Meikyuu Black Company – 04 – Shiacalypse Now

Shia leads Ninomiya and Wanibe on a training expedition on the second floor, armed not just with a sword, those lovely star-filled eyes, and those diamond highlights, but a filled-to-brimming tank of enthusiasm for Being a Good Corporate Drone and Doing One’s Duty The Right Way.

Ninomiya has even less energy for this nonsense than usual because he has to produce five million gold in a month or his loan shark will take his life. He doesn’t have time to do things by the book. With his literal life at stake, one can’t begrudge him embracing methods some might call…unsound.

The team encounters a Majin, the monster of legend that causes a “Death March”—treated by Raiza’ha as an unavoidable but potentially profitable natural disaster. Turns out Shia’s employers set her up to be the latest in a long line of powerful human sacrifices to appease the Majin.

What they didn’t count on is that one of the grunts with her is Ninomiya Kinji, who has an ant army at his disposal and soon starts farming monster parts for gold.

As for the Majin, it’s too tough even for the great Shia (its laser beams really pack a punch), so Ninomiya suggests they retreat. Unfortunately the emergency magic crystal dagger used to transport back to the surface only works on one person.

Naturally, Shia gives it to Ninomiya, but her ensuing melancholy goodbye melts his cold cold heart and he not only stays behind with her, but throws the dagger at the Majin, transporting it to the surface where it becomes the company’s problem, as it should be.

The Majin, drawn to Shia’s considerable mana, eventually makes his way back down into the dungeon, where Ninomiya is ready for him in the form of a giant pit trap into which the Majin falls. Ninomiya then has his ant minions fill the pit with cement, and has Shia dry it with her wind magic. When that isn’t enough, he sets the whole thing on fire. Shia can’t argue with Ninomiya’s ends, but the means disturb her.

When the Majin still won’t die, Shia resolves to defeat it, as is her “duty and destiny”, even at the cost of her life. It’s here where Ninomiya unfortunately decides grope her, losing a lot of goodwill he’d built up recently. He admits he looked up her family history, and how her father was of the absentee adventurer variety.

He deduces that Shia has been “brainwashed by thoughts that benefit Raiza’ha”, in part because she was happiest once she joined the company. But just because it improved her life doesn’t mean that life is theirs to throw away and call it “duty”. Raiza’ha isn’t a nation, and Shia isn’t a soldier. She’s just a damn at-will employee.

After being rescued in the nick of time by Rimu, who then quickly dispatches the Majin she reports was “incomplete”, Ninomiya claims victory…for himself, continuing to cement his role as an incorrigible sonofabitch. But he made some good points to Shia about casting aside the corporate conditioning and determining what she wants to do with her life.

If that’s continuing to work hard, fine. If it’s working hard for a company that just tried to sacrifice her to an eldritch abomination, that’s not fine. We’ll see if Ninomiya’s core message gets through to Shia, despite the messenger being a cad.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Don’t Toy with Me, Miss Nagatoro – 06 – RPG Dreams and Triple Teams

Naoto wakes up in a heavenlike place, assigned a mage’s staff, and before he knows it he’s falling from the sky into a fantasy RPG world, complete with Nagatoro in skantily-dressed catgirl cosplay.

He manages to protect her from the fire breath of a dragon (who turns out to be Gamo-chan) and Nekotoro rewards him with a peck on the cheek—which would be his first kiss, were this not obviously a dream.

Because it was only a matter of time before things took a turn when Gamo and Yosshi showed up, the four arrive at the Demon Lord’s castle, where the three girls change into even skimpier outfits and reveal that collectively they are the Demon Lord.

They prepare to make him their toy, and he wakes up screaming…in the middle of the family restaurant, just as Nagatoro and her friends spot him. He quickly flees, but leaves behind his sketchbook…full of drawings of Nekotoro, which Nagatoro is surely secretly happy about.

In the next segment, Naoto is simply relaing in the miracle of air conditioning when he gets a call from Nagatoro—that’s right, a phone call—urging him to join her at the beach. When he meets up, he learns Gamo-chan and Yosshi are also in attendance, which serves as some nice symmetry to his RPG dream.

When they arrive, Gamo does what anyone who arrives at a beach would do: take off her shirt and shorts to reveal her black string bikini. When she notices Paisen gawking, she makes it a point to flaunt her bod, and Yosshi joins in with her frilly pink bikini.

Not to be outdone, Nagatoro removes her oversized undershirt to reveal her black-bordered white bikini…as well as her swim club tan lines. That’s right: no one-piece school swimsuits among these cool girls. Naoto retreats to buy the girls drinks.

Nagatoro, Gamo and Yosshi go swimming in the ocean, but Naoto remains under the beach umbrella sketching, worried about sunburn. Nagatoro engages him, offering to apply sunblock to her Senpai … “gently.” When he says that’s something only people dating should do—and he and her aren’t that—Nagatoro is clearly hurt.

She dispenses swift punishment, in the form of liberally squirting sunblock on Naoto, then rubbing it into his back…with her foot. As she does so, she starts to smirk and blush, and Naoto blushes too, indicating this is something both of them are into.

But when Yosshi puts her foot on Naoto as well, observing that it looked liked fun, Nagatoro makes clear she’s not having fun; she is doing her duty as a domme, putting her sub in his place for putting distance between them.

Gamo also joins in, which means Naoto has three beautiful girls pushing him into the sand with their feet. Once he’s sufficiently sunblocked, Nagatoro takes the lead in pushing him towards the water.

While Naoto is not the strongest swimmer, he’d buoyed—literally—by the fact that it’s easier to float in salt water. He, Nagatoro, Gamo and Yosshi proceed to have a blast swimming and splashing in the ocean and then having ramen at the seaside cafe.

That night, when Naoto is back home, Nagatoro calls him to ask if he had fun, and Naoto admits that he did. Of course he did! Not only did three drop-dead gorgeous girls deign to spend time with him and sully their feet so that he wouldn’t suffer sunburn; he also managed to sketch Nagatoro in a moment of pure joy. Thus his summer was not wasted.

Naoto and Hayase may not be “dating” per se, but it’s made abundantly clear by both his dream and the beach trip that the pair are good friends who enjoy hanging out, and her friends have fully accepted him as someone she genuinely cares about. Sure, they can go overboard in messing with him, but at the end of the day they enjoyed his company and he enjoyed theirs.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Episode 6 “Senpai” Count: 29 (+6 “Paisens”)
Total: 227

Full Dive – 02 – Hell’s Fruit Slicer

For someone supposedly there to help Hiro out, Reona has nothing but bad news for him: Kiwame Quest can’t be restarted unless he buys a new console, which she just happens to be willing to sell for ¥120,000, or ¥30K more than he paid for his. Considering how quickly easily Hiro ruined his game, it’s no wonder KQ is a dead game.

He also learns that in the city of Ted, AKA the Closed City, he’s already a wanted fugitive, and so must exercise caution when buying a cheap cloak to mask himself. The clothes merchant hikes up the price in exchange for staying mum about seeing him. It’s looking more and more like the enterprising Reona wrangled Hiro into this game in hopes he’d give up and spend more of the money he doesn’t give to school bullies to her.

Despite costing most of the cash he started with, the cloak does nothing to hide Hiro from his childhood friend Alicia, who arrives in heightened fruit-knife wielding psycho mode. Ai Fairouz brings a lovely chaotic intensity to the role, and after praising the ten-year old’s NPC AI magic, advises Hiro to run. Running makes him tired—just like real life—only since he’s never actually run for his life before, he’s doubly exhausted.

His title changes from “Best Friend Killer” to “Running Best Friend Killer: Fleet-footed Amicide.” Having had enough, Hiro tries to log out, but he’s still technically in combat with Alicia, who appears and slashes his hand. Despite Reona assuring him one doesn’t feel any more pain than a bruise from fallnig down stairs, Hiro is still caught off guard by the pain. Reona, invisible to Alicia, punche her in the face to allow Hiro to flee and log off.

Back in the real world, Hiro notes how he’s never run all-out like he just did in KQ. His friend tries to prod him into confronting the bullies using him as a wallet, and Kaede makes another brief appearance to complain about the noise he made last night, and look at him with disgust. He ultimately decides to go back to KQ, and not just to go all-out again…but perhaps so the shitty experience there makes real life seem not so bad?

Upon logging back on, he’s in the exact same pain as when he was last there, and his hand is still bleeding. Naturally, simply touching the medicinal herbs in his pocket doesn’t heal him. He then happens to bump into Ginji, another “best friend killer” who’s been playing the game for years. Ginji crushes the herbs and bandages Hiro’s hand, then takes him to a casino to drink a cola-like beverage he’s inexplicably drunk on.

Reona told Hiro to seek Ginji out to learn how he salvaged killing his best friend at start of the game, only to learn he didn’t. In fact, he also killed his childhood friend, and feels zero remorse over it. He also mentions that despite how hard this game is, and how you enter it with your real-world attributes, there is one man, named Kamui, who actually managed to clear the game 100%. But that’s enough chit-chat, as Ginji sells Hiro out by yelling that the fugitive killer is there.

Full Dive’s high concept asks me to suspend my disbelief so high, my arm muscles strain to keep it in the air. It doesn’t help that the visuals are underwhelming, or that the color palette and lighting are oppressively dark and drab—this may be the ugliest Spring show.

Still, if there’s one thing I buy just enough—for now—is the rationale for Hiro sticking with KQ: of all the people in real life, Reona is the only one we’ve seen who not approves of his video game hobby, and wants to play with him. In other words, the closest thing to a friend. He just needs to stay away from fruit knives!

Full Dive – 01 (First Impressions) – Reality Bytes

Just as Tyrell Corporation’s replicants were billed as “more human than human”, Kiwame Quest was meant to be a full-dive VR RPG “more like real life than real life”—stimulating all five senses and capable of near-infinite routes. The problem is, video games are supposed to be like video games: a relaxing escape from the troubles of real life. So KQ was panned and receded into obscurity.

Our dull MC Yuuki Hiro’s life sucks. Something traumatic happened two years ago that everyone around him can’t help but keep bringing up and dancing around; he’s entering his final year of high school and still not sure what he’s going to do. He “lends” cash to two delinquents, so he’s a key short when it’s time to purchase Finalizing Quest 22 (the show’s FF equivalent).

Certain he won’t find FQ22 for sale at a lower price, he rolls the dice at the unassuming and deserted Kisaragi game store. The newest FQ on display is last year’s, and when he asks the gorgeous clerk Kisaragi Reona (Taketatsu Ayana) if they have 22 in stock, she goes on a passionate and unsolicited rant about how people just keep buying FQ out of habit despite diminishing returns.

Reona has something else in store for the low, low price of 10,000 yen: Kiwame Quest, which Hiro has never heard of. Dismissing FQ as “innocent”, she calls KQ “a super hardcore full-dive RPG for adults”, and since she logs in regularly, she’ll be there to teach him what he needs to know “attentively and patiently”. Hiro reluctantly agrees to the transaction and heads home.

Hiro’s home, by the way, seems to have been lit by Zack Snyder. After learning KQ is a decade old but not being able to reach Reona on her phone, and after the obligatory walking in on his sister in her underwear, Hiro settles into his room, switches on his VR gaming system, and dives in.

He’s initially underwhelmed by the opening spiel, telling him to begin the quest to defeat the Demon Lord by leaving the city and heading to Flora Castle. But once he coalesces in the game world, he is soon legitimately impressed by the realism, and the fact he can feel the metal of a window handle and the wind blowing in.

He soon meets Alicia, an NPC who is anything but. She’s his character’s childhood friend, and Martin is her “nice young man” big brother. They’ve come to invite Hiro to join them for apple picking. When he tells them ihis intent to leave the city and asks where Flora Castle is, they react like his head’s on backwards.

Apparently there’s no entering or leaving the city walls due to the heightened threat of goblin attacks. When Hiro waves that threat away, assuming it’s a low-level battle, Martin is convinced Hiro is mad and tries to beat him back into coherence. It’s here it’s confirmed that a punch to the face is every bit as painful as the real thing.

Thoroughly pissed off and out of patience by a game that’s not going the way these games usually go, Hiro lashes out at Martin, shoving him to the ground. When he doesn’t move, Hiro leans in to find the knife Martin was using to cut an apple went straight through his mouth and out the back of his throat, killing him.

Alicia freaks, and Hiro, still not sure how the hell things got to this particular place, decides the only thing to do for now is to run. A crazed Alicia chases him like the Terminator, but he eventually loses her in a downtown alley. It’s there where Reona finally joins him, but in a neat bit of camerawork it’s revealed she’s a tiny fairy, who is there to be his guide.

She also points out that the little tag around his neck is etched with a title to denote his game progress so far. Hiro is unable to tell her what has happened before she reads his tag and learns for herself: “Best Friend Killer.” Hiro’s been diving less than ten minutes, but it’s already Game Over, Man.

Full Dive is helped by its offbeat approach to VR game immersion, and by its crisp and highly expressive character designs and smooth animation. It is hurt more than anything else by its absolute flat-line of a protagonist. Granted, some of his reactions are fun and he’s supposed to be dull. Still, I want to watch the next episode, if nothing else to see whether he’ll start over or continue on from his bloody, disastrous start.

Okaa-san Online – 01 (First Impressions) – ZOMRPG, MOM!!!

One night, Oosuki is filling out a survey heavy on questions about his relationship to his mother, and the next morning a government official informs him that he’s been selected to enter a video game world. But he doesn’t go alone. His mom follows him in, and will be joining him on his full-dive fantasy adventure!

That’s the high concept, broad-strokes premise to an episode that then proceeds to take its sweet old time immersing Masato and his mom into this new world, an as-yet-unnamed MMO that’s still in beta. Their role is to play the game so that the producers can gather data.

Masato already has reservations about his mom following him along for this once-in-a-lifetime experience, but they turn to downright frustration when she demonstrates she can dual-wield legendary weapons and decimate multiple targets at once. His basic attack is pathetic by comparison.

So, of course, he lashes out, threatening to “disown” his mom in a moment of unguarded rage. That’s when his mom (named Mamako) starts to cry, telling him no one has ever said anything so mean and sad to her. He quickly backtracks, apologizing profusely, and his mom, being a very nice mom, easily forgives him.

They teleport into a town to gather a party at the Adventurer’s Guild, but after pulling the game guide out of her bust, Mamako decides to make a strong first impression by smashing a giant hole into the guild hall, much to Masato’s dismay.

Shirase, the woman who sent them into the game, is there to greet them, bleeding from the head (turns out she’s a game object and the blood is just an effect). And naturally, as they look over party members, Mamako is thinking about finding a nice young woman to team up with him.

Okaa-san Online takes the opposite approach of Arifureta and starts us off at the very beginning of Masato and Mamako’s story, but I still felt an inescapable impatience with the slow pace and the episode’s need to explain terms like “PK”, as if this was someone’s first isekai rodeo.

There’s also the little matter of the show looking pretty atrocious. Like the game in which mother and son find themselves (though I don’t mind their white pupils, like Moriko’s in MMO Junkie), the show just feels sparse and incomplete, both visually and conceptually, what with its lazy, unimaginative hand-waving.

The music has its epic moments, but can be too assertive during quieter scenes. And while the underlying premise is pretty funny at first blush, the comedic dialogue and pacing is iffy at best. With execution lacking in effort and attention to detail, I can’t see myself sticking with this for long. After all, Mama didn’t raise no fool.

Wotaku ni Koi wa Muzukashii – 02 – Settling into a Nice if Familiar Rhythm

If the newness of WotaKoi masked it in the first episode, Hiraike Yoshimura’s style has become apparent in the second, as this week’s episode is more of a loosely-connected sequence of joke-dense vignettes with plenty of self-deprecating commentary (and some that references Eva, including Hirotaka-as-Ikari Gendo…Oigakkosan Cameo!)

Where WotaKoi distinguishes itself from Working!! and its various sequels is the speed with which the main couple comes together. Even when Hirotaka and Narumi are a little awkward at work, their friends Koyanagi and Kabakura point out the positive aspects of the other party, and that they’ve made the right choice.

But when Narumi somewhat carelessly admits Kabakura might be more “her type” in earshot of her boyfriend, she draws his ire, and the episode takes on the structure of a multiple-choice RPG, in which her avenue of escape is blocked until Kabakura and Koyanagi—former captains of their schools’ volleyball teams—start going at it, and she exploits the opening to flee.

Hirotaka chases after her, however, which results in the two adults working things out right then and there. She was scared of his reaction, while he was worried she didn’t like him anymore and wonders if it was a bad idea to confess to her.

In response to that, Narumi hugs him tightly, telling him not to say such things. She makes sure he knows she’s happy he confessed, and likes where they’re at. Some initial awkwardness is to be expected in a romance where the two parties work together.

Those initial hiccups in the relationship are all but forgotten in the next segment, in which the quartet decides to go out for drinks after Narumi finishes up some OT work. But because all four of them are otaku, they decide to head to a bookstore first.

Once there, the women split from the men. Narumi and Hirotaka may be dating, but their forms of otakuism differ, which means on occasion they’ll give each other a berth in which to pursue their individual interests.

That’s especially the case on a night when Narumi gets to browse and shot with Koyanagi. Narumi has always hidden her otakuism from her friends, and feels liberated for finally not having to. Koyanagi, for her part, wants Narumi as a cosplay partner.

The result of the group’s extended shopping trip to the bookstore is that everyone other than Hiyotaka bought so much stuff and they’re so eager to read it, they skip going out for drinks altogether, part ways for the night, and stay up way too late. The next day they’re all groggy at work, which might actually work in Hiyotaka’s favor with regards to his attempts to learn how to wink!

While I’m sure it will expand to more people before too long, this is a fun quartet of people so far, consisting of a definitely-together-yet-casual couple and a long-standing love-hate/will-they-won’t-they. Those two kinds of dynamics on display lend balance to the proceedings, and the volume of jokes is high enough that even if some might not land huge laughs, there’s always more to come.

Death March to the Parallel World Rhapsody – 02

The battlemage whom Satoo saves is one Zena Marientail, who calls off her suspicious comrades and gives Satoo a ride to their mutual destination, Salue City, a lovely walled and terraced town with friendly faces and reputable businesses.

After securing proper papers (denoting him as Lv.1 despite his much higher level), he is snagged by Martha, the daughter of the keeper of the Gate Inn, where Zena’s comrade Iona recommended. Throughout these interactions, Satoo utilizes trickery, persuasion, bartering, and other skills he’s amassed.

The innkeeper tells him about a Demon King that a chosen Hero must defeat, but Satoo settles for some cold quiche and cabbage to sate his hunger. I for one have always lamented the fact one cannot taste all the different foods one finds in an RPG; watching Satoo enjoy it is the next best thing.

While Martha shows him around, Satoo learns about the strict caste system; commoners cannot use the public baths, and there are a good number of slaves, many of them demi-humans whom the other humans fear, distrust, and in some cases outright hate. When Satoo is nice to a couple of young demis, Martha seems confused, but quickly changes gears to other things.

Upon returning to the inn, Satoo happens to spot Arisa—who bears the inauspicious titles “Exiled Witch” and “Crazy Princess”—being ridden on a cart, presumably with other slaves. I’m sure he’ll see her again, but first, he has a hearty supper of veggie soup, wild boar, black bread and mead, which proves so tasty he has seconds against his better judgment.

As he tosses in bed with an upset stomach, he ponders his situation, and concludes it might not actually be a dream, but…something else. After all, the “game” he’s seen so far doesn’t really match any games he knows of or has helped to develop; rather it’s something unique.

As he rushes out into the night to explore the city some more—it’s very pretty at night—he decides that whatever is going on, it behooves him to soak up as much as he can, that he might become a better game developer by what he sees, hears, and experiences in this fantasy world.

I don’t really blame him; he’s flush with cash and overpowered to boot. I wonder how he’d fare right now against that Demon King. Of course, he’s nowhere close to encountering such an overboss; instead, he gets a surprise visit from Zena, who has come on her day off to thank him for saving her life by spending the day with him.

Desumachi continues to be nothing groundbreaking, but I cannot deny it scratches an itch; that of a fantasy slice-of-life that takes its time unveiling its world and not skimping on the details, be it currency, society, cuisine, and relationships. Basically, it’s comfily low-stakes and entertaining enough to keep watching for now, though my socks remain firmly un-knocked-off.

Death March to the Parallel World Rhapsody – 01 (First Impressions)

Here we go: Another anime about another black-haired dude somehow ending up transported to another fantasy RPG where he’s soon surrounded by another group of ladies. It’s directed by Oonuma Shin, whose resume includes Kokoro Connect and Rakudai Kishi no Cavalry, which weren’t bad. And hey, neither is this! But it isn’t what I’d call great, at least not yet. It is merely good.

I won’t say it started bad per se—I actually liked how we spent a good amount of time in the real world to watch Suzuki Ichirou’s “death march” at the game company where he works. But the time there clocks in at nine minutes; personally I would have been fine with a much shorter montage to establish the guy.

That would have given us more time in the the virtual world of War World where Suzuki ends up. But once he’s there, things get much more interesting.

By “interesting”, I mean “a little nerdy”, since the programming jargon of the real-world act is replaced by the clean, smooth heads-up menu interface of the game, which Suzuki, AKA “Satoo” is able to navigate with his mind.

He assumes he’s merely dreaming a very elaborate dream, and since he’s known nothing but RPG programming for 30 hours without sleep, it stands to reason that dream would be about the game. Oh, and he’s also been de-aged to around fifteen. Seiyu Horie Shun raises his voice when he’s talking out loud, while his thoughts remain in 29-year-old Suzuki’s voice.

Satoo starts out at Level 1, but when a horde of Lizardmen numbering 300, all with levels hovering around 50, and he unleashes a Meteor Rain that takes them all out, raising his Level to 310.

Suzuki doesn’t realize this until one last lizardman standing with critical HP tosses him a sword and challenges him to a final duel, and Satoo takes him out without any difficulty.

With the defeat of all those lizardmen, Satoo is suddenly maxed out in all attributes, HP, MP, and Stamina—the kind of levels it would normally take hundreds of hours to reach.

From there, he inspects all of his new skills and loot, tests his Meteor Rain ability again (then promptly turns it off because it’s too damn powerful), then kits himself out and starts to explore War World’s world.

It’s not long before he comes upon a city, which is then attacked by a Wyvern – one he could easily defeat. Instead, he sits back and watches things unfold with the city’s mostly medieval defense force, in which archers direct the beast and mages throw spells at it (nice use of distorted voices to portray the spells being chanted).

One of those mages is Zena, who fires off a particularly big spell at the wyvern, but gets tossed high into the sky. One of her comrades slows her fall, but it’s Satoo who leaps up to catch her in midair. Now that he’s rescued a fair maiden, Suzuki’s checked off another box in the stuck-in-an-RPG conventions.

Who Zena is or how she’ll react to being saved is a question for next week; again, blame the nine-minute prologue if you must. I must also report that this show did not impress with its visuals (the wyvern was particularly iffy compared to, say, Bahamut or  Zestiria), and aside from the piece that played while Satoo traversed the overworld, the music was also unremarkable. If you’d told me this was made five or even ten years ago, I’d believe you.

Despite its technical shortcomings I honestly enjoyed following Suzuki/Satoo around as he gathered his bearings, and will be back to see what he gets up to, and who he meets, next week.

 

Granblue Fantasy the Animation – 01 (First Impressions)

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The Gist: Granblue Fantasy is the story of Lyria, a abused special magic weapon on the run from The Empire, and Gran, a friendly knight, who comes to her rescue in the woods. Gran is killed along the way and Lyria must resurrect him and unleash the power of Bowmut to defeat the evil-face villain and escape.

I literally spent 40 minutes laughing with hatred at this show, which contains exactly zero drops of joy, artistic expression, nor professional craft.

It may be tempting to watch Granblue to witness its profoundly generic and overwhelmingly slow structure, which are impossible to capture in stills. It may be tempting to watch if you enjoy the game, which has lovely character designs, with vivid color and shading, absolutely not captured here.

Please, in the name of the 40 minutes of life I can never get back, do not. This is a profoundly terrible show.

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There is an unfortunate dialog convention in Fantasy RPGs, which I refer to as “Question, answer, answer repeated as question, answer.” (QAARAQA for short) It is usually reserved for the protagonist, to reinforce information that absolutely does not need to be reinforced for the viewer/player, which results in a mentally limited protagonist and disrupted narrative flow.

“Who’s chasing us?” “The Empire.” “The Empire!? They’re dangerous!” “Yes. We must escape them!” “Escape them!?” – Oh just shut up!

GranBlue Fantasy the Animation QAARAQAs frequently, often while characters are standing around before and after its brief action scenes. Not only does this result in a repetitive cycle that adds nothing to our understanding of the world or the characters, as they are only restating obvious plot points we’ve seen or can infer without emotional nuance, it totally derails the flow of action.

Of course that would matter more if GranBlue contained action in the first place. While characters do run around, occasionally launch shimmery attacks, and there are 2 CGI dragons, the animation is lethargic or lacking narrative tension or hilariously adherent to RPG battle conventions, or all three at once.

In one scene, after a few seconds running away from a long conversation, Katalina stops and walks up angrily to four imperial knights harassing villagers in the forest …and swats them to the ground with her rapier. She doesn’t run, she just walks up to them and splat, they fall over, with exactly the same sword-swing and fall-down impact you would expect from a broad sword. The only thing missing was red damage point numbers appearing above the knights’ bodies.

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While the character design is quite detailed, that level of detail limits shading. The result looks flat, lacking volume, and the line quality, which is best described as ‘sketchy pencil’ looks sloppy, unfinished. Other visual notes like Vyrn not flapping her wings, rather bobbing up and down in the frame, and that 20 minutes of the episode are spent running aimlessly through the same muddy-colored forest, gives an overall feeling that no effort was put into the production of this show.

Certainly, nothing compared to the lovely rich colors and bold shading in the game. (Don’t even get me started on the audio, the generic high-pitched girl voice dragon, or the laughingly evil faced villain who also has a generic high pitched voice/laugh.)

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The Verdict: Fantasy tropes aside, GranBlue‘s structure is terrible. Scenes are interminably long, often featuring characters standing around expositioning content we know or are smart enough to infer.

11 minutes in, Gran and Katalina spend 4 minutes next to a fallen tree re-explaining the current story. This is immediately after running away from a group of soldiers, without a sense that they’ve ‘gotten away’ or are hiding. They’re just here, nonchalantly talking about the plot. No tension, nothing.

“Gran! Please use my power.” “Your… power?” “Yes” – ARGH!

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Tales of Zestiria the X – 12 (Fin)

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This review has been updated to reflect news this anime will have a second season next year.

Things looked a little grim for the good guys last week, but everything ends up working out in the finale. A new, wind-element seraphim ally is introduced, as is a new Big Bad in the Lord of Calamity himself. Yet neither really makes much of an impact, being introduced so late in the game.

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I mention “game” because the reality of the game this show is based on has always loomed in the background. I did not realize (due to not doing any research) that there will indeed be a second cour of the anime. But this first cour still felt more like an extended introduction of the world—a setting of the table—rather than any kind of satisfying narrative.

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It’s taken the length of this series for me to admit that while many of the characters possess admirable traits, none of the elaborately-designed characters ever surpassed the generality of those traits. That wasn’t really much of a problem when I was simply enjoying the exploration of the vast world and the battles within it, but it does leave me feeling a little empty and under-invested when all’s said and done.

The Berseria detour, while a fun interlude, took up time that in hindsight would have been better spent developing the main Zestiria cast, or at least getting them together a little bit faster. Some shows pile on characters too fast; I’d argue Zestiria had the opposite problem, and the characters suffered as a result.

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Even if Zestiria’s characters leave a bit of a bland aftertaste, and that it was content to show us a series of minor skirmishes and only hint at larger conflicts this season, I won’t forget the fun I had watching the last thirteen episodes (0-12), or the excitement and wonder the gradual unfolding of the world evoked, or the satisfaction of watching a technically impeccably well-crafted show. It never failed to look or sound great.

The post-credit previews were always a playful showcase of the characters’ chemistry that was rarely replicated in the actual show. If and when the next season of adventures arrives, I’ll be looking for less introductions (or re-introductions) and more Getting Down To Business. I also hope there’s a bit more to the vaunted Lord of Calamity than “Bwahaha, What Insolence.”

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Tales of Zestiria the X – 11

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Off everyone goes to war…or hopefully (but not realistically), the prevention of war. We meet Ian, a bubby personality who somehow managed not to get killed this week, while Rose takes Alisha up on her offer to witness her actions. Then there is Sorey, who likes Alisha but won’t take a side if there’s war. Instead, he’ll do his job as a Shepherd: purity the malevolence, and try to stop war, not make it.

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Unfortunately the war is already in progress when they arrive, so Sorey has to split off from Alisha and use his three Seraphim to try to do damage control. It’s Alisha’s first taste of large-scale combat, but she’s protected by her honorable underlings.

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No-so-honorable are the Rolance troops who went behind their general’s back to launch a rear suprise attack, while Hyland’s general won’t listen to Alisha’s orders and instead orders his men to capture her, wounding her if necessary.

Bartlow is in full control here, even if he’s nowhere near the actual battle, and Alisha’s reluctance to use violence plays right into his hands. But when the soldiers start coming at her and Rose, they hold their own pretty well, without killing.

Meanwhile, Sorey exerts a good deal of energy to purify an entire battlefield of hellions and malevolence…only to discover there are other battlefields. His task has been made so much harder by the fact everything is already in motion.

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And such is the implacable cowardice and unreasonableness of the Hyland forces under Bartlow’s command, one soldier uses Alisha’s moment of compassion for her own troops, keeping Rose from killing him, to stab her in the back. Things look very bad up until all the troops in the room are swept away by some kind of telekinesis wielded by a mysterious figure floating above them.

So it’s a rough start for Team War Prevention, and with the “Lord of Calamity” superboss on the literal horizon, it’s not getting smoother anytime soon. Though I imagine, with a second season officially coming sometime in 2017, this season’s final episode will feature some kind of resolution.

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Tales of Zestiria the X – 10

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I was a lot more into this episode than last week’s, perhaps because it felt like so much more got done. Marlind was a murky mess last week, but here Sorey and Mikleo, now reunited, make quick work of purifying the town’s water.

Of course, those are only the first steps, and the full healing of the town will take the better part of a year, but it’s in far better shape, and Princess Alisha wants to make sure it stays that way, and that her people choose hope over despair.

Rose is also back in the picture, and her presence as friendly merchant early on meant she’d likely show up as a deadly merchant later.

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Like Sorey the Shepherd, Alisha really needs to be everywhere at once in order to be the most effective, but she can’t be, and when the cat’s away the mice will play. The most troublesome rodent is Lord Bartlow, who is sending troops to the buffer zone between Highland and Rolance for war and plunder. She has loyal soldiers to follow her, but little time: she has to leave Marlind at first light to have a chance to stop Bartlow.

Meanwhile, after kicking some baby dragon ass and receiving quite a bit of praise from the town for his hard work, the other shoe finally drops on Sorey’s role when he must purify a hellion who was once a human. He must bear all the malevolence he pulls out of the hellion, something the Seraphim can’t help him with. It’s a lonely, painful duty, and it’s sure to alter Sorey’s demeanor over time.

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Just as Sorey must bear the malevolence born of the despair of ordinary folk, Alisha also understands that choosing not to fight has a cost she’s prepared to bear. When the assassins surround and attack her once more, they are there to prevent the “senseless deaths” from Alisha’s ideals. But even I think they have it all wrong. If Alisha were to give in to Bartlow and allow a free-for-all, it will only worsen global malevolence and hasten calamity.

Alisha tells the leader of the assassins that she doesn’t believe she’ll stop Bartlow; she will, and if they want to stop her, they’ll have to kill her. The masked leader is moved by those words and by Alisha putting her foe’s knife to her throat without the slightest hesitation. The assassin stands down, and Alisha cuts their mask off, revealing Rose. Alisha asks her to accompany her to Glaivend to bear witness to her actions; Rose agrees.

This solid outing of Zestiria aptly illustrated just how awesomely badass Alisha is, how heavy are the burdens she and Sorey (and only they) must bear moving forward, elaborated on the nature of malevolence (hint: it starts with despair over loss), and finally brought Rose into the party.

Even the next ep preview shined, as Rose playfully attempts to swindle Alisha on some beauty sundries, only for Alisha to turn the tables using Rose’s guilt. I’m looking forward to these two interacting not as acquaintances, or opponents, but as comrades.

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Tales of Zestiria the X – 09

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This week’s Zestiria still shined in the technical and aesthetic sense, but it felt a bit mechanical, perfunctory, and inevitable, like very practically moving pieces on the board closer together. In this case, it was uniting Sorey/Lailah/Edna with Alisha, and then with Mikleo and his new mascot-like friend Atakk, a Normin Seraphim specializing in powering up other Seraphim like Mikleo.

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We learn of the cause of the storm that blew out the bridges (an Ouroboros) but that boss is soon usurped by a drake (or baby dragon) who is the cause of the malevolence that is sickening and killing the people of Marlind.

Alisha isn’t particularly useful this week, as her attempts to heal the townsfolk with medicine have no effect, to her frustration. However, sometimes it’s about who you know, not what you can personally do…and Alisha knows Sorey, who is happy to help.

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Edna and Lailah aren’t enough to help Sorey rid the city of the drake’s reign of terror; it takes the sudden arrival of Mikleo, whom Sorey can sense and knows everything will work out. Forming a quick sub bond with Sorey and Lailah, Mikleo’s power turns Super-Sorey blue, and they take out the drake with a purifying water-based arrow.

The drake is toast, and the clouds around the city part. It’s good to see everyone back together, and the episode looked and sounded great as usual…but it also felt very neat and tidy, and after last week’s scrap with Eizen, the enemies seemed like pushovers.

There’s also the looming certainty that if this series wraps in three weeks, a satisfying solution worthy of all the buildup won’t be forthcoming. I’m hoping, as with F/s n, the story will continue after a season or two off.

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