2017 Summer of Anime – One Piece Film: Gold

1 One Piece Film Gold

I love goooooooooooold.

Shortly after their adventure on Dressrossa (which I have yet to finish), the Straw Hat Pirates make their way onto a massive cruise ship/casino, Gran Tesoro.  The Gran Tesoro is run by the self-styled “Gold Emperor” Gild Tesoro, who seems friendly enough when he instructs his crew to treat the Straw Hats like VIPs.  Luffy and his friends are thankful for such a break and go on a massive winning streak until Tesoro reveals his true colors (gold) by cheating them and capturing Zoro.  Now, the Straw Hats have teamed up with an old friend of Nami’s to pull off the heist of the century by stealing Tesoro’s hidden stash–twenty percent of the world’s currency!  Only thing standing in their way is their own captain’s stupidity.  So, come on in to the Gran Tesoro where your dreams may come true, but nothing is ever quite what it seems.

The 2017 Summer of Anime is here, bay-bay!  Are you as pumped as I am?  Probably not, but that’s okay.  So, this summer we’re kicking it off with one of my favorite things–One Piece.  And yes, it is still one of my favorite things even if I haven’t read any of the manga in…oh.  Been over a year.  Well, then.  Should really get back to it.

Anyhoo, One Piece Film: Gold is probably my favorite of the three canon films (I’d really need to watch Z again to confirm).  I love how charismatic and genuinely traumatized Tesoro is, and his main henchmen were just a lot of fun.  Tanaka looks like some creeper who’s been thrown out of Code Lyoko, Dice is a masochistic Hulk Hogan, the resident traitor Carina is a nice edition to Nami’s backstory, and Baccarat…my, oh my, Baccarat.  Woman looks like the Rangiku Matsumoto of the Grand Line, and her powers come from the Luck-Luck Fruit.  She can either steal luck or give it to those she touches.  If she steals it, her victims have a tendency to slip on banana peels.  Which makes me wish the Luck-Luck Fruit was in the shape of a banana.  I just hope she gets a figure or a statue so I can spend tens of minutes at a time looking at it on Ebay without ever buying it.

Aside from the usual fun villains of Eiichiro Oda’s wonderful world, the are a couple things that made me say this is my favorite One Piece film.  The first is that there are quite a few cameos of characters I had no clue were in the movie.  I legitimately marked out for one of them.  I won’t spoil who they are ‘cuz I don’t know if they were advertised at all.  I won’t rob you of that joy.  The second thing is this is kinda a heist film.  Never in all my days did I think I’d get to see the Straw Hats plan out and execute a heist.  I mean, they’re not the greatest at following plans, so who’d’a thunk it?  Three guesses who’s responsible for everything falling apart.  And you should really get it in one.

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We make this look good.

My biggest complaint is the same thing that often prevents me from giving any movie based on a shonen franchise a solid Tye Dillinger:  There aren’t any stakes.  Obviously, it’s great to see these characters in more adventures, and everything’s gonna look super nice thanks to the powers of the Budget-Budget Fruit, but none of the main characters are in any danger.  I’m not saying I need to think these characters can die in any given story, but in the end, I know it’s just a sidequest.  Don’t really know how you could get around that problem.  Also, the One Piece films have a slight tendency to be a smidgen formulaic.  Just saying.

One more thing!  Want to let all of you know who haven’t seen this yet that Luffy delivers one of the most badass lines I’ve ever heard from an anime character.  Was actually stricken with the chills.  It’s great.

So yeah, I definitely enjoyed the Straw Hats’ latest cinematic outing.  Gonna stick this one with a 9 out of 10.  I don’t know if its the best One Piece movie they can make, but it’s gotta be close.

Got us a fine film to kick off this year’s Summer of Anime.  You can expect a few more movies to pop up in this series since I’ve gained a good few I really need to watch.  But yeah, I don’t know what all I’m gonna watch this summer.  I’m looking forward to finding out.

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Seasonal Sawce: Spring into Anime 2017, Part 1

It’s been a year since I started doing these Seasonal Sawce posts.  The fact that I haven’t missed one is a darn miracle, and you should all be proud of me.  Just don’t think of all the other things I should’ve also written by now.

As usual, the following anime are the ones I started this season and will be ranked from my least favorite/hype to my most favorite/hype.  A bit of disclosure this time around, too:  All of these are on Crunchyroll.  There are a few on Amazon’s Anime Strike I’d planned on watching, but they already get an annual Prime payment out of me, so I don’t feel like giving them more for their anime service…even though I don’t know how long that resolve will actually stick because I really, really, really want to watch Saekano Flat and Re:Creators.

Okay!  Let’s get this party started!

7) Eromanga Sensei

Eromanga Sensei

It’d be good if it wasn’t so bad.

Masamune Izumi is an orphaned high school light novel author who’s using his earnings to take care of himself and his little stepsister, Sagiri Izumi, who he hasn’t seen in a year because she won’t leave her room.  Problem is, though, Masamune isn’t that great of an author despite how much he writes.  His novels’ popularity are based almost solely on the artwork in them done by the anonymous Eromanga Sensei.  With Masamune desperate to get a new novel series released, he inadvertently finds out that Eromanga Sensei is actually Sagiri.  The two once distant siblings now have something to bond over as Kyousuke and Kirino look to reconnect and repair their relationship.

I know what I typed.  Same creator.  Same-ish set-up.  But…kinda better.  Sorta.  Eromanga Sensei isn’t inherently bad so far.  I’ve actually laughed at a few of the jokes, but I must confess that I am indeed hate-watching it.  I am here for the trainwreck.  Yes, the character designs look nice…just unfortunate that they’re mostly 12 or 13-year-old girls.  It’s almost admirable in how shameless it is.  And, seeing fictional creators do their art thing tends to get me motivated to write and doodle, so that’s a plus.  This show happens to be saddled with the same problem as Oreimo, though:  The main love interest is not only a less interesting character than the supporting cast, but it is also very disturbing to think of her ending up with the main protagonist–i.e.–her older brother.

Oh well!  Like I said earlier–I’m here to see how badly this turns out.  Enjoying the ride so far.  For the most part.

6) Sakura Quest

Sakura Quest

It’s like Shirobako, but they make a tourist trap instead.

Yoshino Koharu is a fresh college graduate whose future looks bright.  Or so she likes to tell herself.  In reality, she’s failed interview after interview and her parents are trying to get her to leave Tokyo and move back home.  Yoshino refuses to return to the country even though things aren’t going great.  She gets a break when the economically struggling town of Manoyama wants to hire to be their “Queen” in order to revitalize their tourist industry.  Yoshino decides to take the one-day gig, and heads to the sticks to help the town.  But, as it turns out she was hired by mistake and she actually signed her contract to work there for one year.  Thus, the new Queen of Manoyama is joined by four other young adult women as they spend the next year trying to find a way to bring more people to their town and figure out what they want to do with their lives.

I guess I’ve reached that age where stories about adults just trying to do their jobs and find their way speak to me.  Doesn’t interest me as much as Shirobako did (so far), but there are still plenty of moments that have made me pause the episode and stare off in the distance contemplating whether or not I should write those lines down.  But yeah, Sakura Quest is pretty fun so far.  It’s my designated cool-down anime this season, and I do enjoy me a show when I go back and forth over who is best girl/woman (Maki or Sanae–the others don’t matter).

If relatable, interesting characters doing their hardest to accomplish their goals gets your slice-of-life engine going, then check it out.

5) Akashic Records of Bastard Magic Instructor

Akashic Records of Bastard Magic Instructor

Those school uniforms sure are practical…magic.  Movie joke!

Sistine Fibel’s favorite teacher at the Alzano Imperial Magic Academy has recently resigned, and she and her best friend Rumia Tingel wonder about his sudden departure on the way to school one morning.  Along the way, a disheveled man accidentally runs into them as he’s hurrying off somewhere.  Well, he would have run into them had Sistine not launched him with her wind magic.  That’s a bit of a no-no outside school grounds, and the man taunts her for doing so until she does it again and leaves.  Finally in their classroom, Sistine, Rumia, and their fellow classmates are astonished their new substitute teacher is so late–especially since rumor is he was recruited by the most powerful teacher at the school.  Finally their teacher arrives and–shock of all shocks–enter the bastard who ran into Sistine and Rumia, Glenn Radars.  The students eventually learn there’s more to the lazy, incompetent teacher than they initially thought, but they’ll have to wait till after study period to find out what it is.

I initially wasn’t going to watch Akashic Records since I’ve seen plenty of magical school shows in the past few years, and yes, even I can get tired of a genre.  The set-up also reminded me a bit of Irregular at Magic High School (seemingly inept mage being a secret badass), and that was another deterrent.  But, I saw that it was doing better on MyAnimeList than I expected and decided to check it out.  Glad I did!  I do wish Glenn maintained his bastard tendencies a little more, the female school uniforms are laughable in their pandering, and there are definitely some cliches present, but I do honestly like the cast and the rules for magic.  Glenn is a big plus and the main reason I look forward to this show every week.  Yes, he’s not as big of an asshole as I thought he would be, but he still taunts his students, shirks responsibility whenever he can, and makes reckless bets.

I wouldn’t exactly call the show fresh, but it has enough good ideas and heart to make it stand out a smidgen.

4) Love Tyrant

Love Tyrant

Akane top contender for Best Girl of 2017.  Fight me.

So, imagine you’re at home one day, and this cute girl cosplaying as a shinigami comes to your door saying she accidentally wrote your name in her Kiss Note–a magical notebook that forces two people whose names are written down with an X between them to fall in love.  Well, this happens to Seiji Aino when the angel Guri visits him.  She tells him he needs to kiss someone or else she’ll die, so she convinces him to confess to his crush, the beautiful redhead Akane Hiyama.  She actually reciprocates his feelings a hundredfold, and everything turns out okay!… Except Guri finds Seiji interesting and pairs up herself with Seiji and Akane.  And Akane’s a legitimate murderous yandere.  And she has a younger sister who’s in love with her.  And they have an even crazier sadomasochist cousin.  And Seiji has a little sister who’s stalked by some sort of powerful penguin demon.  Well, at least he’s immortal now that he’s been paired up with an angel!   Yay?

Love Tyrant probably isn’t good.  At all.  But, I’ll be damned if the show doesn’t entertain the heck out of me.  Yeah, the jokes don’t always hit, and the show kinda falls into the same tropes it relishes in parodying.  I just always find it charming.  The character designs are neat, there are some wonderful facial expressions, and the seriousness of some events isn’t so far from the humor that it feels out of place.  I also like how the show kinda ponders what exactly love is.  Might be giving it too much credit, but Guri’s whole thing is she’s trying to understand love.  She doesn’t know the difference between familial love, friendly love, and romantic love.  I enjoy their shenanigans as she tries to figure it all out.  Also, Akane is great.  I get yandere love now.

It ain’t the funniest anime out there, but I like what it does.

3) Kado: The Right Answer

Kado The Right Answer

Arrival, starring Roger Smith.

A cube two kilometers on each side suddenly appears at a Japanese airport one day.  The cube is made of a material that deflects any and all contact no matter the force, and worst of all is it’s appeared on top of a plane carrying 252 people.  No one knows the fate of the passengers, but finally, after 30 hours, a man walks out on top of the cube.  He is one of the passengers–Koujirou Shindou, the best negotiator for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.  The world is baffled until the owner of the cube, Yaha-kui zaShunina, appears next to him and informs all that he has come to Earth as a friend and Koujirou will speak on his behalf.  Let the negotiations begin!

I know that may not sound like the most exciting synopsis, and it honestly isn’t.  Kado: The Right Answer maintains a fairly slow pace and doesn’t seem to be interested in speeding things up too much.  But, Kado is pretty legit.  Koujirou is an immensely likable protagonist, and it’s easy to see why so many characters in-universe gravitate towards him.  The speed with which he adapts to Yaha-kui and treats the alien like a person who just doesn’t get people even amuses the young negotiator hired to be his opposite, Saraka Tsukai.  She, Yaha-kui, and the other characters are good, too, but it’s really the ideas that got me so interested.  Physics and communication work differently in Yaha-kui’s dimension.  There are concepts that seem absolutely impossible to humans at first, but it takes the Arrival approach of adapting one’s mind can alter one’s sense of reality.  That’s just cool as sh*t.  Also, I don’t know if I wasn’t paying close attention during the 0 episode (yes, you should watch episode 0 “Ninovo”), but I didn’t notice until the end that everything save for the backgrounds is CG.  Yeah.  A CG anime that doesn’t look like complete crap.  I can’t believe it.

Kado is a legitimately good sci-fi anime, and I implore you all to show it more love.

2) Attack on Titan Season 2

Attack on Titan Season 2

ANGRY!!!!!!

After the battle against Annie the Female Titan, one of the kingdom’s biggest secrets is revealed–Titans are inside the walls.  And–as they so often do–things go from bad to worse when the rest of the 104th Training Corps graduates are attacked by Titans in a place where there shouldn’t be any Titans and the new recruits don’t have their OMD Gear.  The mysteries of the Titans’ identities and the bleakness of the world are the driving forces in this second season of Attack on Titan.

Yeah, spoiler alert–this list is dominated by second seasons.  Sorry, but I love these shows!  Distance may not have made my heart grow fonder for Attack on Titan, but now I remember why it became such a big thing.  The world-building is just the best, the soundtrack is bumpin’, the characters are great, the mysteries are deep and interesting, and hey, it looks pretty good, too.  I appreciate they wanted to focus more on the pants-crapping horror of the world at the beginning, but I gotta tell ya, the show is at its best for me when Mikasa is killing all the things.  Also, the fight between Eren and the Armored Titan was an MMA fan’s dream come true.

It’s season two of one of the most popular anime in recent years.  If you aren’t watching it…well, I can only assume it’s because you haven’t finished the first season.

1) My Hero Academia 2

My Hero Academia 2

The day has come.  (That’s a call back joke right there, son.)

It’s back!  Yes!  Oh, man.  I can’t tell you how much I’ve been wanting this new season of My Hero Academia.  It’s been a whole year since I last saw Izuku, All Might, Uraraka, Bakugo, and the others.  The students had just survived their first real encounter with actual supervillains!  Yeah, the first season started taking its sweet time after the first couple breakneck-paced episodes, but I love it all the same.  Although, I can’t quite put my finger on why I put this above AOT.  Why did I do that?  I can’t…wait.  I hear something.  Off in the distance.  Can it…can it be?  It can!  Oh, my!  Say it loud, my friend!  Say it loud!

TOURNAMENT!

Yeah…that’s the good stuff right there.  Not even an attack by supervillains can stop UA High School from hosting their annual sports festival.  It’s an event that’s essentially the new Olympics in terms of prestige and popularity.  The whole world tunes in to see the current crop of hero students and their powers.  Still unable to control his Quirk, Izuku is at a definite disadvantage, and things only get trickier when the top student in their class, Shouto Todoroki, acknowledges Izuku’s talent and vows to defeat him in the festival.  The other students are hungry for fame and recognition as well, so let’s see just who will rise to the top of this generation.

Hot damn, I love tournaments.

Yeah, I love the world, characters, concepts, look, soundtrack, and everything else about MHA, but you throw in a tournament arc and my poor body just can’t handle it.  I love this stuff!

Despite the triumphant returns of Academia and Titan, I think I was enjoying last season a little more at this point.  Overall, at least.  Only by a bit.  Even then I’m still flip-flopping on it.  But yeah, this season of anime has been fun so far, and I just wish Amazon didn’t stream anime so Crunchyroll and Funimation could take them.

It’s actually time to start the Summer of Anime series, so it’s a guarantee when next we meet it won’t be another Seasonal Sawce.  Rejoice!

Peace out, and stay bizarre.

Seasonal Sawce: Winner, Winter Anime Dinner 2017, Part 2

Waited a week to write this just to make sure everything I started last season was definitely finished.  And, other than Yowamushi Pedal: New Generation, they are!

As always, the anime that I watched this season shall now be ranked from worst to best.  Hobey-ho, and so we go.

Fuuka

Fuuka 2

Oh, Sara.  You deserve a better anime.

Ya know, I didn’t really expect Fuuka to get better.  Sure, the characters became more likable, but nothing I ever saw made me go, “Man, this show right here is gonna be great.”  I do hate being right sometimes.

Don’t get me wrong, I did overall somewhat enjoy watching Fuuka.  Just never felt like there was any heart or ambition behind the decisions made for the show.  Oh no, Yuu hooks up with pop-star childhood friend Koyuki which forces jilted Fuuka to abandon the band she created and go solo.  Certainly a neat twist for those familiar with the manga (spoiler alert: Fuuka gets run over in the manga and is later replaced by another Fuuka for Yuu to woo), but there was nothing to it!  It never felt like a big deal.  I was excited to see this turn of events, but the anime just sorta mozied on along to the end.  At least most of these crazy kids get a happy ending.

I’ll give it a 5.5 out of 10.  Better than average…not by much, though.

Masamune-kun’s Revenge

Masamune-kun's Revenge 2

Revenge:  Complete.

I wanted to love Masamune-kun’s Revenge.  I wound up just liking it.  It really did not utilize its set-up to its full advantage.  Guess I was hoping for more plotting or chicanery on Masamune’s part.  But, he is–deep down–a decent person, and the anime probably would’ve been intolerable if he was a genuine asshole.

The most confusing part is how the female lead, Aki, doesn’t feel all that important when compared to best girl, Neko.  Like, I know the confusion from when they were kids shaped them into the people they are in high school (show definitely should’ve explored that more), but Masamune’s revenge on Aki takes a backseat to Neko’s story and influence on him.  That’s how it seemed to me.  Or maybe that was just the more interesting part.  The episode where Masamune goes to her apartment is by far the best of this first(?) season.  Also don’t think the Impostormune arc was that compelling.

But hey, I’ll give this anime a 7.  I did really like the characters, and there’s enough there that I’d be more than happy to watch a second season.

Interviews with Monster Girls

Interviews with Monster Girls 2

Succubus-sensei is best sensei.

Oh, goody!  I get to talk about shows I love now!  Woo!

So, Interviews with Monster Girls was definitely my cool-down show of the season.  If I’d had a rough week or needed to get my emotional state back on track because other anime threw me for a loop, Interviews was waiting for me with open arms.  It’s just one of those cozy slice of lifers…that happens to star a handful of monster girls and one buff teacher.

One thing I really appreciate about Interviews is how down-to-earth it approached the physiology and problems of the titular monster girls.  Yuki slowly opening up to her fellow demis, Machi learning more and more about her nature, Hikari gaining friends she can be herself around, and Sakie finally meeting a man she can fully trust are all situations that many have struggled with just presented with a supernatural edge.  I can definitely sympathize with what they go through.  Sure, I don’t think this show does all that it can with its premise, but there’s certainly a lot of heart on screen.  Like, you can tell the people who made this want to be friends with all of these characters.

This is a solid 8 for me.  Also, Sakie is best girl of Winter 2017.  Praise be to Succubus-sensei!

Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid

Miss Kobayashi's Dragon Maid 2

Two Dragons, a Girl, and a Cozy Apartment

Never thought an anime about a dragon becoming an office worker’s maid would be one of my favorite shows of a season, but here we are.  If you want a funny, legitimately heartwarming show, look no further than Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid.

The cast is charming, the animation is beautiful, and the stories are often fuzzy.  The thing that cements Dragon Maid as a pretty darn good show, though, is its exploration of loneliness.  One of my favorite vignettes details how Kobayashi and Tooru met.  Both lost due to how alone they are, and somewhere in their drunken bonding, they realize they could make each other’s lives better just by being together.  And they were right!  The other dragons who follow Tooru’s example and escape to Earth see what having someone can do for one of their own, so they, too, find people to spend their time with.  It’s just great seeing how connections with others can positively effect those essentially dealing with depression.

Throw in all that good stuff and you get a show I’m giving an 8.5 that is sometimes a 9.  Check out Kyoto Animation’s latest if you haven’t already.

KonoSuba 2

Konosuba 2 2

They ain’t the greatest heroes, but they’re the only ones we’ve got.

Didn’t know when I wrote the first post for this season that KonoSuba 2 was only going to be ten episodes.  They need to stop teasing me like this.  These shorter than average seasons just ain’t right!  Anyhoo, KonoSuba 2‘s last four episodes are just as funny as the ones previous.  Might even be funnier.

The last arc of season two sees the gang go to a town that actually worships Aqua, and–even though they expect the worst of those crazy enough to follow the impetuous goddess–it’s somehow more awful than they imagined.  Well, better for best girl Darkness as a follower of Eris since she likes the abuse thrown her way, but Kazuma and Megumin are horrified.  It remains consistently funny, and the final battle is as outlandish as the big throwdowns in KonoSuba always are.  Man, I love this series.

Easily a 9 out of 10.  Go.  Watch.  Laugh.

Descending Stories: Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu

Descending Stories Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu 2

All the world’s a stage.

Yeah, absolutely no movement on the board this season.  The second season of Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu is just that damn good.  Everything about this show sounds like something I would never watch (save for best woman Konatsu), but this series is solidly in my top ten.  It’s exploring what art means to the artists and audience, it’s the great characters, it’s their struggles, it’s their lives, it’s everything about this anime that makes me love it so.

Well, almost everything.  There’s one little hiccup of an implication that I found…off-putting, but I choose to ignore it.  It’s just not often an anime comes along that effects me on such a deep emotional level.  I was crying tears of joy along with Yotaro and Konatsu when she told him she was pregnant with his child.  I was devastated when Yakumo finally passed on with the first genuine smile he’d had on his face since Sukeroku died.  I was overjoyed to see that Matsuda had grown old enough to see Yotaro not only save rakugo, but to also make it better than ever.  I can’t speak highly enough of it.

Tye Dillinger, tell the people what I’m giving Descending Stories: Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu.

tumblr_nywnfqsq941uxtjooo1_500

TEN.

And that is it for Winter 2017.  Gotta say, if the first season of the year is this good, I can’t wait to see what the other three will bring us.

Peace out, and stay bizarre.

Seasonal Sawce: Winner, Winter Anime Dinner 2017, Part 1

Return of the Seasonal Sawce, y’all!  Get hype!

You kids know the drill by now:  At least six episodes into the new season, so it’s time to talk about what I’m watching in order of what I look forward to the least to what I look forward to the most.  This is a mercifully small season for me with only three carryovers from seasons past.  Without further ado, let’s talk about some Chinese cartoons.

7) Fuuka

fuuka

“Fuuka me?”  Fuuka you!

Yuu Haruna is a Twitter-loving introvert who’s just moved in with his three sisters for some reason.  While out and about town one day he is accosted by a hardheaded, unpleasant girl who accuses him of taking a picture of her panties after she kneed him in the face.  She then does the only sensible thing and breaks his phone.  The following day at his new school, Yuu finds his attacker, Fuuka Akitsuki, and returns a CD to her she dropped after assaulting him.  Fuuka soon warms up to the shy kid she tormented and ropes him and a few other people she somewhat knows into forming a band because she loves listening to the songs of pop idol Koyuki Hinashi.  Turns out, though, that Yuu and Koyuki are childhood friends!  Can you say, “love triangle?”  I can, but why bother?

As you can tell, I don’t think too highly of Fuuka’s character.  Or some of the set-up.  Or Yuu’s character, for that matter.  But, I do likes me some shoujo-for-boys anime every now and then, and Fuuka fits that role okay.  I’m mainly sticking around for the music angle, though.  Well, that and one other thing.  There’s a twist I happened upon one day, and I’m curious to see how that plays out in the anime.  The show’s not that good, but I appreciate how kinda realistically it handles some of its outlandish situations (does that even make sense?).

6) Masamune-kun’s Revenge

masamune-kuns-revenge

Her legs are as long as her personality is trash.

When he was a wee little lad, Masamune Makabe was fat.  Like, “his parents probably couldn’t pick him up” fat.  This led to him being bullied all the time.  His only solace was in a strong-willed rich girl named Aki Adagaki.  She didn’t suffer bullies and took pity on/became friends with the little fatty.  Masamune one day confessed to his only friend, but she soundly rejected him and dubbed him “Pig’s  Foot.”  This set the boy on his path of vengeance and he became Pigman!… Okay, not really.  What it did do was hurt him so bad emotionally he moved in with his grandfather in the mountains and started dieting and training.  Now, Masamune has returned home as one handsome devil with only goal:  To make Aki Adagaki fall in love with him so he can brutally dump her as she did him many moons ago.  This…is Masamune-kun’s revenge.

So, I started watching Masamune-kun’s Revenge because I have watched entirely too many romcom and harem anime, and a lot of those anime live and die by their unique set-up.  This revenge plot was enough to get me interested.  Halfway in and I don’t think it’s done as much as it could have with its premise.  Like, I get homeboy’s determination, and I kinda want him to succeed.  On the other hand, the anime’s dropped enough hints for us to know he probably won’t go through with it and they’ll wind up together for realsies.  Still, though, I do enjoy the characters.  Whereas Fuuka’s insufferable qualities bring down her show, Aki’s are part of the joke.  Also, I think the best way to describe Masamune is a gold jerk with a heart of jerk with gold inside it.  It’s great to see him play off Aki, her manipulative maid Yoshino, the compulsive liar Neko, his mother, etc.  This is a fun show that could definitely do more with its premise, but the characters have me looking forward to it every week.

5) Yowamushi Pedal: New Generation

yowamushi-pedal-new-generation

He’s gonna “Hime Hime” all the way to the finish line.

The third years are resigning from their clubs and getting ready for their lives outside of high school, but for all those who remain, there’s no time to rest.  Especially for Sohoku High.  Half of their Inter High-winning team is graduating, so they’re in more dire need of new recruits than most other schools.  Time to hop back in the saddle again as the new generation comes together.

(Heh.  I kinda like dropping the title in the description.)

Here comes Yowamushi Pedal with that young third season.  Now, I quite love this series.  It does everything a sports series needs to do, and it does it well.  So, I am very interested in seeing how the new team looks.  Kinda like what happened in Ace of Diamond.  I love the original line-up, but you can’t help but want to know if they’ll find the same success without their veteran members.  Plus, I gotta give props to how quickly the pace is so far.  Six episodes in and we’ve already gotten two decently big races…and a lot of feels.  Good on ya, Yowamushi Pedal.  Still interesting after all this time.

4) Interviews with Monster Girls

interviews-with-monster-girls

These girls’ hopes and dreams may be heavy, but he can carry them all wit dem arms.

The world is much more open-minded than it once was.  Nowadays, demi-humans are widely accepted around the world.  Still, though, not many people actually know one.  Biology teacher Tetsuo Takahashi is one such person.  He’s fascinated by demi-humans and wishes to learn as much as he possibly can about them.  He just can’t seem to meet one.  That is until he pays attention to his surroundings.  Turns out his school has three demi-human (well, they prefer “demi”) students and one teacher.  Tetsuo now has his chance to talk with a vampire, dullahan, yuki-onna, and succubus, and it looks like they want to understand his muscles as much as he wants to understand their demi ways.

(Thought about working the title into the description, but I’m past that joke.)

I love this show.  There’s just something about quirky slice of life shows that you watch on the weekends to wind down from a long week, and this new offering from the weird genre of monster girl anime is just what every anime fan needs.  I earlier gave some (extremely) slight praise to Fuuka for how down-to-earth some of its over-the-top plot points are handled.  Here, I’m giving Interviews with Monster Girls high praise for that exact thing.  How does a teenage vampire with an absurdly upbeat personality deal with her blood-cravings?  By drinking from government-issued blood bags and occasionally nibbling on her twin sister’s arm, of course.  Does a dullahan want to make jokes about her disembodied head?  Can a snow woman make friends even though she’s worried about freezing the people around her?  Yes!  It’s great seeing these odd situations being handled like somewhat normal teenage problems with advice from your resident bulky teacher.

And if you don’t feel for the plight of Sakie Satou, the succubus teacher, then you are the true monster.  (Also, Sakie is best girl.  Even if we’re just six episodes in.)

3) Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid

miss-kobayashis-dragon-maid

What’ll anime think of next?

Kobayashi is an office worker with a penchant for drinking and an obsession with maids.  Imagine her surprise then, when she wakes up one morning after getting quite plastered to find a maid at her apartment.  Well, she actually finds a dragon who turns into a maid.  Her name is Tohru, and it looks like Kobayashi saved her while she was blackout drunk.  Kobayashi’s kindness and ranting about maids made Tohru fall in love with the office worker and convinced her to serve Kobayashi as her very own maid.  Kinda makes you wanna go out drinking more often, huh?

Two monster girl anime in one season and they’re both good?  What madness be this?  Yes, I like Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid a smidgen more than Interviews.  Mainly because I feel like it does a little more with its premise than its fellow monster girl show.  Also, it’s good to have you back, KyoAni.  I was scared off thanks to Beyond the Boundary and Myriad Colors Phantom World.  But this proves to me you still have good within you.  And I gotta tell ya, when KyoAni is having fun, you can definitely tell.  This show is just dripping with charm.  The characters are so lovingly animated, and the scenes where the dragons display their powers are some of the finest feasts your eyes can have.  I have faith in KyoAni again.

2) KonoSuba 2

konosuba-2

Question: Which one is the most competent?  Answer: No.

When last we saw our heroes, Kazuma Satou was being brought up on charges of blowing up the house of a local noble and allying with the forces of the Devil King.  Season two picks up with his party letting him take the fall and the town too scared to stand up for him.  It’s fine, though.  He shouldn’t have expected any different.  And hey, little things like possible treason, rogue Devil King generals, and rampaging lizard monsters aren’t enough to deter our woefully unqualified band of heroes.  They’re too dumb to realize when it’s time to quit.  Sometimes.

I guess I watched season one of KonoSuba before I started trying to write more on this blog.  Otherwise, I’m positive I would’ve written about this anime before because I love it.  I’ve seen a lot of comedy anime that make me smile when their jokes come around, but season one of KonoSuba consistently made me laugh hard.  And season two is no different.  Kazuma’s scumbag tendencies, Aqua’s inability to not screw everything up, Megumin’s steadfast refusal to learn different spells despite her potentially vast power, and Darkness’s determination to be punished at every turn rarely ever fail to make me laugh.  This show also has the best facial expressions out there, and don’t you dare let anyone else tell you otherwise.  Give it a watch.  You’re bound to laugh.

1) Descending Stories: Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu

descending-stories-shouwa-genroku-rakugo-shinjuu

Let me tell you a story.

In season one we saw Yakumo Yurakutei tell his apprentice Yotaro and his adopted daughter Konatsu the story of his days as Kikuhiko with Konatsu’s parents Sukeroku and Miyokichi.  Season two jumps farther ahead with Yotaro moving up in the ranks of the rakugo world and Konatsu with a baby boy.  Yakumo is even older and more jaded, and he seems determined to have rakugo die with him.  Those closest to him refuse to let him have his wish, though, so the old man can’t be done just quite yet.

I meant to write about season one in a post about all the anime I’ve watched outside of Seasonal Sawce and the Summer of Anime, so I haven’t yet had a chance to gush about this anime.  Allow me to gush:  The first season is quite possibly the best anime of 2016.  Really only JJBA: Diamond Is UnbreakableRe:Zero, and Mob Psycho 100 give it a run for its money, and even though I love those three to pieces, I still might side with Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu.  It’s not the best-looking or the best-animated, but I’ll be damned if you can find something with better characters or understanding of what art means to its audience.  I thought the first season was squandering its potential greatness by leaving the ex-con-turned-storyteller plot to tell the one about his master.  I was so wrong.  But now, with Descending Stories, we get to follow that ex-con.

I don’t know what all I want to say about the first six episodes of this second season.  I know that even though I look forward to this anime more than I do any other I’m watching it’s still hard to watch new episodes.  And that’s because this anime elicits so much emotion from me.  This show has been so good about getting the audience invested in these characters and what will happen to them next.  They’re so well-done I feel like I know them.  And really, that’s when anime–and rakugo–is at its finest.

Well, that’s all I’m writing for this Seasonal Sawce.  I do feel bad ‘cuz I don’t feel like I properly explained why Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu deserves every bit of praise it gets, but maybe I’ll revisit that down the line when I’m a better writer.  Hopefully, I’ll be writing some more things on this blog in the near future, but I feel like I always say that.   Ah well.  Seasonal Sawce will return in a month and some change when most of these shows wrap up.

Peace out, and stay bizarre.

Seasonal Sawce: Fall Back Into Anime 2016, Part 1

I’m back!

Yeah, no real reason why it’s been so long since I’ve written something for this blog.  Just…laziness.  And that laziness is what’s led me to return by falling into a familiar post–Seasonal Sawce!

I do intend to branch out more (still working on that reading list, gotten some comics I’d like to write about, watched some neato shows, etc.), but we’re sticking with anime this time.  As with previous Seasonal Sawces, I will talk about the various anime I’m watching that started this season now that they’re all at least six episodes in (so still no Diamond is Unbreakable or Days) in order of the ones I’m the least hype for every week to the ones I’m most hype for every week.

This is a bit of an odd duck season since I think I love almost everything I’m watching.  That’s a bit of a rarity for me.  Well, let’s get on with it!

10) Izetta: The Last Witch

izetta-the-last-witch

That is her broom stick!… I’ve made this joke before, haven’t I?

In a world not quite like ours, not quite Germany is running rampant in not quite World War 2.  The powerful Germania has so far left wee little neighboring principality Eylstadt alone, but the people and its rulers are all too aware of how vulnerable they are.  Thus, the tomboy Princess Ortfine has gone to seek help from the remaining European countries that still oppose Germania.  The not Nazis are aware of her plans, though, and wind up capturing her.  In a desperate attempt to escape, Fine accidentally frees a red-haired girl the Germanians were transporting to their homeland.  Luckily for the princess, this redhead is Izetta–Fine’s childhood friend and possibly the last witch alive.  Riding an anti-tank rifle in place of a broom, Izetta flies to Eylstadt’s aid in hope of turning the tide of the war and saving the world…or at least Europe.

Even though this is in the tenth spot, don’t be fooled.  Izetta: The Last Witch is a pretty fun watch.  Izetta herself is the highlight of the show.  Growing up being forced to hide her powers has allowed her to become a humble and fairly crafty individual.  See, she can only use her magic in certain places, so in the instances when she’s running low she has to improvise.  Also, her powers look really damn good in this show.  Like, there’s one scene where she’s flying through a battlefield with three tanks hovering around her.  Aside from Izetta, though, there’s not much great here.  I like Fine, and who doesn’t love the teasing between the two female leads?  (One of two such shows I’m watching this season…not for that reason, though.)  The downtime moments are fine, but the fighting is where this anime shines for me.

9) Flip Flappers

flip-flappers

No, I don’t know why it has that name.

Cocona is in her second year of middle school, and her quiet life with her grandmother suits her just fine.  Then Papika shows up, and Cocona’s quiet life gets quite loud.  Somehow, when the two are together they can open a door to “Pure Illusion”–a different dimension or world that seems to have different realms with different rules.  Papika is able to convince Cocona to stick with her and find the magical “Shard of Mimi” that can allegedly grant any wish.  Cocona eventually agrees since it is just a little fun, but there’s an opposing faction also searching for the Shard, which means Pure Illusion might be a little more dangerous than the girls thought.

I’mma be real here–I’m not entirely sure what’s supposed to be happening in this show.  Like, the organization Papika works for is called FlipFlap, and the employees don’t really seem to know what they’re doing, but they also seem to know a lot more than they’re letting on.  Oh, I think “FlipFlap” is also the word Cocona and Papika use to transform into magical girls in Pure Illusion to collect the shards of the Shard…or maybe they’re all Shards of Mimi.  And Cocona has this weird pet rabbit-thing that’s shaped like a sack and named Uexkull.  She also has this weird recurring dream about being in a boat with what might be a faceless girl.  I just…I don’t know what’s going on most of the time in this show.  Why do I like it more than Izetta?  Probably because it is so weird.  There is something about Flip Flappers, but I can’t put my finger on it.  Maybe it’s all the bright colors and art style.  Maybe it’s the random weirdness found in different areas of Pure Illusion.  I don’t know, but I am really enjoying it.

8) Occultic;Nine

occulticnine

The semi-colon means it’s good!

Kirikiri Basara is a blog dedicated to aggregating news of and discussing the occult.  It’s run by 17-year-old NEET Yuuta Gamon who is joined by his absurdly well-endowed friend Ryoka Narusawa.  He hopes to make enough money with clickthroughs on his page so that he can continue his NEET-y ways even though he doesn’t believe in the occult.  Unfortunately, thanks to his website, Yuuta’s life gets entwined with a number of offbeat individuals such as the first-year fortune teller Miyuu Aikawa, possible black magic user Aria Kurenaino, super-realist college student Sarai Hashigami, and future-seeing doujin creator Ririka Nishizono.  A few others wind up getting involved in the strange goings-on of the city as a professor getting murdered could somehow be connected to 256 bodies being found in a lake.  To quote the great Barbossa, “You best start believing in ghost stories…you’re in one!”

I’m drawn to mysteries.  Can’t really help it.  Also, this is from the creator of Steins;Gate, one of my favorite anime, so I had to check it out.  Occultic;Nine is…not easy to follow.  I think there are somewhere around nine or ten characters that are introduced and followed around a bit just in the first episode.  Yuuta and Ryoka also talk entirely too fast when they’re on screen together.  I mean, I’m a fan of the Monogatari franchise, but even I can’t understand what’s being said between those two most of the time.  Also, Ryoka seems to have an actual ray-gun.  Don’t know if that’s relevant or a quirk.  Despite those complaints, I eagerly await every episode (especially after the last episode).  I love the way it looks, it has a great OP, and the mystery of just what the hell is going on has got me in there.  Hopefully the semi-colon won’t lead me astray.

7)  Drifters

drifters

I would’ve called it “Tokyo Drifters,” but that’s just me.

At the Battle of Sekighara, Shimazu Toyohisa died.  Or so we’ve always thought.  In actuality, before he dies, Toyohisa finds himself in a brightly lit corridor full of doors.  In front of him is a bespectacled gentleman by the name of Murasaki sitting at a desk.  Before Toyhisa can find out what’s happening, he’s sucked into one of the doors which deposits him in a world inhabited by elves, dwarves, hobbits, and other such fantasy creatures.  He’s soon cared for by Oda Nobunaga and Nasu no Yoichi–two other displaced figures from Japanese history.  The three don’t know it yet, but they are “Drifters,”  and it is the hope of the Octobrist Organization–a group of native magicians–that the Drifters can defeat the deadly “Ends”–another gathering of historical figures from our world possibly led by Jesus–and their monster army.  The Octobrists didn’t quite count on the fact that the Drifters themselves might be just as hungry for conquest as their nefarious counterparts.

As shameful as it is for me to say, I’ve not yet watched Hellsing, so I didn’t go in with that behind me (same creator and all that).  Pleased to say, though, that I still like Drifters a helluva lot.  Toyohisa is the right mix hotheaded, blood-thirsty, and noble, and the crafty Nobunaga and mischievous Yoichi give the trio a great balance.  I love the idea, too, with historically not too good people as the heroes (the Drifters include Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid) and the villains being generally heroic or sympathetic figures such as Joan of Arc and Anastasia (also, you know…they might be led by Jesus).  There are exceptions to both sides, but it’s still neat to see this take on these people and their lives after their supposed deaths.  The anime is this low on my list because the plot doesn’t capture me as much as I want it to, and the seemingly endless shifts from the serious art-style to the comedic one may induce whiplash in certain viewers.  Don’t know if Hellsing has the latter problem, but I hope it won’t stick around too long here.

6) Girlish Number

girlish-number

I guess the number is five.

College student Chitose Karasuma is confused as to why she isn’t a big deal yet.  Like, she’s already been in the anime voice-acting world for a whole year.  She should be famous by now.  For some reason, though, she’s still only landing bit-parts.  She blames her older brother Gojo’s managing, but in reality, she should thank him for the minor roles she’s been getting.  See, Chitose isn’t actually talented…at all.  She’s just cute.  And devilishly lucky.  This luck is what winds up allowing her to land the lead in an upcoming anime also starring a couple of her rookie friends and two veteran actresses she’s acquainted with.  The vets realize what’s going on with the shoddy production, but Chitose is finally the star she should have always been, so she’s making the most of it…kind of.

I was going to pass on this one, but I found out the creator of this story is none other than Wataru Watari–the man who’s responsible for Oregairu, a series I love to pieces.  And once again, the man’s characters have gotten me.  These girls are not exactly good people (except for best girl Koto Katakura) and neither are the people around them.  From the men in charge who decide to cast good-looking rookies in a bid to bank on the light novel and idol crowds all the way down to the grunts working on it–these people know they’re in an industry they can either manipulate or can’t change and just do whatever they can to thrive within the system.  It’s similar to Hachiman’s approach to high school life in Oregairu, but it seems to be a bit more genuine in Girlish Number.  I dunno.  You can almost feel the real frustration behind every joke of the producer hand-waving whenever a problem arises, and there are always problems.  It’s a funny series with an enjoyable cast of somewhat awful people who have resigned themselves to their fates…except for Koto Katakura.  She’s an angel.

5) Tiger Mask W

tiger-mask-w

TORA!

Forty years ago the diabolical wrestling organization Tiger’s Den was dismantled by one of their own–the legendary Tiger Mask.  Flash-forward to present day and Tiger’s Den has returned and is secretly in charge of Global Wrestling Monopoly.  The GWM is well-known for taking out other wrestling companies, but their actions will no longer go un-checked!  Unbeknownst to them, the son of one of their victims, Takama Fuji, has infiltrated their ranks and taken over the mantle of Tiger the Dark.  They hope he will be the leader of the next generation of Tiger’s Den wrestlers, but his true aim is to take them down from the inside.  It is his friend Tiger’s Den and GWM must truly fear, though.  For the young Naoto Azuma has also vowed to defeat them and went through hellish training of his own, but he has chosen a different mask to wear in his battles.  Now, almost 40 years later, Tiger Mask has returned to the ring!

Haven’t written about it in a while, but I love wrestling.  Everything about it is just engrossing.  The history, characters, stories, matches, promos…I love it, Maggle!  So, an anime that treats pro wrestling as 100% legit is always something I’ll check out.  I’ll admit, objectively speaking, Tiger Mask W ain’t that good.  At all.  It oozes cheapness, and the plot is often as basic as you could expect.  But, hot damn, I love this anime.  If it didn’t have the legacy character conceit (might be using that term right), then I might not be that interested.  Legacy characters are great, though.  I love them in comics, I love them in wrestling, so, of course, I love them in anime.  Every week I’m so excited to see where the Tigers’ respective paths will take them.  Also, as serious as everything is treated in this world, it is great that Tiger Mask’s agent (and love interest) has a subplot of realizing she needs to make Tiger Mask merch to sell at New Japan shows.  This show just scratches an itch I didn’t know I had.

4) WWW.Wagnaria!!

www-wagnaria

Time for a slice of life pie.

First-year high-schooler Daisuke Higashida’s father’s business went bankrupt, so now he’s looking for a part-time job to pay for his personal expenses.  This is what leads him to the local Wagnaria restaurant.  Even though he’d rather not work and focus on his studies instead, Daisuke is hired and enters the world of quirky co-workers and equally as strange customers.  Even when dealing with a girl who can see ghosts but doesn’t believe in them or a woefully in-debt male host, Daisuke thinks he can make it.  It isn’t until the chief waitress Hana Miyakoshi has him try her chocolate, which is so bad it sends him close enough to death to meet Saint Valentine in Heaven, that Daisuke realizes just what he’s gotten himself into.

I love the three seasons of the Wagnaria!! anime.  It might be my favorite slice of life romcom (that’s off the top of my head, so don’t quote me on it).  The cast and the restaurant just felt like home to me, so I was obviously eager to check out this spin-off (I know the manga came first, but hey, it was second getting an anime).  I’m glad to say I haven’t been disappointed.  The characters all feel pretty different from the main cast, and time moves much more swiftly, so the restaurant doesn’t even feel the same.  There aren’t many jokes that make me laugh out loud, but I am often smiling throughout entire episodes.  Would I watch WWW.Wagnaria!! if I wasn’t such a fan of the original?  I’m confident in saying yes.

3) Keijo!!!!!!!!

keijo

Where ya booty game must be strong.

Keijo is a new form of gambling that was created at the dawn of the 21st century.  It is a women-only sport where swimsuit-clad competitors try to knock their opponents off of a floating platform known as a “Land,” but the athletes are only allowed to use their breasts or buttocks to do so.  Nozomi Kaminashi is a gifted gymnast who passes on her dream of competing in the Olympics in order to go pro in Keijo where the money is much better so she can get her family out of poverty.  Joining her at Keijo school is her best friend and judo prodigy Sayaka Miyata as well as their new roommates Kazane Aoba and Non Toyoguchi.  Together, the four aim to move up to the Elite Class and eventually become Prize Queens in the world of professional Keijo.

So…this anime is actually better than it has any right to be.  Did I decide to watch this because I knew the premise would lead to copious amounts of fan-service?  Yes.  Yes, I did.  But, I am so glad there’s more heart to the show than that.  At least, I think there is.  This is very much a sports/fighting anime that just so happens to star hot girls in swimsuits.  It knows what it is and revels in it.  Sure, there are corners cut here and there, and the downtime in between matches can get a bit too…down?  But, the characters, their abilities, and the fights!  Lordamercy, the fights!  They’re so good!  This anime is as ridiculous and over-the-top as some of the finest sports and martial arts series out there, and I am beyond thankful for it.  I mean, I was genuinely invested the matches where the four heroines took on Elite Class students.  I know I didn’t see that coming.  I hear the manga is even better, so I hope that finds its way to American shores, too.  Also, one of the characters uses the move “Shoryucans.”  How can you not love that?

2) Yuri!!! On Ice

yuri-on-ice

More like “Yaoi!!! On Ice,” am I right?

At 23 years of age, Yuri Katsuki is Japan’s top figure skater.  Or at least he was.  A year ago, Yuri suffered a defeat at his first Grand Prix Final.  His penchant for easily succumbing to pressure leads to this being the first of many such losses as he enters depression and contemplates retiring from figure skating.  Finally returning to his home after five years, Yuri goes to the local ice rink–where he trained nonstop as a child–to visit his childhood friend Yuko.  There, out of competition, Yuri flawlessly performs for her one of his idol Victor Nikiforov’s complex winning routines.  What he didn’t know is that Yuko’s three girls filmed the whole thing and uploaded it to the internet.  This catches the eye of Victor who is also contemplating retirement due to age and losing inspiration since he’s been on top for so long.  Thus, Yuri comes home to his family’s hot spring hotel one day to find Victor buck naked in one of said hot springs where he proudly proclaims he will be Yuri’s coach!

Boy, I never would’ve thought I’d love a figure skating anime this much.  Then again, anime is good about that.  Sports anime just hit that sweet spot with me.  But, Yuri!!! On Ice isn’t your run-of-the-mill sports show.  Yes, it has the great lead characters, great rivals, and great routines, but everything here is done better than most sports anime.  Yuri’s anxiety and Victor’s brush with depression coupled with a burning desire to win once they meet is powerful.  The routines themselves are also beautiful.  My jaw has been open on more than one occasion watching these.  The comedy almost always hits, and the heart in this anime is full-throttle when it needs to be.  I can’t wait to see how this series unfolds.  A well-done sports anime gets you on the edge of your seat for the big matches, and this one is no exception.

Which brings me to….

1) Haikyuu!! Third Season

haikyuu-third-season

I’ve been waiting for this moment for all my life…or at least a couple years.

Karasuno vs Shiratorizawa in the finals of the Inter-High.  Tobe!

Is this a cheat because it’s the third season of a series I love?  No!  Because it’s my blog, and I make the rules!  Anyway, yeah, words cannot properly describe my hype every week for this show.  It’s only ten episodes, but it’s the whole match.  The match I thought I’d never look forward to or see when I first started this show.  But, the beginning of the second season set the stage so well for this match.  It’s the finals!  It’s been established over and over that Shiratorizawa’s ace Ushijima is damn near unstoppable, and the OP drives home that fact as the mountain Karasuno faces turns into a giant eagle and then Ushijima.  But, sticking with the OP, at no point is Karasuno discouraged.  Their spirit is indomitable, and together, the crows plan the mob the top school and take the mountaintop for themselves.  And it’s not just the match itself.  There have been so many moments this season already that are among some of my favorite for the whole series.  It’s just…it’s amazing.  The characters, the animation, the hype.  Definitely my favorite of the season.

And there you have it!  Yes, I am most certainly aware my top five is dominated by sports shows, but hey, you love what you love.  There are a few others airing this season I’ll probably check out sometime down the road.  That’s a problem for future Sawcy (boy, that guy must hate me).

Peace out, and stay bizarre.

I Laika a Lot

kubo-770x470

If you must blink, do it now.

I think it’s pretty clear to tell from what all I’ve posted on this blog that I love anime.  But here’s the thing–I love animation.  Period.  Be it from the east, west, north, south, past, present, future, over, under, or whatever.  I often hear people say they don’t want to watch western cartoons because anime is “superior,” that 2D will always be better than 3D, or that modern cartoons can’t live up to the old ones, and vice versa for all.  There are valid points to be made in each of those arguments, but I feel like we can’t discriminate against entire fields of work–especially in a medium we love.  I’ll admit, I sometimes favor certain films or shows over others because of how they look, but I’ll just about always give a piece of animation a shot if it seems interesting.  Why?  Because I love animation.  And if you, dear readers, love animation, too, then you owe it to yourself and the medium to check out Laika’s films.

Now, this is mainly going to be about Kubo and the Two Strings.  It’s just that I re-watched Laika’s other three movies this week, and I want to talk about them for a bit.  Laika is…ridiculous.  I fully believe the behind-the-scenes special features on their blu-rays exist solely to try and convince people they’re not wizards.  The Other Mother after she’s dropped all pretense?  Magic.  Lightning witch Agatha?  Magic.  Archibald Snatcher’s mech?  Magic.  The entirety of Kubo?  Magic.  These people are fantastic at their craft, and I truly believe their stop-motion films are the best we’ve ever seen.  I enjoy The Nightmare Before Christmas, and I tend to like Aardman’s stuff.  Laika’s just on another level.

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Pay careful attention to everything you see…

I’m even including The Boxtrolls in that estimation, and that’s my least favorite film of theirs.  I like Boxtrolls–I really do.  I’ll even say it’s good.  In terms of story, atmosphere, and characters, though, it just doesn’t live up to what Laika did before.  But it is good.  I actually liked it more the second time I watched it.  I chuckled when I was supposed to, and I just appreciated the work that went into it more.  Plus, Sir Ben Kingsley as Snatcher is positively great.  Now, if I say their third film is my least favorite but it’s still good, then how do I feel about the first two?

Honestly, Coraline and ParaNorman are two of the greatest animated films out there.  Yes, there are some plotting problems, but they’re both fantastic.  Coraline is a wonderful modern fairy tale that still creeps me out.  I can’t look into the button eyes of the Other characters and not be unnerved.  Plus, the movie reminds me a lot of Psychonauts.  I don’t know if that’s just me or not, though.  As for ParaNorman…it’s my favorite of the three.

I love how the movie looks–even moreso than Coraline.  Laika nailed the small town of Blithe Hollow and all its inhabitants.  I feel the movie has more charm than the other two, and I enjoy the spoofs/homages to ’80s horror–even though that era is extremely far from my forte.  ParaNorman really works because of how surprisingly dark it is.  If you haven’t seen it, I won’t spoil it here, but the truth of the witch’s curse is legitimately poignant.  Also, I know this is especially weird, but it reminds me of one of the Scooby-Doo movies I really love, Scooby-Doo and the Witch’s Ghost.  Yeah, I have no excuse for that.

With all that said, how does their fourth outing, Kubo and the Two Strings, fare?  Really damn well.

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…no matter how unusual it may seem.

Laika’s latest movie follows Kubo–an eyepatch-wearing young boy who lives in a cave with his mom.  Kubo spends a lot of time taking care of her since she suffered a pretty bad head injury many years prior, so she’s only cognizant for a few hours each day.  When he’s not doing that, though, he ventures to the little nearby village and tells the story of the mighty samurai Hanzo in his struggle to save his family from the dreaded Moon King while playing his shamisen.  The town is enthralled by his tale since his playing is how he channels his magic, and he uses said magic to make little paper creations act out the samurai’s journey.  He’s free to do this as long as he follows three rules:  He must always wear his father’s robe, he must always keep a little monkey charm with him, and he must never be out after dark.

His mother set these rules in place because he’s actually the son of the hero in his story, Hanzo, and the grandson of the villain, the Moon King.  Kubo accidentally stays outside after dark one day because he tried talking to his father’s spirit during a local festival.  His grandfather finally sees him and sends Kubo’s aunts (who look amazing) to bring the boy back so that he may remove Kubo’s other eye.  Kubo’s mother will have none of it, though, and she uses the last of her magic to send Kubo far away and to bring to life the monkey charm Kubo always keeps with him.  They’re tasked with finding the pieces of a legendary armor so that they can defeat the Moon King once and for all.  Along the way they’re joined by a cursed beetle-samurai who once served Hanzo.  Beautiful stop-motion ensues.

I hinted at it earlier, but Kubo is by far and away the best-looking Laika film.  This is just straight-up one of the year’s prettiest films.  I actually can’t think of anything that compares.  Kubo’s mother’s display of magic in the beginning, the giant skeleton, the creature with all the eyes, and just every-damn-thing else.  Nothing in this movie looks average.  It’s all top-notch.  Their first three films look great, but Kubo legitimately trumps them.  I want to give a special shout-out to Kubo’s aunts right quick.  They are excellently designed, their fights are cool as hell, and their creepy-factor might put them up there with the Other Mother.

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If you look away, even for an instant…

Also, let’s bring up a couple of things that run through all of Laika’s films:  The excellent voice acting and the plotting troubles.  Laika’s first three movies all have great casts, and Kubo is no exception.  Art Parkinson, Charlize Theron, Matthew McConaughey, Ralph Fiennes, and Rooney Mara just kill it.  Also like the others, though, the plot isn’t as strong as I’d hoped.  There are a few things you can call right off the bat.  But, like with ParaNorman, there’s also enough to surprise you.  And, when it’s pulled off so well and looking that good, sometimes you can forgive it.

Guy and gals and everything in between and beyond, I love this movie.  When it’s all said and done, I think I still like ParaNorman more, but I’ve also only seen Kubo once.  This isn’t just Laika’s best-looking film yet, but it’s also the most visually astonishing movie this year.  The great atmosphere and characters also add to its greatness, and even though its plot is sometimes very predictable, the movie’s strengths and one or two surprises within the story more than make up for whatever shortcomings it has.

Kubo and the Two Strings is one of the best movies to come out this year, and I implore you all to go and see it.

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…then our hero will surely perish.