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Anime Review: Amagi Brilliant Park

Alternate Names: Amaburi
Year: 2014
Episodes: 12 + 1 bonus story (English dub version)
Genre: Fantasy, Comedy. Magic, Drama, Romance

For some time, I kept seeing references to a series called Amagi Brilliant Park in various anime recommendation lists. Whilst in some cases the reviews were low-energy, I found a couple that suggested that the series might include comedy that I would be entertained by. With that in mind, I roped my husband into watching it with me. And holy crap, I am glad that I did!

When Seiya Kanie is forced at muzzle point to go on a date with new girl Isuzu Sento, he discovers that the dilapidated theme park that she takes him on the date is home to a bunch of magical creatures that live off of the joy of visitors. Asked to take over as park manager, the former child star (and resident narcissist) is reluctant at first but decides to help in order to save the theme park. However, it is better said than done when the employees cause more problems than they fix. Seiya has to contend with deviant mascots, useless fairies and a host of other annoyances.

The artwork is solid, with neat linework and colouration. The character designs don’t try to reinvent the wheel but still do a good job of looking visually interesting and attractive. This is coupled with good set design that provides a sizable playground for shenanigans to occur. Whether it is a dragon hanging out in a faux-dungeon or Moffle’s mousy battleground, Amagi feels like a magical theme park. Ridiculous and silly at times, sure, but magical nonetheless. We also see the magical nature of the offworlders come through in various other ways, such as some of the staff using illusory trinkets to pretend they are human when they are off work.
As mentioned above, this series is a comedy. Whilst it is set in a theme park that is inhabited by magical entities, the situations and adult references are geared for an older audience. The plushie characters turn the idea of a cute and innocent furry on the head with the three primary mascots being middle-aged perverts prone to either acts of violence or over-the-top pranks. Yes, they are still plushies, just perverts with either womanising (re: Macaron the sheep and Tiramy the pink dog) or sis-con tendencies (re: Moffle the primary mascot). A lot of the humour comes about because of the antics of Macaron and Tiramy in particular, with the violent Moffle being tame in comparison. This makes for some entertaining scenes that integrate well into the primary story arcs.
The characterisation is awesome, with each character being given a chance to shine (or fanny about) over the span of those thirteen episodes. Each character managed to feel unique as well, without seeming like filler. For the magical characters, the over-the-top lunacy shows just how weird magical creatures are. That being said, outsourcing human astronauts for the customer and retail service sector does seem like an odd choice. But hey, I’m not Seiya.
The story itself relies on a ticking clock, wherein the theme park must bring in 500k customers before mid-year otherwise it will be shut down. This is also aggravated by the circumstances of Princess Latifah. Throughout the several months in which the series takes place, we see a host of shenanigans wherein Seiya and his employees must deal with economic problems, supply chain issues, marketing and otherworldly pirate attacks. It comes together in a charming manner that still makes me grin like an idiot at the recollection. Unlike Bethesda products, this series does work.

In conclusion, this is one of the better comedy anime series out there if you want something targetted for an older audience. It hasn’t knocked Monthly Girls Nozaki-kun off of the podium but is pretty damn close. I can also see myself rewatching it again soon. With that in mind, hurry up and watch the first episode already!

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Anime Review: Hunter x Hunter (1999-2001) Vs Hunter x Hunter (2011-2014)

Alternate Names: Tate no Tuusha no Nariagari
Year: 1999-2001 Vs 2011-2014
Episodes: A LOT (English dub version)
Genre: Shounen, Science Fiction, Martial Arts, Action, Adventure, Drama

I don’t usually do comparative reviews, but I decided to make an exception for the two series of Hunter X Hunter. Both series showed how simple changes can alter how you see a situation. That being said, I adored both series because of how solid the plot, characterisation, drama and world-building played out over the span of more than 200 episodes. Whilst I will try to avoid specifics, I apologise for any spoilers over the span of this comparative review.

Hunter X Hunter follows Gon Freecss as he navigates the world of Hunters in the hopes of connecting with his long-lost father, Ging Freecss. A hunter license gives qualified individuals a bunch of perks, including access to a hunter-only job board. However, it isn’t all fun and adventure. Gon soon comes face to face with numerous perils, including several that will irrevocably affect the known world.

The newer version of this series is a retelling that changes his background. the starting point of the series, adds a bit more detail to certain scenes as well as including two more story arcs. The new series begins with Gon about to do the qualification test for the Hunter license instead of the starter point where a chance meeting with a hunter named Kite sends him down a rabbit hole of sorts in order to find his father. His father’s cousin, who Gon refers to as Aunt Mito, has raised him. Whilst in the original version she runs an inn alongside her mother, we see her working on the docks of their small fishing community in the newer of the two series. A few scenes are provided with further context ahead of the Greed Island, Chimera Ant and 13th Hunter Chairman Election arcs that were absent in the original series which got abruptly cut off in 2001 at the conclusion of the Yorknew City arc. On top of these changes, the newer series also updates some aspects to be in line with modern technology. At the end of the newer series, the scale of their world is revealed in dramatic fashion, almost reminding me of the scene at the end of the film Men in Black.

Now that the differences are out of the way, below is a list of what you can expect from both series:

The artwork is a mixture of different styles, ranging from the Astroboy-like and Pokemon-esque appearance of Gon to the bishounen appearance of Kirapika. This includes some Dragonball Z inspiration for some of the character designs in the Chimera Ant arc. The linework is crisp and the colouration provides good contrast. Along with this, the settings are a mix of cityscapes and lush wilderness that provides a stark contrast to some of the darker aspects of this series.
Hunter X Hunter is a series that dares to show the darker side of humanity, with Gon being confronted with harsh reality. Unfortunately for Gon, there is rarely black and white. Whilst he wants people to care about each other equally, humans form into groups and we tend to favour groups that we associate with. This simplistic view is both charming and foolish. On top of this, we see the huge power disparity between Gon and many of the foes that the twelve-year-old and his allies deal with during the span of both series. An example is the Phantom Troupe, an organisation that killed and took the eyes of Kirapika’s entire family. Each one of the members could easily kill him and child assassin Killua. That being said, Gon brings his heightened senses and stealth to bear on numerous occasions.
The world-building for this series is somewhat unique, in that we cannot rely on our modern forms of fairness because the various nations don’t provide safety nets. Organised crime is a big deal, and a lot of people have to rely on their wits and luck to survive in a lot of regions. Even the Hunter Association is questionable at best, survivability being favoured over morality and ethics. This further demonstrates the nature of the world in which Gon and his friends live, where looking out for number one is a strategy for staying alive. That being said, there are glimpses of kindness and joy that act as a candle in the dark.
The power set provided by the chi-like martial arts system allows more room for escalation of threats on top of basic martial arts techniques. This gives a lot of room for weird and wonderful powers that the characters contend with. Whether it is poetry power words, chains of imprisonment or puppet-mastery of assassination, we see a world filled with the many tools that can be used to harm as well as protect.
As eluded to earlier, the characters are heavily shaped by the world around them. This provides a level of complexity to a lot of the characters that often shown through subtext. In the case of the enigmatic psychopath Hisoka, we also see that many of the characters think dozens of steps down the line in order to create the desired result. And our heroes are allowed to fail on a regular basis, showing the ramifications of not dealing with a threat. People do die on occasion, such as several during the Hunter License test. Whilst the Chimera Ant arc wavered a bit in this regard, we see how good writing can create a logical solution to deal with foes that would otherwise win.

In conclusion, both series are worth watching. That being said, I recommend that you watch the newer series instead which also includes three extra story arcs and drops you into the thick of it with the Hunter Test arc. This places an appropriate focus instead on life outside of the safe haven that is the small island in which he was raised by his Aunt Mito. So, if you are a shounen fan that hasn’t already checked out either series, it is time to do so!


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Anime Review: The Rise of the Shield Hero Season 1

Alternate Names: Tate no Tuusha no Nariagari
Year: 2019
Episodes: 25 (English dub version)
Genre: Isekai, Fantasy, Action, Adventure, Drama

I first came across The Rise of the Shield Hero by chance when Crunchyroll released the first episode. Intrigued, I started delving into the manga as I knew it would be some time before the next episode came out. Over the next day, I binge-read all of the available chapters. The plot, world-building and characterisation got me hook, line and sinker. The following contains my thoughts on the first season that was released earlier this year. I apologise for any spoilers contained within my review.

The story tells of a young man named Naofumi Iwatami whose parents have allowed him to live as a shut-in after he helps get his brother onto the straight and narrow. During a visit to a local library, he comes across a strange book pertaining to The Four Cardinal Heroes and is promptly sucked into it. Awakening from being summoned to another world with a peculiar game interface, Naofumi quickly learns that he is one of the four cardinal heroes known as the shield hero. He is soon wrongly accused of rape by the eldest princess of the realm, leading to numerous revelations about the kingdom of Melromarc. With the help of a Raccoon-girl named Raphtalia and a Filolial girl he raises from a chick, the party quickly uncover both a threat within the kingdom and some clues as to the nature of the various waves that the cardinal heroes are trying to halt.

The artwork for this series is pretty solid, with solid linework and rich colouration of both character and setting which reflects the source material. These provided necessary contrast and differentiation between people and places without feeling out of place. Whilst the artwork wasn’t to the heights of masterpieces such as Violet Evergarden, it doesn’t need to be. Instead, it focuses on telling a story about people in a screwed up situation.
The characterisation was solid, with the especially-interesting protagonist who has a heart of gold beneath that understandably hardened exterior. He has a lot of anger there, and with good reason. Being accused of something that he considers a heinous act, to begin with, also provides him with the motivation to problem-solve through issues that only somebody isolated by society would be forced to contend with. Naofumi still manages to show moments of love and kindness to the likes of Raphtalia, who shares her own traumatic past. This contrasts with the flippant personalities of the three other cardinal heroes who have much of their wants and needs delivered on a silver platter up until >spoilers<. We also see the interesting point about how appearances can be deceiving, such as the case of Princess Malty of Malromarc. To understand the character of a person, we must dig deeper.
The setting where the story predominantly takes place is an awesome one to play in. We see how the religious and political elements of Melromarc inevitably create problems for Naofumi and the demihumans in his party. His first connection to Raphtalia is through a slave trader, just as an example. The royal family is a mess, with an angsty father being manipulated by his eldest daughter whilst his wife is away on a diplomatic mission. Malty and her father are characters that most will hate a lot more than the forces attacking the world in which they reside. The religion of the kingdom has a huge part to play in the situation of Naofumi and his companions. These various elements build upon each other to make for a complex and compelling story.
The plot itself might not be unique by the standards of an Isekai fan such as myself. However, it is how these elements are brought together that makes all of the difference. Whilst being brought to the world is a big deal, it can be argued that the false accusation against Naofumi is the inciting incident that changes the protagonist in a dramatic fashion. His view of the world around him, that feeling that he is fighting for people that need his help, is tipped on its head as he realises that heroes sometimes protect those that see their salvation as trash. There are numerous other realisations as well, but this is a big one. The twists that we see throughout the first season offer lots of room for storytelling as well, which the writer/s took advantage of.

To a comparison between the manga and anime, I would say that this is a rather faithful adaptation of the manga. It follows the chapters nearly blow b blow, whilst at the same time reflecting the art style and vibe of the other aspects of the manga. Unfortunately, the status of the manga will likely create issues with the release of a second season. I suppose that I will just have to read the manga until the next season comes out.

In conclusion, I adore this series. Whilst there are numerous confronting moments throughout the series, they show us what the heroic party of Naofumi and his allies are fighting against. The probing of human nature and what it means to be a hero make for a compelling watch, as do the various twists and turns along the way. So, if this sounds like something you would enjoy, be sure to check out the first season wherever you watch anime. Happy viewing!


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Anime Review: The Disastrous Life of Saiki K Season 1

Alternate Names: Saiki Kusuo no Psi Nan
Year: 2016
Episodes: 24 (English dub version)
Genre: Shounen, Comedy, Supernatural, School Life

Years ago, I came across an odd manga that left me scratching my head. It wasn’t a case of it being bad, but it was in a format that I was unused to. A few weeks later, I discovered an English dub of the anime. It would take some time before my hubby would agree to watch it with me. As expected, he absolutely loved it as well. (Sadly, the same cannot be said for Gintama. Oh, well.) Anyhoo, the following discusses a series that holds a special place in my heart, the part that enjoys over-the-top gags and general anime shenanigans.

Kusuo Saiki was born with psychic powers, something that he has to control with a strange antennae thing in his head. His psychic powers come with numerous issues, and his efforts to be overlooked is made difficult by the moronic “Yankee” Riki Nendou, a host of annoying classmates, a pathetic father keeps asking for help getting out of self-created messes and the Kusuo must also deal with the bizarre machinations of his jealous super-genius older brother. All the while, he must figure out how to get an ample supply of coffee pudding.

First up, the artwork for this series is strikingly beautiful. The linework is neat and colouration provides a lot of contrast, reminding me of some of Monthly Girl’s Nozaki-kun at times. The character designs are amazing, adding to the humour of this series. An example is Midori Nendou, Riki’s mother. Along with the dialogue, the artwork brings to life some really good situational humour. However, some folks might not find the butt humour as amusing as yours truly.
Whilst the small sketches that comprise each episode do well on their own, there is still a continuity to the timeline. A situation from a previous episode often affects what happens later as well, showing that there are ramifications for what happens. Each sketch adds to the story as well, instead of feeling like filler. Over time, these happenings result in Kusuo making connections with people, the one thing he has been avoiding.
The plot is backed up by some really good characterisation and character development. It might be over-the-top at times, but it works really well. This is backed up by some good casting for the English dub version, doing justice to a really good collection of characters. It also does a good job of managing a larger cast of characters as well.

How closely does it follow the manga? Like Monthly Girl’s Nozaki-kun, it ends up being fairly close if not identical to the source material. Both are a good adaptation of their respective manga series. As an anime fan, it is always awesome to see an anime studio do justice to the series it is adapting. J.C. Staff and Egg Firm deserve praise for how well they adapted this series. Can we expect anything less from studios that adapted Toradora!, A Certain Magical Index, Kino no Tabi, and DanMachi2?

In conclusion, this series is in my top five anime. It is also something that I have enjoyed in both an English sub and dub version.


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Anime Review: That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime Season 1

Alternate Names: Tenshi Shitara Suraimu Datta Ken
Year: 2018-2019
Episodes: 25 (English dub version)
Genre: Isekai, Fantasy, Action, Adventure, Comedy, Drama

Earlier this year, various anime recommendations led me to watch the first series of That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime. The show begins with the sacrificial death of our protagonist Satoru Mikami, whose rambling, delirious last words result in him being reincarnated in a different world as an OP sentient slime. Under the guise of “Rinmaru”, our bouncy protagonist goes about defeating bad guys, making friends and builds his own forest-based nation in spectacular style. All the while, he learns that he isn’t the only one that has been brought to the world, some of which were summoned alive, and that there are powers at work to summon a powerful demon lord.

The strength of this series is in how our protagonist goes out of his way to help others, in the process founds and expands his own nation. This creates its own share of issues due to the collection of monsters, humans and demihumans inhabitants, both friend and foe. He also has to deal with trade routes and other necessary requirements for a functioning government. As the nation grows, it gains the ire of other parties, including foodie Demon Lord Milim Nava. All the while, we see the machinations of powerful individuals naming monsters in an attempt to summon Demon Lord Kuro. This teaches the audience about the world and its inhabitants as it becomes relevant, avoiding info-dumps seen in a lot of fantasy series.
Although I loved the main arc, it quickly leads into an out-of-place arc where Rinmaru goes to a different country to save the lives of off-worlder students of the young warrior he uses as a template for human shapeshifting. As cute as this arc was, it deviated too much from the central themes that got me interested in the series in the first place, the big picture effect of Rinmaru’s arrival. However, it would have fit well as a standalone OVA series, preserving the main arc ahead of the second season arriving in 2020. That being said, a single-episode origin story about Shizu is a good introduction to the character we will no doubt be seeing in the second season, Demon Lord Kuro.

In Conclusion, I loved this series but one of the small arcs seemed out of place. That being said, it was a fun watch. If you don’t have an issue with OP leads, love both isekai and fantasy, then I recommend this series. It is also accompanied by the main manga and several spinoff manga as well which are sure to add to the world-building and character development.

 


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Anime Review: ReZero

Alternate Names: Re:Zero Starting Life in Another World (English name), Re:Zero kara Hajimeru Isekai Seikatsu (Japanese name), Re: Life in a different world from zero (English synonym)
Year: 2016
Episodes: 25 (English dub version)
Genre: Isekai, Fantasy, Romance, Drama, Psychological

Warning: Spoilers below.

Back when this series was first being released, I decided to wait for an English dub of the series to be released. Then, I somehow forgot about it. Well, hubby and I have been going over old shows and learned that ReZero did indeed get an English dub at some point. So, we jumped in headfirst.

When otaku Subaru Natsuki gets sent to another world whilst grabbing snacks from a local quickie mart, he meets a monarchy candidate named Amelia. The stigma of looking like the Witch of Envy creates numerous problems for the kind-hearted young woman, including gaining the attention of the witch’s cult who are trying to bring back the object of their worship. Suburu has fallen head over heels for her and quickly learns that he has the ability to come back to “save points” if he dies. How will he rise above his own fears to help her fulfill her dream of becoming the Queen?

The unusual nature of this Isekai series was a big factor in drawing people’s attention to the series in the beginning. That weird mechanic of coming back to a save point after death sounds appealing in theory. However, in practice… Natsuki’s desire to help Amela is easier said than done. He will need to die over and over again to gather information on numerous threats, but like any sane person, he is afraid of dying. As put forward in at least one of the episodes, he isn’t sure of the parameters of the return from death power. This uncertainty is an understandable concern. Also, his deaths tend to be quite horrific. Most people prefer to die in their sleep rather than disembowelment or torture by people you believed to be allies.
Natsuki is a relatable protagonist. He isn’t good at everything. Instead, he has to learn things over time. He makes mistakes along the way, but at his core is that love of Amelia. Folks will likely ask, “What about Rem?” Yes, Rem is the best girl of ReZero but Subaru was in love with Amelia from the start. Rem is played beautifully throughout this series, her own love of Natsuki reflecting how he feels for Amelia. They understand each other on this fundamental level even if Natsuki’s own affections are directed elsewhere. He never pretends otherwise even if he does talk of running away with Rem in order to reduce the chance of causing more harm to those around him. At this moment, we see one of the best pep-talks in anime and manga by Rem. It shows the strength of her character and how much she wants him to be genuinely happy.
“But Keiko, what about all of the violence?” Yes, there are some really violent sequences in this series. It can be confronting at times, but this gives Natsuki incentive to fight even more to avoid such fates for himself and the various people that he cares for. Some of these scenes also give us insight into the inner world of other characters as well. A great example of this is his relationship with the demon twins Rem and Rom. On several occasions, he is attacked by them resulting in at least one death. Multiple perspectives of situations often play a huge part in some of the conflicts. The stakes are even higher given that a lot of the series relates to the political situation of a kingdom.
The voice acting and characterization for this series was excellent. Sean Chiplock knocks it out of the park with his voicing of Natsuki. Given how he rocks this character, I am wondering why the hell he doesn’t do a lot more voice acting. The oddly named Brianna Knickerbocker is perfectly placed as Rem, with another unfamiliar voice actress, Kayli Mills doing a great job as Amelia. Of all of the cast members, the standout for me is Sarah Williams’ voicing of Felix Argyle. She does an awesome job of his vocal mannerisms and injects an ample amount of mischief into this odd character.

In conclusion, this is one of the better Isekai series out there. It also easily fits into the romance category because of how it approaches the love triangle of Natsuki, Rem, and Amelia. That approach to character and worldbuilding makes for a genuinely enjoyable experience. I absolutely adore this series.


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Anime Review: My Hero Academia Seasons 1-3

Alternate Names: Boku no Hero Academia (Japanese)
Year: 2016 – 2018 (ongoing)
Episodes: !3, 25, and 25 (English dubbed versions)
Genre: Shounen, Superhero, Action, Drama, Comedy

Warning: Some spoilers below.

I first came across this series back when the first season was being released. There was a bit of hype in the lead-up but I was heavily distracted watching rom-coms and other nonsense at the time. I ended up watching the first episode on AnimeLab and absolutely adored it. However, it was about a year later that I managed to convince hubby to watch the show with me. The big selling point was that it was one of several popular series from the same anime season that got an English dub. As expected, he loved the show as well. She shoots… SHE SCORES!!!
I have decided to write this review for the first three seasons of My Hero Academia because I think that just covering one season wouldn’t do it justice. Whilst most of you are already familiar with the series, below is a short overview for those that are not.  

My Hero Academia is a show set in a world where people with powers (aka quirks) are commonplace. The series follows an intelligent young man named Izuku Midoriya that is born without a quirk but really wants to become a hero. When he is given a quirk by the most powerful and popular hero in the world (All Might), Midoriya sets about becoming a hero. His path is made difficult by the antagonism of former childhood friend Katsuki Bakugou and by the machinations of All Might’s archnemesis All for One.

The world of My Hero Academia is an alternate Earth where people at some stage started manifesting powers. Because of the chaos, various governments implemented rules for using powers, which includes the hero licensing system. This system is one of the major elements that Midoriya will have to negotiate due to it being illegal to be a vigilante. The entrance into these academies is hard enough, but the training is even tougher especially when you are still learning how to learn how your powers work like our protagonist is.

Along the way, Midoriya will come into contact with a host of heroes and villains with their own unique powers and personas. The motivations and backstories for many of these characters are often just as compelling as that of our protagonist. These characters also do a great job of helping move the plot forward whilst offering a nice contrast to Midoriya. The characters are given the chance to shine and fail, the latter giving them a chance to learn from the experience.
And this brings us to seasonal versus series arcs. Whilst each season has a major arc, it ties into the series arc. Little events, such as an attack of a group of villains are shown as often being a part of something bigger. As the characters learn more about the problem, they are forced to adapt. This results in our heroes having to train harder, become stronger and more versatile. Whilst we see a lot of growth on the part of other characters,
Midoriya and Bakugou’s joint arcs are the most compelling because of their shared history and hero worship of All Might. The latter often holds both back significantly more because their actions tend to be related to what All Might would do. However, neither are All Might. When All Might inevitably lose his powers, Bakugou is forced to rethink his relationship with Midoriya, who has been keeping a secret from him. On the other hand, Midoriya is forced by an injury to fight differently where before he was emulating All Might.
To the subject of the artwork, the character design does a good job of conveying the bizarre physiological traits of many of the characters in this world whilst at the same time have a whimsical element one comes to expect from a series about a hero with a positive outlook. The colors are bright and fit well with the themes of this series. I also love the equipment design we see throughout the series. A good example is the shoes that Midoriya has made in the third season. They aren’t as extravagant as the ones worn by Tenya Iida but they fit well with their purpose. The action sequences are put together well, conveying character in the process.
One thing I will say is that whilst some sites online list this series as a comedy, I feel that it is more of a drama than a comedy because of how the show deals with conflict. That’s okay, though, as the moments of both humor and drama provide us insight into the characters without watering down the story.

In conclusion, this show did a great job of managing a large cast of characters and building upon complexity throughout the series. I highly recommend this series to anyone looking for a good superhero series that is among other solid anime series such as Tiger & Bunny. All in all, a must watch.