Alive: Saishuu Shinkateki Shounen (Alive: The Final Evolution)

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Taisuke is a bold high school student that has two close friends, Megumi, a kind girl that’s always looking after him, and Hirose, a boy that doesn’t like fighting but is constantly getting picked on and requiring Tasuke’s help. Their normal lives are shattered when something unworldly falls to Earth and infects a large group of people from all over the world. Everyone who was infected has the immediate reaction of wanting to commit suicide. However, if they make it past that feeling, they gain supernatural powers, at which point they are known as Comrades. Both Taisuke and Hirose are infected and make it through, gaining powers relating to creating heat and creating voids respectively. However, this seems to greatly affect Hirose. He takes on a much darker view of the world, filled with hatred at Taisuke, and kidnaps Megumi, taking her far away alongside a group of comrades led by a mysterious man named Katsumata. Taisuke begins his journey chasing after them. On the way he is joined by two others, Yuta, a boy that can isolate small areas into another dimension that was on his own and looking for friends, and Nami, a girl that hates all Comrades with her ultimate goal of killing a Comrade in Katsumata’s group that killed her younger brother. However, this is only the beginning, as they slowly unravel what it is that infected them, and grow closer to Acro’s Heart.

***

This manga starts off pretty interesting with really early on there being good themes relating to life and death and being centered around a trio of characters, Taisuke, Megumi, and Hirose, that have a pretty interesting relationship. However, the themes of life and death are mostly dropped not long into the manga, popping up randomly at times, but with what felt a lot like spit balling with no clear goal of what the purpose for these themes were or any sort of message it wanted to convey. As for the trio itself, that too quickly lost focus, focusing more on other characters, particularly the new trio, Taisuke, Yuta, and Nami. The latter trio is a lot more interesting, and also gets a lot more development as it’s in the focus for the vast majority of the story, with all three of them getting some pretty solid development. Over the course of this portion, there are also a lot of great side characters introduced like the Tezuka family or the reporters, and there are a lot of strong moments. The beginning of this portion is a bit weak, due to how the first squad of antagonists is pretty weak, wherein the author kind of develops them a bit but for the most part just relies on them being mind-controlled which feels kind of lazy, with the exception being Hirose who has more to him. But after the time shift and switch to the antagonists being McPherson and his squad, who are developed really well, the story gets much better and this arc is the highlight of the series. However, after this as we approach the end, after the really long stretch where it’s just sort of in the background, the story does a pretty random shift where the focus suddenly returns to the original trio and their relationship as the most important thing. Due to the long period of time where it wasn’t the focus as well as the fact that it wasn’t developed all that strongly in the beginning in the first place, the story line at this point feels kind of weak and ultimately results in the ending lacking any major impact. This entire portion is also really slow, with not much happening at all until the final battle starts but as it takes quite a while to get there it gives the feeling of things dragging on since it wasn’t really doing a good job of developing characters or character relationships during this portion either. The romance in general was pretty terrible all that way through with everyone, but it got especially bad here as it suddenly came to the forefront. Regarding the Taisuke love triangle, though the romantic development with Nami wasn’t great there was still at least some. With Megumi we got zilch, so I don’t see how her getting chosen could be anything but disappointing. Sure, she’s the childhood friend and has a lot of history with him so it makes sense, but the author didn’t show anywhere near enough of that. Plus, this was revealed at the worst time possible, breaking the flow of the ending completely. And the epilogue still having Nami in love with him is just really sad and unneeded. All in all, it made the ending which was already weak, a complete mess. The art was pretty solid.

A manga that starts off with an interesting concept and trio of characters, shifts to being pretty different with a different trio but gets even more interesting, but then switches back in a pretty awkward manner for an ending that lacks impact. 

7/10

Shinmai Maou no Testament Burst (The Testament of Sister New Devil: Burst)

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Basara continues his everyday life with his adopted younger sisters Mio and Maria and his childhood friends Yuki and Kurumi with all the various high jinks that entails. However, a number of issues appear. His school seems to have come under attack by some mysterious being, and the evidence pains him because it points to someone who had been mentally supporting him, the school nurse Hasegawa. Soon afterwards, Mio is called into the demon realm, instantly thrusting her and the rest of their group into the middle of a bubbling demon civil war.

***

This is a really strong sequel carries over all the strengths of the previous season but manages to change things up enough to still be really interesting. There are two arcs, the first is centered around Hasegawa, but it’s mostly setting things up for future arcs and hence doesn’t really change things in major ways. The more intense arc is the second, which involves the group going to the demon world. This arc is pretty long but is pretty intense all the way through. There are minor political machinations, but the majority of the interesting parts revolve around the action which is the best it’s been throughout the series. It’s fast and impactful and pretty satisfying to watch most of the time. I will note though, that though there is some minor expansions on explanation regarding powers, for the most part it’s still mostly pretty random and relying purely on strength as it was in the last season. It’s focused more on being awesome than having depth, which is starting to work well enough. This arc also has some solid though not particularly surprising character development in both Basara and Mio. Maria and Yuki both took somewhat of a backseat, though they both had some pretty great moments enough so that Yuki is beginning to grow on me even though I wasn’t really fond of her much in season one. Similarly, Kurumi and Zest also had some good moments, though they weren’t really the focus much beyond quickly taking what was established in the first season and using it to connect them with the main group. The associated relationship development too is progressing at a slow but steady pace with quite a few of the expected associated scenes.

The art style as before is still solid, however I think there was a noticeable jump in production values as the animation and art seem to be improved from good to really good. The soundtrack as before is pretty good. The OP was really good, though I will note I was annoyed by how they decided to have effects running over it during the last few episodes. The ED was solid. The OVA was about what one would expect from the OVA, but weaker than I expected. The specials are recaps again with the standard humorous voice overlay.

A sequel season that isn’t particularly surprising but continues doing what its good at doing well.

9/10

Tokyo Xanadu eX+

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Kou is a high school student in Morimiya, a district of Tokyo,  that spends his time outside of school either doing part time jobs or hanging out with his friends, the caring childhood friend Shiori, the overtly enthusiastic idol fan Ryouta, and the calm and collected Jun. He also spends time at his grandfather’s dojo, where his cousin Towa lives, who despite looking younger than him is actually his teacher. His normal life changes dramatically when he gets involved with Eclipse, a strange world linked to negative human emotions to which portals occasionally open in the human world, often pulling in bystanders or causing other harm due to the presence of monsters known as Greeds. Kou turns out to be a wielder of what is known as a Soul Device, a weapon intrinsically linked to him that lets him fight these Greeds and seal the gateways to Eclipse. Hence, due to his strong sense of justice, he decides to continue the fight against these Eclipse. He does this by aiding a girl named Asuka, someone part of Nemesis, an organization whose purpose is to deal with the Eclipse, and though who was distant and reluctant to involve bystanders in the fight, ultimately relents and accepts Kou’s help. Ultimately, they help out and are helped out by a number of other people. Sora is Kou’s somewhat tomboyish childhood friend that’s very dedicated to martial arts, but ends up getting involved with the Eclipse due to how her skill ends up casing deep worries for another member of her club. Yuuki is a guy that thinks he’s above everything, living on his own with money made through his technical skill, but ends up getting involved with Eclipse when an app he makes ends up hurting his sister. Shio is a guy that was heavily involved with a street gang known as Blaze that was previously disbanded, but ends up getting involved with the Eclipse when Blaze returns having some sort of connection to Eclipse. Mitsuki is the heir to a major corporation, and one part of a series of corporations that make up what is known as Zodiac, another organization dedicated to dealing with matters centering around Eclipse, and hence is able to provide a lot of support to Kou and company. There’s also Rion, a girl that’s part of the up and coming idol group SPiKA, but ends up getting involved with Eclipse when her singing seems to resonate with it. Kou ends up making a series of allies as he deals with various problems plaguing Morimiya. However, all of this is leading up to dealing with a major crisis, one connected to the massive crisis that occurred 10 years ago, and one that threatens to completely destroy Kou’s everyday life even if prevented.

***

Tokyo Xanadu eX+ is a remaster of a Falcom Vita game that includes various enhancements and new content such as a series of side story chapters throughout the main game that build up to an After Story not included in the original. While it’s technically part of a long running series by Falcom with the Xanadu title, this entry really doesn’t have any connection to previous titles other than being an action RPG.

In terms of story it was really good, which I found somewhat surprising considering my first impressions of the game. The story isn’t overtly complex and it’s pretty predictable without any overtly surprising twists. The world and background too aren’t overtly novel. However, though it isn’t tremendously creative, it is incredibly well made. The story is told really well with fantastic pacing, having a good blend of serious moments and lighter moments that combined really get the player invested in the incredibly strong main cast of characters and the bonds they’ve formed with each other. The main character cast is great, having a good blend of different personalities that meld well with each other with each having problems that while simple are easy to relate to, and hence watching them grow while tackling said problems and forming bonds with the others is very enjoyable. While this happens the story also hits all the right notes it needs to with said characters right when it needs to, making the story overall incredibly satisfying. Hence, while the story in and of itself isn’t particularly memorable beyond the basics, the main characters definitely are. In addition to the main cast there’s also a pretty strong and very large set of side characters. I was skeptical about having so many side characters each that essentially have their own story, and to a degree I still am considering that a lot of them felt like fluff. However, there were far more characters that felt like they had stories of value than I expected. And Falcom did a tremendously good job with writing for all the characters in that at any point in the story if you encounter a character they’ll have new lines for that point in the story which across the many dozens of characters all tie together, and often with the main story and characters as well, resulting in making the world feel a lot more alive, even if the most of the side characters themselves aren’t that memorable. The world itself in terms of world building and such did a good job, in that it doesn’t do anything particularly new, but it does a good of creating a lot of structure with various organizations, systems, background, etc. that hold up well. As a random note, while going through the story there will sometimes be moments where you have to choose a few characters out of a larger set to spend time with, and hence it is impossible to get all the character stories in the first play through though it is possible in NewGame+, which I found tremendously annoying as I never like when it’s not possible to get all the story content in a single play through unless there is a major reason why it shouldn’t be possible which did not seem to be the case here.

Game play wise, there are two phases. Outside of the Eclipse its essentially purely story, going around talking to people, watching cutscenes, etc. Inside the Eclipse it mostly feels like a pretty standard action RPG, with running through dungeons defeating enemies, doing some light platforming, and generally fighting bosses at the end. The combat felt reasonably solid. The player controls one character, but can switch to two other characters at a button press. Each character has pretty different play styles, but they generally fall into strength focused, speed focused, or range focused. There’s a basic attack that doesn’t cost anything and three special attacks (charge attacks, range attacks, and aerial attacks) that consume a bar that charges over time but can be sped up by using basic attacks and dodging. This forms the core of the combat system, and while not too complex is solid enough, and across the game matches the enemies and bosses pretty well for not amazing but tight enough combat, with the finicky lock on and camera being the biggest issue. The thing though is that there are a number of elements beyond that that make this too easy. The first is the three different types of super moves, each with their own bars, where using one charges others generally. It may be different on the hardest mode, Calamity, but in Nightmare going into a boss with all of these maxed out made them a cake walk. The other is that items can be used too often. There is a timer but it is pitifully short, so the game doesn’t feel all that punishing, which once again may be different in Calamity, but made the game feel overtly forgiving and not that tense. I know its kind of strange to be complaining the game was too easy while not playing the hardest difficulty, but Calamity sounded too difficult when I started out, and it doesn’t let you switch to that later in the game, so I was stuck with the play through I was on, so its all I can talk about. In addition to combat there is light platforming, but its pretty annoying since it isn’t all that precise. Dungeon design is decent enough with enough back tracking and side routes to not make it feel like a corridor, but not enough to feel like a pain, though it does start feeling repetitive eventually. The growth system were pretty standard as well but solid, having leveling and various equipment systems with equipment coming from various types of crafting trading, etc. There’s also a stat based on social points essentially, which ties in and makes story portions feel more worthwhile.

In terms of art style, its pretty simplistic and generic most of the time, but is pretty well done considering that and I liked how things look, especially with how clean the image quality was. That said, the graphics and technical prowess of the game is pretty low, even for a Vita game. Animation especially is incredibly janky. The dungeons had varying designs, but due to technical limitations it felt like most of them felt really similar in how boxy they were, which contributed to making dungeons feel kind of repetitive. The OP was really well made in terms of visuals and the song, and I watched through it every time it came up on my first play through. In terms of soundtrack, it was pretty solid though not exceptional, though I feel SPiKA should have had better, more focused on songs considering how big of a role they played. In terms of voice acting, it also felt kind of low budget in that random lines were voiced and random lines weren’t even within a single conversation which just feels kind of bizarre. The translation also felt over localized, which doesn’t make that much sense considering there wasn’t a dub.

An action RPG set in modern Tokyo that’s clearly low budget and very by the book, but does an incredibly good job within that context.

8/10

 

Taki Anna no Honshou wa S nano ka M nano ka Ore dake ga Shitteiru. (Nature of Anna Taki is S or M either of whether, it is only I know.)

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Yoshihiro moves into an apartment to begin living by himself as he goes to high school. However, upon first arriving he goes into the wrong room. Furthermore, in that room is a girl named Anna pleasuring herself while wearing S and M gear. This is obviously a major shock for both of them, and she quickly slaps him out of her room while telling him not to say a word about this to anyone. It turns out that Anna is also a student at his school and is also in his class. However, while in school she acts nothing like she was when Yoshihiro first saw her. Rather, she’s an honors student that’s ostracized due to how well she does combined with the fact that she’s really quiet. Yoshihiro feels sorry for her, and makes somewhat of an attempt to reaching out to her. However, Anna responds to that contact in an incredibly unexpected way. She forces him through blackmail to take part in her S and M sessions, wherein the sub and dom roles will swap each time.

***

This manga had an interesting concept in being BDSM based but with ambiguity on what the two main characters were with them exploring which they better fit into by swapping between them. There’s a lot that they could do with this in terms of using that to develop that characters at a broader level. Ultimately though it isn’t used all that much and though a really amusing one, it feels like like just a gimmick. The manga is really short being only two volumes but despite that it goes through quite a few sessions. Due to this, it doesn’t really spend much time on them, and there’s only a little bit of development at a time with most of the manga being devoted to the sessions themselves. And other than the relationship between Yoshihiro and Anna, there’s no overarching plots or stories beyond those individual sessions either. Yoshihiro and Anna are the only two characters that really matter. The only even moderately important side character, Mana, was amusing when she was involved but the manga didn’t really end up doing anything major with her. In the end, there’s some quick development that was cute enough and ended things on a solid enough note that I was satisfied with the ending. But regardless, in terms of substance the manga felt pretty lacking. The art was decent enough in that there was a good style, but it was kind of rough. Also, some panels were confusing in what they were showing, though for the most part the framing was good.

A manga centered around a couple swapping S and M roles that focuses too much on the S and M and not enough on the characters participating in it.

7/10 

It kind of scratches the Nana to Kaoru itch to an extent, but with nowhere near as much depth. Also the title of this is light novel level ridiculous.

Bonus other side header:

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Shinmai Maou no Testament (The Testament of Sister New Devil)

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Toujou Basara suddenly gets two new step sisters, the seemingly normal high school girl Naruse Mio and the mischievous younger girl Naruse Maria. However, it turns out that Maria is actually a succubus and Mio is actually the daughter of the former demon lord who was now on the run, as the two try to use magic to control Basara and use his house as a base of operations. However, Basara himself is from a long line of heroes and more than capable of matching them. However, he sympathizes with their situation and decides that despite their differences with no secrets kept between them they were going to properly be a family and he was going to protect them as their elder brother. This ends up going in a lot of bizarre directions due to the meddling of Maria and Nonaka Yuki, Basara’s usually calm but prone to craziness childhood friend, gets involved, but regardless of the danger they face Basara and the others rise to the challenge.

***

This is very much anime that isn’t for everyone because, like DxD for example, it is centered around the concept of having a solid plot but also lots of ecchi. To differentiate from DxD, it isn’t as persistently ecchi, but rather when it is it goes much farther than DxD. But regardless, it is a critical element of the anime, so if that puts you off you simply will not enjoy this anime.

In terms of the story there isn’t really much of an overarching plot yet, rather the various arcs are focused more around world building and introducing the characters, with the first two arcs being decent enough but the last getting much more intense and being quite awesome with an amazing payoff for the finale. There are a number of characters that are quite interesting. The protagonist is pretty awesome, in that he’s a hero, and as usual believes in the virtues of justice, family, etc. but at the same time he seems to very much have his stuff together, and won’t object to getting his hands dirty when necessary. In terms of the heroines Maria felt the most interesting, in that she has a personality that automatically causes a never ending string of hilarious events, but she also gets a decent amount of depth in the last arc of this season in terms of how she deals with difficult situations. Mio was also interesting in that she’s a tsundere but not at all, which is kind of fun, and also interesting in that she has a lot to deal with. Yuki got a good amount of development, and her character is pretty interesting with her being so singly minded, but she hasn’t really grown on me yet. There were also a number of interesting side characters introduced as well that are likely to become more important in the future. In terms of world building, there’s a lot but it’s pretty basic so far, so breadth instead of depth, with some basic background on the demons and hero clans, but it carries the story well enough. An area I especially felt it needed more focused world building though was regarding powers and combat, because though these sequences were cool there wasn’t much explanation to them mechanically so there wasn’t much depth to them.

The art and animation are really good. The character designs are mostly excellent as well. The OP was decent enough and the ED was quite good. The soundtrack was more intense and better than I expected.

The OVA was solid. The specials were basically a recap, though the voiceovers were amusing.

A combination of good ecchi and good plot focused around a solid set of characters.

9/10

Bonus:

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Rokudenashi Majutsu Koushi to Akashic Records (Akashic Records of Bastard Magic Instructor)

Rokudenashi Majutsu Koushi to Akashic Records

Glenn Radars suddenly starts teaching at the Alzano Imperial Magic Academy. He doesn’t want to do so at all, but considering it’s an order from the person he’s been living off of for the past year, Celica Arfonia, he doesn’t have much of a choice. That doesn’t mean he has to like it though, or even that he has to try at all. While he does technically teach, he puts forth absolutely no effort. This greatly distresses the students of his class who are actually all very interested in learning magic. It especially annoys Sistine Fibel, a noble girl who is a very strict and organized person that is cares very much about learning magic so that she may achieve the dreams of her late grandfather in his stead. And it annoys her to the point that she manages to get him to start teaching for real. However, Glenn and his class face a number of issues larger than only his class. A terrorist group known as the Researchers of Divine Wisdom have begun to put a number of plots into motion. Many of these involve Sistine’s adopted sister Rumina Tingel, who is incredibly caring but has a complicated past she must keep secret. But many of these involve those from Glenn’s past as well, including Re=L Rayford, a girl that is very powerful but has a childlike mentality and also has a dark background. Glenn himself also has quite a bit more to him than just being a terrible teacher, which turns out to be necessary with the danger he and his class are placed in.

***

This series has a lot of solid aspects, though it feels like it didn’t get to capitalize on all of them. The cast of characters are interesting enough and all the main characters get solid development. They aren’t tremendously likable, and the heroines aren’t particularly original, but they’re easy enough to empathize with. Glenn himself was pretty unique and seeing him establish relationships with others and deal with various problems despite his peculiar personality was interesting. The plot itself so far is also really solid with good world building surrounding it, though as is generally the case with light novel adaptations its only begun telling the story and a lot of plot threads are still hanging. There were some interesting themes regarding justice, power, and having a place to belong, and though they were cliche they were implemented solidly enough with the ending being a great place for the series to end thematically. The action was also solid all the way through, with the final episode especially being great in this regard. And it was also positively hilarious, much more than I expected, when it tried to be. The biggest issue for the series though is that it felt rushed. This is very evident in both the really fast pacing, and some aspects such as them skipping a lot of OPs and EDs in order to fit in more content per episode. The end result is that while it manages to hit the points it needs to thematically and emotionally and all the points it probably wanted to convey are indicated, it moves too quickly and they don’t have enough time to sink in. I feel this is also one of the reasons that there wasn’t enough of the amazing comedy. Hence, while it does most things right, to some degree it just doesn’t feel like it has that much impact.

The art and character designs were really solid and surprisingly memorable. The animation was solid. The OP was great and ED was solid enough, though I remember both of them less than most shows due to them being skipped so often. The soundtrack wasn’t particularly memorable.

A series that does most things really well in general, but rushes through them to the point that it doesn’t feel like it at times.

8/10

Yamada-kun to 7-nin no Majo (Yamada-kun and the Seven Witches)

Yamada-kun to 7-nin no Majo

Yamada Ryuu seems to be a pretty average delinquent whose delinquency arises from how bored they are of life. This boring life unexpectedly changes when he accidentally kisses Shiraishi Urara, and ends up swapping bodies with her. Yamada discovers that contrary to his beliefs, just because Shiraishi is an honor student her life isn’t perfect, being a bullying victim and in general being very distant from everyone. However, with their newly found powers of body swapping, he ends up helping her. Both he and Shiraishi along with a frivolous and perverted guy named Miyamura Toranosuke, who is in the running for student council president, and the naive Itou Miyabi, who fully believes in the supernatural, create the Supernatural Studies Club to better explore Yamada and Shiraishi’s powers. However, that is only the beginning, because it turns out Shiraishi is only one of 7 witches, each with their own unique powers.

***

This anime feels like it has some good concepts, but it was rushed too much for it to really click with me. The general premise and character setup is interesting and could work well. The humor was also decent enough though not particularly hilarious. However, the main problem is that it has way too many characters with their own stories and backgrounds for a 12 episode series to handle effectively. The end result is that the pacing is pretty bad with most of it being rushed through, not really developing most characters beyond their basic introduction and premise and also introducing a lot of important information just in passing. This latter aspect is especially evident during the final arc, where how the power works isn’t really clear and feels largely inconsistent with how the powers have worked in general. It also feels like characters behave in ways that don’t really make sense considering what they should know and how their character should be. Still, the cast of characters is pretty good even if it feels that most of them got no development, and I can understand why they tried to rush through so much in so little time. The anime goes through an introduction for each of the 7 witches and then goes onto a major finale. The finale itself, despite aforementioned issues, is largely pretty great, and where it ends especially is a fantastic place for the series to end on to the point I’m incredibly curious where the manga goes in the story beyond this as this was pretty much the perfect place to end. Hence, to rush through everything to hit this finale in a single season is a decision that I can understand, though ultimately I don’t think it was worth it because while the ending is great, it isn’t enough to make up for how underdeveloped most of the season felt.

The art, designs, and animation were okay. The OP and ED were decent. The soundtrack wasn’t particularly memorable.

A series that rushes through too much with too many characters, in order to reach an ending that although great, isn’t worth how rushed the journey was.

7/10