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Movie Review: American Ultra (2015)

Genre: Action Comedy + Mild Drama
Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Topher Grace, Connie Britton

My hubby and I happened upon a trailer of American Ultra a few days ago and decided to give it a run. It turned out to be a pleasant surprise.


The story begins with stoner Mike Howell (Jesse Eisenberg) trying to do something nice for his long-time live-in girlfriend Phoebe Larson (Kristen Stewart) ahead of trying to propose to her. Unfortunately, our good-natured protagonist keeps having issues whenever he tries to leave their hometown. This last attempt of leaving for a simple holiday results in the leader of one chapter of the CIA putting a kill order out on the young man who is an unknowing subject of a government experiment that was closed down years before. Victoria Lasseter (Connie Britton), the woman that started and then closed down the program due to concerns for the subjects, is given a heads-up from an unknown informant and goes to the town to activate the young man as a means to save his life from a desk jockey that has well and truly lost the plot.

The film is highly entertaining, pushing the right amount of well-timed humour. The dialogue primarily effected this, with a lot of really funny conversations that also helped move the story forward. However, this doesn’t discount the fact that our heroes were in genuine danger, having to react to what is a shitty situation. If you know your share of emergency responders like I do, you will often find many of them using humour as a coping mechanism.
To the cast, I am a big fan of Jesse Eisenberg from the get-go and really like Topher Grace. I was pleasantly surprised with Kristen Stewart’s character though. Stewart is known for some unemotional roles, but she managed to pull out a solid performance as Phoebe. Her character proved to be really important to the overall progression of the storyline, and not just as a sideline character. As for the rest of the cast, I think that the folks involved in casting did a freaking excellent job of bringing together actors and actresses that worked well together.
The plot was pretty solid as well, with the hero making understandable mistakes on occasion. Howell is likable loser, one held back from achieving anything because he is the product of a secret government experiment that caused some odd mental issues. By the end of the story though, you get the feeling like he grew into the hero that he’s wanted to be for so long. He is also backed up by his kick-ass girlfriend Phoebe who is a genuine partner and lover.
To the action sequences, they were really well played out. Some of the odd technical issues that you often see in other movies were kicked in the ass, with bullets actually having an effect on objects such as furniture. There was only one moment were you had to suspend disbelief, but it in no way hurt the entertainment value of the film.

In conclusion, this movie is a highly entertaining watch. Note though that there is drug use in the film, hence some folks may want to give it a miss if they have an issue with simulated use of bongs. If you are good with that, I recommend giving it a watch.


Anime Review: Yuri!!! on ICE S1E01

Episodes: 1st episode of the ongoing series (English Dub)
Yuri!!! on ICE Online: Wikipedia
Genre: Drama + Sports

I don’t usually watch sports anime, but based on numerous reviews (including one by anime roaster Gigguk) and a rather lovely trailer, I decided to give the first episode of Yuri!!! on ICE a watch to see if it is worthy of the level of hype that it received leading up to the release of the anime.

WARNING: SPOILERS BELOW!!!!!! (Yes, I added more exclamation marks because the title does have three after all)

Professional Ice Skater Yuri Katsuki has been following his ice skating idol Victor Nikiforov ever since he was a little kid, but has recently hit a performance slump in his own career. After bombing the current season, Katsuki returns home to the dying Japanese town of Hasetsu in order to make a decision about his career. After a video of him emulating one of Victor’s performances perfectly at his local rink goes viral, Katsuki is shocked to find that his idol has arrived in order to coach him.

To begin with, this series has one of the loveliest intro songs and sequences that I have ever seen in an anime. The song, History Maker by Dean Fujioka, is freaking epic to begin with but those ice skating visuals kick it up a notch. Whoever decided on the layout, choreography and music is a freaking GOD! It is so gorgeous that I can easily watch it over and over again. I really dig the outro song as well.
Yuri Katsuki (Yuri.K) is a really sweet main character, with some mild flaws. One of those flaws is stress-related binge-eating. He also suffers from low self-esteem because he feels like he can never reach the heights of his idol. That being said, Yuri.K has a really supportive group of friends and family. His drunkard sister Mari does seemingly want to use her brother’s success as a way to meet hot ice skater guys but is otherwise supportive of her brother’s dream.
We get from the first episode that Yuri.K will have competition from Yuri Plisetsky (Yuri.P), one of Victor’s associates. Plisetsky is an ambitious fifteen year-old that to some degree views the mere presence of another Yuri as an affront. That is because Yuri.P is a whiny little bitch. Seriously, he’s proven to be an overly aggressive asshole so far. I look forward to seeing more character development from him though.
The storyline so far has been logical yet chaotic enough to emulate real people and circumstances that those same people face. That made it easy to relate to the situations. It appears that the writer also knows something about the sport as well, unlike some anime and manga writers that simply attempt to make shit up as they go. This allowed me to enjoy the episode without having to ignore things.
As for the art style, it was gorgeous and did justice to the ice skating sequences. There is also enough variation in the appearances of the characters to avoid them looking like clones of each other or of characters ripped directly from other anime.
To the voice acting, folks that have been following English dubbed anime for a while now will recognize some familiar voices. I don’t see this as a bad thing because many of these actors have been involved in a host of anime shows for more than a decade, series that have made me laugh, cry and gasp in disbelief. This includes Engish.Kirillon, that dude from Dragonball that voiced the talking Squirrel in Brothers Conflict and numerous characters in several other notable series.

In conclusion, this first episode has me willing to watch more of the show. It may be a bit slow for some viewers though, but I hope that folks give it a watch to see if they enjoy it. If you watch it, feel free to leave a comment to let me know what you did and didn’t enjoy about the anime. I look forward to reading what you thought about it.

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Anime Review: First Love Monster S1E01

Episodes: 1st episode watched so far of this ongoing series (English Dub)
First Love Monster Online: Wikipedia
Genre: [Shoujo] School Life + Romance??? + Comedy

As the title of this post implies, I am doing a review of the first episode of First Love Monster. It really has taken a bit of effort to gain composure enough to write this after finishing the episode and I hope that I can do it justice to what is a remarkable piece of anime. And no, I am not talking about remarkably bad either.


Overview: The first episode sees fifteen year-old protagonist Kaho, moving from her pampered life in a mansion (her family are sickeningly rich) into a student housing complex in the city with a group of strangers. As she is “helping” to unpack (something that she sucks at initially), a beloved Matroska doll that her brother gave her falls and starts rolling away. She runs after it and is saved from being hit by a truck by an apparently much older boy that she develops an immediate crush over. She asks his name and he refuses on the basis that his parents told him not to give out names to strangers, resulting in her feeling rejected because she is apparently hurt by rejections even when they are based on a reasonable security measure.
Kaho returns to her new home and later sees the same boy walking up the driveway. A small bit of banter results in him giving out his name (it is Kanade) as living in the same house obviously means that they aren’t strangers anymore. She declares her feelings and says that she wants to go out with him. He is not adversarial to the idea, but suggests that she may change her tune if she finds out more about him. The next day, she learns that he is an elementary student. The idea of dating a fifth-grader becomes the means for another girl living in the same complex to rip on her. Kaho doesn’t want to feel like a pervert by dating a younger boy. She considers whether or not to break up with Kanade.
Over the next few scenes, we see Kanade at school with two of his friends that also look much older than they actually are. It becomes evident quickly, that the boys do act like fifth-graders complete with reenactments of Naruto’s “thousand years of pain”. They also look incredibly wrong in their school uniforms. Between their antics and their appearance there is a level of wrongness that had me slamming my hand onto my desk yelling, “Wrong!!! Wrong!!!” But it got worse after the trio got Kaho involved in a game of high tag. For a good portion of the sequence, the trio spent a good portion discussing the best technique for readjusting their junk, resulting in them running away from the dude that demonstrated the “direct approach” because he now possessed the infamous “weiner hand”. That being said, the introduction of the fourth member of Kanade’s crew Kuzuo, adds the semblance of normality to what is a group of joyously idiotic boys. Cut to after credit sequence where several of the male cast members sit in a classroom breaking the fourth wall by discussing the remarkable use of the word “weiner” in the episode.

What can I say about this show so far? Well, it was not at all what I anticipated going in. It was a lot more silly, making use of much older voice actors for Kanade and the two older-looking boys that he hangs out with. This was just plain hilarious and showed that the writers and casting were willing to push the levels of silly even further. It was already silly, but they managed to step it up a notch. It makes for an entertaining watch.
Our leading lady Kaho is a good example of a duck out of water. She has a lot of adjusting to do, but is a really neat character because she isn’t spoiled by her pampered upbringing. She is adorable, and for the most part seems to be self-aware compared to the heroine in some other shows. She is confident in spite of herself, the want to experience new things after having most things provided for by her rich family. This includes friends, which also created a certain level of loneliness for her as she was never able to make friends for herself. She is still learning about the real world, but has a pretty good shot at surviving the quirkiness of her new circumstance.
As for the other characters, I really like what I have seen so far. Most have their own discernible traits, effected primarily by dialogue. It characters didn’t rely heavily on the archetype ideas so far, which was a relief. The casting for these other supporting characters merely augmented what was already there.
Am I likely to watch more episodes of First Love Monster? Yes. The show is a great outing that doesn’t take itself too seriously. Yes, I am well aware that there is more than enough bad, clone-tastic school life anime around these days, but this is not one of them. It manages to stand on its own in a sea of crap because it doesn’t try to be something that it is not. However, some folks will likely find it too silly and/or too adorable. That’s cool, as there is more than enough anime available to cover various preferences. Don’t forget to review any anime that you watch though as that is a great way to show some love/hate as well as inform folks trying to decide which anime to watch.

If you have any anime recommendations for me, then feel free to post in the comments section. Any rebuttals? Feel free to post as well.

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Anime Review: Brothers Conflict

Episodes: 12 (English dubbed version)
Brothers Conflict Online: Wikipedia
Genre: Romance ??? + Reverse Harem (Dating Sim variation)

I’ve been doing a bit of bingewatching of anime in the weeks leading up to NaNoWriMo. Its been pretty neat so far, allowing me to discover some entertaining shows and revisit some series that I have watched in the past. Some shows have fallen short, but it is interesting to see how certain writers have thrown in to specific genres. I still have a few days to go before November 1st, and hope to have good news to post about the writing project in the weeks and months to come.
Anyway, I decided to check out a new-ish reverse harem series today and watched it all of the way through in one afternoon. I was unfamiliar with Brothers Conflict ahead of time, but I decided to give it a run based on a list and the loose premise. It turned out to be hilarious, though I suspect that this may not have necessarily been intended. But hey, I’ll take it! That series is Brothers Conflict.

Brothers Conflict is the story of Ema, a girl in her last year of high school whose father is getting married to a woman with 13 sons. Ema decides to move into a house with siblings that she has never met before because she has a deep desire to feel connected to her new family after being a lonely, only child for all of her life. This is also in spite of numerous concerns by Juli, a pet squirrel that only she can understand because of… reasons. As each of her siblings develop their own feelings towards her, rivalries form. Ema attempts to negotiate the odd situation without hurting feelings for the new family that she’s grown to care for.

To begin with, it is obvious from the get-go that this series is tied to a dating game. This results in some noticeable queues and archetypes being used. It also means that viewers don’t necessarily get the feeling of resolution that one would get in a standard harem or reverse harem anime or manga. That being said, I did like some of the characters. The problem is that most come off as PUAs (pick up artists), which makes it difficult to take some of the characters seriously. #pickupyourstepsisterdotcom I also found myself checking off traits based on the character archetype. This wasn’t necessarily as bad as it could have been, but was still formulaic.
As for the talking squirrel… I am a little confused as to what the hell was up with that little dude. (FTI, he is voiced by the same voice actor as Kirillin in the English dub of Dragonball and Dragonball Z) Though Juli did offer the occasional word of wisdom and frequent legitimate words of warning, Ema tended to brush off his concerns easily in spite of him being right a large portion of the time. This almost removed the point of him being in the series in the first place apart from mild amusement for the viewers as they knew that Ema would make things even more complicated by not heeding his advice. Juli is in my personal opinion, a long-suffering character that genuinely cares for his human companion. #squirrelsalwaysgivegoodadviceaboutnuts
Given that Ema only talks to another female once or twice throughout the entire show, one might wonder if the entire world revolves around the weird universe that is the occupants of Sunrise Residence Complex. I suppose that this is a dating sim throwback, but it sure was bizarre. Seriously, I think that I only heard one female student and Miwa Asahina get prominent rather than background lines during the entire twelve episodes.
You have likely noted the number of step-brothers. I would like to point out that some of them aren’t necessarily pursuing Ema. I would also point out that three are triplets and one is adopted. Yes, that still leaves ten known pregnancies for the fertile Miwa Asahina. That being said, that is one heck of a litter. Seriously, imagine the logistical nightmare that large families are. I am the youngest of five and even that was a pain for my parents. #notvleadstolotsofchildren
Another oddity was the massive house that the family lives in. It isn’t really clarified how the family got their mansion and various holiday homes, but the various occupations that the Asahina boys that work do have is not necessarily enough to cover what is effectively a multistory hotel and rental empire. Perhaps somebody sacrificed a virgin and sold their soul to Satan to get that… #satanismiscoolmmkay
Next we go to dialogue and scenarios… I found myself regularly pausing scenes to throw in my own piece of dialogue to completely change the feel of an entire scene. There were a few moments in the show though where I was actually pleasantly surprised. It added to the show, but I wish that the folks involved in the adapting it for anime had gone a bit further. Some opportunities were lost, though I suppose thist might be due to restrictions of being connected to a computer game. #iheartbishies
Art-wise this show is quite gorgeous. It is a modernized version of some of the anime and manga from the late 80’s and the early 90’s. Nice line-work and colouring, but is still formulaic as far as character archetypes is concerned. It is not enough to hurt the show but doesn’t add anything new to the genre.

In conclusion, this anime is not for everyone. Going into it, you should be aware that it is based on a dating sim, which changes the style of the storytelling and characterization substantially. Secondly, squirrels are the new monkeys. Thirdly, the world revolves around the main character who cannot seem to keep dudes from falling for her. Fourth, Ducks cause people to fall in ponds. Fifth, step-brothers like to kiss their step-sisters, resulting in sparkles. Sixth, the heroine likes to cook, causing dudes to fall even further for her. Eighth, step-brothers will occasionally pretend they are gay for each other to dick with their stepsister. Ninth, stepbrothers will occasionally consider raping their stepsister in her sleep. Tenth, stepbrothers sometimes like to hit on their stepsister and back her into a wall to dick with her. Eleventh, more sparkles. Twelfth, loving fathers never talk to their daughters. Thirteenth, loving mothers don’t talk to their sons either. Fourteenth, seriously what is with these freaking sparkles. So, if you can deal with all of the sparkles and oddities that I mentioned in this review then you might like this anime.

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Anime Review: Kamisama Kiss

Episodes: 13 (English dubbed version)
Kamisama Kiss Online: IMDB
Genre: Urban Fantasy (Eastern) + Romantic Comedy + Reverse Harem

I first become familiar with Kamisama Kiss through an English translation of the manga several years ago. I found it oddly charming, but never got to read it all for some reason. Finding the English dub of the anime adaption was a pleasant surprise and well worth the watch given my own tastes in manga and anime.

Kamisama Kiss is the story of a 17 year-old school student named Nanami, whose father’s gambling debts have led to her being evicted from her home after her dad did a runner. Whilst trying to figure out her next course of action, Nanami rescues a man from a yapping dog that has apparently bailed him up a tree. After explaining her situation, he indicates that she can have his home before promptly kissing her on the forehead. He quickly leaves before she wanders up the hill to check out the “new digs”, which turns out to be a run-down shrine, the former owner/God Mikage, transferring his ownership over to her with the forehead kiss. She is greeted by two servant spirits. The problem lies with Mikage’s former familiar Tomoe, a guy that is very hostile to a human taking over the shrine that he has taken care of for two decades after Mikage never returned from a trip into “town”.

The bulk of the storyline focuses around Nanami trying to prove herself to Tomoe who is constantly questioning her ability to do even the simplest task of a shrine God. There is also competition for Nanami’s affections from other non-human bishies. This creates an interesting challenge for Tomoe, who has to come to terms with the fact that he cares for Nanami in spite of declarations otherwise. Of course, given that he is the central part of the reverse harem, you know that no-one else has a chance with the sometimes-violent-but-sweet heroine.
Kissing is another important element in the show, allowing the sealing of contracts and sharing of spiritual energy. This gave plenty of opportunities for smooching scenes.. and moist panties. So… many… attractive… bishies…
Yokai (non-human, non-god spirits) also play a huge part in the storyline as several of the cast are Yokai themselves. Being that Yokai are not human, they don’t have necessarily have the same drives and goals as humans do because their biology and spiritual abilities don’t work in the same way. That being said, the take on Yokai also suggests that there are some drives that are inherent in all beings, such as the desire to connect with other people. Sometimes this involves wanting to smooch with pretty lights around you.
I found the show hilarious and cute, though I do have some minor annoyances. There are some scenes that irked me, usually involving verbal abuse of Nanami by Tomoe. Mean words are often just that, though in Tomoe’s case, he began as a bit of an ass. The two are both a work in progress though and thus works as a great example of a character-driven story. In spite of some of these annoyances, the series avoids becoming a soap opera like a certain other manga that I read last year. (aka the manga that shall not be named) It also avoids having issues over consent like that same manga that I read last year.

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Anime Series Review: Tiger & Bunny

Episodes: 25 (English dubbed version)
Tiger & Bunny Online: IMDB
Genre: Science Fiction, Superhero, Mystery, Conspiracy, Action, Comedy, Drama

In a world where powered heroes known as “NEXT” are sponsored by corporations as part of a crime-fighting and disaster aversion reality television show, aging hero Kotetsu “Wild Tiger” Kubaragi, is partnered with a mysterious young man named Barnaby Brooks Jr., that shares his own power. With new equipment to boot, Wild Tiger must navigate having a partner for the first time in his career, as well as a greater mystery relating to the murder of Barnaby’s parents and the impact that it has on the show.

I first became familiar with Tiger & Bunny back when there was only an English sub available. I found those first few episodes enjoyable, but I was waiting for an English dub version so that I could watch it with my husband. As expected, we both really enjoyed the series. Though it begins with shorter arcs wherein the sponsored NEXT deal with criminals and calamity, we know right from the beginning that Barnaby’s own situation will likely relate to a longer story arc and we see these breadcrumbs leading up to the second half of the series. The show is well-paced throughout.
The characters and world-building put a nice twist to the usual superhero setting. Kotetsu has to manage a relationship with his teenage daughter Kaede, that doesn’t know the real reason why he misses many of the big moments of her life leading into adulthood. He and Barnaby’s baility was somewhat unique as well, a power that enhances their physical attributes for five minutes. This creates its own tension, as the pair need to make creative use of their abilities within the time limit. This is made even more difficult by Kotetsu’s over-zealousness and habitual independence.
We also get a look into the lives of the rest of the sponsored NEXT. Each NEXT has their own important role to play in the longer story arc, but some need a bit more encouragement than others, such as young contracted photobomber Ivan “Origami Cyclone” Kavelin. The young man’s arc goes into some detail about NEXT academy. All of the team are really likable, even the demanding Dragon Kid and broody Blue Rose. It is apparent that the team actually see a need for their powers that go beyond the financial incentives as well, making them genuine heroes. The points system used by the show becomes more of a way to rate and test their own skills than simply about glory or money. Their powers and personalities are distinct as well, such as flirtatious drag queen Fire Emblem. Fire Emblem is probably my favourite character actually. He is smart and confident around others, a strong and loyal, if eccentric, hero. His also tends to have better luck with his powers.
Whilst the end of the series didn’t end in the secret organization being dispatched in full, it did give us enough breadcrumbs to suggest that those associated with the murder of Barny’s parents were dealt with and that the organization will likely be in disarray for some time. This gave a high level of gratification, but it also gives us an indication that the heroes have a genuine threat to deal with.
In conclusion, if you like superhero stories with a conspiracy then you will probably like Tiger & Bunny. The greater story arc also offers a genuine feeling of the scope of the conspiracy that Bunny and the others are dealing with. I would love to see future installments, though I am curious as to how the writers will move the story forward given the events of the previous series. Anyway, go find a copy and watch the crap out of Tiger & Bunny because this show is well worth the time!

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TV Series Review: Scream Queens

Episodes: 26
Scream Queens Online: IMDB
Genre: Comedy, Horror, Camp

When Grace Gardner (Skyler Samuels) arrives at college, she is astonished when a new policy forces the prestigious sorority that her mother used to attend to allow membership to anyone that wishes to join. With new friend ZayDay Williams (Keke Palmer) and a host of other new recruits, the entire members of the sorority is rocked when a newcomer is murdered by way of a ride-on mower during one of the initiation rituals. So begins a rather amusing, campy parody about college serial killer thrillers.

I was somewhat unsure as to how the series would pan out going in, but I decided to give it a run based on the unusual premise. It turned out to be a gem, poking fun at a bunch of cliches. The plot and pacing were both solid as well, but the willingness for the cast to play out the silly scenario allowed the audience to enjoy the silliness and occasional talk of threesomes. It also didn’t hurt to have Jamie Lee Curtis as Cathy Munsch, a role that she knocked out of the park.