To round off the Winter 2011 lineup, Masako had the review that so many of you requested for. So here are his first impressions on the magical girl show which turns the very concept on its head! It’s Puella Magi Madoka Magica. Please note that this was before the absolute mindbendingly twisted events past episode four and goes to show how effective this anime was at duping its core audience! :O
MCM Expo or now more commonly known as London Comic Con is a convention that holds a lot of memories for me. It was one of the first events I attended that was geared towards sci-fi and anime back in the far off year of 2007 AD. In the seven years I’ve been going, I’ve seen it evolve from a larger than average gathering of sci-fi enthusiasts into an immense gathering of tens of thousands of people all geared towards having a good time and buying stuff. It’s gone from two half days to spanning an entire weekend. It’s certainly grown; but has it lost its soul?
I don’t say this lightly. I have a soft spot for MCM; it’s been one of the best chances I’ve gotten to see my friends from all over the country in one place and have a laugh together. We would spend the entire weekend together and flit about the con space and come back together again to swap stories, stuff we’ve bought and generally geek out openly and proudly. I hold a lot of very special memories, that’s for sure; considering I used to be a bit of recluse, it really got me out of my shell. I don’t know whether it’s age, experience, outside factors or all three combined but I feel that MCM isn’t the same as it once was. The short answer is that of course it isn’t – it’s not the ten thousand strong expo anymore; it’s a nigh-on one hundred thousand strong national comic con built to compete against San Diego Comic Con in terms of scope, size and sci-fi clout. It’s evolved into something far bigger than what I grew up with. It became evident that had occurred when I arrived on the Saturday morning to see a lot of queuing outside…in the rain. With very little direction or instruction about where to go, which door to enter and the correct procedure. Twice during the queuing process, my girlfriend and I spotted the queue changing constantly [We had priority tickets and so avoided the even bigger queue for on-the-day sales]. One minute a line was for everyone, the next there were two lines for different ticket holders, then they all merged back into one. It was bedlam trying to find order within the chaos of simply trying to get into the building.
Ninety minutes later, we finally got in. One thing we did notice is that the con space had a strange feeling to it. It was far more organised than before with dedicated spaces for catering, gaming, stage performances, specialist sections and general sales. It felt more cohesive and the actual floor space was much bigger. It even took over an adjacent hangar meaning people could flit inbetween the North and South hangars whenever they chose to unlike previous years where you had to stamp in and out every room. It was still as packed as I remember but the extra space meant that we could at least get about safely and in reasonable time without coming to a halt too often. If only the organisation could’ve been as good outside as it was indoors than the con would’ve been much more pleasant to experience. Trying to wedge thousands of people in a set of double doors and up a seven foot wide staircase isn’t easy!
MCM has in recent years adopted an aisle system which uses draped hangings above the floor so people can use them as a frame of reference for finding particular booths or even friends that you were planning on meeting up with. That’s one thing I’d suggest to do before attending a con of this size; be sure you got people to meet up with or at least have a clear frame of mind about what you wish to do during your time there. The space is so big you can easily get lost in it. The sheer amount of vendors on show is dazzling and enough to cause you to spend most of your day searching for bargains instead of enjoying the ambience and having fun with the games on offer as well as being around your friends. It’s almost too much for the likes of me. I’m sure that younger people and people more adept at sci-fi conventions would be better suited to this environment but for me this was a little tiring. The conventions I go to are ranging between a fifth and a sixth of the size of MCM and are built over multiple rooms so you can easily escape if things get tiring; not in MCM. You have the feeling and almost compulsion to stay the course and keep going until you fall asleep in the corner [I’ve seen people do that!]. I guess this is my experience talking here.
I’m not saying I don’t like MCM anymore. I do. It’s always nice to go at least once or even twice a year and experience the buzz and that connection to my past. It’s still in the same place as in 2007 and does the same things only seven times bigger! I got to meet some of my friends there and pace myself throughout the day. I took breaks, drank water and restrained myself from making outlandish purchases…although I DID treat myself to a rare copy of Panzer Dragoon for the Sega Saturn! I guess I’m harking back to the ‘good old days’ but in reality what I experienced was progress. MCM is successful and the people are voicing their approval by going to it and its other conventions scattered across the UK and Ireland. It’s a smash hit and as such it has to adapt, expand and build upon its success from previous years and offer more of what people love – stuff to buy, stuff to see, stuff to play with. Sorted. I can say that I’m happy with MCM being this popular and that the con itself [once you get in] was pretty good. I had my fun, met friends, did stuff, saw things and didn’t feel claustrophobic; mission accomplished! I just think that the queueing system needs to be improved!
ADDITIONAL: Contract? =D
So you just moved to a new school and are having trouble finding friends in said establishment. Naturally you would look to what the current fad is and follow the crowd. It’s not exactly the most morally just way to become ingratiated with people but it’s what our leading lady Ruko does in the trippy and inwardly sinister Selector Infected WIXOSS.
Ruko lives with her brother and grandmother [who is AWESOME by the way. Really down with the kids!] who have just moved into town. Ruko has no friends in this new world and seems to be perfectly OK with being a social outcast and keeping herself to herself. That is until her brother gifts her with a copy of the popular card game WIXOSS [pronounced ‘we-cross’] to try and get people to like her. It’s a kind gesture but a little cheap in terms of trying to get people to like you but that’s the order of the day! With these cards, she’ll hopefully get ACROSS [sorry~] how good a friend she could be. That is until she opens up the white box containing the card pack and discovers her LRIG card, who she subsequently names Tama, can talk [well…babble if you want to be specific.] meaning that Ruko is a Selector. Selectors are chosen girls [because it HAS to be girls and only girls for some reason.] who can play for the chance to become the Eternal Girl [Sorry guys, this ain’t for you! Way to marginalise a card game…] and have their dreams come true. This is all laid down in front of Ruko by similarly gifted Yuzuki who immediately battles her and becomes her friend/colleague? It’s kind of uncertain what Yuzuki wants Ruko to be. The rest of the episodes chronicle how Selectors fight in a specially created mind arena where their avatars fight in person [Holy Ra! Real monsters!] and if they lose three times, it’s game over for their dreams and time with the game. That’s the main plot, that is. There are some subplots out there which really give Selector Infected WIXOSS some depth over other card-game shows in the animesphere.
I’ll get this out of the way, this show apes Madoka Magica so much that it HURTS. A lot. From the schizophrenic changes of mood, the juxtaposing art style, the angelic avatars whom have a noticeable lust for blood and battles, the BLOOD…it’s clear that the producers of this original anime sat down and marathoned Madoka Magica and said “Let’s take this and add some Yu-Gi-Oh to the mix and market it!”. That’s the feeling I get from this show; like Yu-Gi-Oh!, the players fight with their avatars and ‘feel’ their pain whenever they get hurt except without the cool DUEL DISK SYSTEM! and instead sit in dragon chairs…OK, that’s not so bad. Ruko’s avatar Tama is very similar to Kyubei [the adorable and incredibly sinister mascot from Madoka Magica] in both appearance and personality with a little bit of Togepi from Pokemon thrown into her attire. Tama’s sweet exterior seems to hide a killing machine and this notion seeps into Ruko’s dreams with a WHOLLY DEMONIC version of Tama destroying everything in sight with a wide and twisted grin. Gosh, that’s something. So what happens when we strip away the similarities and look at this show on its own? We get something pretty good actually!
J.C.Staff and chief director Tatsuya Sato [director of similarly immersive Steins;Gate] have done well to produce something which justifies the premise of Selector Infected WIXOSS. The artwork is solid and has a smooth edge to it whist also being rather detailed where it counts most. The battle arenas are sights to behold and give a more ethereal stroke to an otherwise familiar premise of a children’s card game. The story itself too is strong. Ruko and Yuzuki then befriend another girl Hitoe and then quickly gain a rival in the form of Akira, an upcoming idol whom is an utter two-faced prude!! I’m not going to lie, I hate this character with a passion. She puts on a sweet demeanour but in game, she uses her tactics to uncover people and destroy them through taunts and underhanded emotional blackmail which she uses on Hitoe and Yuzuki early on. When she doesn’t get what she wants despite winning those games, she has a hissy fit and her true persona is shown in its ugly, high-definition glory. When I saw her acting so cruelly, I felt myself getting emotionally invested which is a good sign that what I’m watching is engaging me on an emotional level. However, there are some things about this show which disappoint slightly. Yuzuki’s wish is to have her twin brother Kazuki fall in love with her [hello, twincest!] which has been seen before and is a cheap shock tactic which didn’t work with me and probably won’t with most anime buffs but it doesn’t discredit Yuzuki’s character at all. She’s a very confused girl and is clinging onto the idea of WIXOSS granting her wish; her avatar Honoya is actually a helpful sounding board and gives poignant advice in times of heated angst. See? Not all cute avatars want to bathe in the blood of their foes! Ruko’s character is a bit of an enigma too, she is quite selfless in that she has no dream or wish at first and will happily sacrifice her cards to let other people get closer to their dreams…that is before Tama ‘corrupts’ her and she starts to enjoy the game. Actually, her grandmother is into the game and the pair discuss tactics and play together which is pretty cool and a charming side point which I wanted to bring up. Is Ruko really a good person or a dormant tyrant? We’ll have to wait and see. I will!
This show is not ashamed to acknowledge its admiration of Madoka Magica and profit from its unexpected success. It lays its cards on the table [sorry again!] and presents something that a committee will think sell; especially considering that there is a real-life version of the WIXOSS game in the works which will be released soon in Japan and probably in the US too as Funimation have picked this show up. Selector Infected WIXOSS is here to sell an upcoming game but it differs from most tie-in productions in that it feels strong on its own. I like it and I want to see what happens. It’s hooked me with its look and feel, but it’s not a fully original show which saddens me, but doesn’t ruin the overall appeal I have for it. I want to see Akira get her just desserts and Ruko beat her into the dirt [by any means necessary!]. Give this a look!
Selector Infected WIXOSS is available to stream on Funimation’s website.
RATING: CONTINUE [A strong production which is only hindered by its somewhat derivative premise.]
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The romantic comedy is a narrative which is long in the tooth when it comes to anime. The prospect of two people being forced to cohabit with each other has been a fixture in the shows that have come from Japan for decades. How do you mix it up a little bit? Give that little bit of a spark to make it different from the rest of the crowd? Become the wheat that supersedes the chaff. Gangsters. Yeah. Make it so that your life literally depends on you shacking up with someone you utterly despise and that’s what Nisekoi: Fake Love is all about.
You’re not going to find a fully original story here. It’s the same thing that we’ve seen many times before. A guy named Raku has a childhood promise to marry a girl [whom he can’t remember anything about – he must really have loved her then!] and a girl named Chitoge whose paths cross in calamitous and contentious ways. They both hate each other and as such the plot feels like trolling the pair into making them be a couple and then hilarity ensues. That’s it. The difference here is that in a normal teenage angst fest, there’s no real sense of urgency or necessity for the romantic couple to be tied together. Here though, there is. If Raku and Chitoge don’t shack up, then their respective gangs will wage a full-scale war. That’s reason enough to at least play along with the farce. I don’t feel bad giving away the spoiler because you can see it a mile off. These two are going to be the titular couple whether you like it or not, it’s shoved in your face like Chitoge’s knee in Raku’s face. Not enough drama for you? Well, the childhood crush is present too. Onodera, Raku’s classmate, is thrust into the show as it is SO clear that she is the crush from the rather filmic intro. You can see it coming and that’s Nisekoi’s problem. The subject matter, on the whole, is stale and predictable. If you subscribe to a particular formula of story, you have to face the restrictive and linear path that lays before you.
It’s a shame because the presentation is REALLY good. Shaft is one of the most eye-catching studios out there when it comes to anime. They were the driving force behind Madoka Magica, Sayonara Zetsubou-sensei, Mahoromatic, the Monogatari anthology and many other modern classics. It’s got their visual cues all over the shop – the rich backgrounds, the unusual camera angles, the sheer fascination with the invert tool and even the avant-garde nuances of telling a story which cannot compete when it comes to depth. There is a mismatch present. The animation quality is great but the plot is so-so. I like the addition of the yakuza and gangster members from each faction so as to give a more comedic and perilous dynamic but you feel, especially if you’ve seen rom-coms like this before, that you’re wasting your time. You’re not going to be overwhelmed when it comes to the plot. You will be visually satisfied though. It’s so pretty to look at that you can mostly forgive the ordinary premise. You know you’re watching something well thought out and carefully pieced together when the artwork is concerned.
You sort of feel bad for Onodera, Raku’s intended romance. She’s a sweet girl who is a little bit of a klutz but makes up for it in terms of kindness and thoughtfulness. She’s the polar opposite of Chitoge. Onodera is destined, at least for the immediate future, to be out of Raku’s reach because the plot says so. Chitoge’s American streak [she’s half-American on her dad’s side] explains a lot. Americans in anime are often portrayed as brash, loud, aggressive and not that smart [which I find unfair by the way!] when placed in a Japanese society. This incompatibility between her and Raku is the backbone for this story; they have to hate each other, at least at first, or else the plot will go nowhere. It’s the whole ‘if they liked each other, we wouldn’t have a story!’ argument which I feel negates any artistic merit and encourages angst and drama for the sheer sake of it.
So what do I think of Nisekoi? When all is said and done, I like it. You might be wondering why after I’ve been bashing the less-than-exciting narrative. Just because it’s an often used plot doesn’t mean it’s automatically bad. There can be twists and turns that help break the traditional path and thanks to Shaft’s handiwork on the animation front, it’s enough to make the show stand out enough to be worth your consideration. I just feel a little confused as to why a company like Shaft would adapt something so tame. If you’ve watched Madoka Magica, you know that it’s not in the least bit safe. You feel that the animators have exhausted far more style and finesse than this type of plot deserves. In any case, we’ve ended up with a show with a lot of style with comparatively little originality.
Nisekoi is available to stream on Daisuki.
RATING: CONTINUE [It does look pretty but don’t be surprised at how tepid the premise is.]
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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.
Our 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.
This 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.
There’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.
Coupled 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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