To quote myself:
“I also think I shall unleash some rating fury on the tried and tested one to five scale (1=crap 2=average 3=good 4=excellent 5=”perfect”). I suppose I should come up with some kind of unit for these as well, but I’ll hold of on that for the moment and go with stars. I would also like to point out in advance that the reason so many of these ratings are so high is that I usually research what I’m downloading/buying and try to weed out the shite in advance.”
Also, because I love you so (and certainly not because I’m an anal retentive with too much spare time), the titles of all the items below are linked to further (and almost certainly more objective) sources of information about the item in question.
2002 – ***
This film features the worst choice and placement of music ever, no really it does, because you know what doesn’t make a climatic kung fu battles between cops and demons better – giant fucking hair rock ballad’s – so you can guess what the use. Apart from that this is a pretty enjoyable film, the first half suffers a bit from some weird pacing and plot development but once it gets going its pretty sweet. It also has some setting stuff that I really like – and therefore you should to because my words are the source of all that’s right.
A Mighty Wind – **
This film isn’t really funny; it’s an amusing watch and probably worth one. But that’s about it; it certainly failed to capture any of the genius of Spinal Tap again.
A Scanner Darkly – **
This film wasn’t poor because of Keanu Reeves as I thought it was going to be, it was a poor film because it was shite. Now perhaps it was the inexplicable choice to use rotoscoping, which added nothing to the film other than the occasional feeling of queasiness, which made it shite or perhaps it was the moral message which was as subtle as a boot in the fun stuff. But I have the feeling that a scanner darkly is just, like so much of Philip D Kick’s material, both over-rated and not to my taste. Or perhaps I’ve been soured on the Dickmeister after all those poxy fucking essays I had to write about him for college, either way I’d suggest giving a scanner darkly a miss.
Arrested Development Season 1-3 – *****
Much like my recent re-watching of that 70’s show I watched Arrested Development from season 1 through to season 3 and then back again. Arrested Development is somewhat odd for a comedy show in that, while it can be laugh at loud it is pre-dominantly just amusing to watch, your more likely to be sitting there with a smile on your face rather than laughing away (though I believe that the fact I viewed it more or less alone had something to do with that – I have a theory that the more people watching something funny the greater the chance of people laughing at loud at it, but that’s rather tangential). When it first came out I avoided it because I thought it was the same kind of (alleged) comedy as Seinfeld, and I’d rather wash my face with the contents of a dead male hookers arse than watch Seinfeld. However the other Mick Mc Donnell pawned it off on Jp during the greatest period of Jp’s life (i.e. when he was sharing an abode with your truly) and I got to watching it and liking it.
Basilisk – ****
In many ways this is “Ninja Scroll: The series” (I am aware there is a Ninja Scroll Series, I own it). I found it to be more in keeping in terms of tone and style with the original Ninja Scroll film than the actually Ninja Scroll series was. Essentially the story revolves around a doomed love story and two rival ninja clans knocking the shit out of one another using their secret techniques. It’s quite bloody and is fairly dark and downbeat. I quite enjoyed it.
Blood+ – *****
I’m fairly sure that most of the people reading this will have seen “Blood: The last Vampire”, this is the sequel to that, its set a few decades later and fully develops the history of Saya and the Chiroptera. Its quite long (fifty or so episodes) and I feel that it could perhaps have been paced slightly tighter in places – though this may just be due to my own impatience to get from episode to episode without spending quite so much time on angst – a problem which I fully admit is exacerbated by the manner in which I tend to view things – when you know the next episode is just a click as opposed to a week or so away it can lead to impatience.
Black Cat – *****
The anime, not the weird erotic/action live-action Hong Kong one. In many ways this series (23 episodes) feels more like two separate mini-series, the first spanning episodes 1-7 and the second episodes 8-23. That’s not a particularly bad thing, but the more or less unexplained changes from episode seven to eight are somewhat jarring and are never really explained in detail. There’s also a flashback in a later episode which one feels they should have seen but which either wasn’t there or which I missed (which isn’t entirely unlikely as I watched this in one sitting so towards the end I wasn’t entirely lucid or sober for that matter) – so if anyone spots the bit with Charden, Train and Sefira please be so kind as to let me know. In many ways Black Cat follows a fairly typical super assassin/bad-ass turned good vs evil organisation plot path, but it’s very tightly paced and the character development is nicely woven into the action. And in many ways the action sequences are what make or break these kind of things and the action in this is top notch (for those who are thinking to themselves – “Hey its animated how can the action sequences be shite?”, take my word they certainly can – off the top of my head check out Noir or Gilgamesh).
Blood Rain – ****
A Korean period murder drama. It looks lovely and it’s pretty enjoyable, it also has a few nice plot developments which you don’t really see coming. I found it to be very reminiscent of the Judge Dee stuff by Robert Van Guilk which is clearly a good thing.
Bride with White Hair – *****
One of the “classic” wuxia films that always make it into top ten’s and recommended lists. I can certainly see why, its one of the nicest martial arts films I’ve seen – it’s up there with Hero and House of Flying Daggers. But thankfully unlike the former its chock full of very well choreographed martial arts. The story is also an excellent example of the kind of over the top tragedy that wuxia heroes so often get mixed up in. The only downside is that the story in some ways stops in the middle, while the film can certainly be enjoyed as a complete unit it did make me want to rush out and buy Bride with White Hair 2 (which I did).
Butterfly and Sword – ****
Even if your not a fan of martial arts films (and this one is old enough so its special effects can look a tad dated as can its wirework) its worth watching this film if your interested in action films in general or in creating your own films as it has the most frenetic pacing and plot development I’ve ever seen. The film starts with some guy getting his face chopped off and the action literally doesn’t stop from that moment on, all plot development is done while kicking ass and any scene that you think may be a normal enough or quiet one usually erupts into martial arts mayhem. The film feels like it’s only about half an hour long. It also has some amusingly cheesy secret kung fu techniques, well worth a watch.
Clerks 2 – **
I think I laughed out loud once during this, if you’ve seen the other stuff in the films “universe” its probably worth a watch for completeness sake otherwise I’d give it a miss unless you find painfully forced emotional bullshit entertaining (which if you’ve read certain sections of this may not be too much of a stretch).
Condor Heros – ****
An anime adaptation of Jinyong’s wuxia classic “Return of the Condor Heroes”. I was originally introduced to this comic through Comic One’s translation of Tony Wong’s manhua adaptation; sadly they went out of business half way through the story. The animation is this ranges from serviceable to excellent, there are martial arts focused anime which are better “choreographed” (Shadow Skill springs to mind), but really what your watching this for is classic wuxia goodness and it certainly delivers.
Daphne in the Brilliant Blue – *****
In many ways Daphne in the Brilliant Blue (DITBB) is a fairly typical girls with big guns show but it doesn’t have as many comedic elements as those shows do and it has a fairly engaging plot which is nicely paced and features some interesting plot twists which people may fail to foresee. The animation quality is also extremely high and the idea behind the world is quite nice, sort of waterworld done right if you will (only without Kevin Costner – which some would arguably is an integral part of the “done right” statement).
Desert Punk – ****
The first episode is titled either “The Demon and the Double D’s” or “The Demon and The Boob’s” depending on the translations. Either way it’s an amazing title. I’ve had this series on my computer for a while now, but like a few other series I have its encoded with the H.264 codec, which is fine for playing it on the computer but sadly the old Xbox via XBMC has trouble decoding it on the fly do to its limited hardware capabilities. I suppose I could have watched it at my computer but I no longer like doing that so after a long string of abortive attempts I finally found a program that reliably encodes H.264 (and nearly any other format) reliably into any other video format. So after converting the video streams for each episode and then remerging them into an mkv container with the audio and subtitles I finally got around to watching it.
The first thing I’d have to say is that at all costs avoid the dub, its rubbish – now I’m not a sub/dub snob, I used to prefer dub but now I’ve got used to and prefer sub, I don’t think one is intrinsically better than the other but in some cases the English voice actors are so poor or poorly chosen that you really should be watching it dubbed. This is one of those instances.
Desert Punk is in some ways reminiscent of Berserk or Gantz in that the main character is an unlikeable bastard, but unlike the aforementioned shows the main protagonist of Desert Punk seems to have no redeeming features whatsoever apart from his extreme proficiency at his job. The series is pretty enjoyable and occasionally odd; in many ways it ends at episode 19 as the remaining five episodes, while continuing the story just feel somewhat tacked on and takes a weird swerve in terms of mood and arguably protagonist. I hope there’s a second season as the last five episodes feel somewhat tacked on and don’t really deal with any of the new material they throw up.
DNAngel – *****
Genetically inherited mystical soul partners, living works of art, weird Bishi angels and teenage love stories. Behold my mighty one line summary of DNAngel, I’ve a feeling that the anime diverges somewhat from the manga which I believe has a more overt or stronger possible romantic connection between the two main male characters. DNAngel is pretty good, lots of cool mystic heists and the inconveniences of teenage romance when you share a body with Dark – the legendary Phantom Thief. It also has one of the most amusingly named bad guys ever – Krad, spell it backwards to figure out who’s nemesis he is ;)
Dragon Drive – *****
Dragon Drive is pretty cool, it starts of in a vein similar to Yu-Gi-Oh, Pokemon or what have you, i.e. there’s a game sweeping the nation/world, seemingly ordinary kid tries out game, gets never before seen creature/card/cock ring/etc. and kicks hole. However it quickly takes a twist and you get something that’s fairly original and enjoyable. It also, as the name suggests, features a large amount of really cool looking dragons – which is nice if you like that sort of thing – which I do, so it was.
Elemental Gelade – ****
Air pirates, living female weapons who bond with their wielders and transmogrify into giant weaponry, air pirates, benevolent organisations with sinister sides, air pirates, gravity defying hair, air pirates, poorly named enemy organisation, air pirates. At its heart a fairly typical shonen anime, but with some nice touches and done well, it’s enjoyable to watch but there’s not a lot there. However unlike certain people (I mean you JP, that’s right you! ;) ) if I find a media product entertaining I find its purpose served and therefore accord it a good rating – as opposed to classifying it as shit because it lacks freaky angsty depth
Ergo Proxy – *****
In the adverts I saw for this it was heralded as some kind of gritty gothic cyberpunk extravaganza – be warned its not. That’s not to say its bad – it isn’t, it is in fact extremely good – it’s just that it is essentially gothic, post apocalyptic super-heroes. It’s definitely worth a watch and I may actually buy all the DVDs of it as opposed to simply sticking with the divx because it looks so nice at full quality. And the main characters hot (before you feel the need to say it – I’m already aware of it).
Eureka 7 – *****
I had this for a good while before I got around to watching it, when I originally got it the intro filled with giant robots on air based surf boards caused some horrible Point Break flashbacks and relegated it well down the “too watch” pile. That was certainly a mistake. While it starts of in a fairly typical (boy gets accepted into uber organisation and attracts/becomes attracted to super competent weird chick) it quickly breaks out of this mold into some quite new and interesting territory and as the show progresses becomes an oddly gritty war drama exploring some interesting issues. Probably the best thing about the show is the excellent character interaction and development; the characters in the show all have a nice depth to them that really engages the viewer.
Excel Saga – ***
This is an anime I’ve wanted to see for quite some while and while I am glad I watched it I really can’t say I understand what all the fuss was about. It’s a rather surreal comedic anime and while it is often funny I found that the jokes could be at times repetitive and that some of the episodes were something of a chore to get through. This is somewhat made up for by the moments of true genius within the show (“Ah! Very good Nabeshin! I see you’re still a ninja commando from hell!”/”I’ll never forget you space butler!”). I think in many ways what hurts Excel Saga is age, a lot of the humour involves spoofing other well known anime (which is something of a proviso, you want to be familiar with anime to “get” excel saga) – however a lot of newer anime fans simply wont be familiar with these anime and thus a lot of the jokes will fall flat. It’s been a month or so since I’ve watched Excel Saga and to be honest it seems much better in hindsight then when I was watching it. I imagine it’s that good old wonder of mental editing.
Flame of Recca – ****
The animation is this is showing its age a little but I’d still say it’s worth a watch. However, I’m quite biased as I love the typical shonen anima/manga this follows – more or less ordinary kid discovers/gains/creates cool powers, slowly gathers group together, meets big bad guy, gets stuck fighting through bad guys henchmen to reach big boss who has tragic link to hero. Like elemental gelade above there’s not much to it beyond each characters coolness, but if you’re ok with that then give it a watch. Also practically everyone in it is secretly or not so secretly a ninja – and who doesn’t like ninja’s.
Full Metal Panic – *****
FMP (Full Metal Panic) is an amazingly enjoyable blend of big robot action and school romance comedy drama, it also looks lovely and I would greatly recommend you go out and get it. Not really much more to say than that ;)
After re-watching FMP I thought I might as well go on and re-watch the entire thing, my previous comments on these can be found here and they remain largely unchanged. I would say that it does work quite well when watched in one giant lump, Fumoffu adds some nice character development and humour between the relatively grim end of the first season and the more or less entirely grim Second Raid.
Gad Guard – ****
Gad Guard is just a bit weird. Not in the easily identifiable end of Evangelion or Colourful type way, but in a strange insidious “wait a second…what the fucks going on here?”. Its paced well and while the techodes (large (Votoms large) robots) are the superficial focus of the show its really focused much more on character interaction and the price of dreams. Well worth a watch.
Geneshaft – **
I had this on my “to buy” list of DVD’s, god am I glad I didn’t. It was an effort to make it through to the end, an effort which was rarely enjoyable. The characters are objectionable, the world and society the live in and are trying to save is objectionable and perhaps worst of all their giant robot looks fucking shite. It’s been a while since I’ve watched it so I’m not sure why I gave it two stars at the time, its probably more deserving of one.
The first time I saw the Ghost in the Shell Movie (all those years ago) I hated it, I mean I really despised it. It looked nice but that was the only good thing I had to say about it. My opinion of it never changed significantly, which is why I didn’t pay much attention to SAC when it came out, however after seeing a trailer for it on a different DVD I’d bought I thought I’d try it out. I purchased the first DVD, then the second and third, then the complete collection. While it is obviously related to the movie it’s so completely different in tone and execution that a comparison between the two is somewhat pointless. The trans-humanist, cyberpunk philosophising that I found feel so flat it the film works so well in the series and the unique structure of the series tied in with the nicely plotted laughing man “complex” really drew me in. So yeah, avoid the movies, but definitely give this a go.
I saw somewhere online that someone said this series was “much more tightly plotted” than the first series. I can only assume after watching this that the only words in that sentence that its author understood was “more”. That’s not to say it’s bad, I quite enjoyed it. But I did miss the esoteric philosophy of the first series, as its one of the key things I associate with GITS. I also found it somewhat disconcerting that while on the surface it maintained the Stand Alone/Complex (or in this case Individual/Dual) format of the series the divide didn’t actually bear any relevance whatsoever to the content of the series, still well worth a watch. Not sure after seeing the trailer for GITS – Solid State Society if I’m looking forward to it that much. Usually skipping on a number of years leads to less than palatable changes.
Gundam SEED – ****
One of the few Gundam shows which is not set in the “standard” Gundam universe. I’m about halfway (25 episodes or so) through the first season and its shaping up nicely. The robots look pretty cool (which is good considering I find the “classic” Gundam mecha designs uninspired in place). The characterisation is good and the overall plot seems interesting enough, while not been that radical. In many ways it’s like an updated and more polished version of Gundam Wing (which I finally managed to get the last two DVD’s off). My only issues with this so far is the unbelievably piss poor voice acting of one or two of the male characters crying, it just sounds bizarre. The other thing I dislike about it is one of the female characters and the plot surrounding her, not because its flawed, it’s just a type of plot I dislike. If you watch it you’ll see (and if you don’t you wont, deep eh?) Well I got to the end and my opinion hasn’t changed one bit, it has in fact improved as what I thought was a hackneyed plot was turned to good use and given a nice little twist. The latter half of the series also saw (the somewhat formulaic) introduction of newer, more powerful (and thankfully) cooler big robots. This is certainly my favourite iteration of the Gundam franchise so far (though I have just finally gotten around to picking up the last DVD for Gundam Wing so I’ll be getting around to giving that a watch soon).
Gungrave – ****
I have only the most passing knowledge of the Gungrave games, I saw JP play the first one a bit a few years ago and that’s about it. My main interest in this series was sparked by the fact that Nightow did the character designs and as far as I recall the keyframing for the series, and I certainly do love Mr Nightow’s designs. The series looks lovely, but for those who are looking for an animated version of the game, well you’re going to be largely disappointed as we only really see Grave at the very beginning and end of the series. In between you get the back-story of Brandon and Harry, in many ways the story is a simple mirror of all those gangster films featuring two best friends and how their lives tear them apart (and one inevitably turns into a mental bastard). There’s lots of nice low key action and drama, it reminded me a lot of infernal affairs. Of course added in on top of this (relatively) prosaic plot structure you have all the cool elements from the gungrave universe (cowboy hats, giant guns, undead bio weapons, giant guns, boss style badguys, giant guns and so on).
Jigoku Shoujo – ***
The main reason I watched this was because it was repeatedly listed as an excellent source for Panty Explosion. It looks very nice with a slightly off-kilter animation style which I really liked. I also quite liked the opening theme. My main problem with this show is that it’s grim – nearly every single episode features unpleasant people doing unpleasant things, there are no bright points, no redemption, just revenge and despair. While this wouldn’t be a problem if you were watching it week to week it does become something of a problem when you sit down to watch it in big chunks – which is no fault of the show – but is an issue if you downloaded it or bought it on DVD. So yeah it’s good, but in small doses.
Love Hina Specials – *****
Following on directly from the events of the series the two specials move the story to a conclusion to the ongoing love story. I really liked Love Hina and so by extension it makes sense that I also really liked the two specials.
Mahou Sensei Negima – *****
A powerful welsh boy wizard teaches a school of magically gifted teenage Japanese girls – if that premise doesn’t sell it to you then move along. A standard but well executed magical harem love comedy.
Martian Successor Nadesico – ****
I originally saw this a few years ago when the Sci-Fi channel started airing anime in the wee hours of Thursday morning. Though at that point the wee hours of Thursday morning were commonly reserved for collegiate boozeing. However my brief exposure to it was enough to make me go out and pick it up on DVD as soon as I assembled the funds. It’s an odd hybrid of comedic spoof space opera, big robot action and fairly serious war drama. It does a good job of balancing and intertwining these various strands to create a very enjoyable viewing experience. Still missing Guy.
This film looks nice and I did enjoy seeing the characters from the series again, but fuck is the story depressing, this could essentially be called MSN The Movie – Watch us shit on our previous main characters. Like so many sequels which are set “x years after” this suffers from the problem of removing the things viewers liked about the original without supplanting them with something equally enjoyable. Its made all the worse by the fact that the film feels like merely the first half of the story, the film ends with nothing resolved, more or less just after the big reveal they spent an hour and a half building up to. It reminded me a lot of the end of Halo 2, but it didn’t cause the same level of anger. If you’ve watched the series it’s worth a watch, otherwise steer well clear.
Miami Guns – *****
Girls and Guns show in the style of the Burn Up franchise but with a weird taste of Excel Saga mixed in. It’s quite enjoyable and often very amusing.
I was expecting something entirely different from this show – I was expecting anime fantasy love story – what I got was turn of the century political relationship drama. I have to say I certainly wasn’t disappointed. There’s very little “downtime” in this series, nearly every episode is full of important events and it adds a nice feeling of pace to the whole thing. The plot itself is enjoyable and the characters (while somewhat stylised) are quite engaging. If anyone has watched it or read the manga would they care to comment on the current of what I suspect is homosexual love running through the characters relationships?
Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya – *****
This is possibly one of my all time favourite anime and I can’t really say why. The plot is good and its use of disjointed narrative is really excellent but I think the appeal lies more in the resonance between the show and my own maudlin feelings at the time I was watching it. I’m not sure if that’s it thought as it appears to be fairly widely heralded as excellent so perhaps it just has that intangible “something” that so many great works of entertainment possess.
Okusama wa Mahou Shoujo – ****
Despite the opinion of certain people, I don’t spend all my time watching weird anime for or about young girls (or young magical girls as the case may be). So this show was something of a first for me as I haven’t had huge prior exposure to the whole “magical girl” genre. I imagine that it’s not particularly representative of the genre as it seems to be a more adult approach to the whole magical girl phenomenon. There’s an odd mix between magical girl action and the core and (relatively) depressing story of inter-personal relationships, which does give the series a rather downbeat feel which is contrast to its supposed subject matter. Still, well worth a watch for an alternate take on magical girls.
Ouran High Shcool Host Club – ****
The premise for this series is one of the odder ones, not in an “OMG WTF?” way (e.g. Excel Saga, Colourful, etc.); it’s a more insidious oddness. However it is quite entertaining, if somewhat predictable romantic comedy. There are some nice twists in characterisation and the characters back stories are introduced nicely but there’s nothing spectacularly new here.
Overman King Gainer – ****
From what I’ve seen the main thing that puts people off about this series is the design of the main robot (or Overman if you prefer) in it, the eponymous King Gainer – so lets get that out of the way first. Yes it has what could be described as dreads, but when its in operation they’re not that noticeable and if your letting that stop you watching it then your missing a really good show – to unleash my feared one sentence summary I’d go with – “post apocalyptic wagon train where giant robots take the place of the Winchester and ancient technological abominations and railroads take the place of Indians” – still got it baby.
Ragnarok – ***
This is an anime adaptation of the popular (well at least by pre world of warcraft standards) Korean MMORPG Ragnarok. And I don’t mean an adaptation in terms of “anime set in the same world” – no I mean more or less direct transliteration of game play to anime. Which means you get characters whinging about not having enough healing items, level grinding montages, etc. If you’ve played a MMORPG its all quite amusing, if you haven’t you’re probably going to be a bit lost. That aside its a fairly by the numbers little fantasy story, though some of the monsters and nearly all the magic look great.
Read or Die TV – *****
Like a number of other series mentioned here this is a re-creation or sequel of an older, much loved release from Manga Entertainment. Those of you who don’t live in the auld sod or the UK probably wouldn’t be familiar with the truly scarce trickle of R2 anime that we previously had to put up with and what there was more or less exclusively released by Manga Entertainment. Which in a weird way was a good thing as if you were into anime you were likely to have seen and (more or less through the sheer difference in quality in their product range) liked the same stuff as everyone else. This was handy for forming a common base for conversation and discussion. Something which both the growth of the anime market and the internet has largely killed. Anyway back to the point.
The previous read or die was a very nice looking three part OVA featuring on a group of secret agents each with unique powers who worked for a secret section of the British library – the story was quite enjoyable (though I found the main evil mastermind to be a little uninteresting in motivation and execution) and everyone I know who saw it loved it. I was no exception to that. I’m pleased to say that the series is certainly an excellent successor to this quality and in my opinion surpasses the OVA. Even taking into account the time difference the show is truly lovely looking, the quality of the animation is easily equal to that of an ova or motion picture. The story is also excellent, with the plot nicely separating the series into two main arcs. My only regret was that it had been so long since I’d seen the OVA that I wasn’t as familiar with the old characters as I would have liked to be. Not that that’s a problem as the series focuses on different people and can easily be watched if you haven’t seen (or as in my case, cant really remember) the OVA.
Sakura Wars – *****
First off I should point out that I have a great love of the “Steampunk” genre, so my opinion of this is going to be somewhat biased (not like the rest of this is in any way objective). It’s a troop of spiritually powered girls fighting off inexplicable monsters in their steam powered mechs from their secret base beneath the theatre they all work in as star actresses – what’s not to like? The answer is nothing (well I could have done without the occasional musical number they have in there, but it’s a small price to pay).
Samurai 7 – ****
There’s no point in reviewing this (semi post-apocalyptic anime style 7 samurai re-interpretation if you must). Just watch the first 15 seconds of the first episode and if Kanbei running along the nose of a ship formed from a giant flying sword before taking on a giant floating imperial palace guarded by an army of thirty-foot mecha armed with just his katana (and balls) doesn’t give you action in the pants then move along.
School Rumble 2nd Term – ****
A direct continuation of the School Rumble OVA, which is in turn a direct continuation of the first season. The 2nd Term starts of quite similar to the first (fairly surreal romantic comedy), but as the season progresses the tone does become a bit dark and I found it to be a bit more dour than the first season. The characters relationships become more complex and engaging and towards the very end of the second season the surreal light heartedness which initially drew me to the series returns. You’re only going to watch this if you’ve watched the first season and if you’ve watched the first season you are most likely going to watch this ;)
Scryed – *****
Scryed has been on my to buy list since its initial release but for some reason I never got around to buying it, which is a pity as I’ve certainly paid money for worse. Well that was something of a backhanded compliment for something that is really a quite enjoyable show. While it does follow a somewhat formulaic shonen action plot (guy has power, guy fights other power users, power increases, tournament style confrontation leading to big boss) it is a formula which I quite enjoy when it’s done well (as it is here). However the interpersonal relationships of the series’ main protagonists is what raises this above average or good into excellent.
Seven Swords – ***
Another Tsui Hark martial arts fantasy, based on a fairly famous wuxia novel. However it would appear during the creation of this film Mr Hark grew tired with things like narrative chronology and plot development and thought to himself, “You know I just want to see people beating the balls of one another in a variety of improbable ways, fuck all this story balls”. Which leads to some, unique, plot developments (less kind people would call them gaping fucking holes). My personal favourite being when the two main villagers go to the mountain to get the seven swordsmen, one scene they’re making their way up the mountain to find these guys and get stuck in a snow storm – the next scene they’re riding away from the mountain with all of the swords in tow – I rewound the fucking DVD about ten times before I figured out that bit where they meet and recruit the swords simply didn’t exist. But in fairness it certainly does do the “people beating the balls of one another in a variety of improbable ways” very well.
Shaman King – ****
The animation style or more correctly the character design for this show has a rather unique style and if you don’t like it then I could see how it might be hard to get into. For something that starts out as a relatively light hearted shonen action tournament anime it certainly gets considerably darker in tone, but at its core Shaman King is all about people fighting with crazy ass spirits and ghosts, busting out super moves and learning new ones as they kick ass for friendship, love and sometimes just to kick ass. Also features the coolest kung fu zombie ever.
Shinkon Gattai Goddanar – Season1 *****/ Season 2 ****
This was the last of the big robot shows I watched while going through my short love affair with giant robots. It was also the best, it takes everything that’s cool or funny or engaging about big robot shows and cranks it up a notch. If I had to recommend just one giant robot show it would have to be, hands down, Goddanar. Season two follows on directly (as in the second part of the one event) from season one so if you are going to watch it your probably better off gathering all of it first. I love the principal, you’ll see why.
Steamboy – *****
From the director of Akira and taking nearly the same amount of time to produce it also share’s Akira’s somewhat unique animation style. Its one of the nicest looking anime I’ve seen and while the story takes a little while to (pardon the pun) pick up steam its a really excellent movie. It also doesn’t hurt that its steampunkalicious and what right thinking person doesn’t think Steampunk is the proverbial dog’s bollocks? Its films such as this which should be achieving acclaim not the overly sentimental, childish rubbish being pushed out by studio ghibli.
But before I get entirely derailed by my dislike for Studio Ghibli and perhaps in particular the public perception of them. I’ve been searching for an analogy for the attitude and the best I can come up with is that people saying studio ghibli and all their work is fabulous is akin to a bunch of pygmies coming out of the jungle and thinking Tomb Raider 2 is the greatest film ever because its the only thing they’ve seen – but that analogy makes me look like a pretentious elitist snob – which, lets be honest, is probably the root cause of my studio ghibli (and the matrix and several other things) hate – but I’m trying to avoid thinking like that if I can, so I’m forcibly adopting an agree to disagree policy when it comes to Studio Ghibli.
Anyhow Steamboy – its Steam right? And a Boy,Ok? and then you meld them together with the fabulous linkage of a steam powered Victorian age that never was and you that in a nutshell ladies and gentlemen is steamboy.
Tenchi Muyo GXP – *****
In many ways this comes across as a more mature re-design of the original OVA, well as mature as an anime space opera romantic comedy can be. For the first three quarters of the series the action is fairly low key and the main character certainly lacks the (insurmountable) power of Tenchi (which is understandable), but towards the end of the series they really pull out all the stops and there’s several great moments when your just thinking “fucking sweet” (well depending on your feelings about robots I suppose).
Tenchi Muyo Ryo-Okhi OVA 3 – ****
The original Tenchi Muyo OVA (the fancy hundred quid special edition collection of it no less) represented a watershed of sorts in my anime viewing. I had been introduced thanks to Channel 4, Manga Inc and Supervision. So to that point my exposure had been limited to primarily Shonen manga and some of its more mature offshoots. Tenchi represented a move to the understanding that anime was just a medium with a wide and varied collection of genres and offshoot rather than just nicely animated ass kicking/fucking sessions. As well as that Tenchi is probably one of the best “Harem” style anime rom-coms and Ryoko remains one of my favourite female anime characters. It didn’t hurt either that it had some really nice fight scenes, especially Tenchi’s costume change on Kaguto’s ship – which should be the basis of all costume change animations.
I was really looking forward to the last part of the OVA and while it didn’t disappoint it also didn’t seem to fully capture the somewhat sublime brilliance of the original two OVA’s. In retrospect I feel that it was the move from a “local” to a “cosmic” or in many ways super/macro-cosmic scale which caused a slight disconnect with the other material. The risk of introducing cosmic beings is that often it can – just by an acknowledgement of their presence or existence – de-protagonise the main characters of the show. This is often further exacerbated when some of the main characters turn out to be super cosmic bastards – I mean if the guy you normally go for pints with on a Friday turned out not to be Kev but was in fact Kev-tus, Devourer of Worlds, Sentinel of Eternity and Bearer of the Eternal Chalice of Deadliness its going to give you something of an inferiority complex. The OVA also seemed to end somewhat suddenly, though it appears there is an unattached epilogue episode which I shall endeavour to get my hands on. Apart from those issues (and I will admit the whole cosmic being vs protagonism thing could be a personal hangup) the third OVA is pretty sweet and certainly looks nice (unfortunately the older OVA’s are showing their age somewhat).
That 70’s Show Season 1-8 – *****
I really do watch far too much of that 70’s show, I tend to just throw it on in the background when I’m doing other stuff in my room. Over the last month or so I started with season one and watched through till season eight and then more or less started with season 8 and watched my way back to season one. I can’t really quantify the appeal.
The Blade – **
A supposed martial arts masterpiece, I’d have to disagree. It’s an army of guys armed with bear traps crossed with eraser head and flavoured with some one armed swordsman. Its a dirty, loud, visually confusing film which only redeems itself after an hour – not it does redeem itself pretty fucking well, the last half of the film, particularly the protracted fight at the end are great stuff. I particularly liked the depressing slant the epilogue gives to the entire film. But I’m not sure if the effort of getting through the first half is worth the reward.
Tokyo Underground – *****
I want to say this is Neverwhere the anime, but it really isn’t, apart from the entire underground civilisation that no one knows about there really is no connection between the two.
Tsukuyomi – Moon Phase – ****
Ah Matt would have love this one – gothic Lolita vampire princess meets intrepid Japanese journalist, ghouls him only he retains his own will, zany hijinks ensue as vampire looks for mother and tries to escape re-capture by her relatives/evil vampire king dad. This is quite enjoyable and features a nice mix of action with character development, it also features a weirdly addictive theme tune and an over abundance of neko mimi.
I like Charlie Sheen, but not in a gay way. I thought he was better than Michael J Fox in spin city. Yeah that’s right, better. When I got the first two seasons of Patrick I hadn’t heard much about it beyond the boys saying it was funny and reading somewhere that it was doing fairly well in the states. I thought it was pretty amusing, the kid’s probably the most annoying thing about and he’s usually just plot dressing so that’s grand.
Vampire Princess Miyu TV – ****
This was another of those old shows that Manga Entertainment licensed back in the day – well to be precise it was the Vampire Princess Miyu OVA which they licensed. The show is fairly similar in content, but about a decade younger than the OVA. Even so the show can look a bit dated in places, though that I feel may be due more to the palette than the animation itself. I quite liked this show – it is in many ways reminiscent of Jigoku Shoujo (well based on age that’s the other way around, but based on my viewing order it’s correct). Each episode is relatively self contained and deals with a fairly discrete set of events, with Miyu often appearing in a background capacity. However it certainly isn’t as unflinchingly grim as Jigoku Shoujo and it does have more of an overarching plot.
Wilderness – ***
Fairly standard survival horror film elevated by the fact that it tends to do everything you yell at it, which makes a change.
Yumeria – ***
I didn’t find out until afterwards that this was an anime version of a relatively unsuccessful dating sim from Namco. Which did explain the huge amounts of fan service in the show. Yumeria’s quite enjoyable but there isn’t much to it beyond the basic harem comedy structure, though in fairness the concept behind the bad guys and one or two of the characters are quite nice.
Zero no Tsukaima – ****
A bit like the three musketeers only with magical school children and only one sword fighter so perhaps not so much like the three musketeers then apart from the whole “get the queens letter from English guy or else” thing. The story revolves around a magic academy and specifically a magic using noble called Louise who is renowned for being unable to cast a single spell, when it comes time to summon a familiar she somehow manages to summon a modern Japanese school boy as her familiar – magical hijinks ensue with the usual mix of hidden abilities/powers and the required love story. Enjoyable enough.
Ah Armored Core, the only reliably enjoyable big robot franchise. While I’ve never played an armored core game that was amazing, I’ve also never played one that was shite – they maintain a nice average enjoyment factor. The best thing about Armored Core games is the amazingly detailed robot design system present in each one – it allows you to create a truly staggering array of unique robots all of which can offer very different play experiences. My only problem with the series at the moment is that they could do with expanding or changing the armored core components as long time fans of the franchise will perhaps have become a little bored with the same or similar construction choices from game to game. I also wouldn’t mind an updated control system as playing a fast mech can be a little trying at times.
Disgaea 2 – ***
This is one of the few games this year I was actively looking forward to. The first Disgaea really is an excellent game and certainly ranks as the best tactics game I’ve played, the story was enjoyable (and often very amusing) and the game system was deep and complex. Obviously I was expecting more of the same from Disgaea 2 and I have to say it certainly delivered. While at first there’s a certain disconnect (as its more or less all new characters – but the same general universe) that’s gotten over quickly enough. The story in 2 is more complex and possibly more enjoyable than that of one but I’m unsure about the characters. I think that on the whole I found 1’s characters to be more, I don’t know, engaging. The game system is somewhat similar but sports several improvements, as well as even more depth, than the first one. If I were to recommend one or the other I’d be hard pressed to choose between the two, because while the second one is certainly a better game on a number of fronts the first has such excellent characters that its hard to choose. Perhaps
Dead Rising – *****
This is the best game featuring zombies ever; it’s also the best zombie game ever. More or less everything you want to do when caught in a zombie holocaust you can do in this game, for those familiar with either the original or the remake this is in many ways “Dawn of the Dead: The Game”, so much so that they have a disclaimer on the front of the box spelling out that it is not in fact affiliated with “xx of the dead” franchise. It’s also long enough for an “adventure” game and it has gigantic replay potential. It looks pretty nice as well so you can see in charming detail the zombies tear out your intestines to feed their insatiable lust for flesh.
Dead or Alive 4 – ****
Ah Dead or Alive and its jublee engine, I believe it was myself and Dermot who bought DOA 2 for the Dreamcast back in the day because we were pissed and for some reason (possibly an unsupported rumour of naked chicks) needed it. Picked it up in the Planet if I recall correctly and then went back to that dive Dermot used to live in on Dublin Street to play it. When I purchased my Xbox one of the games I bought with it was DOA 3 and needless to say I picked up DOA Ultimate when it was released. So it certainly wasn’t unexpected that upon purchasing a 360 I’d also pick up DOA 4. Like all the better 360 games it looks lovely (and makes me wish for a HDTV), but then again all the DOA games (and really Team Ninja stuff in general) always are some of the nicest looking games on their respective platforms. This is certainly the best of the DOA games, while I liked the DOA games I always had problems with how shallow they are and in many of them how ridiculously easy it was to counter. DOA 4 takes care of all these issues, the fighting system has real depth and counters (in general) require skill to pull off. It also features the biggest and my favourite cast so far. Perhaps the best thing about the DOA games is that when a fight is going well or is between two decently skilled opponents it actually looks like two people fighting, the flow of the movements and the animation really is excellent. What I really want now is to get broadband so I can get Xbox Live, because like all fighting games for it really shine I need people to play against (so if anyone feels like a game of Tekken, DOA, Street Fighter, Guilty Gear or any other game which involves beating the balls of someone feel free to drop around at any time – offer not open to people wishing me bodily harm).
Dawn of War : Dark Crusade – ****
Dark Crusade is the latest in the Dawn of War franchise. I liked the first one but didn’t really get into the second one (Winter Assault) as I find the Imperial Guard to be less than inspiring to play as. Dark Crusade however ups the complement of army choices by adding the Necron and the Tau, the former I have little interest in (So they’re Egyptian terminators from SPACE? Fuck off) but I do like me the Tau, their relative naivety in 40K terms makes them amusing and their “For the greater good” agenda gives them plenty of room for bastardry. However issues of 40K fluff aside Dark Crusade is a pretty good game; it takes several ideas from other RTS’s (most noticeably Rise of Legends) but implements them much better. Perhaps the best example of this is the campaign map which forms the main interface for the story game, in Rise of Legends it was a tedious experience with no real downfall or benefit to work your way across the campaign map. In Dark Crusade it’s a difficult and enjoyable experience to play across the various well themed areas of the planet and conquering a territory gives a significant gain.
Gears of War – *****
Long heralded as the “killer app” of the Xbox 360 GoW is a title I looked forward to since the initial propaganda involving the 360 was revealed last year, it was its imminent November release which convinced me to pick up a 360 in September. I can certainly say it was well worth the wait. This is the first game I’ve played where it actually feel’s like your in a war, the unique control system and the excellent plot pacing really do a lot to immerse the player in the game. There’s also the fact that even on a non HDTV system the game is beautiful looking. I could go on and on about how great it is (and it certainly kicks Halo 2 – the previous king of console shooters – arse) but perhaps my feelings for the game could be summed up by pointing out that I’m actually playing through it again on the harder difficulty setting (I just realised unless your familiar with my gaming habits that statements meaningless, but fuck it.)
Final Fantasy XII – *****
The newest and possibly my favourite of the Final Fantasy games (well obviously after FFVII). While the usual crop of technical improvements is present (better graphics, sound, enhanced battle system etc.) it’s really the evolution of the story that I found to be most engaging. While it does stick with some of the standard FF plot developments (e.g. “gasp bad guy a was being controlled/is the son of/had sex with/dresses up as/etc. secret bad guy b) the nature of the story is much more morally complex than the other Final Fantasy games, without clearly defined good and evil I found the moral shades of grey made the story extremely engaging. It also benefits from a fairly well rounded setting which has seen outings in FF Tactics and FF Tactics Advance. It also provides excellent value for money, which is something that can be extremely lacking in modern games, a casual play through (i.e. no guides, not 100% complete) took me about 80 hours. My only gripe with the game may be that it introduces a (more or less) entirely new selection of Summons (or Espers as they’re called in the game). While most of the new ones are pretty cool I was initially somewhat disappointed without such classics as Ifrit or Shiva (or of course Bahamut). Still that’s more a personal preference rather than an actual flaw with the game.
Okami – ****
You play Amaterasu in the form of a white wolf and you wield the celestial brush techniques of the gods, enough said really. This game’s great and the visual style is lovely (if difficult to describe beyond “looks like it was done with a calligraphy brush”). The gameplay is also enjoyable, if somewhat similar to the normal adventure game mold, however it has some additions which really do make it stand out such as the aforementioned celestial brush techniques.
Prey – ***
Its modern day, lots of people – but most importantly you and your girlfriend have been kidnapped by a giant floating alien ship full of fuckers who like the other white meat. Did I mention you’re a Native American whose dead granddad randomly shows up to give you weird shaman powers? Its a fairly by the numbers first person shooter which has the unique visual appeal of making it look like your playing inside a giant aliens anus (in a good way?). It’s not bad but I certainly feel it was something of a waste of money.
This game looks absolutely lovely and the world (Norse myths re-interpreted through a fantasy anime lens) is very engaging. However I felt that the actual gameplay (apart from some interesting ideas) was fairly boring. I also found the games choice to limit non combat environments to two dimensions to be both inexplicable and incredibly frustrating. While the games story is good the gameplay tends to involve tedious dungeon after tedious dungeon and unfortunately there’s little reason to explore the games interesting sub systems as it proves sup-optimal from a gameplay point of view. Perhaps the best example of this is how it is always better to use and level up story characters as opposed to the einherjaher – I found this to be fairly annoying as the idea of finding and summoning the souls of the departed to serve you was one of the things I thought was particularly cool about the game. It also features what is, without any hyperbole, the longest and unfortunately most tedious, final boss I have ever encountered. Now perhaps it’s because I didn’t fuck off to level up my characters (well I did a bit but not a huge amount) but I would say it took from 45 minutes to an hour and a half just to defeat the last boss. The game clocks in at around thirty hours, there are a few more hours there if you want to 100% it by beating the post game ending super bosses, but I frankly couldn’t be arsed. Its worth a go if you can rent it or borrow it, Id only buy it if it was going cheap.
Those of you who don’t play a lot of Japanese Computer RPG’s probably wont be too familiar with the use of the animated intro. Essentially a large number of JRPG’s don’t have the common cgi intro or cut scene they instead have an anime intro and cut scene. I have no particular preference between the two as long as they are a) done well and b) fit the visual style of the game. So now that your hip to that I would have to say that Tales of the Abyss has the nicest looking anime intro I’ve seen, it really is great looking – what I want now is a Tales of the Abyss OVA or TV show. The game itself is part of the Tales series of JRPG’s, which along with Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy forms the big trinity of JRPG’s – though neither the Tales nor the Dragon Quest have achieved the kind of recognition FF has – outside of Japan at least.
The game is quite enjoyable and the world is well realised and quite novel. The system is familiar enough but with some intriguing elements. The combat system in particular is fairly different from your standard fare and plays a lot like an action rpg title rather than your typical turn-based/time based rpg combat system.
Listening to: dEUS - Instant Street