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Terraformars REVIEW


The Fall 2014 reviews begin today with one of the first series to feature on the calendar. The world that humanity once called home is looking to broaden its reach to its nearest habitable world, Mars. In the late twenty-first century, man sent samples of algae and cockroaches [one of the hardiest creatures on Earth] to Mars in a hopes that these could terraform the planet [generate air and plant-life] so humans can move in the future. Five hundred years later, this mission has worked. Sort of. The mission’s head didn’t anticipate the cockroaches transforming into super-strong humanoid cockroaches that can break a man in half as if it were rice paper. Terraformars is about humanity claiming back the world of Mars with tons of blood and guts…if you could actually see them!

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The show takes place in the early twenty-seventh century when a young man named Akari is the subject of great interest of the United Space Agency (U-NASA) after his wife is the victim of a new virus which is believed to have originated from space. This strain of disease has the potential to wipe out humanity and the team have no leads; except one. That planet that they tried to colonise centuries ago…what was it called again? MARS. This is what you get when you play god! In an attempt to not only gain a foothold in the fight against this new virus but to eliminate the threat that destroyed two previous expeditions, Akari and dozens of other recruits are offered special treatment to prepare them for combat and Martian life. Led by the survivors of the previous mission, BUGS 2, the team of Annex I aim to eradicate the threat of the Terraformars and discover an antidote for the biological threat that is looming closer. This sounds like a pretty threatening premise…if you weren’t thwarted by black bars which take up most of the screen.

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I’m going to go onto this very quickly because this problem is a HUGE one. Black bars. Censorship in anime these days is fairly common when you have more risque and violent series; you usually find it done very cleverly or subtly (i.e. as rays of sunlight next to a window or dark shadows in a dingy room). Recent laws have required this to happen and most creators have adapted smoothly, or as smoothly as they can. Terraformars doesn’t do that. All of the blood, all of the shock, all of the immersion is ruined when you are greeted with censor bars which, at times, take up eighty percent of the viewable space. Some move jerkily around if gory material is being shaken about; or heads are blacked out if they’ve been crushed. I have never seen censorship in a mainstream anime go this far; it’s ridiculous and unnecessary. It is also cheap – a blatant tactic on the part of Liden Films (the makers of the show) to generate sales of the uncensored Blu-ray and DVD release in the months ahead. You might think that because the content is so violent and that this is going out on Japanese TV that you would need to adhere to this kind of censorship; I don’t agree. For starters, the show goes out at 12.30am. This is at a time where any kind of watershed will be long expired. Also, there’s the fact that another equally gory anime, Parasyte, is airing with very little or NO censorship whatsoever AT 1.30AM! If this was a consensus amongst all broadcasters, both anime would be equally censored; but it’s not. Instead, we have an anime which is compromised. Extremely.

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So what do we have when things aren’t censored? Well, we have a bit of a narrative mess, especially at the beginning. The first two episodes covering the initial recruitment of the characters, including Akari, is in actuality covering the first TWO VOLUMES of the manga. The writers have compressed three hundred pages of content into forty-five minutes of screen time. As a consequence, the plot is severely rushed and stripped clean. The first episode especially left me confused as most of it involved Akari fighting a bear in some kind of freak show for rich people. I had no idea what was going on. Presentation-wise, it’s a little pretentious. Jaunty angles and epic camera pans are thrusting the idea that Terraformars is another Attack on Titan. How? The epic camera swooshes, the overpowered Akari and executive officers being the only hope, the RIDICULOUSLY strong Terraformars themselves and humanity being under threat by them. This show wants to be the latter but it fails because it’s mostly dull; characters talking about corruption and sundry matters. The genre is meant to be action, so make it action-packed more often.

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The Terraformars though are pretty menacing. For the first couple of episodes, they are portrayed as silent and brutal killers with no idea of emotion. Hyper intelligent, fast, strong and scary. Sounds like a perfect monster; you’re left wondering about how you can tackle a being like that. Well, you have to make a medicine to help level the playing field; but they’re onto that. Episode two has a moment which made me perk up and upped the stakes tremendously regarding the Terraformars. When they opened their mouths though and yelled, it sort of diminished their fear factor but they are still frightening; you wouldn’t want to meet one in a dark alley…or anywhere for that matter. The way they are presented, including the animation itself is respectable, if a little stiff. There are grand shots, mass action and detailed backdrops; but the animation of the characters is a little lacking and lazy. One example is one scene when the executive officers are fighting the monsters and then we cut to another scene; we return and the Terraformars are dead, most of them killed off screen. Great. Are we supposed to be impressed by IMPLIED strength? Maybe, but I want to see bugs being smashed; especially since we don’t see anything else remotely gory.

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I think Terraformars has potential to be pretty good in terms of pure action. One of those sci-fi properties like the original Total Recall or Alien where there’s tons of over-the-top action and bags of character. However, I cannot excuse the censorship rife in this show. It taints the show for me and I cannot recommend the show because of it. Crunchyroll has recently announced that, for one day only, they would stream the first three episodes uncensored; probably as a response to the mass criticism or merely as another marketing exercise. It’s hard to tell but all this hiding behind black bars has overshadowed this anime entirely.

TERRAFORMARS is available to stream on Crunchyroll.

RATING: CANCEL [With regret – this cheap ploy for disc sales negates the potential that this series has.]

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Tokyo Ghoul


Today’s review is something that people have asked for quite a lot. Some had even suggested that it was akin to winter’s anime Pupa in its violence and how shocking it was. Oh no, it’s not. Not even close. Pupa was a short and gruesome example of gore porn if ever I saw one. Tokyo Ghoul on the other hand is a more mainstream affair which is still pretty bold in its violence but far more cohesive and accessible. A tale of how an innocent young man is ensnared into the seedy world of the zombie-vampire-demons. Plenty of blood, as you might imagine from that sentence alone.

tokyoghoul_2I’m going to say that this show is pretty violent and gory for those who might not have guessed. To be fair, I first thought this show was about ghosts given the title; ghouls are primarily ghost-like. However, this isn’t the case here. Ghouls are a sort of mix of all the textbook blood munchers from our nightmares. Zombies in that they feast on humans like snacks, vampires in that they adore the taste of blood and demons for their superhuman strength and speed. The ultimate nightmare monster! Their most distinguishing feature are their black and red eyes riddled with red veins to denote how evil they are and how hungry they may be. There are ghouls all over Tokyo…hence the name. Pretty self-explanatory title! All this is explained to our lead Kaneki. He is an average student who just so happens to be on a date with a very pretty girl named Rize. The date itself goes by OK but when she lures him into the dark alleyways, she reveals her true nature and it’s far more scary than you might think. In fact, we were alluded to Rize’s presence at the start of the show with her voracious appetite and violent nature. Before she can feast on Kaneki though, she is killed in action. When Kaneki comes to, his organs have been replaced with Rize’s and he has therefore inherited her ghoul-like powers. He has become half-ghoul and his life is transformed forever. He can no longer live in human society, or so he thinks. What Tokyo Ghoul does next is something rather pleasing. Instead of being ostracised, he is taken in by a stubborn ghoul named Toka and her boss Yoshimaru. They and other ghouls teach Kaneki how to function in society, meaning he needn’t cast himself into the shadows. How long does this peace last for though? There are government officials on the warpath and war between them and the ghouls can happen at anytime.

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Tokyo Ghoul is a show which, despite its violent image, can be very nurturing. The tale could easily be about how Kaneki becomes king of the ghouls, but instead it’s more about helping Kaneki come to terms with what’s happened and that he isn’t alone. That story is far more appealing to me than a simple gore-fest. Naturally there will be some blood spilling and action scenes thrown into the mix, but that seems to play second fiddle to the main feature. Kaneki has a place to call home which seems to be better than what he had before; with what seemed like a lonely existence in a single person domicile. Has becoming a ghoul given him a family? Maybe. In the first few episodes, Kaneki is really struggling with how to adjust to the prospect of eating human flesh and sipping on their blood, especially when at one point it involves his best friend Hide. It’s rather moving as the direction really emphasises his quandary. It feels genuine instead of gawdy which could easily happen in a horror narrative. He’s even inherited a touch of Rize’s soul which taunts him deep in the recesses of his conscious; tempting him to give into his newly-acquired instincts. Thankfully though, Toka and Yoshimaru have enough aids to abate the primeval nature of ghouls; with the former using her boot to knock sense into Kaneki a few times. It’s rather slick and multi-dimensional and I like it.

tokyoghoul_3Kaneki is special in the world of ghouls. He’s a hybrid. After absorbing Rize’s ghoulish soul, he is half-ghoul, half-human or a “one-eye” as some of the ghoul community refers to such legends. These beings are superior to “two-eye” ghouls which denotes that Kaneki is the missing link or “The One” in that regard. If you take it like that, you can kind of piece together how the show is going to resolve itself; Kaneki will be the key to something and only his powers can restore or bring about some kind of equilibrium to society. What this endpoint is exactly though isn’t obvious which is a good thing, it’s good to leave the audience guessing to some extent. We know enough to not feel confused or annoyed and we can focus on the story which is presented to us in the here and now. It’s clear that Kaneki is going to be a powerful ally and that Rize isn’t “dead” in the traditional sense of the word; she lives on inside our lead and will either mess with him or help him. She has no gripe with him as he didn’t kill her and she seemingly had feelings for him prior to becoming a pool of entrails underneath some girders. It’s clear that this show has a lot more going for it rather than slapping some blood in our direction every ten seconds.

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Tokyo Ghoul is one of those anime that’s multi-faceted. It could easily have been a mess of organs and screaming but instead it chooses to make the ghouls the focus instead of the big bad. The ghouls are people too; they just happen to crave human flesh. They can function normally and there are communities out there such as Yoshimaru’s Anteiku cafe where you can find interim relief from one’s insatiable lust for blood. It has a premise which is easy to understand: Guy becomes a demon and learns how to deal with it. It now means that the show’s director, Shuhei Morita, can deliver an artistic and elegantly produced piece which is accomplished in both artistry and composition. By all means, this isn’t a light-hearted show; there’s a lot of violence here and for those that are sensitive to that it might be best to either proceed with caution or avoid it, but if you can look past that you will find a great story here which is uncluttered and engaging that doesn’t bore.

Tokyo Ghoul is available to stream on Funimation’s website.

RATING: CONTINUE [A great addition to the horror genre which is thoughtful as well as terrifying.]

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Akame ga KILL!


When a guy from the countryside tries to make it big in the capital, you would expect him to be completely thrown off and taken advantage of. The simple life that he had once had has been replaced with the complex and conceited world of corruption that lays before him and us, the audience. How would you be able to cope with such a revelation? Join up with a team of colourful and skilled assassins who are poised to overthrow the corrupt leadership of their country? I wouldn’t have thought so, but in Akame ga Kill that’s what we get…and boy is it crazy!

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When a young man named Tatsumi arrives in the capital of an as of now unnamed country, he is keen to do his village proud and save it from being lost. He intends to become a great hero and bring riches to his old home; within the first few minutes of being there though, he gets swindled by a pretty lady [later revealed to be the skilled beastly assassin Leone] and kicked out of enrolment for the infantry because he was too bloody arrogant. At first, you might think he was another anime hothead with an ego as big as the country he’s trying to make it big in; but instead things go south very quick. He is taken in by a rich family and treated very kindly; for now, he’s OK and happy. However, the family have been known to do very twisted things with newcomers to the land and this is shown to him by the members of the infamous assassination group Night Raid. Two of the family’s victims include Tatsumi’s own partners who went with him, Sayo and Ieyasu. They were tortured and it’s pretty horrific stuff. After escaping, Tatsumi is initiated into the Night Raid in order to battle against the corruption that this state has found itself in thanks to a puppet king who is controlled by his prime minister. As you might be able to gather from this paragraph, Akame ga Kill likes to throw curve balls and go a little nuts every now and again.

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Throughout the show, it is said that the country has been besieged by demons who have taken human form and soiled the land which had once been prosperous. The rich grow richer and the poorer grow poorer. It’s Night Raid’s job to address the balance more in favour of those in need. The way that the crew go about this is one that brings out the crazier side of Takahiro’s [the story’s creator] mindset. Plots can go from rather stock to something that borders on nightmare fuel! Characters which may have seemed to be fairly predictable and generic can suddenly pull something out from underneath you and demonstrate their true nature; and it’s often frightening or at least extreme. For example, in the first episode, Lady Aria [the daughter of the family that took Tatsumi in] goes from all innocent and demure to satanic and twisted during a twenty second rant about how country folk are the playthings of the rich and it’s their god-given right to do with them as they wish. That twist is worthy of M.Night Shyamalan in how jarring it is. Jarring isn’t always bad, it’s just very very different. Thankfully you won’t see this demonstrated often enough for it to become boring; it’s served often enough to prevent staleness setting in and remain hard-hitting. The change of art style is to convey the hidden demon within the souls of the population and it’s drawn spectacularly; really raw and violent. I dig this. I dig this hard.

akame_3One of the most important things in a show is how the main character holds himself. Tatsumi is a good main character. He has room to grow, knows how to fight, has talent and yet he has a strong personality and a motivation to do what has to be done to honour his fallen colleagues. He is like a Naruto Uzumaki in that regard [the ninja-like elements of his old village don’t help to mask the similarities. Note the headbands]. You would expect him to crumble instantly or be an embarrassment, but instead he carries himself with fervour and grit that is not all often seen nowadays. I also respect how Tatsumi looks quite normal but not generic, or at least not entirely generic. He has some originality nestled inside him. When we get to the female lead Akame, the soulless assassin who wields a poisonous katana, we also see flecks of originality. At first, Akame is very cold and mono-syllabic but after it’s revealed she has the ability to love and care for her comrades, she warms up quickly and as such warms up to the audience. She has had a troubled past and has been trained to be a merciless killer, but that doesn’t mean that she can’t feel. When I saw her open up, I was so relieved and I was endeared to the show more. All the characters, with the possible exception for Mine [the bolshy brat character] are fun to watch despite being blatant stereotypes [although being better examples of their stereotypes]. The standout character for me is Bulat, the tall and strong tank of the group. He, like his partners, wields Imperial Arms [ancient weapons of old] which have immense amounts of power inside their armour casings. He has a suit of armour and can cut people into ribbons in an instant. However, he is not a meathead; he’s actually a camp, funny and caring older brother figure for Tatsumi. He’s even outed to be gay by Leone and that added to the appreciation that I had for this show…although I didn’t care for Tatsumi’s initial recoiling. He does get over it quickly though! It made Bulat my favourite character – he has so much going for him!

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The story itself follows the above notion of being boring one second to then being completely insane; like it has a two-sided personality. Again, this premise is decent and one I like, but the stark mood swings are a little odd. It almost feels like Takahiro added them in at the last minute if he felt things were getting a little boring. Thankfully though these feelings were rare and I enjoyed my time with the show. It may not be the most beautiful show to look at [the characters are pretty standard fare for the most part] but it’s certainly a good one. It holds up and the animation is consistent, I didn’t spot any glaring mistakes or reduction in quality while I was watching. It may not win awards, but it will win fans! Akame ga Kill deserves your attention as it has a personality and mindset which is fun despite being ultraviolent sometimes. Fans won’t be bored as there is a strong amount of action as well as some cheesy comedy thrown in.

Akame ga Kill is available to stream on Crunchyroll.

RATING: CONTINUE [A colourful look at the world of assassins trying to do good in a bad world.]

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Devil’s Riddle Story [Akuma no Riddle]


Even the hardest of nuts can show their softer side. Despite being trained for years and years to be a cold and ruthless killer [in theory], the act of actually of taking a life is a whole different animal. It takes the utmost ruthlessness to do so; something that nearly everyone is without. The story of Devil’s Riddle Story is one to tackle the complex nature of someone who is left riddled with doubt and naivety despite being the best on paper…thrown in with some stylistic visuals and enough vitriol to take down a rhinoceros!

akumariddle_2Azuma Tokaku is the latest in a prestigious line of assassins. Her family name is steeped in legend in the field and she is likely to fly the flag into the next generation as she is a truly athletic, skilled and capable killer…or at least she should be. She hasn’t actually killed anyone yet; she is also burdened with a powerful memory instilled by her mother and aunt that she should shirk the traditional Tokaku line of work [i.e. killing people.]. All these complications impact on her placement in Myojo Academy’s “Black Class”, a small class of girls [all girls] who are on the surface a mixed bunch of personalities, but not far off the surface are cold and skilled assassins just like Azuma; without the filter. Along with the twelve other girls, there is a seemingly sweet lady named Haru who seems to be completely out of place in this band of mercenaries but her reason for being there is soon made clear – she is the target for all her ‘classmates’. She tries to befriend them but they rebuff her gestures citing possible methods of spying or indirect attack. The only person who bites is Azuma who quickly builds a bond with her and serves as her protector. The rest of the class then make it their mission to take down Haru despite Azuma switching sides for the chance to claim the ultimate prize of “Black Class” – one wish, whatever they desire.

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Devil’s Riddle Story is a very interesting anime. It has a lot of stuff going for it, but it has a lot of stuff hindering it. Let’s talk first about what it has going for it – it’s got flair! You cannot call the visuals of Devil’s Riddle Story mediocre and call yourself human. Its art style is unlike most anime and makes it stand from the rest of the crowd with wider facial structures, pentagon-like eyes, elaborate costumes and hair-dos and edgy character models. It’s something which is more than able to entice a curious viewer into at least giving it a go. Also, the fact that Azuma uses her skills as a protector instead of joining the others in killing Haru is a nice touch which shows that even the most brutal of mercenaries have a conscious…this is punctured a little bit when you find out how Azuma was ensnared by Haru but it’s still worth noting [I won’t go into it here but check out the rest of the show for more!]. The original author [Yun Koga] could have made Azuma completely cold and monosyllabic like what happened in Blade and Soul with Alka but they gave the former some heart and a reason to protect others rather than just making her attraction simply because she thinks Haru is hot. Its yuri nature does show through quite a bit despite it being relatively low-key to most shows…that’s about the only thing that’s low-key though. Here comes the not-so-good stuff.

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What prevents Devil’s Riddle Story from being great is that it’s trying too hard. It’s obvious that Koga has seen the likes of Higurashi and Danganronpa and chosen to throw the dial all the way past eleven and nearing twenty! There are so many close-ups, especially of Nio’s ‘charming’ mug and her tsundere teeth, that it’s almost at the point of boredom. I can only look at a face for so long without wishing to look at something else in my anime, thank you very much! Not that I don’t think the characters are attractive, they are; it’s just I’d wish for time to be focused on more original shots or more time dedicated to the plot instead of looking at the girlsassins. “Black Class” does have a point to it, but it feels so contrived and blatantly an exercise in appeasing the male viewership in omitting the fact that men are also assassins and we can have some attractive men here too to mix things up; clearly not! It doesn’t help that I see every single male fantasy when it comes to fanservice. The tall seductive mistress, the energetic smart-alec, the elementary school kid [wha?] as well as many others. The narrative doesn’t seem to know the meaning of subtlety for the most part. We clearly know that the girls want to kill Haru and don’t care how they do it; there’s no mulling over or deep thought going on here – we’re going to be evil harlots who look hot! YEAH! Urgh, far too much venom for me! Especially from Nio! GAH!

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Devil’s Riddle Story is one of those shows with a great visual presentation and striking plot to say the least, but it is tarnished with overexertion on the part of the director of photography. It’s all things we’ve seen before and done with more polish; it mars what could be a fantastic show and instead makes it only good/pretty good. One of the few nuances here are those revolving around Haru; there’s something going on there. She is far too sweet and adorable to be genuine; and my suspicions are addressed later on for sure which was cool of the writers to acknowledge. I would certainly give this a chance as it does look cool and is likely to keep people interested with how it looks and its potential; but I just wish it was more confident in its framing and relied more on character development. It’s a shame but not everything is lost!

Devil’s Riddle Story is available to stream on Funimation’s website.

RATING: CONTINUE [It’s got a lot of good things going for it, even if it does try too hard.]

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Pupa


The Winter 2014 season could arguably be considered as a season of comedy. The air has been that most of the series present have either been bonkers, light-hearted, relaxed, funny, weird or any other positive and quirky emotion you can think of. Of course, there are exceptions and the series we’re looking at now is the exception; oh boy is it an exception. Right off the bat you can tell that Pupa is NOT a comedy. It’s nothing short of horrifying.

Pupa_3I had been putting this review off a while because I wasn’t sure what to expect and I felt a little nervous. I’m not a stranger to shocking cinema having studied the subject at college with films such as Clockwork Orange and Straw Dogs de-sensitising me to violence and shock tactics in narrative dramas. However, something was unsettling me with Pupa. The very notion that this show isn’t a twenty, ten or even seven minute anime makes you suspect something; it’s only three minutes long per episode. Four if you count the credits. The story itself is about two siblings named Yume and Utsutsu. Up to now their lives have been horrible, coming from a broken home, an abusive [nigh on sadistic] father and a jaded mother who seems to have a desire to kill Yume sensing the demon inside of her which becomes apparent in this first outing. From all the old proverbs, we know that butterflies seem to be the centre of calamity [flap of a butterfly’s wings and all that!] and the one in this show denotes the spreading of a virus known as pupa [hence the title of the show]. As a result, Yume turns into a bloodthirsty monster and ends up eating her brother. It’s OK though! He has extra lives. He contracted the virus too and he can regenerate. From that day, in order to stop her from becoming a hideous creature, she needs to feast on her brother to satisfy her hunger. I guess there is such thing as a free lunch!

Forgive my flippancy here, I need to relieve the nervousness I have after watching this. It’s pretty grim stuff; artsy, but grim. Yume and Utsutsu are marked souls and now live in a perpetual cycle of hunger, pain, secrecy and bloodshed. Oh, the bloodshed. You soon realise that the pair are now the playthings of a ‘witch’ named Maria who is keen on experimenting on creatures and people. It becomes clear she’s a nutcase. Most people IN THIS SHOW are nutcases. Seriously, this is not a show for the faint of heart. Episode six is both the most simple and the most disturbing; Yume eats Utsutsu. That’s it. She munches on her brother and we, the audience, sit there and watch. It’s powerful stuff but the sexual connotations and the sheer graphic overtones mar the experience and end up making one feel very dirty; as if the entire audience are a bunch of voyeurs.

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Pupa is the creation of Sayaka Mogi and was a manga series which ran from 2011 for two years and animated by Studio Deen, a stalwart of the anime world with a strong pedigree but have recently fallen on rough times with fewer memorable titles being released [the last one of note being Is This A Zombie?]. The manga is far more intense and there’s more of it so it’s clear that the three-minute length is justified. Only two Japanese TV stations are broadcasting it and even then it’s censored to the hilt. This short length scuppers the build-up and establishment of the story. It’s broken up too much meaning the pacing is rushed; there’s only so much you can do with three minutes of screen time. Then again, it can be a strong tool to ram home some memorable content. Each episode has a moment that makes you stop and stare in horrified silence. Short anime are not rare creatures, but you feel that Pupa wasn’t intended to be so short in length per outing. It’s a stumbling block but it’s one that doesn’t ruin it entirely.

In all, this story is pure horror. It’s twisted, wrong, traumatic and messed up; but it’s seriously striking. It does its job in sticking itself in your head and not budging. You’re not going to forget this show in a hurry. It does have a noteworthy artistic flair about it with multiple symbolic plot elements as well as creative camera angles and visual cues, but most of that will be lost by the sheer gore that lays before you. If you don’t like violence, turn around and run away. If you can stomach it, you won’t feel like you wasted your time. It’s by no means dull.

Pupa is available to stream on Crunchyroll. [surprisingly!]

RATING: CAUTION [It’s good, but most will be scarred for life. Beware when watching this.]

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