Friday 30 March 2012

Anime REVIEW: AnoHana: The Flower We Saw That Day

AnoHana: The Flower We Saw That Day is an 11 episode series produced by A-1 Pictures (whose other works include Black Butler, Fairy Tail and Blue Exorcist) that aired between April and June in 2011. In Japan the show was released under the its full name of Ano Hi Mita Hana no Namae o Bokutachi wa Mada Shiranai (meaning "We Still Don't Know the Name of the Flower We Saw That Day"), but thanks to being a huge mouthful in either language was soon shortened among fans to simply AnoHana.

A group of six friends, who call themselves the "Super Peace Busters" drift apart after one of them, Meiko 'Menma' Honma, dies in an accident. Ten years later, Jinta "Jintan" Yadomi, who no longer goes to school and has become a recluse, sees the ghost of an older looking Menma. She asks him to help her grant her wish so that she may ascend to heaven, but does not remember what this wish is. Although at first believing her to be a hallucination brought on by stress, a series of events lead to the six friends meeting again and Jinta believes they may be the key in helping grant Menma's wish. However it seems a lot has changed between the five in six years, and hidden feelings and internal struggles prevent the group from not only being able help Menma move on, but also themselves.

Tsuroko, Yukiatsu, Menma, Jintan, Anaru and Popo

The six main characters of AnoHana are the aformentioned Jinta and Menma, and then there's also Naruko (your stereotypical high school girl), Atsumu (the popular high achiever), Chiriko (clever, but quiet and serious) and Tetsudō (the light-hearted, friendly one). Not that you'll ever really know the characters by these names anyway, because as they begin to interact more and more with each other they revert to calling each of by their childhood nicknames of Anaru, Yukiatsu, Tsuroko and Popo respectively. Each character has their own trauma and repressed feelings from Menma's death, which only serve to cause constant arguing between them rather than uniting for Menma's sake. Menma's character comes across as very different, the show playing up her childish innocence while the rest of the cast create an more idealized image of her that was loved by all.

The show also contains several flashbacks to before Menma's death

However the show does have moments where the narrative feels somewhat sidetracked. An early episode (where they assume Menma's wish was to own a rare "Nokemon") feels just as much in it to (lovingly?) parody a popular game rather as it does to drive the story line. Without spoiling to much, the characters' traumas are also spurred on by their own selfish feelings and in some cases this can be irritating or even uncomfortable to watch. Waiting for them all to accept that Menma is there with them can be incredibly frustrating at times (especially since the fact her ghost has a physical presence is established immediately) but the prolonging not only makes the moment that much more satisfying but also adds to the drama of what follows.

Real gamers play Nokemon

At only 11 episodes, AnoHana had quite a lot to fill into its running time but manages to build upon its premise and end without too many things left in the open. The characters' reflection upon themselves comes quite late into the game but this gives the show a chance to create an ending that should be described as raw emotion. Despite its premise largely involving a ghost, the supernatural element is never played up to ridiculous proportions - leaving it with a distinct sense of realism and that similar events and conversations between the living cast could easily be played out in reality.

Crying is not optional with this show

Despite a large portion of the cast being likeable until the very end of the show, its their flaws that make the story interesting and at the same time that much more real. Issues such as the loss of a friend during your childhood aren't the easiest to recreate but the emotional always feels real. It helps that the art is also gorgeous and the music both fitting and beautiful. Just have the tissues ready for the final episode, because it really is a tear-jerker.

Wednesday 28 March 2012

Series REVIEW: Gosei Sentai Dairanger

Dairanger, much like its successor Ninja Sentai Kakuranger, is one of the Super Sentai series that has had a more interesting history in the West. While in Japan in was the seventeenth instalment in the franchise (following on from Kyōryū Sentai Zyuranger) it has no direct Power Rangers adaptation, the monster/mecha footage instead being incorporated into the second season of Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers. The show aired between 1993 and 1994 for a total of 50 episodes and one movie.

Eight thousand years ago, the Daos Civilisation flourished in Southern China. It was made up of three separate tribes - the Dai tribe, the Shura (who went on to become modern day's humanity) and the Gorma. However one day the Gorma tribe decided to take over both the Daos and the world itself, leading to a 5000 year war between the Dai and the Gorma. The Dai defeated the Gorma, whose magical powers granted them the ability to turn into monsters, with the help of five Dai warriors whose high Qi powers allowed them to control the five mythical Qi beasts.

From left to right: Shoji, Daigo, Ryo, Kou, Kazu and Rin

Years later, the Gorma reappear on Earth and continue their plans for conquest. In retaliation, the mysterious Master Kaku assembles a team of five youths with high Qi levels to become the new Dairangers. These five are Ryo of the Heavenly Fire Star (Ryu Ranger), Daigo of the Heavenly Illusion Star (Shishi Ranger), Shoji of the Heavenly Gravity Star (Tenma Ranger), Kazu of the Heavenly Time Star (Qilin Ranger) and Rin of the Heavenly Wind Star (Houou Ranger). During their battles, they are told they will soon be joined by a sixth Dairanger. This is none other than Kou of the Howling New Star (Kiba Ranger), a nine year old boy who comes from both Dai and Gorma blood.

Gosei (which translates as Five Star just in case you were curious) Sentai Dairanger draws heavily on Chinese mythology and martial arts for its motif. The helmets feel somewhat more elegant than usual (with detailed gold designs and unique mouth-plates for each ranger) and the suits effectively blending the member's core colour with gold and white. Each ranger used their own unique fighting style (a long with various supernatural Qi powers) which came some impressive battle poses during the transformation roll call. One highlight of the show comes towards the end when the actors manage to pull off some of these complicated poses for an out-of-suit roll call.

Zydos, Shadam and Gara show off Gorma's S&M-tastic fashion sense

But despite having such a brilliant look and premise to build upon, the series' characterisation is noticeably uneven. The early episodes feel extremely rushed, with the introduction to the Dairangers glossed over (Rin doesn't even have a proper introduction scene) and characterisation and development being done built on the show's present day rather than back stories. Of the main five Dairangers, Daigo is certainly the one who benefits most from this approach. Ryo and Rin get a fair amount of focus, although it feels like Rin's development only works in tandem to Kou's superior story. On the other hand, Shoji and Kazu really suffer, with the series ended before it feels like either of them have done anything particularly memorable.

Kou is a particularly interesting character. As an nine year old, he's not the kind of person you'd expect to see as a ranger, and this really shows in his early episodes. The abuse of his powers can feel a little awkward to watch at first, but its worth sticking with as he grows perhaps the most of the entire cast. His back story is both deep and interesting, but sometimes feels like it isn't focused on enough. It may be a side effect of Dairanger only being the second series to deal with a regular sixth ranger, but as great as Kiba Ranger may be he never feels like a core member of the team.

Kibaranger: Not your average Dairanger

Dairangers villains also suffer a similar fate. Before the Gorma tribe is properly reawakened, we are introduced to Shadam, Gara and Zydos. These three are the main antagonists of the series, but aren't at the top of the chain of command. However it isn't until Kou is introduced, along with Gorma child Akumaro, that the villains start to become interesting. Akumaro is an excellent character, proving that child villains can be effective and clashing excellently with both Kou and his father Shadam, who rejected him at birth. His relationship with Akumaro develops Shadam, who in turn proves more and more interesting until the final episodes of the series where his full plans are revealed. Zydos doesn't offer much other than being a henchman and Gara's rather uninteresting back story is intertwined with Daigo's love story.

Pint-sized evil

Finally Dairanger has quite a lot of secondary characters, who each offer something reasonably integral to the story and one team member's plot thread. These range from dark karate master Jin Matoba (who becomes Ryo's rival and possibly the most badass side character in all of Super Sentai) to comedy relief monster trio "The Three Gorma Stooges". Arguably such involvement from side characters resulted in the main cast feeling a little flat in places, but at the same time a wider cast involvement definitely makes the scale of the show feel larger.

Alongside with its brilliant costume aesthetic, Dairanger also displays some great mecha designs. Initially the team start with only RyuseiOh, Ryo's dragon Qi beast which also has the ability to transform into its own robot mode. When the other four receive their Qi beasts, they have the ability to combine into DairenOh (as well as the lesser used Tenku Qi Den formation). DairenOh is a nice contrast to the lighter, more manoeuvrable RyuseiOh, giving Dairanger a good balance between light and heavily armed mecha. When Kibaranger arrives on the scene with his Won Tiger (which also has the ability to transform into its own singular battle mode), RyuseiOh appears in the spotlight a lot more frequently as the KibadaiOh (Won Tiger plus the Sei-Shishi, Sei-Tenma, Sei-Qilin and Sei-Houou Qi beasts) is shown off. Finally the arsenal is rounded off with Daimugen, a giant turtle which has a (poor looking) upright mode and serves the final component in the mecha's ultimate combination -  Juukou Qi Den. Juukou Qi Den does suffer from a few problems though - Won Tiger is almost entirely hidden in the combination and its final attack, where it literally crushes the enemy to death, both looks and feels unimpressive.


Dairanger is excellent show full of great story, design and choreography, but personally I didn't feel it quite lived up to the hype it receives in tokusatsu circles. Uneven characters, along with plot threads that come and go when they would have felt more natural as a full arc rather than appearing every couple of episodes make the show feel disjointed during its middle section. Its last ten or so episodes help the show stand on its feet again (and if all 50 had been of this quality it would certainly be something worth praising) but is then followed by a well thought out, but horrifically executed epilogue.

A great show, but not quite perfect.

Sunday 25 March 2012

Toybox REVIEW: Super Sentai Henshin Keitai Legend Mobirate

While the Gokaiger series may be over it looks like Bandai will be continuing on with the ranger key collectibles, and since we have a brand new team with a whole new set of ranger keys (not to mention Kamen Rider keys are on the way) Bandai have gone all the way and released a brand new version of the Gokaiger changer, the mobirate - dubbed the Legend mobirate. It supposedly boasts 68 new sounds to create a grand total of 148 voice commands.


The box art is particularly impressive - depicting images of all 36 red Sentai warriors on each side. Also included in a DX AkaRed key, the flip-up key part bearing the official 35th anniversary Super Sentai logo that the character also wore during his appearances in Gokaiger.


The legend mobirate sports a slightly different deco to the original, which the gold and silver colouring reversed and the front now bearing "MOBILATE" (which I guess means is the official romanization, but I'm sticking with mobirate for now as that's not only what its commonly known as, but what stores are advertising it as). Check here for side by side comparison images

Once you've installed 2 AAA batteries into the phone (which aren't included in the box) flip the on/off switch on the back and the toy will make the familiar ringtone from the show. When a ranger key is inserted there'll be a noise, and turning the key results in the Gokaiger logo opening out and the call of whichever team's key you've placed in. The narration is once again provided by Tomozaki Senki, who narrated and voiced the mobirate in Gokaiger and has also provided his voice to anime such as Fullmetal Panic!, Steins;Gate and Fruits Basket.

A new feature for the legend mobirates is the encyclopaedia mode. Inputting 0000 on the keypad followed by the top centre button will activate this mode, where you will be invited to insert a ranger key. Once the key has been activated, the mobirate will say a short paragraph about the show, mentioning things such as the enemies the team fought etc. A quick demonstration of this mode using the Gokai Red and AkaRed keys can be seen below.

The mobirates also boasts an additional 47 keypad sounds. While 0001-0036 are taken up by the individual team callouts, there a few surprises too. Pressing 0414 will give you a special callout of all 36 teams one by one, while inputting 1225 will give you a greeting of Merry Christmas. There are also several other festival sound effects which I have listed below;

My biggest gripe with the legend mobirates is that these have come at the expense of the sounds featured on the original mobirates, which were far more relevant to Super Sentai in general. Gone are the mecha callouts and references to the Dice-O card game. Since this toy apparently has so many new sounds, they may be lurking around somewhere, but its more than likely that if they are you need the corresponding key to activate them. Any incorrect keypad code will result in the mobirates ringtone playing three times in a row, which can get a little annoying if you're simply fiddling around with the pad looking for new sounds.

The legend mobirates is an incredibly fun toy, but just how fun depends on how many ranger keys you own. To unlock its full potential at least requires one key for every Sentai team. I currently only own a complete set of Gokaiger keys (plus the AkaRed included) and will certainly be looking into getting more in the near future. Those looking for show accuracy and fun from the keypad alone should probably stick with the original release, but those looking for an updated version at a cheaper price should certainly be satisfied by this version.


Saturday 24 March 2012

Anime REVIEW: Black Rock Shooter


As the winter 2012 anime season draws to a close, it's time to have a look at the few series I've been watching for the last few months. The first of which is none other than Black Rock Shooter. Originally based on a piece of artwork by Huke (of Steins;Gate fame), the character grew further life in a Hatsune Miku/Supercell song of the same name, an OVA episode and a slew of merchandise. While the OVA boasted impressive visuals, its short length meant the story left a lot of things unexplained. This eight episode series is a retelling of the Black Rock Shooter story, but delves deeper into the mystery behind the girls from another world.

From left to right: Chariot, Dead Master, Black Rock Shooter, Strength, Black Gold Saw

Seemingly normal high-school student Mato Kuroi is drawn to new student Yomi Takanashi. Despite her attempts at friendship, Yomi doesn't seem to open up to Mato. As she tries her hardest to make a new friend, Mato also juggles life with her best friend Yuu, the basket ball club and advice from the eccentric school counsellor Saya Irino.

Finally one day Mato gets her wish when she and Yomi strike a friendship over a mutual love for the book "Li'l Bird Li'l Bird Colourful Colours". When Mato goes around to Yomi's house, she meets Kagari Izuriha -  a wheelchair bound girl who insists on keeping Yomi all to herself.

But in another world, a pale girl with jet-black hair and a burning blue eye fights an ongoing battle against other mysterious girls who look strikingly similar to the ones that inhabit ours. In the past the only thing these worlds have shared is pain and suffering, but Mato is about to be caught in the middle when the two worlds collide.

Mato Kuroi: Black Rock Shooter's real world counterpart

Despite promises of weapon-wielding girls battling it out a parallel dimension wasteland, it is not these characters that the show pays close attention to (at least not in the early stages of the show). The fight sequences run alongside the trials and tribulations of Mato and her friends, feeling more like a personification of their plights than a tangible reality. When Yomi reaches breaking point, the connection between the two worlds becomes a lot more clear. Most of this plot is crammed into the second half of the show, but the first four episodes work very well providing build-up and introducing the characters (many of which had little or no fiction behind them prior to this).

So at heart, Black Rock Shooter is about high school drama - albeit raised to almost unbelievable levels. Most of, if not all, of the main characters show signs of some sort of mental instability, which in turn creates these other world persona. Yomi is the epitome of this - her desire to feel needed taking her to disturbing levels of unstable. Kagari is equally as insane in the first few episodes, while Mato's more subdued trait of never losing herself in the midst of negative emotions ultimately takes Black Rock Shooter to a level where she may destroy everything.

Teenage angst gone crazy

While the art may be in some ways a step down from that of the OVA's, everyone and everything is a lot more distinct in the TV version. Each character has received some sort of redesign, and when it comes to the "Other World" girls with that comes a colour that helps distinguish them from each other during the more involved fight sequences. As Black Rock Shooter faces off against her various opponents, she also enters very different landscapes shaped by her foes and their personalities. For example, the psychedelic macaroon infested world of Chariot is very different to the barren, gothic landscape of Black Gold Saw. The show makes heavy use of cel-shaded CGI for these characters, which blends better than expected and provides an alternative aesthetic to be appreciated.

Things get a little...insane

At only eight episodes, Black Rock Shooter didn't really have the time to perfect itself. In this time however it manages to establish its real world characters and their traumas (some more believable than others) reasonably well at the expensive of making the "other world" characters mute figureheads. While in some respect this is indeed what they are, the level of depth between the five is varied. It is nice to see characters other than Black Rock Shooter and Dead Master take centre stage though, and it is arguably Yuu/Strength that steals the show. 

Short, but certainly sweet.

Tuesday 20 March 2012

Kaizoku Sentai Gokaiger mini-pla GokaiOh CLEAR VERSION


As the Gokaiger merchandise draws to close (save for ranger keys and a few other things), it's only fitting that one of my final purchases is of a toy that was also my very first piece of Gokaiger merchandise. This clear plastic version of the GokaiOh mini-pla/candy toy figure was released as a web exclusive last month, and featured all five Gokai machines in one large box covered in some great pictures of its contents (no candy included this time though).

However this isn't quite the same toy that I reviewed almost a year ago, and is in fact the enhanced 'Starburst' edition that was released later in 2011. This version not only came with a far better cannon piece for the chest, but also had the Gokai Jet, Marine and Racer all moulded in their correct colours (meaning significantly less sticker work). Having never seen this version in person before, it was nice to see that it improved some of the minor issues with the stickers on the original (such as four silver blade stickers for the swords rather than two). In addition to being entirely made of clear plastic, all of the stickers are foil.

I'm not going to give a full review of the figure again, because the GokaiOh mini-pla was excellent and the Starburst version only improved it further, so instead I leave you with an extensive image gallery. This exclusive version might not be to everyone's tastes, but if you're a fan of clear plastic toys I highly recommend seeking one out at a decent price.