Shigofumi Review

31 03 2008

 A letter from the afterlife.
Genre: Mystery, Letter Delivery
Main Studio: JC Staff
Episodes: 12

Back in deepest darkest January, I had this show pegged as my ‘best show of season’ type thing. I guess it still is the best show of the season, but it really hasn’t been a very good season now that I think about it. That’s not to say Shigofumi is bad by any stretch, it isn’t, but it just isn’t quite as good as it could have been.

Shigo means ‘after death’ and fumi means ‘letter’, making ‘After death letter’. Actually that sounds like a totally different show detailing what people do after they receive a death threat. Anyway, Shigofumi are letters from the recently departed that are delivered to the living that the dead have beef with, or other unfinished business. Delivering these letters are a group of staff-carrying dead girls dressed in cute postal worker outfits. Shigofumi follows the exploits of Fumika, a relatively new Shigofumi delivery person as she goes around doing her thing, and eventually gets wrapped up in a larger plot concerning her true nature, her past, etc.

She can fly
Oh yeah, she can fly. Did I mention that?

The main concept of the show is really strong, and the initial two episodes are by a far way the best episodes in the show. They introduce the concept, and tell quite a dark story in an appropriately mysterious and well directed manner. The first episode even manages to pull a twist that even surprised jaded old me, which is quite an accomplishment. Initially Fumika while being the main character barely gets any screentime, with most of the episode is spent focused on the living recipients of the letters. Fumika would show up, be sullen and mysterious, explain yet again what the hell a Shigofumi is, and then she sodded off.

The few episodes after the initial plot arc were all stand-alone and also barely involved Fumika. I don’t dislike her or anything, but the concept of short stories about how a letter from the afterlife might affect people really interested me for some reason, and these single episode stories generally work really well. I therefore was slightly disappointed when a plot about Fumika’s old school friends investigating her started up, and began to take up more and more time of each episode. This plot eventually became the show, and the initial stand-alone structure was mostly done away with.

Shigo-what?
Shigo-what?

Of all the mysteries presented in the show, I would say that the main plot concentrates on what is arguably the least interesting one. On one side we’ve got a mysterious organisation that seems to be highly efficient at delivering a Shigofumi to people, even though no-one on earth seems to have any idea what they are (I can only assume that they only just started up or something). Also we have lots of dead girls who have somehow been conscripted into working for them, issued a hyperactive talking staff/computer/email client things, and given a delivery area to work. Even though we only see a couple of deliverers, the scenes in the weird otherworld imply that there are probably hundreds of them. I personally wanted to know more about this stuff.

Unfortunately what we received were a bunch of revelations about Fumika’s family, an alter ego, and her old school friends. None of these characters apart form her totally insane and fruity father are particularly interesting. There is also a love triangle thrown in that don’t really go anywhere, just because you pretty much have to put that sort of thing in a show just in case any girls happen to be watching. I will give credit where credit is due though; the show did not end how I expecting (Think Tuvix), so that was at least something. It also wrapped up the presented plots satisfactorily.

What-Fumi?
What-fumi?

It does definitely gains marks for having a genuinely unique premise, and it contains some really dark scenes such as one where bloody hand-print of a baby is mailed to its father who is responsible for it being aborted. Also there’s a bunch of stuff about suicide which is always fun. Of course I expect there are people out there who will enjoy the main plot more than I did, the parts which I haven’t spoiled anyway. I think it comes down to whether or not you are okay with a mostly character driven main plot, which is something I am fine with if it doesn’t totally obscure any real plot from occurring. A good (hah) comparison would be those episodes of Lost where the flashback has nothing to do with anything except giving us a better look at some character. I hate those as well.

Another minor criticism I would have of the show is that some of the stand-alone episodes have good premises, characters, but endings that are either oddly unsatisfying or just plain confusing. I’m really not sure what the message of a couple of the episodes was supposed to be. Specifically, that’s episodes 6 and 10, so if anyone does know what the hell I was supposed to gain from them, then please leave a comment or something.

Badasssss
“It’s a letter sent from the afterlife, Biatch!”

I should probably say some more positive things about the show at this point. Let’s see, it has reasonable art, excellent music and atmosphere. The opening has nice visuals but is accompanied by Ali Project’s most phoned in anime theme yet, though it probably sounds the same as all their other work to those unfamilar with Ali Project’s stuff. The animation is servicable, and occasionally really well directed, especially when Fumika busts out her sweet gun, which she does disappointingly infrequently.

Overall I would still recommend Shigofumi to anybody looking for something a bit different, if only for the first two episodes. I would hardly classify it as a work of genius like Paranoid Agent, Texhnolyze or Happy World. Wait, scrap that last one.

Arbitrary Rating: 8 – Shigofumi. A Letter sent from the afterlife.





The Unnamed Games Podcast – 02.03.08

27 03 2008

Podcast. Blogcast. Pod carts. Pawed Carps.

*Ahem*

In the last year I have been listening to more and more podcasts. I started listening to Gamespot’s Hotspot, and from there picked up 1up’s 1upyours, and have most recently have been listening to Giantbomb.com’s Giant Bombcast. Inspired by all these fine folks and their seemingly infinte capacity to spout hilarious words about games down a microphone, I have joined forces with Josh Barton of joshbarton.co.uk to bring the world our first Podcast!

Using equipment I found lying around near my desk, and free software downloaded from the internet, I am proud to bring you our first attempt at podcastering that we recorded back in February at some point. It’s mostly about Burnout Revenge, and whatever we were playing at the time, and you can probably hear some trains going past in the background. I’m sorry but I couldn’t find the ‘Remove sound of trains’ audio filter. You also get to hear my weird voice, although I am probably the only person who considers it weird as it sounds totally different when echoing around inside my skull.

Download at your peril! (1:03 – 29.2MB)

If you wish to ask us a question, you can contact both Josh and myself by writing words in an email client, filling in podcast@joshbarton.co.uk as the recipient, and then finally clicking ‘Send’. If you successfully complete the above, then there’s a chance we will read it out on the next podcast in a vaguely mocking tone.





H2O ~Footprints in the Sand~ Review

26 03 2008

Title
Genre: Renai
Main Studio: Zexcs
Episodes: 12

Sometimes I don’t really end up having that much of an opinion about a show, which makes these review thingies kinda hard to write. H2O ~Footprints in the Sand~ is certainly one of these shows. It’s also one which has ~a stupid subtitle with tildes~ which are becoming annoyingly common. I guess a good place to start would be to briefly describe the show. Actually, wait, I did that back in my Winter 08 roundup post.  Oh well, most of what I wrote there still applies.

H2O is another entry in the over-packed Renai or visual novel/dating sim adaptation genre. Kyoto Animation has this genre totally locked down with their masterful adaptions of Key‘s Kanon, Air, and Clannad, and with shows like that, there really isn’t a lot of room for bad or even mediocre adaptations. H20 is based on Makura’s PC game which I haven’t played obviously. Like any other Renai show, the protagonist wanders around their setting, and has conversations with girls who he runs into. Actually there is less of this than in the Kyoto Animation shows, and it’s structured more like a regular school setting anime for the most part.

She’s just asking to be pummelled.
Hirose and Hayami, blind, and un-pummeled, respecitvely.

The setting is a remote mountain village community, sort of like Higurashi‘s Hinamizawa but less fucked up. The protagonist is the occasionally blind Hirose, who is about as generic as it gets. He’s blind for the first episode, but starts being able to see at about the 22 min mark, thereby removing his one interesting characteristic. The main conflict in the show is centre around a girl called Hayami Kohinata who the whole town seems to hate, but whom Hirose likes. It’s with this main plot where my main criticism of the show really comes in.

Warning: I am just going to explain the plot at this point, because I don’t really want to end up motivating anyone to watch this.

Okay, so in the past, Hayami’s family were jerks. They ‘ruined’ the town, made some people commit suicide, refused medical treatment to people getting some people killed, you know, jerks. So the residents of whatever the town is called (I can’t remember, and wikipedia tells me nothing!), decide to burn their house down. Presumably her family are all killed in this incident, as they are never mentioned to be alive anywhere in the show, and Hayami going to stay with them is apparently not an option. Hayami decides to continue living in some abandoned train carriages which are improbably located up on a nearby hill.

Punch her Face
Punch her face! That’ll teach her not to have parents who are jerks!

For some reason, Hayami continues to live in the town and attends school despite the fact that every single person in the town hates her. So we already have two glaring questions. 1) Why does she stick around? 2) Is everyone that unreasonable that they can’t separate Hayami’s actions from those of her parents? It’s these two questions that ultimately make me dislike the main plot in the show. I can’t for the life of me accept either contrivance. Look, there are buses that go directly out of town! Why not go one town over, to a town that doesn’t hate you, Hayami?

But for the sake of the story’s existence, she sticks around. She regularly gets beaten up in school, and not in school. Later in the show some villagers come and burn down her makeshift train-car home, because they hate her that much. Even later, they start coming after her with guns. Jesus Christ, Hayami, just get the hell out! What is wrong with you? The main character is not exempt from this madness either, and once he learns that her parents were responsible for his mother’s suicide, he responds by pummelling her face in. Yeah, way to be likeable there, you fucking idiot.

Doin’ some pummelling
Hirose, pummelling Hayami like a totally reasonable person.

Hayami is continually shown to be a nice person, and does eventually win over some of the more reasonable students, but not everyone. The aforementioned face-pummelling bit results in Hirose reverting to childhood for some reason. Also, the issue of whether or not he was ever actually not blind is raised, but never satisfactorily answered. Oh yeah, there’s also a magic dead girl called Otoha who gave him his sight back, just thrown into the mix. I think the writers knew that all of Key’s works have supernatural aspects in them, so they just threw that in there to try and keep up.

Everything about a Renai show really lives or dies on the quality of it’s writing and characters, and sorry H20 but you fail. The art, voice acting and pacing are all fine but not incredibly noteworthy or anything. The show is just cursed with a retarded premise, and unlikeable characters. Overall, I would definitely say to give this one a miss.

Arbitrary Rating: 5 – Stupid





Gunbuster Review

23 03 2008

Gun-Buh-Stah

Genre: Action, Space, Robots, Boob-jiggles
Main Studio: Gainax
Episodes: 6

Sometimes it’s good to go back and see what shows started trends, though this has resulted in my reviewing a show twenty years too late but lets ignore that for now. Gainax started something with Gunbuster that eventually led Gainax to create shows such as Evangelion, FLCL, and TTGL, so it can definitely can be considered a good thing, and unless I am horribly mistaken, this was their first attempt to create something which featured robots, giant or otherwise. Although I feel obligated to mention that at no point do any robots burst out of anyone’s head, so don’t get your hopes up.

Noriko Takaya, daughter of a dead Space Admiral, is the worst robot pilot in the whole space robot academy which is a shame as it turns out she’s the last hope of the human race. Everyone assumes she is just there because she is daughter of a space admiral, until a coach named Coach Ohta takes an interest in her and starts training her properly.  Although, now that I think about it, the reason Ohta takes an interest in her is actually because she is the daughter of an admiral, thus proving everyone correct. Oh well.

Noriko dancing around in the intro
Last hope for the human race…

The show, at least initially, is overwhelmingly 80s. I heard it described as a combination Top Gun and some tennis anime I’ve never seen. Actually I’ve never seen Top Gun either now that I think about it. Whatever. It’s identifiably 80s nonetheless. The introduction music sounds like a forgotten 80s classic, and yes, there is a training montage. All it’s missing is Eye of the Tiger playing in the background.

The first half of the show is kind of uneventful, and the story only really picks up in the second half when a million billion space monsters show up to destroy Earth. The titular Gunbuster doesn’t make an appearance till the end of episode 4 where it is revealed to be a giant gundam looking thing with absolutely ridiculous weaponry. Of course Noriko has gotten good at piloting robots at this point, so she is more than capable of destroying the aforementioned million billion space monsters.

Oh no! Time!
They probably shouldn’t of installed that distacting earth-time clock.

Possibly the most interesting thing about this show for me was the inclusion of time dilation as a concept for driving the characters plot along. I am going to make the rash assumption that you are an idiot who doesn’t know what time dilation is, so I will now explain it like a patronising cunt. When moving, the faster you go the slower time passes for you relative to the people not moving. So if you are travelling near the speed of light then a minute can pass for you while a month passes for everyone not moving at that speed. What this means in the show is that whenever Noriko goes into space to kill some monsters, many years have passed on Earth by the time she gets back.

Time dilation is a real phenomenon in case you were wondering, and would actually be a problem with large scale space exploration, unless we can use some trickery like Sub-Space to get around it. What the hell is sub-space anyway? It’s like regular space, but lower? Anyway, in the show when Noriko first makes it back to earth, 10 years have passed in her absence even though she’s only been gone for 4 months, so she gets to meet her old school friend all grown up an married. This aspect of the show works extremely well and its great to see it addressed for once. It makes the whole thing seem a lot grander in scale, especially considering the amount of time that has passed by the end of the show which I will not spoil.

Boobs!
Anatomically correct animation, or needless fanservice?

The animation is very good for an 80s show, although a large amount of time seems to of been spent animating Noriko’s breasts bouncing around. According to wikipedia this show basically invented the animated boob bounce, which I will have to accept as true, not being bothered to do any further research. What this means is that whenever Noriko does anything, you’ll probably see a breast poking out of her clothing somewhere. The final episode is for some reason in black and white, and in wide screen. It looks like it is made out of animated concept art, which has finally made me realise what inspired the animation style that they used in 1999 RTS classic Homeworld.

While the robots that they use for the majority of the show are quite realistic, the Gunbuster is a preposterously powerful death machine. It isn’t sprouting enormous drills like the robots from TTGL of course, but it does seem to have an improbably large number of missile and laser cannons on it. It is also capable of kicking an enemy ship in half, and has been granted the power to fire lasers from it’s head. Noriko bellows the name of each attack at the top of her voice as she performs each move, which was the style at the time.

Please could you stop yelling?
Homing…lasers? Really?

As I said, the first half of the show is a bit slow as there is very little action going on, but it does have a payoff in the second half which wouldn’t feel as meaningful if we hadn’t spent as much time with the characters. The conclusion is most satisfactory, and sort of seems to lead into the sequel Diebuster which I am probably going to watch soon. Expect a review of that at some point I guess.

Arbitrary Rating: 8 – Space Admiral.





Onsen in Space

22 03 2008

I have to hand it to anime writers, they really can work an Onsen into any situation imaginable.

 Onsen!

Onsen Onsen!

ON MARS

Seriously?





The Spiderwick Chronicles – Demo Impressions

21 03 2008

 Spiderwick
Developer: Stormfront Studios
Platform: Xbox 360
Genre: Movie Tie-In

I sit here waiting for the demo of ‘The Spiderwick Chronicles’ to download, it’s 630.21MB, so isn’t taking that long really. I have decided to ‘live blog’ my experiences of this demo. Well I guess it’s technically not ‘live’ per say, more just sort of written on the fly.

I know absolutely nothing about The Spiderwick Chronicles. I am vaguely aware that it’s a movie, probably a fantasy movie judging by the little logo I am staring at. Looks like a Harry Potter rip-off or something. The little synopsis of the demo promises a mysterious book, fantastical creatures, an ogre, and an unseen world which I guess I am down with. There had better be no bloody whimsy though, that can fuck right off. This is the first new demo that’s shown up on XBL for weeks and weeks. I really have no idea what’s going on with that.

Okay 55%…. guess I’ll read a bit of my book till it’s done…

Okay, done. Let’s fire this up now. The Nickelodeon, Paramount, Sierra and Stormfront Studios logos burst onto the screen in stunning HD. I’ve never noticed how Paramount and Sierra sort of have the same mountain in their logo.

Title screen has a spooky house, and Potterish music playing. I’ll just hit start. I have the option to play as Jared or Thimblejack, I’ll chose Jared as it’s the first option. Ooh, dumped into the world with no fanfare.

“Your brother Simon has been captured by Goblins! Catch the Health Sprite at the end of the driveway and then head into the woods to search for Simon.”

Right, it makes an bad first impression due to ugly graphics. It’s in third-person and controls a bit like a 3d Zelda game or something. I’m playing as a Harry Potter look-alike with a monocle thing. Hitting A swings a baseball bat, X makes him do a weird slide move. If I get too close to scenery it switches for first person view, but this transition is sort of broken and the view just jumps around crazily.

“Play the full game to explore this area.” the game says, ‘this area’ referring to a garage. I’m sure the inside of a garage is very neat and all, but I think it’ll have to do better than that to convince me. Okay, time to hunt down the Health Sprite. He’s a sort of green dude, who I have to hit with a dream-catcher thing. Doing this prompts me to paint it, which means moving the analogue stick around to uncover a picture of it within a certain time. Right, did it after 3 goes, so can now heal myself yay. It’s now telling me to go save my brother.

Argh, tiny frogs are attacking me! Frogs, meet baseball bat! Well that was underwhelming. ‘Collected Goblins tooth’. They were goblins? How the fuck do frogs kidnap my brother, especially when they can be beaten by a baseball bat swung by a 9 year old boy? Okay, next area!

Yes, it does look this bad.

I am now in a large woody area with a million bloody sprites wheeling about the screen. Trying to capture any of them pops up the tedious painting mini-game. This doesn’t pause the action either, so stuff comes up to you and wails on you while you are painting. Just like in real life. There are more frogs, and oddly placed puddles of lava preventing me from going down some paths. The main character says things like ‘All right, another goblins tooth!’ in a very grating fashion.

“The old quarry is this way. I bet that’s where the goblins are!” says Jared. No shit!

Ooh, a jumping puzzle, but there’s no jump key, it’s 3d Zelda style jumping where he leaps of cliffs, often to his doom . About 50 frogs later (The frogs have started wearing hats), I have finally found the path to the old quarry.

“MISSION ACCOMPLISHED To find out what happens next, play The Spiderwick Chronicles game.”

That’s pefect, I was just starting to get sick of it. My brother will just have to fend for himself.

I guess I should give Thimblejack a go.

Do not play.

Oh bloody Hell! I am now controlling a miniature Rat man, who only talks in rhyme. I am running around on a giant desk, or maybe I’m tiny? Whatever, it’s got some of the worst visuals I’ve seen on the 360. The background of the room is a very blurry texture wrapped around just away from the desk. Did anyone really think this looked good?

Okay, I can’t take this. I’m done. I must not be the target market for this game. I assume that the target market is ‘people who like bad games’.

Conclusion: If you want to play Zelda for idiots, or some horrendous shite movie-tie in, then this is the game for you.





Baccano! Review

20 03 2008

 Baccano!
Genre: Action, Gangsters, Stupid Names
Main Studio: Brains-Base
Episodes: 13

The opening of an anime is extremely important, though this is probably because they are so damn long. Western TV shows have been moving towards extremely short intros such as with such as Lost, Heroes, and 24. Comparatively, anime intros take up a good minute and a half at the beginning of each episode. They are required to be full blown music videos that somehow convey what the show is about, and usually it’s tone. They also should make people not want to skip them, so will ideally have a catchy tune.

It’s no wonder that a sort of general template for an anime intro has developed. Typically the title will appear roughly 20 seconds in, then the first half will be slow shots of characters and settings, then the second half will be frantic and disjointed action shots, and then there will be a pan up right at the end. You can see this concept being mocked in the Kujibiki Unbalance intro, or used seriously in a surprising number of shows.

Every so often though, a truly excellent and orignal opening will be made like the bizarre and creepy intro to Paranoia Agent. Of course on the flip side, sometimes it fails miserably like the godawful intro to the otherwise brilliant Gankutsuou. The intro to Baccano is so excellent, I don’t really feel much more needs to be conveyed about the show other than my embedding this youtube video of the opening. It really does say everything that needs to be said about the show:

Okay, perhaps it doesn’t say everything, but it’s almost damn near perfect anyway. Well, I guess I should actually describe the show at this point in the format of answering your assumed questions about it.

Jacuzzi Splot?

Yes, Jacuzzi Splot. Nice Holystone too.

So is this set in America or something?

Yes, it’s primarily set in New York and Chicago around 1930-1932, but sometimes goes off to other time frames. The complete range of years covered in the show is 1711 to 2001, if you must know, but it concentrates mostly on the stuff happening in the 30s.

That was a metric fuck-tonne of characters!

That’s not a question, but yes you are indeed correct. The crazy thing is that it’s not even all of them by a long shot. It’s probably a good thing that they flash up all their names at the beginning of each episode, otherwise you’d probably get lost.

Show me a picture.

Okay. This shot continues the tradition of practically anything being more powerful than a gun, including swords, punches, playing cards, lip-stick, and small children.

High Kick

What the hell is the plot anyway?

A trans-continental train called the Flying Pussyfoot races from Chicago to New York, leaving corpses, luggage and mutilated passengers in it’s wake. What is happening on the train? Watch to find out!

You’d better tell me anyway.

or?

Heh Heh Heh…

Ohhhkay. Well, let’s just say an improbably large number of badasses board the same train with different objectives. gangsters from many different families, lunatics, immortals, assassins, and a mysterious monster known as Rail Tracer converge on the train and end up getting in each others way. The show visits each character in turn, and gives them their moment to be the main charater. There is no main character really, in fact part of the first episode is dedicated to attempting to determine who the main character is. If I were to pick stand out characters it would be the bumbling crime partners Miria and Isaac who appear in most of the different time periods the show takes place in. They might be seen by some as just the comic relief of the show, but their insanely positive and loud attitudes are the heart and soul of the show, and substantial part of what makes it so great.

So, you done?

Not yet. Another thing I should mention about this show is that it’s sort of broken up chronologically like Pulp Fiction. The time frame shifts about all over the place, and this is especially present in the show’s baffling initial episode. After the initial onslaught it settles down into a sort of state where there are generally three plots going on in different time frames, but each occurs chronologically so it’s not too confusing. It’s based on an series of 14 light novels.

What novels?

Light novels. They’re sort of like the size of a volume of Manga, but a novel. They are aimed at teenagers and young adults in Japan. They have an unfortunate association with kiddie books outside of Japan though, so they haven’t really taken off and are rarely translated. Look, it’s just like a novel, but shorter. It’s a good format, honest.

Har Har, you read kiddie books. If you would like to grow up, please turn to page 124, you ponce.

Shut it.

What does Baccano mean?

According to the Wikipedia nerds, it’s Italian for ‘noise. I can’t get google translate to confirm this though, so I’m not sure which trusted internet source to believe.

Show me another picture.

Fine. In this picture three different groups of people simultaneously try to hold up the Dining Car.

Holdup

So, go on. Criticise it.

Well, I already mentioned the insanely confusing first episode. There’s also the fact that it’s only part of a much larger story. These interestingly edited crime caper things usually come together to an excellent conclusion like in Lock Stock, but unfortunately the show leaves quite a few aspects that never get properly resolved. Like there’s a girl with a giant pole arm who shows up in the first episode but never appears again. She shows up in later books apparently, and they just never got around to adapting that bit. I call this the “Berserk Clause”.

Rate it out of ten.

Ten.

Really that good?

Yeah, pretty much totally watch it.

Seriously though, Jacuzzi Splot?

Jacuzzi Splot.

Jacuzzi Splot.