Seasonal Sawce: Winner, Winter Anime Dinner 2018, Part 2

Dang, this sure is late.  In my defense, Amazon withheld the last episode of Killing Bites after first uploading it for some reason.  And then, once I got to watch that, it’s been one trip after another.

Also, I started watching Veronica Mars.  That show is extremely addictive.

Anyhoo, I watched seven anime in their entirety for the winter season.  Let’s get to them, shall we?

Maerchen Maedchen

Maerchen Maedchen 2

Go home, Maerchen Maedchen. You’re drunk.

Okay, so, I do think the premise of Maerchen Maedchen is really neat.  I do.  But the team kinda fumbled this one in spectacular fashion.  At first, the show felt like it was plodding along.  Then, things just started happening with no chance for the characters or audience to catch their breath.  Then, the show just ended without having a proper climax.  Just some questionable choices made at every turn.  Oh, and there’s the vanishing budget to talk about.

I don’t know exactly what happened during this show’s production, but whatever budget they had must have disappeared in the second half.  Episodes 9 and 10 ran late, and boy howdy, do they look like it.  I often don’t notice animation errors, but Maerchen Maedchen looked me in the eye…or maybe the ear and dared me to call out its poor quality.  Just ew.

Think I’ll give it a 4.5.  If it were just the bad animation in its later stages, I’d be more forgiving, but everything else about the show fell apart with its budget.

How to Keep a Mummy

How to Keep a Mummy 2

Praise be to Pochi, the Immortal One.

How to Keep a Mummy assured me in the beginning it would only be about cute supernatural pets, and by golly, it kept its promise.  The mummy, the oni child, the dragon, the baku, the Anubis sculpture, and the seemingly ever-living dog.  All cute.  All supernatural.  All good by me.

The show did seem to hint every now and then that it wanted to do more with the human characters.  Even though I did love the adorable occult critters, I kinda wish it had done more with their respective guardians.  They were likable enough characters.  Just got the bare minimum of character traits with a hint of more depth.

A 6 out of 10 for this slice-of-lifer.  Cute stuff.

Citrus

Citrus 2

Orange you glad I didn’t make a citrus joke?

Citrus really wants to fit a particular niche, and I have to applaud the show for it.  You want your trashy romance?  Look no further.  Feeling like you want that trashy romance to be yuri?  You got it.  Do you wanna go one step more and make it kinda incestuous?  I mean, if that’s what you’re in the mood for, then Citrus has got you covered.

In all seriousness, I do think Citrus is an enjoyable romance anime.  The character designs are pretty striking, and you can’t help but want these crazy kids to find happiness.  Even if one has some major emotional baggage to sift through and deal with and the other is entirely too confused by what she’s feeling to behave rationally.  Still not cool with how Yuzu and Mei’s relationship started.  “Forceful” is putting it nicely.  Should’ve had more Harumin.  Harumin is best girl.  Easily.

Gonna give it a 7.  I enjoyed it for the most part, but it only gets so high because of Harumin.

Dagashi Kashi 2

Dagashi Kashi 2 2

I just walked in to find you here with that sad look upon your face.

I have…mixed feelings about Dagashi Kashi 2.  On one hand, I feel like the shorter episodes helped the show maintain a decent pace every episode, and each outing never overstayed its welcome.  On the other, I really, really like this cast of characters and wanted to see more of them.  It felt like just as I was getting into each episode, it ended.  Also, I love the two new additions to the cast, Hajime and Beniyutaka.  Both are somewhat mentors for Kokonotsu while Hajime doubles as his subordinate and Beniyutaka something of a rival.  Then again, Hotaru’s absence is just too noticeable.

This second season is as funny as the first, though.  May even be funnier.  Kokonotsu played off his dad, Hotaru, and the Endou siblings as well as always, and Hajime’s and Beniyutaka’s respective shenanigans were welcome.  But again, it was like the characters I grew to love in season one took a backseat to the new ones.  So, mixed feelings.

Dagashi Kashi 2 gets a cool 7.5 from me.  Pretty much what I gave the first season.

Killing Bites

Killing Bites 2

THAT’S WHAT KILLING BITES IS.

This would probably be my number two from this season, but man…okay.  I’m not saying rape is something that can never be used in a story.  If it’s handled well, if it’s explored correctly, if justice is found, then yeah.  Everything can have its place in fiction.  But Killing Bites is a little too cavalier with using rape as a plot device.  Hitomi is abducted at the beginning by people who plan to rape her, but kills her abductors.  The cobra therianthrope is a serial rapist, but he, thankfully, gets destroyed in the Destroyale.  Leo takes part in a massive coup and rapes Youko Mitsukado, but he…well, he gets away with it.  Show plays it off as part of his lion nature and Youko is one of the most despicable characters in the show, but rape isn’t something you just throw around in your story.  I hope that if this show gets a second season, it’ll be able to handle its more controversial elements better.

All that aside, I love everything else about this piece of trash.  It’s bloody, it’s full of glorious cheesecake, it’s got legitimate facts about nature, it’s got fun character designs, it’s got a catchy soundtrack, and it’s so gloriously over-the-top in every aspect you can’t help but have fun.  And that’s the biggest compliment I can pay Killing Bites.  It is always entertaining.

Giving it a 7.5 like Dagashi Kashi 2.  Sure, the score’s the same, but Killing Bites just has sharper fangs…and the one with the sharper fangs wins.  That’s what Killing Bites is.

After the Rain

After the Rain 2

It’s like looking into a mirror.

After the Rain had so many opportunities to go off the rails and become something…gross, but damn, it walked a tightrope, maintained its integrity, and wound up being a real gem from this season.  Seriously, if you were put off by the initial premise of a romance blossoming between a 17-year-old high school student and her 40-some-odd-year-old manager, then you should still give this a chance.  There is a love between the two, but if it’s romantic, it’s quite minimal and never acted on.

Instead, what Akira and Kondou find in each other is a newfound love for what they’ve given up.  Through their odd relationship, Akira is able to reconnect with her old best friend and begin rehabbing her injury, while Kondou’s passion to write is reignited with a fervor he hasn’t felt since his college days.  I like most of the side characters, too, but the two protagonists kinda eclipse the rest of the cast.  Plus, the show is pretty.  Like, really damn pretty.

Solid 8 out of 10 for me.  A genuine surprise.

Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san

Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san 2

We must protect this smile.

So, girl becomes interested in boy when he runs late on the first day of school because he found a handkerchief and turned it into the office.  Instead of befriending the boy and getting to know him in a normal fashion, girl decides to persistently tease the boy in order to see his reactions and get him to blush.  At some point girl must realize she is crushing on this boy and wants him to reciprocate her feelings (which boy does, even if he doesn’t think so), but she decides to continue pranking him.  Because it’s fun.  Because he interests her so much.  This is the story of Takagi and Nishikata.  And I love it.

Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san is the anime I didn’t know I needed in my life.  Sure, I loves me some rom-coms, but Takagi-san really struck a chord with me.  The highlight of my week was always getting on the Crunchyroll app on my PS4 and watching Takagi and Nishikata’s interactions.  I like the side stories with three of their classmates thrown in to keep things from getting old, but man, nothing beat seeing the main two.  I’m sure I had just the stupidest smile on my face watching these two kids.  They’re the best.

Takagi and Nishikata get a 9 for my favorite anime this season.  I can only hope we get another season.  Or OVAs.  Well, I know one OVA has been announced, but I need more!

This is the part where I say, “Aw, yeah, I got some cool post ideas coming up soon,” but let’s be real here: The next post is gonna be Seasonal Sawce.  We all know it.

Peace out, and stay bizarre.

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March Manga 2018 – A Faustian Bargain

It hasn’t really been two years since I’ve written about any manga, has it?  Jeez.

But hey, I read a grand total of two volumes last month, so I figured I’d talk about them here while also spotlighting a series I’m thoroughly enjoying.  So, let’s make a deal with the devil.

giphy

No, not that one.

Actually, a bit of backstory first.  One of the classes I took back in college was a class on Faust.  The idea of the story had always fascinated me, so I leapt at the chance to learn about its origins and literary reach.  We read the original chapbook and both Marlowe’s and Goethe’s plays.  (We were also supposed to read Thomas Mann’s novel, but I didn’t get around to that one.)  The class is the whole reason I eventually wound up reading Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita.  Even picked up some random manga Viz licensed back in the day called Metal Guardian Faust.  Which brings me to today’s topic.

Frau Faust vols. 3-4

tumblr_or270y3hjb1rejw54o1_1280

A guy, a hundred-year-old girl, and a missing face.

Frau Faust is the lesser-known work by the excellent mangaka Kore Yamazaki–who also created that little series you might’ve heard of called The Ancient Magus’ Bride.  In her re-imagining of the Faust legend, Faust is no longer Johannes Faust, an old man seeking worldly knowledge and power while shunning all things divine who turns to dark arts to acquire what he so greatly desires.  Instead, Faust is–as the title suggests–a woman named Johanna Faust  She’s over a hundred years old by the time the series begins and seeks out the pieces of Mephistopheles so she can put him back together and punch him in his handsome demon face for cursing her with immortality.  The Church very much wants to stop this since Mephistopheles is a powerful demon who can only be kept at bay by not being whole.  Faust isn’t alone, though, as she’s joined by the incomplete Mephistopheles, the ever-inquisitive village boy Marion, her homunculus daughter Nico, the descendant of the original Wagner, and the astonishingly adept golem-maker Sarah.

There are a number of other good guys and bad guys as well, but you get the gist.

The third and fourth volumes I read last month mostly deal with Faust and friends wrapping up a fight against the demon Ino and the priest she swayed to her side, the backstories of Church protagonists Vito and Lorenzo, the Church becoming corrupted even more, the gang meeting up with Sarah and As, Faust being captured by the Church and Ino, and finally, Faust dreaming of her old friend Margarite.  All good stuff, but I kinda wanted to blaze past it to talk about why I love this series so much.

Mainly, Yamazaki’s attention to detail and research is on clear display here.  One of my favorite parts about each volume is reading the last couple pages where she goes into amusing detail about random aspects of the story she researched the hell out of (no pun intended) to get them right.  Mainly the stuff with As.  She based him off both Azazel and Asmodeus, and it takes both volumes three and four to explain it all.  She’s great.

There’s also a great parallel between Faust’s usual fate in other versions of the tale compared to Mephistopheles’ state in Yamazaki’s manga.  Normally, Faust is torn to pieces by demons when his contract is up.  Here, the Church dismembers Mephistopheles when he seemingly gives up on taking Faust’s life by granting her immortality.  The mystery behind why he did it has not been revealed, but we can assume he fell in love.  Maybe.  I don’t really know.

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I mean, wouldn’t you fall in love?

The full story of what happened the last time Faust and Margarite saw each other is one of my favorite chapters.  I don’t want to spoil it, but again, it plays off established Faustian tropes extraordinarily well.

I think, at the end of the day, Frau Faust isn’t as good as The Ancient Magus’ Bride.  Yamazki’s world-building, characters, and story feel much stronger in the latter.  However, Frau Faust‘s mere existence is astonishing to me, and that ensures that no matter how this series ends, it will always a hold a special place in my heart.  If you’re interested in the Faust mythos or just want to read a solid, good-looking supernatural manga, then by all means, check it out.

Seasonal Sawce: Winner, Winter Anime Dinner 2018, Part 1

Halfway through the first cours of most of the anime airing this season, so it’s time to rank them from my least favorite to my most favorite!

Let’s go!

8) How to Keep a Mummy

How to Keep a Mummy

The new launchpad for the Dark Universe.

Sora Kashiwagi’s globetrotting father often sends him exotic, cursed objects, so when he receives a package one day in the shape of an Egyptian sarcophagus, he’s not too surprised.  What was inside did astonish the high-schooler, though, as if from the grave rose a mummy…a tiny, adorable mummy.  Hesitant to welcome it at first, Sora breaks down against the mummy’s relentless cuteness and names the little guy Mii-kun.  Equal parts child, little sibling, and pet, Mii-kun is now a resident of the Kashiwagi household and faces his new world with all his impressive adorableness.

Sure, the main characters fall under the usual tropes of all-loving protagonist, jerk with a heart of gold bestie, and…the chick, but they are likable tropes.  Plus, all the main characters get their own little supernatural pets.  Except Sora’s aunt.  She just has a dog.  Who is also adorable.  That’s basically this show’s schtick.  Not a minute goes by without it saying, “Look at how cute this mummy is!  Look at it.”  And I’m fine with that.  It’s an odd, cozy slice-of-lifer.  Not the deepest show out there, but it makes you feel content.

7) Maerchen Maedchen

Maerchen Maedchen

Who booked this show?

When life gets to be too much for her, Hazuki Kagimura runs away and reads whatever books she has on hand.  She finds herself doing this a lot since she’s now in high school without a single friend, and she’s living with her new stepmom and stepsister.  They’re not mean to her–quite the opposite, actually.  Hazuki is just so inept at socializing she has no idea how to talk to or get to know anyone.  After seeing a mysterious girl one day, though, Hazuki fights her own nature and works up the courage to talk to the stranger.  Turns out the girl’s name is Shizuka Tsuchimikado, and she’s one of the most powerful mages–or Maedchen–in the magic world.  One thing leads to another, and Hazuki soon finds herself naked in the magic school contracted to a magic book.  Yeah.

I can’t quite explain why I’m still watching this show.  I think a lot of it has to do with the mages in this world drawing their powers from stories (ex. Cinderella, Princess Kaguya, The Pied Piper, etc.), and that’s pretty neat.  But I also think Hazuki herself is a big part.  She’s a solid lead.  Cripplingly shy with a strong desire to get over it, and so well-read she recognizes the faults in the “established” stories and chooses not to follow them to the letter.  The other characters are fun, too, but Hazuki stands pretty clearly above them.  The show can drag, though.  It took six episodes for Hazuki to unlock her transformation for the Hexennacht–the big witch tournament.  There’s also a notable dip some–wait.  Did I type–?!

TOURNAMENT!

6) After the Rain

After the Rain

LEGS FOR DAYS.

Stricken with the condition known as “resting bitch face,” Akira Tachibana isn’t an easily approachable person.  This got worse when a leg injury forced her to retire from her high school’s track team and she fell into a depression.  A silver lining did soon appear, though.  One day as she took shelter in a family restaurant to get out of the rain, the affable manager, Masami Kondo, gave her a free coffee and let her be.  This act of kindness compelled Akira to start working part-time at the same restaurant in order to get to know the man better.  Kondo’s a middle-aged single father who likes books, is nice to a fault, and really just wants to be liked by his staff despite being a goof.  Somehow, though, Akira can’t help but fall in love with him.

I can see how the love story here would put a lot of people off.  Hell, I almost didn’t watch it because of that exact reason.  But, I saw one gif of Akira looking out at the track field from her desk, and it just looked so good!  And hey, the romance isn’t really worse than the one in Ancient Magus’ Bride (although you could argue Kondo knows better than Elias and should nip it in the bud).  It really wouldn’t work if Akira and Kondo weren’t both so likable.  Kondo especially.  As much as I like Akira, she acts very impulsively and is fairly possessive of Kondo despite simply having a crush on him (so, you know…she’s a teenager).  Kondo, though, is just the best.  He can’t see himself as desirable to anyone (don’t know yet if it’s just “I’m an old man,” or if his divorce has anything to do with it), and you can see life in his eyes and posture sometimes.  Plus, he’s a goofball.  I shouldn’t like the main romance, but the anime’s made me anyway.

5) Citrus

Citrus

It is exactly what it looks like.

Despite making her friends think she’s well-versed in the ways of love, high schooler Yuzu Aihara has never had a single boyfriend.  The secret will keep, though, as she soon moves and transfers to an all-girls’ school thanks to her mother’s remarriage.  Being pretty caring and laid back, Yuzu is taking it all well.  She’s happy for her mom and looks forward to meeting her new dad and little sister.  But, the first day at her new school didn’t go too well.  She’s reprimanded by the cold student council president, Mei Aihara, who also confiscates her phone after a…thorough pat-down.  Yuzu doesn’t get much time to dwell on her disastrous first day when she gets home and finds out she doesn’t just share a last name with Mei–Mei’s her (not so) little sister!  Which makes it real weird when Mei kisses her, and Yuzu finds herself thinking more and more about her new sister in a very non-sisterly way.

So, I ain’t gonna say this is better than After the Rain.  The romance here is…arguably more taboo since it’s step-sisters, and Mei kinda…forces that first kiss between herself and Yuzu.  It’s trashy.  But it’s the enjoyable sort of trashy.  The two leads have some very questionable and uncomfortable interactions, but it’s clear they’re growing and learning through it all.  Mei is also dealing with a lot of stuff.  Doesn’t excuse most of her actions, but it gives the audience some reasoning behind them.  And Yuzu is immensely likable.  She’s discovering more about herself thanks to Mei, but she’s trying hard to be a good big sister while also…lusting after her little sister.  Helps that the art style’s great, too.  Oh, and Harumin.  All hail Harumin.

4) Dagashi Kashi 2

Dagashi Kashi 2

Is this the candy shop 50 Cent told us about?

Despite Hotaru Shidare’s feminine wiles, Kokonotsu “Coconuts” Shikada still isn’t keen on inheriting his family’s dagashi shop–Shikada Dagashi.  Still though, he’s enjoying his summer having fun with the enigmatic dagashi fan-girl Hotaru and his two childhood friends, twins Saya and Tou Endou.  Unfortunately, this isn’t Danville, so summer does come to an end, and as quickly as she appeared, Hotaru vanishes without a word to her friends.  That sucks for Kokonotsu, and it only gets worse when a brand new convenience store opens up right across the way.  What’s a teenage aspiring mangaka running a Japanese candy store supposed to do?

Despite it not being all that good, I really love the first season of Dagashi Kashi.  I’m sure a good bit of it has to do with Hotaru’s unbelievably attractive character design, but the rest of the cast and their shenanigans really endeared the show to me.  I felt for Kokonotsu being torn between chasing his dream or running the family’s store as Hotaru wants.  I’d also root for Saya as she continually tries to catch Kokonotsu’s eye and often overtakes Hotaru for throne of Best Girl.  And Tou’s just an amusing little twerp.  That said, this season bummed me out when they cut the episode length down by half.  Every time I feel like I’m getting into an episode, it’s over.  Plus, Hotaru’s absence is very noticeable when she leaves the show early on.  The manager of the new convenience store seems prime to take up the weirdo friendly antagonist slot, and Owari Hajime (another attractive character) is sure to be a delight.  It’s hard to get over that episode length, though.

3) Killing Bites

Killing Bites

Battle Furryale

College student Yuuya Nomoto really needs some different friends.  The ones whom he drove around to “pick up chicks” wind up snatching a high school girl and try to rape her while forcing Yuuya to drive their van.  He eventually stops in order to save her, but it turns out he didn’t need to.  The girl, Hitomi Uzaki, killed them.  Just as Yuuya thinks he’s about to experience the same fate, Hitomi instead drags him to a junkyard and forces him to be her sponsor for an underground series of fights between the top criminal organizations in Japan–Killing Bites.  A ridiculous amount of money and prestige are on the line, but the Killing Bites has changed radically in the past few years.  The competitors are now “Brutes”–human/animal hybrids created almost solely for the Killing Bites.  Hitomi’s about to make her debut, so everyone sees her as a rookie.  Little do they know she actually harbors the DNA of the most fearsome, vicious killing machine in the animal world!  For Hitomi is Brute Ratel!  A…honey badger.

Remember how I said Citrus is pretty trashy?  Well, Killing Bites is just trash.  Really.  The characters and world exist solely for the purpose to display cool fights, a lot of blood, and shapely boobs and bottoms.  And I’m fine with that.  Show knows exactly what it is and revels in it.  Character designs really are fine, soundtrack is catchy as hell, quite a few of the jokes actually hit, and the fights are pretty fun.  Plus, Yuuya is laughably useless, and everyone often reminds him of it.  My main complaint is how much rape is used for villain shorthand.  Really don’t have to go that far to establish someone as a piece of sh*t.  Also, Hitomi’s catchphrase gets kinda old kinda fast.  And, yes, some of the fanservice is lazy, but most of it is pretty good.  I can’t in good conscience call this show a masterpiece…yet.

2) Darling in the Franxx

Darling in the Franxx

Franxxly, my darling, I don’t give a damn.

Hiro lives in a pretty bad future.  Humanity has been forced to live in militaristic Plantations and pilot giant mechs in order to combat creatures known as klaxosaurs.  The mechs are called Franxx and can only be piloted by compatible boy-girl pairs who are raised for that sole purpose.  The kids don’t even get names!  Hiro just gave himself and his friends names because he felt like it.  Unfortunately for him, he’s incapable of piloting a Franxx now due to the sudden incompatibility between him and his partner.  Having lost his purpose in life, Hiro skips his graduation ceremony and winds up meeting Zero Two, an infamous horned Franxx pilot who’s alleged to have killed all of her former partners.  Hiro sparks (or sparxx) her interest, though, and she picks him for her new “darling.”  The two seem to have found something in each other, and maybe–just maybe–these crazy kids can fly away now.

Darling in the Franxx piqued my curiosity at “mech anime made by Trigger,” but they demanded my attention at “doggy style mech piloting.”  Yeah.  New savior of anime.  Mech shows have almost always had a subtext of puberty/sex set against the backdrops of war or the apocalypse or what-have-you.  Teens piloting giant robots and feeling frisky just seem to go hand in hand.  Franxx has probably taken that to its logical conclusion.  Aside from that gimmick, I enjoy everything else about the show.  Characters, mechs, and backgrounds look great (I mean, it’s Trigger).  The world-building has me pretty interested in the cowardice of the adults, the magma weapons, the seeming lack of sexual knowledge among everyone, and what exactly the klaxosaurs are.  I’m all in for this ride.  I do feel like I’m waiting for the pin to drop most of the time.

1) Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san

Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san

Congratulations, you played yourself…and it was adorable.

No matter what he does, Nishikata can’t get one up on his desk neighbor Takagi.  Every day, Takagi finds new ways of embarrassing him and making him blush.  Nothing malicious, but she seems to know how he thinks and reacts to almost every situation.  It really does seem like her favorite pastime is messing with him.  Which is fine with Nishikata.  He likes trying to come up with ways to outwit her.  Poor dense kid just doesn’t realize the cutest girl in his class spends most of her time interacting with him and what exactly that probably means.

This is the cutest freaking show.  I love these two kids.  Nishikata’s such a goodhearted, naive little dude, and Takagi’s a sly, witty girl with a penchant for pranks.  I don’t even care each episode is four smaller segments.  Just means I get to see these two in multiple situations every week.  Their relationship is just so charming.  Each has such an obvious crush on the other their entire class already thinks they’re dating.  I also get get a kick out of the three girls in their class who get one segment in every episode.  They remind me a lot of the girls from The Daily Lives of High School Boys.  But yeah, more than a second season of a show I really like, more than a furry T&A mafia battle royale, more than giant robots piloted via two people in doggy style…. I love Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san.  I can only call it cute, adorable, and charming so many times.  It’s just good stuff.

And that’ll do it.  A week late, but here it is.  Really wanted to keep the number of shows I’m watching down, so there are a few I’m gonna check out when they’re finished (ex. A Place Further Than the Universe and Violet Evergarden).

Don’t know what my next post will be, but we’ll get there when we get there.

Peace out, and stay bizarre.

 

Turtle Talk: First Impressions on Rise of the TMNT Character Designs

The short-awaited next iteration of the Heroes in a Half Shell, Rise of the Teenage Mutant Turtles, went live on Facebook earlier today where they unveiled the character designs and personalities of the main six protagonists.  As with a number of TMNT fans my age, I’ve been a fan since the 1987 cartoon, so the franchise is near and dear to my heart.  I’ve taken most different interpretations in stride (there are still things about the new live-action movies that bug me…other than them being not good), so I’m really looking forward to how this show handles the titular turtles and their large cast of friends and foes.  Since I don’t plan on this being a long post, that first picture will be the only one here.  Let’s kick things off with April and Splinter.

April’s design is cute.  Recent versions of the character have had her taking a more a proactive role in the brothers’ adventures, so I assume it will be the same for this show.  Her solo image revealed her wielding some sort of energy bat, but I’m assuming that’ll be Donnie’s tech since the other Turtles are shown with energized weapons as well.  Splinter’s design was a little disappointing for me.  The creators are obviously drawing from the new movies for the characters’ designs, but man, I wish they hadn’t with Splinter.  He just looks…weird.  I am fine with him being a comedic character as Splinter traditionally brings a decent bit of humor to the franchise.  I can’t think of a version where Splinter didn’t make me laugh.  Well, maybe the original comics, but I’d need to go back and re-read them.

As for the Turtles…well, there’s a decent bit to unpack there.  Having them be different species of turtles means they’re no longer brothers by blood, which is something I don’t think we’ve seen since Next Mutation (could very well be wrong there).  Raph is a snapping turtle, Leo is a red-eared slider, Donnie is a softshell turtle, and Mikey is a box turtle.  Changing what species each is has given the creators some interesting design choices.  Since he’s a softshell, Donnie will have different battle shells he’s built to cover his own, and the creators even hinted one will gain sentience (Metalhead, maybe?).  Leonardo now has red stripes on his face, and Raphael has a reason for being much larger than his brothers.  I’m no turtleologist (surely, that’s a real word), so I’m looking forward to how these play out on screen.

The personalities and weapons changes are where I’m having to fight against my pre-conceived notions of what the TMNT are and remind myself every version is different.  Leonardo now wields a single sword instead of two, and he was described by the creators as being a “smart-butt.”  Also, he’s no longer the leader.  On one hand, I can’t believe it because Leonardo is the leader of the TMNT, but on the other hand, I’m curious to see a Leonardo unburdened by the expectations of leadership.  Who is my favorite Turtle when he’s not leading them?  Seeing as how this will be a more comedic version, I doubt they will get too into character study, but a man can dream.

Congratulations, Partners in Kryme, your vision has come to pass and Raphael…well, he’s the leader of the group.  The hothead oldest brother also now wields tonfas instead of his trademark sais.  Aside from that, I don’t recall them mentioning anything too different.  Mikey is also pretty much the same except now he’s an artist and has ditched his nunchaku for some sort of stick/bladed yo-yo sort of thing (further reading tells me this is probably a kusari-fundo).  He is also once more the baby of the group.  Donnie’s one of the bigger surprises.  Now that we live in a world where being a nerd is kind of the “in thing,” Donatello is a far more confident member of the team.  He knows how legit his tech is, and he knows how much he contributes.  At least, that’s what I gathered from listening to the creators.

With so many comedians cast and the creators stating repeatedly this will be a more comedic show than the previous one, I am genuinely afraid this will be Nickelodeon’s Teen Titans Go!.  I can’t…I can’t even begin to tell you how much that frightens me.  I’m holding out hope, though, since all we know are what the main six will look like and some of their traits.  I’m surprised it’s coming so soon after the absolutely awesome 2012 cartoon, but I’m glad we won’t be without the TMNT on television for too long.  Plus, it’s 2D animation.  That alone has me excited.

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Okay, I lied about the one picture thing.  Here’s a red-eared slider.

The Gifted That Keeps on Giving

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“Sworn to protect a world that hates and fears them.”

In a world where the X-Men and the Brotherhood of Mutants vanished after “The July 15th Incident,” mutants are not so kindly treated.  The ones with non-combative powers are barely tolerated, and those with even slightly destructive abilities are treated as threats and non-persons.  It’s a world where the likes of the government agency Sentinel Services can abduct a mutant seen as dangerous and ensure no one ever sees or hears of them again.  It seems the X-Men expected this reaction, though, as they approached a handful of individuals to lead the Mutant Underground–a network established to rescue persecuted mutants and get them out of America if necessary.  Every day it seems like they’re fighting a losing battle as public opinion sours on their kind more and more, but they are heroes and they fight on.  Even if they don’t see themselves that way.

The X-Men are as important to me as a comic fan and a person as Batman is.  As a child of the ’90s, obviously the cartoon and action figures meant the world to me.  Before I started really following comics in high school, the majority of the ones I’d bought as a child in antique and thrift stores were X-Men titles.  Cyclops was my second favorite comic book character until I discovered the Flash, and even now, Slim Summers sits at a close third.  So, like with any adaptation of the Caped Crusader, whenever Marvel’s Strangest Heroes of All get screen time, I’m excited and hopeful.  I’ll go ahead and say right now, objectively speaking, Legion is probably the better show, but man, oh man, I love The Gifted so much!

As with many X-fans, I love whenever deep cut characters get used.  It’s great seeing those random and little used mutants pop up so I can go, “Hey, I know you!”  And boy, does The Gifted deliver that in spades.  The most high profile character on this show is Polaris, played amazingly by Emma Dumont.  When Polaris is the most well-known mutant showing up, you can bet the rest are going to elicit of bunch of, “Holy crap, they’re here?!”  Blink, Thunderbird, Dreamer, Sage, the Stepford Cuckoos, Ahab, Fenris, Shatter, etc.  It’s astonishing.  Actually, let’s talk about these characters for a bit.

And beware, for spoilers lie ahead.

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Making us root for people with the last name “Strucker” is the true miracle here.

I was at first annoyed when I realized the Struckers would be the main characters moreso than the leaders of the Mutant Underground, but I grew to like them a decent bit.  The irony of movie Rogue’s IRL husband, Stephen Moyer, playing a mutant with suppressed powers (I did state things would be spoiled) who prosecutes mutants until the day his son’s awakened abilities force the Strucker family into the fugitive life is not lost on me.  Amy Acker is one of my favorite actresses, so her showing up as Caitlin Strucker was an absolute delight.  Their kids were a harder sell for me, but I already liked Natalie Alyn Lind from her stint as Silver St. Cloud on Gotham and Percy Hynes White as Andy grew on me.  He’s the whiner with the obvious heel tendencies throughout the first season (save for one very surprising moment), but the kid often has a point.

I have a feeling Polaris will wind up being a very important character in the history of X-Men adaptations in the future.  She’s bipolar while still being one of the most powerful characters on the show, and from what I can tell, they don’t use her disorder as an excuse for her decision to leave the Underground and lead the Hellfire Club.  She’s about to be a mother, and the thought of raising a child in a world that will despise it just for being born is something she can’t stand.  So, she makes a choice to fight back instead of just surviving.  She chose her family by somewhat inheriting her father’s legacy to ensure her child’s future.  Lorna’s journey from a scared solider to a confident leader is one of the highlights of the show for me.

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All hail the Queens.

The other character who was a major bonus for me is John Proudstar, AKA Thunderbird, played by Blair Redford.  See, I am one of the whitest people who has ever lived, but I am one-eighth Native American (certified) and I embrace any genuinely positive Native American character in media.  I know one-eighth doesn’t seem like much, but the culture and history are important to me.  Thunderbird isn’t defined by his heritage, but it’s something that’s obviously always with him.  He’s more affected by his military service than his blood.  Here, he’s the calm leader of the group instead of the hothead who died quickly in the comics.  I assume his little brother Warpath will show up at some point, but surprisingly, I hope that won’t see the end of Thunderbird on the small screen.  He could do with a little more character growth in season two, and I look forward to it.

The other main heroes are Sean Teale as Marcos Diaz/Eclipse and Jamie Chung as Clarice Fong/Blink.  I assume they went with the new amalgamation character Eclipse instead of Sunspot since young Roberto da Costa will feature in The New Mutants film.  He’s a solid character, though.  We find out he was a much more unscrupulous individual before the show, but meeting Polaris and leading the Underground changed how he viewed the world and his fellow mutants’ plight.  Blink was created in the awesomely ’90s Age of Apocalypse, thus, I love her with all my heart.  Seeing her start as someone who wanted nothing to do with the Underground all the way to being one of the core members determined to keep the fight going gave me all sorts of warm feels.

Now that we’ve gotten the good guys out of the way, let’s take a look at the important villains in the first season.

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“I’d strike the sun if it insulted me.”

Ahab!  It’s Ahab!  Holy crap, they put in A-freakin’-hab!

Look, I haven’t read any of Ahab’s appearances, but his figure was one of my childhood favorites and one of the few X-Men toys I still somehow have from back then.  I didn’t even know it was him until the first season ended.  There aren’t really any hints to him surviving and becoming a cyborg, but being the head of the Hound program should’ve been enough for me to realize it.  (This is what happens when you don’t know everyone’s shoot names, brother.)  Garret Dillahunt portrays Dr. Roderick Campbell with a quiet disgust that just envelops the screen whenever he’s there.  You know that kind:  Smug and in control with an open disdain for anything different.  He’s not physically or emotionally aggressive in his hatred of mutantkind, but the moves he makes are downright frightening in their methods and implications.

The first and–arguably–most important recurring antagonist is Sentinel Services agent Jace Turner portrayed by Coby Bell.  He hounds (no pun intended) both the Struckers and the Mutant Underground for the entirety of the first season.  He has personally arrested and vanished a great many mutant “criminals” in trying to shutdown the Underground.  He sees absolutely nothing wrong with apprehending a kid just because he was unfortunate enough for his powers to manifest at a school dance.  Jace Turner is an easily unlikable and detestable villain–moreso than maybe even Campbell since Turner is supposed to uphold the law and defend the people instead of treating all mutants like they’re terrorists.  But, as with so many of the greatest X-Men antagonists, the show humanizes him.

And really, that’s one of The Gifted‘s greatest strengths.  Turner’s little girl was killed in the July 15th Incident, which saw a number of innocent people lose their lives in the crossfire of a large mutant battle.  Turner is even forced to relive losing his daughter in the show when Dreamer’s abilities go awry and mess with his head.  Jace Turner feels like he’s doing the right thing by removing any potentially dangerous mutant from the streets so that no other little girls will ever lose their lives to some super-powered fight.  Jace Turner is not a good man.  I wouldn’t even say he’s a sympathetic character.  But we understand why he is the way he is.

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They got me with this scene.

Turner isn’t the only antagonist given this humanization in the first season.  Even the vile Dr. Campbell is shown to have a brother whom he cares for deeply dying from a genetic disease.  One little mutation is all it took to shorten his sibling’s lifespan and make what life he has a painful one.  With those few minutes we see why Campbell is so obsessed with mutations and manipulating or destroying them when possible.  It also serves to show why he’s so fixated on mutant siblings.

I’d hesitate to refer to the Stepford Cuckoos as outright antagonists of the show since they often help, but they are certainly not allies to the Underground.  Skyler Samuels plays the three Frost sisters Esme, Sophie, and Phoebe not too different from each other, but they’re a hivemind, so that’s understandable.  Ashamed to say, but I’m not too familiar with their personalities in the comics.  It’s hard to tell exactly what the Stepfords’ motivations are as they hinder the Underground as much as they aid it, but again, you understand why they’d be that way.  We first meet Esme as she’s manipulating all those around her so that she can save her sisters before they disappear forever.  Fairly certain they were already associated with the Hellfire Club well before two of the three were apprehended, but family is important.  Which is yet another key tenet of The Gifted…and the X-Men as a whole really.

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Tell it like it is.

If you haven’t been able to tell from all I’ve written so far, family defines a lot of these characters.  The Struckers flee the authorities for the safety of their own and even find out their ties to the founding of the Hellfire Club.  Marcos was ousted by his own family, welcomed by a crime family, and soon after chose a new one in the Underground.  Blink is mortified by what’s happened to her adoptive family, and that’s what leads her to fully joining her people’s fight.  Turner lost his daughter to mutant powers, and Campbell will lose his brother to a mutation.  The Stepfords essentially are their sisterly bond.  Polaris…well, Polaris shuns the idea that she has to lead the Hellfire Club just because she’s the daughter of Magneto, but she fully embraces the role when she thinks about what sort of future hers and Marcos’s child will have to deal with.

Maybe the showrunners are trying to tell us that those driven by their family tragedies are destined to walk a darker path than those who choose to look forward to the future with their families.  But then you have Blink fighting for mutantkind due to what happened to hers, and Polaris turning to the Dark Side for her kid.  Perhaps we’re looking at the differences between individuals who use their loss as an excuse rather than a reason.  I’m honestly not entirely sure.  I mean, family is important to every person and not just characters, but it seemed like there was an awful lot of attention drawn to the families of the protagonists and antagonists here.

There’s so much other cool stuff here, too:  Elena Satine as Dreamer, Shatter’s really cool design, Caitlin and Marcos’s bromance, and Evangeline Whedon’s wholly unexpected cameo to name just a few.  Yes, I do really love Legion in all of its beautiful weirdness, but The Gifted is so very much the X-Men show I’ve wanted.  It has its share of problems, but it’s not enough to detract from what I love about it.  Modern day social and political problems dealt with via the mutant metaphor, deep cut characters taking center stage, humanized and understandable villains, enough shout-outs to please any nerd, and such wonderful drama.

I don’t think The Gifted is my number one comic book show, but I’ll be damned if it isn’t one of my favorites.

I think Peter Nguyen is one of the gifted.

Okay, Flash War. You Got Me.

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Kinda wrote this post…on an impulse.

I love the Flash.  Jay, Barry, Wally, Bart.  The comics, the shows, the eventual movie (I hope).  The allies and the villains.  On the surface, the Flash is a man who can run fast.  Every creator who’s worked on him, though, has taken that idea and, well…run with it.  He can control each of his molecules, he can think through any pattern of a given situation to give himself an almost precognitive power, he can travel through time and dimensions by running at different speeds.  Every bit of the Flash mythos just fascinates me.  I only really started reading Flash comics when Flashpoint happened, and I don’t think I’ve fallen in love with a character’s history so deeply since I discovered Batman as a child.  That being said, I haven’t been the biggest fan of Joshua Williamson’s current run on the book.

The initial arc with Godspeed was a cool concept, but it was painfully predictable.  The stuff with Meena and the Black Hole is also in that same vein of neat but underwhelming (so far, at least).  And, although I enjoyed it, The Button seems almost pointless right now.  Williamson has mainly shone when working with the classic Rogues–Captain Cold, Heatwave, Weather Wizard, Mirror Master, Golden Glider, and Trickster.  I also really liked his story with Reverse-Flash, but it, too, has its own problems.

So, it’s been a good bit of ups and downs, but the lows have been lower than the highs have been higher for me.  That’s why the news of the upcoming Flash War arc hasn’t interested me in the least.  I’m kind of over the “heroes vs heroes” thing.  And let’s be real, everyone:  Wally West is the best Flash.  He embodies everything that’s great about DC Comics.  He’s proof that legacy characters can work if you give them the time and effort they deserve.  Basically, I don’t see “Wally Best” versus Barry or the new Wally as a competition.  He’s just better.  Flash War did not get me excited.

But then Williamson tweeted the first page of the annual that kicks off the event.

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Boy howdy, that’s a loaded image for any Flash fan.  Later tweeted images shows this is pretty much just a wrecked portion of the Flash Museum.  When I first saw it, though, I viewed it as some sort of epic teaser image for things to come.  I kinda still do.

It’s still really murky on what exactly has happened in the Rebirth continuity.  We know there was a Titans team before Tim Drake’s version, some form of Final Crisis occurred, Superman did die.  I think.  It’s weird.  But there’s a lot of amazing stories and characters from Flash’s corner of the DCU that we just don’t know where they stand.  Sure, it looks like Eobard somehow became his pre-Flashpoint and New 52 selves, we’ve finally seen Golden Age Jay Garrick, and the Tornado Twins made their debut.  That’s still so many left out in the dark.  This image, though…gives me hope.

The pictures of Flash and Supes racing from Superman #199, Barry and Wally running together as hero and sidekick, and finally the God of Wind, Savitar.  Those pictures alone give me chills.  The Flash puppet from Flash #133 is an absurd but welcome addition.  Abra Kadabra is one of the few Rogues who’d fallen to the wayside and only returned in the opening story of Titans.  It’s a couple of other things in that image that really got me, though.

never thought we’d see any hint of John Fox again.  The Flash of first the 27th and then the 853rd centuries seemed a lost character, but I’ll be damned if that isn’t his gauntlet in the annual’s opening page.  He’s never been my favorite (who makes a move on a missing superhero’s girlfriend?), but I like all the speedsters and their histories.  Plus, he becomes Flash One Million, and my love for that story and its characters is inexplicable.

The main attraction in that image is easily the busted Impulse robot.  The only Bart Allen we’ve seen since Flashpoint is that freedom fighter from the future or whatever he was…whose real name wasn’t even Bart Allen!  So yeah, to see evidence that the real Bart Allen is out there somewhere and will hopefully return has done wonders for my soul.

Still want my Dark Flash to come back, though.

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Come home, Walter West.  Just come home.

As for what’s left in the image, I’m at a bit of a loss.  I thought the broken Flash symbol could possibly be Danny West’s, but everything else is pre-New 52, so that wouldn’t make sense.  It’s more than likely just a bungled up symbol.  It’s that yellow rod that’s bugging the hell out of me.  I’ve at various points thought it was part of Eobard’s wand, the hilt of one of the swords used by Savitar’s speed ninjas (I love comics), part of a member of Speed Metal, a piece of one of the Black Racer’s ski poles, and other random things.  Could definitely be just some random rod dislodged in the attack on the Flash Museum, but I feel like it’s something I should know.

With just that one page, images of the classic Top returning, and other various statues including ones of Max Mercury and Johnny Quick (all of them), I am one-hundred percent looking forward to Flash War.  I hope that a lot of good stuff really does come out of this.  Who knows?  Maybe Doralla Kon will make her long-awaited return!

I’m so excited, and I don’t care to hide it.

Seasonal Sawce: Fall Back Into Anime 2017, Part 2

Believe it or not, this post isn’t necessarily late.  I actually wanted to write this a year after this particular Seasonal Sawce.  Pretty neat, right?

(How many of you believe that?)

Okay, so, the following anime I watched in their entirety as they aired from October to December 2017.  Gonna be ranking them from my least favorite to my most favorite.  Without further preamble, let’s get into it!

Juni Taisen

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No, Monkey, put your hand down.  You don’t get to be in a better anime.

Oh, man.  This right here…this might be the biggest disappointment in terms of anime for me in 2017.  I saw that Nisioisin name and got excited.  I saw those absolutely awesome character designs and got hype.  I read the death battle set-up and got all sorts of ready.  I watched the whole thing and really, really wished I’d watched something else in its place.

It’s just dull.  And straight-up ugly sometimes.  One episode randomly switched between 2D and CGI animation, and there had been nary a bit of CGI used in the show previously.  There was a two-parter covering the most uninteresting characters in the show, and those episodes looked rushed and choppy.  It’s like they blew their budget on the very first episode and went, “…Who the f**k said we had to do 11 more episodes?  We thought the leftover funds were booze money!”

Pretty cool characters and powers consistently let down by shoddy animation, poor pacing, and just a general disinterest in the source material.  I’m not saying the original is better since I haven’t read it, but the Juni Taisen anime is getting a 4.5 out of 10 from me.  I know it seems a little high for how I was talking, but I’m a generous sort.

Two Car

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And thus begins the crossover with Welcome to the Ballroom.

I can’t really say I was letdown by this show.  I think.  I dunno.  I didn’t expect it to be that good, but I also didn’t expect it to be so boring.  Okay, it’s not always boring, but it could’ve used some tuning up (and I’ll check that off on the pun list for this post).  The two main characters being rivals because they’ve fallen for the same guy is fine.  That was a good joke because we never even see the guy’s face.  He’s irrelevant.  But then he shows up and ruins the joke.  I didn’t think I’d miss the two-parters focusing on different teams and their problems from the first half so much.  Boy howdy, did I, though.

Once the joke is over for the main girls, the other teams are way better and more interesting characters.  Even the two announcer girls!  And why didn’t we get an episode that was just Mao and Hitomi on a date?  Those two are gold.  Sure, I wanted some more sports in my sports anime, but I knew the focus here would be cute girls.  So…focus on the cute girls more.  Give ’em more time and more things to do.  Don’t just throw them to the side once you’ve given up.

I’ll give it a 5.5.  It’s fine for a cute girls doing sports things show, but there has got to be better out there.

Kino’s Journey: The Beautiful World 2017

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Mighty needy for an anthropomorphic motorcycle.

This might have actually been beneath Two Car had it not been for a few spectacular episodes.  In particular the penultimate eleventh episode which is essentially Kino’s origin story.  That was some fine anime right there.  Aside from those standouts, though, the 2017 adaptation of Kino’s Journey is a wee bit lackluster.

Themes and messages tend to get lost in adaptation sometimes, and you’re left wondering what the point of those adventures were.  I also don’t feel Kino’s characterization was consistent.  Couldn’t put my finger on it, but she felt like a different character every now and then.  Also, she was only barely in her own show for a majority of the time.  Another group of travelers tended to take up a surprising amount of screen time.

Either a 6 or 6.5 for me.  There are a handful of genuinely great episodes, but the rest felt middling to decent.

Food Wars! The Third Plate

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Going off the rails on a gravy train!

Third Plate was on track to surpass Second Plate, and all in all, it probably did.  The second season of Food Wars! suffered from an incredibly rushed tournament arc and tacked on aftermath.  Season three here had a decent beginning, awesome middle, and then just kinda fizzled out at the end.  Yeah, Souma’s duel with the First Seat of the Elite Ten felt kinda superfluous.  I really don’t think these one cour seasons suit Food Wars! at all.

But, like I said, those middle episodes was Food Wars! at its finest.  Erina’s father returning and overthrowing the current regime, the iron wok of Central coming down on the school, Souma essentially beginning the revolution all by his lonesome…. Good stuff, man.  Good stuff!  Wish what came before and after were of similar quality, though.

It’s a solid 8.  I mean, it’s Food Wars!.  Of course it’s good.

Now, it’s actually time for my number one.  Yeah, that’s right.  Only five this time!  I love it!

Recovery of an MMO Junkie

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In which we are Sakurai, and Sakurai is us.

I like me some rom-coms, but I love me some good rom-coms!  And Recovery of an MMO Junkie is one of the goodest.  Or best, if you want to get all correct-y grammar-y over here.  All joking aside, though, yeah, I love this anime to bits.  The soundtrack, the look, the characters, the relationships, the humor, the set-up, the pay-off, the all the stuff…. I love it.  And it’s about adults!  How f**king weird is that?!

It also helps that Moriko Morioka is one of the top contenders for Best Girl of 2017.  Actually, if she represents the fall season, then we can get Karen Tendou of Gamers! for summer, Akane Hiyama from Love Tyrant for spring, and Sakie “Succubus Sensei” Satou hailing all the from winter in Interviews with Monster Girls and have them all compete in a TOURNAMENT to crown Best Girl of 2017.  I mean, physical strength gives the edge to Akane, so maybe if they have, like, a debate TOURNAMENT?  Maybe?

That aside out of the way, not only is Moriko a great main protagonist, but Sakurai is a wonderful main love interest.  Guy’s kinda smitten with her and is just the picture of a gentleman nerd most of the time.  Not the bad kind of gentleman nerd.  The actual decent person good kind.  His best friend/foil/romantic rival/wingman Koiwai is a surprisingly fun character, and all their guildmates bring their own set of fulfilled characteristics and lives to the tables.

It may not have had the most satisfying conclusion for a rom-com, but with only ten episodes and one for-funsies OVA, Recovery of an MMO Junkie did a remarkable job of presenting an immensely likable cast in a pretty real and heartfelt yet fanciful story.  This one’s a 9 out of 10 for me.

That’s gonna do it for this round of Seasonal Sawce.  If I’m being real here, I probably won’t write another post until the next Seasonal Sawce, but I always hope for better.  Gonna try and knock out at least one graphic novel a week this year, and I may or may not write about each of them.

Peace out, and stay bizarre.