Inari, Kon Kon


Japan has a strong affinity with its Shinto origins and there are countless temples or shrines dotted across the country where people go to pray to the temple’s deity or deities which reside there. It brings people together, acts as a place of solace for some and generally acts a beautiful addition to any cityscape. You wonder if there’s more to the picturesque scenery and if the deities that are praised there actually live there and acknowledge the love and adoration they get. With Inari, Kon Kon we don’t get that, we get more. We get a sweet tale of a schoolgirl, her love for her local shrine and the goddess that loves her back.

Inari_3Inari is a schoolgirl with a crush on a guy named Kouji, a skilled basketball player and someone she has admired from afar since they started going to school together. However the class beauty Akemi is seemingly the winner of his affections and Inari is left distraught and despondent. Despite this she tries her best and with the help of her friends, she plucks up the courage to ask for help during gym class. It doesn’t go well though. Due to her clumsy nature, it ends up with Kouji’s pants being pulled down in front of everyone. He is understandably embarrassed and he avoids Inari for the rest of the day leaving her heartbroken. She returns to the shrine she adores and spends nearly every day at; to the point of concerning her family. Earlier that day, before the incident happened, she aided a stranded dog who was stuck on a riverbank. We see that she’s a gentle soul and someone attuned with animals and generally a good person. Her cries are heard and her world is opened up to the deities which reside at the temple. She is greeted by Uka [the Shinto goddess of agriculture and sometimes tied with Inari or fox spirits] and is granted a wish for her undying devotion to the shrine.

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I will stop here with the plot because I don’t want to spoil it too much; suffice to say this show is wonderful. The piece, as a whole, is stunning. It radiates pure charm and love from every pore. Each character feels multi-faceted and carefully pieced together with plenty of thought and precision. Inari in herself may not be the smartest or most adept person out there but she has a lot of love to give; Uka is someone who can help her fully believe in herself and become the person she deserves to be. All the foxes surrounding Uka in her private dwelling are also so very cute. They act like her minions and aid her with everything from watching over the patrons of the shrine, a guide in the dark to even being a TV. Yes, a TV. When I saw that scene of Uka playing a dating sim on a not-PS2, I did a double take and laughed out loud – it was such an unexpected juxtaposition of elegant divinity indulging in mod-cons. It gave me a sense that Inari, Kon Kon is a show with tons of personality. Uka in herself is brilliant. She’s loving, poised, helpful and even funny. She’s the complete package and a lot more approachable than a god might normally be perceived to be. She is indiscriminate – she treats Inari as if she were her own, even giving her some of her own power when things go south as a token of apology. The power to transform into any other living human.

Inari_5When you get deeper into the show, there’s more to discover. The plot could easily have been simply a catalogue of adventures that Uka and Inari have together but instead we get moments of peril and threat in the form of other gods, Inari’s own brother who has a mistrust of gods and even Inari’s own quirks. Your emotions are quickly invested in the universe and you feel like you’ve invested wisely. It’s so pretty. The visuals, the character designs, the plot, the music – everything. My only concern is that the show could become safe; not venturing much further in terms of edginess. There are plenty of subplots that could rock the main story and add even more dynamism. If it can do that, then the show will be a winner; if not, then it’s not a MAJOR disaster. It’ll just mean that the show is merely good. It deserves to be GREAT; because it is.

Inari, Kon Kon is simply a must-see. There are more action-based shows out there as well as those which have more going on, but that doesn’t matter in this case. Inari’s quest for inner confidence is a compelling and artfully rendered drama with a hint of divinity, loads of charm, a dash of comedy and a lot of heart.

Inari, Kon Kon is available to stream on Funimation’s website.

RATING: CONTINUE [A contender for best of the season.]

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Magical Warfare [Mahou Sensou]


Since Harry Potter became a global sensation, especially in Japan, the magical academy genre has exploded with loosely inspired series with some standout examples being Freezing! and Little Witch Academia. It’s a genre with loads of potential to be exciting and original, you can do anything you want and link it back to some magical lore; it’s a writer’s paradise. However, with such freedom and exposure, there’s a price to pay and that price is staleness. The basic formula for a magical show is now etched into the minds of anime fans everywhere and Magical Warfare does little, if anything, to break away from the mould.

MahouSensou_5Our first shot is a rip from the first Matrix film in that it’s in a green-tinted subway and it’s a battle of wits between two overpowered magicians with no backstory or explanation whatsoever. Already to me this show is not the One. Our main story though is about a guy named Takeshi who yearns to get away from his disturbed [possibly abusive?] mother and he doesn’t care where it is he ends up. Be careful what you wish for. He seems to have a girlfriend in the form of Kurumi although they haven’t kissed and he has recently started referring to her by surname only denoting he’s not really interested or somewhat distant. So it’s not great on the relationship front either. Things get even less great when he encounters a young girl named Mui, rescues her from death and then nurses her back to consciousness. His reward? A bullet to the head. Or at least near his head. Mui is understandably unnerved by her new locale but her reaction is still ludicrous and enough to unsettle the audience rather than compel them.

MahouSensou_3This is where the major crux of the show starts to make itself known. Mui is on the run from her brother [although he has a case of plot-driven amnesia] and his goons and this inevitably leads to a scene where there’s loads of fighting. Fighty fighty. Somewhere in this mess, Takeshi has suddenly acquired the ability to see his opponent and dodge…and not much else. He has the Evasive Ability. The power to run away. Wow. If it had been called Agility then it would sound cooler and less cowardly. The scene in its entirety sums up the majority of the flaws of this show: Mui being merely a love interest/plot waterfall, imbalanced and confusing physics, half-baked lore and fighting mechanics and overall uninspired character designs. Also in the above picture – TAKESHI HAS NO NOSE. Madhouse animated this show. Madhouse; artists of Death Note and Highschool of the Dead fame. Their standards have slipped majorly with this series. Back to the confusing physics for a moment. HOW CAN YOU FIGHT A MAGICALLY ENHANCED ARM BLADE WITH A WOODEN SWORD AND HAVE IT REMAIN INTACT AFTER MULTIPLE STRIKES?! You could say it’s magically enhanced but Takeshi’s magical power doesn’t do that so it makes no sense whatsoever. Especially since we’re currently in the Living World as opposed to the Ruined World where these magicians came from. The rage doesn’t stop here.

MahouSensou_2There’s nothing special with how Takeshi got his powers. He got them by just being near Mui when she hit him with her best shot from her magic gun. [Where’d she purchase that?] Talk about a lazy explanation; shows anyone can be a magician if they’re in the right place at the right time. Does this mean if I watch a magic act on stage then I’m a magician now? Awesome. Then we have Kurumi and Takeshi’s friend Kazumi roped into the story by also being nearby when the magic takes place; they get powers too. Kazumi gets fire powers and it’s clear that he’s the story’s clown with his goofy reaction getting a giggle. Then we have Kurumi’s Corporeal [transfiguration] power which…causes her breasts to grow in size. I cannot tell you how hard my head hit the desk when I saw that. WHY WOULD THAT HAPPEN?! It breaks the flow of the story and makes you realise that this show is trying whatever it can to get you to still watch after being exposed to such bland and formulaic storytelling. In the end, the three new magicians are transported to the Ruined World and are overloaded with more exposition from Mui whose character is further diminished and replaced with plot. It’s sad but that’s what she is in the end. It’s like the show wants to get as much lore out of the way as soon as possible but in doing so it alienates and bamboozles the viewer with too many facts and lore too early into proceedings. The experience is ruined.

MahouSensou_4Coupled with the patchy animation quality, uneven character models and bland story, Magical Warfare is a confusing mess. I like Kazumi, he’s the confident goof where some semblance of personality is maintained. I also like the potential subplot with Takeshi’s mother and maybe delving deeper as to why he hates his home. However, the majority of the story is so boring and the ploys for viewership so cheap that it leaves a bad taste in my mouth. If you like magic anime, you might see something in it but really you’d be better off watching Madoka Magica again. If you don’t, go watch Madoka Magica. It’s awesome; and messed up.

Magical Warfare is available to stream on Crunchyroll.

RATING: CANCEL [There are better examples of supernatural anime out there.]

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D-Frag!


Despite the close relationship that anime fans have to gaming, you don’t often see an anime dedicated purely to the subject. Sure you get references to games quite regularly in some of the more outlandish anime such as Lucky Star and Chobits and even some anime based on actual games but it falls short somewhat. However, D-Frag is a show where games and the world of gaming is the base for a funny and refreshing spin on the school club anime scene.

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OK, D-Frag may not be OBSESSIVE when it comes to the world of gaming, but it does form the foundation for the setting that our characters live in. The story starts with Kenji, a ‘delinquent’ who has recently moved to the city with his friends. I use inverted commas because they aren’t really bad people; they merely want the mystique that is attached to those kind of people. Their bravado is quickly gotten rid of and they’re actually decent guys albeit a bit cowardly. He encounters a young girl named Roka who is in charge of the Game Dev Club and after an initial encounter, the two meet up again with Roka aiming to recruit the trio into joining their club. All’s not well with the club though and it’s on the brink of closing through lack of members. Kenji and companys’ appearance breathes hope into their club but let’s say that their recruitment drive is…less than orthodox. It borders on the manic and farcical. The first several minutes give you no preparation for this and you are at first left in stunned silence but the tension slowly dissipates and you realise that the club is a rag-tag team of eccentrics, obsessives and power-mad horrors. After many ridiculous attempts to recruit Kenji, he gives in and joins the group saving their skins. However, there’s a twist in the tale and there’s already a Game Dev Club which exists led by a busty girl named Takao. This extra addition gives a sense of competition and dynamism to the story. It could’ve been sewn up in the first episode and the element of peril would’ve been extinguished. Fortunately it lingers on and adds an extra dimension to proceedings.

DFrag3Going back to those recruitment drives I mentioned; suffice to say that the girls who run this Game Dev Club have very active imaginations. They like to live their role-play characters and use their ‘powers’ to convince Kenji into joining. At first it all seems stupid and somewhat disturbing but you quickly lighten up at how elaborate their actions are. It’s definitely worth a laugh or two. Or three. It does have a lot of humour going for it and those watching will not be disappointed when it comes to the writing. Despite the easygoing and quaint scenario, there are loads of facets to the characters which mean it doesn’t feel generic or staged. Sure some of the characters can be pigeon-holed into archetypes such as the dominatrix, the peppy go-getter, the lazy placater but each of them has an extra dimension which saves them from being purely plot vehicles. The writing is very good.

As for the rest of it, it sort of falls down a little. The art work can be good at times and when the comedy is heightened to insane levels, it comes into its stride and it works; during the bits in between it feels a little flat and dull – like you were watching a rushed product or a part where the animators were wanting to get to the bonkers parts. It’s not bad but it’s not as the good as the very good parts. It lacks regularity in its animation production.

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D-Frag has a decent pedigree having released eight volumes of manga since 2008. With the studio Brain’s Base behind the production [the animators behind Durarara and Penguindrum – both being modern classics] it certainly has potential to be a good series albeit a little tamer than the examples I listed just now. I certainly like this show and find it to be very funny. Gaming is something that I and most anime fans can understand and relate to and so I’m surprised it has not been explored more often. It’s a refreshing addition to the school club genre and I certainly recommend this show for people seeking a wacky comedy with a lot of slapstick and shouting. Lots of shouting. All the shouts.

D-Frag! is available to stream on Funimation.com. [yay!]

RATING: CONTINUE [An absolute hoot!]

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Onee-chan ga Kita


People get divorced and people re-marry. Quite a lot of the time this involves children having to get used to a new family dynamic which will never be the same again. Usually it’s for the worse and there are ructions between the new siblings; not here though. Onee-chan ga Kita deals with the opposite, in a very unusual and somewhat disturbing way.

Onee-chan_1Yes. That image depicts a shrine to Ichika’s new little brother, Tomoya. Their parents recently married and the two children are now stepsiblings. Ichika is thrilled and enamoured with her new little brother; Tomoya is quite the opposite. He has every right to be so as his big sister’s behaviour and conduct around him borders on…hell, IS stalker-esque. Look at that image above and it’s perfectly clear. I’ve seen incest anime in the past and this has to be the most blatant and over-the-top representation of a character’s love for their brother/sister that I have ever seen. She has done tons of research before the pair moved in with one another and THAT IS CREEPY. I understand that she is happy to have a whole family again but this is kind of taking one…no several steps too far from what is socially acceptable. Naturally, Tomoya is freaked and goes to great lengths to keep Ichika away from him but his resolve over the series is diminished and Ichika wins over quite often.

I get that is supposed to be a comedy but quite a lot of the time it strays over the border between comedy and creepiness [Ichika trespasses onto her brother’s school just to give him his lunch, clambering in through the window!] which leaves the viewer unsettled and dumbfounded meaning that the laughs are quickly extinguished. You have to look at this from Tomoya’s perspective. How would you feel if your new sister completely wants you? How would you feel if she’s interested in what type of underwear you have? You’re thirteen years old and just going into puberty where things are overwhelmingly confusing when it comes to that kind of stuff and here comes a whirlwind of incestual lust to decimate what you once thought. You would understandably be scared; or at least feel majorly awkward.

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Onee-chan ga Kita began as a 4-panel manga series in 2011 by the artist Riko Anzai and published in the magazine Manga Life, a tour-de-force when it comes to bringing 4-panel manga to the masses where it had once been dismissed as only fit for a quick laugh or newspaper. As of now, there are two volumes published as full volumes and is currently still being circulated in the Manga Life magazine. It has a proven track record and had enough of a following to make it to an anime. Makes you wonder about the health of the Japanese market if shows like these get televised. I will give the show credit for not actually doing anything sexual or raunchy other than for gags and nothing involving Tomoya. It’s kept simple and emotional rather than doing anything physical – the furthest it goes is hugs which is not so bad. If it had gone further, then it would be tantamount to public indecency.

Onee-chan_3The show’s art style and look is a little inconsistent. The colour palette looks a little hazy and the amount of filters used is distracting and makes the lineart and shading look odd. The animation too is a little messy and some of the characters look unusually disproportionate [in the first image above, Ichika’s leg looks a little small for her body.]. Their lineart feels a little rushed too; like not much thought was put into it. The episodes are short and therefore the attention to detail for the animation was also short. Not cool. Then there’s Ichika. Her mouth is a perpetual triangle which is good for eating Toblerones or triangular sandwiches but not much for when it comes to realism. Her manner is also unrealistic; I get she’s protective of her new little brother but there’s a difference between being close and BEING CLOSE.

Onee-chan ga Kita’s three-minute formula for each episode means you can breeze through the episodes with not much thought and time wasted. It’s not worth it. Most viewers would be freaked out after episode one and those left will still be reeling from her behaviour. There are some interesting subplots such as Tomoya’s crush and her character development over time. That would be a better subject to broach than the main feature. If you don’t mind stalker or cringe comedy, you might get a chuckle or two from this but for the majority, it’s a definite pass and believe me, it’s worth passing.

Onee-chan ga Kita is available to stream on Crunchyroll. [if you’re not put off already!]

MY RATING: CANCEL [Not for me or most people.]

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[Winter 2014] Sakura Trick


Being a teenager isn’t easy. That tumultuous time where nobody understands you, school is dragging you down, everyone seems to be obsessed with getting laid and you feel that you’re ugly and horrible. It’s also a time for experimentation and emotive discovery as you approach adulthood and realise what it is you might be partial to. Despite its initial impression of being a purely fanservice-orientated show, Sakura Trick is actually a lot better than I thought in exploring the confusion when it comes to that barrier that separates platonic and romantic relationships.

Sakura_Trick2I was initially sceptical when I heard about this show. This is, undoubtedly, a yuri title. Yuri is the opposite of yaoi [romantic stories involving purely men] in that it invests in women having emotional, romantic and in most cases sexual explorations and deviances with the same gender. Some stories can be tender, some can be sexually explicit; Sakura Trick fortunately falls in the former category. Sure it does have fanservice elements strewn throughout the narrative but it could’ve been a lot worse given the initial brief. The story is about two friends named Haruka and Yuu; they are about to start their first year at high school together and leave the comfort of middle school behind them. What Haruka worries about most though is Yuu drifting away from her and leaving her all alone like she was before the two of them met. Yuu holds emotional importance in Haruka’s life and naturally she wants to cement that bond in an unforgettable way. That way is through a kiss; at first Yuu is shocked but she slowly warms up to the idea and they both embrace the chances in which to…well embrace. This is a prime example of two teenagers [of whatever gender] taking their friendship to the next level and solidifying the bond that they have. It’s quite charming. Shame that the ploys for male viewership have to get in the way.

Sakura_Trick5Yes, for most anime of this ilk to become an anime, it has to have its sexual [ecchi] content amped up more than the original. A prime example of this modification is the series A Certain Magical Index. The manga and anime differ wildly in terms of style and content with the the former being far more elegant and tasteful and the latter being a lot more moe [rounder, softer and more cutesy style]. It pleased some, confused others and mostly degraded the source material in terms of artistic impression. Sakura Trick suffers from this but not to nearly as much of a degree. However, groping and extra skimpy costumes and situational positioning do up the ante when it comes to pleasing the male audience watching. It’s sad but at least the panty shot hasn’t made an appearance…yet. In a way, you can count yourself lucky. The lack of more steamy content actually enhances the romantic bond that Haruka and Yuu share and makes it feel more wholesome.

Sakura_Trick3Once you get past the yuri element, you actually find a cute slice-of-life story of six friends in high school sharing their three years together and making the most of their time there. The school they’re in is closing as part of a merger with another school and so their intake will be the last and as such all the events that the school puts on have an extra amount of sentimentality behind them. Yuu is particularly driven to enjoy herself and build strong memories and not to miss out on a single moment. The other four girl characters [Yuzu – the plucky tomboy, Kaede – the cynical sidekick, Kotone – the buxom flirt and Shizuku – the nervous stoic one] have their part to play in the series and it’s also clear that they’re paired off with one another too but it’s a lot more drawn out and subtle than the main pair. I liked Sakura Trick mostly for its narrative quirks and off-beat visuals for chronicling scene changes, character movements as well as emotions. For example, Yuu wears two flowers in her hair and to denote her running over somewhere, one of her flowers bounces across the scene synced with chirpy musical beats. Yuzu and Haruka have hair antennae and those twitch when they are emotionally attuned. These small comedic touches add to the charm that this show has. One problem I have is that I do think Haruka is a little perverted; more perverted than a normal girl would be of that age. It seems like she is a vehicle for what MEN might think and dream of when in a steamy, sexual encounter with their classmate. It’s not always present but it does sometimes become an issue.

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So what do I think of Sakura Trick? I like it! Not because of its female-orientated plot [seriously there are NO guys in this show] and sexual undertones, that doesn’t do it for me. I like it for its charm and character. It’s not a cookie-cutter anime with generic characters and bland storytelling. The show has funny and original visual cues which are coupled with a cute main couple. Of course if you’re not a fan of yuri you will be put off by the premise of the series but that part of the narrative is actually quite small when you think about it. Quite a lot of the story revolves around the six main characters having fun and enjoying their time together. I want to watch a show which feels like you won’t forget about it a couple days after watching it and Sakura Trick succeeds in doing that.

Sakura Trick is available to stream on Crunchyroll.

RATING: CONTINUE [if you don’t mind yuri-driven content]

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