Ultraman X and Cyclical Gateways

Nostalgia is a powerful force in the modern age, but it can involve more than simply revisiting old things from one’s childhood. Drawing on the properties and tropes that you loved in the past can be a great way to discover new things that meet the same criteria years later. This is something that has happened to me recently with the 2015 tokusatsu show Ultraman X; a series that appealed to me because of fond childhood memories and which itself has acted as a gateway to a whole new franchise for me to explore. Today I’d like to run through the long, passive process of how I discovered this series as a case study, but first it feels like I should give a quick rundown of the show itself (I’d certainly love to pique some readers’ interest if I can!).

Ultraman_X_v_Demagra.png

The Ultra franchise has been running since 1966 and has multiple timelines, but Ultraman X takes place in an alternative universe that is mostly separated from the other stories. 15 years ago a solar flare was caused by a battle between two extraterrestrial beings and awakened kaiju that were lying dormant under the earth in the form of Spark Dolls, and a defence force named Xio was formed to combat kaiju and alien threats. Daichi Ozora is a Xio scientist who believes that humans and kaiju can learn to coexist; when a dangerous kaiju attacks Daichi finds himself bonding with an entity named X to transform into a giant hero in order to return the kaiju to their Spark Doll forms for safe keeping. The series has a small, intimate cast of human characters, most of which eventually get their own personal episodes, some of which are surprisingly gripping. The monster designs are interesting and while I’m not familiar with the franchise’s past quality I think the suit work is very good quality. There are a lot of recurring kaiju featured in the show too, so X is a great installment to start with if you want a good snapshot of what to expect if you plan to watch more of the franchise.

That’s it for my potted review of Ultraman X, now we’ll move on to the meat of this subject. How exactly did I come across this quirky, monster-brawling gem?

I’ve always been pretty geeky even as a child. My first great obsession, as I’m sure is the case for many children, was dinosaurs; I lived and breathed the things, memorising details on as many species as I could. Then in 1993 something came along that similarly enthralled the minds of a whole generation: Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. The colourful teenage superheroes exploded in the west, and I think that’s thanks in no small part to the fact that their morphing powers were derived from dinosaurs; that certainly appealed to me at any rate!

MMPR_Rangers

In many ways, I have these guys to thank for making me the geek I am today.

Now, as you may be aware Power Rangers was an Americanisation of the Japanese tokusatsu show Kyōryū Sentai Zyuranger, and the most obvious clue to that was in the weekly battles against giant monsters, which is where this chain progresses. When Power Rangers was a few years old, the BBC ran a special evening of programming centred around kaiju, including two movies: the 1976 remake of King Kong and 1991’s Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah, and I pretty quickly attached myself to Toho’s venerable giant monster franchise, buying what few VHS releases I could find on the small island I grew up on and recording a few off late-night TV; I must have watchd Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah alone about ten times.

MV5BNTdhYWZkYzktZjNmNi00MGNlLTkwMTItNjliOTcyMjVjMTc0XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjMzMzg4OTg@._V1_

Like Bond actors and Doctors, you never forget your first Godzilla adversary; especially when it’s THE Godzilla adversary!

It should be pretty obvious by this point that the uniquely Japanese aesthetics of these two franchises was one of the things that inevitably lead me to anime, and here’s where it gets a little interesting. After I became an anime fan and VHS technology died out my access to kaiju movies pretty much dried up, but I never forgot my love for the genre. Last summer I picked up the short anime series Kaiju Girls, which I didn’t realise until midway through was a spin-off of the Ultraman franchise. I had first learned of Ultraman during the aforementioned BBC “Monster Night” and was intrigued by the concept of what was to me a fusion of the kaiju and sentai genres, but there was no way for me to watch it at the time. Fast forward to 2016 and a subscription to Crunchyroll: I was browsing the site’s live-action section and discovered a whopping 9 Ultraman series to choose from! Some quick audience research suggested that Ultraman X was a good starting point for a newcomer, but after that you can bet I’ll try my best to get through them all!

I find my eventual discovery of Ultraman fascinating because of the way my love of childhood franchises have not just circled back around but also come come together and fused into something that encapsulates the things that I liked about both properties, and it’s great in this case that I’ve only hit the tip of the iceberg and have lots more Ultraman to explore. If you’re ever looking for new media to get stuck into I can highly recommend casting your mind back to the things you enjoyed years ago and seeing if they can lead you to something similar yet new and exciting! Go forth and search your past to find a shining future!

Ultraman_X's_rise.gif

Advertisements

Communication & Conflict – My Impressions of A Silent Voice

Last week I had a rare opportunity to catch a cinema screening of the recent anime movie release A Silent Voice with some friends and while I don’t usually write up or review individual works outside of my classic anime section I was particularly enamoured with it and felt compelled to give it some attention. So please enjoy this basic rundown of the movie and my own impressions of it!


tumblr_static_tumblr_static__640.gif

A Silent Voice is a 2016 production by Kyoto Animation based on the manga by Yoshitoki Oima. It is a school drama centered around a group of teenagers and their struggles with personal and social issues. After a brief framing device in the introduction which I won’t spoil here as it’s a pretty hard-hitting opening we are introduced to the primary protagonist Shoya Ishida as a somewhat delinquent elementary school student. When deaf girl Shoko Nishimiya transfers into his class Shoya’s unease at Nishimiya’s condition compels him to bully her to the point that she eventually moves to another school and Shoya is ostracised by his classmates for his actions; a consequence which leads him to grow up distanced from everyone around him and unable to comfortably interact with others until circumstances lead him to seek out Nishimya again and try to pursue the friendship with her that she wanted all those years ago. He slowly begins to learn how to let others in, but it soon turns out that rebuilding a social life after these formative experiences is far from easy, and emotional scars are not so easily healed…

First things first: the movie looks gorgeous. This is hardly surprising for a KyoAni production, as they are well-known for their beautiful visual design and fluid animations, but it really must be said because animation quality counts for a lot when it comes to emotional dramas like this. Several characters use sign language to communicate with Nishimiya, and the various gestures are animated with great detail; I could easily tell that the portrayal of this niche language was treated with a great deal of respect. The characters are all highly expressive, even Nagatsuka, the more cartoonish-looking comic relief character puts his feelings across in a clear, easily understood manner. KyoAni’s talent for subtle details in design and character animation does a great job in fleshing out characters, from Shoya’s protruding t-shirt care tags to fellow bully Ueno’s body language and subtle shifts in facial expression. The visual feature that is most worthy of praise from a composition standpoint is a technique that obscures Shoya’s classmates’ faces when he is in a crowd, yet it is clear that the animators haven’t skimped out on the features underneath; there is clearly a fully animated and expressive face underneath.

A-Silent-Voice-2.png

The characterisation is very strong throughout, with the character designs and writing working together to give a good feel for who all the characters are and what makes them tick. Shoya goes through a lot of shifts in his worldview throughout the story and yet he has an expressive face and a visual design that manages to display his character development with only minor changes, and something about Ueno’s body language always reminded me without words to never 100% trust her outward actions. Nishiyama, being almost completely unable to speak, should be taken as a masterclass in how to portray a character visually rather than verbally. She doesn’t often emote strongly around others as her condition leads her to be as inoffensive as possible in public, and this usually comes across in her actions: she isn’t blandly animated out of laziness, you can tell that she is behaving in a specific way. And her body language and movements in private moments bear this out too, as she is so much more visually expressive behind closed doors as to almost appear like a different person.

I am hesitant to offer up too many thoughts about the story as again, I really don’t want to spoil important plot points and emotional beats. Suffice it to say that even though it is a somewhat slow-paced movie for the most part the emotional depth of the characters and events kept me hooked throughout. In the past I have found my attention to waver towards the end of anime movies so it is a huge point in A Silent Voice’s favour that it maintained my focus so well, although this might simply be because I haven’t watched a new anime movie in some time and I could just be becoming more mature about them. In any case, I have to praise the movie for keeping me so enraptured considering that there are some highly uncomfortable scenes in the opening minutes that go on for a long time, and the characters can be a tad melodramatic at times. But this is a story about socially awkward teenagers after all, so that is to be expected sometimes, and personally the more melodramatic confrontations only helped me to connect with the supporting cast more.

A-Silent-Voice-1-600x323.png

Overall, despite a few dramatic flaws, A Silent Voice is a captivating, beautiful character drama that shows great respect for the struggles of young people coping with disabilities and personal issues, and also does a great job of highlighting the negative effects of bullying behaviour – not just on the victims, but the potential long-term repercussions for the perpetrators as well. It was an emotional journey and I highly recommend it.

In addition to enjoying the movie itself, my overall movie-going experience with A Silent Voice was one of the best I have had in a long time. Here in Britain cinema etiquette has taken a bit of a slip in recent years, with noise and the checking of phones during the feature by other movie patrons often providing unfortunate distractions. Yet in spite of being a sold-out screening the respect present in the audience was mind-blowing compared to recent experiences watching blockbuster movies. With the exception of a girl two seats down from me who asked her partner to clarify details once or twice (but even that was in respectfully hushed tones) everyone was quiet and attentive. And the effect of a full cinema laughing in unison at the lighter moments of the story gave me a warm feeling of community that I have never felt from a large group of people watching anime together before. While it isn’t always easy to get to a screening of a mature anime drama movie, this experience has convinced me that it is the best way to see this genre for the first time, and I highly recommend it to everyone.


And those are my thoughts on A Silent Voice! If you’ve seen it yourself then I hope my overall impressions gel with yours, and if you haven’t then hopefully I’ve convinced you to give either the movie or the original manga a shot (which can be found on Crunchyroll Manga if you’re interested). I’ve used this post as a catalyst to break out of my latest hiatus so with luck I should have some more content coming up soon! Until then, I’ll let Nishiyama say goodbye in her own way:

sv-5.png

“See you!”

P-p-p-pick up a Podcast Part 1: Factual Podcasts

Last summer I started getting into podcasts as an alternative to background music while at work and doing housework and got hooked pretty quickly. I started with recorded episodes of a quirky show from my favourite radio station and once that was finished  I went looking for other podcasts and quickly discovered how many shows related to anime and/or gaming were out there, and more besides! So today, rather than my usual think-pieces on anime and game content I’m going to introduce a few podcasts that are particularly dear to my heart. I imagine a couple of these are quite well known, but hopefully some will sound new and exciting to you!

As an aside, when I started writing this it started getting longer than I expected so I made the decision to split the post into two parts. This first section will cover informational podcasts while part two will feature works of fiction.

The Ani-Gamers Podcast

pcast_img

The official podcast of anigamers.com, a website that covers – what else – anime and video games, Ani-Gamers is hosted by Evan Minto, who also writes for Otaku USA Magazine and previously co-hosted Crunchyroll’s official podcast, and site writer David Estrella. The pair record every two weeks and usual topics of discussion include the current anime season, what they’ve been watching and playing recently, thoughts on upcoming or recent American conventions during the con season, and occasionally a broader analysis of an unusual game or anime that one has recommended to the other (I found their looks at Saya no Uta and Ai City particularly entertaining). I’m fond of this slightly more obscure anime podcast over some of the more established ones I’ve sampled because I really get a sense of Evan’s knowledge of the anime industry at large, and both hosts have a great rapport with each other. Also worth noting is the site’s new podcast, Oldtaku no Radio, in which two other site staff Ink and Jared offer an in-depth discussion of a single anime; I haven’t listened to many of these as they’re mostly shows I haven’t seen yet and don’t want spoiled, but what I have heard is of very good quality.

Podquisition

avatars-000117554683-e1bbnj-t500x500

I should probably start this entry off with a caution that this podcast contains a lot of suggestive humour, bad language and discussions of a… biological nature; also the hosts aren’t afraid to get political, especially given recent world events. Polarising video game critic Jim Sterling invites you to a weekly discussion of the latest hot releases in the gaming sphere as well as the state of the industry in general with his fellow hosts: independent games journalist Laura Dale and musician Gavin “Miracle of Sound” Dunne. Similarly to Ani-Gamers, these three have a fantastic chemistry as they take an irreverent look at recent releases and controversial moves in games marketing. Those already familiar with The Jimquisition on YouTube will know what to expect, but for the uninitiated Jim’s off-the-wall asides and goofs can be an acquired taste at times, but if it’s your thing then there’s a lot of fun to be had here. Additionally, every two weeks Jim is joined by writer and critic Conrad Zimmerman for The Spin-Off Doctors, in which they watch movies based on video games and give a full (and hilarious) breakdown of the plot followed by their thoughts on the movie in general. Even if Podquisition itself isn’t your cup of tea I highly recommend checking out this side project; I daresay there are a few video game movies I wouldn’t have been interested in watching if Jim and Conrad hadn’t made them sound as entertaining as they do!

The Let’s Play Video Games Podcast

600x600bb (2)

The independent gaming news site Let’s Play Video Games rose from the ashes of Destructoid UK last year after the whole team was let go, and when they migrated to their new venture they bought their previous podcast format along with them. Laura Dale, Joe Parlock and Vikki Blake come together to talk video game news from a variety of angles, from basic critique to issues of accessibility and diversity. In broad strokes this podcast is somewhat similar to Podquisition, even sharing a host as well as having a similar topic list, so you might wonder what makes this podcast worth checking out. Well, LPVG has a few things that set it apart from other news programmes. Firstly, as a British gamer, it’s nice to see things examined with a cultural eye that I can identify with, to that end British game news is delivered every episode in a guest spot by the Subterranean Mole Queen, powerful ruler of the Underground United Kingdom, at least when Joe– I mean, when she manages to find some (I sincerely hope I don’t face retribution in future episodes for implying that the Queen is a fictional character…). The other highlight of the show is the Dad Jokes Jingle segment, in which Laura and Vikki torture Joe with puns and terrible dad-jokes gathered by the fan community; you wouldn’t think that hearing a man groan in abject despair would be so entertaining, but somehow it’s just as fun as the jokes themselves! Altogether the LPVG podcast has a real intimate, social-circle feel to it that makes for a very comfortable hour-plus of content to listen to. Events in the hosts’ offline lives have been affecting the recording schedule as of late, but that just makes me look forward to seeing it pop up on my iPod’s feed even more.


And that wraps up my cream of the crop for the non-fiction section of my podcast feed. If you decide to check any of these out I hope you have a great time with them!

Seems I’ve had yet another of my unplanned hiatuses over the past two months, but hopefully I’l be back in the saddle soon. I’ll be taking a brief interlude from this topic to hash out something from my backlog of post ideas, but watch this space soon for my favourite fiction podcasts, which should be an interesting selection indeed!

My Top 10 Anime Characters Discovered in 2016

Belated New Year’s greetings dear readers! Whatever you did to acknowledge another trip around the sun, I hope you enjoyed it! This time last year I cast my mind back to the animated shows I had watched in 2015 and had a great time picking out a list of ten characters that I had discovered that year, so I decided what the hey, why not make it an annual event? With that, I am happy to present the top ten characters that I encountered for the first time last year!

My rules for these lists are very simple. The characters in question do not need to have been in shows that aired during the year in question. As a self-styled omega of the geek and otaku world the majority of what I watch is older than that. Also, as this blog has shifted focus to mainly anime and videogames I have decided to narrow the window further to become an anime-only list. I didn’t watch much western animation last year anyway, not anything with unfamiliar characters in it at least. Alright! Groundwork sufficiently laid; let’s get to the list!


10) Kiroumaru – Shin Sekai Yori

shin_sekai_yori-22-kiroumaru-queer_rat-giant_hornet-commander-leader-beard

We kick things off with this imposing Monster Rat from the SF thriller Shin Sekai Yori. The commander of the Giant Hornets colony of Monster Rats, a race of anthropomorphic rodent-like creatures, Kiroumaru is one of the largest of his species; taller than most humans whereas most of his kin are dwarfed by their human overlords. He is a fierce military commander and warrior, who could very likely cause serious trouble for the dominant human society were it not for his strict respect for and adherence to Japan’s existing species hierarchy. His kind may be subjugated, but his unshaking loyalty to the “gods” even as the truth of Japan’s dark history is revealed to the main characters is admirable. Though the hierarchy may shift and distort through the course of the series, Kiroumaru does not allow himself or his colony to be drawn into it, and can be relied upon to do whatever needs to be done, even if the humans commanding him don’t feel like they can trust him.

9) Windom/Reika Shiragane – Kaiju Girls

5038232-l

I was a big fan of Godzilla in my formative otaku days, and have maintained an interest in kaiju ever since, so I was keen to check out Kaiju Girls even before I knew that the characters were based on monsters from the Ultraman franchise. There’s something to like about every character in this short form comedy, but eventually I had to pick Windom as my favourite. Embodying several aspects of otaku culture and fujoshi in particular, Windom is a shy, intelligent closet BL fangirl, who first unlocked her Kaiju powers while reading a particularly steamy yaoi manga (there may be some subtext there about being true to yourself and unashamed about your hobbies, but it’s hard to tell with a 4-minute run time!). Later on she enters a dangerous berserk state after hearing spoilers for the movie of her favourite  BL sports anime I’ll Score on You, in a fantastic send-up of the feelings many geeks get when they get spoiled for things they haven’t yet seen. I feel that the way that otaku tropes are worked into Windom’s powers is surprisingly clever for a short, silly comedy anime, and that is what makes her my kaiju best girl.

8) Riko Sakurauchi – Love Live! Sunshine!!

LLSS_S1Ep3_281.png

Sunshine featured a cast of very vibrant, almost tropey characters, but my favourite member of Aqours is one of the most low-key, sensible girls. Well, sort of. Riko is highly regarded by pseudo-protagonist Chika because she transferred in from Otonokizaka High School, birthplace of the previous series’ idol group, and because of her existing musical skills. She initially refuses to help form a new group, but relents after Chika and You help inspire her floundering music composition. Riko is usually quiet and thoughtful, and is one of the characters who brings the others back down to Earth when their ideas start getting too off-base. She is also the first girl in the franchise who is canonically implied to potentially be homosexual, as she is seen reading and buying yuri manga, and even makes what I believe to be an honest proclamation of love late in the series (and I am very disappointed that said proclamation was left 100% unaddressed after the fact. Pick up your game next season please!). I was torn between Riko and You for this list, but the inclusion of a possibly gay character in a franchise that is otherwise full of non-canon yuri baiting won out, if only for the sake of inclusivity.

7) Haruka Shitow – RahXephon

haruka_01

It’s hard to talk about Haruka without dropping massive spoilers, but lets just say that I’m a bit of a sucker for unconventional, slightly tragic romances in anime. Haruka  comes into protagonist Ayato’s life and brings his world crashing down by revealing that the section of Tokyo he lived in was a sealed-off time-dilating bubble, and takes him to the defence agency TERRA to enlist his help in fighting the mysterious Mulian civilization. Haruka is hard-working and dedicated to her job with TERRA, but unlike some of her fellow agents she is down-to-earth and knows how to let her hair down. What really earns her a place on the list is her backstory, which is slowly and very subtly revealed throughout the course of the series, culminating in a reveal about her relationship to another character which is at once both touching and very sad. But in spite of the knowledge that she keeps to herself throughout the story, Haruka maintains a strong resolve and strives to not let that knowledge interfere with her duties.

6) Nozomi Toujou – Love Live!

S2Ep01_00073.png

The original Love Live lineup has plenty of great characters, and I can’t say that I dislike any of them (yes, even Nico) but there can only be one best girl, and Nozomi has slowly but steadily climbed to the top of my rankings. This tarot-reading, seemingly all-knowing third-year acts as a wise mother-figure of sorts to the rest of µ’s, which belies her deep-seated fear of loneliness and desire for friendship that was denied to her as a small girl. It is initially a mystery  as to why she shows such a keen interest in Honoka’s attempts to form a school idol group, but as time goes on it is revealed that she has been secretly orchestrating the conception and rise of µ’s from behind the scenes in order to create a group of strongly-bonded friends that she can finally feel at home with. I resonate with Nozomi’s outwardly playful, almost theatrical nature, but the best aspect of her is that despite feeling lonely and sometimes shy, she pulls herself up and decides to go out and do something about it rather than wallowing. Loneliness and feeling like one doesn’t belong isn’t uncommon in otaku, and Nozomi is a positive if somewhat unconventional role model for people who want to put themselves out there and make friends.

5) Kyoko Mogami – Skip Beat!

kyokonewgirl.png

Kyoko is a joyful, hard-working, bright-eyed young girl who moves to Tokyo with her childhood friend Sho when his celebrity career takes off. However, one day her heart is shattered when she discovers that Sho only convinced her to come with him to act as his live-in maid. Where some shojo heroines would become despondent and mopey until a new man enters her life Kyoko takes a much more refreshing route: she completely snaps, swears undying hatred for Sho, and sets her mind to becoming a massive celebrity herself and taking revenge by utterly overshadowing him! Kyoko is very entertaining as a main character, suffering dramatic moodswings from the slightest provocation she keeps the other characters and the audience on their toes, as one never knows when she might fall into a slump or become comically aggressive. But in spite of her rapidly-shifting, almost self-destructive personality, she is a dedicated, driven young woman, who will stop at nothing to achieve her goals, even though her reasons for doing so are highly self-centred. Another refreshing difference between Kyoko and other heroines is how surprisingly competent she is. While it often takes her a long time to get to grips with a role, once she is she becomes an acting chameleon, effortlessly translating her own deep-seated issues into compelling characters that constantly surprise those around her. Skip Beat! was one of the most enjoyable anime I watched last year, and it owes most of that to Kyoko’s force-of-nature personality and dedicated drive to succeed.

4) Darkness – Konosuba!

KxBqqX8.jpg

A standout character from a standout comedy anime! Darkness is a Crusader in the fantasy world that otaku protagonist Kazuma is reborn into after his death. Kazuma is smitten by her beauty, but can tell that something isn’t quite right about her and rejects her request to join the party. However, the rest of the party considers a Crusader knight to be a valuable party member and allows her to join anyway. It turns out Mazuma was right on the money, as it turns out Darkness is a huge masochist and wanted to join them after hearing how Aqua and Megumin were badly beaten by monsters. The prospect of any kind of abuse excites Darkness; whether it be monster attacks, humiliation, or capture and subjugation by e emies. Indeed, she chose to become a Crusader because they are known for shielding party members from attacks. Some might find her peculiar kinks uncomfortable, and they are mainly played for laughs, but I always admire characters who can proudly accept who they are unapologetically; I think it’s very important to be honest and unashamed about who you are. Darkness very much embodies that ideal as she stands in front of of a barrage of cabbage monsters, cheeks flushed and panting excitedly.

3) Tsumugi Inuzuka – Sweetness and Lightning

b5d803780e72971f846c7f1cfdc3ed8b1468108891_full

From a decidedly adult character to the complete opposite end of the spectrum! Tsumugi is the infant daughter of high school teacher Kohei who recently lost his wife and while the two of them have a happy, stable life the one thing Kohei can’t get his head around is cooking adequate meals until the two of them start learning to cook with one of his students. Tsumugi is the very picture of childhood innocence, and her every action on-screen is a delight to see. She is smart, outgoing and full of curiosity and wonder. She may have her low moments and tantrums as any child does, but the deep bond she shares with her father and her sheer excitement at new things made me crack a smile every time, and even shed a joyful tear more than once. In a medium better known for darker or more mature content Tsumugi is an absolute ray of sunshine that everyone should let into their lives.

2) Jean-Jaques Leroy – Yuri!!! on Ice

screenshot-575.png

Stop! It’s JJ’s Style! As I’m sure many Yuri!!! on Ice fans did, I initially dismissed JJ as an arrogant, self-obsessed jerk, but YoI has an uncanny knack for making you love even the most minor of contenders by the end of their run. Canada’s darling of the ice may be a braggart who loves to parade his beautiful fiancée around and has his own theme song that he sings along to on the ice, but like all of the skaters in this breakout series JJ has his own issues and baggage that he has to struggle with. As a top contender he has a lot of pressure and anxiety suppressed inside of him, and when he suffers his full-on anxiety attack on the ice he is reminded that more than his own talent and hard work, it is the adoration of his fans that makes him truly special. I know a fair few people who suffer from anxiety, depression and panic attacks, so thinking back to his breakdown and subsequent recovery now makes me well up a little, and his theme song “Theme of King JJ” is currently my motivational song of choice that I simply have to hear every day.

1) Galko – Please Tell Me! Galko-chan

please-tell-me-galko-chan-episode-1

A true paragon of not judging a book by it’s cover, Galko is a high-school girl who adheres to the glamorous gyaru fashion style; a style whose followers are often considered cliquey and self-obsessed. However, it is readily apparent that Galko is far from a simple stereotype. Indeed, she is open and earnest towards pretty much anyone, and is always prepared to help people out in any situation, even carrying extra stationary to lend to her classmates. She also seems somewhat aware of the effect her physical appearance has on boys, but if she ever makes use of that knowledge it is for the sake of others rather than herself; often intimidating bullies of both genders merely by being friendly to their victims. But Galko doesn’t just get the top place on this list for her socially progressive character traits; I love her because she balances these attributes with almost stereotypical female troubles like her appearance and eligibility as a wife and mother, making her a complete, fully-rounded character with foibles and petty yet personal concerns that no woman should feel ashamed of thinking about if that’s what matters to them. You do you!

You Mean You Haven’t Watched Azumanga Daioh?

It’s a little late, but happy holidays everyone! Whatever you celebrated this month I hope you had a great time, and I wish everybody a happy and productive 2017 going forward. My New Year’s blogging resolution is to build my output level back up after a trying few months of low productivity, and I’ll start by squeezing one more post out of 2016!


Following on from my last post concerning short-form anime I’ve reshuffled my list of classic anime to cover in this segment in order to reminisce about one of the first shows that I watched socially: the slice of life school comedy Azumanga Daioh!

azumontage

Set in an average, unnamed high school, Azumanga is adapted from the 4-koma manga strip by Kiyohiko Azuma and follows a group of girls from the first day of their first year right up to third-year graduation. From average school days to exam periods and vacation times, the larger-than-life character quirks of the seven primary characters alternately clash and work together to produce a constant stream of amusing scenes covering all manner of real-life situations; from exam revision stress to eccentric teachers to unstoppable bouts of hiccups.

Azumanga has a very simple visual style, with no exaggerated physical features in its characters. This makes the girls much more realistic than other slice-of-life shows, and also allows their unique personalities to carry them as characters. And those personalities are all extremely distinctive. Chiyo is a ten-year-old prodigy whose high school level intellect can’t mask her childish demeanor and innocence. Tomo is an overly-hyperactive egomaniac while Yomi plays her long-suffering straight man. Sakaki is a cool, aloof beauty who hides an obsession with cute animals and a desire for close friendship. Kaorin is a quiet, unassuming girl who appears entirely driven by a barely-contained romantic longing for Sakaki. Kagura, introduced later in the series, is driven by competition despite a soft, sensitive exterior. And my personal favourite Ayumu, better known as Osaka, embodies the polar opposite of the stereotypical boisterous Osakan – a low-energy space cadet with a unique sense of wit and imagination. Throw in borderline unhinged homeroom teacher Yukari, sensible PE teacher Nyamo, and creepy yet strangely fascinating male teacher Kimura and Azumanga presents an uncluttered cast where each character is easy to identify and nobody feels shoehorned in or unnecessary.

azumanga-daioh-band.jpg

The show was originally broadcast in short-form format as five-minute segments every weekday, which were compiled into full-length episodes every weekend, though most Western viewers would have seen it in its compiled form. The segmented nature of the content perfectly mirrors the four-panel format of the source manga, with each set of scenes telling an amusing contained vignette that still manages to flow seamlessly into the next one in the “full episode”, eventually telling a full overarching story that really does feel like following a group of ordinary students through their school days. All of the humour is based within a realistic framework based around the interactions of the diverse characters, never falling back on the easy slapstick or exaggerated wackiness of a lot of other comedy anime. This makes the characters and scenes much more believable, even in its crazier moments, and establishes the group as real people that the viewer can identify with; for me they felt like old friends by the end of the series.

Screenshot-Azumanga-Daioh-Episode-15.avi-31.png

All in all, Azumanga Daioh is a very easy show to watch. I first encountered it at university when my anime social group would throw a few episodes on during a quiet evening, and I found it to be great social viewing as all of the scenarios and jokes are grounded enough in real life that anyone can understand and appreciate them; on a personal level I really felt like the shared experience of Azumanga helped me to get closer to a group of people that I had only just met. In many ways it paved the way for me to become the kind of otaku I am today. It seems like of late more new anime fans have been discovering this classic series, and I highly recommend joining them. Bookmark a lazy evening, or throw it on in the background and get to know a new set of silly young friends.

Bonkurazu.png

The Omega Mobile Games Roundup

Love it or hate it, mobile gaming has taken modern culture by storm. Anyone with a smartphone or tablet can join the gaming sphere with a few taps of the screen, and this wider audience has facilitated the creation of a greater range of games in smaller, easy-to-handle packages. This year I’ve been listening to recommendations here and there and checking out a few titles on my Android tablet, so I’d like to introduce and share my thoughts on a few of them.

Love Live! School Idol Festival (KLab, 2013, iOS/Android, Free-to-play)

unnamed.jpg

It may come as no surprise that I play this pretty competent rhythm/card collecting game regularly. Boasting a large library of songs by the Love Live project’s idol group µ’s, and new tracks from the new group Aquors being added as they are released, School Idol Festival sees you selecting nine school idol cards in a team and tapping them in time to the music, with a series of slice-of-life visual novel-esque story vignettes gating progression and acquisition of content. The card-collecting element offers a wide range of variant characters from µ’s and Aquors, as well as a large cast of minor idols created for the game. Each card can be “idolized” to reveal alternate artwork and unlock the card’s full potential stats, and increasing your bond through continued use grants premium currency and smaller story sections. What is encouraging about School Idol Project is how well it handles the free-to-play model. Rare cards generally require premium currency to obtain, and while micro-transactions for this and other currency systems exist (and some are pretty pricey) it is fairly easy to build up the premium stuff through regular play, elevating SIF above a lot of the shady and insulting business practices that have infected the games industry of late. STATUS: STILL PLAYING

Monument Valley (Ustwo, 2014, iOS/Android/Windows Phone, Paid App)

Monument Valley.jpg

A short-but-sweet puzzle game, Monument Valley sees the player guiding Princess Ida through a series of mazes whose geometry is founded on optical illusions; shifting and rotating sections of the level to create new impossible paths to the goal. The level design is highly creative, with each stage offering unique obstacles and solutions. The minimalist storyline unfolds with almost no dialogue and I found it strangely compelling despite it’s simplicity. At only ten levels it won’t take more than a couple of hours to complete, but it’s a very charming, almost zen experience, and an additional eight levels are available for purchase if you need some more content. Well worth checking out if you have a little spending money going free. STATUS: COMPLETED INITIAL TEN LEVELS

DEUL (Greenlight Games, 2015, iOS/Android/Windows Phone, Free-to-play)

4_deul

DEUL is a simple game based around one-on-one gun duels. After a short countdown you tap the screen wherever you want your character to shoot with the bullets they have available before your opponent gets the draw on you, then let ragdoll physics take care of the rest! Score is determined by where you shots land, with higher scores for disarming and headshots. Opponents get quicker on the draw the further you progress until you take a hit and the game ends. There are also coins that can be shot for additional points. DEUL is a pretty fun little game to play in short bursts, but I found it just a little too simplistic compared to the other mobile games I play as timewasters so it is currently uninstalled. STATUS: DROPPED

Reigns (Nerial, 2016, PC/iOS/Android, Paid App)

screen-shot-2016-08-17-at-4-47-54-pm.png

What if ruling a kingdom was like using Tinder? That’s the simplest way to sum up this game published by Devolver Digital. You control a cursed bloodline of kings and are faced with decisions from your advisors and townsfolk in the form of cards which you swipe left or right to make your choice. Each decision has a positive or negative effect on at least one of your kingdom’s influential factions: the church, the general population, the military and the treasury. If any of these factions gain or lose too much power then your reign ends with one of several nasty deaths and you begin afresh with the next king in line. Various buffs and bonuses are available through play to either protect a faction from negative influence or constantly increase or decrease their power; all of which must be very carefully regulated to avoid a gruesome fate. And if you can figure out a way to break the curse before the era ends and you have to start again that’d be handy too. Reigns is a surprisingly deep game wrapped in a veneer of simplistic resource management that generates the “just one more round” feeling that accompanies some of the best mobile games on the market. Highly recommended. STATUS: ON THE BACKBURNER

Mystic Messenger (Cheritz, 2016, iOS/Android, Free-to-play)

If you’re a fan of otome/visual novel games chances are you’ve already heard of this little gem from South Korea. The player character finds herself inhabiting a secure apartment after downloading a mysterious app and using it to talk with a group of six people who are members of RFA; an organisation that works together to hold fundraising parties for charitable causes. After agreeing to take on the vacant position of party planner you work with the other members to find guests to invite and convince them to attend the upcoming event. What makes Mystic Messenger fascinating (and potentially life-consuming) is that the entire game is played through the RFA app, with all character interactions taking place in chatroom scenes, text messages and phone calls. Events unlock in real time according to a preset schedule throughout the eleven days of the story, with some occurring in the small hours of the morning! Fortunately it is not necessary to take part in 100% of the conversations yourself, and as long as you read the missed threads before moving on you should be able to progress well enough during your waking hours. Each of the six characters has their own unique route to play through, some are simple stories between you and them while others delve into a deeper story concerning your predecessor and her relationship with the other members. Premium currency exists to let you participate in missed conversations, call characters yourself, and unlock extra after-story content and the final two character routes. Each member of the RFA have distinct personalities and quirks, and I found myself thoroughly drawn into the foibles of their social group through my first playthrough. Currently my partner and I have cleared one character route each, but we will both definitely be trying out some others when we have the time. Just be sure you don’t have anything important going on for the almost-two-weeks it takes to play, because if you enjoy Mystic Messenger then catching the characters online can get a teeny bit obsessive; try not to lose too much sleep over your favourite guy or girl! STATUS: YOOSUNG ROUTE COMPLETE; TAKING A BREAK BEFORE REPLAYING


This handful of titles are just the ones that have left a lasting impression on me, but I feel they are all special in their own ways. What do you think of these games if you’ve played any of them? And what mobile games have you discovered recently that you would recommend to others?

The Curious Case of Short-Form Anime

Normally one of the biggest things that stands out about anime when one thinks about it is sweeping large-scale narrative of a type that, until recent decades, has been harder to find in mainstream Western animation. But in reality, anime is a very diverse breed, and today I’d like to dedicate a little time to examining a different and in my mind highly interesting subset that we have been seeing more and more of lately: short-form anime.

In the simplest terms, short-form anime are series with very short episode lengths; unlike the usual 22-24 minute episodes, short-form can run from 15 minutes to as little as 2 minutes per episode, and as such they will often be presented more as a series of vignettes loosely connected by the cast of characters, or as a very basic story-line made up of such vignettes or even individual scenes. Quite a few are adaptations of manga, particularly 4-koma strips as these lend themselves easily to a short episode length; others are spinoffs of existing anime  or live-action franchises. A more meta concept are the likes of Studio Trigger’s Space Patrol Luluco, which is set in the connected universe of the studio’s other properties, acting as a kind of whistle-stop tour of various Trigger worlds, including another of their short-form series Inferno Cop, yet it has its own individual story.

kaijugirls_fi

This season’s Kaiju Girls is based on minor monsters from Tsuburaya Productions’ live-action Ultra series.

The subject matter of short-form shows can vary widely, but the vast majority of them are firmly planted in the comedy genre and can range from general jokes and funny situations to madcap screwball antics delivered at a machine-gun pace. Speaking personally I’m not so fond of the latter; the Japanese comedy trope of delivering lukewarm comedy dialogue at a pace that is almost too fast for subtitles to keep up with is something that I’m simply not grabbed by, and thus shows like Teekyu tend to lose me very quickly.

Oshiete! Galko-chan 8 4-noscale.jpg

Galko-chan is both funny and strangely enlightening. Highly recommended!

For me what appeals to me the most about short-form is the wide breadth of unusual concepts that likely wouldn’t be able to  stand up in a full-length anime production. Orenchi no Furo Jijō explores the daily trials of a young man who has a needy merman living in his bathtub, Bananya is a hidden camera documentary about tiny cats living in banana skins, and Please Tell Me Galko-chan features a trio of high-school girls discussing… feminine biology (but seriously, watch Galko-chan, it’s a great show). And if surreal situations aren’t really your thing there are always simpler concept anime like Bonjour Sweet Love Patisserie (a recommendation from my partner who often prefers her anime more on the sensible side) or the classic high school slice-of-life show Azumanga Daioh! which, while released as compiled full-length episodes in the west, was originally broadcast as short segments in keeping with the original 4-koma and can easily be watched in its individual parts if you so wish.

1181364121998

No really, Azumanga is one of the more everyday short anime I’ve watched so far.

Since I’ve started keeping a finger on the pulse of the current anime scene in the last year I have begun to develop a fondness for short-form as a concept. As a Western fan watching a lot of these shows after their original air-dates and thus having access to an entire series at once, the short, sharp bursts of fun are great ways to kill a few minutes, and their brevity even allows you to watch a little anime on the go without worrying too much about losing track of time if you need to be somewhere; I once found an odd sense of amusement from watching Galko-chan in a Subway on my lunch break! Before bed, on public transport, while waiting for friends or family to arrive, the opportunities to get in a quick blast of anime are everywhere, and short-form shows are ready and waiting to fill in these little voids. I highly recommend that you check some out, after all, it won’t take you very long!

10 Great Engrish Anime Themes

At some point in our lives we have all come across the wonderful world of Engrish; foreign use of the English language that is either poorly spelled, poorly structured or otherwise just plain wrong, with hilarious results. Japan in particular likes to use English words in order to make their products look cooler and more modern, and their media is no exception. Many contemporary musicians sprinkle English into their songs and many of these gems find their way into anime as openings and endings. Whether it’s the odd word or an entire song sung in weird English, everyone enjoys a good chuckle at these tunes now and then, so today I present ten anime theme songs that employ Engrish to a certain degree. I will stress that this isn’t a Top 10 Worst list, these are examples that I find fun for some reason or another.

10) Aozora Jumping Heart – Love Live! Sunshine!!

Speaking of appearing modern, let’s kick off with an anime from last season. Japanese pop idols being a super-popular music genre with, to my ears, a very retro Western sound to a lot of their music, it’s no surprise that both µ’s and their successors Aqours appeal to contemporary youth by sprinkling the odd bit of English into their lyrics. While a lot of µ’s’ catalogue used our language relatively sensibly and coherently, the first verse of Aozora Jumping Heart begins with a complete non-sequitur English phrase and uses a few more later for good measure. The whole package comes together to create a sense of youthful exuberance that I can’t help but find appealing.

9) Perfect-Area Complete! – Baka to Test to Shoukanjuu

Perfect-Area Complete. What does it mean? What, in the context of this absurdist school comedy, does the phrase represent? I have absolutely no idea, but this is a fun, energetic song that fits the manic action of Baka to Test perfectly. Also sprinkling in English words mostly pertaining to school-related topics like tests and the failing thereof, I find the nonsensical and redundant use of English in this song to be strangely appropriate as the introduction to the dunces of Class F, around whom this carnival of stupidity revolves.

8) SPLASH FREE – Free! Iwatobi Swim Club

Straddling some bizzare middle ground between the last two entries, SLPASH FREE combines random English words pertaining to the show’s subject matter and also some general phrases that add to the dance track feel of the song in general. Combine the bizarre swimming terminology with a pounding club beat and you get a catchy song that sticks in your head and brings a smile to your face, both for it’s killer tune and it’s totally-serious-no-really smatterings of way-cool English. Make us free na splash indeed.

7) Truth – Revolutionary Girl Utena

Truth only really has one big Engrish line in the whole TV-size version, but it’s so horrendously mangled that it deserves a place on this list. It also helps that this ridiculous-sounding line is belted out before the backing track has hit it’s stride, making it really stick in your mind, especially if, like me, you binged watched the show over a short period. The Engrish lyrics are an attention-grabbing quirk headlining a real classic of 90s anime music.

6) Jap – Sengoku Basara

Sometimes the randomness of Engrish in a song can be a distraction to a Western audience, but when Abingdon Boys School’s single was chosen as the opening to the Sengoku Basara anime it turned out to be a perfect fit and perfect for getting the blood pumping for some absurdly over-the-top samurai action! Kicking into gear after a pre-credits scene in the first episode in which the wild warlord Masamune Date gives a rousing speech to his troops in broken English before riding off on a horse with handlebars, Jap’s intense guitar rhythms and pointless use of English words lets you know exactly what to expect from this over-the-top (and extremely historically innacurate) Warring States showdown.

5) The World Without Logos – Hellsing

When I first watched Hellsing I had no idea this song was in English because of how slurred the lyrics are. In fact having read the lyrics after buying the soundtrack I’m not sure Yasushi Ishii realises he’s writing in English either, it reminds me of the made up nonsense Latin chanting one often sees in fantasy genre parodies. This is one of those Engrish tracks that I remember fondly purely because the words are so nonsensical that they just make me laugh plain and simple. Which is a shame, because The World Without Logos has a killer hook that I couldn’t get enough of back in the day.

4) Keys Plus Words – Persona 4 The Animation

When one thinks of Persona one thinks of hard-hitting social themes, emotionally deep character development… and Shiroko Hirata singing in awful English. Being written and composed by the same team as the original video game, Persona 4 The Animation’s original theme songs do a great job of capturing the feel of the source material. Key Plus Words is very reminiscent of the game’s battle theme, quite fitting seeing as this opening comes in when the plot is already in full swing. Yes, the English in these songs is consistently not-quite-accurate, but that has become part of the series’ quirky charm.

3) Tonight Tonight Tonight – Bleach

A song with such choppy lyrics that the fansubbers I used to use to watch Bleach had to rewrite the subtitles halfway through the season. Tonight Tonight Tonight shows such a simplistic understanding of English that the full-length version is literally second verse same as the first, but that’s just part of the appeal of this short, catchy rock number. It is also quite fitting that this silly-sounding song is the opening theme for Bleach’s first ever filler arc, one that takes a completely different tone from the main storyline (although I still quite liked the Bounts as a concept…)

2) Red Fraction – Black Lagoon

You can say this for Red Fraction: it encapsulates one of the most important aspects of Black Lagoon in it’s very first line. In fact all of the lyrics, while poorly-written, do all seem to fit the theme and content of the show perfectly, and share a slight unpleasantness with the surprisingly likeable crew of the Lagoon. Pair that with a pounding, driving bass-line and you have a great introduction to a high-stakes, high-octane show neatly wrapped up in a minute-and-a-half package.

1) Tell Me Why – Berserk

Tell Me Why does not fit well with Berserk. At all. It’s a light, upbeat song in a series that is well known for it’s dark, depressing, ultra-violent themes. And beyond that, objectively speaking it’s a really bad track. The lyrics make no sense, the singing is awful, even the guitar howls like a cat in heat. But it has this undeniable feeling of silly 90s camp, not entirely unlike the ridiculous level of blood and gore in the series it accompanies. Even a terrible song can make you feel good if it stirs fond memories, and Berserk’s original anime certainly does that, making it impossible for me to hate this silly, silly gem.

What does Engrish in Japanese music mean to you? Do you love it, hate it or just plain tolerate it? Do any Engrish-using tracks mean anything special to you? Drop a comment and share your thoughts on this bizarre quirk of Asian media.

Gotta Hunt ’em All! Monster Hunter X Pokémon

After a long, unscheduled hiatus, The Omega Geek is back up and running! I’ve got a small backlog of ideas scribbled in my notebook, some fresh new ideas knocking around my skull, and I’m ready for action! And today we’ll be looking at a theme that WAS topical before my unplanned blogging break, but what the hey, I want to talk about it so I will!

The end of summer saw the much-anticipated release of a new entry to a huge gaming franchise which brings its players together in their ongoing quest to travel the world capturing a wide range of monsters and using them to improve one’s game until they are the very best, like no-one ever was. That’s right, the mighty Monster Hunter Generations was finally released in the West!

Terrible bait-and-switch jokes aside, the fact that Monster Hunter and Pokémon Go were both released within a similar time-frame did get me thinking about the iconic beasts of each franchise side-by-side. Monster Hunter Generations is called Monster Hunter X in Japan and features a large number of cross-overs from various Nintendo and Capcom franchises from Star Fox and Zelda to Strider and Okami. At first I thought it a shame that there were no Pokémon equipment sets available, until I realised that in a way, Pokémon are already present in the Monster Hunter world as there are a number of similarities between each game’s signature beasties. So I sat down with a notepad and a Pokédex app and came up with a few monsters and Pokémon that are so similar they could almost be cousins:

Malfestio = Noctowl

The first connection I noticed was between one of Generations’ new flagship monsters, the harlequin-like Malfestio, and the Gen 2 Flying-Type Noctowl. Both are very large, imposing owl creatures and as you can see even their official artworks are similar. Both are known for their surprising psychic capabilities; sharing the ability to lull their enemies to sleep with hypnosis as well as cause their respective games’ confusion status effects – quite a big coincidence (in fact Malfestio is the only monster capable of inflicting Confusion). Both being owls their in-game description make note of their nocturnal hunting prowess and 180° head rotation.

Zinogre = Manectric

I was very pleased to find a similarity between one of my favourite monsters and the latest Electric-type I discovered in Pokémon Y! (I am VERY behind in my Pokémon knowledge). These two look so much alike that one could be forgiven for thinking Manectric  was some kind of chibi version of the hulking Fanged Wyvern. Aside from the similar colour scheme they are both clearly based on wolves and are surprisingly agile. As the Discharge Pokémon Manectric is known for constantly discharging electricity from its mane; in a similar manner Zinogre is best known for attracting Thunderbugs and charging itself up with their power.

Rajang = Primeape

Surprisingly, the Super Saiyan monster, bane of high-ranked hunters everywhere, bears similarities to a relatively mundane Pokémon! Both Rajang and Primeape are inspired by primates and are well-known for possessing a wild, explosive temper that can be triggered by the the slightest provocation. In both cases their rage greatly enhances their physical abilities and ferocity. It is also said that each creature becomes extremely tenacious in this state; Rajang is said to be “rarely sighted and seldom survived” while several Pokédex entries for Primeape describe its tendency to relentlessly chase anything that angers it and that beating it only makes it madder. Add to this fighting styles primarily composed of furious physical attacks and we find two creatures very much cut from the same cloth. Though there is likely no doubt which would dominate in a fight!

Admittedly, my experience in both Monster Hunter and Pokémon is relatively limited compared to most fans of each franchise, so there are likely some other similar creatures that I haven’t picked up on. Indeed, many other connections on my shortlist which seemed similar purely in physical appearance crumbled away upon actually researching them. If you have any other Monster/Mon connections that I missed feel free to share them in a comment!

What I’m Watching This Season (So Far)

As I’ve mentioned before, this year’s summer anime season marks the first time I’ve been watching new anime shows as they come out, and while I’ve been enjoying thinking up old shows to talk about it would be nice to change tack briefly and ruminate a bit on the here and now. So I’d like to briefly introduce the handful of summer 2016 anime that I’m currently making my way through. This is in no way an exhaustive list of what I’m going to be watching; my free time is limited and I’ve been doing a lot of gaming lately. These are just the shows I’ve gotten around to so far, but I think they’re an interesting enough mix to run through. So in no particular order:

Berserk

berserk-2016-1

If you haven’t already, then do check out my thoughts on the classic 90s Berserk adaptation right here. While both that and the recent trilogy of movies covered the popular Golden Age arc of the manga this new offering thankfully gives us a taste of what came next in Kentaro Miura’s skin-crawling tale of blood, demons and the darkness in man’s heart. Picking up pretty much where the movies left off (while skipping a couple of standalone stories from the manga), Berserk 2016 sees Guts, the wandering “Black Swordsman” traveling the war-ravaged kingdom of Midland while relentlessly pursued by demons who want to claim his soul for their enigmatic masters the Godhand. The series inherits the unusual semi-cel-shaded CG animation of the movies, which so far has been putting a lot of people off, but if you can mentally adjust for it and expect things to look a little awkward in places then Berserk is a gleeful throwback to the anime ultra-violence of yesteryear (unsurprising since the manga began publication in the 80s). If you like the grimdark sensibilities of Game of Thrones’ action scenes but think it needs more overt supernatural elements then this could be one to keep an eye on. One caveat however; the show seems to pretty much assume that you know the events of the Golden Age arc already, so you might find it useful to bone up on previous incarnations of the franchise.

Love Live! Sunshine!!

Aqours_Dengeki_G's_Magazine_June_2016_Bonus_Poster_Main_Slider.jpg

Did I ever mention that I have one of the widest taste in anime I know? A new chapter in the anime accompaniment to the Love Live! School Idol Project, Sunshine!! follows Chika Takami, a high school girl in a quiet coastal town who is inspired to try and put together her own school idol group after discovering µ’s, the group from the previous series. The new series definitely suffers a little from being connected to the previous one; a lot of character traits are recycled from the girls of µ’s albeit in new configurations, and the story is currently following a lot of the same beats as its predecessor. Standing on its own feet I also find that the characters are a little broader than before; so far a lot of the humour is derived from anime character stereotypes like the tech-illiterate bookworm, the increasingly-irritating girl-who-gropes-other-girls’-breasts that anime badly needs to grow out of, and an outspoken chuunibyou (incidentally is it really ok for a show to encourage delusional behaviour under the pretext of being true to yourself?) However, the broad character strokes do help to make each girl distinct and recognisable, what few songs we’ve been shown are of similar quality to µ’s output and the coastal backdrop is much nicer to look at than the city scenes of the first two series. Love Live! Sunshine!! is unlikely to win over new fans, but I’m sure followers of the original will enjoy another dose of idol goodness.

Cute High Earth Defence Club Love! Love!

cute-high-earth-defense-club-love-season-2-announcement.jpg

Much like Love Live! Sunshine!!, Cute High season 2 is pretty much more of the same parodying of magical girl tropes by applying them to a group of overly-lackadaisical high school boys. After everything in the original series has been neatly wrapped up and finished off the school council leave to study abroad, leaving an opening for a new pair of villains to take the stage (literally) and prompting Wombat, the fluffy hybrid of Luna and Kyubey, to give the Battle Lovers new uniforms and magic spells because that’s what always happens in the second season. This show remains just as bizarre and, if I’m honest, brazenly stupid as ever, and while the premise is running thin in an industry where subverting genres is more popular than outright riducling them it still prompts enough incredulous chuckles from me that I’m willing to ride this one out and see what happens next. It also helps that the new villains are borderline-twincestuous idols.

Sweetness & Lightning

02-Kouhei-Tsumugi-Kotori.jpg

So far I’m only two episodes into Sweetness & Lightning so I can’t talk about it with any authority, but when it only takes one episode to get me hooked it must be doing something right! Unlike the fantastical or wish-fulfilment elements of the other shows I’m watching, this touching drama series focuses on real-world issues. This story follows Kohei Inuzuka, a recently bereaved teacher who struggles to provide his daughter Tsumugi with proper meals until a chance encounter with one of his students inspires him to try learning to cook. So far this show has a very sedate pace and really lavishes attention on Kohei and Tsumigi’s day-to-day relationship; he may only be able to provide her with ready meals, but it is very clear that Kohei cares for his daughter more than anything else in the world, and in return Tsumugi has an undying affection for her father that makes me well up even during perfectly happy scenes. The unique selling point of Sweetness & Lightning is that Tsumugi is voiced by a child actress, Rina Endo, which provides her lines with extra authenticity and greatly enhances the appeal of her character in a way that an adult woman putting on a sweet voice just couldn’t measure up to. I don’t know where this story is headed, but I can already tell that I will quickly become emotionally invested in the characters.

Bananya

Bananya-577d0ce7b4619.jpg

Last but not least, meet Bananya! A frankly bizarre short form anime series, Bananya is a… documentary of sorts about a group of tiny cats that spend their lives secretly nestled inside banana skins in an ordinary house, playing with innocuous items like TV remotes or the contents of a refrigerator. It’s weird, it’s cute, it’s strangely funny, and this write-up is as short as the show’s episode lengths because there’s really nothing else to say about it. It’ll only take up three minutes of your time each week, so give it a look some time!

There are a couple of other shows this season that I’m definitely interested in checking, particularly Orange which I gather is doing rather well at the moment, but these are my current ongoing shows as they stand in a season that seems to have some pretty strong titles starting up. What do you think of these shows? What shows are currently on your radar?