Sunday 30 January 2011

Anime REVIEW: Soul Eater

Originally released in 2008-09, the 51 episode series revolves around Shibusen, a school run by the Grim Reaper in order to train teams of weapons (humans that have the ability to turn into weapons) and meisters (wielders). The three main teams consist of Maka Albarn and her partner Soul (who can turn into a scythe), Black Star and Tsubaki (who can transform into a variety of ninja weapons) and the Grim Reaper's son Death the Kid and his twin partners Liz and Patty (pistols). With the help of their teachers and under the guidance of a rather eccentric Grim Reaper, they battle witches, golems and finally, a face off with the madness spreading 'demon-god' Asura.

Soul Eater gets off to a very promising start - rather than throw the viewer right in at the deep end, we're treated to three prologue episodes, each starring one of the three main groups of characters. This is a great introduction to world of Soul Eater, and only after these three episodes to the characters start appearing together properly and sharing adventures. Add in a strong and diverse group of side characters and it has the makings of a very strong show. The first arc is very strong in terms of content (and feels like it's leading on to something bigger, but ultimately doesn't). It's also one of the few anime shows out there were the few filler episodes are as equally entertaining as the main plot - the moomin-esque Excalibur is actually one of the series' comedy highlights, and he has some pretty stiff competition in the forms of the Grim Reaper himself and Kid's rather simple partner Patty.

The art and music are top notch - particularly the first opening track 'Resonance' and its accompanying opening. My only regret is that the series is completely animated in the deep shadowy style of its opening city scape, which for me remains the animation highlight. The series itself is equally fluid, if a bit brighter. The uses of CGI don't detract (Shibusen looks fantastic in all its birthday cake glory) and it has a strong selection of background music.

As fun as Soul Eater is as a series, its also littered with problems. Being based on a manga that's still ongoing, it's only natural that there would be several dropped plot points, but Soul Eater seems to take it to ridiculous levels. Soul's determination to become a deathscythe? Never happens. Villain Mosquito's powerful 400-year old form? Never shown. And anyone expecting second arc big-bad Arachne to do anything apart from sit on a spider's web and order people about will be sorely disappointed, as this is all she does as her whole scheme is orchestrated by her henchmen. There's not even an indication of exactly how powerful Arachne is. Her apparent rivalry with sister and first arc big-bad Medusa is rendered null, as Medusa proves to be a far more interesting a threatening villain throughout.

The second problem is the series insistence on giving almost every character some sort of catchphrase or quirk - Soul always talks about how something is cool/uncool, Black Star will surpass God, Kid is obsessed with symmetry, Crona can't deal with things etc. And that's not all of them either. While a lot of these a dropped as the series progresses (and some are interesting character traits/genuinely funny), to begin with they're drilled into the viewer non-stop. Finally, the series ends on an incredibly abrupt note with plot points coming out of nowhere without even being vaguely hinted at, leaving a rather unsatisfying taste.

Another problem is Black Star, who is horribly one dimensional. His arrogance has no bounds, and there's no other side to it either. All he does is shout his way through the series claiming he's going to get stronger, and he does. While it does add a bit of variety to the cast, he's so arrogant it becomes nigh impossible to like him as a character and difficult to watch him on screen - and as a main character, that's quite a lot of screen time. It's a wonder how the hell Tsubaki puts up with him.

Soul Eater is by no stretch a bad series, in fact it's a very good watch full of likeable characters and (for the most part) an engaging plot. It was certainly better than the Naruto-lite-with-demons-instead-of-ninjas I was first expecting it to be. But in comparison to some of Bones' other works (which include both Fullmetal Alchemist series', Eureka Seven, Ouran High School Host Club and more recently, Star Driver) it doesn't quite live up to the standards the studio usually produces. Catchphrases, annoying main characters and a horrifically rushed ending get Soul Eater a high 3 out of 5 rating, but just make it miss out on receiving a 4.

Tuesday 25 January 2011

Toybox REVIEW: Revoltech SFX Anguirus

Next in Revoltech's sci-fi line and rounding off Godzilla's BFF club is the very first Godzilla foe, who would then go on to become the big G's most trusted ally - yes, it's none other than Anguirus.

Rather than be based on his first appearance in 1955's Godzilla Raids Again (all the other Toho kaiju in the line so far have been based on their original films), Anguirus is based on the design from his second appearance, 1968's Destroy All Monsters. This is not only evident by the overall design of the figure, but also from the packaging and the inclusion of the Moonlight SY-3 spaceship from said film. The spaceship also includes a 'launch' stand, made with a similar effect to Gamera's rocket booster stand.

As is the norm with Revoltech figures, Anguirus has a fair amount of poseability - there are revolver joints in his neck, shoulders, elbows, hands, hips, knees and feet. The jaw can also be moved via a hinge joint. What is most notable about Anguirus however is his tail - rather than make it out of segments connected by joints at various intervals (like Gamera's), Anguirus' tail is one whole piece made out of soft plastic which can be bent into specific poses. While this still doesn't mean it has a huge amount of poseability, it's still looks far more natural and is a step up from Gamera's. Anguirus' spines are made from soft plastic so they are quite flexible and unlikely to break if a little pressure is put on them. They are still however particularly pointy - a point I found out first hand when resting my hand on them trying to plug in the left arm and leg (which came unplugged in the box in order to fit the figure in the tray)!

It's quite disappointing that Anguirus only comes with a spaceship while the other Toho kaiju have received some pretty neat dioramas, but the figure itself is far from disappointing. Now that Godzilla's core crew of allies have all been represented in figure form, its time for Kaiyodo to bring on the antagonist monsters and hopefully, one day the big G himself.

Thursday 20 January 2011

Anime REVIEW: The King of Braves GaoGaiGar

The last of Sunrise’s Yuusha (or Brave) metaseries (funded by toy company Takara who moved onto Brave once Transformers had become non-profitable), GaoGaiGar is the story of a young alien boy named Mamoru – brought down to Earth by a mysterious mechanical lion. When Mamoru is eight years old, the invasion of an alien species known as the Zonderians begins. Using Zonder metal to turn humanity into machine creatures known as Zonders, the Zondarians lay waste to Japan. But the world is defended by GGG (Gutsy Geoid Guard) and Guy Shishiƍ – a cyborg with the ability to combine with the very same lion that brought Mamoru to Earth (named Galeon) into the mecha warrior GaiGar. Using further GaoMachines – DrillGao, GaoLiner and Stealth Gao, GaiGar can perform final fusion to become the super robot and King of Braves GaoGaiGar! As it is soon revealed that only Mamoru can purify Zonder cores back into their human state, Mamoru joins GGG in secret and slowly comes to terms not only with his new found powers – but his reason for coming to Earth and his place as the legacy of Cain.

Of course the title mech isn’t the only robot in the series – there’s a whole bunch of GGG robots defending the planet. These include the rescue vehicles HoRyu and Enryu – two brothers able to combine symmetrically into the warrior ChoRyuJin, intelligence and stealth officer Volfogg – a police car ninja who can also combine into a larger form, Mic Sounders the 13th – an American built robot who holds a lot more than his initial ‘comic relief’ persona suggests and later FuRyu and RaiRyu – the rescue brothers’ Chinese built brothers with the ability to combine into GekiRyuJin. So as you can see there’s not only human-piloted robots on offer in GaoGaiGar – and fans of Western series such as Transformers will feel right at home here. In fact, the style of many would go on to be emulated in later Transformers series.

One thing that does need saying about GaoGaiGar is that it is a series you have to stick with to enjoy. The first story arc is comprised of almost entirely one-shot monster of the week episodes with thin strands of a continuing story-arc compiling. While these kind of episodes are expected from a robot series such as this, the sheer amount of them in succession can seem a bit much at times. But get towards the end of the arc and beyond and you really have a treat in store – the series becomes a lot more continuous, with most episodes ending on a cliffhanger and plot development and action piling on non-stop. Once this series gets truly going, you won’t want to put it down.

Speaking of action – GaoGaiGar has it in spades. Even the monster of the week episodes contain some spectacular fight sequences and has everything a hot-blooded mecha action series requires. Combining? Check. Lots of shouting and over the top attack names? Check. Great robot designs? Check. Oh, and perhaps the greatest weapon of all robot/mecha series – the Goldion hammer.

And if you think things can’t get any more ridiculous and hot blooded after that – think again, because the 8 episode sequel OVA GaoGaiGar FINAL takes what the series did and ups it yet again. It does however suffer from the inclusion of uninteresting new protagonists – who for the most part add little to the story and seem to just take away screen time from the rest of the GGG team. The new villains – the 11 soul masters, also suffer from a severe case of “godhax”, remaining nigh unbeatable (even unhurt) until the very last few minutes of FINAL. Nevertheless, in return this gives the battles to stand out even more than they did in the series, with every robot getting an excellent fight sequence in FINAL’s climax. GaoGaiGar’s ending is truly one that will make you weep manly tears and will stay with me for a long time – even Gurren Lagann could learn from this level of epic-ness.

While not perfect, GaoGaiGar is a rollercoaster of a ride that has everything anyone could ever want from a mecha/super robot series. It is essential viewing for every robot fan and highly recommendable to those who merely dabble or are looking to get into the genre. If you don’t come out of the series singing the theme tune loudly or shouting some of the more over the top phrases you can find in it – then you didn’t watch it properly.


Tuesday 11 January 2011

Game REVIEW: Sonic Colours (Wii)

Another year, another 3D Sonic the Hedgehog games. After so many years of disappointment (although I'll admit despite its flaws I enjoyed Sonic Heroes a lot more than I probably should have) it's a wonder I still keep coming back to Sega. But in the end, Sonic isn't just one of the great gaming icons, he's my great gaming icon - so I'll always be watching to see if he one day reclaim his former glory on home consoles (handheld is a different matter entirely - the Sonic Rush series has been nothing short of fantastic).

And if any game since Sonic & Knuckles is going to do it, it's this one.

The premise is simple - Dr Eggman/Robotnik/whatever you call him these days seemingly turned over a new leaf has opened a huge intergalactic theme park made up of several different worlds, and Sonic and Tails being, well, Sonic and Tails don't trust him and discover a plot to take over the world using a mind control beam powered by a race of aliens known as Wisps. Cue the robot smashing, ring collecting and general speediness.

So that's your plot - no additional characters, no mythical all powerful creatures and (much to my surprise and joy) no final battle involving Super Sonic. Being written by the odd combination of the writers for TV series LazyTown and Happy Tree Friends, the story gives off a feeling reminiscent to the slapstick style humour of the 90s cartoon The Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog, and this is the style perfect for a Sonic game (about time they cracked it). This is reinforced by the addition of new voicing for the entire cast (except Dr Eggman, but then Mike Pollock has more than proven himself to be the perfect man for the job) who fit into their roles already far more comfortably than the 4kids cast ever did.

But what about the gimmick? Every 3D Sonic game has a gimmick! Well, this is true, but in this case its far less scary than its predecessors. Sonic can utilise various different wisps in order to give him different powers e.g. a yellow wisp will turn Sonic into a drill capable of burrowing underground, green wisps give him the ability to hover, cyan wisps turn him into a laser beam etc. While initially this is a bit eyebrow raising, the wisps have far less impact on the game then you'd think. While admittedly there are several occasions where they're required (especially if you want to 100% the game) and some feel like a bit out of place (hover) or more like they belong in a Mario game (cube), it is still very possible to enjoy the game solely on the merit of being Sonic. And to those of you thinking "Sonic, as a drill? Really?" is it that much of a stretch to imagine him spinning so far he can make himself into a drill on his own? He did it in the cartoon, I don't see why he can do it here. The game play is very similar to that of the daytime levels of Sonic Unleashed, improving upon them and creating a smooth blend of both 2D and 3D level sections. The controls are slightly more than 'run and jump' but still as simple as a Sonic game should be. And not a fan of motion controls? Well this game supports wiimote, nunchuck, classic controller and gamecube controller options, so there's something there to suit everyone's tastes.

At times some levels might feel short, but with 180 red rings to find this game offers quite a bit of replay value - and some of those rings are really well hidden. Upon collecting those and getting the chaos emeralds from the subsequent unlocked Sonic Simulator mini games, you are treated with the ability to play through levels as Super Sonic - a first for a 3D Sonic game. If that isn't a damn good bonus, I don't know what is.

Sega have given us so many duds in the past they were due for a winner sooner or later, and Sonic Colours is that winner. If Sonic Team continue to improve upon what they've done with this game, we could be seeing a true hedgehog revival coming our way sooner than later, and I couldn't be happier about it.

Wednesday 5 January 2011

Toybox REVIEW: Revoltech SFX Rodan

....or Radon if you'd prefer. Yes, the latest in Kaiyodo's SFX (or if you're like me, Kaiju excellence) line is the star of his own 1956 movie and all around Godzilla chum. After my review of Revoltech's Mothra figure, I had to wonder what the super-articulate line could do with a giant pteranodon. I mean, much like Mothra surely the articulation would amount to head, legs and flappy wings?

Well to start I have to say this guy is a lot bigger than I was expecting. What he doesn't have in height he sure makes up for in wingspan (I didn't take a picture, but I'm looking at him now and his wingspan is just over 18 DVD cases in length....note to self: adopt that as a unit of measurement). The wings are also made out of rubbery plastic, making them a lot more light and flexible while attempting to recreate that wing-like feel. Each wing has a tiny hand attached, which is also articulated. For the rest of the body there is articulation in the feet, legs, knees, waist, neck, head and jaw.

Like Mothra, Rodan comes with a stand that's a cut above the basic clear/black ones that come with the Yamaguchi line - this time is a building (that can be transformed into a crumbling building by twisting it in the centre). Rodan can stand atop the building via inserting a rod where no rod has gone before, or the giant monster can be posed stomping through the roof (this pose involves removing the foot and pushing it into a peg hole inside the building - something that is extremely fiddly and I've not managed to actually do yet). An additional extra is a mini mid-flight Rodan, which can be attached to the mini-stand provided.

With HobbyLinkJapan's prices on Revoltech's getting cheaper, fans are starting to get a lot more for their money - and while much like Mothra I wouldn't call Rodan an essential purchase, he's certainly got a lot of character in him. He's poseable, makes a great display piece and is great for any kaiju/giant dinosaur fan. Revoltech have made great figures of the flying Kaiju, so it'll be interesting how they handle biped monsters Anguirus and Gigan - both of whom have figures due out in the coming months.