Saturday 31 December 2011

Anime REVIEW: Shinryaku!? Ika Musume

Squid girl is back, with a whole new season of adventures! Broadcast at the tail end of 2011, this 12 episode second season continues the story of Ika Musume (aka Squid Girl in English), a tentacle haired girl who vows to conquer the surface world as revenge for human polluting the ocean. Only her invasion hasn't gone quite according to plan, and she's found herself working in a beach restaurant in order to pay for damaging a wall upon her arrival. With her friends Eiko, Chizuru, Takeru, Kiyomi and more, Squid Girl continues to fend off the advances of the oh-so-slightly-obsessed Sanae, learns new things about the world she's come to conquer and forms her own 'Invasion club'.

While I did enjoy the first season, all in all it was a pretty average show at best. So going into the second season I was happy to discover that the show had really upped its game, and the stories were a lot more enjoyable. The format remains the same (2 or 3 short stories in one 22 minute episode) but since the characters are already well established, it meant it could dive straight into the action. The new opening might not be as catchy as the original, but the actual episode content is much more infectious.

Episode highlights include bikini-clad scientist Cindy Campbell holding an English teaching class (which is played a lot better than most Engrish anime jokes), Eizo and Chizuru's discovery that Squid Girl has the ability to change her weight at will, Squid Girl losing her memory and the aforementioned formation of the Invasion Club. The jokes were a lot funnier (but still the same style of humour) and the only real flaws the show had was the overuse of Sanae and the 'serious' final episode (which wasn't half as good nor as effective as the first season finale). But once again, as usual, the mini-Ika short manages to completely steal the show.

So for anyone who enjoyed the first season of Ika Musume, I highly recommend the second season as it only builds upon what was great about the original. Those looking for a light hearted anime but haven't watched the original - it might take a while to work out the who's who of the show but I wouldn't say its impossible to jump in with season two. But at only 12 episodes each, its not much of a chore to enjoy a whole 24 episodes of ink-vading shenanigans.

Monday 26 December 2011

Toybox REVIEW: Doctor Who Classics 'The Chase' collectors set

Truth be told, my interest in Character Option's Doctor Who figure range has been waning of late. Besides their high price point (which seems to only be getting higher), there's been an increasing focus on one off monsters paired with releases or remoulds of existing figures. But among the god-knows-how-many sets they announced over the Christmas period (seriously, there were LOADS) was a set themed on the 1965 first Doctor/Dalek story 'The Chase', including a figure I've wanted to be made since I was five. Alongside two Daleks, the set also included a Mechanoid - the spherical robots that not only battled the Daleks in the final episode of the story, but was also one of their main adversaries in the TV21 Dalek comic strips.

Given its size, I was expecting the Mechanoid to be hollow. But nope, its a solid figure and therefore as you can imagine quite heavy. The sculpt is perfect (although the arm did suffer some bending in the packaging) and the colours, while simple, are striking and reflective of a 1960s Doctor Who robot (as it would look exactly the same in black and white) The anntenae decoration on the top of the figure can be extended up, and the Mechanoid's claws can be pulled out via little tabs on the side of them that make them easily accessible, but don't ruin the aesthetic or accuracy of the figure. The dish piece at the front is on a ball joint so has a little bit of articulation, but can also be swapped out for a piece with a translucent flame piece, for that weapon firing effect. The Mechanoid has 5 free moving wheels on its base, making it possible to roll the figure round in all directions.

The two Daleks are of usual fare, but notably the first release of the standard Dalek model used from 'The Chase' up until 'The Evil of the Daleks' (although the eyestalk lense would change during the second Doctor stories). The silver/blue finish still remains my favourite Dalek drones, and the translucent orange head lamps are the icing on the cake. As usual the dome rotates 360 degrees, the eye stalk moves up and down and the plunger and gun are on ball joints - all the articulation a Dalek ever needs.

I'm going to be honest, this set is for collectors only. Its fairly expensive (£40 for 3 figures) and in reality only contains one brand new figure, which is a pretty obscure one at that. But for Classic Who/Dalek fans, this set is worth every penny. The Mechanoid is a fantastic figure, and has become hands down the best Doctor Who figure I own (and I own A LOT of Doctor Who figures). The only real downside is that the Mechanoids won't get a single release, because I'd really love a few more of these. The 5 year old in me is grinning with glee, and so is the 22 year old in me. The wait has been worth it.

Monday 19 December 2011

Toybox REVIEW: S.H. Figuarts Gokai Green

The third in the Gokaiger figuart collection is one of my particular favourites - the comic relief but at the same time awesome Don Dogoier, aka Doc and Gokai Green! Since I've covered the figure mould somewhat extensively here and here this will be a somewhat shorter review (the Yellow and Pink ones will be longer again, given its a different figure shape). The photo shoot also suffered from a lack of Red and Blue to pose him with (they're back at my university accommodation), which unfortunately meant no dual-pistol wielding action for poor old Doc either.

Just like Red and Blue, the sculpt is excellent and the shade of green is effective despite not have that gleam that the spandex suits in the show have. While I found hand swapping a little more difficult here than I did with the other two, its still by no means frustrating.

Green has all the accessories included with the Gokaiger figures thus far (the extra hands, Gokai saber and gun, mobirates, minuscule flipped/unflipped keys and alternate final wave barrels for the weapons) but his 'exclusive' accessory is definitely the best one so far - an in scale figure of Navi! The robot parrot has articulation in her wings, meaning not only is she semi-posable but you can also recreate her frantic flapping.

As per usual, the first wave release also comes with the Gokai Darin and chair, which is identical to the one included with Blue (and presumably Yellow and Pink), only this time in a green deco.

This review might be short and sweet, but Doc is just as good as the two that came before him, and possibly more fun as he is the character that is more fitting to the ridiculous poses the Figuarts are capable of. The inclusion of Navi marks him above Blue's figuart in my eyes, even if only to make Marvelous even more of a badass pirate captain. That's it for the (main) guys, time to bring on the girls!

Thursday 15 December 2011

Anime REVIEW: Fate/Stay Night

Fate/Stay Night is a 24 episode anime series from 2006, based on a Japanese visual novel by Type-Moon. While the visual novel had three divulging scenarios, the anime series follows only one of them (the 'Fate' scenario) while showing glimpses of the others. The second scenario, titled 'Unlimited Blade Works', was made into a theatrical film of the same name.

Orphaned in a catastrophe ten years again, Emiya Shirou lives inspired by the man who took him in following the event, wishing one day to be a hero of justice. Soon, he becomes tied up in the sixth ‘Holy Grail War’, in which seven masters with seven servants battle to the death to obtain an ultimate power with the ability to grant wishes. Despite having limited magic skills, Shirou experiences a twist of fate when he summons the most powerful servant, Saber.

Along his battles he learns that each servant contains the spirit of a fallen hero, and that the event that orphaned him is not only linked the last Holy Grail War, but that he also has more involvement in it than he originally thought.

The story on the whole was very good, progressing towards what should have been an exciting finale (but I'll get onto that in a moment), with some twists and turns along the way. However I couldn't help feel that the fight scenes were a little on the weak side. For a character anime fans often tout as being a badass, Saber sure spends a hell of a lot of time getting her ass kicked. And then when she DOES win, its either by aid from Shirou or by having near invincibility from the her sword sheath - the source of her power. I realise the show mainly about Shirou and Saber was often fighting at half strength, but even then her reputation as the strongest servant both in and out of the show seemed overblown. The episode structure was also repetitive, with more episodes ending with Shirou shouting "SABEEEER" than I'd like to count. But what's worst of all was the comedy/harem elements dropped into the show, either as one note jokes or larger segments of episodes (particularly early on). They completely change the tone of the show, feel incredibly forced and usually involve by far the worst character in the series - Taiga Fujimura, Shiro's guardian and homeroom/english teacher.

The art seems very promising to begin with, showing off some interesting character designs and some gorgeous backdrops and action sequences (Saber's initial summoning a particular highlight). However I felt the overall quality to drop in places throughout the show, leaving some odd moments where it looked rather cheap. The main thing I noticed was scenes where the characters were drawn without pupils, leading to eyes that looked practically comatose. The other thing that let the art down (much like the story) was the comedy moments - the exaggerated facial expressions, actions and comedy backdrops simply didn't fit the tone and only served to cheapen it.

But perhaps it is the supporting cast that is Fate/Stay Night's biggest flaw. Outside of Shirou and Saber (and perhaps Rin), the rest of the cast fall into the categories of either uninteresting or underdeveloped. The majority of backgrounds are shown via brief flashbacks with nothing more to support them, and the master/servant combos in the lead up to the finale seem like after thoughts. Despite them all seeming like interesting characters, they are either quickly disposed of or appear towards the beginning to the series, then disappear until a few episodes later where then they're offed in the show's anticlimactic fashion.

On the other hand, Unlimited Blade Works follows a much more interesting path - while the first twenty minutes or so are essentially a recap of the series up to a point, the rest is a VERY different experience. Being a theatrical film, it obviously benefits visually from a far greater budget but the story is much more interesting, answering questions left unanswered in the 'Fate' story and giving more time to the other characters (some mains from 'Fate' are killed almost immediately, and Saber spends the majority of the time lurking in the background). Most notable is Archer, who goes from semi-interesting character to fully fledged badass. The problem is though it's cramming a whole scenario into a 105 minute movie, meaning the plot is somewhat rushed resulting in characters appearing and disappearing rather quickly. Had it been developed more I definitely would have a far bigger love for the franchise as a whole.

Overall, Fate/Stay Night was a good series, but nothing particularly mind blowing. There was a lot more that could have been done with its 24 episodes of run time, and to fully understand character backgrounds requires more internet reading than I could be bothered with. Fans of the visual novel might have more fun with this, but for those unfamiliar with it Fate/Stay Night falls firmly within the category of "good, but forgettable" anime.

Thursday 8 December 2011

Series REVIEW: Power Rangers Ninja Storm

Power Rangers Ninja Storm is the 11th season of the Power Rangers franchise, the second to be made under Disney copyright and the first to be filmed in New Zealand. While Ninja Storm is considered by many to be a parody of sorts, lovingly poking fun at both Power Rangers and ninja tropes alike, its also a series that meets mixed response.

Shane, Tori and Dustin are students at the Wind Ninja Academy. One day, the academy was attacked by Lothor, a banished ninja master who has returned to take over. Shane, Tori and Dustin are the only three remaining students, and along with Sensei and his son Cam, retreat into the underground Ninja Ops. There, the three are given morphers, which allow them to transform into Wind Rangers to protect the city of Blue Bay Harbor from Lothor's forces. Lothor soon raises the stakes by sending his new allies to battle the Wind Rangers - the Thunder Rangers Blake and Hunter, who are on a mission to destroy the Wind Rangers' Sensei, who they believed to be responsible for their parent's death, when in reality it was Lothor responsible for the deed. The Thunder Rangers soon realise and join Wind Rangers in the battle against evil.

They are later joined in the field by Cam, who travels in the past to retrieve the Samurai Amulet, which he uses to become the Green Samurai Ranger.

The initial three rangers are fairly bland - none of them are awful (although some of the acting did make me think otherwise at certain points) but at the same time none of them stand out in any shape or form. Blake and Hunter's introduction as "evil" power rangers was promising, but the story arc concluded far too soon to have any lasting impact. Once they join the team, they join the other three in their blandness, all five of them walking stereotypes of extreme sports fans. Cam, who is by far and large the best character in the show, initially plays a very integral role as the rangers' tech expert yet somewhat bitter at the fact that he's not a ranger himself. This development goes somewhat out the window when he eventually becomes a ranger himself, falling into the background moreso than before and becoming as forgettable as the rest of them. Sensei Watanabe isn't a bad character from a mentor standpoint in a vocal sense, but visually he's a CGI guinea pig, and a bad one at that. The idea became more bearable as the series went on I'll admit, but sights like a CGI guinea pig fighting or riding a miniature halfpipe (yes, seriously) are a pretty bitter pill to swallow.

While I had no qualms with the overall suit aesthetic, the open visor looked did bug me a little. It seemed heavily overused (they were opening the helmets to talk mid-battle at points) and reminded me far too much of those awful concept helmets for the Power Rangers movie. The thunder ranger suits were probably my favourites of the six, but with PR's tendency to always name rangers after colours, I didn't think crimson and (even moreso) navy ranger were the most exciting of names.

The villains are just as bad, if not worse. Lothor does little to live up to his reputation of an all-powerful space ninja, instead lazily sitting around his spaceship making bad jokes and blaming his failures on his equally inept subordinates. Zergane's badassery is extremely shortlived (and by that I mean the last two episodes he's in) and if anything I thought Choobo was the sympathetic character of the series, being the one to bare the brunt of most of Lothor's wrath at the beginning of the show when he achieved more than anyone else did. The other generals who are introduced later in the series (Vexacus, Motodrone and Shimazu) have their own focus episodes initially, but then they sort of slink off into the background until the build up to the final two episodes. And the less said about Marah and Kapri the better - I thought the series was going to be going somewhere when they were revealed as being somewhat competent (which happened right at the end ANYWAY), but that turned out to be false hope.

The story itself feels more generic than other Power Rangers shows, as the plot doesn't really advance whatsoever until the final few episodes. The rangers seem to completely forget about trying to save the captured ninja students, not even mentioning them until a dues ex machina from an early episode is brought up once again. Lothor's attacks don't seem threatening whatsoever (at one point he attacks an environmental conference just because he wasn't invited) and his 36 episode span of bumbling is basically explained by showing that he was following a scroll that accurately depicted events up to that point.

The zords were one of the few positives of the show, but even they weren't free of some flaws. The Storm Megazord was a good combination of animals and was well designed, I even liked the way the zords would appear once they were summoned (although a roller coaster becoming a lion was pretty bizarre). The Thunder Megazord was even better, being made up of two vehicles that felt HIGHLY reminiscent of the assault vehicles from Juuko B-Fighter/Big Bad Beetleborgs (a lot about the Thunder Rangers reminded me of Beetleborgs) and the megazord being a completely different aesthetic from the Storm Megazord, yet still working in the series. The combined Thunderstorm Megazord mixed the two well, but I have to criticise whoever came up with the lackluster name of 'minizord', and also whoever thought that voice was a good idea. Cam's Samurai Star Chopper/Samurai Star Megazord reminded me of an earlier mecha too, only this time it was the Super Zeo zords from Power Rangers Zeo. Its combination with the Storm Megazord was awful, being nothing more than a ridiculously oversized arm, but the shoulder-gun combo with the Thunder looked great. Put the the three together and the end result was the best of all, the Hurricane Megazord took all the best aspects of the three megazords and slammed them together into one great looking robot.

Finally there was the 'Mighty Mammoth' zord, which I'm not really sure how I reacted too. Its purpose was simply a zord carrier that could also fire ninja spheres like a crazy reverse hungry hungry hippo. It was also controlled via a guitar, which put an 'interesting' spin on zords controlled via music I guess. It didn't look bad, but felt more like a novelty than anything else.

The thing about parodies is that they need to be funny to work properly, and Ninja Storm simply isn't. Even ignoring the humour issue, aside from Cam the protagonists aren't likeable, and the antagonists worse. The dialogue feels forced, the soundtrack is often unfitting and there's never any real feel of struggle of good vs. evil until the last episode - and even that is pretty anticlimactic. I usually try to find atleast SOME good in a show, but Ninja Storm made it pretty difficult for me since everything I liked about the show had already been handed to them from Hurricaneger. Your mileage may vary when it comes to parodies, but in my opinion this is one Power Rangers adaptation that's best left alone.