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Anime Review: Infinite Stratos Season 1

Year: 2011
Episodes: 12 episodes (English-subbed version)
Genre: Comedy, Ecchi, Harem, Romance, Science Fiction, Mecha, Sports, School Life

Years ago, I heard chatter on the interwebs about a mecha series called Infinite Stratos. It looked like it could be a good fighting anime. My interested was perked but I have only just got around to watching the series. It turned it to quite a bit different than I imagined.

In the future, a machine originally meant for war becomes subject for the world’s most popular sport. These exoskeletons bond to their athlete and can then be summoned through an object worn on the individual. They can also only be used by female pilots. Or at least, that is what everyone thought…
[Off-Screen: After getting lost whilst trying to find a room for a test, Ichika Okimura finds a room with an IS unit in it and his curious enough to touch it. It activates and he is given the ability to take an entrance exam to the prestigious Infinite Stratos training academy.]
When Ichika arrives at the academy, he is surrounded by a bunch of females, including his childhood friend Houki (her sister also invented the machines and makes the cores). He is also taught by his taskmaster older sister, a woman that went from world-class athlete to teaching students how to use the units after he was kidnapped during an international meet. As he is surrounded by more and more female admirers, will he survive the first year at Infinite Stratos?

This series is not terrible, but it isn’t great either. The promotional pictures suggest a mecha action series but this really doesn’t reflect the content. Instead, it is an at-times confusing ecchi comedy masquerading as a mecha sports and romance series. And yet, it was somehow entertaining. Entertaining garbage, certainly, but entertaining nonetheless.
The character designs are good even if the faces were a bit pointy, with each character being notably different from the rest. The exoskeletons were visually interesting as well, even if a bit weird “scientifically”. The story was, however, oddly absent of cats. Why do I mention cats? Well, felines are a staple in anime and manga. They are cute, get up to mischief and are often the tool by which we can see other things that are happening in the background. Come to think of it, I think the only animals that we did see are birds… Perhaps the artist didn’t like the idea of putting animals in harm’s way.
The voice acting was hilariously bad, with deliberately bad stereotypes. It was not meant to be taken seriously in any regard but might be deemed “racist” or “sexist” in today’s political environment. The anime cliches were out in the open for all to see. Back to the voice cast, there is a bunch of familiar faces, such as Monica Rial as Houki, Shannon Emerick as Charlotte, and Josh Grelle as Ichika.
The conflicts in this story are a bit contrived as a whole. It rarely makes sense but it is predominantly used as a delivery tool for fan service. It is a weird series that should in no way be taken seriously. It also feels at times like the author was mocking numerous genres. I might, however, be wrong about that. Whilst I will unlikely be watching the second season, I can say that watching the first season wasn’t a complete waste of time.

If you are looking for a series featuring lots of fan service, then Infinite Stratos might be an option. Just note that the story is not the best and the faces are a bit pointy.

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Anime Review: My Hero Academia Season 1

Year: 2016
Episodes: 13
Online: MAL, Wikipedia, IMDB, Crunchyroll
Genre: Shounen, Science Fiction, Superhero, Action, Drama

I first discovered this anime by chance whilst checking out the AnimeLab website a few episodes into the first season. Those first ten minutes perked my interest and I decided to put it in my watch list. Late last year, I finally persuaded my spouse to watch the English dub with me. As expected we both loved it.

My Hero Academia follows the life of a boy born without special powers, also known as Quirks. This is unusual in that Quirks powers are the norm rather than the exception. Izuku Midoriya wants to be a hero like his role model All Might, something that becomes especially relevant when he meets the man himself. In lieu of some “personal issues”, All Might is looking for a protégé to take up his mantle and sees something special in Midoriya. After some deliberation, All Might decides to train young Midoriya and offers to transfer his own powers to the lad.
After managing to pass the entrance exam, Midoriya manages to gain entrance into an academy for getting a hero license. Although he manages to develop friendships with most of his fellow classmates, he also has to contend with a kid that he used to look up to. This will become one of several major points of conflict for the series. There are also forces at play that have plans beyond harassing members of the academy. Plans that have larger implications on the world as a whole.

I really like this series. Midoriya is a really likeable protagonist that is surrounded by a cast of interesting characters. These characters are given time to shine throughout the series, allowing us to see growth. We see failure being used as a catalyst for change, showing the willingness for certain characters to learn from their mistakes and try different things in order to overcome difficulty.
With any good series, some characters are also immune to change. This is played out time and time again with Katsuki Bakugou, a character that is arrogant, spiteful and prone to violent outbursts over the pettiest things. He might have some neat abilities, but his attitude makes him understandably disliked by those around him. It also emphasises how different he is in mindset to Midoriya.
The plot and pacing of My Hero Academia is masterfully done. As the first season moves on, we see genuine threats for Midoriya, his classmates and teaching staff. This conflict from external forces the characters to work together and to adapt to a very real threat. It allows us to see limitations of several of the characters and also results in the viewer realising that this is only the beginning of trouble for the characters.
The world setting for My Hero Academia is well-fleshed out. Information about the world is rationed out in manageable bites so as to be relevant to the flow of the storyline. The timeline of the arrival of Quirks is something that fascinated me, the affect of which had understandable ramifications for this alternate Earth. We also see this timeline becoming more and more relevant to the conflict of the heroes over time. It was really neat how flawlessly this is woven into the plot.
Many people will likely comment on the art style. Whilst it isn’t your usual crisp anime art, it is perfect for the narrative of the series. The over-the-top design that works really well and offers a very unique viewing experience. Probably the closest series in art style in Gurren Lagann, which I don’t consider a bad thing.

In conclusion, whilst this series is not necessarily my favourite it is certainly up there. It is highly enjoyable, with a really neat story and cast of characters that I genuinely cared about. I highly recommend this series to fans of shounen action and the superhero genre.


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Video of the Week #025

For this week’s video, we look another video by AlternateHistoryHub. For those that aren’t familiar with the channel, AHH produces neat videos that discuss how the world might change under certain conditions. It is the grand hypothetical but certainly an interesting watch. This week’s video discusses the first two books in science fiction writer Harry Turtledove’s World War series.

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UClfEht64_NrzHf8Y0slKEjw

Based on the premise, what do you think would likely result if a species such as The Race attacked the Earth during eras such as WWII? Feel free to explain your best guesses in the comment section along with your reasoning.


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TV Review: Altered Carbon

Year: 2018
Episodes: 10
Genre: Science Fiction, Cyberpunk

Altered Carbon is a NetFlix adaptation of a Richard K. Morgan book. I’ve never read the book but I am a fan of science fiction and cyberpunk. I was also unfamiliar with the premise as well but I usually give any science fiction series a run.

Centuries into the future, a technology is invented that allows memories to be collected via an implant (stack) effectively making human beings immortal. Nefarious figures have consolidated power over the centuries since. The settled worlds have become predatory and corrupt.
The story follows Takeshi Kovacs, a man that has been brought back after centuries. He was a member of a rebellion that sought to destroy what they deemed to be the corrupting influence of stack technology. In a new body (sleeve) he is given the task of looking into the apparent murder of one of the wealthiest people on the settled worlds, Laurens Bancroft.

Whilst I really liked the theme and premise of this story, it manages to fall flat on numerous occasions. Little things, such as police security and procedure, tended to try to disrupt continuity. The producers seemingly tried to distract from these weaknesses in plot and technical considerations by throwing nudity at the audience. I suppose that boobs and male genitalia might work for some audience but it isn’t a great way to tell a story.
I also have issues with the likeability of the characters. There is a lack of redeeming features in the majority, making it difficult to care for their plight. In my personal opinion, sentient hotel Poe and Hacker Ava Elliot are clearly the most likeable. It is just a pity that they weren’t main characters. There was a morality argument in the story as well, but this did not hold up very well given that the supposed good guys are often as bad as the bad guys.
I wasn’t overly impressed with the acting either but this seems to be more of an issue with direction rather than the skill of the cast. An example is veteran James Purefoy who plays Laurens Bancroft. Unfortunately for these talented actors and actresses, they had to contend with characters that lacked depth. It often feels as if many of the cast were heavily constrained by their roles.
What the show did have was decent world-building. Solid design, CG and special effects backed this up, giving it the feeling of a living and breathing world setting. If all you are looking for is an awesome cyberpunk setting to look at, Altered Carbon delivers.

In conclusion, the world-building and effects make up for some of the weaknesses in characterisation, plot and technical considerations. However, it wasn’t enough for me to enjoy the series. It was a let down because it offered so much promise. It is also an indication of the declining quality of NetFlix shows of late.

If any of you guys have seen the show, I’d be interested in reading what you thought of it.


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Anime Review: Norn9

Year: 2016
Episodes: 12 + recap episode  (English Sub of Japanese series)
Norn9 Online: WikipediaMyAnimeList, IMDB, Hulu
Genre: Shoujo, Science Fiction, Romance, Drama

I came across Norn9 several months ago while trawling Youtube for anime music videos. One of these AMVs featured a handful of scenes from the series, and I decided to track down the anime. I am glad that I did because it turned out to be an epic and beautiful journey.
 
Norn9: Norn & Nonet follows the story of the inhabitants of the high tech ship known as the Norn. The Norn transports the hope of the world, a group of young men and women with special abilities. An attack on the ship by an unknown force follows the arrival of new member Koharu. The crew now have to deal with a figure that wants them dead. As they move closer to Reset, the stakes increase.
 
Norn9: Norn+Nonet is an anime adaptation of an Otome game for PlayStation Vita. It appears that things were different from the game. The anime removes the reverse harem elements of the game. This makes room for more linear romantic storylines and makes more sense. So, if you are a fan of the game (I never played it) don’t expect the adaptation to be a reverse harem.
The plot of Norn9 was compelling. The writing offered enough mystery that I binge-watched the show in two days. I had several theories after the first episode. It turned out that I was way off base with these initial impressions. But there was more than enough clues for it all to make sense. Anime and manga cliches slip into the storyline, but are meaningfully woven into the plot. 
A neat cast of characters made the story even more compelling. It was easy to grow attached to the characters, even the villains. You might not like some of their choices but it was easy to relate to their situation. The special abilities were cool but are second to this focus on characterisation. The art for Norn9 is gorgeous. The characters are attractive, with their own measure of uniqueness. The visually-striking science fiction world setting has its share of strange technology. The visuals for the Norn and The World HQ were especially amazing. Yet, Norn9 is a lot more than attractive bishies and neat-looking technology.
The music was set the right mood. The Japanese voice acting was spot-on. But, the sound effects weren’t special.
 
In conclusion, I have to say that this is close to the best drama anime that I have seen in a long time. Sure, it has romantic elements but they were one part of an epic story. All in all, a must watch for folks looking for an epic science fantasy with romantic elements.


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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: Powers Season 1

Powers Online: IMDB, wikipedia 
Genre: Science Fiction, Police Procedural, Crime, Action, Drama

This show features violence, gore, swearing, sex, drug use and other content for mature audiences.

Powers is based on a series originally created for Image Comics and now owned by Marvel through their Icon imprint. Set in a world where super-powered people are part and parcel of most aspects of modern life, the story focuses on Detective Christian Walker (Sharlto Copey), a former superhero known as Diamond that lost his abilities after trying to capture his former mentor turned mass-murderer Wolf (Eddie Izzard). Walker now works in the Powers Division of the LAPD, a poorly funded division that is made up of volunteer police officers that take on superpowered villains. When Walker’s partner is killed whilst trying to put a recently captured criminal in a cell, Walker is assigned rookie partner Deena Pilgrim (Susan Heyward). After the death of a member of his former superhero team, Olympia, Walker comes into contact with wannabe hero Calista Secor (Olesya Rulin) and quickly learns that his former best friend Johnny Royalle (Noah Taylor) that affected the prison break of Wolf is still alive. Events are set in motion that will lead to many dead bodies before the action-packed finale.

WARNING: SPOILERS BELOW!!!

To begin with, I never read any of the comics. Although I enjoyed the TV adaptation as a whole, Walker strikes me as one the most annoying protagonists. He is a hypocrite, highly judgmental and spends much of his complaining about being helpless when something bad happens, even willing to do risky things in the hope of getting his powers back. Sharlo Copey does a great job of evoking this shallow character whose own misunderstandings of what is going on creates a reasonable share of the conflict in the show.
In comparison, Johnny Royalle, an expert teleporter, is a lot more sympathetic and less shallow. Royalle is just prone to making poor choices that would have been quite different had he had access to certain information. And when he does recognize that he’s made a mistake, it usually results in him trying to rectify the problem. Of course, he is prone to teleporting heads off of people, but they are usually not great people to begin with. I was taken aback when I learned that Noah Taylor was playing the role, but it was a great change from previous clean cut heroes and supporting characters in the past. His role comes a close second to that of Michelle Forbes.
Deena Pilgrim is an odd character. The daughter of the police commander, she is trying to stand on her own rather than follow in the footsteps of her occasionally corrupt father. She specifically requested Walker as her partner because she believes that he can give her insight into how a person with powers thinks. The banter between the two is actually quite funny. She is quite likable as a character. As my introduction to the acting of Susan Heyward, I am quite impressed with the ease at which she makes this character her own.
As for Calista, well she is a pain in the ass. She has some daddy issues because of her upbringing. She is constantly lying and is obsessed with unlocking her latent powers. Her dance between the various sides makes her a difficult character to like, but I am okay with not liking her. Olesya Rulin does a great job of playing an annoying teenager prone to not considering how her behaviour will affect others.
Wolf was a jaw-dropping, genuinely scary character. His tone was dark throughout, moving between willful destruction and homicidal rage. The flashbacks do a great job of showing the progression from respected philosopher and teacher to mass-murderer that eats his victims. We don’t get to see much of him, but what we do see has significant impact on the cast of characters and the world as a whole. Wolf is violent and raw and bloody, a dark intelligence mixed with the capacity to boost his abilities by feeding on his victims. Eddie Izzard has played villains before, but there is something in this particular role that freaked the crap out of me.
Of all of the characters though, I feel the most empathy for Walker’s old flame and superhero Retro Girl (Michelle Forbes). Retro Girl comes off as a little abrupt and controlling initially, but you quickly learn that she is takes the role of hero seriously and feels deep loss whenever she is unable to save people. We also get to see how vulnerable she is in the moments when she is with Walker, a man that she is deeply concerned for now that he no longer has the means to protect himself. Retro Girl is one of a handful of genuine heroes in the series. Though familiar with some of Michelle Forbes’ previous roles, she steps things up a notch with this one. To be honest, I am skeptical as to how many people could play Retro Girl as well as she does. The character just seems made for her.

The horror aspects later on in the first season took me back a bit and showed just what was at risk if Wolf got loose. That threat brings people together and gives them a chance to be heroes. Some of the characters really get their chance to shine, such as Zora. There is also a cost that is paid in the process, but beating the villain feels that much more significant for those losses. It also offers some personal growth for Walker, though his attitude towards his former best friend remains a point of contention even after Johnny’s intervention to stop Wolf in the finale.

Though the series has numerous flaws, it is a show that I enjoyed a lot and I look forward to each new episode. Throughout, we see how complicated things are and the realization that we often don’t see the full picture. The world is a complicated place to live, and Powers does a great job of giving us a glimpse at the length and breadth of human nature.