the blog with a random title that is stupid and hard to remember

2 notes

Visual Novel Review: Killer Queen

13 people. 13 collars. 72 hours. Who will survive?

Killer Queen is a visual novel by FLAT that was released in 2006 for PC originally. According to Lemnisca, the group that translated it into English, Killer Queen was the first in the Secret Game series, meaning that it is not only the one with the least amount of budget, but also the one with the roughest edges. There are many assets of Killer Queen that make the game feel like a prototype or a rough draft for a much bigger game. That’s because it is—both Secret Game: Killer Queen and Rebellions: Secret Game 2nd Stage, the second and third games, apparently expound upon the concept and formula of the first game with much better results. I will not know for myself until Lemnisca finishes translating both those games, but after playing the prototype I’m pretty excited for what’s next.

Killer Queen’s concept is as follows: Soichi has lost his girlfriend, who meant everything to him. Now that she is gone from this world, Soichi looks for a way to reunite with her. He tries to find a place to die, where he can use his life for someone else and not have to commit suicide. He finds it a month later when he is kidnapped and taken to an abandoned building along with 12 other people, each with a collar around their neck and equipped with a PDA. If you fail to get out of the building in time, the collar will explode. If you enter an area deemed forbidden by the map on the PDA, your collar will explode. If you try to use your PDA to remove the collar before you’re supposed to, your collar will…guess what? You probably guessed right. Each PDA has been loaded with a number or letter corresponding to a deck of cards and displays the same rules: they must survive for 72 hours while trying to fulfill their release condition based on which card they have, most of which involve killing other players (for instance, the -Ace-’s condition is having to kill the owner of the -Queen-’s PDA, while the -9-’s condition is that all other players except the -9- die.) Others are related to collecting a certain number of collars and PDAs, or destroying them. What makes it interesting, though, is that some release conditions are as simple as surviving: one require you to simply go through all 24 checkpoints in the building and another just has you sticking with another player for 24 hours (but you have to be alive until the 71-hour mark). Each participant in the game has a different release condition, and depending on the one you’re dealt, you may have to buddy up with people who may stab you in the back or deceive everyone else to the point where it would be easy to pick them off. Oh yeah, and one other thing…someone in the game has been dealt an extra PDA called the -Joker-, which lets the user disguise their own PDA as someone else’s. Though Soichi’s card, by pure happenstance, requires him to kill, he refuses to do so, even if it means his own death. Rather, he ends up becoming Emiya Shirou and tries to protect every girl he sees, especially one that is the spitting image of his dead girlfriend…

First, let’s talk about what Killer Queen does right. The story, though not the greatest, is at least interesting. The plot twists…let’s face it, they’re going to be predictable for the most part (doubly so if you’ve ever experienced a Battle Royale-esque survival game story in your life), but some things might catch you by surprise if you’re not paying attention thoroughly. The mechanics of the game itself are really well thought out, especially with the addition of the Joker, which has everyone suspecting each other even further, and the “forbidden area” stipulation, which states that gradually, floor by floor, the entire building will become a forbidden area. Some participants pull some really clever tricks with these PDAs and with the environment, including one with an elevator shaft that I never would have thought of. The characters are…well, I won’t say they’re all likable, but some you’ll feel legitimate attachment towards, and some you might just love to hate. I ended up liking the main character and the heroines more than I thought though.

Now let’s talk about the less-than-great stuff. First of all, a lot of people are going to be put off by the art. It’s bad. It might not by Ryukishi07 bad, but at least Ryukishi’s art has charm, and this has none of it. It didn’t bother me all that much, honestly, having played games with way worse art than this, but it really hammers home how rough the entire game is. The interface is unremarkable and bland, and the title and menu screens are even blander, almost making the game look like it was made by a novice Ren’py user. There are two separate episodes in Killer Queen, and they don’t flow or connect together very well. Some questions are left unanswered or ignored. Not to mention the OP, which you are required to watch at the beginning, spoils some things, so that kind of sucks (though if you’re not looking for it you should be fine). Overall, it is a well-written game, but I just wish it was more cohesive, or that it had a “final episode” that tied everything together.

The last thing I want to mention is that this game is 18+ and, true to the developers’ name, there are lolis in it. If that bothers you, I would highly recommend turning the H-scenes off, which can be done through the Config screen. Though you will miss a bit of the impact of the story, I feel, you won’t really be missing too much, as the scenes are kind of gross and bizarre anyway. Also, as you might expect from a game where people’s heads get blown off, this game has explicit gore. There is a censorship patch available as well if that also bothers you. Though, if you’re not ready for sex, gore, and violence, you’re probably not ready for this game anyway.

So yeah, would I recommend this game? I’d have to give a definite “Maybe”. If you like survival game stuff, I would say it is worth playing for several reasons. Just keep your expectations moderate to low and you will probably have a good time.

Filed under visual novel review killer queen anime

4 notes

Visual Novel Review: Super Danganronpa 2


Hope and despair. Two sides of the same coin. It’s pretty obvious which one’s more desirable to most people. But how far are you willing to go to attain that hope? And what is “hope”, anyway? That’s an oddly subjective word, isn’t it? Couldn’t one person’s hope actually be ultimate despair for everyone? Could ultimate despair be nothing more than a stepping stone for hope to bloom? Maybe the emotions that create hope and the emotions that create despair are actually one and the same.

Super Danganronpa 2 begins just like the first one: Hajime Hinata is finally going to attend his dream school: Hope’s Peak Academy, the school for exceptionally talented students. But just as he’s about to walk through those doors on his first day, he experiences a gap in his memory that leaves him waking up in class with 15 other people. But rather than Monokuma, a stuffed rabbit shows up and introduces herself as Usami, the class’s homeroom teacher, and announces gleefully that the class will be taking a field trip to the remote Jabberwock Island. The classroom walls and ceiling unfold like a cardboard box to reveal—surprise—they’re already there! Usami explains the rules of the field trip and states that the main purpose of this trip is to have fun and enjoy each other’s company. All seems well until Monokuma crashes the party and turns Usami into one of his minions through excessive force, and from there the game plays out like the first one: Monokuma gives the class an incentive to kill, the killing happens, investigation mode starts, and then the class trial commences. 

If you’ve played the first game, you should know the Danganronpa drill: Once the killing happens, you will have to thoroughly search in and around the murder scene, as well as anywhere the victim might have been in the last hours of their life. After enough evidence is collected, the class trial will begin, during which the class will talk amongst each other, argue over each other, and eventually come to a consensus about who the murderer is, at which point the murderer will be executed. Your job as Hajime during these trials is to use logic bullets to blow holes in your classmates’ theories, cover-ups and just straight-up nonsense to reach the truth.

The cast of characters this time around is once again a hodgepodge of strange people all with different personalities and talents, but the characters in this game are overall way better in my opinion. Maybe that’s because the talents they all have are more varied and off-the-wall (Ultimate Traditional Dancer, Ultimate Team Coach, Ultimate Photographer, Ultimate Cook, to name a few), or maybe it’s because many of them are more charming. Of course, though, there are the one-note characters whose only real purpose is to throw out the same gag repeatedly until their inevitable execution. Those who have played the game will probably know who I’m referring to. Monokuma, being a returning character, is just the same as ever…or is he? I actually felt like in this game, he provides more comic relief than he did in the first game. Actually, to me the game as a whole felt more light-hearted and tongue-in-cheek than the first. 

The remote island location lends itself well to the game. There are a wide variety of interesting and unique locales on the island, meaning that the murders are never boring. However, the island consists of 5 separate smaller islands plus the central one that ties them all together, so you’re going to be doing a lot of walking and running, especially if you want to raise all the pets. Pets are a new addition to Danganronpa, and are basically Tamagotchis that grow based on the number of steps you take on the island. This is a cool feature, but not useful for much unless you want to farm for Monocoins, the in-game currency.

Other than pets, not much else has changed from the first game. The UI seems a bit more polished, there are more trial minigames, and there have definitely been some improvements to the game mechanics. Everything else is mostly the same though. Even the music, which is easily one of Danganronpa’s best assets, carries over, although there are many brand new tracks as well. (Note: this means that you can get just the Danganronpa 2 soundtrack and still have all the music from both games!) 

The new trial minigames include a rehaul of Hangman’s Gambit which makes it harder (and more annoying) than before, a new game called Rebuttal where you have to slash your opponent’s dumb comments and cut them down with logic, and a new game called Logic Dive, which is my favorite thus far. In this game, you snowboard down a tunnel and choose the correct answer at branching paths.

I find it funny that people will attack visual novels for not being games, and when one of them does have gameplay, that’s all they’re judged on. A lot of people give Danganronpa 2 flak for these minigames, but I didn’t find that much wrong with them to be honest. Sure, they’re annoying sometimes, but they’re also kind of fun, and you have plenty of tools at your disposal to make them easier. Speaking of which, except for the skills that you get for completing each character’s Hope Fragment, I found most of the skills you get in this game to be useless. 

But now that we’ve gotten the gameplay elements out of the way, let’s talk about what makes this game really shine: the narrative. Danganronpa 2 succeeds in doing what I’ve said again and again that every good mystery must do: fool its audience completely. From the time you begin to the time you end, information is being withheld from you, and chapter by chapter, you start to see the truth. But until then, all you can do is make educated guesses about who’s going to die and what the secret behind the island, Monokuma, and Monomi is and hope that you’re wrong.

Danganronpa 2 is able to deceive its audience so well, actually, because of the existence of the first game. Because of that game, you think you know what to expect from this one. You think you know how the story will probably go, you think you can probably predict who will die, who won’t die, how the story’s going to unfold, etc. Needless to say, by the end of the first trial all that’s probably going to go out the window. But still, even afterwards, you might hold onto that belief that you know the Danganronpa formula and all the tropes that come with it. Well, the writer expertly subverts these tropes and even leaves you a few red herrings that falsely connect back to Danganronpa 1. After all, what sort of mystery game would it be without lies and deception? It really makes the story interesting and more fun to experience. 

If anyone asks, my favorite characters were Nagito, the Ultimate Lucky Student, and Chiaki, the Ultimate Gamer. For the sake of spoilers, I can’t say much about either of these characters, but they were super awesome and when the game was over, I missed them. My favorite case was in the funhouse, because it’s one of those cases where you hit yourself for not realizing the truth of the situation sooner because it’s been right in front of you the whole time. It’s definitely the hardest case in the game though, and I guess I like it because of that. 

Overall, Super Danganronpa 2 lives up to the moniker of “super”. It is a super game, it is a super improvement over the original, and it has a super-satisfying story. It might seem like an unrelated, happy-go-lucky fandisc at first, but once you really start learning the truth, you’ll realize that this game is an honest, full-blown sequel in every way. You’ll know what true hope looks like. You’ll know what true despair looks like. But most of all, you’ll know the despair of having to wait for the third game.


Filed under visual novel anime danganronpa despair review

3 notes

Summer Anime 2013 Impressions

Danganronpa The Animation: I played the Danganronpa game before I watched the anime, so I knew what I was getting into. It’s worth noting that Danganronpa was directed at Lerche by Seiji Kishi, the guy that directed Persona 4, Devil Survivor 2 and Carnival Phantasm, so if it seems a bit Persona-ish, that’s probably why. However, given that the Danganronpa universe is slathered in a “psycho-pop” veneer that might make even the most experienced gamers mistake the game for another Shoji Meguro project, the directorial choice really fits. As usual, Kishi does an excellent job of bringing the world of whatever he’s working on to life. Like in P4, I loved seeing key moments from the game translated to animation, and even the various nods to the game’s mechanics being represented (like seeing “INVESTIGATION MODE” pop up on the screen, or even hearing Monokuma’s theme whenever he appears). Unfortunately,  unlike P4, the atmosphere alone does not carry this adaptation, because Danganronpa has quite an involved story attached to all the flash and pizzazz that is not really well portrayed here. If this is your first time experiencing the story of Danganronpa 1, prepare to be confused. You are given the basics of what you need to know, sure, but you are rushed from murder to murder almost as if you were simply viewing a Cliff Notes version of the story. Pieces of very valuable evidence are flashed in your face, giving you no time to think about their applications or purpose. As a result, by the time you get to each Class Trial you have the characters reaching conclusions that seem almost abstruse, being way ahead of you in your thought process. 

This is why I recommend Danganronpa: The Animation as a supplement to the game, not a replacement for it. If you watch it as a companion piece, you’ll most likely be thrilled with it. But if you watch it as if it was the original work, you’ll most likely be lost. 

Free!: KyoAni took a gamble with Free! by choosing to adapt a series that, for once, wasn’t about cute girls and fun things being fun. In a mind-boggling, earth-shattering, unprecedented move, Free! is about cute guys and fun things being fun. And swimming. And it’s…well, it’s actually really good.

Free! is based on a light novel called High Speed! which, as the astute can deduce, is not called Free! but shares the exclamation mark. This light novel won an award from KyoAni along with another novel called Kyokai no Kanata (KyoAni’s next season project). To be honest, I like Free! because it’s pretty. The guys are pretty, the water is pretty, the scenery is detailed, the animation is fluid, and the story is interesting enough that it doesn’t bog down any of that. I mean, it’s a competition-and-rival-based sports anime. Who doesn’t love those? The slice-of-life scenes with the Iwatobi High Swim Club are just about as good as any of the Houkago Tea Time scenes, and I consider myself a pretty big K-ON fan. I may not be a fujoshi drooling over these characters, but I can accept that they’re a dynamic bunch, they interact well with each other, and Nagisa is moe as fuck. And Gou-chan best girl. Well, only girl. But still best girl. Winner of most awkwardly singable OP and ED this season.

Gatchaman Crowds: GATCHA GATCHA GATCHAMAN! I’m three episodes into Gatchaman Crowds and it still doesn’t have much in common with the old Gatchaman, but still somehow retains the heart of Gatchaman, and by that I mean ridiculously extravagant sentai battles galore. Gatchaman Crowds is directed by Kenji Nakamura who directed Trapeze and C, and if you’re assuming that that automatically means an incoherent story and trippy as fuck visuals, congratulations. You’re absolutely correct. 

Though the real strength of the show is definitely Hajime, the spastic, hyperactive main character whose secret ability, aside from being a Gatchaman, seems to be able to move the plot along at breakneck speed. Indeed, somehow, Hajime’s existence is able to take a muddled, broken, confused narrative like Gatchaman Crowds and string it together into the most beautiful work of art. Of course, you would have to catch up with Hajime in order to view that work of art, as she’d be running at 200 mph, laughing maniacally, dragging the entire show along behind her. But honestly, just as fickle and unpredictable as its main character is, I find my assessment of Gatchaman Crowds to be fluctuating from “absolutely great” to “absolute shit” on a regular basis. Guess I’ll just have to ride this crazy Hajime train to the end. The girls are really cute though. Honorable mention for OP of the season.

Genshiken Nidaime: A lot of people gave Nidaime shit for a lot of things that it really didn’t deserve to be given shit for. This is mainly due to people attaching real-world ideals like feminism and LGBT equality to a 2D show that isn’t really trying to make a statement about any of that, which often means to me that they’re taking it too seriously. This isn’t Princess Knight or Wandering Son, this is fucking Genshiken. Any commentary that’s going to be made is going to be on otaku culture. I heard some criticism that they didn’t like how this was “the Hato show”, they didn’t like how the author portrayed Hato as “not really gay but kind of I don’t know maybe”, they didn’t like how the club was all girls and all about fujoshi now, I heard all sorts of things. I think they all need to lighten up. The thing about Genshiken Nidaime is that it never really stopped being Genshiken, at least for me. The in-jokes are still there and the realistic portrayal of otaku is definitely still there. So the focus changed a bit from guy otaku to girl otaku. It’s all still otaku culture. So the author thought it would be interesting to throw in a trap character that thinks like a real transsexual might. Sounds like a good idea to breathe new life into a serialized manga to me, and I see it as pretty much only that. After all, traps are a part of otaku culture too.

Silver Spoon: Silver Spoon, first off, is nothing like FMA. This is a plus in my book, as I despise FMA, and Silver Spoon shows what Hiromu Arakawa can actually do. And what she can do is talk about agriculture. This is easily the most interesting agriculture series you could ever watch. It’s more interesting than Moyashimon because the characters are actually likable, and it’s got more heart to me than FMA ever did. It’s something unique, and watching Hachiken behave like a fish out of water at the school of agriculture just makes you want to watch until he’s finally on top of his surroundings and succeeding. In essence, the series sets out to do everything it wanted to do. I’d call that a success.

The World God Only Knows Goddess Arc: As a longtime reader of TWGOK, I was absolutely horrified at what Manglobe had done to my beloved series. First they fucked up Hayate, and now this? The previous seasons and the Tenri arc, along with the Kanon OVAs, were great, too! Why did it have to end up like this?

So to be fair it starts off pretty normal, and it seems like this adaptation will once again be a winner. Okay, cool. Then the flashbacks start. Because there were some key arcs such as Yui’s and Tsukiyo’s that were not covered in any of the seasons, it would stand to reason that they would be covered here. They can’t just skip over them, right? They’re way too important, right? But what’s that? This season is only scheduled for 12 episodes? For such a large arc? Gee, how are they going to manage that AND add in those important arcs necessary for viewer knowledge? I mean, because they can’t just skip over them, right? No way they can! Ha ha ha!


Sunday Without God: A sleeper hit. Something that I never thought I would enjoy so much. An intriguing premise. A light novel adaptation. Colorful characters. A journey of a young girl pretty much traveling alone on a journey across an abandoned world. At its best, it’s brilliant and flawlessly executed (the first two arcs). At its worst, it’s hackneyed and kind of rushed (Goran Academy). But overall, it has a really great feel and charm to it, and it feels unique, at least to me. Did I mention I’m a sucker for light novel adaptations?

Going Home Club: If there was ever a class on how to properly execute the Boke-Tsukkomi comedy routine, this would be the textbook. It’s funny every now and then, but once you get tired of that, there’s not much else there.

Monogatari Series: Second Season: Much like Maxwell House, the Monogatari series is good to the last drop. Anyone who knows me knows that this is my shit. I’ve read most of the novels now, and each arc is like reading the novel word for word all over again, and it’s so good every time.

Servant x Service: Did you like Working/Wagnaria? Then you’ll love this. Same author, same studio, same voice actors, pretty much the same characters. It’s fantastic. There’s more sugary sweet romance in this one, though, which is a welcome addition, as well as more Japanese social commentary.  Also good to have a romance where the girl isn’t always trying to punch the guy’s lights out. Hasebe best girl. 

Shingeki no Kyojin: This is a continuation. I’m reading the manga instead of watching the anime though. Though it was interesting for a long time due to the mystery of the Titans being at the forefront, the series has now devolved into Bleach-level large-panel Titan slugfests. Not as interesting for me anymore. The anime is a really good adaptation from what I’ve seen though. It refines Isayama’s ugly art and clears up his arbitrary order of events.

Watamote: Last but definitely not least is Watamote. Another brilliant adaptation by Oonuma Shin and Silver Link. I’m a huge fan of the manga and they really did it justice by not only having a stellar screenwriter that understands comedic timing but excellent diversity in animation styles. Also an amazing OP. I really think Shinbo would be proud of Shin for this one. 

So that’s it for the opinion train. It’ll come back whenever the next season is close to finishing, I guess. Anything I didn’t cover means I haven’t watched it yet. Yes, that means Love Lab. I really have no excuse. Overall, good job, summer!

Filed under anime summer 2013 anime review opinion toplel

8 notes

Review: Utsuro no Hako to Zero no Maria, Volumes 1-5

Utsuro no Hako to Zero no Maria (The Empty Box and the Zeroth Maria), affectionately and cutely referred to as “Hakomari” by fans, is a light novel series written by Eiji Mikage, and it has quite the interesting premise: Wishes have always been able to come true, but humans have never had the potential or the means to do so, so everyone assumes it to be a futile effort, simply a mechanic of the supernatural. That is, until a formless, enigmatic, ubiquitous being simply referred to as ‘O’ shows up and starts distributing ‘boxes’ to people. These ‘boxes’ have the ability to grant any one wish that the ‘owner’ of the box desires, but of course, there’s a catch: the box factors in any doubts the owner may have about the wish’s ability to come true. As it’s pretty much impossible for most people grounded in reality to believe 100% in a wish-granting device, it goes without saying that this makes for some very dangerous, distorted, and cruel wishes. There is a way to cancel the wish, but it involves either destroying the box or killing the owner. The series follows protagonist Kazuki Hoshino and female lead Maria “Aya” Otonashi as they encounter these horrific boxes which tear their otherwise peaceful ordinary life, as well as what remains of their humanity, to shreds. Cheery, huh?

So let’s take a look at these main characters. Kazuki Hoshino is what can only be described as a “crusader of the everyday life”. He firmly believes in the power of a peaceful lifestyle, often preaching that it can fix any problem anyone might have. This of course earns him enmity from those with circumstances unfortunate enough to not have a happy life (and this being one of those types of series, that’s pretty much everyone else in his class), and that actually jumpstarts many of the conflicts in this series. Couple that with the fact that the distributor of the boxes and the instigator of all this, ‘O’, seems to have this abnormal obsession with him, and you have a guy that is definitely going to be in for some turbulence in order to keep his everyday life intact.

Maria Otonashi is a very beautiful girl that, despite having the appearace of being above everyone else, always puts others before herself, and for that reason she’s looking for ‘O’ in order to wipe it out entirely. For that reason and for that reason only, she says, she is following Kazuki, the object of ‘O”s interest, but of course she’s interested in Kazuki to a degree as well. Her selfless desire is also her greatest weakness, and it’s what gets her into the most trouble.

Okay, so there are six volumes of Hakomari currently out. I’m going to quickly go through each one, giving my opinions on each as I go.


Volume 1: Rejecting Classroom – In which we are introduced to Kazuki and his classmates, as well as the mysterious, almost ethereal Aya Otonashi. From Aya, Kazuki learns about the existence of the boxes, as well as the shocking fact that he and his entire class been looping the same day for well over 13,000 iterations, and she alone has retained her memory through every single one. When Aya accuses a clueless Kazuki of being the owner of the box that has trapped her like this, she announces that she will do everything in her power to ruin Kazuki until he remembers doing so and destroys his box, fixing the time loop but killing him in the process.

To be frank, this volume is brilliant, and it’s still probably my favorite. Because of how little information you’re given about the setting at the beginning, it’s so compelling to watch the truth of Kazuki’s reality unfold, and it really draws you into the story and makes you care about the characters. Each chapter is a different random iteration during the time loop, with some chapters being almost as half as long as the volume and others being as short as just one sentence. There are many surprises, tons of drama, and overall this volume is just really well-thought out and fun to read.

Volume 2: Sevennight in Mud – In which someone uses a box to wish to become Kazuki Hoshino. Therefore Kazuki has another ‘him’ sharing his body, and he is given an ultimatum by this entity that he has just one week to destroy the box before his original self will be lost forever. With the help of Maria Otonashi. Kazuki must fight against this new ‘box’ and try to salvage whatever’s left of his shattered everyday life.

This volume has many of the qualities that the first volume has in that it’s well-paced. Each chapter is a different pocket of time either occupied by Kazuki or by the other ‘him’. Usually the other him’s dialogue is denoted with italics, but of course as the novel goes on it gets harder and harder to tell which is which anyway, which is an expected but amusing effect. The big reveal(s) for this novel are kind of predictable compared to the first volume, but that could be because you understand everyone’s character better in this one. Still, this is a really fun, unique volume.

Volumes 3 and 4: Kingdom Royale, Part 1 and 2 – In which Kazuki and Maria are thrust into a death game called “Kingdom Royale”. Choosing from six different classes, the goal is different for each class, for instance, the goal of the Revolutionary is to kill the King, the Prince, and the Double, whereas the goal of the Sorcerer is to simply stay alive. The rules of the overarching game (created by a box, of course)

are intentionally vague, but each chapter details a different round in the game, with the classes being switched up for each round. Kazuki and Maria must destroy the box, naturally, but to get to the box they have to go through the game first.

While the game is well-designed and the suspense and shocking moments are amped up to a different level in these volumes, where this arc really shines is how it emphasizes what you don’t know, and by extension, what Kazuki doesn’t know. Every one of the contestants in this game are brilliant, but they all have hidden secrets and often mask their true intentions, which lends well to the inherent “distrusting” nature of the game. When these intentions and secrets are finally revealed at last and all the cards are out on the table, the shit really hits the fan, and is at that point where you see just how solid the infrastructure of the story really is, and how it’s been building up all this time and you never noticed. It’s one of those feelings that can really only be achieved through reading a good story.

Volumes 5 and 6: Wish-Crushing Cinema, Part 1 and 2 – In which many of the series’ mysteries that have been lurking in the shadows are finally dragged out into the open and put on display. This volume is the climax of the overall series, and as such it is suitably absolutely nuts. Daiya Oomine, Kazuki’s friend that really isn’t friends with him that much anymore due to the events of Kingdom Royale, has used his box at last, which allows him to control anyone he wants by exploiting their feelings of guilt and making them recall their sins. Kazuki isn’t going to stand for that, so he counters by locking Daiya in a cinema that plays nothing but movies relating to painful memories of his own past. A hardcore move for sure, but Daiya retaliates by using his slaves to take Maria hostage. Now, at last, Kazuki must choose between preserving his everyday life or protecting Maria.

This volume (I say volume because I’m still reading 6 right now) is awesome because this is when Kazuki has his moment of realization, his turning point which completely changes his character, and without spoiling anything, Kazuki becomes quite the badass as a result. This is easily the most intense and jarring volume, because a lot of cats are let out of their respective bags and they then proceed to claw each other to death.

So yeah, those are my thoughts on this series so far. I can’t wait to finish the 6th volume, and when I do, I’ll be sure to post about it. Overall, this is a really cool, underrated series that not a lot of people seem to know about, and I highly recommend it to any fans of mystery novels.

Filed under utsuro no hako to zero no maria review light novel hakomari

36 notes

Random Thoughts: Ookami no Kodomo: Ame to Yuki

This latest work of Mamoru Hosoda, the man who brought us all instant classics like Toki wa Kakeru Shoujo and Summer Wars and also who many are hailing “the next Miyazaki”, is somewhat of a departure from his previous films. It feels more like a work from Makoto Shinkai, another neo-Miyazaki candidate. Much like 5cm per second was, it’s an artistically-charged filmstrip of multiple lives, or in this case, a family, in which the extraneous bits are omitted and only the important parts are shown. Though the theme of an odd family and togetherness despite that is again present, this one spins that theme a bit differently: this isn’t Summer Wars, so don’t expect anything in terms of a grandiose plot, don’t expect much gut-wrenching drama, and don’t expect any high-quality CG sequences where time travel takes place. Ookami no Kodomo is a film that enters the room silently, takes it easy, tells its story, and exits quietly, leaving you only to pontificate on what you just experienced, and it was designed to be such a film. And after pontificating a bit myself, I feel I must write about it.

After watching the first 30 minutes or so of Ookami no Kodomo, it’s easy to assume you know why Hosoda might have turned this situation into a film. The idea of having half-wolf-half-human hybrid children and having to raise them as a fully-human dowager is intriguing in its own right; it seems like an idea that Pixar might have come up with, and then the movie would focus on the antics, eccentricities, and issues (both humorous and heartbreaking) that come up with having wolves for klds, with veiled commentary on the child-raising experience reality offers. Ookami no Kodomo does indeed do all this: you see the hardships Hana must go through to shelter her children from the public, you see the children try to fit into society despite having their wolf tendencies (and might I add, it’s so refreshing to see them actually succeed without much bullying or opposition. I’m sick of seeing bullying as a dramatic vehicle because frankly it’s just depressing), and you see the wolf children try to balance their innate human tendencies as well. And if it had just stopped there, it could easily have still been a great movie.

But Hosoda went one step further with this one. I probably should have realized it sooner, honestly, but it wasn’t until the end scene with Ame giving his final farewell howl that I understood Hosoda’s motivation behind this film. It wasn’t just some idea he had in a notebook, like “what if a wolf had sex with a human and the human had to raise the little wolf babies and hilarity ensues”. This story isn’t about little wolf babies, it isn’t about wolf children, and it really isn’t even about wolves at all.

This is a story, first and foremost, about the experience of raising children, and the movie itself is the metaphor. This is a story about how the children can grow up to think differently and have different personalities, but still be united under the same roof. This is a story about children trying to figure out where they belong.

The story begins with Yuki, the mother Hana’s daughter, narrating from what seems to be a future adult perspective. She states that the whole experience, according to her mother, was “like a fairy tale, as if it wasn’t real”. Indeed, the abruptness and realness of love and childbirth can seem ethereal if you’re not ready for it. The “wolf” that Hana runs into while she’s in university could symbolize the way that young girls look at men that they’re attracted to, mysterious and perhaps dangerous, but the more plausible guess is that the wolf symbolizes the need to run, the need to deviate from the path and find your true place. This “wolf”, however, shows human characteristics as well, meaning that Hana saw that person as human despite his rugged, perhaps scary demeanor.  When in love, it’s easy to see your significant other as a harmless flower among the thorns, and the wolf states several times that he’s surprised she’s not scared of him.

Hana abandons her university life in order to nurture this relationship she has with the wolf, and she has an incredibly difficult time doing so. Here, she is straying from the path destined for her and choosing to live on the bumpy, rural, less-traveled road instead, something that many girls nowadays choose to do. When the kids are born, they behave just like human children, except sometimes they’ve got to keep their “wolf tendencies” in check. In reality, these “wolf tendencies” are something we all have—the tendency to question, the tendency to argue, the tendency to go against what we’re told and run wild. There are several times this is literally the case with Yuki, as in her youth she purposely runs around in wolf form several times even after her mother told her not to. 

There are incidents in our childhood, though, which may change the way we behave completely. Hosoda illustrates this with the Ame’s near-death experience: after that incident, Yuki notes that it changed the way Ame behaved completely. But that incident also changed Yuki; in fact, the chidren’s personalities kind of end up flip-flopping: the Yuki that was rebellious, energetic, and enjoyed hunting so much ends up settling down in school—a quite conformed, restrictive establishment, and the quiet, obedient, shy Ame that said he didn’t want to be a wolf ditches school often for learning about the wilderness from an old master wolf. This, I think, illustrates how children can often turn out different from who we expect them to be.

So near the end of the film, we have a mother who gives her all raising both her children, a child that is now almost completely human, and a child that is almost completely a wolf. Then the incident with Ame leaving happens, and all becomes clear. The scene with Hana searching for Ame, along with scenes of how well Yuki has fit in with her classmates, shows that both the children, though in different castes, have found where they belong. And when you see Ame give that knowing glance to his mother and bound off, and you see Hana smile with understanding and tears, you will also smile with understanding and perhaps a tear or two. We all need to let go of our children someday, and when it happens, all you can do is smile and hope that you raised them right. In essence, raising a child is a struggle akin to raising wolves, and sometimes you’ve got to let the wolves run on your own.

I don’t expect this to be nearly as coherent as I hoped because it’s rather late and I’m not really paying much attention to what I write but the main point I’m trying to make is that Ookami no Kodomo is beautiful. It’s stunning in its visuals, poignant in its parallels, and just really hits home. Of course the movie does have its flaws, mainly that the supporting characters in the valley are kind of useless and the movie takes a bit too long to make its point by putting in some filler I think (it’s a 2 hour movie), but the fact remains that Ookami no Kodomo: Ame to Yuki is a movie you should see, and is yet another instant classic under Mamoru Hosoda’s ever-lengthening belt.

Filed under ookami no kodomo wolf children mamoru hosoda summer wars anime review random thoughts

4 notes

Random Thoughts: Medaka Box Abnormal

The first season of the anime adaptation of Nisioisin’s manga Medaka Box was probably the most tame thing that Nisioisin has written. Sure, the eccentricities, unique personalities, puns and pop culture references were there, but most of the first season featured a problem-of-the-week format where Medaka and the rest of the student council had to try and fulfill a troubled student’s request from the suggestion box in each episode. In the process of this, they gain new friends and new student council members. As it was, the story was fine, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that the scenario was a bit too…normal and happy for Nisioisin, let alone for Gainax, who was in charge of animation. Then episode 12 of the first season aired, and we were shown a whole new side of Medaka, as well as a whole new side of the story, then we were left with the ominous “To Be Continued.” It would be another year before Medaka Box would return.

The second season of Medaka Box is intriguing because it’s nothing like the first season of the show; in fact, watching the second season by itself might make it hard to believe that a scenario as peaceful and lighthearted as the first season ever existed. Featuring uneven character dynamics, a chaotic story, and an even more blatant disregard for the conventional, the second season is the antithesis of normal, which is why it’s so fitting that the season is called Medaka Box Abnormal.

Indeed, “abnormal” is the only way to describe these 12 episodes. Everything, from dialogue to setting to tone to plot elements, is warped beyond recognition from the first season, and the happy-go-lucky school slice-of-life setting is twisted into a futuristic underground laboratory shonen series. And as you go through these 12 episodes, you can almost hear the conductor of this train wreck, Nisioisin himself, laughing maniacally as he sends the series off a 200-foot cliff.

But, somehow, miraculously, it works.

It could just be because I’m biased towards Nisioisin’s stuff, but I found Medaka Box Abnormal to be an absolute joy to watch. I also believe that if anyone else had written it, it would have been an absolute disaster. As you go through Abnormal, you start to realize that this ridiculous send-up and subversion of every shonen cliche ever is exactly what Nisioisin had in mind from the start, and every retarded plot twist, every new “ultimate technique” that the characters pull out of their ass, every cheesy line, is 100% deliberate. If you’re not seeing the parody by the time the sister of the final boss of the first season (who is of course way stronger than that guy ever was) attacks Medaka with an enormous ball-and-chain thing while spouting out incomprehensible strings of digits in lieu of actual dialogue, then you’re not going to have a good time.

However, I believe that the series also succeeds as a legitimate shonen. Much like how Katanagatari was a deconstruction of a shonen series yet still ended up being shonen, or how Gintama is a parody of a shonen series yet still has its moments of being the genuine article, Medaka Box Abnormal is a shonen series at heart, and a damn good one at that. It provides mindless, tongue-in-cheek humor and fun, along with the standard Nisioisin fare you’d expect, like commentary on what it means to be a genius, copious amounts of pseudoscience and psuedobiology, rambling dialogue in place of actual fighting, abrupt mood changes, and a firm, firm grasp (perhaps even a stranglehold) on modern otaku culture. 

It should be mentioned that Gainax does an excellent job in bringing Nisio’s vision to life as well. Not once did I see an animation hiccup during any of the fight scenes, and the show is vibrant, colorful, and fast-paced, just like you’d expect. 

There is quite a ciffhanger at the end of the series, as everyone we’ve known to be super strong in the past is mercilessly eviscerated by this one guy, Kumagawa (these are all major characters who have been fully fleshed out in terms of character as well, so this development in a typical shonen series would pretty much be suicide). What Gainax finishes the series with is quite odd: for the final episode, we do not get a continuation of this plot line, but instead a spin-off of Kumagawa in everyday school life for the purpose of showing off his personality and power. And what a personality it is! Kumagawa is, for me, definitely the most interesting character in the entire series so far, and that’s because he’s such an enigma. I can’t make heads or tails of his alignment or his disposition towards others. Even the way his ability is shown makes it quite ambiguous as to what it actually is/does. Not to mention his boyish, innocent features completely betray any notion that he might be a force to be reckoned with. In short, I’m confused and that makes me excited for the next season! But I’ll probably just start reading the manga until then. 

Filed under medaka box abnormal nisioisin anime gainax review