2017 Summer of Anime – Gundam Build Fighters

8 Gundam Build Fighters

Hey, you got your Yu-Gi-Oh in my Gundam!

In what may arguably be the best timeline, the invention of Plavsky particles has changed the world.  How?  These particles allow Gundam model kits (Gunpla) to essentially come to life and duke it out on mini-battlefields.  They recreate lasers and explosions and everything!  The world is currently in its second Gunpla Boom, and Sei Iori–one of Gundam’s most avid fans–is aiming to win the eighth Gunpla World Tournament.  The kid’s got a lot going for him:  His father placed second in a previous tournament, he’s acknowledged as one of the best Gunpla builders in town, and he has an encyclopedic knowledge of the franchise.  Only problem is Sei can’t control Gunpla to save his life.  He’s regularly beaten by local Gunpla players, and one is even demanding Sei’s newest creation so he can use it in the World Tournament.  Things turn around, though, when a brash individual named Reiji intervenes and demonstrates his unbelievable fighting ability while controlling Sei’s Build Strike Gundam.  Sei realizes with his masterful building and Reiji’s excellent controlling, they might just have a shot at winning the Gunpla World Tournament.

Y’all, this anime is fun.  Sure, I’m probably a little (a lot) bias since I love Gundam, but this was a blast to watch.  It’s not just that it’s a Gundam show that got me interested.  Gundam Build Fighters is very much in that same vein as Yu-Gi-Oh!BeybladeDuel Masters, etc.  Some innocuous toy/game for children has found not only a new life, but a sort of dominance in another world where its popularity is all-encompassing.  I love these anime where societies seemingly run off toys.  Like, the biggest thing in this world is a tournament where people bring their custom Gundam model kits and fight each other like they’re real Gundams.  It really is almost like Sunrise going, “You see how much cooler the world could’ve been if you people had just loved Gundam more?!”  Fascinating.

That being said, a lot of the problems with Build Fighters stems from the fact that it is one of those shows.  You just know how a lot of it is going to play out.  Granted, there was a baseball match in the World Tournament that caught me off guard, but you really knew every story beat.  You knew which rivals were going to be fought in which order, you knew exactly when so-and-so would find out whatever secret, you knew this particular thing would happen to that particular character, and so on and so forth.  That’s not to say this was a big detraction for me.  I wholeheartedly believe you can use every trope in the book if you pull them off well, and–for the most part–Build Fighters did.

The aforementioned rivals were varying degrees of good to great.  Mao Yasaka probably got the shaft in that respect since he turns into a bit of a joke, but his Gunpla building is on par with Sei’s, and I love the Crossbone Gundam Maoh.  Nils Nielsen had one of my favorite Gunpla in the series with Sengoku Astray.  His only real competition in my book comes from “The Italian Dandy” Ricardo Fellini and his Wing Gundam Fenice.  To me, those two have the most personality out of every other Gunpla in the series.  Their fights against Sei and Reiji are also some of the best, as well.  The two most powerful rivals, Aila Jyrkiainen and Tatsuya Yuuki (the Char), were pretty great as fighters, but they’re Gunpla didn’t reach the level of cool for me that Wing Fenice and Sengoku Astray did.  Bonus points to Yuuki for having “Amazing” in all of his Gunpla’s names, though.

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Top contender for Best Anime Mom.

The other characters were a lot of fun, too.  The fine woman in gif form above is Sei’s mom Rinko Iori, and she is a delightful character.  They could’ve had her just be there, but she is a genuine goofball and is ridiculously proud of her both her husband and her son.  She also shamelessly ships Sei with his class representative China Kousaka.  I wish there would have been more with China’s love of art, but I did appreciate it was never forgotten and her artist background is definitely present in her Gunpla.  The ever-present Ral was a big surprise.  My theory is he’s the Watcher of this universe since he’s present for damn near every plot-relevant event.  Man’s there to build him some Gunpla, watch some Gunpla fight, command the respect of everyone he meets, and let everyone know what’s going on.  Along with the truly comedic somewhat main antagonists, that rounds out the main cast.  They really are an enjoyable bunch.

Another thing that made me all fuzzy inside is just how many Gundam characters show up as background characters.  Sei’s dad sorta getting scolded by Char Aznable, the Kasshu family happily reunited and building Gunpla, Ramba freakin’ Ral himself as a main character, and many, many more.  I like the theory that this series is a sort of Valhalla for the Gundam characters.  In their series’, Gundams and mobile suits meant nothing but death and despair for their war-torn worlds.  Here, they can enjoy Gunpla and just live their lives.  They’ve earned it.

I think the cameos, the custom Gunpla, and other general references make this a pretty easy pick for any Gundam fan out there.  Add to that some fun characters, a Yu-Gi-Oh! style mentality toward children’s toys, and a gosh darn tournament…and you’ve got yourself some good watching.  All that said–and despite some genuinely hype moments in the big fights–it can get a smidgen too predictable.  But hey, it’s the enjoyable kind.  Giving it an 8.5!

And before I go, did you think I could end this article without posting a certain picture?  Of course not.

TOURNAMENT!

2017 Summer of Anime – Fight! Iczer-One

7 Fight! Iczer-One

The ’80s were a special time.

Unbeknownst to schoolgirl Nagisa Kanou, she is in danger.  Well, actually the whole world is in danger because it’s being invaded by the entirely female alien race known as the Cthulhu (or Cthuwulf) by way of the parasitic vedims, which are infecting and replacing humans all over.  But, Nagisa is specifically in danger thanks to the fact she’s been chosen by Iczer-One to be her partner.  Who is Iczer-One?  She is an android driven by the desire to defend the Earth from its invaders.  She’s powerful on her own, but in order to defeat the Cthulhu for good, Iczer-One needs Nagisa to love and synchronize with her to unlock her true potential.  Can Nagisa find it in her heart to help the person she believes has brought disaster into her life?  Kinda.

Two anime in a row with a main protagonist named Nagisa?  Pure coincidence, believe it or not.  I actually didn’t know much of anything about Fight! Iczer-One before watching it.  Bought it at Anime Weekend Atlanta last year because it was only $10 (hella affordable for the win) and I like ’80s/’90s sci-fi anime.  Just something about the way they look, ya know?  That’s my jam…wait.  I’ve said this before.

So yeah, Iczer-One.  It’s a’ight.  Nagisa is a bit of an annoying lead heroine, but so were a lot of lead heroines back then.  Also can’t really blame her for her attitude toward helping Iczer-One.  Yes, Iczer-One is trying to help the Earth and is all, “I love you, Nagisa,” but Nagisa’s life goes to hell thanks to that.  One could argue that would have happened anyway thanks to the alien invasion, but hey, Nagisa’s just a high-schooler.  Can’t really expect her to go into warrior mode at the flip of a switch.  Just would have been better had she shown some more backbone.

I like the titular Iczer-One, though.  Goofy outfit aside, she’s pretty cool.  Her antagonist “little sister” Iczer-Two wins in the outfit department, but I didn’t think she was as neat as Iczer-One.  Iczer-One had motivation and strength behind her, whereas Iczer-Two had the infallible “That’s what I do!” mentality.  Other villains were pretty meh.  Cobalt and Sepia were fine, Sir Violet didn’t do much, and Big Gold was…baffling.  Yes, its name is Big Gold, and it has ties to Iczer-One.  Which is another complaint of mine.  Their relationship wasn’t explained terribly well, and I had to read up on the series to understand just what had transpired between them.

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“Can’t wait to put her in that damn robot.”

Okay, let’s talk some more positives!  This OVA looks really cool.  (Le gasp, right?)  The characters, the aliens, and the backgrounds hit that sweet spot for me.  Oh, and the mechs!  They’ve got a sleek but powerful look to them.  I doubt they’re in the “Giant Robot Hall of Fame,” but I thought Iczer-Robo and Iczer-Sigma were legit.  Especially Iczer-Robo.  The heroines’ giant robot loses an arm at one point but it keeps on trucking through the rest of the OVA.  What a trooper.  The vedims are neat in a disturbing way.  I was getting some definite Dire Wraith vibes from them.  It was also pretty gruesome whenever they revealed themselves by tearing out their human skin.  Hadn’t watched an anime with that kind of body horror in a hot minute, so it really caught me off guard.  So yeah, if you’re interested in this series, watch out for that.

This being a sci-fi OVA from the ’80s with a mostly female cast, I wasn’t surprised at the amount of boobs that showed up on screen.  Was jarring once or twice, but for the most part the nudity was just there.  No titillation, really.  Just there.  Aside from Nagisa’s outfit after she agrees to help Iczer-One.  I’m not sure she wore a skirt so much as a washcloth wrapped around her waist.  Whoever designed that was definitely a leg man.  I actually found that more amusing than anything.

That might be all I have to say about Fight! Iczer-One.  I think the children would say shows like this are “my aesthetic.”  (Am I using that right, younglings?)  Main characters were mostly fine, it felt like an anime version of Rom: Spaceknight (I love me some Rom), and I love the way it looks.  But, every other character was just there to die, the Cthulhu were in desperate need of more backstory, Big Gold’s explanation was confusing at best, and the series felt a little too hollow.  It’s a 6 or 6.5 for me.  I do want to check out the two sequels, though.  One’s out of print, and the other is only on VHS, so it might be a while before that happens.

2017 Summer of Anime – Assassination Classroom

5 Assassination Classroom

Classassination time!… There’s a reason I don’t get to name things.

The 3-E class of Kunugigaoka Junior High is known not so lovingly as the “End Class.”  At the otherwise prestigious school, the students of 3-E are the ne’er-do-wells, hoodlums, and underachievers separated from the rest of the academy and placed on an adjacent mountain so that the main campus students can look down at and ridicule them.  Getting placed in 3-E is the most severe punishment at Kunugigaoka, but actually, the students there are having a great time now.  That’s because they’re being taught by the smiling, powerful yellow octopus-like being they’ve named Koro-sensei who destroyed 70% of the Moon.  He’s not just teaching them academic courses and life lessons, though.  He’s teaching them to be assassins because he will do to the Earth in one year’s time exactly what he did to the Moon unless someone can kill him.  The Japanese government and assassins from around the world have tried, but Koro-sensei believes he can train these kids to be the ones to kill him.  And that would make him the proudest teacher in the world.

Back in the long ago time of 2016, I read and wrote about the first volume of the Assassination Classroom manga right here.  The positives I talk about there hold true for the anime.  I genuinely love that Koro-sensei is aiming to make these kids as great as they possibly can be even while training them to kill him, and it’s that heart that makes this weird premise work.  Had this been just a straight up gag series or some edgy high school crap, it wouldn’t have gone too well.  It’s lighthearted while also allowing the characters to grow and learn in a semi-hostile environment.  It also gets pretty real at times, but that’s mostly in the second season.  I just wanna talk about the first season right now.

I do appreciate that levity I mentioned earlier, and it’s an absolute delight that each of the 26 students are legitimate individuals even if most have to blend into the background.  Those two things do lead to the first season feeling a little aimless, though.  Obviously, there is a goal in this series that drives the plot–kill Koro-sensei by March or he will destroy the world.  That’s ever-present, but it just seemed like the first season didn’t want to go anywhere until the last few episodes.  The general affability of Koro-sensei and his desire to help each of his students one-on-one make season one drag a smidgen.  It’s cute, but it doesn’t do too much.

I also think season one suffers by not having a clear main character student for a long time.  Sure, Nagisa Shiota is the main POV character, but he’s not really the main character for a good bit.  Maybe it does work best by having Koro-sensei be the main main character, but I would’ve liked Nagisa to be more active in the beginning.  When he does start stepping into that lead protagonist spot is when Assassination Classroom really gets going.

Those negatives out of the way, I did enjoy season one quite a bit on its own, and I’d probably give it an 8 out of 10.  The teachers (Karasuma and Professor Bitch are wonderful) and the students combine for an entertaining cast in weird, neat world.

6 Assassination Classroom Second Season

Cute, right?  They could kill us all.

Season two comprises the final 25 episodes of the show’s 47-episode run, and it is positively great.  Like, it’s really dang good.  Had season two been more of the same, I guess I would’ve been okay with it, but also let down.  Thankfully, the second season explores more of the darker elements in the series and really sees some of the characters go through the wringer.

Again, when Nagisa becomes more of a lead character, Assassination Classroom just shifts into a different beast.  At first, his effeminate look was a great gag, and his friends amused themselves by picking on him about it.  Finding out exactly why he looks the way he does, acts the way he does, and sees the world the way he does is one of the realest and most abrupt scenes I’ve seen in any anime.  My mouth actually dropped open.

Another time that happened to me?  Learning Koro-sensei’s past.  Yes, it hits all the feels, but watching him make the decision to become…him is a genuinely tender moment and just resonates so much with the character, his actions, and the themes of the story.  Like, even though the premise of the whole series is a bunch of students trying their darnedest to kill their teacher, it does a fantastic job of showing what students mean to their teachers and vice-versa.  And not just from Koro-sensei either.  Karasuma, Professor Bitch (her name’s Irina, but I do love her teacher name), a character who shall not be named, and even Principal Asano–one of the main antagonists–are so driven to educate the boys and girls in their classes that the students understand their efforts and often respond in kind.

The second season also benefits from having better antagonists.  Or more active antagonists, at least.  Sure, season one had that one crazy dude, Principal Asano, and class 3-A, but they didn’t feel like they really stepped into their roles aside from the first one.  The principal does become a big one in season two, and I wish I could talk about the others, but that would be some huge spoilers.  I try not to do that to you, dear reader.  Because doing that to you would be a d*ck move.

I know I’ve done nothing but gush about season two, but I just can’t give it a perfect score.  Despite it making me shed an actual tear.  It’s definitely a 9.  Might even be a 9.5.

The math probably doesn’t work (I have an English degree–I don’t math), but I’m giving the entire run of Assassination Classroom a 9 out of 10.  Some aimlessness and lack of legitimate conflict at the beginning are outshone by its immense heart and damn good characters.

2017 Summer of Anime – Anti-Magic Academy: The 35th Test Platoon

4 Anti-Magic Academy The 35th Test Platoon

Which of these girls is in love with him?  Yes.

Okay, so, in a world where magic exists, there’s this organization called the Inquisition that hunts down witches.  There’s even a school that teaches and trains the youngsters to become full-fledged Inquisitors, and said school accomplishes this by having the students form test platoons and carrying out small-scale missions to earn points.  One such test platoon is the 35th which is known as the “Small Fry Platoon” due to its pitiful number of members and points.  The team consists of short sniper Usagi Saionji, mad scientist and best girl Ikaruga Suginami, and team leader Takeru Kusanagi.  Takeru especially comes under a lot of fire for wielding a sword in a gun-dominated profession, and he has a habit of announcing himself at the beginning of every encounter.  Things look up for them, though, when disgraced, demoted Inquisitor Ouka Ootori is sent back to their school to join the 35th.  She’s a frigid one, though, and it’s up to the others to get her to warm up in hopes they can all pass and ya know…not die.

I know when I wrote about Akashic Records of Bastard Magic Instructor in the last Seasonal Sawce, I mentioned that I was tired of magical school shows.  Well, this one doesn’t count because it’s an anti-magical school show!  Ha!  Yeah, I wish that excuse worked here.  I honestly couldn’t tell you where the urge to suddenly watch Anti-Magic Academy: The 35th Test Platoon came from.  Maybe I felt like I hadn’t watched a trashy harem in a while.  Maybe the thought that the prodigy badass transferring in was actually a girl got me hoping it would be different.  Maybe it just felt like the right thing at the right time.  I don’t know.  Whatever it is, I’m here to tell you what I think about Anti-Magic Academy.  Spoiler alert–ain’t too good.

Anyone who’s read even a bit of this blog should know that I enjoy harem shows.  They’re just so easily digestible and often entertaining in both good and bad ways.  This one is a mixed bag.  For everything I liked about it, there were a couple I didn’t care for.  First off, the most glaring flaw is the plotting.  Now, I’m fine with four two-episode arcs, a standalone, and a final three-episode arc.  Nothing felt like it mattered, though.  Ouka opened up a bit more after her story and Takeru got a Battlizer.  Sure, that’s great.  Transfer witch student Mari Nikaidou sticks around after her two-parter.  Yeah, makes sense.  But, it seems like the characters don’t really change or grow other than Ouka being friendlier.  Usagi is no different after dealing with her almost-rapist fiance (yeah, that happened), and best girl Ikaruga is astonishingly the same after her arc.  And there was some dark crap in that one.  Spoilers coming for hers:  Her sister/clone was killed after telling her that a baby elf girl Ikaruga grew in their lab and hadn’t seen in years was still alive and with the enemy group Valhalla.  And there is no mention of this at all after those episodes.  Yes, the elf girl is seen at the end, but you’d think this would’ve been a big thing going forward.  Nope.

I could tell even before I read up on the series that a lot of stuff had been cut (ex. a two-episode tournament arc that started and ended out of nowhere with almost no explanation).  Nothing ever felt like it flowed, things just happened and characters just showed up without any build-up, and most everything felt superfluous.  I hate cutting the plot down like that, but it’s rough, y’all.  Fitting that a group called Alchemist is one of the antagonists since it’s like they turned gold into poop.  There is some good here, though.

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So nice, they made her twice.

As always, any anime that can give me a character I love to pieces will earn points with me.  Ikaruga’s story and character were just fun.  Yeah, both could’ve been more important overall, but I still liked her.  I actually liked most of the cast for the most part.  It’s just that none of them ever really got to shine.  All had some very unpleasant skeletons tucked in their closets, and I was surprised by how dark the anime could get.  Some of the dark moments did lead to some truly odd stuff later, though. (ex. Takeru’s rival gets a Battlizer that looks like an Accel World knock-off).  There are also hints at a cooler world in the series.  Again, the anime did an awful job of adapting that and dropping hints.  I could think of quite a few ways that finale could’ve been a heck of a lot better, but I’m supposed to be positive in this paragraph.  Like, Takeru being so used to the harem shenanigans around him that he one time immediately starts crying before anything happens to him.  It was funny.

Terrible handling of characters, baffling plot decisions, and a plain old fumbling of everything that could’ve made this one good…really keeps this one down.  Despite all that, I hesitate to call it straight-up bad.  I feel fine giving it a 6.  Gave me a character I really liked, and it got me to honestly laugh a couple times.  Yeah, there are plenty of shows that do this better, but I also think there are far more that do it worse.

2017 Summer of Anime – RideBack

3 RideBack

Someone get this woman a Yu-Gi-Oh deck.

Years before the beginning of the story, the Global Government Plan organization used new inventions called RideBacks to overthrow the existing world power to essentially control the world.  RideBacks are part-motorcycle, part-mech machines that soon find a foothold as both new weapons for law enforcement and vehicles for citizens to use under the GGP’s rule.  A college club dedicated to them is actually what pulls freshman Rin Ogata out of her haze.  She’s the daughter of a world-famous ballet dancer, and Rin had once been determined to follow in her footsteps.  After her mother’s death and tearing a ligament, though, Rin realized she could never attain that perfection and began wandering through life without a goal.  Her training as a dancer gives her the skill and balance to pilot a particularly temperamental RideBack named Fuego.  Rin’s new partner allows her to dance and shine once again, but it’s that very drive that leads to her getting entangled with the GGP, the rebel force BMA, and the Japanese government.

There are a few anime I’ve watched over the years that pulled me in just from their poster or promotional image or what-have-you.  RideBack is one such anime.  Years ago, I saw that image of the girl in the white dress sitting atop that red motorcycle/mech, and ever since then, I’ve wanted to watch RideBack.  Just something about the image’s simplicity.  Rin’s determined stare at the audience and Fuego’s clenched fists.  It stuck with me.  Did the anime live up that image that caught my eye?  Kinda, so let’s get into that.

Think I’ll start with my gripes to kick things off.  First, the characters can look a little wonky sometimes.  For the most part, they look fine.  The style and the animation go well together, but there are times when characters’ faces are a little too long or rounded and the camera has a tendency to linger on those shots.  It was off-putting, to say the least.  Second, the vast majority of the supporting cast gets almost no time to set themselves up.  Rin’s close friends fare pretty okay in those terms (especially arguable deuteragonist Tamayo Kataoka), but everybody else sorta gets shafted.  The main antagonist–new leader of the GGP, Romanov Kallenbach–did…something years ago to two other main-ish characters, but the audience never finds out what it was, why he did it, or why the two reacted so differently to it.  He also has an aide who has her own agenda and plays a pivotal role in the final confrontation, but I could not tell you with certainty what she was after and why.  Aside from Rin and a few of her people, the characters seem to be there just to be there most of the time.

The final main thing that bugs me about RideBack is the ending.  It was pretty underwhelming.  Now, there are aspects of it I like, and I’ll get into that, but it felt like something was missing to really hammer home the big climax of the series.  Reminded me a lot of Tokyo Majin in that way.  Mostly hype build-up, but the execution and payoff were lacking.  Let’s get positive now, though.

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You see how Rin was bobbin’ and weavin’?

I like Rin as a main character.  Yeah, she has a tendency to react instead of act, but part of her character development is realizing and changing that.  She starts having given up on a dream she had just so she could be like her mom, and then she gets on Fuego just because someone told her she should try it.  Rin’s letting others decide what she wants to do with her life and fears her being drawn to RideBacks is just an extension of that.  That’s why one of my favorite moments is the end (spoilers, I guess) when she decides to get on Fuego for one final ride to honor a friend.  She doesn’t help the BMA fight the GGP, she doesn’t just run away, she doesn’t do that for anyone else.  She does it because it’s what she genuinely wanted to do.  And, to complain about the ending again, she leads a bunch of RideBack drones in a dance of death that we only get to see snippets of.  Would’ve loved to have seen that.

The other character I really loved is Tamayo Kataoka.  She wasn’t that well-written or anything, but she’s one of the best RideBack riders (RiderBacks?) in the world and hey, dark-skinned anime girls are treasures.  Again, she should’ve been more important in the climax.  Okay, I’m going to try and not bring that up again.

The RideBacks themselves are super cool.  I love sports and mech anime, and this just combined the two to make neat robot/motorcycle thingies.  I know IGPX did it too, but there’s something about the freedom of the RideBacks that appeal to me more.  I do wish there could’ve been more races.  See, the first couple episodes are standard sports anime fare:  New student finds out they’re a prodigy at some sport, they prove themselves to the harsh member of the team, they train, they compete.  For a bit, I thought I’d misread the synopsis of RideBack.  Then one of Rin’s friends gets caught in a terrorist attack and everything changes.  I would have liked more of the competition stuff, but the shift into action/thriller anime was also welcome.

One more quick thing I loved:  The music.  The opening was done by MELL (she also did the amazing nonsense-laden OP for Black Lagoon), and Rin’s main motif is “Pictures at an Exhibition”–Jerry “The King” Lawler’s entrance music.  Great stuff.

I think a 7.5 suits this one pretty well.  I loved most everything about it, but everything I loved had some big problems I just couldn’t get over.  Certainly worth a watch, though.

2017 Summer of Anime – Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit

2 Moribito Guardian of the Spirit

Can I be the Sarah Connor to her Kyle Reese?

The people of the Shin Yogo Empire love their royal family–especially the Second Prince Chagum.  He’s only a kid, but all who live within and outside the palace admire him for his good heart and kindness toward all.  That’s why the kingdom is truly devastated when the young prince dies in a fire on palace grounds.  Well, that’s what they’re told.  In reality, Chagum was possessed by a water demon and–in order to avoid their heavenly lineage called into question–the Mikado (the king) and the Master Star Reader decided to have him killed.  Chagum’s mother found out about this plot and sought the aid of the mighty Kanbalan warrior woman Balsa.  Luckily for them, Balsa has taken a vow to save eight lives equal to the eight lives that were taken to ensure her safety years ago.  Chagum’s death is faked, and the bodyguard and her new charge escape.  Balsa’s eighth and final life to protect is Chagum’s, but the truth of what’s possessed the prince is vastly more important than anyone could have ever imagined.

Hey, look!  It’s that anime that aired on Adult Swim that one time!  Yeah, that’s essentially how I’ve always thought about Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit.  I remember catching the first episode back in the day and being bored by how slow it was.  Even though I remembered really liking Balsa’s character design, it took years before I finally decided to buy it while it was on sale.  And, I gotta say…I’m glad I did.

Moribito is set on a world that resembles feudal Japan a bit.  I actually thought it was set in Japan until they started talking about the worlds Nayug and Sagu and countries I’d never heard of.  That’s one thing I wish I’d known when I caught that first episode years ago.  Had I known this would be more fantasy-oriented, I think I would have stuck around.  And the mythology in this world is really cool.  The relation between the physical world Sagu and the other world Nayug, the truth behind Chagum’s situation, and the beliefs of the various people drew me in and kept me fascinated whenever they were brought up.  Learning about fictional cultures is awesome!  There is one other thing that kept me riveted to my sit for all 26 episodes–Balsa.

I love, love, love Balsa the spear-wielder.  She is such a great character.  Finally finding out her backstory of being raised by the warrior Jigoro was one of the highlights of the show for me.  She carries a great many scars from trying her hardest not to kill since killing someone while completing her vow of saving eight lives would taint that promise and make it pointless.  Balsa is a straight-up badass.  That’s why I also love her character design.  Yes, she is quite attractive, and that’s a plus, but just look at any picture of her and you can see the strength and power in the way she carries herself.  She very much reminds me of Wonder Woman in her build.  But she’s not just the warrior and bodyguard.  She comes to treat Chagum as sort of her child and even gives him a short sword when he turns 12 telling him that in her homeland this is usually a ceremony between a father and his son when he comes of age.  Balsa makes this anime.

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Beautiful.  Deadly.  Practical.

Now, yes, even when Balsa isn’t on screen the anime is enjoyable.  Chagum was surprisingly open-minded and eager to help, and their allies Tanda and Madame Torogai added a lot more than I expected.  I also appreciate to no end that very few–if any–characters were evil.  Chagum’s father ordered his assassination, but the Mikado truly believed what he was doing was right for the country.  We even see him cry and comfort one of his wives at one point.  Hell, the eight elite imperial guards sent after Balsa only want to kill her because they thought she looked down on them when she didn’t kill them in their first encounter.  There weren’t any power-plays going on in the court either.  Chagum’s older brother Sagum was heartbroken when he thought his brother died, and the main star reader we follow, Shuga, has no aspirations of taking anyone’s spot in the hierarchy.  These were a bunch of people who, although sometimes misguided, were mostly good and genuinely trying to do the right thing.  Refreshing when it comes to royal characters.

My biggest complaint about Moribito is that it is slow.  I did get invested enough in the characters to not mind the pace much, but I can’t overlook the leisurely stroll it takes most of the time.  I’ll give it credit that a couple of filler episodes do wind up playing a major part later (kinda like GunXSword).  Show definitely could’ve used some more fight scenes.  The action was so good!  Like, these are some of the best looking fights in any anime I’ve seen.  But there are only four or five episodes that have fights in them.  I’m not saying I need all violence all the time, but when your anime is that slow, your main character is that badass, and you’re capable of animating fights that look that great, then you really need to flaunt it more often.  Also, there’s a plot point where Balsa thinks she kills someone but she really didn’t that is never revisited, and I have no idea why.  Thought that would come back in a big way, but nope.

Despite the pace and seeming lack of conflict, I’m giving Moribito a 9.  The world, the characters, the few action scenes, and dat Balsa are more than enough for me to call this great.  If you didn’t finish it years ago on Adult Swim, give it another shot.  I doubt you’ll be disappointed.

2017 Summer of Anime – One Piece Film: Gold

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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.