Hey guys, Naru here, and I am actually really excited about today’s post. I’m writing it in real time, which I haven’t done in a long ass time, and I’m going to post it the second I’m finished writing it. I was originally going to post another article shitting all over The Nightmare Before Christmas, and while I still hate that movie, I wasn’t entirely pleased with how the post turned out. I was going to commit to it anyway, because I haven’t been able to get the Highschool of the Dead fanfic that’s been rattling around inside of my head onto paper, but yesterday while I was out shopping, I stumbled upon a perfectly timed opportunity.

I was out at a mall that’s about twenty minutes from my house, because it’s the only local mall that still has an FYE store, and I had a bag of trade-ins to get rid of. I do that a lot. While I was there, I sort of asked off hand if they had any Pumpkin Pete’s cereal still in stock, and while I had absolutely zero confidence that there’d be any, it turned out they had an entire case of the stuff that they hadn’t put out yet. And thus, I now have a box of cereal that cost 13 dollars.

For those of you looking for a little background, this product was inspired by a one-off joke in the first volume of RWBY, where it was revealed that Pyrrha was so famous that she’d actually been featured on a cereal box. She said the cereal itself wasn’t very good OR very healthy, and in a later Chibis short she seemed to be struggling to eat it while being filmed for a commercial, but somehow, it still wound up becoming an actual product, despite Pyrrha’s wishes. And now, in honor of her death, you get to enjoy two scoops of her ashes in every box!

Too morbid? Sorry. I’m just really excited about this. It’s not the first product tie-in cereal that’s ever existed… I had Pokemon cereal back in the day, I had some Star Wars cereal featuring Rey from The force Awakens(I still have the box), and the WWE stable The New Day got their Booty-O’s cereal turned into a popular FYE staple. Honestly, considering the burst in popularity over Mulan McNuggets sauce, I was surprised to see so many boxes of Strawberry Smiggles there, with nobody lining up to buy them. I mean, I like Rick and Morty, but I don’t LOVE it, so I can do without their cereal and shitty McDonalds condiments.

But I bought myself a box of Pumpkin Pete’s, and I’m going to try some for you today!

Here’s what it looks like in person…

Here’s a word search on the side…

The back, with a free cut-out mask…

I know how important these are for you.

Something tells me I’ll be finishing it before this date.

If this were the nineties, the small toy would be in the bottom of the box, and the larger toy would be mail-order.  Ask your parents, kids.

Funny, they kind of look like Lucky Charms…

These marshmallows aren’t dissuading that impression…

And yeah, it’s just Lucky Charms. 

Well, guys, that about wraps this up…  If you were curious about what Pumpkin Pete’s taste like, it’s just Lucky Charms.  Whether or not you’ll like them depends on what you think about Lucky Charms.  I think they’re okay, and pretty good in milk, and that’s the impression I got from Pete’s.

Was it worth 13 bucks?  Yeah, insofar as I get to add the box to my RWBY collection without fear of moths or rats tearing it open, but food-wise, no way.

Next week, I’ll be posting a review of one of the first anime I ever saw, so get ready for the exciting conclusion of Otaku-tober!

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In Japan, it’s said that if a previously prized item has been abandoned for over 100 years, it comes to life, developing it’s own soul, born from the tragedy of it’s loneliness. If this is true, then you can only imagine the kind of forlorn souls that haunt your average antique shop. Of course, you don’t have to imagine it if you get a job at one of these locations, like Eiri Kurahashi does when he takes a job at his Grandfather’s shop to help pay his way through art school. Honestly, it’s not such a bad job, either. He works near his friends, a lovely young woman often rents the space outside for her tarot card readings, and all he really has to deal with is his grandfather’s compulsive purchases, as the worldly old man is constantly buying up antiques on his travels to sell at his shop for obscene and mostly arbitrary price markups.

One day, he receives a piece from his Grandfather’s trip to Europe, and while it looks like a simple piece of furniture at first, he soon finds out that the piece contains two hidden items… The first is a lovely glass chalice whose rim is tinted with an enchanting swirl of colors, and the second is an exquisite painting of a little white girl, dressed up in gothic lolita clothing like a porcelain doll. Eiri quickly starts to lose himself in this glass, and not too long afterward, he begins to see that same little girl moving around inside of the glass, presenting him with a glimpse into many different moments of her young life, from the innocent to the sad, and to make matters more bizarre, she seems to be completely aware of his presence… Whatever he’s seeing, it’s undeniably what she wants him to see, but the lovestruck Eiji may not be feeling what she wants him to feel. As he continues to get drawn deeper and deeper into the haunted chalice’s mystery, and he uncovers more and more about a centuries old crime, can his body survive the strain that this new liaison is taking on his soul?

Le Portrait de Petite Cossette was produced by the animation company Daume, which I’ve only spoken about once before, but that was before I started to adopt a consistent structure in my reviews, so I didn’t mention it at the time. For the record, that anime was Shiki, and the similarities are there, although thank God Cossette doesn’t have the same wacky design problems. Daume unfortunately didn’t exist for very long, as it was only active between 1999 and 2010, but from the few titles I have seen, their priorities seem to be pumping out trashy low budget ecchi shows, and saving the bulk of their money for more serious projects, like this, Shiki, and Strawberry Marshmallow, and with these titles, they put a lot of money and effort into animation quality and background detail, creating as realistic and immersive a tone as possible for the stories and characters that people will actually care about, leaving the titty shows that people will watch anyway to suffer the short end of the stick, and I can definitely respect that.

Alternatively, when it comes to Cossette’s visual style, it looks far more like a product of it’s director than it does it’s production company. Akiyuki Shinbou has a rather controversial reputation among anime fans, and while Cossette was his only real undertaking for Daume, he’s spent the majority of his career working for Studio Shaft, where his eclectic visual style has become synonymous with his name. He’s built his career on using strange, unorthodox cinematography to make dialogue scenes look just weird and off-putting enough to distract the viewer from noticing just how little is actually going on in said scenes, and he’s been called pretentious because of this trend… And not unfairly, either, it’s a label he well deserves. His other constant quirk is that he likes to present female characters, especially underage ones, in sexually appealing poses, regardless of what kind of tone the project is going for. His direction was, interestingly enough, one of the biggest criticisms that Madoka Magika received.

Having said all that, his visual trademarks can be used for good. His style added a lot of depth to EF: A Tale of Memories and it’s sequel, but even further back, he did a fantastic job on Le Petite Cossette. There are a lot of visual effects in this production that feel essential to the story, such as intense shadow play and intricate lighting, as well as a lot of CG glass effects and dream like backgrounds, and I honestly can’t think of any other anime director with the broad vision and even broader scope of imagination to pull it off as well as Shinbou does. His unorthodox visual style doesn’t feel wasted or arbitrary here, as it’s a story about art that’s being presented in as artistically daring a way as possible, and there’s some kind of meaning, no matter how small, that can be inferred from every off kilter shot of it. This is of course not to say the series was low budget, or anything… In the moments that rely on traditional movement, it looks fine. It doesn’t look cheaply made, or like they were struggling, or anything like that. I don’t know if i’d call this the best looking piece of Shinbou’s career, but it’s gotta be up there.

With only three episodes ever made, Le Petite Cossette doesn’t have a very large soundtrack, but what it does have is hauntingly beautiful. I shouldn’t really have to expand much farther than that, at least not once I drop the name Yuki Kajiura, one of the most celebrated soundtrack composers in anime history, and her work for Cossette is no exception. While the instrumentations themselves are heart-breaking and exquisitely orchestrated, a lot of it’s tracks are songs with actual people singing lyrics, which is definitely not something you’d expect from most anime. I wasn’t able to find out who sang every track, I could only place names to a few of them, but from what I was able to gather, the singing duties appear to have been split between Kajiura herself and Cossette’s Japanese voice actor, Marina Inoue, both of whom prove to be outstandingly talented singers. There are a few exceptions to this, of course, and I’m pretty sure my favorite track is “Somewhere I Belong,” whose violin chords convey a very real sense of longing and loneliness.

The English dub is a very fine effort from Geneon, which I regret to say was never one of my favorite dubbing companies when it was still around. I was never a fan of how a lot of their dubs felt really samey, and quite a few of them tried way too hard to match the Japanese voices, resulting in awkward, sometimes screechy sounding deliveries. This particular project, led by director Wendee Lee, is a much more subtle effort than I’m used to from them, and I’d even go as far as to say it’s almost as good as the Japanese. One thing that I feel they greatly improved on is the casting of Eiri, who was for some reason played by a woman in Japanese, and yeah, it wasn’t very convincing. They gave the job to veteran Johnny Yong Bosch in the dub, and… You know that thing he does sometimes where he talks without any real inflections, but his voice is still entirely listenable due to how hypnotically soft it is? That works to great effect when playing his character in the real world, bored and distant as he yearns for the world inside the glass. Appropriately enough, he speaks with a lot more enthusiasm and genuine interest when speaking to Cossette.

And speaking of Cossette, Michelle Ruff plays that role, and while she kind of faltered when playing a similar role in Chobits, she actually gives Cossette a bit more personality than her original VA Marina Inoue did, although that could be chalked up to Ruff being an established star at the time and Inoue having just debuted. She plays her role a bit more playfully than Inoue did, and when the time came, she also delivered on the duality of the character nicely. Unfortunately, aside from Tony Oliver’s terrifying portrayal of murderer Marcello Orlando, the rest of the cast feels kind of wasted in smaller roles, including industry heavyweights like Kari Wahlgren, Kirk Thornton, Sam Riegal, Julie Ann Taylor and even Wendee Lee herself, put on strong, subtly emotional performances, considering the limited screen time they were all given. The English adapted script is also more than faithful enough. Yeah, there’s some philosophical changes in episode 3, but they’re workable. The sub is better overall, but both versions are equally listenable.

You know what we don’t have enough of? Stories where people fall in love with ghosts. I absolutely love reading about or just watching the idea of love conquering all getting challenged by the barrier of mortality between the two lovers in question. One of my favorite books growing up was Robert Westall’s The Promise, which was about an English boy falling in love with a beautiful classmate during World War 1, only for her to become a casualty of the legendary conflict. She comes back as a ghost, they’re still in love, and their attempts to rekindle their mortal romance nearly leads him to death’s door. He ultimately must choose between his life and his love, which is the kind of emotional dilemma I could die for. no, that doesn’t make me a Twilight fan, because vampires have physical bodies, and that would be cheating. Also, Twilight sucks.

To be honest, though, Le Portrait de Petite Cossette has one of Twilight’s biggest flaws, in the fact that it features a love connection between a couple who are separated not just by death, but by an uncomfortable age range. Yeah, in all fairness, Cossette was killed over 200 years prior to the story, but she’s still clearly a child. Eiri still falls in love with her, and while their specific ages are never explained, it’s very likely that Eiri is in his late teens or early twenties, while Cossette died between ages 10 and 12, creating a romance that would normally set off my lolicon alarm, if it wasn’t for what the writer was trying to do with it. Taking a look at Cossette’s background, she was the oldest child of an aristocratic family, and she was also a child bride, which was a common enough practice in those days. Her fiance was a family portrait artist who had fallen in love with her after several art sessions, and while the art we’re shown is fairly innocent, there’s a pretty decent chance he was also putting her in some Leo and Kate/Pretty Baby poses when her parents weren’t looking.

Now, it’s kind of a spoiler, but I’m sorry, I have to talk about her death, and honestly, it’s not even that BIG of a spoiler, as I’ll still be leaving the entire third episode a surprise for you… One day, her artist fiance, Marcello Orlando, goes crazy and slaughters her family before killing her, because… Once again, I’m sorry, but here’s the spoiler… Because she was aging. Yeah, he stabs her through the chest with a huge knife to keep her from growing up, because if she did, she would no longer look like the girl he’d fallen in love with, the girl in his portraits. When you add this to the fact that Eiri’s obsession with a little girl who wasn’t real and complete ignorance of the real life woman who’s in love with him feels like a very intentional metaphor for lolicon media and how it indulges a person’s socially unacceptable fantasies to the point of seclusion, this all becomes the most brilliant condemnation of pedophilia and lolicon culture that I’ve ever seen. Well, from anime, at least… The movie Hard Candy does a pretty solid job, too.

And for those of you who are trying to be smart and point out that the main character also falls in love with a little girl, well, he doesn’t come out of this unscathed either. Yeah, his love for Cossette is portrayed as being more pure than Marcello’s… Which isn’t too difficult when you’re being compared to a murderer… But the idea of his love is still shown through the same kind of lens, as it’s ultimately a delusion. Even if the idea of an adult having a physical or romantic relationship with a child wasn’t wholly reprehensible… Which it unquestionably is… It’s fundamentally impossible for an adult who’s attracted to children to have a substantial relationship with one, as children don’t stay children forever. This is why the anime is named after Cossette’s portrait, rather than Cossette herself… Because it has a duel meaning. Her portrait, in this equation, is symbolic of lolicon art, and to a more unsettling extent, child porn. Cossette says at one point in the ova that she hates having her portrait done, and can you blame her? She was killed over the fact that she, as a person, could never have the same kind of eternal youth that her portrait had. This ties into the portrait’s second meaning… It’s her. The portrait, like her, is a ghost of something that once was, and can never be again.

Of course, it also helps that Cossette as a character is never sexualized, or presented to us in a sexually suggested manner. I guess Shinbou did have a sense of restraint and taste at one point. We’re shown how she seduces Eiri, because she needs a man to fall far enough in love with her to willingly sacrifice himself to the torture and punishment her killer never faced so that her soul can be at peace, but they never bother trying to seduce US with her, so points to them on that front. They could have easily tried to have their cake and eat it too, like the use of nudity in Sankarea, but they took the high road. I wish I could say all of the work they put toward creating their metaphor and supporting their point had resulted in a stronger story and overall better writing, but unfortunately, with only three episodes of time at their disposal, a lot of this anime’s potential wound up falling by the wayside. I do wish the other characters would have had more time for development, seeing how there’s quite a few of them and a lot of them seem genuinely likeable, and I wish they’d drawn the story out more so that it could be enjoyable to people who DON’T want to put in the work to understand it, but what are you gonna do.

Le Portrait de Petite Cossette was originally available from Geneon entertainment, and with that company long since dead and buried, it’s since been rescued and redistributed by Sentai filmworks. Both DVDs are available for cheap online, and the only real difference between them is that the Geneon release has a pointlessly higher content rating. You also get a nifty poster inside, which is awesome. The manga adaptation is also available stateside from Tokyopop, and is just as easy to find online. As far as I know, no legal streaming site is airing it.

Le Portrait de Petite Cossette is, at least for what it tries to do, one of the best independent OVA series I’ve ever seen. Despite it’s weaknesses in characterization and plot, it tells an engaging story with an important message lurking beneath the surface. But putting all of that silly depth stuff aside, though, is this a good, spooky show to watch on Halloween? You bet your sweet ass it is. Despite all evidence to the contrary, you want Eiri and Cossette to reach some sort of positive conclusion at the end(Even if you understandably don’t want to see them wind up together in any way, shape or form), and you will feel legitimately frightened for both of them, as well as sympathetic to their situations. In terms of it’s visuals, you could argue that it was ahead of it’s time, as it holds up far better now than it did when it was originally released, making it a title you really wouldn’t guess the age of, unless you judged by the actors involved. It’s smart, complex, and a feast for the eyes, so I highly recommend adding it to your Halloween watch list. I give Le Portrait de Petit Cossette an 8/10.

This review was requested by Matthew McPherson.

Congratulations on your big day!

 

We’ve all heard the story of Victor Frankenstein and his creation, which often gets mistaken for him. Some versions tell of his monster dancing to Puttin’ on the Ritz, some versions tell of his monster battling an ancient order of gargoyles, and some versions tell of his monster’s daughter attending high school with other Halloween Bratz rejects. But what no version of this classic story has ever told you is that the old doctor was only the first person to successfully reanimate a corpse. His creation could move on it’s own, it could speak, it could make decisions for itself, it could promote strawberry cereal… But aside from the doctor, nobody could replicate this feat. By the 1800s, technological necromancy was so popular that the soulless, silent husks of the departed had been relegated to the roles of menial workers, performing simple tasks for their fleshy masters, just like at the end of Shaun of the Dead. It was seen as impossible to imbue a reanimated corpse(they’re VERY specific about avoiding the zed word) with a soul, thus the Doctor and his creation became the stuff of legends.

Much like Nikola Tesla, Dr. Frankenstein never released his revolutionary methods to the public, and he and his creation have unfortunately disappeared into time. While it’s entirely possible that the old doctor is living it up in Storybrook and getting freaky with Snow White, and that his monster, labelled by history as “The One” is off somewhere battling other monsters on the side of a bunch of obnoxious children, history has marched on, with all soul reanimation research becoming illegal in Great Britain. Cut to relatively present times, where a young Dr. John Watson has undertaken the not-so-elementary task of figuring out the old Doctor’s work. With a freshly reanimated corpse working as his close assistant, he picks up a bunch of… People… Who join his journey because of… Reasons… As they all push forward on an Unexpected journey to find Doctor Frankenstein’s notes and bring a real soul into the body of his deceased… Friend? I think? And in order to get it, he’ll brave any number of savage, flesh eating totally-not-zombie hordes, even as they spontaneously combust in his face. But sooner rather than later, he’ll have to ask himself… Who are the true monsters?

I’ve said before that Production IG is one of the most solid you’ll find, as they tend to produce some of the best looking anime of their time(and a few bombs, but it’s still a really impressive ratio). Empire of Corpses unfortunately wasn’t made by Production IG, at least not on paper. It was produced by Wit Studio, which is a smaller studio founded by producers from IG, so it’s basically the Touchstone to IG’s Disney. This smaller studio was actually founded very recently, as it’s first known work was released in 2013, and that was of course the original Attack on Titan. Despite it’s overblown reputation, Titan wasn’t the best looking anime, as used a handful of budget saving tricks to maximize it’s visual quality, but they were all somewhat noticeable and distracting, and the thick outlines didn’t help either. Empire of corpses is a decent improvement over this method, because while there wasn’t a huge increase in budget between the two shows, Empire is a lot better at hiding it’s flaws and shortcuts.

One thing I noticed about this film in terms of quality control is how a good chunk of the budget was spent on action scenes, most of which take place in bright daylight, and they paved the way for this by spending a lot of the film’s run time in the dark, using heavy shadows and CG fog effects to hide what would have looked a lot cheaper upon closer and more well-lit inspection. Over-all, the animation looks solid enough to be above complaint. People move as much as they need to, and they never really freeze in the background. The animation is pretty good, but the artwork is nothing short of exquisite. The character designs are a little on the generic side, and that goes for both the living AND the undead, but they’re still polished and consistently on-model enough. The lighting and shading are meticulously realistic, the coloring in the darker and more intense scenes is satisfyingly eerie, and the backgrounds are beautifully designed and atmospheric, and trust me, there are a ton of backgrounds in this movie.

There’s a lot of travel between different countries in this film, including what I believe were many different setting across America, England, India, Russia and Japan, and the level of detail is mind numbing all across the board. Far off shots reveal entire towns, lit by fire and the earliest gasps of technology against the night sky, and the chaos of thousands of people dealing with the onslaught of their once docile reanimated servants is captured beautifully in all it’s carnage. The intricacies get even more elaborate as we explore a number of indoor locations, such as a Japanese chemical company and the Tower of London, where 2D and 3D animation are flawlessly combined to show off technological environments that are guaranteed to ignite the fancies of any steampunk fan who happens to be watching. There’s also simpler settings, like the cozy interior of the USS Richmond, any number of towns the cast has to pass through, and several real life geographical locations. All in all, this film did a hell of a job in the visual department.

The English dub is also quite commendable, with the adaptive script from John Burgmeier of course being respectful to the source material, although whether or not that’s a good thing is up to you. The dialogue for this movie is overloaded with exposition and long winded explanations, and while that kind of thing is hard to make up for through adaptation, the actors still manage to rise above the material they’ve been given. Jason Leibricht is the voice you’ll hear the most, and while the chunks of dialogue he gets can occasionally be tiresome, he doesn’t sound like he’s just reading it from a cue card, either. It sounds like he’s in character, talking to us in his natural voice, and while that doesn’t entirely make up for the material, it’s easily the best anybody could have done with it. This is especially impressive from him because, in the Japanese, the narrator and John Watson were played by different people, but he takes all of it on himself. And thankfully, when the explanations are set aside, he does a fantastic job emoting in his more story-driven scenes.

But speaking of emoting, you really have to give it up for Todd Haberkorn, who plays the mostly mute character Friday, and in order to perform his wordless grunts and attempted vocalizations, he had to call upon a level of voice control that I haven’t heard out of anybody other than Brittany Karbowski, who I’d previously dubbed as the queen of in-character suffering. He brings the necessary elements of pain and tragedy to the character, and even when he does get to speak, he winds up doing so on two different occasions, using two equally perfect accents… British and Russian. J Michael Tatum is a joy to listen to with his gruff, charming cockney accent, sounding like a guy you just wanna go get a beer with. Mike McFarland and Micah Solusod don’t get a lot of screen time, but they still put forth admirable Russian accents, and Morgan Garrett plays the British femme fatale Hadalay like she was born to be a mysterious Bond girl. Greg Dulcie sounds convincing as former president Ulysses S Grant, and R Bruce Elliot plays a cool yet incredibly intimidating take on Frankenstein’s classic monster. Solid English dub all around, can’t recommend it enough.

Now, when I hear the name Empire of Corpses, and then someone tells me that it’s a story loosely connected to the Frankenstein mythos, the first image that pops into my head is a bit more of a metaphorical take on that title than we actually get. I picture in my head that moment from Berserk when Griffith is just realizing how many people have died for him to get as far as he has, how many more he’ll have to kill to get there, and just how many deaths will have been wasted if he turns back and gives up. The idea of pairing that image with a follower of Dr. Frankenstein in a world where reanimated corpses are a societal norm opens up a slew of tantalizing possibilities, quite a few of which had me eager to sit down and see if all of this movie’s poor reviews were really indicative of it’s potential. I didn’t get quite what I was expecting from it, but that also doesn’t mean there wasn’t some potential in what I DID get. Instead of a dark character study on an insane genius losing his grip on reality, we get a mostly sane-minded scientist getting scooped up on a Hobbit-style journey alongside other individuals with their own relationships to reanimation science and their opinions on how to use it.

Is that a bad scenario? No, not at all. The exploration of an idea through the different perspectives of a number of unique, diverse characters can often result in some really enjoyable think pieces, especially if there’s action and in-fighting to challenge them and a dark mystery going on below the surface to increase the stakes of the story. So why is it that out of four entire attempts to watch this film all the way through, I wound up falling asleep every single time? Sometimes multiple times? Well, two of the movie’s huge problems are evident right at the beginning. Not even ten minutes into the film, we’ve already been given two mutually exclusive expository monologues from the main character, one being about his work and the other being about the world the story is taking place in, how Dr. Frankenstein’s work has affected the world as it is, and especially the way it’s affected the warfare of the times. Exposition in a movie can be tiresome at the best of times, with the obligatory Star Wars text scroll being on the high end, but this just keeps going on and on.

And the other problem may not be as prevalent, but it’s far more damaging to the story… We see Watson reanimate Friday, his new corpse servant, but we’re not given any ideas as to who Friday was, what relationship he had to Watson, OR why we’re supposed to care about him being given a soul. We find out around the hour mark that he’s Watson’s former partner and he volunteered to be resurrected upon his death, but at no point are we given any reason to want him to become whole again, which makes all of the trouble they go through to achieve this end feel kind of meaningless. We’re given plenty of reasons to want Ed Elric to get his brother’s soul back, because we knew Alphonse as a child, and we were all given ample time and reason to fall in love with him. On the contrary, you take a movie like Logan, where Professor X is elderly and suffering from dementia, turning his mind into a deadly weapon of mass destruction, and every tragedy that Wolverine’s caring for him causes… Including the slaughter of an entire family that he insisted on visiting… Just winds up feeling like the consequences of pursuing a really bad idea, even though it’s not presented as such.

It’s hard to not feel that way when John Watson’s dedication to bringing life back to Friday winds up causing untold death and destruction, including a scene where Friday literally loses control and murders a random young woman in the street, and you don’t know enough about their previous relationship to address extremely potent questions like whether or not this quest was worth pursuing in the first place, and whether or not just letting the poor zombie die and ending said quest in it’s tracks would be for the better. I might have been able to get behind his resurrection and Watson’s steadfast resolve if the two of them were best friends, going all the way back to childhood with a dependence on one another. Hell, if they were previously lovers, that would make it even more compelling. But if we as the audience aren’t given a reason to care, why the hell should we WANT to see Friday resurrected with all of this destruction lying in his wake? All of the bad things that happen in the film are unequivocally Watson’s fault, so we’d better be getting a satisfying resolution out of it.

But all of that isn’t the reason I kept falling asleep. See, this movie’s overall story just isn’t engaging. At all. I know I said that the people in charge of animating and dubbing were on the top of their game, but between the writer and the director, somebody made a bunch of embarrassingly amateurish mistakes, and I’m not just talking about forgetting to mark large passages of time, like a year long time skip towards the middle of the film… although that did happen. The structure is sloppy from beginning to end, to the point that I honestly wasn’t surprised that it was based on a novel, because I normally only see execution this bad when people are trying to cram entire books into a 2 hour format. I haven’t read the original novel, nor do I intend to, but the movie feels like someone set out to hit all the important plot points of the story, and in doing so, found they had to sacrifice everything that wasn’t necessary to the outline. This would explain why the pacing was so bad, with the story jumping from scene to scene at a breakneck speed, with little attempt to ease the viewer through each major scene conversion.

It also probably explains why there is literally… Yes, I mean literally… No character development throughout the entire film. Oh, you learn things about the characters you didn’t know before, and you get to see them react to different events, but you never see anybody develop. I don’t mind if one or two characters are the same at the end as they were in the beginning, especially when there’s an in-universe explanation like in Steins;Gate, but everybody? They relegate months worth of traveling together and getting to know each other and learning about each other into a brief montage, then they expect you to care when two characters suddenly get killed off. Oh no, the guy who looks like that and had that voice got killed both by and alongside the guy who just showed up a couple of minutes ago to dump exposition on us, how will we ever replace them? Oh, I know, we’ll replace them with a brand new random character who’ll stick with us a little while and then ALSO disappear from the film completely!

There’s groundwork for a decent message about the importance of equality, as the reanimated corpses are being used as slaves and servants for the more fortunate, and I figured this was intentional from the fact that the main cast was British and a lot of the corpses were Indian, but several events and revelations in the third act that I don’t want to get into kind of squashed that potential for depth into the dirt. Oh, but speaking of the third act, here’s something interesting about the movie’s climax… It’s a rip-off of two separate anime combined into one… Fullmetal Alchemist, and Evangelion! Oh yeah, it starts out as a rip-off of the big Philosopher’s Stone reveal, and it swerves headfirst right into a rip-off of the human Instrumentality project! That’s what all of this was leading to! That’s what all of this emotionally bankrupt action and dialogue that was at least seventy-five percent full of exposition was leading to. Also, and I hate to bring this up so late in the review, but if the walking dead in this universe are created through science, why does their bite create more of them? Consistency, people.

Empire of corpses is available from Funimation. While the original novel is not available stateside… Or at least, I can’t find it… His other novels, including Harmony, Genocidal Organ and a novelization of Meta Gear solid: Guns of the Patriots, are available from Viz Media, are. The movie versions of Harmony and Genocidal Organ are also available on DVD from Funimation.

Okay, I know I went off on this movie for being badly written and devoid of any emotional resonance, but honestly, I still kind of recommend checking it out. It’s not every day you get to see zombies that have been turned into suicidal biological bombs, there’s quite a few interesting ideas on display, and when the director really wanted to buckle down and get you invested in a scene, it can at least be entertaining, if only in those few scenes. It’s also worth watching for the outstanding visual quality and the top notch English dub, but don’t misunderstand me, this movie just isn’t very good, and it’s attempts to weave a connected history through Thomas Edison, Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Frankenstein, President Grant and even the Bond films feels more like a poorly planned experiment than an expanded universe. It’s hard for me to fully get behind a movie that I can’t for the life of me stay awake through, but it does have some merits. You may need an energy drink to get through it, but personally, I don’t regret seeing it. I give Empire of corpses a 4/10.

Once upon a time there was a land that was unbound by the rules of logic and physics that would otherwise govern our everyday lives. Since the people living in this world have never seen our world, they have no idea what the existence of impossibility feels like, so to them, chaos was normal. The idea of people exhibiting overpowered, world-ending, supernatural powers but only at random self-contained moments is as normal for them as… as… You know what? Fuck it. I do plot summaries for every review I write, and I’m not too humble to say I’ve managed to put some TRULY incomprehensible plots onto paper in my day, but this is it. This is the one I can’t do. This is my Amy’s Baking Company. I am not going to stress myself out by trying to put this series into some form of understandable context. Nichijou is insane. It has a bunch of characters in it, and they’re all insane. The wide and expansive cast includes the students of Tokisadame High School, their teachers, their parents, and their neighbors.

Out of the two groups of characters that make up the bulk of the series’ run time, the first group consists of three teenage girl friends… There’s Mio, a normal, average school girl who’s easily swept up by the whims of her friends, which consist of Yuuko, the excitable idiot with so much energy that she could probably call Jolt a downer, and Mai, the weird bookworm who plays by her own rules without ever breaking from her stoic attitude. The second bunch is made up of three very odd individuals living under the same roof. There’s Hakase, an eight year old genius whose intellect doesn’t prevent her from acting her age, and she lives with two of her greatest creations… Sakamoto, a tomcat who can talk thanks to a special bandanna, and Nano, an older looking robot girl whose similarities to the average teenager are belied only by the giant key sticking out of her back. These character are of course crazy and unpredictable all on their own, but when you drop them into a world where princely farmers ride goats to school, people drop wet noodles down slides and dog bites cause Hyper Beams, their ordinary lives can and will become anything but.

Nichijou was produced by Kyoto Animation, and I would argue that it couldn’t have possibly been on their plate at a better time. Kyo-ani was, at one point, known for pouring money into their anime, giving it’s animation an absurd level of fluid motion and lifelike quality. This went on until they decided to go cheaper, as we’ve discussed in my Clannad Afterstory review. This new style, which was a major step down, would be carried on through the second season of K-on, where enough was enough, and a return to form was in order. The first anime produced after K-On!! was… You guessed it… Nichijou. This series is in many ways a return to form for Kyoto Animation, as it feels very much like a transition from their lazy animation period right back to their older style, with both styles very much present in it. It also brought back that high level of effort and budget that the company had been sorely lacking, taking them into a new period that would carry on until they would eventually lose focus again with Tamako Market.

Yes, in many ways, Nichijou was to 2011 what Free would be in 2013… A much needed revival for a company that was losing it’s mojo. Appropriately enough, just like Free, the animation in Nichijou is so lavishly funded that I couldn’t find a single sore spot. It still would have looked flawless with only 75% of the budget it was given. It features a gorgeous mix of fluid animation from Kyo-ani’s first period and the sloppy, cheaper style from it’s second period, both used to their absolute best depending on the situation. Every single movement is fluid, from complicated dance moves to over-exaggerated wrestling moves to beautifully rendered computer graphics for whenever someone… Um… Shoots a laser out of their mouth. Almost every single moment on screen is bursting with energy, at least of course when it’s intended to be. They have no problem slowing things down when necessary, either as part of the build up to a joke, or those weird moments when a character learns a lesson and poetic text appears with them on screen. These slower moments, which often feel like a break from the otherwise erratic pace, are often used as excuses to show off the exquisitely designed backgrounds, almost photorealistic in their presentation, and they greatly complement the much simpler looking characters in the foreground.

In terms of character design, It looks like a combination of Azumanga Daioh and Lucky Star, and I mean that in the nicest way possible. It combines the small bodied moe-blob aesthetic and low line-count of Lucky Star with the more grounded facial structures and high budget animation that’s constantly showing itself off from Azumanga Daioh, and it results in character designs that are unique and very easy on the eyes, yet completely child-friendly with no attempt whatsoever to sexualize them. The characters are brightly colored(with the exception of Mio, but I’m guessing that was intentional), and can be presented in a number of different art styles, with changes in outline, detail, and even hard swaps between conventional anime eyes and simple black lines to convey their expressions. Honestly, it’s hard to talk too much about the animation in this show, because it can do whatever it wants to, and does, with only as much consistency as it wants to have. It can be dramatic, it can be ridiculous, it can be intense, it can be laid back… And it never really fails at any of it.

The same could be said for the music, which was composed by Studio Ghibli veteran Nomi Yuji, who really does give the series a menagerie of differently styled background tunes to work with. The most memorable tunes in the show are probably the children’s sing-a-long style tunes that play during Hakase and Nano’s cutaways, I personally prefer the happy and carefree theme Ukiuki Happiness, as well as the more intense tunes that I unfortunately couldn’t find names for, but I remember loving most of them in the show. Both openings are addictive as hell, and despite having many similarities to each other… They’re both sung by a band named Hyadain, combining a single male main singer with synchronized female background singers, and they’re just catchy and fast-paced enough to keep up with the videos, which provide a sample of the fast and precise animation from the show. There are plenty of different songs used for the second ending theme, but I personally prefer the one song they used for the first ending, the pleasant and relaxing Zzz by Sayaka Sasaki.

There’s no English dub here, and I would normally never talk about Japanese acting, since I don’t have the right kind of experience to judge acting in another language, but even MY untrained ears could tell just how good the original voice acting in this series is. I don’t know what well of energy Mariko Honda had to reach into to play the hyper idiot Yuuko, but I kept expecting her to injure her vocal chords and be replaced from just how fast and off-kilter the role demanded her to be. Mai Aizawa didn’t sound like she had quite as difficult a role in the more down to earth Mio, but considering just how much that character suffers from the actions of her peers, and how many times she has to play the character as angry and defeated, it had to be at least close to as tough. As Mai, Misuzu Togashi only really had to stay at one register, but she still carried enough casual cruelty in her voice to fit the character. Hiromi Konno played a standard, cute little child character, but when you remember that she also played Akira in Lucky Star, you have to wonder just how much effort she put into making the role sound easier than it was.

Speaking of Lucky Star, Minoru Shiraishi is back, this time playing a talking cat who is, of course, at the mercy of his former Lucky Channel partner. He doesn’t sound quite like his other characters, taking a more deep-voiced and mature approach to his new feline identity, and last but not least there’s Shizuka Furuya in the role of Nano, who’s been assigned the more soft, moe-type voice, which makes it kinda difficult to judge the job she does. Luckily, the main cast is made to sing their own character songs and a lot of insert/ending songs as well, and she’s at least notable as a good singer. Interestingly enough, the cast is rounded out by a plethora of experienced voice acting veterans who play not actual characters, but inanimate objects that appear in an episode, and then deliver the next episode preview at the end of said episode. some examples of this include industry giants like Aya Hirano playing a slice of cake, and Megumi Ogata playing a banner of tiny flags, and no, I am not making either of those up. I’d love to hear a dub for this anime where they do the same with a bunch of uncast guest stars, and I think a Sentai dub would be wonderful, but I’m still perfectly happy with just the sub.

It’s been said before many times, and it still rings true, that animation is a limitless art form. A single illustration can contain a universe of images that would be impossible to replicate in real life, and turning that illustration into a feature of pretty much any length can express an artist’s imagination in explicit detail, and has the potential to go on to entertain billions. Whether the animation is done on paper or on computer, the only conceivable limit to what’s possible lies in the existing color spectrum. Having said that, while there’s virtually no limit to what you CAN do in an animation, adding the rules of story-telling places a harsh limit on what you SHOULD do. For a plot and story to work, the universe the story takes place in has to follow a pattern of logic, and even if that logic doesn’t fit in with the real world, it has to at least remain consistent in it’s own universe. Even if breaking the rules of the created universe is only used for comedy, it winds up feeling lazy and confusing, especially since following the logic of the universe takes a lot more effort and attention to detail, making lore-friendly jokes and gags feel all the more rewarding.

Take, for example, Looney Tunes. Characters are constantly shooting each other, playing repetitive jokes on each other, and even dying in some scenes, with the status quo erasing any consequences of their antics against each other. This works, because the Looney Tunes know they’re in a cartoon. They make constant references to their own animators, and even to the existence of the audience, so when Elmer Fudd falls for the same trap again and again, there’s an underlying understanding that he’s doing it to entertain us. No matter what happens, there’s an understandable in-universe explanation from it. Compare that logic to a Rooster Teeth cartoon, Xray and Vav, where there is no in-universe explanation to anything the characters do. The main characters jump up and touch dicks… Why? A scientist tries to kill one of them with a ray gun, he turns to dust, but he’s still talking and goes back to being unhurt less than thirty seconds later, and when he makes a remark about it, she threatens to do it again. Why? It didn’t work the first time, so why threaten to do it again? This is the kind of fallacy that the Looney Tunes are smart enough to avoid.

Getting back to anime, one of the worst story arcs of all time was the Lost Island arc from Nadia, which I’ve discussed in a previous review. It’s awful from start to finish, it ignores all logic and characterizations up until that point, and it begins with… You guessed it… One of the characters using Looney Tunes logic, inflating like a balloon and being fine a moment later, all because the new director didn’t give two fucks about the work the previous director had set down before him. In shows like Clannad, certain characters are capable of executing high-flying video-game style combat moves, and this is officially canon. The series is careful not to put them in situations where they’d need to use those abilities but can’t, because that would be inconsistent and, frankly, a plot hole. That’s not to say all anime NEED to follow rules or consistent logic… There are some anime where craziness and weird occurrences are the norm, but they’re normally relegated to a weird character entering a previously normal world, like in FLCL, or they’re completely aimless and inconsistent to the point where it all just winds up feeling dull, like Hare + Guu. And that’s if they’re not wildly immature like Panty and Stocking.

And that brings us to Nichijou, which goes about it’s business by taking random weirdness in a new, and kind of obvious in hindsight direction: It takes place in a universe where a complete lack of logic or sense IS the consistent logic of the universe. When you run into a person by accident, it can cause a huge explosion, and nobody is harmed from it. When your crush is out of line, literally shoot them in the face with a gun, and once the smoke clears, he might have to wipe off his fake glasses. Nichijou exists in a world where anything can happen at any given time, and while the events going on may follow the barest of a cause-and-effect criteria, it’s almost impossible to predict where anything is going to go. Before going into this series, I thought that the title “My Ordinary Life” was kind of a bland and generic name to give to a slice of life series, but it couldn’t possibly be more perfect, because by calling attention to the fact that this is their ordinary life, you’re forced to accept that these characters have grown up in, and are perfectly used to, a land that’s only a few forced metaphors away from becoming The Dodo’s Wackyland.

And I’m not stating any of that as a point against the series, either. This set-up is perfect for the cast of characters and style of comedy that this series brings to the table. In every way that matters, Nichijou is designed for two things, and the first one is the exploitation of possibilities. The show;’s three principal characters, Mai, Mio and Yuuko, have the kind of dynamic where you could put them in any situation imaginable and get something funny out of it, provided you’re trying to. Yuuko is always trying to be the center of attention, trying to make her friends laugh and get one over on them. Mai is always trying to quietly and subtly beat her at her own game, finding weirder and much more eccentric ways to mess with the girl who’s trying to mess with her. Mio is the accommodating girl, trying to keep up with and appease them, and even though she wants to be the normal one and the voice of reason, she still has dark secrets to hide, she still violently over-reacts to things, and she’s really just as crazy as they are.

They have perfect chemistry not just with each other, but with the people around them, too. Yuuko has her parents and teachers to deal with, highlighting her bad grades and refusal to properly study. Mio has a boy she has a crush on, a yaoi manga she’s trying to get off the ground despite her shame over it’s contents, and she also has an lder sister who won’t stop tormenting her. Mai is… Well, I don’t want to spoil anything Mai does, so let’s move onto the second group, which I enjoyed quite a bit more. With the characters of Hakase and Nano, you have this really interesting dynamic that you could almost consider a passive-aggressive power struggle. Both girls have some legitimate claim to authority over the other, which adds an extra layer of intrigue to their interactions. Hakase created Nano, and has the ability to remodel her and control her at will, but Nano is the caregiver, the nanny if you will, and she exercises a small amount of parental authority on her inventor. Throw in a talking cat that’s smarter and more mature than either of them, but still needs help with the basic needs of survival, and you’ve got a recipe for boundless material.

Take these two groups, place them into your no-logic world, and there is nothing you can’t do with them. The writers clearly knew this, because they took their time exploring both groups thoroughly on their own before finally having them meet halfway through the series, and it winds up being am atch made in heaven as Nano finally gets permission from her creator to go to school, and her friendship with the three main girls is sparked by their confusion over the giant metal key on her back. People would have accused Nichijou of jumping the shark if they timed this intersection poorly, but they didn’t, so the unification of both groups begins while they’re still both going perfectly strong on their own. If I’m being honest, though, there was one character in the supporting cast who I never really liked, and it was the gunslinging girl. Yeah, I get what they’re doing with her… Parodying the tsundere trope… But unlike the vast majority of the cast, including the side characters that were built off of her, everyone’s good for multiple jokes, while she just feels like the same one over and over again.

But she does lead us to Nichijou’s other purpose in design… To make fun of the slice of life genre, as well as the moe comedy sub-genre. The tsundere gun-gal is really the only blatant attempt they make at it, though, but it’s kind of hard to explain how they do this the rest of the time. For a quick example, take the once-in-a-lifetime wrestling match between Hulk Hogan and Shawn Michaels. Hogan is notorious for having an ego and fucking over other wrestlers to make himself look good, and Shawn was booked to lose this match. so what did he do, you may ask? He made fun of his opponent by over-selling all of his moves. If Hulk so much as threw a punch, Shawn would go tumbling out of the ring like a ragdoll, and the fans knew exactly what he was doing. It was like when Tom Green made fun of all the tired cliches in late nineties rom-coms in his shit movie Freddy Got Fingered, although not nearly as soul crushing. See, the genre that Nichijou is parodying is full of overblown emotions, dramatic and tense editing and cinematography that camouflages the mundane, and general melodrama.

Thus you have Nichijou, blowing ordinary everyday occurrences out of proportion in a much more on-the-nose, ridiculous manner. That’s why, when someone gets bitten by a dog, they fire off a beam from their mouth that takes out a satellite. That’s why, when two girls are chasing each other through the school, the camera tilts, the art becomes monochromatic and everything stretches like they’re going into hyper-drive. That’s why there are random contained occurrences that feel like they were taken from the writers’ weirdest dreams. I originally dropped this series a few years ago, because I couldn’t wrap my head around what it was doing or the kind of humor it was using, and I just wound up getting confused, right up until a few months ago when a friend of mine put it all into context for me. My most recent rewatch was much more rewarding, and I found myself laughing than any other anime that I’ve seen in recent memory. It’s just like Mio said… You never know what’s going to happen next, and that’s what makes it interesting.

Nichijou is available from Funimation. The DVD bluray combo pack was released in February, and it can be viewed on their website. The English language manga is also available stateside from the publisher Vertical, and there’s an OVA episode called Episode 0 that’s not quite as good as the series, but it’s about as good as a pilot episode can be. I normally don’t ever mention fan-made AMVs, but if you go on Youtube, there’s an AMV set to the song Safety Dance that provides a much better preview for the series than you’re likely to find anywhere else.

You know, it just occurred to me that in my review of Nichijou, I spent three whole paragraphs not talking about Nichijou. You could probably write this off as an accident, but it really wasn’t. I had to go abstract in order to set up my thoughts on the series, because, well, good comedy is really hard to talk about at length. All you can really do is say it was hilarious, then spoil all the good gags, which is something I tried to do as little as possible, because Nichijou is almost all gags, and you really need to go in blind to enjoy them. I guess if there’s anything left to talk about, it’s the wide appeal. Pretty much anyone can enjoy this show, and yet it’s completely safe for younger audiences. There’s no fanservice, there’s no attempt at titillation… I mean, there’s a porno joke, but it’s no worse than the one from Ed, Edd and Eddy. There’s a couple of questionable lessons, but they’re few and far between. Honestly, this is probably the first slice-of-life anime I’ve ever seen that had a ton of female characters, but not one instance of those same characters comparing or getting jealous of each other’s breast sizes, and that alone is a refreshing change of pace. It’s not perfect, and humor is subjective, but I can’t think of anyone I wouldn’t recommend this title to. I give Nichijou a 9/10.  

Okay, so, I’ve done a lot of reviews these past few months… And I mean a LOT of reviews, filling my schedule up all the way into November… So I figured it was time for a good old fashioned rant. This is not being planned out or structured, it hasn’t been in the planning stages for more than the last half hour or so, and I have no idea how long it will be. might be a few paragraphs. might be a few pages. All I know is that I’m currently watching Wanna Be the Strongest in the world right now, and only three episodes in, I’ve got a lot of things to get off my chest.

First off, a synopsis. Sakura is the lead singer of an Idol quintet. Her manager strikes an interpromotional deal with a women’s wrestling league named BWQ(Which is just about the ugliest acronym for a wrestling promotion that I’ve ever heard) and two of the idol’s girls are off to train. The other Idol makes light of wrestling, which pisses off someone whom I believe was the only dark skinned girl in the promotion, and when Sakura steps in to defend her, a match is set up between them. Sakura gets her ass kicked, she loses by fainting, and instead of crawling back into her hole like any smart person at this point, she decides to go pro and seek revenge.

Now, I’m going to pause there, because that’s just the first episode(out of the three I’ve seen so far… don’t worry, I’ll be watching the rest), and yet I’ve already got a few things to get off my chest. first of all, if you haven’t picked up on this yet, wrestling, in this universe, is apparently real. Yeah, I know, there are people reading this with smug looks on their faces like “Dur hur hur, wrestling’s totally fake in real life…” Like you’ve discovered some ancient secret or something. Believe me, you’d have to be pretty fucking stupid to think wrestling was real, and that’s coming for a fan. I’ve been watching for exactly fifteen years this month, and let me tell you, if you actually think it’s possible to drag someone to their feet after they’ve been knocked out, and throw them in such a way that they break into a voluntary run and turn around just in time to bounce off the ropes and come back, you should probably go have your head examined. Like, right now, before it’s too late.

But yeah, wrestling’s real here, the characters are explicitly fighting each other to win, and this brings up a shitload of implications. You would assume that this kind of real fighting, or ‘shoot wrestling,’ as it’s called in the business, would lead to constant injuries, just like it did in WWE’s horrible idea for a boxing charade, the Brawl for All tournament. There were legitimate concussions and broken bones in that thing, but lo and behold, the ladies of BWQ(I will never get used to that) never suffer even the slightest bruise, even when bashing each other over the head with weapons(Which totally happens). The main character loses to the Boston crab 50 times in a row, and they’re REALLY using it on her, and she hasn’t sustained one single leg injury. What is she Gumby?

Anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself. She trains to join BW… Fucking Q… And her training consists of Saitama style workouts, which she somehow aces, and taking 100 throws(and suplexes being called throws) in a row. That’s it, and she’s ready to debut. no running the ropes, no developing a style, no taking bumps… Just workout a lot, get stronger despite not gaining any muscle definition(Yeah, I know it’s an anime, but SERIOUSLY, show some kind of a fucking change in her body), and she gets thrown into the deep end, losing 50 matches in a row. Oh, but we only see one of the matches… For the rest, we just see her in the crab hold, we hear her pathetic cries of pain that are suspiciously disguised as sexual pleasure, we see generous shots of her tits heaving up and down, and then she says she gives up. She doesn’t tap out, because the people writing this shit didn’t even do THAT much research, she just gives up.

Keep in mind, despite her losing and crowds beginning to disperse over her, they never decide to hold her back or cut down on her in ring time. They never try anything new like sticking her in a tag team, they don’t give her a gimmick to make her more interesting… Oh, and trust me, they do gimmicks. There’s one character who dresses like a biker and has a possy of henchman, so don’t you DARE tell me they don’t have gimmicks. Oh speaking of her, remember how wrestling is real? not only do we see her blatantly beat her opponent over the head with a kendo stick, and smash some sort of steel looking box on her head, but we get to see her henchman blatantly interfere, to the point that they’re not just pulling clever tricks, they’re getting into the ring to contribute to her submission moves.

In pro wrestling, a pinfall is when you hold your opponents shoulder-blades down to the mat for a three-count(Yes, wrestling is fake, go get a fucking cookie to congratulate yourselves on that). In this match, the good girl wins with a pinfall, even though the evil girl had her shoulders down during a submission move, and that actually counts as a pinfall. Oh, wait, no it doesn’t. Anyway, episode three, Sakura’s having doubts about continuing this career… Which she damn well should have… The head trainer has a sparring match with her, where she won’t release the hold when Sakura gives up because… Get this… “It’s just you and me here. no ref… No audience… no rules.” I’m sorry, were there rules before?

I don’t think I’m going to review this title, I’m actually having a hard enough time just getting through it, but I wanted to talk about it all the same. The WWE is currently in one of the best eras of women’s wrestling it’s ever been in, now that they’re hiring actual talent and not just models who are willing to fall down a lot, but this stupid ass show is taking women’s wrestling back to the models era of 2008, only worse. I don’t know, I’m asexual, and maybe it would be different if I reacted to women holding each other in submission moves while the camera and the voice acting tried to make it as porny as possible the same way most guys do, I might not have such a gripe with it. I’m sorry, this shit isn’t sexy to me, it’s just weird and pathetic, and it’s an insult to a passion in my life that I hold almost as high in regard as anime.

It would be bad enough if they completely misrepresented wrestling, which they do. It would be bad enough if they treated their character like budget saving sex objects that they could animate for minutes on end just sitting in there in the crab move while the camera sexes them up and they moan and cry. What’s worse about it, so far, is that it’s being as lazy and uncreative as possible with a concept that offers endless possibilities. you set an anime in a wrestling ring, even if it’s stupid as hell and the wrestling is considered real, you have opportunities to create interesting characters, interesting in-ring styles, so many possible character designs… Rumble Roses was a shitty game, and look at how much imagination THAT thing had!

But no, it’s just bland, bland, bland. Everyone’s outfits are the same… Bikinis with various levels of coverage, but most so revealing that even the divas of the mid-2000s would call them slutty, aside from the one chick wearing a bodysuit. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to slut-shame anyone, or say there’s anything wrong with wearing revealing clothing, but if you’re performing in the ring, there’s a certain point where you’re just begging for a wardrobe malfunction. Anyway, we barely see any wrestling maneuvers outside of submission holds and suplexes that we can barely see due to how close the camera is. Even the nudity, which I’m pretty sure is the only thing keeping mot people watching, is the same every time. Every episode, a shower scene. Even Strike Witches liked to mix it up.

A few months ago on Facebook I gave Yuri on Ice grief for showing virtually the same skating routines over and over again with little to no variety, but at least we got to see the full routines. I actually quite loved the one kid’s rock and roll inspired routine. I just wish Strongest would show us one… Just one… Full length match. A good TV match can go anywhere from 12 minutes to 24 minutes, so they could devote an entire episode to one awesome match if they wanted to. They obviously don’t, though, because they’re obviously just using the concept of wrestling to deliver softcore porn. That actually really disappoints me.

I’m going to go finish the anime now… You know how I am, I’ll obviously have it long since finished by the time this post goes up. I’m going to hold onto the hope that it gets better, or at least a little more imaginative, but based on the things I’ve heard about it, I’m not holding my breath. In the meantime, what the hell am I watching?

Update: Okay, so, I finished the show, and it does get slightly better, but it also never stops getting dumber, so that kind of evens things out. They drop the episodic showers, they show people tapping out and getting pinned, wrestlers do start to suffer damage(which they no-sell as soon as the match is over), and there are a few lengthy matches. Sakura’s grudge match against her initial rival is okay, it’s not terrible, but it… along with the other handful of matches we get to see… Is still pretty fucking stupid. I didn’t mention this earlier, but the show had a nasty habit of having it’s wrestlers have to literally yell to the ref that they were pinning someone or grabbing the ropes, because while WWE may have refs that collapse on the spot if you so much as tap them, this show has refs that are too fucking stupid to recognize the tell-tale signs that they’re trained to spot.

There’s a little more variety, too, and I do mean little. Some high-flying action gets worked in, but it does little to add any sense to the matches, which jump from move to move with almost nothing in the way of logical progression. Then of course we have the final story arc, where Sakura’s old BFF from the idol group becomes a wrestler to fight her and drag her back kicking and screaming into the idol group, even though Idols have short careers and pro wrestling would be a nice longer term plan to follow it up. I’m not gonna lie, this reveal was spoiled for me, but I already suspected it before I was told. They eventually settle on a resolution that’s almost… almost… As stupid as what happened in the second season Oreimo OVAs.

Am I going to review this? No, I don’t think it deserves to be dignified. It’s not one of the worst anime I’ve ever seen, but it’s sure as hell one of the stupidest, and if I tried thinking critically about it, I’d probably give myself an aneurysm. So there, a rant is all you’re going to get.

But hey, there’s going to be a pretty cool review next week, and after that, we start up Horror month! Hope you’re looking forward to it!

 

Sakura: I’ve been training so hard… Why didn’t I win? There’s got to be a reason.

Me: You know, I have a theory about that… I’m working on some sort of connection between your loss and the fact that your opponent was using a weapon and had lackeys interfering on her behalf. I think I may be on to something.

Sakura: I need a finishing move!

Me: Brilliant!

1: There would be OVA episodes
2: RWBY Chibi would be called something more creative.
3: Ruby’s most powerful attack would take multiple episodes to charge.
4: The students would have a homeroom class, instead of just a few exposition classes.
5: In that class, Ruby would sit in back by the window.
6: Right behind Weiss.
7: Characters would get profiles detailing their birthdays, blood types, favorite flowers, etc.
8: One of the characters… Probably Blake… Would be an aspiring manga artist.
9: Ren would make rice balls or pork buns, instead of pancakes.
10: One of the wealthy characters would have their own summer home/private island…
11: On which we’d have at least one beach episode.
12: And at least one onsen/hot springs scene.
13: Or just bathing and showering in general. Seriously, it’s even common in kids anime.
14: They’d also jealously compare bust sizes.
15: Weiss would probably have pigtails.
16: Ren and Nora would be related… Most likely cousins.
17: Nora would likely have a kansai accent.
18: Yang would drink a lot more, and at least once make a reference to Misato Katsuragi’s iconic beer chug.
19: Jaune’s dress would have included a wig and fake boobs.
20: Volume 4 Cinder would be wearing an eyepatch.
21: Roman would be prettier, and have long white hair.
22: Pumpkin Petey’s would come in hundreds of different flavors, including limited editions.
23: Pyrrha would be a terrible cook, and her team would just pretend not to notice.
24: Jaune, on the other hand, would be an unexpected prodigy at it.
25: Beacon would have had school clubs.
26: Instead of barking, Zwei would only be able to say his name
27: Jaune would have a terrible sense of direction.
28: Blake would constantly insert the sound “Nya” into her speech.
29: Tai Yang would have married Summer when she was a teenager.
30: Ozpin would be a horny old man.
31: One of the named students would be Ozpin’s niece/granddaughter.
32: LGBT characters would be portrayed in offensive, obsessive, predatory ways.
33: Jaune would occasionally walk in on Weiss changing and get his ass kicked over it.
34: One of the female characters would be constantly groping her peers.
35: Romances between characters would be teased, but never confirmed.
36: Team RWBY would have an ultimate attack that called upon the power of friendship.
37: Zwei would get his own episode, likely involving a night on the town and silly hijinks.
38: Chibi would have a fraction of the main show’s budget.
39: Volume 4 would have featured an episode involving CFVY, FNKI, SSSN, etc.
40: Grimm Eclipse would include a vs. mode.
41: In addition to Grimm Eclipse, there would be at least one dating game/visual novel.
42: Tai-Yang’s mother would be alive, living with him, and 3 feet tall.
43: It would utilize occasional public domain classical music pieces.
44: They’d save money with close-ups, speed-lines, and extras frozen in the background.
45: People and interiors would be 2D, ships and environments would be 3D.
46: They’d have series recap episodes.
47: Penny’s first word would have been her name.
48: .Beacon would have had cultural and athletic festivals.
49: More characters would wear glasses.
50: It would have been made in Japan.

The teenage years are often referred to as the best years of your life, but they can come with their own set of challenges… It’s the time of life where you’re still finding out who you are, who you want to be, and what’s important to you. Even as late as the crucial age of 18, it can be difficult to find your place in the world, especially if you’re struggling to find the place where you belong. This is even worse for Sena Izumi, because in addition to his more normal adolescent woes, he’s the youngest member of an entire family of entertainers and celebrities… His sly father is a stage actor, his spoiled mother is a model/actress, his doting brother is the lead singer of a popular rock band, his family has it’s own talent manager… And he wants to be a manga artist. Naturally, this has caused a bit of friction in the family, as the excitable and outgoing Sena family is beginning to seriously worry about their youngest son, who’s locked himself in his room like a hermit and dedicated his life to a passion that they believe he has no talent for the field that he dreams of finding success in, and they’ve decided to do whatever it takes to get him out of his introverted shell.

Fortunately for them, an opportunity to do so has just presented itself. When Izumi was only eight years old, he was dressed up like a girl for a wedding scene in a commercial, and the company wants to do an anniversary commercial… A sequel, where the children from the original classic have grown up and are marrying themselves. After some creative persuasion from his brother, Izumi agrees to don the drag dress one more time, but little does he know that his walk down the aisle is leading him into the arms of destiny. His costar, the now famous Ryoma Ichijou, has been in love with him since the first commercial, and this isn’t just imprinting… The sight of her face has gotten him through ten long years of hardship in the entertainment industry, and it was HIS idea to get the original cast back so he could finally make his dreams of seeing her again come true. Will his discovery of his bride’s true gender bring his longing to a grinding halt, or has he come too far to turn back now? And what kind of effect will getting caught up in all of this have on Sena’s routine lifestyle? They may only be married in fiction, but the red string of fate is all too real.

Love Stage comes to us from JC Staff, who I believe I’ve said before has no real consistency in it’s visual presentation. It goes all over the place in terms of quality, but out of the three general camps that I mentioned in my Kill Me Baby review, I’d say Love Stage fits nicely into Camp 3. This is, once again, the camp where anime has a modest budget, there’s no real room for excess, and they do whatever they can to make the show look as good as possible without putting themselves into a compromising financial situation. Much like other shows in this camp, Love Stage never really goes out of it’s way to impress you with it’s animation, but it still looks fucking great. The characters use very simple movements whenever motion is needed, and it never tries to do more than it needs to, while at the same time never feeling like it’s skimping. There are budget saving tricks at play, but the producers were clever enough to make sure it all felt like part of the visual style and tone of the series, which they succeeded at.

And speaking of the visual style, this is a very beautiful show just in terms of it’s art alone. For about 90 percent of the series, the color palette is bright, warm and welcoming, almost like it knew how intense it’s kind of subject matter could be, and was designed to put viewers at ease right from the early stages. The other ten percent of the time, when the show does get a bit darker, what with the characters dealing with issues and internal turmoil, the palette changes to reflect this, but it’s never for long. The level of detail is also stunning, with it’s depiction every little crack in a shattered marble only being the tip of the iceberg. Just about everything in the background is shown with intricate detail aside from the people, who are drawn as colorless silhouettes, and while I’d normally rag on a show for this… RWBY season 1, how ya doing… The fact that it only really happens when a character is busy with internal monologues does make it feel like an accurate portrayal of their distracted mindset.

While I’m not a fan of shiny white halos surrounding a character’s hair… I’ve bitched about it before, and sorry, but I’m not cool with it here either… The character designs are otherwise very attractive and tell us a lot about the characters as people. Ryouma and Izumi in particular were designed to fall right in the middle of masculinity and femininity, as they’re obviously coded male, but they still have the big moe eyes, slender bodies and feathery hair that’s just long enough to frame their faces, and the details that would normally code a character as seme or uke are more than just there, they’re ingrained into their personalities. Izumi’s eyes in particular are multi-colored, mostly amber but touched by a subtle swirl of blue at the tops, giving them a mysterious quality that you can understand someone getting entranced by. The other characters in the cast are fairly generic in design, but it doesn‘t really hurt anything, as their looks do inform their personalities. I do feel that the blushing artwork is a little too over-pronounced, but that’s a minor issue.

The music is a bit on the generic side, but it’s not bad or anything. I didn’t find any of it to be repetitive or annoying, like in a lot of shows I’ve seen. The character songs are a lot more interesting, with LalaLulu’s song being a delightful parody of the Magical girl genre, and Izumi’s brother Shougo has a really cool song called Love or Die, and yeah, I can see why the band Crusherz became famous. The opening, Lovest by Screen Mode, is awesome. Not only is the song catchy, upbeat and fun to listen to, but the video is just as fun and fits every beat perfectly. The constantly changing visuals are simple enough to grasp what they’re showing you in the time they have, and they match the energy and tone of the show. Surprisingly, the ending theme is more of the same, a catchy song with visuals that are pleasing to the eyes and match the beat of the song, and while most of it features posed characters, there’s an actual burst of expensive animation towards the end. I can’t remember another show where I watched all the way through the opening and closing as often as I did with this one.

There’s no dub, and I’m not a good judge of Japanese acting, but I’d just like to point out that if there’s ever a dub for this show, I hope they cast Chris Patton as Ryouma and Greg Ayres as Izumi. Moving along.

Okay, let’s just rip this band-aid off right now… Love Stage is a yaoi. It’s not a shonen-ai, oh no, it’s a full on yaoi. I’ve never reviewed a yaoi before, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t seen any. While I’m no expert on the genre, I have dabbled a bit, and unfortunately, what I’ve seen prior to Love Stage wasn’t all that impressive. I read the first few volumes of Loveless, I saw the first four episodes of Gravitation, I’ve seen the movie Fake, and while it’s more subtextual than anything else, I sat through the first season of Black Butler. In short, my exposure to the medium has revealed it to be a minefield of problematic situations and over-all just shitty story-telling, relying way too heavily on love at first sight, people turning queer out of nowhere on a dime because the plot demanded it, romanticized sexual assault, writers who forgo necessary information and development because seem to just want to get to the action already, and way too many couples where the age differences lay on different sides of the law. I’ve been told by people far more versed in the genre than I am that most if not all of these observations are persistent from title to title.

Now, does that mean there are no good Boys Love material out there? No, not necessarily. I plan to watch Yuri on Ice and Nabari no Ou in the future, and I’ve even seen some shows that I thought would have actually been improved if the main male characters went gay for each other… Kids on the Slope, for example. But alas, thank the LGBT gods, there is at least one good yaoi anime out there. I’ve already praised the art and animation from this show up and down the wall, but the number of problems and genre cliches Love Stage avoids, subverts, or just has fun with is insane. Now keep in mind, I’m not saying it’s an accurate portrayal of homosexual people or homosexual couples, and I’m not saying it presents it’s gay characters as realistic people or that it exists for reasons outside of tickling the libidoes of ravenous fujoshi, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be good. Yeah, I made a big deal about figuring out whether or not Strawberry Panic was faithful to it’s subject, but that show was garbage and needed the extra point. Love Stage doesn’t have that problem.

Right off the bat, we’re introduced to the main character, Sena Izumi, the uke of the situation. Oh, but we find out much more than that about him. After making sweet promises to us in the form of it’s animation, Love Stage wastes no time establishing Izumi’s character. We find out who he is, what he wants from life, what his family’s like, what his backstory was like, what his issue is, several possible resolutions to it, basically everything you need to know about him, and this is expressed without a lick of unnatural dialogue or exposition, and even better, we learn all of this before the first kiss is even taken. We don’t learn quite as much about his seme Ryouma until much later, but we know about their shared history, and through his actions revolving around his interactions with Izumi and his coworkers, we do learn enough about him to not have any lingering questions about him that really need to be answered. I can’t say they feel like people I’d meet out there in the real world, but they still feel like fully developed and fleshed out characters.

They also both have personalities that tie directly into their seme/uke coding, with Izumi being childish and submissive, but still driven by his own interests and possessing a decent level of propriety and agency. Ryouma is tall, dark and mysterious, quick to anger and somewhat closed off, but still struggling with the conflicting feelings inside of him and trying his best to control the parts of himself he doesn’t quite understand yet. While it takes them a while to work out their personal hang-ups and finally come together, they do make a really likeable couple. I also really liked the Izumi family, as viciously manipulative and backstabbing as they can be, and in the most delicious sort of way. Shougo, Izumi’s older brother, dotes on him and gets clingy to the point that he honestly can be a little creepy at times, but he still has plenty of moments where he redeems himself by showing a genuine concern and protecting him. We don’t see much of Izumi’s parents, but despite Dad acting like he knows best and Mom acting self-centered, they both clearly love their children.

Perhaps the most nuanced character is the family’s manager, Rei, a cold and calculating character who’s not above pulling the strings whenever necessary, selling people out to family obligations and looking for every possible advantage in his day-to-day dealings, but he still cares enough about his employers that he’ll set aside all of his business concerns if it feels like the right thing to do. Izumi’s manga club, only one of whom kind of registers his presence, is designed so that he’ll look out of place there, not that he ever notices. Similarly, the fictional character of Lala-Lulu, his fantasy Waifu idol, is so far removed from bearing any resemblance to actual girls that it’s not hard to see how disingenuine his attraction to the fairer sex really is. A few of the characters can get annoying at times, the fat otaku feel like an unjust stereotype, and I’m pretty sure I’d have a gripe with Izumi’s parents if they were given more to do, but over-all, I really liked all of these characters. I’ll admit that Ryouma does test me a little, but that just leads me to a few other cliches.

First of all, there’s the love at first sight cliche, which Ryouma falls neatly into. He’s been in love with a certain girl since they were 8, and while that would normally earn an eyeroll at best from me, the fact that his love for her carried him through the entertainment industry… A field of work where you NEED to hold onto some form of innocence to survive, let alone succeed… I can give it a pass. Plus, with Izumi turning out to be a guy, and Ryouma being unable to shake the feeling anyway, it does feel like Love Stage is having fun with this cliche, rather than using it straightforwardly. Ryouma’s feelings are portrayed as crazy, but not the stalker kind of crazy… The romantic kind, where you know your love for someone makes no sense, and is totally out of left field, but you’ll still stay true to who you are and who you love, the world be damned if it stands in the way. This is probably the best usage of love at first sight that I’ve seen in an anime, let alone in a yaoi, but unfortunately, Ryouma falls into other cliches that are much harder to forgive.

A constant occurrence in yaoi is rape. It may not be carried all the way through, but it’s there, from gay characters in non-yaoi shows that speak in exaggerated falsetto and frequently make unwelcome advances on straight characters, to attempted rape that’s played for laughs, to actual rape that’s romanticized and sparks a new level of romance as a result. And yes, there is a point where this show gets… Rapey. I won’t tell you exactly what happens, or the reason that it happens, but three episodes in, Ryouma does something, and he winds up losing control of himself and coming within a hair’s breadth of doing something he’d never be able to take back, before he’s interrupted and the unforgivable thing is just barely prevented, but here’s where Love Stage takes a major step away from the worst of it’s genre… What he does is explicitly considered to be a bad thing. The writers don’t try to sweep it under the rug, oh no, it’s painted exactly the way it should be, and it’s this turning point that really got me invested in this pairing.

After the… thing… Ryouma feels genuine remorse, and he has to apologize and earn Izumi’s trust back before he can even THINK about pursuing a relationship. He’s accepted his feelings by this point, but Izumi is a much harder sell, and even though he buries the hatchet with him… Mostly out of pity… It isn’t until Ryouma proves his devotion by getting involved with Izumi’s lifelong passion, helping him along towards his goal, and doing everything in his power to encourage him and build him back up when things don’t go the way he wanted. He slips back into problematic territory when he kisses Izumi a bunch of times in his sleep… I mean, come on, seriously? But he earns those points back when he refuses a carnal offer that he can tell Izumi doesn’t really mean. I won’t say whether or not these two wind up together in the end, but… Isn’t that alone a breath of fresh air? The fact that you can’t tell? Yeah, they have numerous encounters, both as friends and as romantic prospects, but the outcome of their time together is just as engaging as the journey there.

Love Stage is available from Sentai Filmworks. The original manga by Eiki Eiki is available from SuBLime. The original light novel is not available stateside, but the series can also be viewed on Crunchyroll. There’s an OVA episode on the DVD that I highly recommend, and as for what it’s about, let’s just say it’s more of Ryouma being a pain in the ass.

Now, after all the time I’ve spent talking about how good this title is compared to other titles in the Boys’ Love genre, and how it deconstructs and subverts a bunch of troublesome tropes, the reaction I’m probably getting from most readers is… So what? Even if it’s a good yaoi, it’s still a yaoi, and most of the anime fanbase will have no interest in that kind of content. Well, there is one thing about Love Stage that I feel gives it a more universal appeal: This show is fucking hilarious. I was hooked right from the first time that Shougo manipulated Izumi with Lala Lulu merchandise, and Ryouma’s reaction to Izumi’s gender reveal was just icing on the cake. It’s visual style works extremely well with it’s comedic timing, which follows a healthy combination of gag and character-based jokes, most of which hit their mark. It was almost enough for me to forgive some of the more problematic scenes, including Ryouma’s missteps and an attempted gang-bang towards the end that came right the fuck out of nowhere. It’s a yaoi, so it’s going to be a mixed bag, but it’s a bag I won’t mind reaching into a few more times. I give Love Stage an 8/10.  

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