Thursday 30 December 2010

Anime REVIEW: Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt

When the team behind Gurren Lagann first announced that this would be the name of their next project, along with this trailer, I'd be lying if I didn't wonder what the hell they were thinking. Gainax have always been known for taking things to the extreme, but this looked like it was that little bit too far. Nevertheless, because of the quality of Gurren Lagann and other Gainax works I planned to give this a go.

And I am so glad I did.

The plot is simple. It revolves around two angels by the names of Panty and Stocking, who were kicked out of heaven due to their behaviour and have been assigned with ridding Daten City of demonic creatures known as ghosts. They are guided by black-afro priest Garterbelt and aided by their pet/chewtoy Chuck (who is a homage to the disguised Gir from Invader Zim) and ghost hunter/geek boy Brief. Panty and Stocking's powers are as their name suggests - Panty has the ability to turn underwear into pistols (and various other weapons) while Stocking's stockings can be transformed into a pair of swords. While early episodes are mostly one-off shorts, recurring rivals soon appear in the form of demon girls Scanty and Kneesocks, and their master - the bondage loving Corset, and the bare bones of a story are revealed.

Its colourful, it's crude and it's genius. Panty & Stocking blends the art style of western cartoons such as Dexter's Lab and The Powerpuff Girls with crude humour and over the top action sequences. Ghosts range from excrement monsters to sperm monsters and the girls power up via a (tradionally styled anime) pole dancing sequence. Ghost deaths are provided by the detonation of papier mache and Gainax take a pop at Catholic priests in ways that have to be seen to believed. A kid's show this ain't.

Every episode title is a direct reference to something else - Excretion without Honour or Humanity (Battle without Honour or Humanity), Bitch Girls I & II (Bad Boys 1 & 2) but one episode takes it a lot further than that. Episode 7 part 1, entitled Transho'mers, is a fully fledged Transformers parody - completely with G1 inspired designs for the two lead characters, a whole heap of blink-or-you'll-miss-it references and a few pop shots at the live action movies. It's this kind of attention to detail that makes you wonder what a Transformers series would be like in Gainax's more than capable hands.

With a great cast of characters, fantastic (adult humour), a killer soundtrack and a cliffhanger ending that will leave you laughing, confused and eager for more , Panty & Stocking is everything you'd want from a comedy anime that differs from that norm. Gainax, you've done it again.

Anime of 2010? I'd like to think so.

Game REVIEW: Doctor Who: Evacuation Earth (DS)

Ever wondered what you get when you cross Doctor Who with a cheap imitation of Professor Layton? The answer is, unsurprisingly, an appalling game.

Evacuation Earth begins with a fairly interesting plot - The Doctor and Amy arrive in the Lake District in the far future, where the last remnants of humanity are preparing the leave the planet due to the incoming solar flares (the same ones mentioned in the season 5 episode The Beast Below) and get caught up in the evacuation due to the TARDIS going missing on-board the ship. Meanwhile the Silurians also have plans to evacuate the Earth and later some Daleks (who seem to be from the games Wii-counterpart Return to Earth) who are also in need of the Doctor's help/have their own dastardly plans. It'd be a plot that could carry an episode of the series - if it wasn't so damn short. The game is made up of a measly four chapters - the Daleks are beaten almost as soon as they turn up and the game can easily be completed in three hours (well, that's the time it took me, and I was playing it at a rather leisurely pace).

The gameplay, as I mentioned earlier, is nothing more than a cheap imitation of Level-5's Professor Layton series - so much it almost feels like plagiarism. You walk around areas, solving puzzles with give a set amount of points (which decrease every time you get the puzzle wrong). These puzzles are have three hints you can unlock spending these points and the answer is accompanied by a little 3-step animation (but instead of Layton or Luke, it's a materialising TARDIS). Of course these puzzles aren't half as engaging as the ones present in Layton - most of the time they amount to spot the difference or put some puzzle pieces back together. The only difficult puzzles are four sliding tile type ones - and they aren't even compulsory ones! Half the time the puzzles have little to do with the plot (picking out a fish for a crew member, rearranging a work rota etc.) and are really jarring to the story. Sometimes there'll be a few puzzles that feel like they belong in a Doctor Who game, such as charting a spaceship course or avoiding some patrolling Daleks, but its rather scarce. The game's main problem isn't how easy it is though, it's how poorly made it is. Controls are glitchy (things flash onto screen without pressing them, you'll press one side of the screen with the stylus and it'll select the other which makes the Sonic Screwdriver steady hand games really frustrating) and the puzzles are poorly worded (there's at least one instance where the answer doesn't match the question, therefore completely wrong, and that is downright unacceptable for a mass produced game).

To be honest I shouldn't have expected much from a game by Asylum Entertainment (responsible for games starring the likes of Peppa Pig and the Teletubbies) but I expected something at least relatively professional. Other sites have said that this game is great for younger children, but to be honest unless I was about 5 I'd feel exactly the same about this game as I do now. The only thing is game has going for it is a semi decent plot (and the cutscenes are probably up on youtube by now anyway) and some good 11th Doctor-esque dialogue. If this is this bad, I hate to see what Return to Earth is like, because apparently Evacuation Earth is a masterpiece by comparison...

My wait for a decent Doctor Who game continues.

Sunday 26 December 2010

Anime REVIEW: Dragon Ball GT

First off, I'd like to wish a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to every reader of this blog. Hope Santa brought you everything you want and you have a great rest of the year.

Next, here I decided to review something that I'd never seen but was already close to my heart. I'm a long time fan of Dragon Ball/Dragon Ball Z - DBZ was pretty much what INTRODUCED me to anime. But Dragon Ball GT (which after much searching the internet I found stands for Grand Tour) was something I had never watched. I don't know whether it was because of the debated canonicity or the fact most fanboys seem to hate the series, but it had always escaped me. So now after playing Dragon Ball Z Budokai: Tenkaichi 2 on the wii (whose story mode featured the sagas from GT) I decided it was finally time to give this series a go. Set 5-10 years (depending on the version) after DBZ, GT sees Goku returning to life as a child after an accidental wish is made on the Black Star Dragon Balls, which are then scattered across the galaxy and must be returned in a year otherwise the Earth will explode.

Surely it couldn't be that bad could it?

Well sadly the answer was pretty much yes. However it did have a few redeeming points, so those are what I'll look at first (don't hold your breath, there really aren't many). First off I have to give my praise to the people who designed Super Saiyan 4 - it looks magnificent. I've never been the biggest fan of Super Saiyan 3, and so this feels like a vast improvement. The initial sinister edge Goku has in that form is also interesting, and would have been quite good to see played further (to make him almost power mad of sorts). Uub (who was briefly seen at the end of DBZ) is also a great character who I was happy to see developed further - it's nice to see a character who can hold their own in a fight that isn't a Saiyan. As far as villains (and the odd anti-hero) go - Nuova, Eis and Syn/Omega Shenron are also great characters.

But the biggest triumph of GT and possibly the sole reason anyone should watch it other than because of curiosity is Vegeta. GT continues the massive character development that began in DBZ and amplifies is greatly, which is surprising given that he's actually hardly in the series. His growth from the evil Saiyan prince to father and husband to eventual protector of the Earth is possibly the best writing Dragon Ball has period. Its just a shame that the majority of this development (and the most character development in the entire series) comes in a clip episode no less.

And now its time for its flaws, and there's more than a few. For a series only 64 episodes long (and seems to pride itself on having no filler) there are far too many episodes that feel like filler. Its no wonder FUNimation decided not to initially air the Black Star Dragon Ball Saga, because its horrible. Full of forgettable sagas and boring mini quests. The next saga (The Baby Saga) was the first to have a super powerful big-bad and was a step up, but despite having some good episodes it seemed to take the drawn-out fights-where-little-happen-for-episode-after-episode DBZ is infamous for to new heights. Which is hardly fair given that this saga is 23 episodes long (longer if you consider that the first saga ties into it) and the following Super 17 saga, the one with perhaps the most potential, is a mere seven episodes long.

Despite this potential though, all it really amounts to is a rushed train wreck with far too many inconsistencies (why suddenly use 17 again? Where has 17 been all this time? How did Gero/Myuu regain control?). Not only that, but it managed to turn my two favourite villains from Z, Frieza and Cell, into nothing but comic relief. On that topic, comic relief villains is something that GT really suffers from, as is further emphasised by the first 4 dragons in the final saga of the series - The Shadow Dragon Saga. The whole concept of the saga is fantastic - 7 evil dragons created through the over use of the Dragon Balls, but the whole thing felt it should have been a bit more apocalyptic given the power of the 7 dragons. Again fight sequences are drawn out where very little happens (Vegeta ascends to Super Saiyan 4 and literally does nothing, Super Saiyan 4 Gogeta is reduced to nothing but comic relief despite the epic fight sequences he potentially could have had).

But without a doubt my biggest complaint of the series is Goku. Every character is portrayed as a weakling compared to him, and the only thing Gohan, Goten and Trunks seem to be are walking batteries for him when he runs out of power. Vegeta doesn't have one fight sequence where he isn't completely trounced and nobody gets any decent fight time apart from Goku. Piccolo is brought back for the sole purpose of being killed off. I understand that Goku is the main character of the series, but with the diverse and interesting cast Dragon Ball has far more could have been done. There was also no need for Goku to remain a child for the entirety of the series, GT would have been exactly the same (arguably better) if his ascension to SS4 had broken the spell cast on him by Black Star Shenron.

But the worst thing of all is the ending. After Shenron decides to leave Earth due to overuse of the Dragon Balls, Goku decides to go with him when the possibility of training in a new place is offered. Goku leaves without a second though, giving his family a 2-second goodbye and leaving his responsibilities in the hands of others. The moral of the story - Goku may be the strongest fighter in the world, but he's a selfish person and a terrible father/husband who doesn't deserve the supportive family he has. All those family values in DBZ amount to nothing.

Ultimately, GT attempts to blend the light-hearted comedy side of Dragon Ball with the epic quests/fights of Dragon Ball Z and fails at it miserably. I'm surprised the makers of Budokai Tenkaichi 2 were able to make it look so good. If you don't like Vegeta, this isn't for you because your opinion of every other character will only be lowered.

Sunday 19 December 2010

Anime REVIEW: K-On!

Admittedly I'm writing this one a little later than I should be since I finished the series (both seasons) two weeks ago, but admittedly I've been a little busy of late and better late than never I guess.

Anyway, moving away from the usual mecha, murderous notebooks, space bounty hunters and more mecha for a while, K-ON! is a heart-warming slice of life anime revolving around the lives of a group of school girls who are members of their school's light music club. The story takes us through the girls' three years of high school, starting with the beginnings of their friendship and their attempts to stop the club being abolished (due to a lack of members), to their first live performance and the arrival of a new member and more. In some ways, think Lucky Star but swap out the geek references for musical ones - from Black Sabbath to The Who and more (and for those with a keen eye, even Krauser from Detroit Metal City pops up from time to time). Don't think the rest of the series is filled with band practice though - in fact After School Tea Time (or Houkago Tea Time if you prefer) spend more time doing what their band name suggests - which can sometimes cause quite a problem when it comes to concert time!

The first season is compromised of 13 episodes and an OVA, while the second season (entitled K-On!!) is 26 episodes long. While I felt the second season suffered slightly by containing more of the conventions and cliches of high school student animes (festivals, school trips, exam study - you know the sort), it didn't ruin it, but rather made it (much to my surprise) a far fuller experience. With personalties ranging from joker to airheaded to dedicated, the band members are all so different to each other that its sometimes hard to pick a favourite (although mine ended up being Mio if you're interested). Meanwhile the supporting cast (while small) is sometimes as strong as the lead cast itself and the music is both catchy and an enjoyable listen in and outside the series.

For those fans of school girl/high school animes and/or music, this is definitely one I recommend to check it. I almost guarantee it'll have a) melted your heart b) had you singing along c) laughing d) crying or e) doing all of the above by the end of it. The news of a movie next year is definitely one thing I was happy to hear, as this is one series that could do a follow up nicely without ruining the story (although I imagine it'll be set somewhere within the series like the last few episodes were....never mind, the more K-On! the better!)

Saturday 11 December 2010

Toybox REVIEW: Doctor Who New Paradigm Supreme, Eternal and Scientist Daleks

The Drone and Strategist each got their own review, but with the release of the Dalek Supreme, Eternal and Scientist happening at once (in a Dalek-only wave nonetheless) it's time to wrap up the Dalek Paradigm review in one more post. There's not a lot left to say about the figure itself, so I'll let the pictures do the talking. What I DO have to say though is that despite my reservations about the new Dalek design and claims that it was missing something both on screen and in toy form, bringing them together is what truly makes them shine. I'm guessing this is what the designers were going for when presenting them in a myriad of colours, but having a complete collection in this case really pays off. The Daleks have officially been brought into 2010, and I can't wait to see these Daleks in action in the future. Victory of the Daleks was just a teaser, I'm ready for the main event.

Oh, and about this being a wrap up? Scrap that, expect to see the stone Dalek on here sooner or later.