Anime Review: School-Live!

written by Laurie Tom

school-liveSchool-Live! really needed to be promoted more accurately to find its target audience, because based on the promotional art (bunch of cute school girls) and the title (very similar to Love Live!, which is about young girls becoming pop stars), I never would have guessed that this was about trying to survive several months into the zombie apocalypse!

The creative team behind it was probably trying to keep the reveal a surprise due to how the first episode is similarly set up to hide the premise, but it really doesn’t do the show any favors.

When we first meet Yuki and the School Living Club, it seems like a common slice of life show where slightly goofy/lazy Yuki doesn’t seem to do everything right, but always gives it her best. Though there are a few things that seem a little off about how other people behave around her, and there is a corridor of the school that is oddly barred off with desks stacked one on top of another, the first episode mostly plays everything as Yuki wishes things to be.

Until the veil cracks at the end, and we see the viewpoint of the most skeptical member of the School Living Club, who has come to retrieve Yuki, who is standing in the middle of a shattered classroom talking with students who are no longer there.

Though the zombie outbreak is covered to a certain degree, most of School-Live! is about staying sane in a world where stepping outside is likely to get the girls killed. The four main characters are holed up in their high school, which fortunately has solar power and a rooftop garden. They do need more than that to survive and go on dangerous supply runs when they have to, but mostly they’re able to stay inside and keep their sanity through the group they’ve formed.

The School Living Club gives the girls a sense of purpose instead of mindlessly ticking off the days that go by, and also serves as a way to control the delusional Yuki, who understands that the School Living Club is a special club that lives at school and is not allowed to leave it. In return, Yuki’s insistence on maintaining normal activities such as club trips and competitions, allows for levity in a situation where the other girls would otherwise have lost any reason to smile.

Each of the other three carries a weight with her. Yuuri is the leader, trying to hold the group together. Kurumi is the warrior, who patrols the school daily to make sure no zombies have made their way inside their safe area (and if slaying must be done, she takes care of it with a shovel). Miki is the skeptic, who knows just how bad it is to be alone at a time like this, having survived separately on her own in a shopping mall before being found by the others on a “club trip.”

Because of Yuki’s delusional nature, the show is not as dark as it could be, and there is something absurd about a club excursion that involves driving a teacher’s car out of a parking lot full of zombies, but the series is not without its more serious moments, especially after the halfway point.

Even though it seems like Yuki’s delusions shouldn’t be tolerated, it becomes easier to see that indulging her is actually helpful to the other girls as many of the things she suggests they’re able to twist into activities that benefit life in their sanctuary while simultaneously lifting their spirits. As Miki knows from her time in isolation, surviving is not the same as living.

I am not particularly a fan of the moe art style, where teenage characters are drawn much younger (even the girls’ teacher, who is probably in her 20s, looks like she’s 15). The characters are all the Japanese equivalent of juniors and seniors in high school, but they’re drawn with proportions that are closer to someone who is ten or twelve. This makes the occasional fanservice scene a little squicky.

On the other hand, the cutesy art style does help establish the incongruity of living a normal school life while there are zombies outside in the courtyard. It’s just not to my personal tastes.

School-Live! is a definite mish-mash of elements that are not usually combined. Whether it’s fake camping trips (while there are zombies outside) or a swimming episode (while there are zombies outside), it wears them very well, which makes the dark lead-in to the finale genuinely nerve-wracking as we see the destruction of what happiness the girls have been able to find.

Though the zombies themselves are not particularly different from the traditional movie zombie, the series itself is a refreshingly novel take on the sub-genre, where optimism and even happiness can still find a place. I heartily recommend it.

Number of Episodes: 12

Pluses: interesting take on how to keep sane and even happy when surrounded by zombies, capable all female cast, build up to the finale is extremely well done

Minuses: the occasional fan service feels really wrong given the moe art style, sometimes Yuki gets a little too out of control and I’m surprised the others don’t invent a way to tamp down on it, even though one of the solutions at the end is plausible it still feels too easy

School-Live! 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 inGalaxy’s Edge, Strange Horizons, andCrossed Genres.

Anime Review: Rampo Kitan: Game of Laplace

written by Laurie Tom

ranpo kitan: game of laplaceRampo Kitan: Game of Laplace commemorates the 50th anniversary of the death of renowned Japanese mystery author Rampo Edogawa, and each episode is based on one of his works, updating the time period from the first half of the 20th century to modern day.

Because the original pieces are not necessarily related, this results in a particularly disjointed feeling when the third episode appears to be a simple stand alone after the two-part opener, and I wasn’t sure if the series had anything more ambitious than modernizing a collection of fiction. Fortunately, Rampo Kitan makes an effort from episode 4 on to tie everything together into a loose, but cohesive story arc.

The main characters come from the Kogoro Akechi stories, though Akechi himself is now a dour teen detective instead of a married adult. Assisting him are Kobayashi, a middle school boy with a penchant for crossdressing (a trait he had in the original works), and Hashiba, Kobayashi’s worrywort classmate.

Together they get involved in solving criminal cases (usually murder) that in the real world a teenager, let alone a couple of middle schoolers, would never be allowed near. Despite the ages of the protagonists, Rampo Kitan: Game of Laplace is definitely not for those with sensitivities as many elements of the show are violent, gross, or sexually disturbing. It makes me wonder why the adaptation team decided to make all the protagonists younger.

Rather than deal with excessively censoring the show to get it on the air, the animation studio, Lerche, opted to heavily stylize most of it, which as a result makes it a unique watch. Rampo Kitan is frequently presented as though it is on a stage, with things like interior monologues happening while the viewpoint character is standing on a wooden floor with a spotlight over them. Sets slide in and out of view as needed and autopsy reports are delivered in quick comedic sketches designed to get the grisly information across without dwelling on it.

Some of the crimes are gruesome enough that those with lighter stomachs might appreciate any attempt to soften what actually happens to some of the murder victims, even the ones that had it arguably had it coming.

The stylization extends to a few viewpoint characters who have trouble seeing the world as most people do. When the camera is depicting their points of view, individuals they don’t know or care about are not drawn recognizably as people until they become important enough to be worth it. For instance, Kobayashi, our first POV character, views most other people as simply silhouettes, indistinguishable from one another until they become intrusive enough that he’s forced to acknowledge them. Characters that cease to be important, go back to being silhouettes.

Rampo Kitan is stuffed with interesting visuals like those to frame the story and the frame of mind of the current POV character.

That said, it needs them, because the plot itself is not its strongest point, which is probably the most disappointing thing to say about a series made in honor of a celebrated mystery author.

Most of the time it’s not possible to figure out who the criminal is ahead of time, which is downright miserly for a mystery series, and as a procedural it doesn’t feel like there’s enough emphasis on procedure. If the criminal’s identity isn’t confirmed before capture, the audience rarely has a chance to draw their own conclusion, and if the criminal is revealed, then capture is rarely more complicated than bringing in enough police officers, with the exception of the main story arc villain.

After Twenty Faces becomes established as a central figure, the series gains its main plot, and Akechi is more clearly allowed to be a main character. Kobayashi dominates much of the early episodes, which is rough since he’s difficult to relate to. He’s the kind of character who is thrilled to be in the middle of a murder mystery, even if it means he’s the prime suspect, and it never quite sinks in his head that he should be bothered by that.

Kobayashi never fades away entirely, but it always felt like Akechi should be the primary protagonist, being based off Edogawa’s most famous detective. Here, as in the original stories, Akechi has a rivalry with Twenty Faces.

Despite being a teenager, Akechi feels like a young adult who has been worn down before his time. He’s constantly mashing up painkillers that he washes down with canned coffee and treats his work like a job rather than a game or a means to play hero. This makes him believable when he’s called on by the police as a consulting detective.

It feels like Rampo Kitan wanted to make a statement about society, alienation, and how the cycle of violence never ends, but it doesn’t quite make it. The only things that clearly come across are the bonds between Akechi and Twenty Faces, between Kobayashi and Hashiba, and that good people will do awful things when they feel they’ve been let down by the ones who should protect them.

Though I enjoyed Rampo Kitan I don’t think it’s one to easily recommend. It’s worth trying for something different, particularly if you like to see something new in animated story techniques, but most of the characters outside of Akechi and Twenty Faces are not that well developed and neither is the plot.

Number of Episodes: 11

Pluses: use of imagery and stylization make for a visually unique show, moving soundtrack, Akechi’s weary personality is a refreshing change from more enthusiastic teenage protagonists

Minuses: rocky beginning, too much focus on Kobayashi, plot is a little lackluster

Rampo Kitan: Game of Laplace is currently streaming at Funimation and Hulu and is available subtitled. Funimation 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 inGalaxy’s Edge, Strange Horizons, andCrossed Genres.

Anime Review: Charlotte

written by Laurie Tom


Charlotte has been my must-see series this past summer. The title is deceptively plain to the English-speaking ear, but hides one of the most emotional series about people with special powers that I’ve ever seen.

Charlotte reunites the production team behind Angel Beats, specifically writer/composer Jun Maeda, character designer Na-Ga, and animation studio P.A. Works. If you like one, there’s a good chance you’ll like the other and Maeda’s unique stamp as a writer is all over both works.

The humor is quirky, the characters are flawed, the audience has no idea where the story is ultimately going, but somewhere along the way it makes you cry, and multiple times at that. It’s actually rather hard to talk about why I like Charlotte so much without going into spoilers, and that goes doubly hard because if I hadn’t known this was a Jun Maeda series I probably wouldn’t have watched it.

Charlotte starts off simply enough. Towards the end of middle school Yu Otosaka discovers he has the ability to look at someone and possess their body for a period of five seconds (during which his own lies comatose). Being a middle schooler, he abuses this in expected middle school fashion; checking out girls’ bodies, using someone else to punch out someone he doesn’t like, and cheating on tests by possessing all the smart kids during exams to read their answers before going back to his own body.

Thanks to his power, Yu manages to cheat his is way into a prestigious high school where he’s the #1 student and manages to get the #2 to become his girlfriend by saving her life (when he used his power to set up the chain of events that put her life in danger in the first place).

First episode Yu is a colossally selfish jerk, until two things happen. 1) He’s captured by other teenagers who have special powers like him and 2) we learn that above all else he really cares for his younger sister, Ayumi.

In Charlotte some people secretly come into special powers during adolescence, and these powers stay with them for a few years before vanishing during adulthood, but their powers tend to be haphazard and not necessarily along the lines of what we would consider amazing. Yu’s possession only lasts five seconds. Tomori can turn invisible, but only to one person at a time. Takajo can accelerate to super speed without a similar ability to decelerate (and yes, that’s painful).

Tomori has Yu forcibly transferred to a special school for students with powers, or who could potentially have powers, where they can be safe from government scientists who would otherwise experiment on them. Ayumi, is also transferred to the adjoining middle school.

From there, Charlotte embarks on a string of power-of-the-week episodes where they find someone with a new power and then bring them under control either through transferring or getting them to stop. Though frequently funny, these are arguably the weakest episodes, even though the show is also laying groundwork for important revelations later.

Episode 6 is really where the show takes off and the stakes get personal, and by the time the show is in its final arc it’s flying like a bullet.

In a way that’s a little jarring, since it outwardly looks like the main cast is Yu, Tomori, Takajo, Yusa/Misa, and Ayumi, but Takajo and Yusa/Misa largely fade into the background in the second half and aren’t given much depth beyond their initial impressions.

The story of Charlotte revolves family, both conventional and non. Sure, it’s set in high school around kids with powers, but the questions it asks are more like “What would you do for your family? Would would you do if you lost them? What would you do to save them?”

Though there are few parental figures involved, all siblings in the story are ferociously devoted to each other, even if there are times that they exasperate each other. Nearly every major character has at least one sibling and unlike most narratives where they would be window dressing, Charlotte makes the audience understand and care for them like the main characters do.

Maeda’s writing takes full advantage of this as the story runs into its second half and explores what the characters have done and are willing to do for the ones they care about.

The ending is a bit odd as it runs away from some of the series’ strongest material and I’m not sure I’m entirely satisfied with it, but it does wrap everything up so there are no remaining plot threads. Mostly, it feels a shade too simplistic, possibly even too easy considering the magnitude of what Yu tries to do. It doesn’t feel rushed, but at the same time it would have been possible to take the last episode and spin it out into two or three. There was more than enough material and potential complications to comfortably do that.

I would still recommend Charlotte, because it has some very inspired and genuinely funny moments, but the ending is more of a faceplant than the spectacular send-off that I had been hoping for.

Number of Episodes: 13

Pluses: interesting premise with half-baked superpowers, lots of laughs, good at pulling on the heartstrings

Minuses: ending is emotionally weak, takes a few episodes for the real story to come out, Yusa/Misa and Takajo fade from the story in later episodes

Charlotte is currently streaming at Crunchyroll and is available subtitled. Aniplex 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 inGalaxy’s Edge, Strange Horizons, andCrossed Genres.

Fall 2015 Anime First Impressions

written by Laurie Tom

Autumn snuck up faster than expected. Ushio and Tora is the only summer show that is continuing its run into the fall, but I’m not quite as gung-ho about it as I used to be, so if there is something good here, it could possibly displace it. Fafner: Exodus is also returning after its summer hiatus, and I’m more likely to keep watching that.

I selected eight shows to check out this season and these are my impressions based on their first episode as well as which ones I’m likely to come back to.

Attack on Titan: Junior High

attack on titan junior high

Why I Watched It: While I’m still fond of Attack on Titan two years after the hype train, it’s starting to feel played out due to the constant bombardment of AoT-related spin-offs and merchandise, which is a pity since the core series is pretty good with a fantastic bit of worldbuilding. Attack on Titan: Junior High is a parody series where the main characters go to a modern day junior high, but somehow there are still titans? I’m watching out of morbid curiosity.

What I Thought: It’s cute parody series done in the chibi-style, but is definitely aimed at the AoT fanbase as it doesn’t bother explaining what titans are and some jokes only make sense if the audience is already familiar with the original. All of the original cast members reprise their roles and it’s a little odd hearing them act out what are essentially caricatures of their more serious performances. Some scenes (and definitely the opening credits) are direct callbacks to the original. The titans themselves have been de-fanged though as they now eat kids’ lunches instead of live humans. Unlike the original, I suspect the worldbuilding isn’t going to be there to explain why titans have their own school system next door to the human-populated junior high.

Verdict: I’m going to pass. It’s worth something as a curiosity, but my funny bone isn’t easy to hit and I would rather save my Attack on Titan enthusiasm for the proper return of the series in 2016 instead of settling for a parody.

Where to find stream: Funimation and Hulu

Beautiful Bones -Sakurako’s Investigation-

beautiful bones

Why I Watched It: The Japanese title translates literally into something like “A Corpse is Buried Under Sakurako’s Feet” or “Burying a Corpse at Sakurako’s Feet” and it’s so evocative it’s a pity that the official English title was changed to Beautiful Bones -Sakurako’s Investigation-. The show features a high school student and his quirky female friend, Sakurako, who investigate murders together.

What I Thought: Though Sakurako is the older of the pair, you would only know it from appearances as Shoutarou is the one constantly wrangling Sakurako’s more wild and petulant nature. We’re not told how old she is exactly, but she already works as a osteologist so she is probably in her mid-twenties. Shoutarou says the relationship isn’t romantic, and Sakurako has a fiance, but I question whether things will remain that way even if he’s still in high school. We don’t know how they met, but human bones tend to turn up whenever he’s with her and Sakurako is eager to unravel the mystery of any corpse she comes across. She’s a Holmes-style detective in that she picks up a lot the average viewer would not just by looking at a body, but that also means viewers are generally incapable of solving a case along with her.

Verdict: I was hoping for a good mystery show, but it looks like I’ll pass. I don’t really like Sakurako’s flightiness and I wasn’t that impressed with the opening mystery (which barely takes half the episode), so unless I hear the mysteries get better I probably won’t come back.

Where to find stream: Crunchyroll

Dance with Devils

dance with devils

Why I Watched It: I wasn’t going to, because it looked like an adaptation of an otome game (dating sim for girls), which generally don’t make stellar transitions to anime, but when I found this was an original vehicle I thought I would give it a try. In a nutshell, ordinary high school girl suddenly discovers a bunch of cute demon boys are into her. Hm… hitting the Twilight crowd?

What I Thought: It’s a musical! Oddly enough, having music numbers livens up what could have been a fairly standard story about a high school girl discovering that a world of good-looking demons and vampires are mysteriously hunting for some forgotten grimoire, that of course her family possesses (probably). Even though the character designs don’t do much for me, there are a lot of good plot tidbits dropped that make me interested in seeing where the story is going. The protagonist’s older brother is clearly more up on the family secret than she is as he warns her about being in danger, and considering that the shot of him on the phone shows him dressed up in some fancy priest robes means that there’s probably going to be some holy battling going on by the time he gets home.

Verdict: I’ll be watching. I didn’t think I would be, but it looks fun, and I still can’t get over the student council introduction number. It took cheesy dialogue and made it work becauses it’s a song!

Where to find stream: Funimation and Hulu

Mr. Osomatsu

mr. osomatsu

Why I Watched It: When I heard the premise was a group of anime characters from the 1960s trying to make a new home for themselves in modern day by cribbing off other anime series, I figured it was worth a look. In a nutshell, the Osomatsu sextuplets discover they’re getting a new series, but they realize that all their jokes are horribly dated because they’re decades out of touch with the audience, so they decide that they’re going to modernize themselves. And how.

What I Thought: The Osomatsu sextuplets originated in a gag manga so most of their material involves ridiculous humor, and I think their late creator probably would probably appreciate their latest incarnation. It was really hard to pick a good screenshot to represent the show since their cribbing of other series is done in a colorful world they don’t exist in, so I opted for their original B&W world. The first episode left me with a feeling of “What the heck did I just watch?!” with everything from pop idols to sports anime to Attack on Titan making an appearance. Plot? I’m not sure this show has one beyond the premise itself.

Verdict: It was funny, even though the episode defies any kind of logic, but gag humor doesn’t normally work with me and Mr. Osomatsu isn’t good enough to keep me hooked. The characters promise the real show will start in the second episode, but I imagine the humor style will still be the same.

Where to find stream: Crunchyroll

One Punch Man

one punch man

Why I Watched It: One Punch Man is about a guy who trained so hard to be a hero, his hair fell out and now he defeats every villain in just one punch. It’s not the kind of comedy I’d normally watch, but it’s arriving with good word of mouth, so I decided to check it out.

What I Thought: The story is not as slapsticky as I thought it would be (aside from living in a comic book world where eating too much crab can legitimately turn you in a crab monster). Though One Punch Man does beat his enemies in a single punch, the joy of being a superhero has gone out of his life. I admit, having a character as strong as Superman feeling ennui over a lack of a challenge isn’t what I expected when I started watching. The show is still funny, but the protagonist does have some legitimate concerns about what he’s doing with his life since his battles have not stopped monsters and super villains from appearing.

Verdict: I might watch this one, but I’m not sure where it will go from here. It can’t be too actiony because One Punch Man has to win in one punch, and it’s not going to be much fun if he’s always moping. The show does get some points for his pre-superhero self as an unemployed salaryman who’s largely given up hope… until he encounters a monster that makes him remember that when he was a kid he wanted to be a hero. Who hasn’t had that dream?

Where to find stream: Viz and Daisuki

The Perfect Insider

the perfect insider

Why I Watched It: Murder mystery procedural with an adult cast that even includes a married couple. Given that anime tends to skew its protagonists young, I’m really surprised how much older the cast looks in the promotional material. The main character is a professor, and actually looks old enough to have gotten an advanced degree. Based on an award winning mystery novel.

What I Thought: It’s hard to say where this is going. It held my interest the entire way through and I’m looking forward to the next episode, but the premise itself hasn’t been laid out yet (possibly due to novel pacing rather than TV show pacing). So far there is the suggestion of a murder several years in the past by a genius doctor who was declared not guilty by reason of insanity, but no clue how that ties into the present.

Verdict: I think there’s a good chance I’m going to continue with this one, at least long enough to figure out where it’s going.

Where to find stream: Crunchyroll

Tantei Team KZ Jiken Note

tantei team kz jiken note

Why I Watched It: I stumbled across this one completely blind as an also recommended after watching Beautiful Bones, and wondered why I had never heard of what was obviously a new and simulcasted series. “Tantei” translates into “detective” and in my craving for more mystery anime, I looked into Tantei Team KZ Jiken Note to find out that it’s based on a children’s novel series and the anime is a series of shorts, meaning the episodes are only 10 minutes long, which is why it’s largely been overlooked by most anime sites.

What I Thought: I don’t usually watch shorts because they don’t feel like they have much depth to them, but this one is cute, introducing sixth grade protagonist Aya Tachibana and the four boys that will join her as the Detective Team. There isn’t time for anything more than the group of them getting off on the wrong foot, but the episode ends with one of the boys’ mountain bike being stolen. As a short, there is no time for padding, but pacing still felt good instead of rushed, and Aya is easy to relate to. The animation feels a little on the cheap side, but I’m guessing that’s because shorts generally hit a smaller audience than the regular half hour long shows.

Verdict: I’ll be watching. I’m hoping the mystery solving will be like the Encyclopedia Brown books I grew up with since the audience is likely in the same age bracket, but even if it’s not, the first episode is charming enough to make me think of the times I had at that age. Aside from having to read the subtitles, it’s also more child friendly than most anime that gets brought over here.

Where to find stream: Crunchyroll

Young Black Jack

young black jack

Why I Watched It: Black Jack is one of the series from legendary manga creator Osamu Tezuka (better known in the west for Kimba the White Lion), focusing on the titular unlicensed doctor who only performs surgery for exorbitant amounts of money. In the years since Tezuka’s passing, writer Yoshiaki Tabata and artist Yuugo Oukuma began a prequel series called Young Black Jack, set in the 1960s when the future medical genius is still in medical school.

What I Thought: Even though Kuroo Hazama, the future Black Jack, is still in med school, it doesn’t feel too much like an origin story. His blunt personality is already familiar to anyone who has read the original and the story plays surprisingly close to some of Tezuka’s work, down to the fact that paying the doctor means less in hindsight when a loved one’s well being is no longer in danger. The character designs are more realistic than Tezuka’s work, except for a few characters here and there, which are done bizarrely close to the original style, making for a mismatched viewing. I’m a little bothered that Megumi, Kuroo’s med school love interest from the original Black Jack, appears to have been replaced by a different woman and I’m not sure why.

Verdict: I’ll be watching. For being a medical show, it is surprisingly blood free (which is not true of some of the older Black Jack anime). Tezuka had graduated from medical school, which had lent a certain realism to Black Jack’s otherwise fantastical surgeries, but I’m not entirely sure that there in Young Black Jack.

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 Crossed Genres.

Anime Catch-Up Review: Natsume’s Book of Friends

written by Laurie Tom

natsume's book of friendsI wish I hadn’t taken so long to watch Natsume’s Book of Friends. If you like Hayao Miyasaki’s Spirited Away with all its strange supernatural creatures that exist in parallel to the world of humans, there’s a really good chance you’ll like Natsume’s Book of Friends.

Takashi Natsume is an orphaned high school student who has bounced from relative to relative after the death of his parents, none of whom wanted much to do with the troubled child who kept insisting that he saw strange things and would unpredictably act out.

Though Takashi is actually a caring and sensitive person, he has the ability to see youkai (a broad term encompassing many kinds of creatures from Japanese folklore), which most people can’t. When he was younger he tried to explain to teachers and family members, that there were creepy monsters following him, hiding in corners, hovering outside the window, but no one believed him because they would look for themselves and see nothing.

Takashi has gone through life as “that strange kid” because he’s reacting to youkai that only he can see, and this is made clear in the opening scene of the show, where Takashi is running for his life and passes by two classmates who have no idea why he’s running like a madman, or why it’s so important that he finds the nearest shrine.

Most humans can’t see, hear, or touch youkai, and because of that their interaction with youkai tends to be minimal. But youkai take an interest in Takashi as soon as it becomes apparent that he can see them. For a human, he’s unusually spiritually powerful, to the point that he can sometimes pass for a youkai himself, and it seems to be an ability that runs in the family.

The home of his latest foster family is where his grandmother, Reiko, had grown up. Reiko was also incredibly powerful, and also ostracized by the people around her for seeing and interacting with things that weren’t there. Takashi had never met her since she had died young, but he soon learns from the local youkai that she left behind a collection of names called the Book of Friends.

Whoever holds the Book of Friends can command the youkai whose names are written in it, making it highly desirable for malevolent youkai and other youkai who simply want their names back.

The premise could easily have become an action series, but it’s not. Takashi likes his latest set of foster parents, who go out of their way to make him feel welcome, and the last thing he wants is to cause them any trouble. Because he knows from past experiences that most people can’t see youkai, he has never spoken about them to his new parents and tries hard to conceal their activity.

Much of the series’ tension comes from Takashi trying to balance his life with humans with his life that experiences the youkai world. He is sympathetic to the youkai who have had their names taken and because he is Reiko’s blood relative, he is able to tear out the pages and return the name of any bound youkai who comes before him.

Helping him with this is the amusingly named Nyanko-sensei (I’d approximate it as “kitty-sensei” in English), a powerful wolf-like youkai who was sealed inside the vessel of a calico beckoning cat. As a result, Nyanko-sensei usually looks like an extremely chubby cat, and has even acquired some feline behavior, though he can still take his larger wolf form when needed.

Nyanko-sensei knew Takashi’s grandmother Reiko and agrees to watch over Takashi as his bodyguard until Takashi dies, after which Nyanko-sensei will take what remains of the Book of Friends.

Natsume’s Book of Friends is largely episodic, though time clearly passes and we see the seasons change, covering roughly a year and a half of Takashi’s life, during which he makes friends among both humans and youkai. We see Takashi come out of the shell he’s built around himself from the time when people disliked him for being weird and he hated youkai for making him act out.

This lends the series a very slice of life feel to it, where life just happens to be populated with youkai. Even when there are moments of danger, it still feels like a fairly low-key show and action is never the point.

Instead we’re invited to share Takashi’s life with him for as long as the series lasts, and for those who can’t get enough, the manga is still running with a licensed English translation by Viz Media.

One of the things unusual about Natsume are his foster parents. Whereas it’s common in anime to have absentee/dead parents, Takashi’s foster parents are integral to the story, because of his deep need to protect the home he didn’t have when he was younger, so they’re in almost every episode and their caring for Takashi feels more real and genuine than most parents who do show up in anime.

I highly recommend Natsume’s Book of Friends to anyone interested in Japanese folklore or looking for something different from the usual anime fare. Most episodes are standalone with a few two-parters scattered throughout, so it makes for very leisurely viewing.

Number of Episodes: 52

Pluses: how humans and youkai simultaneously exist together, relationship between Takashi and Nyanko-sensei, lots of warm fuzzy moments

Minuses: Nyanko-sensei is sometimes really incompetent otherwise the plot wouldn’t happen, less focus on the Book of Friends itself as the series gets further in

Natsume’s Book of Friends is currently streaming under its untranslated Japanese title as Natsume Yujin-cho (Seasons 1-3) and Natsume Yujin-cho Shi (Season 4) on Crunchyroll and is available subtitled. NIS America has released this on Blu-Ray/DVD in the US, though copies are getting harder to find now.

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 Crossed Genres.

Anime Catch-Up Review: Tokyo Ghoul

written by Laurie Tom

tokyo ghoul

Tokyo Ghoul is a messy bag that almost made me quit watching twice, but the thing is, when it’s good, it’s powerful stuff. It’s unfortunate that the audience has to deal with so many ups and down that it gives the impression that the showrunners really had no idea what they were doing when they adapted Sui Ishida’s manga.

The premise is that there are monsters called ghouls who look like ordinary humans until they attack, during which they can project additional weaponlike appendages from their body and the whites of their eyes turn black. Their presence is known to the world and there is a government agency that monitors their behavior to keep them in check since they prey on humans for food.

College freshmen Ken Kaneki is attacked by a ghoul named Rize when an “accident” at a construction site crushes them both. Though severely wounded, Kaneki is not dead, and the surgeon at the hospital transplants Rize’s internal organs into him to keep him alive. Not long after that he discovers he can no longer eat human food without throwing up, and to his horror, the only thing that smells tasty to him is recently killed human.

Tokyo Ghoul starts dark and ends dark, but it doesn’t consistently stay that way. After his rough introduction to ghoul life, Kaneki settles into his new reality in a surprisingly comfortable fashion, considering that he’s now a human-eating monster.

Part of this is due to the fact that Kaneki is quickly adopted by Anteiku, the advisory body of ghouls that maintains harmony between their fellows in the 20th Ward of Tokyo. In addition to mediating in-fighting over hunting territory, Anteiku also provides for ghouls who are unable to hunt for themselves, generally by finding the bodies of humans who’ve committed suicide. This allows Kaneki to eat without the moral burden of having killed someone.

The other part is that ghouls are quickly portrayed as not that much different from humans. Some will only use their powers to protect their families and others will abuse them for personal gain. Ghouls marry, have children, and depending on the individual, may choose to do their best to participate in human society. What makes them different is that they must eat humans to survive.

The first half of the series focuses on the ghouls around Kaneki and what their day to day lives are like. Some of those episodes are good, like the storyline with the government investigators, when Kaneki realizes that he’s the only one who can see both ghouls and humans as people, but other episodes never rise above being a general action show, and just about any scene with Shu Tsukiyama is nauseating. That character alone almost made me stop watching. I’ll take buckets of gore over watching Tsukiyama getting off on huffing Kaneki’s blood one more time.

Kaneki starts out a timid and passive protagonist, refusing to kill and can barely be convinced to fight, but while it’s easy to see both sides of the human/ghoul conflict through him, he’s actually not that interesting because other people tend to drive the events around him, leaving him a passenger in his own life.

That is, until the mid-series finale, which is probably one of the darkest episodes of any anime that I’ve managed to stomach.

It’s not that it’s overly gory, but it’s emotionally visceral. Natsuki Hanae renders an riveting performance as Kaneki that takes the audience along with all the agony he’s experiencing, and combined with what we can hear but can’t see, the episode is intense enough that it can be uncomfortable to watch. It is probably the best episode in the series and very well done, but at the same time I don’t think I want to watch it again.

Post-trauma Kaneki is very difficult to reconnect with, which is the reason I almost dropped the show again, but after a few more episodes, I realized he was finally the protagonist that I had wanted from the beginning. It just took three quarters of the series to get there.

The second half brings the conflict between humans and ghouls to a climax, and the narrative does a good job of portraying both sides as neither good nor evil as it ramps up to the finale. A minor character might be just another enemy to the other side, but the audience goes in knowing that everyone matters to someone else.

The ending, while it doesn’t wrap up all loose ends, is thematically powerful enough that I can almost forgive everything else that slipped along the way, but there’s no getting away from the fact Tokyo Ghoul is stuffed with missed opportunities, unanswered questions, and odd pacing issues.

As far as the gore goes, Tokyo Ghoul censors all the worst bits. Partially eaten bodies are always just out of sight. There is definitely blood, sometimes buckets of it, but the worst bits of on camera violence are the ghoul against ghoul combat scenes, who due to their regenerative powers, can afford to be run through. Even the torture scenes in the mid-series finale don’t actually show what’s happening.

Because of the subject matter and the uneven presentation I find Tokyo Ghoul difficult to recommend. It’s not consistently dark, particularly in the first half, so I’m not sure horror fans would make it to the end without getting bored, and because of the very premise of the story I can’t recommend it to anyone with a sensitive stomach.

When Tokyo Ghoul is at its best it’s really good, but there’s a lot of slush in the middle and mileage may vary depending on the viewer’s acceptance of less horror-oriented fare in what is essentially an action horror series.

Number of Episodes: 24

Pluses: Interesting take on the ghoul monster, government ghoul hunters are pretty effective antagonists despite not having special powers, neither humans nor ghouls are uniformly bad people

Minuses: Main character Kaneki feels like he’s just along for the ride for much of the show, storytelling is really uneven, fate of many characters left unresolved

Tokyo Ghoul is currently streaming at Hulu and Funimation and is available both subtitled and dubbed (dubbed at Funimation only, only partially complete at this time). Funimation 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 Crossed Genres.

Anime Review: Gunslinger Stratos

written by Laurie Tom

gunslinger stratosGunslinger Stratos is the rare show I decided to watch despite having low expectations of it. It’s based off an arcade game only released in Japan, and because of being an arcade game, I was not expecting much of a plot. Mostly, I wanted to watch it because it had an interesting concept involving parallel timelines and the potential for really cool anti-gravity gunslinging combat scenes.

Unfortunately, Gunslinger Stratos largely fails to exploit either of those, which is a pity because it could have been a really cool action show.

Tohru Kazasumi is a typical unassuming “nice guy” anime protagonist in high school with a girl, Kyouka Katagiri, who likes him, but they aren’t dating (yet). They’re just friends.

In the 22nd century they live in, the world is tightly controlled by the government and due to a war some decades ago, Japan no longer exists, but outwardly the place they live in looks fairly advanced and on the surface, even utopian, with lots of greenery among all the beautiful white buildings.

Contrast that to a different timeline, where the people in the 22nd century live among rubble, scraping to survive, and the world has never recovered. In this world, Tohru Kazasumi has never gone to school, and he and Kyouka Katagiri have formed a family consisting of them and other orphaned children who work together to make sure there is enough food and clothing to make it to another day.

The two timelines clash when the mysterious Timekeepers intervene and ask both timelines to play a deadly game against one another in order to stop a phenomenon that is causing people around the world to mysteriously disintegrate into sand. Winning teams receive rewards that vastly improve their technology, making them stronger for the next round.

For some reason, this involves sending both teams back in time to a phantom 21st century where they battle one another using energy weapons provided by the Timekeepers and the combatants fly around in with anti-gravity assists, which have the potentially to be visually amazing (as they are in the Tohru vs. Tohru fight in the opening credits). Unfortunately the show itself never reaches that level of excellence.

The story works best when the characters consider what it’s like facing themselves (is it murder when they killed their counterpart?) and when we, the audience, see how the characters have turned out differently due to their environments.

But there’s not nearly enough of that. Most of the story is focused from the point of view of the timeline that recovered from the war, so it’s harder to get a feel for what it’s like for the team living in Frontier S (the harsher timeline), barring a single episode when main timeline Tohru crosses over. It’s too bad because that’s a missed opportunity to build more sympathy for the other side.

Also, quite frankly Frontier S Tohru is more interesting than main Tohru because he’s more willing to do whatever it takes to get a job done due to the losses he’s experienced. Main Tohru goes through a lot more questioning and angst that has been done before in other shows, but even when he loses teammates it doesn’t feel as strong as it does for Frontier S Tohru, because we know the latter has changed because of it.

Related to losses, there are a surprising number of characters who bite the big one over the course of the show, but most of them fail to matter for the audience. In some cases we might have seen them for all of five minutes before they die, but clearly they are someone due to their unique character designs.

I suspect this is a case of trying to shoehorn in all the playable characters from the arcade game, but someone who has never played the game would probably need a wiki to identify them all.

Even the lack of character development would have been all right if the imaginative fight scenes had been there, but after the early establishing episodes, the story attempts to move into a deeper plot and spends too much time on the true purpose of the Timekeepers and a strange detour with a secondary villain that didn’t need to happen.

There’s a lot of talk about changing the future while a particular future is trying to enforce, if not accelerate its existence, but the dialogue drowns it in a lot of pseudo-tech talk. By the end of it, I was pretty sure that if the Timekeepers had never intervened, they would have gotten the best outcome for their cause, but then we would not have had a reason for the story to happen in the first place.

Gunslinger Stratos has some nice ideas, but in the end I can’t really recommend it.

Number of Episodes: 12

Pluses: interesting concept, surprisingly sweet epilogue sequence, memorable J-pop themes for opening and ending credits

Minuses: shallow character development, nonsensical storyline, doesn’t live up to potential

Gunslinger Stratos 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 Crossed Genres.

Anime Review: Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works

written by Laurie Tom

fate stay/night: ubwFate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works is based on the Unlimited Blade Works storyline from the adult-rated Fate/stay night visual novel. Unlike in the US, it’s not unheard of for erotic games to be repackaged for a broader audience with the explicit scenes removed and for an anime to use the cleaned up version of the storyline.

In the world of the Fate series, there is a tournament held every few decades where seven Masters summon seven Servants and battle to obtain the Holy Grail, which will grant the winners a wish. The Masters are all supposed to be powerful wizards in the present day world, and the Servants are legendary heroes from across time. Each Master and Servant pair work as a team towards their goal and each of them will get their own wish.

The battles don’t need to be to the death, but the only way to eliminate a Master from the tournament without killing them is to kill their Servant, but because the Servant is typically the more powerful of the two, killing the Master is considered easier.

The story revolves around Shirou Emiya, a teenager with some weak magus blood in him that by rights shouldn’t be enough for him to summon or sustain a Servant, but for reasons unknown he manages to summon a Saber-class Servant (considered the strongest one) completely on accident.

When his schoolmate Rin Tohsaka (also a magus) brings up him to speed on the purpose of the tournament, he decides to participate, because really, he doesn’t have much choice. Outsiders are supposed to be killed for witnessing any battles.

I suppose this is how magic stays hidden from the general population, though the series never comes out and says it. Considering the widespread destruction some of the battles cause I’m rather surprised magic has managed to stay hidden at all.

Though well-intentioned, Shirou tends to come off as a bit of a chauvinistic moron. Saber is clearly capable of fighting. The fact she is a Servant means that she was one of the greatest warriors of myth and legend, but he spends a lot of time trying to protect her and Rin (who is a much more powerful magus than he is), even when it doesn’t make sense and results in him just getting the way.

Shirou is the kind of guy who will throw his life away because he thinks it’s important to have made the gesture. It’s sort of a headbanger how idealistic he is, but instead of being endearing it just makes him look stupid.

But even if Shirou’s characterization is its weakest component, and the storyline itself sometimes stretches the bounds of believability, Unlimited Blade Works shines when it comes to its battle scenes, which are gorgeous. Clearly all the attention went to giving the audience a spectacle to remember and the final battle in the last episode does not disappoint.

I admit I don’t quite understand why the Fate series is so popular considering that Fate/stay night is presumably the one that inspired them all, since it’s not all that strong and many times characters do not get a full story arc. I recognize that’s probably a holdover from the game, where some characters get more to do in one storyline than another because of player made decisions, but it doesn’t feel like even the main plot of UBW entirely comes together.

For instance, it’s not until episode 22 (of 24) that the real villain’s name is spoken for the first time. It’s not that it was supposed to be a secret, we’ve seen him lurking around since the first half of the show, but when it finally comes out, he’s not even on camera so if I hadn’t been browsing a wiki for more context I might not have even connected the two of them.

The series suffers a little bit from expecting the audience to already be familiar with the franchise, and to some degree that is probably not surprising. The Fate storyline of Fate/stay night was already animated back in 2006 and the prequel Fate/zero was animated in 2011, and Unlimited Blade Works itself had been done as a movie in 2010, but I still feel that as a storyline based on the original game that started it all, Unlimited Blade Works the TV series should have been understandable and self-contained on its own.

The plot does get more engaging overall in the second half though, because Shirou and Rin eventually start working together instead of passive-aggressively trying to keep each other out of the way, and because by then the other Masters have started falling. It’s clear who the frontrunners are for winning the Holy Grail, and it’s not them.

I do have to mention though that Fate/stay night is not kind to its female characters. There are some creepy male gaze scenes when Rin and Saber are captured at different points in the series and though both of them are portrayed early on as competent and fully capable of looking after themselves, their roles are vastly reduced in the final third while Shirou gets the opportunity to come into his own.

Overall I wouldn’t say Unlimited Blade Works is a bad series, but it’s not a particular good one either, and it’s most saved by its animation quality. I like Rin as a protagonist, and would have been much happier if the series had been following her story rather than Shirou’s. She has a much more realistic outlook than he does while still remaining a person with a good heart.

Number of Episodes: 25

Pluses: gorgeously animated fight scenes, interesting world building

Minuses: treatment of female characters in the second half, plot doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, most characters aren’t well fleshed out

Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works is currently streaming at Crunchyroll and Hulu and is available subtitled. Aniplex 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 Crossed Genres.

Summer 2015 Anime First Impressions

written by Laurie Tom

Unlike summer on American TV, new anime debuts year round with every season, and this summer in particular looks like fun times, with multiple shows I’m interested in following. It’s like winter 2015 all over again, where there’s more than I can keep up with, but this time there are no returning series vying for my attention and all of the interesting things are new.

It’s going to be hard to limit my viewing pool to my preferred cap of three shows! There is one exception though, due to a very special bonus show I’m including at the bottom.

Aoharu x Machinegun

aoharu x machinegun

Why I Watched It: Cross-dressing girl ends up entering a survival game where it’s assumed that she’s male. I like the character designs and I’m fond of genderblender characters in anime. Hotaru’s same design could be a male character voiced by the same actress in a different anime and actually be male due to the fact teenage boys are frequently voiced by women, so it’s extremely easy to buy into her ability pass.

What I Thought: Hotaru is a hot-blooded class president who for reasons unknown, prefers dresses in the male school uniform. Most people who don’t know her assume she’s male. This is even more obvious in Japanese where her word choices indicate a very masculine speaker. She also shouts a lot and is willing to beat up people for social infractions, which makes her pretty fun to watch. It turns out she’s really good at reading people in a fight, so when a misunderstanding leads to her wrecking a host club she gets press-ganged onto a survival game team to pay off the debt.

Verdict: I’d like to watch, but this season is pretty crowded with good stuff. Hotaru’s short fuse is a bit much, but I like that (so far) she just seems to be a girl who likes to wear the male uniform and there’s no tragic backstory to it, and her personality is not one that girls are frequently allowed to have as a starring protagonist. I’m a bit disappointed though that the survival game appears to be paintball or airsoft as I thought it was going to be a more literal survival.

Where to find stream: Crunchyroll



Why I Watched It: The latest series from the writer and character designer behind Angel Beats. Writer Jun Maeda is known for pulling on the heartstrings so there will probably be a lot of light-hearted moments before ultimately delving into a tissue box at the finale.

What I Thought: I usually don’t like jerk protagonists, but Yu is the creative kind. In middle school he discovers that he can possess other people for 5 seconds while his own body falls comatose, and as expected for his age, he decides to use his power to get back at other people and also to cheat his way into an elite high school by temporarily possessing other students who are smarter than him so he can read their answers while taking exams. He might not be book learned, but he’s definitely clever and incredibly manipulative. His shenanigans catch up with him though and he is forcibly transferred to another school that is intended for people with powers like him, where he presumably will turn out to be a better person by the end.

Verdict: I’ll be watching. Given the series’ pedigree and the similarly stunted powers the other students have (being invisible to only one person at a time, superspeed without the ability to slow down equally fast) it looks interesting.

Where to find stream: Crunchyroll



Why I Watched It: A generic-looking medieval fantasy world invades modern day Tokyo and Japan needs to fight back. Normally I wouldn’t be watching, but the protagonist is a 33-year-old fanboy who also serves in the Japanese Self Defense Force, and getting a thirty-something protagonist in an anime is pretty rare!

What I Thought: In some ways better than expected. I like that it’s an anime that actually includes the appropriate military response when invaded by another dimension and an appropriate timeline for Japan to send invasion forces of their own in reply. On the other, it looks like the thirty-something fanboy soldier is going to gain a trio of teenage fantasy world inhabitants for traveling companions and they’re all girls. That’s going to look creepy. He’s not the only one sent through the gate though so it looks like we’ll get to see a modern army vs. a medieval fantasy army.

Verdict: Going to pass. Looks like it has the potential to be fun, but there’s more than enough going on this season to keep me occupied.

Where to find stream: Crunchyroll

Monster Musume

monster musume

Why I Watched It: I was not going to watch this one on account of it being a harem show (one male character surrounded by multiple love interests vying for his affection), but I had heard from other women who had watched it that it’s unusual for its kind, and not just because all the girls are monsters.

What I Thought: It’s a raunchy romantic comedy with an unfortunate put-upon human male who, no matter what, must avoid having sex with his hot female lamia housemate who was unexpectedly assigned to him as part of a species exchange program (otherwise she will be deported and he’ll be arrested). She doesn’t take the threat seriously though, and really, really likes him. Monster Musume asks questions like, how does a lady who is half snake use a toilet and does she wear underwear? It was surprisingly funny and I felt a little sorry for protagonist Kimihito because Miia is a constrictor so she kinda likes crushing him in her affectionate coils.

Verdict: It’s funny, but I’ll pass. I’m sure the tone of the story will change when more monster girls are introduced, and there will be the usual lack of relationship progress to keep open the possibility that Kimihito could end up with any of them (next episode promises a centaur and a harpy), but it’s a cut above the usual for it’s kind.

Where to find stream: Crunchyroll



Why I Watched It: This was a moth towards the flame sort of attraction. Though I’m tired of stories where people find themselves living inside of a video game or a video game-like world, this one twists a little differently in that there’s only one person left in the game and he’s not your typical hero-type.

What I Thought: Overlord surprised me with its first scene past the opening credits. Guild leader Momonga’s sadness over the shutdown of his favorite MMO and memories of all the good times shared with his guild are instantly relatable to anyone who has gone through something similar. I also didn’t expect that Momonga would be a working adult in his real life (that we don’t see). Given his weariness towards his day job, it’s not entirely surprising when he wonders if he would want to leave this new reality he’s in, supposing he could even find a way out now that the game controls and any ability to contact the GMs have disappeared. Momonga was previously a max level player and in charge of a massive fortress (built collectively by his guild), and now that all the NPCs have come to life, he has a small army of monsters at his command. They treat him like an overlord, but he’s not really. He just plays one.

Verdict: I’d like to find some time for this, at least long enough to see where it’s going. I particularly like the disconnect between Momonga’s internal thoughts, rendered in a normal voice, and his external ones, which are voiced like you would expect from a skeleton lord. He’s very concerned about staying in character in front of his underlings.

Where to find stream: Funimation and Hulu

Ranpo Kitan: Game of Laplace

ranpo kitan

Why I Watched It: Ranpo Edogawa is one of the classic mystery writers of Japan. 2015 is the 50th anniversary of his death and in honor of that, Ranpo Kitan: Game of Laplace is a series inspired by his body of work, which is still read today.

What I Thought: The first episode is based on one of Edogawa’s stories, “The Human Chair,” that will likely end up as grisly as it sounds. Middle school student Kobayashi is an unusual POV character and I’m not even sure he’s intended to be the main character. He wakes up holding the weapon responsible for his homeroom teacher’s murder with no memory of the crime or even how he got into the classroom where it happened. He’s oddly plucky for someone accused of murder, and readily accepts the challenge set by irritable teen detective Akechi (based on Edogawa’s most famous detective character, who was not a teen in the original) to clear his name and catch the real criminal.

Verdict: I’ll be watching. I love a good mystery, and while Kobayashi doesn’t do anything for me, I’m really interested in Akechi who seems to have some malady that requires him to regularly take painkillers. Akechi might be a detective, with special dispensation from the government to work as one on account of his age, but he’s clearly willing to bend his commitment if it suits him.

Where to find stream: Funimation and Hulu

Rokka: Braves of the Six Flowers

rokka braves of the six flowers

Why I Watched It: Pleasing art style and I read that the premise involves a slight problem in that the Goddess of Fate had chosen six heroes to save the world, but seven people have answered the call.

What I Thought: The Mesoamerican setting is unfortunately just superficial window dressing as everyone’s names feel more at home in the Old World, and the costuming of the main characters, judging by the opening credits, follows typical anime conventions in that they dress however they want and Mesoamerica is not what I would have guessed. Adlet Mayer’s interruption of the holy ceremony at the start of the show feels especially egregious in that you have a pale person with a European-style name ruining the local ceremony run by brown people (not to save a life, but because he wants to be the chosen one), and he’s the hero. It probably doesn’t play out with the same racial implications in Japan, but as a PoC in America it’s rather cringy.

Verdict: Going to pass. I don’t like Adlet, or the hare-brained princess who’s taken a shine to him. If the Mesoamerican setting was more involved I’d be inclined to give it another shot, but since they’ve left the city at the end of the episode I think it’s going to look more like a generic fantasy from here on out.

Where to find stream: Crunchyroll

Snow White with the Red Hair

snow white with the red hair

Why I Watched It: Not based on the Snow White of European fairy tales. This Snow White is a healer with unusual red hair, caught between two suitors with nary an evil queen in sight. Clearly looks like a romance/adventure story.

What I Thought: When Prince Raj requests Shirayuki (literally translates into “Snow White”) for his concubine, she doesn’t meekly give in. Shirayuki runs away to the kingdom’s border and through luck meets up with a young man named Zen and his companions. The show plays on the fairy tale a bit with poisoned apples showing up to show Shirayuki that she hasn’t escaped Prince Raj’s notice, and Raj is the one who asks a “mirror” about the fairest in the kingdom, but otherwise the story doesn’t care much about the original. While I like the chemistry between Zen and Shirayuki as romantic leads, I dislike that the climax of the episode still relies on Zen saving Shirayuki from Raj. It’s a good play on Zen’s part that hinges on the reveal he’s also a prince of a neighboring kingdom, but I wish that Shirayuki had been able to get out of the problem herself.

Verdict: I’d like to watch, but I’m probably going to wait due to the other shows this season. As far as fantasy romance goes though, this looks like a good bet.

Where to find stream: Funimation and Hulu

Ushio and Tora

ushio and tora

Why I Watched It: Ushio and Tora was one of the first anime I watched, and was the very first manga I ever bought, even though it was in Japanese. It’s a buddy adventure story between a middle school kid and the demon who wants to kill him (seriously!). Since the first anime was only a direct to video release of some of the early story arcs and the manga went untranslated I was disappointed that I never got to experience the whole thing. That’s changed now!

What I Thought: The opening plays out a little differently from what I remember back in the 90s, but doesn’t deviate from familiar territory with the same antagonistic dynamic that will eventually become a budding friendship between the human Ushio and the demon Tora that makes the series what it is. It covers how Tora got impaled with the Beast Spear and offers a compelling reason for just why Ushio would free a human-eating demon. No effort has been made to update the art style, making it look a little dated, but it has all the story bits in the right places and Ushio’s brash personality is one that we rarely have in protagonists these days.

Verdict: I will be watching! Definitely looking forward to more adventures with these two. The show plans for an eventual 39 episodes broken into two parts, and they’re going to cover the entire manga!

Where to find stream: Crunchyroll


The following is not an anime, but is based on a popular manga, and thus likely to be of interest to anime viewers. Other people might have heard of this series but just can’t get into watching animation or reading comic books, in which case, this is also for them.

Death Note

death note live action

Why I Watched It: Death Note has been one of the most popular series in recent years, featuring a protagonist who discovers a supernatural notebook that allows him to kill people by writing their name in it. The original manga and popular anime series tells the story of the cat and mouse game between Light Yagami and the people trying to catch him as he tries to change the world for the better by murdering criminals. The new live action series promises an alternate storyline featuring the same characters, most likely because Death Note has already been adapted as a live action movie before, and this offers viewers something new.

What I Thought: I like the new Light, who despite all his murders, is a much kinder, more sensitive person than the original, though it’s harder to buy into his first attempt to kill the detective, L, because of it. Death Note lives or dies by its protagonist, and I was concerned about changing Light from a brilliant high school kid to an average university student, but surprisingly it works well. The original Light (for all his brilliance) was pretty arrogant and willfully made mistakes to rub his rival’s nose in it. New Light makes the same mistakes, but it’s because he’s not two steps ahead of the game. His struggle makes him more relatable, but also makes me wonder just how well he’ll be able to hold off L, who is clearly still a genius. Since the show is live action the shinigami are portrayed through CG, which is kind of janky since it’s not running on a Hollywood budget and so far is the weakest part of the production as the show doesn’t seem to be able to use Ryuk very well.

Verdict: I’ll be watching it. Though circumstances have been rearranged, all the major story beats from the early part of the manga are still there so it’ll be interesting to see new interpretations of them. Light has always wanted to make the world a better place, even in the original, but the original crossed the moral horizon and accepted his role as judge and executioner very quickly. I’m looking forward to a Light who will struggle longer.

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 Crossed Genres.

Anime Review: Parasyte -the maxim-

written by Laurie Tom

parasyteThough I have a lot of affection for Parasyte, my experience is colored by having been a huge fan of the manga for years. I recognize that adaptations need to make changes and that doesn’t bother me. There are some things that I think were improved by having done so, but at the same time, there are others that absolutely did not bother me in the manga that just felt flat when translated into the animated medium.

Parasyte is the story of Shinichi Izumi, a high school senior who is the victim of a failed attempt by a parasyte organism to take over his brain. Instead of burrowing into his brain, the parasyte landed in his hand and matured partially up his arm. The result is that he and Migi, the parasyte, are two sentient beings that share one body, with Migi controlling Shinichi’s right hand and arm while he is awake.

Normally parasytes gain self-awareness when they take over and mature in their host’s brain, and at that time they gain the urge to feed on their host’s species as prey. Needless to say, when the parasytes first appear, it looks like there’s a rabid ax murderer on the loose leaving body parts all over the place, but with time the parasytes learn to clean up their act to avoid drawing attention to themselves and their feeding grounds.

The parasytes are every bit as intelligent as humans without being entirely human themselves. They do not have emotions, relying on what is practical and what is instinct, and they are able to distort the parts of the body they assimilate into a living weapon (so when parasytes fight it looks like the formerly human heads of their hosts turn into bladed tentacles). But despite being powerful predators of humanity, they have a great deal of difficulty in understanding how human behavior works, which is a debilitating weakness for creatures who rely on disguise to avoid attention.

This is the crazy reality that Shinichi finds himself grappling with when everyone else in Japan doesn’t have the slightest idea that there are real monsters going around eating people. The only reason he knows is because of Migi, who is both friend and foil. Though Migi possesses the cold logic of parasytes, he also understands that if he is to survive, he must convince his human host to work alongside him, which results in Migi having a better understanding of how humans tick. At the same time, Shinichi teaches Migi about compassion and how complicated humans are when emotions and practicality intersect.

It’s an interesting play between them, with Migi being willing to give Shinichi possibly false reassurances simply because he knows it will make him feel better, and Shinichi explaining to Migi why using a wall of people as a shield against another parasyte is an unethical tactic. Arguably the relationship between Shinichi and Migi is really what makes the show, as both of them gain the understanding and empathy for each other’s kind.

The themes in parasyte are thoughtful; about humanity’s place in the world, about each species’ right to exist, about the nature of coexistence and who gets to set the rules.

But the pacing is off, and this is where I don’t like the anime so much.

Parasyte follows the manga surprisingly closely, with many shots being drawn from the same angles as the original panels. Its devotion to following the source material even results in episodes where the biggest moment happens in the middle of the episode, or shortly after the beginning, and I can’t help feeling that part of the reason is a lack of desire to trim or expand the original story.

This problem will likely be mitigated for future viewers who can watch as many episodes as they like in one sitting, but waiting a week between simulcasts made the pacing annoying.

I also think that Parasyte loses a bit of its edge from the sanitization needed to get it on TV. The first episode is fairly faithful to the manga and left quite a bit in (though with minimal blood), but after that point most of the gore is off-screen with characters reacting to it.

While I’m rarely a fan of gore, I’d argue that it’s important in Parayste because one of the key points is how much of what makes us human doesn’t make sense, and our sensitivity to what a predator instinctively does in nature is a part of that. The gore isn’t created because the parasytes are sick bastards. The gore is created because the parasytes are going about their business and doing what’s most practical (for them). By not showing this, the anime’s impact is blunted in its ability to widen the gap between what the audience tells itself it believes, and what the audience actually believes.

But there are good parts to the adaptation too.

There weren’t a whole lot of changes made, but when the anime did deviate from the manga, the show was noticeably stronger. Yuko was promoted from a one-off character to an actual member of the supporting cast, which paid off in the Shimada arc since the viewer had additional emotional investment in her survival. And the anime made Kana much more sympathetic, taking a character I really didn’t care for and making her someone worth worrying about.

The manga was written in the late 80s/early 90s in the pre-cell phone era, but Parasyte for the most part makes the transition to modern day well. School uniforms and hair styles are updated and a scene where camera film needed to be destroyed was easily revised to where the camera itself was taken apart. The only part that really didn’t work and too easily telegraphed that something bad was going to happen was when a character forgot her cell phone, whereas there was no cell phone to worry about in the original.

I think the anime has less to offer those already familiar with the manga, but for those who have never experienced the manga in the first place, it’s a good entry point with substantially less gore for those sensitive about on screen violence. There really isn’t anything else quite like it, particularly if one does not mind mulling over the nature of existence in the same series as human-chomping monsters.

Number of Episodes: 24

Pluses: faithful to the original award-winning manga, poses interesting questions about the nature of human morality, Shinichi/Migi dynamic owns the series

Minuses: strange episode pacing with oddly chosen cliffhangers, in a couple cases the update from the 80s to present day results in characters being stupid in order for plot to happen, music score is uneven with some scenes have emotionally jarring musical selections

Parasyte -the maxim- 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, Strange Horizons, and Crossed Genres.