the mystery of how the Lightless Realm came to be and how the main cast is connected to each other, but for those who don’t mind the leisurely pace, each revelation feels well earned.

Though there are eight students and the story initially looks like an ensemble (happily gender balanced), Akashi’s story drives the plot more than anyone else’s and he’s initially not an easy character to like. He’s cold, disaffected, and it takes a while for the show to chip away at him, but chip away it does.

m3 is really a show about understanding more than anything else.

Even when Akashi begins to recognize his own flaws and tries to be a better person, he’s constantly failing to understand. He does a lot of things that would be the heroic, the wise, the right thing to do in other shows, and it tends to get thrown back in his face when he realizes that what he thought was brave and caring is actually very selfish and inconsiderate of the other person’s desires. Is asking someone in pain to wait for you until you return an act of kindness, or a selfish request that prolongs their suffering so you can see them again?

Though I mention Akashi specifically, most of the problems in the series originate from an inability to communicate, and not for lack of trying, which is ironic in a story featuring telepaths. m3 is not a happy show (though it does have a happy ending). It’s filled with missed moments, missed understandings, and the tragedy that everything that happened in this series probably could have been avoided if one person did not have a dream to share her culture with a wider world.

The series doesn’t pull many punches either. With eight key cast members m3 isn’t afraid of picking a few off, even when it feels really early to lose someone who still appears in the opening credits. Unfortunately, given the number of them, not all of the main characters are given the same level of character development. They are all visually distinctive enough that they won’t be confused for one another, and most of them are given enough scenes to show who they are outside of critical plot events, but the audience will not get to know them on the same level as Akashi.

This is particularly egregious in Heito’s case. The show makes a pretty big deal out of his insanity early on, and then he vanishes for most of the plot with scarcely a mention that he still exists, which is a wasted opportunity considering what we get to see of his pre-insanity self in flashbacks. I was a little sad that none of the characters seem to reevaluate the difference between his past self (once they get their memories back) and his current one, because what happened to him could have happened to any of them.

Despite its flaws m3 has kept me interested week after week of its 24 episode run, making it one of the few shows I’d watch the night the simulcast went live, and I highly recommend it. There is enough material in m3 that I would like to give it a rewatch to see how everything was foreshadowed, and I think it’s a pity it hasn’t been picked up for US retail distribution as I would gladly pick it up on Blu-Ray/DVD for future viewing.

Number of Episodes: 24

Pluses: Thoughtful story, strong element of mystery, re-examines assumptions for how people should connect with one another

Minuses: It’s not clear whether time passes differently in the Lightless Realm or it’s a narrative oversight, character development is weak for anyone who is not Akashi, some plot details drop off or get ignored entirely later on

m3: the dark metal is currently streaming at Daisuki and is available subtitled.


laurietomLaurie Tom is a fantasy and science fiction writer based in southern California. Since she was a kid she has considered books, video games, and anime in roughly equal portions to be her primary source of entertainment. Laurie is a previous grand prize winner of Writers of the Future and since then her work has been published in Galaxy’s Edge, Penumbra, and Solaris Rising: The New Solaris Book of Science Fiction.