Category Archives: Review

Winter Anime 2015 Review (Part 3/3): Death Parade

For the final part of our winter anime 2015 review, we’ll be changing the format to highlight a particular show: Death Parade!

death parade 2

Death Parade
Death Parade

Japesland – 7/10

I picked up Death Parade a little late, and only because of Sean’s (our podcast’s co-host) recommendation, and when I was starting it I found myself pleasantly surprised as I recognized the setting and character’s of the short film, Death Billiards. I had no idea the productions were related (and I think Kaze is the only other person I knew who had even seen Death Billiards, except for maybe Sean). After the series finally kicked off its first few episodes I was thoroughly enjoying it and reasonably engrossed. I’m an absolute sucker for something episodic that tickles your philosophical funny bone, hence why I love Mushishi, and Death Parade scratched that itch enough to earn an 8/10 (I score I rarely give, I might add!). I finally had to drop it down a point, though, because the end just did not manage to maintain the atmosphere I had learned to love throughout the show, operating on some rather strange character transformations and assuming some development that did not actually occur. Had it ended on a cliffhanger, much like Death Billiards, I think I might have liked it more. That said, it’s still a worthwhile watch.

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Winter Anime 2015 Review (Part 2/3)

Today we continue our review of the winter 2015 anime season with reviews of Aldnoah.zero 2, Junketsu no Maria, Drrrx2, Dog Days”, Parasyte, and The iDOLM@STER: Cinderella GirlsAnd tune in tomorrow for a finale that we’re approaching a little differently!

idol 2

The iDOLM@STER: Cinderella Girls
The iDOLM@STER: Cinderella Girls

stardf29 – 8/10

The original iDOLM@STER anime started off slow but ended up really good; Cinderella Girls keeps up the quality of the original while having a stronger start. The first seven episodes are especially strong, with a good plot line that explores a lot of both the excitement and disappointments of entering the entertainment industry (as well as providing me with plenty of blog material). The character focus episodes that followed were all very solid, too, if not as strong as the show’s first quarter. The development of the producer character is yet another strong point that this show has inherited from its predecessor. Overall, this show looks to be every bit as good as, if not better than, the original iM@S anime and I am definitely looking forward to the second half this summer.

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Winter Anime 2015 Review (Part 1/3)

It’s that time again, where the season’s anime comes to a close and the anticipation of the new one begins. With so many new writers here at Beneath the Tangles, this time we’ll be giving a far more diverse set of reviews than usual!  Up today are Cute High Earth Defense Club Love!, Koufuku Graffiti, Your Lie in April, Shirobako, Rolling Girls, and Ace of Diamond.

CuteHighPromotional

Cute High Earth Defense Club Love!
Binan Koukou Chikyuu Bouei-bu Love!

Annalyn – 5/10

I like to have at least one ridiculous anime on my watching list at all times, one that guarantees laughter. I need something I don’t care about, don’t plan to blog about, and won’t procrastinate on. Cute High fulfilled that need. It’s a parody of magical girl anime, which means it takes a genre already filled with cheese and makes it cheesier. There are times when I considered giving it less than 2.5/5 stars, but I had too much fun laughing at the magical boys, their exaggerated conflict, the ridiculous enemies, and the cheesy English names for their “love”-powered moves. Oh, and the writer knew exactly how ridiculous the English was. They weren’t even trying to be grammatically correct with the “More Better Love Shower,” let alone Yumoto’s end-of-fight catchphrase, “Love is over!” They milked the tropes for all they were worth, but they managed to surprise me, too, including a plot twist in the last episode. There were a couple annoying instances of suggestive humor, but overall, this was a fun, brainless view.

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Review: Revolutionary Girl Utena DVD Vol. 1

utena 1

Revolutionary Girl Utena, Volume 1 (Episodes 1-12)
Episodes 1-12
Nozomi Entertainment

With the widespread availability of so many current series these days, older anime – even classic ones – seem to be ever drifting into obscurity. Thankfully, production companies like Nozomi Entertainment are still releasing many of these shows on DVD. And with Kunihiko Ikuhara now directing Yurikuma Arashi, it’s as good a time as any to revisit, or as in my case, watch for the first time his opening work as head director for a series, Revolutionary Girl Utena.

The first 13 episodes of Utena, entitled “The Student Council Saga,” introduce us to the incorrigible Utena; the himesama, Anthy; and the gaggle of not-quite-fully-antogonistic student council officers.  Symbolism and mysteries are built and some slowly unraveled as the season progresses, with Utena finding herself drawn into duels as she fights for Anthy, whom she regards with humanity, but whom others see merely as a means to some powerful end.

It is the themes, symbols, and and unknown elements that keep the viewers gripped as we wonder what all these elements mean (if anything).  Certainly, we get few answers in the first arc. Self-contained, it’s frustrating, because apart from the Ikuhara’s cleverness and unique approach to anime, we’re left with a season that’s mostly boring, with generally unremarkable characters and tedious fight scenes.

But even without knowing how the entire story pans out, this saga shows us some of what perhaps makes Utena a classic property – most of all, the revolutionary way it works with gender roles.  Utena is the “prince” of the series, dressing as and playing the role normally reserved for a male character. She’s also a kick-butt heroine, more common now, but much less so when these episodes originally aired in 1997.  The undetermined relationship between Utena and Anthy also places the series in the yuri genre, which Ikuhara fully embraces with Yurikuma Arashi.

Noizomi’s DVD release is excellent for fans of the series, containing lots of little nuggets in the form of TV spots and trailers as extras, plus the remastered visual and audio for the series, which perhaps those who watched the show long ago would appreciate more than I could.  The neat little booklet that’s included contains a lot of great insight from Ikuhara himself, and even for newcomers to the series, it’s a wonderful addition as an in-depth look at the creation of and remastering of the show.

It’s these “marginal” pieces, both in terms of the DVD extras and imaginative flourishes in the show, that must be embraced to enjoy these first thirteen episodes, because the story itself won’t do it.  But I’ll reserve the right to rethink my rating of this arc upon completion of the show, as it is apparent that the structure of the series demands it.

Rating: C+

DVD Review: Genshiken Second Generation (BD)

genshiken second 2b copyWhen it was announced that the manga for Genshiken Second Generation (Genshiken Nidaime) would receive an anime, my excitement was tempered by a feeling that the anime would ultimately be a letdown, as it would suffer from comparisons to the original classic.  NIS’s slick release of the Genshiken Second Generation DVD set, though, proves that while it’s no classic, this new series stands on its own merits.

For those unfamiliar, Genshiken traces the lives of members of the Society for the Study of Modern Visual Culture, a college otaku club whose associates are often rejects even among otaku.  Though Second Generation has appearances by all the original cast, new members are featured in this season, including Hato, a cross-dressing fudanshi; Yajima, a surly fujoshi who disapproves of Hato’s cross-dressing; Yoshitake, a relentlessly and excitable fujoshi; and Sue, an American exchange student who speaks almost entirely in dialogue from various anime series.

This season centers on Hato, who is continuously dealing with his desire and need to cross-dress, and Madarame, one of the main characters of the original series, and both his adjustment into post-college life and undetermined and evolving relationship with Hato.  These two storylines are dynamic and sometimes complex, but unfortunately, they’re not always particularly interesting.  Hato and this Madarame are less compelling than the trio of Kasukabe, Sasahara, and Madarame in the earlier series.

Fundamentally, there’s a problem at the core of Second Generation: the two mains in this series are not as relatable as the three (four if you consider Ogiue) in the original show.  Part of the magic of Genshiken was in taking a wide variety of characters, ranging from anime-obsessed Madarame to stylish, non-otaku Kasukabe, and infusing them with real emotions and thoughts, and in that way, creating characters that the audience can empathize with and relate to.  In Second Generation, there’s such a heavy focus on fujoshi/fudanshi culture that a broader appeal is lost, while Hato’s struggles often felt unrealistic, and thus less relatable.

But while the series falls short of its predecessor, its by no means a failure. Read the rest of this entry

Review: Power Bible Book 1

power bible 1Power Bible 1
Art by Shin-joong Kim
Green Egg Media
208 pages

Let’s face it – the Bible is a difficult read for many people, even for faithful Christians.  Engaging with God’s word is even more of a challenge for children, too many of whom from a young age decide that the Bible is boring.  How to do you captivate young people with the Bible without straying from scripture?

The answer might be the Power Bible, a comic book series produced in book format.  Originally published in Korea, Green Egg Media has released the series, featuring chibi versions of Biblical characters, in the U.S.  And it’s a surprising triumph.

Volume one of ten-book series, which spans from creation to Revelation, focuses on the book of Genesis.  Developed with loving care, this first comic is wide-ranging in it’s content – Adam and Eve, Noah, and the patriarchs are all there.  Even lesser known individuals, like Methuselah and Lamech, make appearances.

The comic sticks closely to the Bible, which means that, especially in Genesis, there are plenty of passages that are very adult in nature, featuring violence, slavery, and other troubling subject matter.  But the strength of the Power Bible is that it chooses to remain scriptural, illustrating even difficult passages, albeit with children in mind (ex. deaths happen off the page).  There’s this dichotomy that occurs which is wondrous – the power of God’s word is continually emphasized in every page of the book, but humor and cute illustrations soften this version of the bible for grade school children.

Adults may enjoy it, too. I found certain passages particularly captivating, including the very beginning of the comic, which illustrates the creation story in a majestic and powerful way.  The quality of the illustrations, writing, and editing are all very high, and I especially liked the beautifully done chapter breaks.

Book One also reads well as one cohesive account.  Transitions between individual tales in this Genesis account are keenly done; it’s clear that you’re reading one large tale with many parts, rather than a disjointed story.  This cohesiveness, though, also points out my one key issue with the book.  Many recent children’s bibles and devotionals mention Jesus throughout Old Testament narratives, pointing out the significance of these stories in relation to God’s ultimate redemptive plan.  This more straight-forward telling of the Bible does not.

Still, what the Power Bible does do is extraordinary – it appeals to the visual senses without dumbing down scripture.  A comic book that does this has been sorely needed.  The Manga Bible has received excellent reviews, but it’s not for young children.  Another manga bible, simply titled The Bible, is not only aimed at older audiences, but was obviously created by those who don’t treasure the word.  It’s worth pointing out again that the staff that created and edited the Power Bible obviously has much love for the material, and for children, who will enjoy it.

But don’t take my word for it – here’s my six-year-old son’s review after reading Book One:

Dad's translation: I like the Power Bible 1. My favorite story is the meeting with the brothers. My second favorite story is "The Older Shall Serve the Younger."

Dad’s translation: I like the Power Bible 1. My favorite story is the meeting with the brothers [story of Joseph]. My second favorite story is “The Older Shall Serve the Younger.”

If you can teach kids to love the word of God – not a commentary, not a devotional, but scripture itself – you’ve done something mighty.  You’ve created an important work that going to change children’s lives – now and for eternity.

I have a critical eye for Christian work, especially that aimed at children, but as you can see in my review above, I highly recommend the Power BibleIf you’d like to purchase it, Green Egg Media has been kind of enough to offer a special promotion for Beneath the Tangles readers.  When checking out, type in the code TANGLES50 to receive 50% off volume one, or TANGLESSET for 30% off the complete set of OT and NT comics.

DVD Review: Attack on Titan, Part 1 (Blu-Ray/DVD Combo Pack)

attack on titan blu-ray reviewAttack on Titan: Part 1
Blu-ray/DVD Combo
FUNimation
13 episodes

When a highly anticipated property receives its translation, rescripting, and dubbing, consternation and grumbling are always sure to follow.  How closely do you (and can you) stick to the original writing and voicing?  Stay too close, and you run the risk of unintentionally dulling a property; move too far away, and you could alienate a fanbase.  With Attack on Titan (Shingeki no Kyojin), FUNimation mostly found a nice middle ground with one of the most engaging anime of recent years.

Attack on Titan traces mankind’s resistance against the titans – creepy, sketchily-drawn giants that devour humans – when they unexpectedly tear open walls that had held them at bay for a century.  Eren, Mikasa, and Armin, a trio of spunky youngsters, join other cadets and the larger army in the fight to defend civilization against a seemingly unstoppable threat.  This DVD combo set encompasses the first 13 episodes.  The first half mostly deals with demonstrating the deadly threat of the titans, as well as showcasing the training by Eren and the others, while the second half deals with a large-scale battle between the army and their gigantic foes.

Attack on Titan is one of anime’s most gripping series both because of its genuinely terrifying plot, in which everyone is in constant danger and no one is safe, and because of the look and feel of the series.  From the dark, but colorful shades used, to the most unique and fun anime weapon of recent years, 3D maneuver gear, the series bleeds a style that’s all its own.  But SnK is more than skin-deep.  During my first viewing of the series, when it originally aired, I was so taken by sudden plot developments and the horrific (though rarely gorey) imagery that I missed the well-constructed tale.  My viewing of the DVD helped me focus on the storyline, which functions by unfolding rapidly and then slowly unraveling both secrets of the world in which the characters live and the back stories and personalities of the characters themselves.  Series fans rewatching the show will also note plenty of little giveaways in character quotes and actions that foreshadow major events later on.

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Review: The Wind Rises

the wind rises 1The Wind Rises (Kaze Tachinu)
Directed by Hayao Miyazaki
Running time: 126 minutes

Though perhaps falling short of being a classic, Hayao Miyazaki’s latest film, perhaps his swan song, is a return to form for the old master as he weaves a complex tale of childhood dreams, engineering marvels, solemn loves, and killing machines.

A bespectacled boy wakes in his ordinary house and climbs onto the roof, to which is attached something most unordinary – a plane.  He climbs in and sails into the clouds as the townsfolk celebrate his flight, before organic, living bombs destroy his aircraft and he falls through the sky and back into himself, waking from the dream.

The opening scenes of Hayao Miyazaki’s latest film, The Wind Rises, reflect the structure of the film.  In most ways, it is his most realistic movie for Studio Ghibli, the company he co-founded.  A fictionalized account of the life of Jiro Horikoshi, the lead designer of Japanese World War II fighter aircraft, the movie is reminiscent of the more grounded films from his Studio Ghibli contemporaries.  But Miyazaki beautifully weaves his noted fantastical elements into the film through dream sequences and other events that transpire in Horikoshi’s head.  Especially early in the film, the director did something to me he has never done in his previous films – he appealed to the boy in me, the one who dreamed big and wanted to be the hero.

But though the fantasy portions are a highlight of the film, bringing to mind soaring sequences from Castle in the Sky and Porco Rosso, perhaps even more enthralling is the animation in the more earthy parts of The Wind Rises– shadows on a face, writing on a piece of paper, grass and parasols blowing in the wind, and in what is surprisingly the most breathtaking and heart-pounding scene of the movie, Horikoshi and his love interest, Naoko, passing paper airplanes to one another.  Though not the rich visual feast Ponyo was, The Wind Rises is nonetheless stunning in its subtlety.

But it’s also these quieter elements that sometimes drag on for far too long.  The movie clocks in at two hours, and half that time has the protagonist wandering – in Germany, in Japan – and not doing a whole lot, at least not in terms of anything dynamic.  I guess engineering can only be so interesting when animated.  The film does pick up after this soporific middle portion, however, as a lovely romance story unfolds, one which I didn’t expect to see in a Miyazaki film.  That was a pleasant surprise.

Less pleasant was the elephant in the room – the fact that the main character, celebrated in the movie, was responsible for designing airplanes which helped Japan in their wartime activities.  Miyazaki, a known pacifist, hammers home his themes that we must go on and follow our heart and that the common people of Japan, many of whom didn’t agree with the country’s actions, did their best without being responsible for the war effort.  Unfortunately, Miyazaki tries too hard with his dialogue, beautiful as it is, emphasizing points which are more morally difficult to grasp than he tries to make them.

What is Horikoshi’s complicity in the killing of so many in the war?  More importantly, what was the average Japanese person’s complicity in the war?  The answer to both is “far more” than Miyazaki implies, though he deserves a modicum of respect for bringing up such difficult issues in his home country.

Ultimately, while the movie suffers because of the slow plotting and the moral unease of the tale, it shines to an extent that hasn’t been seen in a Miyazaki film since Spirited Away.  As if to say that he has more to animate than Shinto spirits and magical stories, Miyazaki proves that he can tell most any story with graceful and sometimes astounding artistic strokes.  If not a masterpiece, The Wind Rises comes close, and if it is his last film, Miyazaki has left us with a marvel to remember.

Rating: A-

A Look Back at the Anime of 2013: The Good, The Bad, and The Titans

attack-on-titanThere is a certain melancholy feeling I get when I look back on a year. It’s all flown by so fast and somehow didn’t go how I expected.

Goodness, remember all the anime I recommended for the beginning of the year (Spring Anime 2013)? I didn’t end up following any of them. One or two episodes was as far as I got on most of them.

I didn’t even watch the now popular Attack on Titan.

So what did I watch?

For the spring season, as mentioned, a lot of one episode hit and runs from “the Hentai Prince and Stony Cat” (blow up doll sacrifice to a tree….yeeeeah) to “Uta-Pri 2000%” (doki doki 4ever) to “Dansei Bunri no Crime Edge” (scissors!) and Valvrave the Liberator (vampire mechs). Somehow, none of them were holding my interest. Maybe I’m getting too picky in my old age, but even the first episode of Attack on Titan was too much for my nerves. I have watched some rather graphic and violent stuff in the past, but somehow seeing a human eaten was too disturbing for a poor college kid trying to stay upbeat and happy during her last semester.

So I watched happy things, like Hataraku Maou-sama! and My Teen Romantic Comedy Is Wrong as I Expected (aka: SNAFU).

Pic1aHataraku Maou-sama! ended up being better than many of us expected. The idea of a great dark demon lord becoming a part timer at a fast food place seems more absurd than interesting, but the show turns into something heartwarming and fun for all the characters. It makes heroes and villain rethink their motivation and be able to, for once, make their own decisions in life.

SNAFU was appealing not because it was an outstanding anime, but because it had great characters, a great plot, and a solid drive to keep it going. The show was clever and fun, yet it also addressed relationships, mainly friendships, and how to make them work in a setting where perfect friendships are impossible.

Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet was another series I checked out, but it was a mixed bag for me. The characters were interesting, the story was good, but it didn’t strike a chord with me until the ending episodes. The end was great, but I somehow wished we had gotten there somewhat earlier. XD

For summer, there were quite a few unexpectedly good series. And no, I’m not talking about that swimming anime (I mean, it was good to, but er…). The summer of 2013 brought us Uchouten Kazoku, Servant X Service, and Kitaku-bu Katsudou Kiroku.

29071-Uchoten-Kazoku-01Uchouten Kazoku was translated by Crunchyroll to “Eccentric Family”, and while not an accurate translation of “uchouten” (which means literally “ecstasy”), I think it captures the show rather well. The kanji for uchouten (有頂天) literally breaks down to “possessing the heavens on your head”. Thus it could be said that a family who possess something like that will probably be a bit eccentric or even idiots (as they do call themselves) that take pride in able to living to their fullest potential, even as tanuki. I would even go so far as to rank this the top anime of 2013 for me.

Servant X Service had a slow and rocky start, even as a light romantic comedy. Granted, it had a tough act to follow from the fans who are still wishing for a Working! Season 3. I actually dropped it for a while because the behaviors of one of the characters in particular irked me too much. But, after hearing it did improve, I picked it up again and found the show develop into a charming and sweet story about people learning about what’s really important in life. Though the stuffed bunny manager may still need some time to sort his own issues out, at least the main characters find some resolution.

Now, for an anime I’m sure I’m the only one who watched, Kitaku-bu Katsudou Kiroku (known as “The Chronicles of the Going Home Club”). This was a fun comedy that referenced everything from “Star Wars” to “Saw” to various other anime, including Giant Robo at one time. The plot was simple, a group of high school girls who formed a “going home club” (a term used in Japanese for someone who is not part of a club), where they address the important issues of life like feeding pigeons, playing video games, and figuring out how to make their anime not canceled. 51a53ea8c166c4466b4b10df83670c111371267420_full

It was a fun ride and something to follow the fun times that the GJ-bu anime gave me last year.

The summer season would not be complete without KyoAni’s swimming anime Free! that left anime fans everywhere in tears of joy (or sadness). And that’s before we even knew what the anime was about! Free! was like a fun summer; full of pools and swimming kids, sunshine and barbeques. But like every season, summer has to end. It’s sad to see it go, but you know it will be back next year. Or so the rumors say…

And finally, here we are, at the tail end of the chilly fall season, where I’ve actually fallen a bit behind in my watching because of the big months of November and December are always busy for me. But don’t worry, I’ll catch up in January when I have nothing else to do (besides the new winter anime!). XD

But here’s a preview of what I have been trying to keep up with.

1387889889_kyoukai_no_kanataKyoukai no Kanata: KyoAni revives after a long summer of boys in swimsuits to bring us a fantasy series with a blood wielding girl in glasses. One thing I will give KyoAni, no matter the setting, they can still make great story full of friendship, happiness, sadness, love and really pretty animation. While not the best KyoAni show by far, it made me happy to see a supernatural setting again (see: The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya) as well as a hopeful and happy ending.

I’m a sucker for happy endings.

Yozakura Quartet ~Hana no Uta~: According to some friends, I really need to catch up on this one. I believe this is a reboot of sorts to an older series of the same name, but I’m finding this one much more exciting and thrilling. It has action, drama, and just enough mystery to keep the plot interesting and moving forward at a steady, quick pace. It’s about a town where humans and youkai (spirit monsters) exist in peace. Our main characters have the job of helping to maintain this peace, but there are currently unknown forces trying to disrupt this peace. Our heroes must find out who’s behind it and quickly.

Gingitsune: I’m watching this more for the calm feel and interesting characters. While not as lovely as Natsume Yuujinchou, the day to day adventures that a girl and a shrine herald come across are heartwarming in a way.

Kill la Kill: I feel like my morals are questioned every time I watch a new episode of this show. Undoubtedly created by a studio containing Gainax members that worked on shows like Gurren Lagann, Trigger debuts a full length series that is much different than their kick-starter, Little Witch Academia.tumblr_mmje5edfpD1rw9b6io1_1280

Once this show is over, I hope I’ll be able to put all the pieces together and find some deep meaning in this show. It feels like it’s trying to tell me something, but all the fanservice seems to be burying any important meaning. Granted, Medaka Box still somehow shined even through it’s fanservice.

But overall, Kill la Kill is about breaking out of a mold, living your own life, never giving up and of course, the power of friendship.

Or it could all a conflict of whether clothes are important in life or not. Only time will tell.

So what about you? What were the hit and misses of 2013? What anime did you enjoy this year? Did you have any anime that surprised you? 

Secret Santa: Kara no Kyoukai

I’ve been on a hot streak with Reverse Thieves’ Secret Santa project- I’ve liked every anime I’ve decided to watch among the recommendations from  years past.  I figured this year would be the same, as two of the recs I received (Kara no Kyoukai and Garden of Words) were already high on my “to watch” list, and the third, Aoi Bugaku, also piqued my interest.

In the end, I picked the one I’d most been looking forward to watching,  Kara no Kyoukai.  And I’m glad to report that my streak of winning Secret Santa anime continues.

Kara no Kyoukai (The Garden of Sinners) features Shiki Ryogi, a mysterious woman with incredible killing abilities and a past shrouded in mystery – and one that involves our other protagonist, the mild-mannered Mikiya.  Based on a light novel, I watched the original seven main movies, skipping one that was more or less a clip show, as well as the later-released OVA.  I also have not seen this year’s newest release, either.

Strangely enough, the series is at its best when it’s also at its most confusing.  The first movie begins right in the middle of the story, and it works, as we slowly uncover Shiki’s past and learn the “rules” of this world (something I had to pay particular mind to, being only marginally acquainted with the Type-Moon world).  The second movie lends itself even more to this blessed confusion, and it begins the time jumps in the story – in between movies and well as within.  This whole framework felt very literary, as certainly early on, and throughout much of the series, I felt I was reading a great work rather than watching animation.

kara no kyokai

Art by ももこ (Pixiv ID 40130407)

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