Anime Review: 91 Days

written by Laurie Tom

91 days

91 Days is an anime love letter to mafia films. Set in the 1930s when Prohibition is in full effect, its cast is filled with gangsters and bootleggers, led by a protagonist on a single-minded quest for revenge. The haunting opening credits perfectly encapsulate the violent world that Avilio has chosen to inhabit, while showing the psychological toll his charade is costing him.

When I first started the series, I was a little concerned about how much I would like Avilio, born Angelo Lagusa. His father belonged to the Vanetti mob family and was killed along with the rest of his immediate family during a change of power. As a child, Angelo escaped the slaughter and then disappeared for seven years from everyone he knew, only to return at the start of the show because he receives a mysterious letter giving him the names of the men who murdered his family.

Now going by Avilio Bruno, he begins integrating himself into the Vanetti family so he can kill the men responsible.

Avilio is a laconic character and nigh undeterred, but he’s not without personality, and part of the reason I love the opening credits is because they allow the audience to see the inner conflict that must be happening before we can actually see it play out on screen. The title card for 91 Days even forms the space between the 9 and 1 with a silhouette of Avilio holding a gun behind his back. His revenge relies on keeping up his masquerade, that he’s a trusted friend and ally, while plotting the deaths of those he’s befriending.

But the masquerade is hard, and requires Avilio to be every bit as ruthless as the men he’s trying to bring down. Though Avilio doesn’t say much, and we aren’t privy to his inner thoughts, we can guess well enough that he doesn’t want to get to know his targets as people, and yet he has no choice but to do so if he’s to get close enough to the don himself.

He does this mostly through Nero, the son of the current don. After a quick dust up throws the two together, Avilio finds the opening he needs to become one of Nero’s most trusted subordinates. The two have a great chemistry together. Nero is boisterous and wears his heart on his sleeve, and Avilio is sulky and prone to doing rather than speaking. The biggest problem between them is that Nero is one of the men responsible for killing Avilio’s family.

In mafia media fashion, the gangsters are not all about shooting up other people, and have lives where they are also devoted family members, loyal friends, and religious even when they can’t stop sinning. The more Avilio sees during his time with Nero, the more the audience wonders if he’ll be willing to pull the trigger, knowing that he’ll destroy lives like they destroyed his own.

And yet, he stains his hands so early it becomes impossible for him to back out without consequences. It’s clear that Avilio is willing to accept some level of collateral damage if it gets him where he needs to be, and he lies and betrays as easily as breathing. Avilio never gets to the point of being completely unsympathetic, but many times the audience feels like Corteo, his friend and only confidante, watching Avilio slide deeper and deeper into a pit from which he might never return.

Though there are parts of the series that feel like they don’t belong in a period mafia show (the character Fango and the bounty hunter after Nero in the early episodes), every time 91 Days drops into a small town grocery store, or I look at how the characters dress, the detail grounds me in the setting again.

The biggest flaw in the series is probably its ending. After a pitch perfect lead-up to the finale, the final episode feels drawn out and ends ambiguously, which is disappointing for those who prefer something more concrete.

It’s thematically fitting, considering Avilio’s journey, but the result is an unsatisfying bump at the end of what has otherwise been an excellent series.

I would still recommend 91 Days though because it’s a fantastic mafia revenge story and it’s pleasantly self-contained since it’s not based on any other media. Avilio is a crafty protagonist who I never get tired of watching, and I like that we very rarely get inside his head. His actions speak in place of his words, and it’s a testament to the animation that we can feel for a protagonist who says so little.

Number of Episodes: 12

Pluses: perfectly captures the dissonance between a mafioso’s private and public life, Avilio is an extremely canny and interesting protagonist to watch, great sense of tension

Minuses: sometimes Avilio’s plans only work because other characters are too stupid, Corteo sometimes fades out of the story like the writers forgot him, ambiguous ending

91 Days is currently streaming at Crunchyroll and is available subtitled. Crunchyroll has licensed this for eventual retail distribution in the US.

Laurie 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, Strange Horizons, and the Year’s Best YA Speculative Fiction.

Anime Review: Orange

written by Laurie Tom


Orange is a romance/high school drama with a speculative twist. Sixteen-year-old Naho Takamiya discovers a letter from herself from ten years into that future that tells her to watch for a new transfer student, Kakeru Naruse, who will become one of her friends. Though happiness has not eluded future Naho, she has many regrets over things that she wishes her younger self had done differently.

As predicted, Kakeru joins her class that same day, and he’s quickly absorbed into Naho’s circle of friends (both male and female). Though she knows from her letter that Kakeru will not live to see the end of the school year, teenage Naho can’t help falling in love with him.

Orange at its best can be an emotional watch, not because we know that Kakeru does not exist ten years from now, but because his death didn’t have to happen, and we get a front row seat to all the missed moments that future Naho hopes to change to make a better future.

The bulk of the series takes place during Naho’s high school years, but there are periodic flash forwards that show future Naho and her high school friends ten years later, and the events that lead up to why she decides to send the letter.

Each episode the story weaves in what is currently happening to teenage Naho with adult Naho’s regrets and advice, and the combination works extremely well even when events begin to diverge. We know that teenage Naho keeps a diary, so it is not out of the question that the highly detailed letter from her future self is possible (getting events down to the day) because she was probably cross-referencing her diary when she sent it.

Interestingly, knowledge of the future doesn’t mean that Naho has an easy ability to change the past. Though teenage Naho changes small things early on, such as getting the nerve to participate as a pinch hitter for her friends’ softball team, she is still herself, with all the insecurities that come with being an introverted high school girl. Even with the prodding of her future self, she can’t always break free of her innate personality, and it’s clear that she’s trying the best she can.

Having been a painfully shy teenage girl, I completely understand that, and we see the younger Naho make mistakes that would be easily solvable by someone with a more aggressive personality, but that’s not her. Future Naho can tell her younger self to do things all she wants, but everything is easier in hindsight.

As for Kakeru, whose life and death is what sets this whole thing in motion, he’s his own character and not an idealized love interest. His story is woven, bit by bit into each episode, and not in a necessarily getting to know a person sort of way. A fair bit of the information comes from the future and those who’ve gathered to celebrate his birthday ten years after his passing. (I have to wonder if this is a Japanese thing, because this is not the first anime I’ve seen where friends gather for the birthday of a lost friend.)

Kakeru isn’t perfect and like Naho, feels a lot like a person we could have been or could have known in high school. He integrates well with Naho and her friends, and makes dumb mistakes like dating a girl he’s not really into just because she has a cute face. Among his more blockhead moments is being surprised that Naho would stop calling him in the morning to wake him up after he gets a girlfriend.

But Kakeru remains highly sympathetic, as the series readily shows us that people make mistakes, even when they have the best of intentions, and Kakeru is carrying a difficult weight that we don’t discover until well into the series.

The future Naho knows she can’t change her own past, and it’s made clear that Orange subscribes to the multiverse form of time travel, where changes made in the past simply spin off a different timeline. I don’t think her adult self is entirely unhappy in her present either, having started a family with Suwa, one of her other high school friends, but knowing that she could have changed things for the better makes it worth sending the letter even if she will never see the results of her work.

I enjoyed having the older versions of the characters around, as it’s possible to see how they’ve changed over the years. No one is unrecognizable, but they really do feel like older, more mature versions of their high school selves.

It’s also worth addressing potential concerns about Naho’s friend Suwa, who becomes her husband in the future, since he’s a key character in the present. It is tempting to think that Naho would rather have married Kakeru if he had lived, and that’s why she sent the letter, but it’s made clear that she deeply cares for Suwa, as her letter takes pains to ask her younger self to notice what Suwa does for her, and to not take him for granted.

Orange sags a little in its second half. Part of this is because it becomes increasingly obvious that Naho cannot tackle the goal of saving Kakeru by herself, but also because the show starts to worry about just how the letter got back to the past when it was better left unsaid. Though a speculative series by nature, Orange tries too hard to explain how the time travel could have happened at a time when the audience is already invested and doesn’t care.

Despite those stumbles, the show pulls itself together for a tearjerker of an ending that feels satisfying for the efforts of both Nahos. Tissues recommended.

Number of Episodes: 13

Pluses: Realistic depiction of depression, characters that feel like people we were or knew in high school without being stereotypes, how present and future stories are woven together

Minuses: Second half’s plot revelations seem a little contrived, some questionable decision making by characters (though generally forgivable due to their ages), doesn’t really address what life will be like post-ending

Orange is currently streaming at Crunchyroll and is available subtitled. Crunchyroll has licensed this for eventual retail distribution in the US.

Laurie 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, Strange Horizons, and the Year’s Best YA Speculative Fiction.

Fall 2016 Anime First Impressions

written by Laurie Tom

Fall is well under way and the new anime debuted in October. As usual I watched the first episode of each to decide which series I would like to follow this season.

Because of the new streaming partnership between Funimation and Crunchyroll, this fall is unusual in that everything I watch is now on Crunchyroll since I prefer subtitles. Those who prefer dubs can still find those streaming on Funimation, if a dubbed version exists, but neither site has an exclusive on a particular show anymore now that they’re sharing all new simulcast licenses acquired by either company.

I’m still amazed that such a thing as simulcast dubbing exists. Funimation’s schedule runs about 2-3 weeks behind the Japanese broadcast.



Why I Watched It: Normally I would pass on yet another take on vampires (it seems the rest of the world is just as crazy about them as Americans), but this series is based on a Chinese web comic, and the Japanese rarely do a direct adaptation of work from another country, so I figured this is probably something special.

What I Thought: Bloodivores, dopey title aside, is a little rough around the edges. It does places its own spin on vampires by making their condition an unexpected (and apparently permanent) side effect of a medication intended to suppress a disease, but doesn’t really dig into the world building on how bloodivores and normal humans coexist. The main plot doesn’t show until about halfway through, when protagonist Mi Liu and his bloodivore friends are framed for the murder for fifteen people, by which time the plot gets busy, fitting in a lot of father-son angst over a missing mother, and setting up a cliffhanger.

Verdict: I’m probably going to pass. I’m still a little curious, and it’s possible to see the Chinese origin in subtle ways aside from character names, but the series doesn’t seem that interested in world building and the next episode looks it takes a (very random) hard left turn into Hunger Games territory, with monsters.

Where to find stream: Crunchyroll

Izetta: The Last Witch

izetta the last witch

Why I Watched It: I jumped back and forth on whether to watch this one because of the World War II setting. Though I like it, I feel burnt out on the time period. Then I found out the series is set in an WW2 analog rather than the real world, and I was afraid it would trivialize all the problems surrounding the war, especially with how bright and colorful the promo art was of the titular witch. But finally word of mouth convinced me to give it a shot.

What I Thought: Izetta doesn’t bother to hide that its fictional world is based on WW2, as the first episode even has a WW2-era map showing the Germania Empire’s blitzkreig into Livonia (Poland) and subsequent subduing of Thermidor (France) with Brittania remaining as its primary enemy. The story follows Princess Finé of the fictional Duchy of Eylstadt, located in the eastern third of what would be Austria and she’s one of the more capable heroines in anime as there isn’t a love interest in sight as she and her bodyguards evade enemy agents on a well choreographed train sequence. The bad guys are mostly stereotypical Nazi stand-ins, which is disappointing since I want the 1940s-style time period to be more than set dressing.

Verdict: I might watch this one, time permitting. I do like Finé and, with the titular Izetta showing up at the end of the episode, I like the idea of two girls against an empire, but this time period has been so done to death that I need more complexity from both sides of the conflict.

Where to find stream: Crunchyroll (subtitled) and Funimation (dubbed, subscription required)

March Comes in Like a Lion

march comes in like a lion

Why I Watched It: I don’t know how to play shogi, but one of the fun things about anime is that they can make a series about anything and people will watch if it’s interesting. March Comes in Like a Lion was one of the highest anticipated titles coming into the season due to its manga pedigree.

What I Thought: I’m really not certain why it’s so well regarded, at least from the opening episode. There’s some interesting imagery where Rei’s thoughts seem to be mirrored through the use of water, but there’s a lot of mood whiplash which makes me wonder what kind of story it’s supposed to be. The opening nine minutes are so tense that Rei doesn’t even speak. Then the atmosphere takes a comical turn when we meet a bunch of girls who appear to be family friends, only for the mood to reverse again when he hears about someone getting beaten to death on the news. It’s implied he knows the person, but much like his relationship to the girls, how he knows them isn’t spelled out. The episode finally ends with someone who looks like a wannabe rival showing up and taunting him like he came out of a kid’s show.

Verdict: I’m going to pass. I have no idea where it’s going, and while the opening nine minutes were a great exercise showing Rei’s isolation and ability to play shogi, rest of the episode just doesn’t hold up.

Where to find stream: Crunchyroll and Daisuki

Natsume Yujin-cho 5

natsume yujin-cho go

Why I Watched It: I’d previously reviewed the first four seasons of Natsume’s Book of Friends (the translated title used for the home video release) and expected that would be the end of the series. But four years later the series about a good-natured teenage boy who can see spirits has been revived for a fifth go around. It’s being animated by a different studio, but all the original cast is back as well as some of the production team.

What I Thought: Despite the studio change, Natsume Yujin-Cho slips almost flawlessly back into the saddle. Once again Natsume is confronted with a problematic yokai whose issue with him is rooted in the history it has with his grandmother Reiko. It’s not going to convert anyone who doesn’t already like the series, but being episodic, it’s very easy for new viewers to slip into as the first few minutes quickly bring everyone up to speed on his ability to see yokai and his isolation from other humans because of it.

Verdict: I’ll be watching. It’s not really a binging type of series, but with the previous series each episode was a great little pick-me-up whenever I wanted something low key and sweet.

Where to find stream: Crunchyroll

Poco’s Udon World

poco's udon world

Why I Watched It: A lot of Japanese storytelling has no issue mixing the spirit world with the mundane. It’s one of the fun things that I don’t get with a lot of western material. Poco’s Udon World follows that tradition with a story about a 30-year-old man who discovers a childlike fox spirit when he goes home to inherit the family business.

What I Thought: Better than I thought! When Souta Tawara goes home to rural Kagawa Prefecture it’s to clean out the family home so it can be sold after the proper mourning period. His father’s udon restaurant is closed, but people keep wanting him to open it up again and we get to see snippets of his childhood from when he wanted to be just his like dad to a young adult where he says the last thing he wants is to take over the restaurant. The tanuki (not a fox!) keeps things from staying too melancholy, but it feels like this is very much Souta’s story about finding what he really wants, and I hope it stays that way.

Verdict: I’ll be watching. I find Souta easily relatable and the tanuki (presumably to be named Poco later) is surprisingly cute without being annoying. This is important because the tanuki spends most of its screen time with the appearance as a human toddler with a limited vocabulary.

Where to find stream: Crunchyroll



Why I Watched It: After the mixed result that was Rampo Kitan, I continued to see mystery writer Rampo Edogawa’s name cropping up in various places. He’s had a huge effect on the Japanese mystery genre. Unfortunately little of his work is available in English, so when I saw a new project based on his Kogoro Akechi stories was launched I figured I’d give it a shot.

What I Thought: Trickster feels like an odd throwback to the 90s, with its sort of near future science fiction setting and especially with its confident and relentlessly upbeat protagonist, Hanasaki. He’s probably not going to be a deep character, but that’s okay since he has an ensemble cast with him. Worth mentioning, though not in a positive way, is Kobayashi, a immortal boy who does have powers and wants to die (badly). The most grating part of the first episode is listening to Kobayashi whine about how he wants to die but can’t. It might have meaning later, but his half-hearted attempts to kill himself come off as rather pathetic than character building.

Verdict: I might watch this one. It depends on how much Kobayashi ends up annoying me and how much Hanasaki can make up for it. (There might be something about the original Kobayashi from Edogawa’s fiction, since I disliked the Rampo Kitan version too.)

Where to find stream: Crunchyroll

Yuri on Ice

yuri on ice

Why I Watched It: I was completely sold by the trailer. I’d seen some nicely animated ice skating in Death Parade, but Yuri on Ice‘s animation is just gorgeous. The movement is fluid and realistic, and I think it’s telling that they hired an Olympic choreographer to work on the routines for the different skaters.

What I Thought: You can really see the homework the animation team did on the skating sequences, and fortunately Yuri on Ice isn’t just about its looks. The story follows figure skater Yuri Katsuki who at 23 is already fading from the international stage. He’s a relatable protagonist, having feelings of inadequacy, inability to focus, and even dealing with weight issues (which is incredibly rare for a male character). Of course all that is set to change when a friend’s kid uploads a video of him beat-for-beat copying the reigning world champion’s routine in a private skate, and the world champion himself shows up at Yuri’s door to be his new coach.

Verdict: I’ll be watching. I’m a fan of figure skating in general and Yuri so easy to root for that I want to see his journey.

Where to find stream: Crunchyroll (subtitled) and Funimation (dubbed, subscription required)

Conspicuously missing:

The Great Passage – Based on a bestselling novel about a salesman who gets recruited into his company’s dictionary editing project. Since The Great Passage is a Noitamina production it should be covered by the exclusivity agreement it has with Amazon, but it’s only streaming in Amazon UK, and not in the United States. Dictionary editing probably sounds like a very boring premise for a series, which I suspect is the reason Amazon is not simulcasting this, which is a shame since early impressions from outside the US are good.

Laurie 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, Strange Horizons, and the Year’s Best YA Speculative Fiction.

Anime Catch-Up Review: Knights of Sidonia

written by Laurie Tom


Knights of Sidonia is one of the few anime series in recent years that was brought over to the US, but never simulcast. While I heard the series was good, it missed a lot of the seasonal round-ups because no one could watch it during its original airing.

I finally had the opportunity see it and decided to give it a shot, even though I heard that the second half doesn’t hold up to the first.

If you like hard science fiction in your anime though, the first half will entertain you plenty, as a lot of things that go unaccounted for in other series (like the fact a combat pilot in a cockpit needs some way of urinating without ruining his spacesuit) are called out and accounted for.

The sheer grittiness of the characters’ situation calls to mind similarities to 2013’s hit Attack on Titan. Once again we follow the last known bastion of human civilization, fighting a relentless enemy that cannot be communicated or reasoned with. Characters are introduced and wiped out, and tough decisions are made between the lives of a few or the survival of humanity.

For unknown reasons, the spaceship-sized aliens called gauna attacked and destroyed the Earth centuries ago, scattering what remained of humanity on hundreds on seed ships. As far as the crew of the Sidonia is aware, they are the only remaining ship and they have just 28 kabizashi spears, which are the only weapons capable of piercing and destroying the core of a gauna, preventing their regeneration.

Due to the devastation caused to Sidonia in its the last war with the gauna and the loss of food processing facilities, children born in the past hundred years have been genetically modified to photosynthesize and only eat normal food about once a week. In order to rebuild population numbers, there are also a number of clones and humanity now has a third gender, which eventually develops into male or female depending on the partner they choose.

Knights of Sidonia is animated almost entirely by computer. Though the character designs reflect the old hand-drawn anime style, it’s often possible to see how they look a little “off” due to being computer models, but using CG has its advantages. The Sidonia has been sailing for at least six hundred years, and the ship, the mecha, even the pilots’ suits have a scuffed, lived-in look that would have been hard to conventionally animate.

The story follows one particular pilot, Nagate Tanikaze, who has a history he (but not the audience) is largely unaware of. Though he starts out an oddity for his inability to photosynthesize, he turns out to be a fantastic pilot, largely because he’s trained in a simulator since childhood to use one particular model.

Nagate ends up having other advantages in his court, but at least in the first half of the show, it doesn’t feel like he’s a superhero so much as extremely competent. He might be a hero who comes out of nowhere, but there’s a foundation for it and winning battles is a team effort. By the second half it’s a little more wearing as Nagate is the one who gets all the mecha upgrades, and gets to do all the cool stuff, when one would think the Sidonia would spread the love around with their other pilots.

Since the show does not cover the full length of the manga, it ends on a major combat victory rather than a story arc, leaving the intentions of several characters unanswered. The second half of the show in particular feels like someone hit the fast forward to make sure the story hit that battle before ending.

It’s not that the plot feels rushed so much as details are glossed over and the fallout of certain actions don’t feel fully considered. Things that ought to be a major power shift just happen and everyone accepts it.

Knights of Sidonia is also oddly two-faced about its treatment of women. On the one hand there are no shortages of capable women, from the most senior combat pilot on Sidonia, to the ship’s subcommander (effectively their battle tactician), to the Sidonia captain herself. Uniforms are practical and nobody questions their skills or position on account of gender.

But there are several shots of female characters photosynthesizing (which requires nudity). They aren’t particularly male gazey since the shot may be in the distance or focus on their faces, but this never happens with the men. Also, just about every female or potentially female character in Tanikaze’s social circle seems to dig him in a potentially romantic manner.

If anyone’s emotions override their sensibilities in combat to the point they’re sobbing and not listening anymore, it’s always a female pilot, so while some women in the show kick major ass, there are times that feel like the writer needed someone to be emotionally broken up so he picked one of the women. There’s one early female pilot death that had me shaking my head because given her rank she should have been made of sterner stuff.

Unusually for anime, there is also a non-binary/third gender character, though the English subtitles don’t treat them particularly kindly. When Nagate has trouble figuring out their gender, Izana says people like them aren’t specifically male or female, instead taking on characteristics of the opposite gender when they choose a partner.

Unfortunately, the subtitles (and presumably the dub) default to referring to Izana as “she,” most likely because Izana sounds like and is played by a woman. The only character who specifically refers to Izana as a “he” is another woman, specifically because she doesn’t want Izana to become fond enough of Nagate to transition, but technically Izana isn’t either. This would have been less of a problem in Japanese since it’s not a gendered language and it’s very easy to talk about someone in the third person without revealing whether they’re a man, woman, or something else.

It feels like a terrible case of miscasting though, because Izana’s voice is so female that when I first saw them I didn’t realize the reason Nagate was staring was because he couldn’t figure out their gender. Izana has a slender build and stands the same height as the other female characters, with the primary difference being a flat chest, and that wasn’t enough to visually read as third gender. In retrospect the only way I might have known otherwise is that Izana’s cadet uniform is not the one worn by women.

Considering that there are many Japanese women who play convincing teenage boy roles in anime, it’s disappointing the casting director couldn’t have found one for Izana, which would have helped give the viewer the same impression as Nagate.

Though I wish there was a legal free streaming option, I have to admit that Netflix made a good choice for their first exclusive anime license. The platform promotes binge-watching, and Knights of Sidonia ends on so many cliffhangers it’s definitely suited to the format.

Number of Episodes: 24

Pluses: gritty space combat with a fair dose of realism, swift moving plot, several highly competent female characters

Minuses: inconclusive ending, later episodes make Nagate too much of the ace pilot everyone relies on, English translation’s handling of Izana is very clumsy

Knights of Sidonia is currently streaming at Netflix (subscription required) and is available both subtitled and dubbed. Sentai Filmworks has licensed this for Blu-ray/DVD in the US.

Laurie 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, Strange Horizons, and the Year’s Best YA Speculative Fiction.

Anime Movie Review: Digimon Adventure tri: Reunion

written by Laurie Tom

digimon tri reunionI did not grow up with Digimon in that I had just graduated college when it started airing, but it was one of the last series I watched as a Saturday morning cartoon. People who haven’t seen it tend to dismiss it as a Pokemon knock-off, for featuring young children with monster buddies, but it did something that Pokemon did not. It allowed its protagonists to mature and grow up.

Digimon had always maintained in-universe that no matter how old you were, even if you became an adult, your partner digimon would always be there for you. Intelligent and able to speak, partner digimon are a pint-sized buddy that can be temporarily supercharged to grow into more powerful versions of themselves. No matter how badly their human screws up (and some of them do), the digimon are loyal for life.

Digimon Adventure tri is the 15th anniversary project originally intended for spring of 2015 and was devised as a TV show until it was revamped as a six part movie series.

It is clearly a nostalgia vehicle for those who had grown up with Digimon, specifically the original Digimon Adventure and its sequel Digimon Adventure 02. The first teaser was addressed to all the Digidestined in the world, a name for the chosen children with digimon partners (and by proxy, the audience), and the opening song is a new rendition “Butterfly,” the opening theme from the first series.

Six years after their first adventure in the digital world, the oldest of the Digimon Adventure kids are now in high school with the younger ones in middle school. For the audience it’s been a much longer fifteen years, but it still feels like coming home.

Reunion glosses over most of the worldbuilding about how/why digimon exist in favor of catching up with the original cast and setting an ominous tone for what is about to happen. While parts of the movie are watchable as a newcomer, the mechanics of digimon evolution and their different forms is not addressed at all, making it unclear why some digimon change forms (even multiple times in the same battle) and others do not.

The movie knows it’s only the first of six, so it doesn’t rush itself, resulting in a pace a closer to a TV show, but without the storytelling beats expected in a half hour episode. This makes it strange that the streaming sites do divide the movie up into four TV length chunks. Episode breaks feel arbitrary as some episodes have action scenes and others don’t, and there isn’t necessarily a climax.

Most of the screen time is focused around Taichi, now in his second year of high school and being badgered by his teacher to think about what he wants to do for a career after graduation, but instead of looking to the future, he’s still caught up in his past.

The eight Digidestined are no longer as close as they used to be. Though most of the group goes to the same high school, getting together isn’t easy. Mimi now lives in America. Jo, the eldest, is consumed by studying for entrance exams for college. Taichi’s soccer game conflicts with performance day for Yamato’s band, which conflicts with the anniversary dinner for Koushiro’s parents. Takeru will go to the concert since he’s Yamato’s brother, and Sora can’t make up her mind whether to go to the concert or the game or attempt both.

Peaceful days are limited though, and the digital world collides once again with the real one when a rift opens and a Kuwagamon (a large pink beetle monster) emerges and begins wreaking havoc on the city.

With the assistance of a secret government agency that seems to have been put together in the years since the previous invasions, Taichi and the other Digidestined are reunited with their digimon partners to again fight monsters and save the lives of others.

But for Taichi, it’s surprisingly harder to go fight the bad guys now that he’s older and wiser. Reunion is unfortunately ham-handed about it, but it’s clear that watching his pet monster chase another digimon through a dense urban development and crashing into buildings everywhere isn’t giving him the same rush. He’s aware now that there could be people in those buildings. Someone could get hurt.

If you saw the trailers and wondered what happened to the new characters introduced in 02 or if they were retconned out, don’t worry. The first few minutes make it clear they’re still part of continuity. My feeling is their introductions are being held back for a later movie to avoid having twelve returning lead characters to catch up with at the same time.

There is also a new girl, Meiko, who has a digimon partner, and by virtue of being new, she is probably the crux around which the new events are happening. I’m not sure how well her inclusion will work though, since as a character she has to match up against all the nostalgia value of the other eight. She still doesn’t quite fit in by the end of the first movie, though arguably it’s because there has barely been the screen time to get to know her and the revelation that she even has a partner is only towards the very end.

Overall, I enjoyed watching Reunion because with the exception of Taichi, it felt like visiting an old friend and finding out we still click, but I find this difficult to recommend as an entry point for new fans. There is too much to catch up on, which is too bad since I would have liked a more grown up Digimon series to introduce people to. For previous fans though, it plays like a Digimon Greatest Hits.

Digimon Adventure tri is currently streaming subtitled on Crunchyroll and Hulu.

Laurie 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, Strange Horizons, and the Year’s Best YA Speculative Fiction.

Anime Review: Ushio and Tora

written by Laurie Tom

ushio and toraWhen I first started watching anime I wasn’t too picky, because there wasn’t much available, so I watched a lot of genres that I wouldn’t anymore.

One of those early series was a direct to video supernatural action series called Ushio and Tora. It was fairly violent, but made tolerable by its endearing leads, the titular Ushio and Tora. Only ten episodes were animated, but the popular manga series eventually ran a whopping 33 volumes.

Fast-forward almost twenty years and in mid-2015 a new Ushio and Tora TV series was launched, spanning 39 episodes and covering the entire storyline. Despite being 20 years old, Ushio and Tora quite frankly doesn’t care and runs with with the same cheeky attitude (and wild hair!) that it did in the 90s.

At the start of the series, teenage Ushio discovers a hidden cellar in his dad’s monastery while being condemned to do his chores. However, once he opens the cellar he discovers a living demon pinned in the cellar by an enchanted spear. After an amusing conversation during which the demon promises to eat Ushio as soon as he frees him, Ushio shuts up the cellar door and plans to ask his dad about it later.

But things don’t stay that simple. Just by opening the door, Ushio released 500 years’ worth of demonic energy that has been building up and his home is suddenly attracting yokai of all kinds. The only way to drive them off (and save his classmates who came to visit) is to free the demon who promises he can take them out.

The demon does try to renege on his promise, but there’s a slight problem in that since Ushio pulled out the enchanted Beast Spear, he’s now the wielder of it, and the Beast Spear gives him the power to not only fend off the demon, but beat him back in line.

And this is the start of the frenemy partnership of Ushio and Tora (“Tora” being the name Ushio gives to the demon).

They make a fantastic duo, with Ushio being the constant optimist and Tora the pessimist. Ushio wears his heart on his sleeve and says he would gladly cry tears if it means someone else won’t have to. Tora can’t admit he cares about anyone but himself (though his actions say otherwise). One of the ongoing jokes is Tora promising to eat Ushio one day, and as time goes on, finding excuses not to do it (yet).

The violence is censored somewhat for the TV run, using shadows and discretionary shots that the original did not bother with, but it doesn’t detract since blood and gore isn’t as much of the point as the action and the buddy dynamics between the two leads. If the snark between them wasn’t so good this series wouldn’t have made it as far as it does, but even if the characters aren’t too deep, they’re entertaining to watch.

And that’s a good thing considering that the series starts off in a monster of the week fashion, which is unavoidable when following the manga. A fair bit of it is streamlined to fit the 39 episode run, but there are still a lot early one-off episodes that only later play a larger role as the series progresses. Because of this, Ushio and Tora is not particularly binge-able at the start, you can tell at the time the manga was created the artist was still trying to get his storytelling legs under him, but once the greater plot comes out it makes for fine viewing.

The source of all the woes in Ushio and Tora comes from Hakumen no Mono, a nine-tailed fox so powerful and malevolent that even other demons fear it. Hakumen has no redeeming qualities and is impossible to sympathize with, but it’s so damn freaky that even when it’s ranting about death and destruction it works. The audience isn’t meant to understand how such a creature is possible, it just is.

Veteran voice actress Megumi Hayashibara is unrecognizable as the voice of Hakumen no Mono, and initially her casting seems odd. Usually such a demon would be voiced with a deep bass, but Hayashibara gives us a scratchy and hissing Hakumen no Mono in a register where it’s not possible to guess a gender. And because it’s not the voice we expect, it feels wrong, just like it looks wrong.

A nine-tailed fox should be beautiful, but Hakumen is twisted, with eyes that are too big and a body that is too thin.

Between Hayashibara’s excellent performance and sparing visual use of Hakumen itself, the show does an excellent job of building up just how terrifying the fully unleashed Hakumen no Mono ought to be. I haven’t seen such a good build up of an earth-shattering, apocalypse level villain in a long time. Hakumen feels unstoppable, even though it’s imprisoned for the majority of the series.

Ushio and Tora isn’t going to win awards for its plot, but as a shounen action series it’s good fun, and since it’s based on a completed manga, it has no filler. Everything gets used eventually by the end. If you like shounen material, and don’t want to sit through 100+ episodes to get to the end (if the end is even there), Ushio and Tora is worth checking out.

Number of Episodes: 39

Pluses: entire storyline is animated and filler free, Ushio and Tora are entertaining and compelling leads, Hakumen no Mono is an incredibly good villain

Minuses: slow pacing at the start of the series, characters and plot aren’t particularly deep, filler removal creates the impression that everyone Ushio meets has to be involved in some way

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

Laurie 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, Strange Horizons, and the Year’s Best YA Speculative Fiction.

Anime Review: Joker Game

written by Laurie Tom

joker game

Joker Game isn’t the series I thought it would be, but it’s not the series I feared it would be either, and that’s both good and bad.

The story starts in 1937, in the midst of Japan’s invasion of China leading up to WW2. Lieutenant Colonel Yuuki has started up a specially trained spy organization known as D-Agency. The men who have graduated its rigorous training are regarded as both mavericks and monsters for adhering to tactics that the prevailing military thinking at the time regards as cowardly or even sacrilegious.

The opening two-parter is a delicious start, with conventionally trained Lieutenant Sakuma arriving as a military liaison between D-Agency and the Imperial Army. Sakuma quickly gets caught up in a cat and mouse game between D-Agency and his own superior that ends the first episode on a glorious cliffhanger with no obvious way out.

From there the series spins off into an anthology format, featuring a different spy each episode, with mixed results. For one, it really hurts to lose Sakuma’s outsider perspective. Since he’s not a spy, he doesn’t hide what he’s thinking and we get to follow along with his thought process. This doesn’t happen with the other characters, who are trained agents and reveal nothing more than their cover. The show plays its cards so close to its chest that sometimes it’s not possible to figure out what happened until the danger is over and it’s safe to debrief.

It makes sense, considering these men are working deep undercover rather than the more glamorous James Bond sort of agent, but it means that many times the viewer can’t put all the pieces of the story together until the last five minutes of the episode when the show reveals what we could not have known before.

On the one hand, it allows the spies to show their skills, and watching them is like seeing a magic trick without knowing how it’s done, but on the other, some things don’t make sense until context is given, and unlike magic tricks, we need the context to fully appreciate what happened.

I’d also argue that the two episodes following the opening two parter are among the weakest of the batch (though Hatano’s creativity in making an escape rivals Jason Bourne) since the spies involved are either dealing with temporary amnesia or primarily operating in the background, but there are some standouts in Episode 5 “Robinson” and Episode 6 “Asia Express.”

Each spy has his own strengths so the nature of their assignments results in a different feel for every episode. One episode might take place on an ocean liner in full sunlight. Another might happen mostly in an interrogation room after a spy’s identity has been compromised.

Now for the elephant in the room.

Joker Game takes place before or during WW2, depending on the episode, and from history, we know that Japan was among the aggressors. The show even opens with the Japanese populace celebrating the invasion of Qingdao.

The series combats approval of this history in two ways (in addition to a disclaimer that reminds audiences that this is a work of fiction). The first is the reminder of Japan being unprepared to deal with the western world, resulting in unequal treaties. Historically this was true and very much a legitimate concern, so it is understandable that Japan would want a spy agency to keep up with their western peers.

The second way is what makes D-Agency such a maverick in its time period.

Nationalism was high in WW2 and the military still adhered to a bushido-inspired code. But the two rules of D-Agency are: Don’t kill. Don’t die.

There is a good reason for this. Bodies bring up questions, and for a spy relying on discretion, they don’t want bodies to be found, whether it’s their own or an enemy’s. This code makes the spies of D-Agency more sympathetic because they aren’t killers, but runs counter to common military thinking of the time, which favors a more direct approach. Lt. Col. Yuuki finds the Imperial Army’s thinking to be backwards and even foolish as he and his team work to outwit all comers.

It’s also clear that D-Agency does not entirely trust Germany, since one spy expresses surprise at the side of the war his country has chosen, and another spy operates in Germany even after the war begins and the two countries are supposed to be allies.

If you can buy into a spy agency that is loyal to its country, if not what its country is fighting for, Joker Game is worth a shot. The obligatory Shanghai episode (Japan occupied it throughout the war) was a potential for the show to go very, very wrong, but did not end up offending me, and put a spotlight on military corruption in the city.

Though there is some spy versus spy involving the Allied powers, the show is careful to keep the conflict a human one (or to make the Allied spy such a bastard even his allies wouldn’t like him) so there are no hard feelings at the end of the episode. None of the spies ever deliver a smoking gun that could be tied to a historical offensive, so they can remain the good guys, rooting out corruption, traitors, and other spies.

One point that I would like to raise separately from the quality of the show is that D-Agency is composed entirely of men, and women only play bit parts in the series. While I’m sure the Imperial Army wasn’t about to start drafting women, D-Agency revels in the creative and unorthodox, so it seems odd that Yuuki would not have recruited at least one, especially since historically Japan did have a female spy in WW2, Yoshiko Kawashima.

Yuuki explains his reason for not doing this in the final episode, but quite frankly his reasoning is a load of horse pucky and applies to both genders, as is quite apparent in the context of the conversation.

It may have been difficult to arrange for a single Japanese woman living abroad given the time period, but D-Agency clearly works within Japan as well as without, and there’s no shortage of opportunities for a woman to do spywork domestically. Yuuki is already aware that some women are perfectly capable of seeing through the blind spots even the military men miss. It’s a shame he doesn’t capitalize on that.

Number of Episodes: 12

Pluses: characters are extremely smart and believable about their spywork, seldom explored perspective from a contentious time period, writers clearly did their homework

Minuses: spies get minimal screentime in some episodes (they might not even be the POV character), frequently not possible to understand the full situation until the end of the episode, not possible to get attached to the cast since they’re constantly rotating

Joker Game is currently streaming at Crunchyroll and is available subtitled.

Laurie 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, Strange Horizons, and the Year’s Best YA Speculative Fiction.

Anime Catch-Up Review: Danganronpa: The Animation

written by Laurie Tom

danganronpa the animationDanganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc is probably one of the best mystery games I’ve played, and if you aren’t put off by a lot of reading, I highly recommend picking up a copy on Steam or Playstation Vita before watching the anime, since it will spoil everything in an otherwise plot-heavy game. For non-gamers, the 2013 anime offers a more condensed version of the story and it’s a surprisingly good adaptation.

The plot is quickly laid out with fifteen new students waking up trapped inside their elite high school, Hope’s Peak Academy. They are all cream of the crop, being the super baseball star, the super pop idol, the super programmer, etc, with the exception of Makoto Naegi, the main character, who is merely the super lucky, having won the lottery for an average student to attend such a privileged school.

The self-declared principal, in the form of a mechanical plush bear called Monokuma, informs the class that they will spend the rest of their lives trapped in the school, unless they wish to graduate, which is performed by murdering a fellow student and escaping detection in the subsequent class trial, where the surviving students serve as judge and jury. Monokuma gleefully covers the last part as executioner in heavily stylized sequences that would be too gruesome if presented realistically.

The premise initially invites comparisons to Battle Royale, Hunger Games, or other stories where teenagers are made to fight each other to the death, but what makes Danganronpa different is that it’s actually a mystery plot with a truth waiting to be discovered. While killing is heavily encouraged, it’s not mandatory and it’s well within the rules to collectively give up and live peacefully in the school. Some students do end up murdering each other, but the real meat of the show isn’t to witness what people are willing to do for freedom. It’s to unravel the mystery about the school itself.

Danganronpa starts with an absurdly large cast, all named, and helpfully given title cards in their initial introductions, but unfortunately it’s still a bit of information overload trying to keep track of all fifteen students, especially for someone who hasn’t played the game. The Japanese opening credits remedy this problem by presenting the cast and their titles every time they run, but they’re left untranslated in the US release.

That being said, all the characters are distinctively designed, and some of them are quite outlandish, so it’s not hard to visually tell them apart. Once a few bodies start falling, it becomes easier to remember the names and personalities of the remaining cast, and it’s possible to see why the story needs so many characters to start with. With every class trial, the cast dwindles due to the rising count of murder victims and executed murderers.

Anyone wanting to keep up with the body count will want to watch the ending credits, which changes every couple of episodes. Initially it consists of Naegi sitting in a near empty classroom, but gradually fills up as characters die and the smiling figures of his dead classmates are inserted into the photograph. It’s messed up, but very much in line with Danganronpa‘s black humor.

The show is incredibly cagey about who’s going to die when, making it unpredictable who the next victim or murderer will be. The opening credits always display all fifteen students, and no one gets extra focus. The shots of the students riding down the elevator and taking their spots in the trial room has all fifteen alive and present, even though a trial doesn’t happen until after the first murder.

Considering that a big portion of the game involves investigating the murders and presenting evidence, the show does a remarkably good job of compressing the detective work while still giving the audience everything they need to follow the trial.

But this does not mean the audience can necessarily solve the case on their own. New information comes up during the trials themselves as different students offer their personal accounts of what happened and the results of their investigations, which means the audience never comes in with a full tank. It’s realistic, and even happens several times in the game, but can be disappointing for audience members hoping to more actively join in the “whodunit.”

The innocent students have a stake in outing any murderers, because if the murderer escapes undetected, then everyone else will be executed instead. It makes the students extremely motivated to discover (or create) as coherent a truth as possible, so the class trials are among the most important sequences in the series, taking up almost half the episodes.

While the trial debates have a lot of good back and forth spread through all the cast members, probably the most bizarre issue with it for English speakers who haven’t played the game is the strange bullet firing motif that shows up when main character Naegi counters a statement made by another student.

In the game it’s a mechanic where the player as Naegi loads evidence as “ammunition” to counter arguments during class trial debates. It does not literally happen in the context of the story as it only appears in the player interface, but without it, the title Danganronpa, a compound word formed by the Japanese words for “bullet” (dangan) and “rebuttal”(ronpa), would make no sense.

Even knowing this, watching the bullets fire in the anime is probably one of the more groan-inducing parts of the adaptation, because there’s really no reason for it other than to match the title. The show otherwise does a good job in keeping the unique personality of the game, from poses characters like to use, to the soundtrack, to faithful recreations of many of the cut scenes. I love that it keeps the comic book style case summaries to show how the entire crime played out.

Despite being a 13-episode adaptation of a long and convoluted story, somehow director Seiji Kishi manages to get all the necessary narrative bits into place while staying true to the game, which is an amazing feat. Smart decisions were made about where to compress and streamline, without cutting any characters or any of the trials. For the most part, if information is not absolutely necessary (to the point the plot would break without it) it doesn’t show up.

But this also means there’s barely any time to catch one’s breath and get to know the characters. Though some students die early and don’t have an opportunity to become deeper, it becomes more problematic with the longer lasting survivors, since the emotional rally in the final episode works best knowing the kind of people they are and what they’ve gone through both before and during their current situation.

The mastermind behind Monokuma is similar shafted. Though the show explains how the killing game came to be, the why is largely neglected, which removes one of the biggest shocks the game had to offer. The final story arc really needed three episodes but was jammed into two for the original broadcast, and I think it’s telling that the home video release expands the last episode by 14 minutes.

Having seen both the streaming/broadcast version (on first watch) and the home video (on second watch), I can confirm the additional minutes fix my complaint about the mastermind’s motivation and vastly improve the ending.

I highly recommend Danganronpa for its novelty and the surprise twists, but unfortunately the easiest version to experience is the streaming one. It’s not that the original broadcast ending is poor, but as someone who knows what the original was like, it was disappointing to see what was “excellent” downgraded to just “good.”

Even so, it’s stands well enough as its own story, and viewers who have not played the game won’t necessarily be reaching for the wiki. It may be about high school students trying to kill each other, but the mystery slant is a new tack and a fun one to see unravel.

Number of Episodes: 13

Pluses: Faithful adaptation of the game, crazy plot twists in second half, good at keeping the audience in the evidence loop during trials

Minuses: Final trial really needed to be three episodes instead of two, lot of characterization skimmed over, villain’s motivation never explained (streaming/broadcast version only)

Danganronpa is currently streaming at Hulu and Funimation and is available both subtitled and dubbed. Funimation has licensed this for Blu-ray/DVD 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, Strange Horizons,and Crossed Genres.

Summer 2016 Anime First Impressions

written by Laurie Tom

There’s a lot of good stuff this summer, so much that I’m glad my plate is currently clean of other series because I may end up watching a bit more than usual.

91 Days

91 days

Why I Watched It: Original mafia TV series set in the Prohibition era? Sign me up. The story is to take place over 91 days during which the protagonist returns to his old stomping grounds to exact revenge for the murder of his family.

What I Thought: I hadn’t expected that Angelo was only a kid when his parents and brother are killed in a change of power in the mafia family his father belonged to, and he grows into a teenager under the new name Avilo Bruno to hide his real identity. Despite his age, Angelo is fairly hard bitten and we don’t see the entirety of his plan in the first episode, but it looks like his goal is to infiltrate the Vanetti Family, because it will easier to exact revenge when his target thinks he’s a trusted comrade. What we do get is some bootlegging, a violent encounter with the powerful Ocro Family, which leads into Angelo and his friend Corteo meeting up with Nero Vanetti, who was one of the men responsible for killing Angelo’s family.

Verdict: I’ll be watching! Though the setting looks more European than East Coast, the show strikes the period mood it goes for with its reserved color palette and brutal gang wars. Also worth mentioning is that Corteo is a PoC, which is rare for a mafia drama. Angelo probably isn’t a protagonist people are going to relate to, but the guy’s got guts, so he’ll probably be fun to watch.

Where to find stream: Crunchyroll



Why I Watched It: Berserk is not my normal cup of tea. I dislike grimdark fantasy in general, and the series is known to have a way with mentally and physically breaking its characters. But I got to know the protagonist, Guts, before I knew all that, while watching my brother play one of the Berserk video games, so I’m more inclined to give this a shot.

What I Thought: Though the anime is not starting at the beginning of the manga, I feel like the opening episode establishes all that really needs to be known about Guts before jumping in. He’s cursed, some bad mojo went down in his past, and it’s a really bad idea for anyone decent to hang around him because they’re probably going to get killed. The animation is a little janky with the obviously computer animated enemies versus the 2D appearing Guts, but considering the world itself doesn’t seem quite right, that’s probably okay. A group of bandits get eaten by forest demons before they even get close to getting revenge on Guts, so this is clearly a messed up place to be. Guts himself is a little ridiculous when it comes to combat ability, there’s even a narrator explaining how his sword is too big to realistically be considered a weapon, but the character’s no nonsense approach to everything he does sells it.

Verdict: If this was another season, I’d be watching, but there’s just too much this time around. Berserk has been one of the classics I’ve heard about for years, and this is not its first time being animated, but this is the first time this particular story arc has been.

Where to find stream: Crunchyroll

D. Gray-man Hallow

d.gray-man hallow

Why I Watched It: D. Gray-man was one of last long-running shounen series I watched, because I liked the characters and the macabre worldbuilding. If the bereaved want to bring a loved one back to life, it’s entirely possible, though the price is incredibly high. The resurrected become akuma, monsters devoted to the service of the malevolent Millennium Earl. The original series ran for 103 episodes in 2006-2008, but only half have made it to the US. In the wake of Hallow the second half has been licensed since Hallow continues the manga storyline from where the earlier series left off.

What I Thought: Can you catch up? Is it worth it? It’s possible to get a feel for how the story has progressed if one is familiar with the earlier licensed portion of the anime, but even with that grounding, it’s obvious that a lot of time has passed and some serious business has gone down. The exorcists of the Black Order look older, more battle worn, and protagonist Allen Walker is now host to the memories of someone who could be considered one of the bad guys. I wouldn’t recommend jumping in without at least some familiarity with the series, otherwise a lot of what happens in this first episode will have no weight, and there’s a lot that clearly does.

Verdict: I’m going to pass. Though I like seeing all the familiar faces again, it’s clear that I missed a huge turning point in the battle with the Earl which was probably the climax of the previous series. Now that I know the rest of the original has been licensed, I’ll wait for that to come out and watch Hallow afterwards.

Where to find stream: Funimation

Danganronpa 3: The End of Hope’s Peak Academy – Future

danganronpa 3 future

Why I Watched It: This is the conclusion to the storyline started by the Danganronpa video games and not actually based on a game itself. Because of gameplay constraints (which players will understand) it would have been difficult to provide a proper send-off to the Danganronpa 1 cast without stretching believability. This anime is supposed to do that and conclude the Hope’s Peak Academy storyline.

What I Thought: I was a little concerned by how large the cast is jumping in, but it’s aided by the fact there are a number of returning characters who survived the first killing game. People who have only watched the first anime and not played Danganronpa 2 are guaranteed to be lost though, as the second game was never animated and the two minute recap doesn’t even begin to cover what happened, but fans of both games can comfortably jump in. Oddly enough, two of the characters who ought to be returning, Byakuya and Toko, are nowhere to be seen, but hopefully they’ll have cameos later. The first episode is well paced, getting Makoto Naegi accused of treason for his actions in Danganronpa 2 as well as bringing back series villain Monokuma, who starts things off with a bang. Nothing like a murder to begin the next killing game!

Verdict: I’ll be watching. Danganronpa has a reputation for being dark with a black sense of humor, and it’s all there. Even the opening credits are fairly messed up, depicting the potentially gruesome deaths for each cast member, so the audience has no idea who will survive (though I think Makoto will make it). The writer for the Danganronpa games laid out the story for the anime-only conclusion so this is as canon as it gets.

Where to find stream: Funimation

Danganronpa 3: The End of Hope’s Peak Academy – Despair

danganronpa 3 despair

Why I Watched It: Though it’s airing in the same season, Despair is a separate show with its own opening/ending credits sequence from Danganronpa 3: The End of Hope’s Peak Academy – Future. This is a prequel to Danganronpa 2 and follows the story of the DR2 cast leading up the start of the game.

What I Thought: Being animated at the same time as the Future arc there is some crossover with the new characters, which I’m fine with since it’s helping to implant them in my memories, but unlike Future which begins and remains dark, the Despair arc’s first episode is mostly comedic and focuses on getting to know the students of Class 77 rather than any sort of plot. Given what’s to come (the arc is named Despair for a reason), I’m pretty sure that’s intentional since the mood is all downhill from here. Though it’s not possible to be spoiled from the first episode, if the story goes all or even most of the way to the start of Danganronpa 2 it will spoil one of the end game twists for anyone who hasn’t played it.

Verdict: I’ll probably be watching, but mostly because I’ll already be watching Future. Since this is a prequel I already know where they’re going to end up, it’s more of a question of how they get there and whether or not I want to watch something that’s likely to be a horrible downer. It’s worth noting that in Japan the Future arc airs before Despair and it’s possible Despair will spoil things in the former even though they take place in different time periods.

Where to find stream: Funimation



Why I Watched It: I liked the premise, that a high school girl receives a mysterious letter from herself ten years in the future, telling her that a new student is coming to her school and that she should watch him. The manga has been on my periphery for a while, so I’m looking forward to seeing what people like about it so much.

What I Thought: This series is likely to become a tearjerker due to the kicker at the end of the first episode when sixteen year old Naho Takamiya gets to the end of the letter she receives from her future self. Though there are a couple scenes in the future, most of the story takes place in the past with teenage Naho gradually reading through the letter and parsing the things her future self tells herself to do (or not do) in order to avoid her biggest regrets. Meanwhile, Naho and her friends adopt the transfer student, Kakeru, surprisingly fast, but it gets everyone introduced quickly and none of them feel like stock characters. The sequence of the six of them screwing around in the park was a lot of fun. Though there is a science fiction premise in the existence of the letter, the story itself plays more like a high school drama.

Verdict: I’ll be watching! The ending definitely sets up the stakes and will make the days to come more meaningful to Naho, but I wonder if things could potentially backfire from what her future self intended.

Where to find stream: Crunchyroll



Why I Watched It: I love the manga, where unemployed 27-year-old Arata Kaizaki takes part in an experiment to relive a year of life as a high schooler and see if he can come out of the experience with the skills necessary to fix his life as an adult (primarily, getting a full time job). The manga is great at juxtaposing the physically teenage Arata’s behavior with his chronological age as he has the perspective from having been an adult for several years, while also being completely terrible at schoolwork because he’s forgotten everything.

What I Thought: I think I laughed harder at the manga, but it translated surprisingly well to the screen considering it’s mostly a series of short scenes about Arata getting into awkward situations. This time there’s a bonus for those with some understanding of spoken Japanese since fish-out-of-water Arata speaks like an adult among strangers rather than a student among classmates. While the premise is similar to Orange along the lines of re-doing high school for fewer regrets, this is more of a comedic take with golden moments like Arata unwittingly bringing cigarettes to class without thinking about why that would be a bad idea.

Verdict: I’d like to watch, but given how crowded this season is, I’m not sure. I would highly recommend it for those who haven’t already read the manga, but the humor doesn’t seem to be quite as effective a second time around so it’s a little lower on my priority list. The episodes for this one are being posted extremely quickly rather than the usual once a week schedule, so there will likely be a full season’s worth by the time this article is posted.

Where to find stream: Crunchyroll

Sweetness and Lightning

sweetness and lightning

Why I Watched It: Slice of life isn’t entirely my thing, but I figured I’d give it a shot since this series involves a single dad raising a young daughter, and having been raised by a single dad this piques my curiosity. Interestingly, the original manga ran in a magazine for young adult men.

What I Thought: It’s definitely sweet, as Tsumugi is adorable and unusually compliant for a kindergartner. Her father Kohei is also extremely patient for a recent widower. Their family life at the start of the story feels a little too romanticized for being only six months after their loss, but that said, Kohei’s struggle to properly care, and especially cook, for his daughter rings true. We see him pass on hanging out with coworkers after work because he needs to go home to her, and him picking up prepackaged meals because he can’t cook. There’s no doubt he cares about her, but he’s not really prepared to be a single father. The only beat that feels off is the introduction of one of his students who looks to become a regular character, because I have trouble with a high school girl hanging out with her teacher outside of school.

Verdict: I’ll probably pass on account of this not being my thing, but it’s delightful to see a series squarely aimed at adults and what it’s like being a single dad of a very young child.

Where to find stream: Crunchyroll

Laurie 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, Strange Horizons, and the Year’s Best YA Speculative Fiction.

Anime Catch-Up Review: Yamada-kun and the Seven Witches

written by Laurie Tom

yamada-kun and the seven witchesI didn’t watch Yamada-kun and the Seven Witches during its initial run in Spring 2015 because I saw the title and key art, and it looked like a harem show to me. One guy, seven witches. It’s not my personal fantasy.

But that’s not what Yamada-kun is about at all.

Ryu Yamada is a high school delinquent, known for getting into fights, coming to school late, leaving early, and failing in class. That changes one day when he literally falls onto honor student Urara Shiraishi, who holds the highest grades in their class. After waking up he discovers they’ve switched bodies, and she’s actually run off and gone back to class in his body so she doesn’t miss lecture.

Though they’re two students who otherwise wouldn’t give each other the time of day, Shiraishi and Yamada quickly figure out what happened, and that they switch bodies when they kiss. They decide to take advantage of that with Shiraishi taking tests in Yamada’s place and Yamada (as Shiraishi) getting her out of her shell so she has a social life.

The fun explodes as more people figure out their secret and tests are performed to figure out the full extent of the body swapping ability, and yes, it can be daisy-chained, with Yamada switching to whoever he kisses regardless of whose body he is currently in, and switching his new host to the body he was formerly occupying (which can be a third party entirely). The voice actors and animators have a great time with this, and it’s generally pretty easy to figure out who is currently in whose body based on their performance.

Because the kiss to body swap works on anyone, this also means that there is a lot of kissing across gender lines and crazy scenes where Yamada is demanding someone kiss him because he needs to control them for some reason. Though Yamada himself appears to be straight, he (eventually) doesn’t have an issue with kissing guys if he thinks the situation demands it.

When other witches are introduced, it becomes apparent that each of them have different powers that are activated by kissing.

The result is that Yamada-kun tends to have more kissing per episode than most anime have their entire run.

There is plot in Yamada-kun besides the wacky hijinks, but it only comes out in the second half of the show as the primary cast tries to identify all seven witches that exist at their school. There is a reason that each of the witches have the specific powers they do, and it’s tied to the various insecurities that teenagers have while in high school.

Helping the witches is ultimately what the series is about, but likely not what Yamada-kun will be remembered for.

Mostly I enjoyed it for the egregious abuse of kissing-activated magic powers in an otherwise mundane setting where getting one’s first kiss is considered a big deal. I also really like Yamada and Shiraishi as leads.

The pair of them are refreshing as love interests, because they’re pretty comfortable kissing each other right off the bat. They’ve seen each other’s junk while in each other’s bodies (the show gets that out of the way in the first episode) and after the initial reveal they don’t worry about it anymore. Shiraishi’s forwardness is also a nice change from the typical female lead in anime, as she’s the one who typically initiates the kiss.

Though the manga is still running, Yamada-kun the anime completes an entire story arc that could easily be considered the end of the series if no future episodes are ever animated. I highly recommend it for anyone who likes a little romance alongside some magical hijinks.

Number of Episodes: 12

Pluses: entirely self-contained story arc, voice actors and animators do a fantastic job of letting the audience know who is currently in whose body, all that kissing!

Minuses: Tamaki’s introduction comes out of nowhere for a significant character, occasionally feels a little rushed to get all seven witches in, a few minor details won’t make sense if you look at them too hard

Yamada-kun and the Seven Witches is currently streaming on Crunchyroll 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 inGalaxy’s Edge, Strange Horizons, andCrossed Genres.