Anime Movie Review: Hal

written by Laurie Tom

hal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Anime Review: Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun

written by Laurie Tom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Number of Episodes: 12

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

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

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

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

Anime Review: Blue Spring Ride

written by Laurie Tom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Number of Episodes: 12

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

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

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

 

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

Anime Review: m3: the dark metal

written by Laurie Tom

m3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Number of Episodes: 24

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

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

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

 

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

 

Anime Review: Brynhildr in the Darkness

written by Laurie Tom

brynhildrinthedarknessBrynhildr in the Darkness tried very hard to make me stop watching it, probably more so than any other series I can think of in recent years. On the one hand it has a smart and likeable main character who manages to pull off being a high school student protagonist without coming off as unrealistic wish fulfillment. Ryota is definitely not that powerful and works within the limitations of being an ordinary human caught up protecting artificial witches from the secret organization that created them.

On the other, Brynhildr in the Darkness is home to gratuitous fanservice. It’s not that blatant early on, but after Kazumi joins the growing group of escaped witches, the fanservice kicks into high gear. (And there is a highly graphic death in episode 2 that was almost enough to make me stop watching, but there’s nothing else like it later on.)

Most of the series is still very much about super-powered witches; battling the ones pursuing them, protecting the ones that ran away. But after Kazumi’s introduction scarcely an episode can go by without a short scene with gratuitous (though censored) nudity that has no bearing on plot or character development at all.

And that’s too bad, because the situation the escapee witches find themselves in is a compelling one. Deemed failed experiments due to not being powerful enough, the main protagonist witches managed to escape their own termination, but they need a supply of pills from the laboratory that created them or they will die within two days of taking the last one.

The witches are all teenage girls who have been held in captivity since they were young, so what they plan to do with their limited remaining lifespans tend to be ordinary things like going to high school, hitting their sixteenth birthday, and seeing the beach for the first time. They’re very easy to sympathize with, and most of them are quite selfless when it comes to others of their kind. They know that each new escapee they add to their group reduces the length of time all of them can live since they must split their remaining pills even further.

After discovering their predicament, Ryota refuses to let them die when he can help, even knowing that he will be killed if the secret organization discovers him. Though he can’t fight, he’s very bright, serving as the group’s strategist and guide to the world in general. He convinces the witches to keep living while looking for a way to get more pills to keep them alive.

Unfortunately the greater storyline of why the witches are being created is rather muddled and nonsensical. The anime concludes a story arc, but it’s clearly a season ending rather than a series ending and the last few episodes feel a bit rushed, with two characters appearing in the epilogue with no explanation at all. (I had to read fan comments to make sense of why they were there.)

This may have to do with trying to condense too much of the manga into a thirteen episode TV series. My feeling is that the show writers took their time introducing everyone and then realized they only had 6-7 episodes left in which to conclude the first major story arc of the manga, so they skipped smaller subplots and/or super-condensed larger ones to cram anything of importance into the second half. There are even characters appearing in the two opening sequences who will not show up until the second to last episode.

This also prevents the series from having a satisfying resolution as everything that does happens feels a little pat. It doesn’t have a proper build-up and supporting characters come and go without the audience really getting a chance to know them.

Of special note is the first set of opening credits, which is not only visually striking in how it portrays the well-being of the witches versus the rest of the world, but has one of the most memorable instrumental opening tracks in recent years. When the main theme plays during an episode chills go up my spine.

Brynhildr in the Darkness is a mixed bag and that makes it very difficult to recommend, especially after seeing the second half. A lot of potential was squandered here. Despite the fanservice though, I’d be tempted to pick up the manga if it was available in English.

Number of Episodes: 13

Pluses: extremely likeable main character, compelling reason to care what happens to the cast, one of the most striking sets of opening credits anime has had in years

Minuses: mood-ruining fanservice in a story about life and death, rushed plotline in the second half, unsatisfactory resolution

Brynhildr in the Darkness is currently streaming at 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 in Galaxy’s Edge, Penumbra, and Solaris Rising: The New Solaris Book of Science Fiction.

Anime Review: The World is Still Beautiful

written by Laurie Tom

worldisstillbeautifulThe World is Still Beautiful is based off an ongoing shoujo (girls) manga of the same name. Teenage Princess Nike comes from the small and relatively powerless Duchy of Rain, and in recent years a furious warlord known as the Sun King has conquered most of the known world. In exchange for leaving the Duchy of Rain alone, he asks for one of their princesses to be sent to him as a bride.

But to show how silly this series can be, Princess Nike is declared the bride when she loses a game of rock-paper-scissors against her three older sisters, and she’s promptly shipped out of the only country she has ever known to meet the Sun King, who turns out to be a boy even younger than she is.

The first episode probably could have been cut. It didn’t exist in the manga and seems to be only there to provide some background flavor to the Sun Kingdom, and a little understanding for why the Sun King might want to marry a princess from the Duchy of Rain. The royal family members of the duchy have the ability to call the rain with song, and the Sun Kingdom is a land without rain; most of the water for their crops comes through irrigation.

Once King Livius is introduced (he appears at the very end of the first episode) the ball gets rolling, as both he and Nike are incredibly stubborn, and he has a nasty mean streak to him. When Nike doesn’t sing on command at their first meeting, because calling the rain is a sacred act to her people, he tosses her in the dungeon. But Nike being a very spirited young woman, doesn’t stay there. Calling the wind isn’t the only part of her weather related powers.

There are parts of The World is Still Beautiful that feel terribly formulaic; the rival love interest (for both leads), how Nike manages to make peace with even the worst of former enemies, and how Nike is completely incompetent at palace life (except when it really counts).

The story is not deep and mostly revolves around Nike and Livi’s growing feelings for each other despite everybody and their grandmother trying to tear them apart, but the execution is clean and Nike and Livi play off each other so well it’s forgivable.

I really like that Nike is so outspoken. She’s not a delicate princess and what comes to mind just as frequently comes out her mouth, even if it gets her in trouble. And once she decides that she really is going to marry Livi, she isn’t about to let anyone else take that away from her.

Probably the two most problematic parts of their relationship are 1) Livi looks really young (though he’s voiced by an adult man and sounds like it), which makes scenes where he’s undressed a little squicky and 2) even though Nike mellows out Livi, he is still the Sun King and that cruel streak pops now and again. He never directly hurts her, but there’s one point where he threatens to burn her homeland to ashes because he catches her in a situation where it looks like she might have been unfaithful, and I don’t think he was joking.

Aside from that, their relationship revolves around Nike learning how to behave herself as the future wife of the Sun King (they don’t actually marry by the end of the series) and Livi learning to love life and see the world through the eyes of others. Their relationship is pretty chaste with just the occasional kiss, usually accompanied with a lot of blushing, making it (barring a really out of place rape joke in the skippable first episode) suitable for pre-teen viewers. Though there is brief nudity, it’s not sexual in nature and is played for laughs.

Later episodes of the series take us to the Duchy of Rain, which is of a rainy southeast Asian design as opposed the obvious European one of the Sun Kingdom. The story arc there is a nice way of affirming Nike and Livi’s relationship, though I think the final episode’s pacing was strangely off, like the writers found themselves with an extra 15 minutes of footage and didn’t know what to do with it.

The World is Still Beautiful isn’t an anime for the ages, but for those looking for solid girl’s anime that isn’t based on a dating game, this isn’t a bad bet. It’s equal parts silliness and actual drama, and when Livi isn’t a complete jerk (which is actually most of the time) he’s fun to watch.

Number of Episodes: 12

Pluses: romantic leads play off each other well, beautiful costume design in the Duchy of Rain, Nike is a girl who knows how to take charge of her destiny

Minuses: Livi’s actions may cross the line depending on viewer’s sympathy for jerk romantic leads, Livi looks like a ten-year-old making for uncomfortable viewing, a little formulaic

The World is Still Beautiful is currently streaming at 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 in venues such as Galaxy’s Edge, Crossed Genres, and Solaris Rising: The New Solaris Book of Science Fiction.

 

Summer 2014 Anime First Impressions

written by Laurie Tom

July means the start of the summer anime season, so I’m taking a look at most of the new shows that have caught my interest. Typically I watch 2-3 series as they air so I don’t intend to finish all of these, and I’m still watching last season’s M3: the dark metal, leaving less room for newcomers.

Aldnoah.Zero

aldnoah.zeroWhy I Watched It: Someone favorably compared it to Crest of the Stars, one of the most underrated anime space operas ever, and I really wanted to watch something with a strong sf bent.

What I Thought: Definitely one of the most interesting premises this season! In an alternate timeline, the Apollo 17 mission discovered a Hyper Gate to Mars on the moon, and humanity’s mucking around there resulted in the Martian Vers civilization (which is human) revealing itself. By the time the year 2014 rolls around, there is a tentative peace between the two sides, but that is broken in short order when a terrorist act on Earth provokes the technologically superior Vers into attacking. Pleasantly enough, it looks like there might be a subplot involving one of the older (read: non-teenage) characters and a Terran/Martian conflict that happened in 1999. Aldnoah.Zero is the only series this season that had me at the edge of my seat as the first episode closed.

Verdict: I will be watching it. It looks like there will be heroes and villains on both sides of the conflict and I’m particularly drawn to the character Slaine, who seems to be a Terran living and working among the Vers. For people who love worldbuilding, there is a ton of backstory in this first episode, and it never feels like a giant info dump.

Where to find stream: Crunchyroll, Daisuki, and Hulu.

Blue Spring Ride

bluespringrideWhy I Watched It: The preview clips tapped into my memories of middle school and high school. A girl has a crush on a boy in middle school who moves away and then returns in high school, but they can’t pick up where they left off.

What I Thought: Oddly enough, the more fanciful part of Futaba Yoshioka’s life is the one I relate to, with the crush moving away and coming back again. But I suspect the number of people who can claim similar experiences is relatively low. For everyone else, this is a story about the girl who was super popular with boys in middle school, hated it because it alienated her from all the girls, and entered high school determined to look like an unwomanly slouch so guys would stop hitting on her and she could have female friends. Futuba largely succeeds, though it’s also clear that she is not being herself, so much as exhibiting these behaviors just to ward off guys. The friends she gains too†yeesh†she could do better. When Futaba is accused of stealing from the school store, her friends don’t even take her side. Her love interest, Kou Mabuchi, seems like a decent enough romantic lead. Futaba thinks he’s being a bit of a jerk, but I think it’s more that he’s trying not to jump into a relationship based on memories in middle school.

Verdict: I will probably be watching it. (It’s actually a toss up between this and the next show on the list.) Being based on a romance manga it’s expected the two main characters will eventually get back together again, making it a predictable watch, but I found this to be one of the more moving romances.

Where to find stream: Crunchyroll

Nobunaga Concerto

nobunagaconcertoWhy I Watched It: Holey moley! I thought this would get passed by all the western simulcasts due to its non-standard art style and focus on Japanese history, but I’ve been proven wrong. I was interested because the premise is that a modern day high school student goes back in time and becomes Nobunaga Oda, the famous warlord who starts the campaign to unite Japan, and the art style is clearly period influenced.

What I Thought: Better than I thought! The show does require some suspension of disbelief, mostly in two forms: 1) No one suspects that Nobunaga’s recent strange behavior is due to the fact they’re looking at an imposter that physically resembles him and 2) Saburo accepts everything that’s happened to him real fast (being stuck in the Sengoku era, taking Nobunaga’s place in history, etc). The fun part though is that Saburo still intends to do things his way while making sure that history stays the course. I’m a little concerned that the real Nobunaga ditches his life and responsibilities so easily though. Is he ever going to come back on the show?

Verdict: I really want to say I’ll be watching, but I can’t guarantee I’ll have the bandwidth. I will probably end up dropping this or Blue Spring Ride depending on how later episodes pan out.

Where to find stream: Crunchyroll

Persona 4: the Golden Animation

persona4goldenWhy I Watched It: Revisiting Persona 4 is like seeing an old friend. It’s impossible not to feel nostalgia for what had been wonderful times, yet I can’t help wondering if things will be the same again. Persona 4: the Animation aired just a scant three years ago and is still one of my favorite series. Can they really make it any better?

What I Thought: The show is clearly geared towards people already familiar with Persona 4 as the opening showcases all the main characters (and surprisingly a lot of the minor ones!) as they start the school year. The first third of the episode is beautiful. Those credits, that music! It’s exactly what Persona should be. Then the rest of the episode gets awkward fast, probably because it’s trying not to redo the series from three years ago, but certain scenes have to happen. A lot of information necessary to non-fans is skipped, and the key fight scene in the first episode seemed like it was trying painfully hard to one-up its predecessor, with the end result backfiring and pushing my suspension of disbelief.

Verdict: Since Persona 4: the Golden Animation is based off of Persona 4: The Golden the game (the extended cut of Persona 4 containing new events, new subplots, and a new character) I might come back to it as some point as watching an anime series is faster than playing an RPG, but I’m sad to say this is going on the backburner. The first Persona 4 anime series is still excellent and would serve as a better introduction for people who haven’t played the game.

Where to find stream: Crunchyroll, Daisuki, and Hulu.

Sailor Moon Crystal

sailormooncrystalWhy I Watched It: Any anime fan over a certain age will remember the debut of the original Sailor Moon on North American TV back in 1995. It had a lot of filler since the manga ran concurrent to the TV show, and for American audiences there was a boatload of editing and censorship. Sailor Moon Crystal is a fresh adaptation of the original manga (presumably with no filler) and will not be edited for American audiences this time.

What I Thought: I’m not sure the new art style really works for me, even though it’s closer to the original manga. It’s been a long time since I watched the original series, and I was never the biggest fan, but the update has a pretty fine first episode. Usagi has always been a reluctant heroine, and that hasn’t changed. She’s still a terrible student, a clutz, and goof-off, but will run to help a friend no matter what. Even though the plot of the first episode is familiar, it feels like we’re moving at a faster pace this time around (not a bad thing), and I like that snapshots of her previous life are introduced earlier. I have to admit that parts of the opening credits made the little girl in me squee and I like the new feminist lyrics to the opening song where they declare they don’t need to rely on men to help them.

Verdict: I probably will not watch this on simulcast since I’m already familiar with the show, but I’m pretty sure I’ll catch up with it another time since I would like to see a more faithful adaptation than what we got in the 90s.

Where to find stream: Crunchyroll and Hulu

Sword Art Online II

swordartonline2Why I Watched It: The first half of the first Sword Art Online series was gamer anime heaven for anyone who has ever played an MMORPG. The second half†not so much and is best skipped and erased from existence. But the first half was so good that I’m willing to give the second series a chance.

What I Thought: It feels a little forced, trying to find a reason for Kirito to keep logging into new games when he should be among the last people who would ever want to play an MMO again, but the opening was still better than I thought it would be. The mystery is intriguing. Someone is assassinating top players in the virtual reality game Gun Gale Online and when they die online, their hearts stop in the real world, which should not be possible, and there is no brain damage done (people were killed through their VR helmets in the first SAO). It doesn’t quite make sense that the government would ask a teenager to log in for the investigation, but they do and Kirito reluctantly agrees.

Verdict: I’m fence-sitting on this one. It has promise, but I’m really concerned the writing will drop off as it did in the second story arc and I’m afraid that Asuna, the best female character of the first series, is going to be sidelined as the sit-and-watch girlfriend. The opening episode is just good when I needed it to be excellent.

Where to find stream: Crunchyroll and Daisuki

Terror in Resonance

terrorinresonanceWhy I Watched It: Good pre-release buzz about a series involving two high school terrorists with a plan to bring Japan to its knees. Obvious question is: Why?

What I Thought: I suspect this will probably be a fairly popular show, the animation is good and the premise unusual, but it’s just not my cup of tea. While I don’t find the conceit behind high school aged terrorists unbelievable, there are a couple of things that happen towards the end of the first episode that stretch my believability (and being a dramatic work set in the real world, it really needs that believability). I also dislike that bullied girl Lisa is essentially blackmailed into becoming an accomplice to her mysterious new terrorist classmates. There’s some backstory behind the two boys escaping an institution of some kind and it was a rough time for them, but the show makes it pretty clear that they are not good people.

Verdict: This is one of those shows that I might come back to later after it’s been fully released and I hear more about it. Right now I can’t relate to any of the characters except Lisa, and I’m not sure I want to relate to anyone else.

Where to find stream: Funimation and Hulu

Tokyo Ghoul

tokyoghoulWhy I Watched It: I like stories where good characters have to grapple with terrible choices, and it doesn’t get much more awful than suddenly discovering that you’ve turned into a ghoul with cannibalistic urges to eat other humans.

What I Thought: It’s not quite as gory as I feared it might be, which is a relief. You might know that’s a half-chewed dead body in the darkness, but the show doesn’t come out and show it. What I’m surprised about is that ghouls are public knowledge in this world so people are aware of them and there seems to be a limited sort of understanding between regular humans and them. Unlike getting turned in a vampire and hungering for blood, getting turned into a ghoul and hungering for flesh is not sexy, and Tokyo Ghoul takes pains to show main character Kaneki trying to deal with his new condition when he’s both completely ignorant of how ghoul society works, and is repulsed by the thought of eating human flesh.

Verdict: I will be watching it. But it’s definitely not for everyone. It’s a dark show and I’m pretty sure that Kaneki will end up sliding down the slippery slope sooner or later. Eating humans does not appear to be optional for ghouls. Human food causes him to throw up.

Where to find stream: Funimation and Hulu

 

 

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

 

 

Anime Review: One Week Friends

written by Laurie Tom

oneweekfriendsOne Week Friends started off as my one must-watch show of the spring season, despite having only the barest of speculative elements (in that Kaori’s malady is not a real world condition). Though the rest of the series never again hits the high of the first episode, it remains an enjoyable watch throughout.

The premise is that one day while running an errand for a teacher, high schooler Yuuki Hase comes to realize that solitary classmate Kaori Fujimiya is not the ice queen he thought she was, so he offers to become friends with her. She oddly refuses.

At first Yuuki thinks it’s because her parents are strict and she’s not allowed to have friends, but throughout the coming week he manages to eat lunch with her everyday (as an acquaintance, not a friend) and gets to know her. It feels very natural and adorable watching the two of them, as Yuuki is obviously attracted to her and she keeps insisting they’re not really friends.

Finally, she admits that she has a strange condition where she forgets the people she cares about every Monday (barring family) and all the memories associated with them. She refuses to have friends because it’s very inconvenient for others to discover they’re strangers to her with the start of every week, and she is certain she will forget Yuuki because they’re been eating lunch together all week and she has enjoyed her time with him.

Yuuki finds this difficult to believe until the following Monday when Kaori gives him a hostile look in class when he greets her. But undeterred, Yuuki resolves to tell her at the start of every week that he wants to be her friend.

In the second episode, Yuuki manages to convince Kaori that they had become friends, and when she thinks about it, she realizes she had no memory of what she had done during lunch for the past week, so Yuuki must be telling the truth. Happy to have someone who is okay with her condition, the two of them form a plan where she writes a diary of events important to her so she can remember what her mind forgets, and Kaori hangs a sign on her bedroom door to remind herself every Monday morning to read her diary before going to school.

Each episode covers a few days in a given week, and explores the nature of friendship as Kaori comes out of her shell and realizes that she really does want friends, and Yuuki has to realize that just because she’s friends with him doesn’t mean he’s the only person she wants to be friends with. Yuuki does have jealous streaks, where he’s clearly unhappy that she’s spending time with other people, but even though he’s flawed and borderline possessive, he ultimately cares about Kaori and tries to do what’s best for her.

The supporting cast is good fun as well. Shogo, Yuuki’s blunt talking best friend, can steal the show with his pragmatic advice (that the audience is probably thinking as well) and Saki is such a naturally forgetful person that she’s completely accepting of Kaori’s unusual way of forgetting.

Probably the only thing I didn’t like too much was the extra bit of drama in the last few episodes when a new character is introduced from Kaori’s past. Though her condition is strange, I find I didn’t really need to know what the root of it all was, though the drama does allow for the formation of something closer to a series ending than if the show had simply made another episode.

The last episode is still a source of good feels regardless of the drama leading up to it and I like the small change to their weekly ritual of becoming friends again.

I’d recommend One Week Friends to anyone who doesn’t mind a heartwarming slice-of-life show. There’s no action to be found, but it’s a good series to curl up with.

Number of Episodes: 12

Pluses: adorable main characters, friendships evolve naturally, interesting premise

Minuses: sometimes feels a little slow in the middle, ending drama feels forced

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

 

laurietom

 

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 venues such as Galaxy’s Edge, Crossed Genres, and Solaris Rising: The New Solaris Book of Science Fiction.

Anime Catch-Up Review: Vampire Knight

written by Laurie Tom

I’ll start by saying I’m not a typical fan of vampire media. I dislike vampires as love interests. What I like is shooting/staking/killing vampires. In short, I like the hunters.

I first heard about Vampire Knight several years ago. It was about a high school where there is a Day Class for humans and a Night Class for the vampires, which at the time I thought was a neat twist. (Vampire Knight beat Twilight to market by a year.) Yuki Cross is a school Guardian charged with monitoring the Night Class to make sure they behave and do not prey on the humans in the Day Class, but unsurprisingly for a story aimed at the young female audience, she quickly finds herself torn between two boys: the immortal pureblood vampire Kaname Kuran and her vampire hunter foster brother Zero Kiryu.

Given my biases, I have to admit I only decided to watch the show because of Zero. He’s an incredibly tormented character. Even though Zero is a Day Class student and armed with an anti-vampire weapon, he is slowly turning into a vampire. And since he was bitten by another vampire rather than being born as one, he will eventually degrade until he’s a monster. Between his self-loathing and his devotion to Yuki he’s much more interesting to watch than Kaname, who spends most of the early episodes being good-looking and mysterious (I guess I’m past the age where that’s interesting to me).

Later episodes make it clear that Kaname has a far-reaching agenda and he’s not afraid to use people to get what he wants (which also includes some emotional stomping over Zero, who he abuses because he knows Zero is in love with Yuki and will not retaliate because Yuki is in love with Kaname–ah, love triangles!). There are scheming and political machinations that reach well beyond the high school environment.

Though I personally see Kaname as a manipulative bastard, Yuki’s fascination with him is well rooted and understandable even if as the audience I disagree with her choice. The world is decently well built, the characters engaging, and it doesn’t hurt that original manga writer/artist Matsuri Hino’s character designs are gorgeous to look at.

What I would have liked made clearer at an earlier point though, is that the vampires in school actually are high school aged. We see a younger Kaname in flashback and he ages right alongside Yuuki. As a vampire he will stop aging at a point, but the vampires at school really are teenagers, so it’s not as silly as it initially appears that they are going to class.

In the world of Vampire Knight the vampires are closely related to normal humans. They are not undead. They marry and raise families, and are capable of interbreeding with humans. They can be in the sun, though they are nocturnal by nature, and do not require blood to survive, though they enjoy drinking it. One’s status in vampire society is based off of how much human blood is in the lineage, with purebloods not having any at all. Transformed vampires like Zero reside at the very bottom of the social pyramid, and those that degrade entirely to being little more than animals are hunted by vampire hunters and regular vampires alike.

Unfortunately Vampire Knight does not cover the storyline for the whole manga series. The anime ran in 2008 and the manga itself did not wrap up until 2013, so there isn’t a conclusive ending to the storyline, but most of the plot threads are resolved so that it’s satisfactory (even the love triangle, surprisingly enough).

If you’re going to watch one anime series with pretty vampires at all, I’d recommend this one. It probably won’t convert anyone to the sub-genre, but it’s engaging, and even the love triangle bit turned out better than I thought it would.

Number of Episodes: 26

Pluses: gorgeous character designs, effective music score, Zero (if you really like tormented heroes)

Minuses: takes a while before the meaty bits of the plot come out, vampires being pretty, love triangle (I suppose the fact I enjoyed myself despite the latter two says something)

Vampire Knight is currently streaming at Hulu (subtitled) and Neon Alley (dubbed). The subtitled version was watched for this review.

 

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

Anime Movie Review: The Princess and the Pilot

The Princess and the Pilot is a sweet film about a noble girl betrothed to a prince and the pilot who has to ferry her through enemy territory to get her to safety. Taking place in an oceanic world inspired by the 1940s, the movie has an unusually modern setting for a star-crossed love story involving class systems and royalty.

It begins with Prince Carlo proposing to Lady Juana del Morel. He’s a good-looking young man who seems quite taken with her, and promises to end the war between the nation of Lavamme and the Amatsukami Empire within a year so he can safely marry her. However, a year passes and the war has not ended. Worse, the enemy has learned of the nuptials and targets her island home and bombs it intending to kill her.

Though she survives the bombing, her father does not, and it’s determined that it’s too dangerous for her to remain on the island. A fleet is dispatched from the mainland to bring her to Prince Carlo, but unknown to the public, the fleet is destroyed en route. The portion of the Lavamme Air Force stationed on the island hatches a plan to get her past the enemy blockade, where she can rendezvous with the sole remaining ship of the 8th Naval fleet. It will make for a good story, with the lone survivor returning victorious with the princess safely on board.

The problem is getting her there.

That job is given to Charles Karino, a biracial pilot ostracized for his mixed blood. He is half-Amatsukami. However, he is given the job because he’s clearly the best and the men in charge aren’t so blinded by racism that they are willing to risk Juana’s life. Charles is instructed how to behave himself in front of Juana, because under ordinary circumstances he’s not someone who would ever come in sight of her, and they will be traveling together in close proximity, in a two-seater reconnaissance plane called the Santa Cruz.

The Amatsukami have had technical superiority in the air with their Shinden fighter aircraft, but the newly designed Santa Cruz just might be fast enough to evade them if they can manage three days of travel relatively undetected. To aid their escape, the remainder of the island’s air force intends to serve as a decoy while they slip out.

The journey that follows slowly unravels the trappings of Juana’s life. Though her maids send her off trussed up with more padding than a kid in a car seat, she quickly loses most of that (and all her luggage to boot) on the first night when they have to unexpectedly hide from patrols out looking for them. But as Juana loses her material things, she also gains a sense of self she did not have before. Watching her grow from a caged bird into a partner capable of aiding in her own escape is one of the joys of the movie.

For his part, Charles is used to his lot in life. He likes flying because race and class doesn’t exist once he’s in the air, but on the ground he accepts the mistreatment that comes his way even when he has friends willing to stand up for him.

That doesn’t change much even when Juana is horrified that Charles is not the one who is going to be given a hero’s welcome and he will not be accompanying her to the capital after dropping her off with the navy. He’s not even going to be allowed to come on board the ship with her because of his status as a besado.

Though it’s clear there is a potential attraction between the leads, The Princess and the Pilot does not shoot for the typical Hollywood ending. It is a happy ending in its own way, but probably more of a realistic one.

Given this is a story involving fighter planes, I do have to mention that the dogfight scenes are easily among the best I’ve seen in anime. I’m not sure that some of what Charles pulls off is entirely realistic, but the animation does such a good job in making the audience buy into the fact Charles is the best in Lavamme.

The Blu-Ray also comes with a bonus art book detailing the character and mechanical designs for the movie, as well as comments from the director and the author of the original book Toaru Hikuushi e no Tsuioku.

Anyone curious about the fates of Juana and Charles post-movie can find hints about them in the TV series The Pilot’s Love Song (previously reviewed here) which is set in the same world.

 

The Princess and the Pilot was reviewed on Blu-Ray in the original Japanese with subtitles. The movie is also streamining at Crunchyroll (free to non-members after June 21st).

 

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 venues such as Galaxy’s Edge, Crossed Genres, and Solaris Rising: The New Solaris Book of Science Fiction.