B2112's Anime Reviews - Episode 11: A Place Further Than the Universe

While anime is a medium which can be at its absolute best when telling ultra-compelling, complicated, dark, twisted tales; sometimes you just need to sit down and watch something wholesome. In previous reviews, I've pointed out that one of my least favourite genres tends to be Slice of Life. I didn't really like Nichijou, One Week Friends didn't do anything for me, K-On was actually pretty fun, Kanon left me shrugging, and while Clannad was interesting, I wouldn't say it excelled at anything. A Place Further Than the Universe (which I'll call Sora Yori, because it's shorter) is a special show, and I would say that it transcends its genre into being something worth seeing no matter what you feel about Slice of Life.

At its core, Sora Yori is a show which follows four high school-aged girls who are trying to make their way to Antarctica. It sounds fairly silly when you break it down like that, but its core story ends up being remarkably compelling. The narrative is, ultimately, carried by its wonderful cast of characters and their realistic interactions. Each of them are dealing with very relatable 'real life' issues - things like abandonment, loss, fear - but they are doing so by leaning on the people they care most about, their friends. Sora Yori does away with a narrative which is about world-ending threats, terrifying and life-threatening scenarios, as well as intense action. It's just four girls living life, and making a point not to waste their youth.

The show trends towards being a comedy, and executes on its comedic tropes flawlessly; but be warned, it does show its emotional hand many times throughout the series - especially near the end, where it does so without abandon. The scene I'm referencing in particular is very powerful, perfectly executed, and will stick with me for years.

It's kind of amazing to think that this was made by Madhouse, the same studio which brought us such classics as Death Note, No Game No Life, and One Punch Man. I find it particularly amazing because, even with those important shows, these four girls are maybe my favourite characters they've ever worked with. Even more impressive is the fact that it is a wholly original work - Sora Yori is not based on a previously existing manga/novel/VN/etc.

Another thing which caught me off-guard is how cohesive the show is artistically. The art team created beautifully detailed vistas which are astoundingly true to their real-life counterparts. Seeing their renditions of Tokyo, Singapore, and the Antarctic prompted me to look at pictures of the real-life versions. I was surprised to see just how well they captured everything - it was like looking at a (admittedly lower-budget) Shinkai work! (I guess that applies to both the art and the story).

I could easily wax rhapsodic about every aspect of this show - sound design, music (though I would have enjoyed more music, as they reuse it occasionally), art, story, characters, plot - but I'd prefer summing it up in a succinct way: this show is easily Anime of the Season, and it is currently holding firm as my Anime of the Year (here's hoping Steins;Gate 0 continues being great though!). It is my favourite Slice of Life of all time, and I am so happy it exists. It is a refreshing experience to experience something so optimistic and grounded, and I have no caveats when saying that A Place Further Than the Universe deserves your time. Even if you're traditionally a fan of action-heavy anime, don't be put off by this show's genre and main characters - it is an exhilarating experience, and I can't recommend it enough.

I want to say one last thing about Sora Yori. Though it seems like an exaggeration to say, this is the kind of story which could prompt real, actual change in your real, actual life. It did in mine, and it takes a special kind of fiction to do that. Though they likely will never read this, I want to thank the creators of this show for making a positive impact on my life <3

I rate A Place Further Than the Universe: 5/5

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B2112's Anime Reviews - Episode 10: Your Lie in April

I have been a musician for over 20 years, and have performed at a professional level at many points in my life. I also hold two degrees in music (one in performance), so the idea of an anime about a prodigious pianist seems like it should be a perfect fit. Let's just say... Your Lie in April is one of the first anime I have dropped in a very, very long time (I got to Episode 9, and had the rest explained to me by a friend). This review is going to be pretty short, because as my mother told me when I was growing up, "if you don't have anything nice to say, it's better to say nothing at all."

The music in the show was nice! They had selections from Chopin which I appreciated, and they were performed fairly well (it sounded like a lot of the music was recorded specifically for the show). The sound design was also executed fairly well, with prominent uses of low-pass filters to set the mood during scenes where the sound is being drowned out. The art was also really pretty, barring the scenes where there were people playing music but had no animation.

... That's about all I've got for the good. The story is paced extremely poorly, and the writing is abysmal. There are endless scenes of characters monologuing to you, to the point where it feels like the dead horse has been beaten for hours. The story shows its hand extremely early and there are nearly no surprises - it's almost entirely black & white. (Like Piano keys... Eyy... Eyyy?)

The characters suck, except for the baseball girl. The main character had me so frustrated that I had to pause the show and walk away sometimes. I had no ability to sympathize with him at all, because he is supremely unlikable. Beyond him being unlikable, as I mentioned, I am a musician who plays to a similar level as these characters, and seeing him go "ahhh nooo I caann'ttt dooo itttt" for five episodes in a row had me rolling my eyes into the ceiling. If he had been one of the musicians we'd approached to hire for a gig, it doesn't matter his skill level, he would have been fired immediately for his attitude. Sure, I've been there, buddy - I've been to the point where you've gone through great loss and don't know if you should continue, or if you're good enough; but at some point you've gotta just suck it up and do it rather than whine for weeks on end. Violin girl was annoying. Soccer dude was annoying. Baseball girl was endearing, and I liked her character, but she gets treated like crap at the end by piano guy, so even the best character they had to work with was treated terribly.

I had the ending explained to me, and though melancholic, it's basically exactly what I had predicted. That's about it, not profound - just predictable.

I really don't have much else to say about Your Lie in April other than I really, severely disliked it. I can't say it was objectively a poorly made anime - the art was nice, and the music was pretty good; but I cannot recommend it at all. It's too poorly paced, meandering, poorly written, and frustrating. For romance-y anime, you're better off watching something like Yuri on Ice; or if you want to cry a bit, watch Clannad.

I rate Your Lie in April: 1/5

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B2112's Anime Reviews - Episode 9: Made in Abyss

If you ignore the political climate and rash of popular culture folks being terrible, and choose to only look at the media that has come out this year, 2017 has been insanely good. That goes for Games, Movies, and shows; but in a year as good as this, to have something stand head and shoulders above everything else is really a testament to that work's quality. Anime, in particular, has had a really strong year - I adored shows like My Hero Academia S2, Attack on Titan S2, and Food Wars S3; but I can't say I was expecting my top show of the year (and maybe the past few years) to be one that I'd never even heard of before. Enter Made in Abyss.

Made in Abyss is maybe a perfect show. I am really struggling to come up with any complaints. I could maybe pick apart the pacing ever so slightly, but even then, I still enjoyed every episode from start to finish. I consider it to be comparable to what I personally consider the greatest anime shows of all time, and even in that company, it continues to hold its own. But enough fawning over it - what is so cool about MIA?

Let's start with the story. The world of MIA is extremely unique, and it feels like every corner of it has had its lore thoughtfully crafted from the ground up. Every character matters and has their own discrete backstory, every location has had years and years of history, every artifact they look at has its reason for existing, every enemy has motivations that make them hard to hate (well, except one), etc etc. The two main characters of the story, Riko and Reg, are perfect. They contrast one another, and each of the two could not exist without the other. The story shows us life through both of their eyes, and their relationship is inarguably one of the most important parts of the whole show. I don't want to get into either of their stories, nor the core story for this review; but let me say that the story is - beyond a doubt - one of the best I've seen, and every episode will leave you wanting to learn more about the world.

MIA is brought to life by a truly breathtaking art style. On first glance, the character design looks like what you would expect from some kid's show - they are adorable, they have quirks that make them super cute, and their dialogue is fairly flowery. The backgrounds are beautiful, and it came as no surprise to me to learn that the art lead on the show had previously worked on Howl's Moving Castle and Your Name - the artwork is simply stunning. The thing is... Though the art is beautiful and the kids are cute, this show is also extremely disturbing. I do not want to spoil anything, because I think going in blind is the best way to experience this show, but I will issue this one single caveat to your potential enjoyment: if you cannot handle gore and body horror, perhaps this show will not be for you. The dark parts of this story very, very affecting, and I am left with vivid imagery that I will not soon forget.

On equal footing as the beautiful art, the music and sound design really pull their weight to round out this amazing experience. A common problem with anime sound design is that they tend to use the same sound effects over and over, and from anime to anime; but everything in MIA seems like it was handcrafted for this show, and carefully tuned to fit every scene perfectly. The music is just the same - equal parts beautiful and haunting, just like the story. I don't usually like to use ambiguous terms when describing music; but Kevin Penkin really crafted something special, which is hopeful and optimistic, while being wrapped in darkness. It is an OST that you could very easily put on and listen to on its own (which I have already done quite a bit, already).

Something that a lot of anime have trouble with is having a good ending. This goes doubly for shows that could potentially have another season, because they want to leave things on a cliffhanger; but, when they do that, it also means that the audience is left dissatisfied with how many questions have been left answered versus those which has been resolved. The hour-long finale episode of MIA is perfect. It carries you through a very broad range of emotions - it is silly, funny, disgusting, horrifying, emotionally devastating, and has one of the most beautiful ending montages I've seen to date. Even if there was not to be a second season (which there is!! It was announced a little under a month ago) I would have been left totally satisfied. It closes the arc it set into motion this season, and leaves you in a state where you are both wanting more, but are also filled a warm sense that you have experienced a compelling and whole story.

I could go on about this show for hours, and easily triple the length of this review were I to include spoilers; but, please, if you are a fan of anime, I implore that you give this show your time. It is not for the faint of heart, and if you have kids, definitely don't watch it with them; but it is one of the best anime out there, and you may fall in love with it just as I have. I cannot wait to see where the story goes, and I am eagerly awaiting the second season. I will continue to follow this series for as long as it will go, and will continue singing its praises for years to come.

I rate Made in Abyss: 5/5

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The Unofficially Unofficial Giant Bomb FB Group GOTY 2017!!!

Hey all!

Yesterday, 6 of us from the [Unofficial] Giant Bomb Facebook Group got together and held our own GOTY deliberations!!! They lasted for over six and a half hours, and we are all fairly happy with how the lists came out <3

If you'd like to hear how we got to these decisions, please check out the links at the bottom of this post! Thanks for checking this out =)

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Video Deliberations

Audio/Podcast Deliberations

Imgur album for Results

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B2112's Anime Reviews - Episode 8: Erased

I have a soft spot for a good time travel story. Within the realm of anime, time travel comes up quite a bit. It's a really common plot device, and I think that a lot of shows/movies use it to great effect. One of the most excellent examples in recent years would be Steins;Gate. I've already reviewed a time travel anime with this series (Re:Zero), and I'm sure I'll be reviewing more in the future. But enough preamble, you're here to hear about Erased. How did I feel about this time traveling romantic story wrapped in a mystery? SMASH THAT SUBSCRIBE BUTTON TO FIND OUT. (... That physically hurt to type).

Beyond a doubt, one of the most initially compelling parts of Erased is its distinct art style. It's colourful and vibrant, but also subdued when it needs to be. They use a fascinating blend of CG and hand-drawn aesthetics to great effect (though sometimes also to awkward effect). All of the environments, set pieces, and characters are distinct and detailed with loving care. I personally have no criticism of the art, as it is consistent throughout the show. High fives to that! Along that line, I enjoyed the music quite a bit too - add that to the stack of positives!

The characters are all fairly strong too! The main character (Satoru) has a good arc from the start to the end. One thing I appreciate is that he has his time travel ability right from the start, so there's no real need to explain its origins to the audience - he has it, he's aware of it, and it just goes. The rest of the cast is equally great, though I will refrain from naming them due to the show's brevity and how some may consider revealing their identities as a spoiler. The characters go through some really rough times (as is want to happen with a time travel show), and - in the end - the final arc shows some fairly lovely moments of redemption.

So the music, art, and characters are all good! How's the story?

Ehhhh it's alright. I would be perfectly happy in saying that the first half of the series is pretty great. It has a lot of intrigue, a lot of well-paced surprises/reveals, as well as a compelling setup and execution. It kind of falls apart in the second half, though. The pacing starts speeding up a little too much, and I was left thinking "wait, what's the point of this scene?" several times too many. The second half whiffs on some potentially cathartic character moments, and ultimately, the mystery ends up being a bit rote. I'd predicted its resolution to a tee a few episodes before the actual reveal happened, which is a bit of a bummer for a mystery show.

I walk away from Erased feeling fairly conflicted. I enjoyed it - that much is for sure. I think it was absolutely worth the watch, and it was memorable enough to stick in my mind for years to come. But I also found parts of it super disappointing. In particular, there is a scene in the last episode that is basically the conclusion of the mystery, and it is just... Bad. It breaks character and feels more like the quality I'd expect of a fan fiction than a canonical, clever story. The show as a whole? Good! Some of the parts? Bad!

If I were to point you in a direction, I'd say there are shows that handle what Erased tries to do a little better. If you like the conceit of time travel, then I'd direct you towards the aforementioned Steins;Gate. if you like a strong mystery, I'd say check out Higurashi No Naku Koro Ni Kai (the second season). If you're into visual feasts, I'd recommend any Shinkai movie (5 cm per second, your name, etc). I think Erased does each of these well, but doesn't come out as a master of any. Worth a watch? Absolutely. Worth writing home about? Maybe not.

I rate Erased: 4/5

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B2112's Anime Reviews - Episode 7: Yuri On Ice

If I were to look at a list of the most popular genres of anime, 'Sports Anime' is the one that I would avoid 95% of the time. I have severely disliked every sports anime I've previously watched. Kuroko no Basket (Kuroko's Basketball), for example - I absolutely hated it, and 'hate' is not a word I use frequently. I rarely identify with the characters, and I never really care about the outcome of the sports themselves. Though an anime fan, I also consider myself to be both an athlete and sports fan. Of the sports I enjoy watching, Figure Skating is not among them. In fact, I'd go so far as to say I really dislike Figure Skating - my family has always been adamant about watching it whenever the Winter Olympics happen, and I've never enjoyed it. So when my SO came up to me and said "Heyyyy let's watch Yuri On Ice, it is great" my immediate reaction was a giant groan - YOI is a Figure Skating Sports Anime. She insisted it was worth the watch, and since she'd suggested some other shows that had been outside my wheelhouse, and I ended up enjoying those, I decided to trust her on it. Well... You know what? She was right. It was worth the watch.

First and foremost, the show has a spectacular art style. It is colorful, and diverse. The characters look great, the environments were lovingly crafted, and there is a sort of fetishization towards food art that I'm super into - the food always looks amazing. There is also a lot of attention to detail when it comes to the animation involved with the skating parts of the show. You can tell that a significant amount of painstaking research went into proper figure skating techniques, as well as how a skater's body moves, the way their blades interact with the ice, etc. There is no doubt that the show is a visual feast, and it's one of those "you could pause the show at any moment and use that frame as a desktop background" type shows. Something else I really appreciated is that when the characters are competing in different parts of the world (Spain, Russia, China, etc) each area feels authentic - including language and architecture!

Next, the show does a really good job with characterization. The way that anime usually likes to establish characters is to give each new person their own episode and dedicate that episode to the new character's background. YOI says "nah," and just lets the new characters walk in. There will be lines of dialogue which establish "hey these two have known each other forever," or "I don't think these two like each other very much" - but the nice thing is that it works. By the end, each character has their own distinct personality that you can recognize, and you'll appreciate everyone involved by their own merit. That is a big accomplishment, and I am really glad that YOI subverted the normal anime tropes by handling it that way - it is a better show for it.

As you would expect, YOI focuses on its central character, Yuri. He's a high-level Japanese figure skater who has never really been able to live up to his talent. He'd mess up during competition, and always go home disappointed. He's a good character, and he never really gets annoying or anything like that. Throughout the show, none of the other characters are ever his enemy. His biggest enemy is Anxiety, which I thought was a really interesting factor. As someone with depression/anxiety, I totally understand what he feels, and the show depicts it in a fairly mature way. The other main character of the show is Victor - Yuri's long-standing idol, and now coach. I don't want to delve too deep into the details, since the show is fairly short (12 episodes) and the story paces itself in a strong way. The peaks and valleys are worth experiencing organically!

Another highlight of the show is that it has a pretty great soundtrack. Figure Skating is always set to music, and the songs the skaters perform to are chosen with care. This goes for YOI's soundtrack, as well. To be honest, though I liked the music of the show, I found it to get a little bit repetitive. I realize that is inherent to the format (figure skater honing their performance over the same song over the course of a season) but I personally got bored with it since the music was sort of simplistic (I have a degree in music and play in prog metal bands, this is almost assuredly just a "me" thing). I think for those who are less analytical about the music, you're going to love it too!

So where does the show fumble? Well, for me, there were still some trappings in the 'sports anime' thing that I didn't love. The outcomes of each competition were fairly rote, and I never really felt surprised by how they transpired. Because of that, the overall story arch left something to be desired for me. To phrase it another way, moment-to-moment the story felt like it moved well, but the overarching story was a bit boring. I also felt like it got a little too fan service-y for me, but that is more of a personal preference thing than a show quality thing (you can see in my Episode 0 post that I'm not big into fan service).

Before wrapping up, because I know it would come up if I didn't mention it: yes, the main relationship in the show is a homoerotic one. I think it was handled really well, and I liked both of the characters involved. It never felt pandering, and more importantly, it felt rooted in genuine love. I think it's one of the better canonical relationships I've seen in an anime.

Ultimately, I think YOI is a good show. I don't think it's a great show, but I enjoyed it enough to want to keep up with it if they make a new season. I know there is a movie coming out, which my SO and I intend to watch when we can! If you aren't into sports anime like me, I'd say that it is still worth your time if you enjoy dramas. The characters rock, the art is lovely, and there is a lot to like. There are some faults, and it can be fairly predictable; but the journey is worth taking.

I rate Yuri On Ice: 4/5

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B2112's Anime Reviews - Episode 6: Gurren Lagann

I could approach this as I have my previous anime reviews, and very easily craft a long, nuanced review on TTGL; but I would rather boil it down to this:

TTGL is an excellent show, and handles scale unlike anything that has come before it or since. It is silly, but it has depth. It is beautiful, but it is sad. It is ridiculous and absurd, but it plays by its own rules.

You should watch Gurren Lagann. (And don't miss out on the post-credits scene in the last episode)

I rate TTGL: 5/5

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(P.S. I think TTGL is a perfect @danryckert anime. It has manly men doing manly things, and is genuinely funny)

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B2112's Anime Reviews - Episode 5: Durarara (Seasons 1 & 2)

Anime is weird. Often times, creators of anime like to come up with conceits that you would never encounter in Western shows, which is something I certainly appreciate! Durarara is a good example of this - it is a show about gang wars, teenagers, supernatural creatures/characters, and superhuman strength. It has an extremely broad cast of characters, and tells a fairly intricate story. It is the kind of show where everything feels like it was planned from the start, and you - as an audience - are along for the ride. It has plenty of moments that will make you go "huh, that's cool," but an equal amount that will make you say "... what? Where did that come from?" It is cool, stylish, and cluttered.

The story is pretty difficult to explain. It is centered around a boy named Mikado who moves to Tokyo (Ikebukuro specifically) after having lived in a small town for his whole life. Once he arrives there, he hangs out with his buddy from many years ago, and the two start attending school together. After that it quickly turns into a show where you are following a decentralized street gang (called the Dollars), a headless motorcycle-riding Dullahan named Celty, a seemingly all-knowing information broker named Izaya, a dude named Shizuo who is strong enough to literally throw cars across the city, an underground doctor who is in love with Celty, a quiet high school girl named Anri who has a big secret, and many more. Frankly, the story is more about the characters than anything else, which ends up being a problem. There are so many main characters in the show that you're bound to lose track of who they all are, and what importance they have. By the end of DRRRx2, I stopped trying to remember who was important, and just let the story reach its end since I kind of stopped caring about the details.

Overall, if you look at DRRR as an arc from the first episode of Season 1 to the last episode of Season 2, it is an interesting show. It tells some cool stories along the way, and it certainly presents itself with a lot of swag and bravado. It is crazy stylish, and takes influence from a lot of psychological thrillers (namely Memento). It tells its story in a very non-linear fashion. One episode may take place on November 3rd, the next episode will be on November 1st, the following will be on October 20th, and then the next one will be December 1st. It does not care about keeping things contiguous, it just wants to tell the story in the way they feel is coolest; but, often times, I feel it trips and falls on the way. It's the type of show where they will try to have a big twist, but the twist is lost on you if you forgot who this minor character who showed up 20 episodes ago is. There were multiple times where I had to pause the show, google the character's name, and think "Oh... Right... I guess I kind of remember this person?"

Despite these criticisms, I am certainly not saying any of the characters suck! I think that almost every character is fascinating in their own way, and that there is a significant lore with experiencing with each of them! Everyone has more going on than you'd expect, and there are a lot of shades of gray - there are no truly evil characters (apart from Izaya who is just a big ol' butthead). The characters are brought to life by very strong visual art, as well as great voice acting. They are each visually distinct, and you get to know their voices quite well - I definitely appreciated all the care put into them, and do look forward to any potential future seasons!

The other aspects of the show, in general, were pretty great! Music was solid throughout, art was consistently beautiful (hell I had one of the scenes as my background for a long time, despite not being in love with the show). Overall.. It's a good show, but it has a lot of problems. I could delve deeper into it, but I don't feel this is the place for a deep deconstruction and analysis of the show. If I were to provide a recommendation, I'd say that it is worth a watch with some caveats. I'd recommend giving it five episodes, and if you aren't enjoying it by that point, then you likely will not enjoy it.

I rate Durarara: 3/5

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B2112's Anime Reviews - Episode 4: Madoka Magica

Who doesn't love a show about a bunch of innocent, well-meaning adolescent girls with magical powers?!? The shows are usually colourful, fun, there's cute little animal buddies - these shows are just the best, especially for kids! Sailor Moon, Cardcaptor Sakura, Madoka Magica - all peas in a pod... Right? Well... Despite their art styles all being pretty similar, one of these is very much not like the others.

Puella Magi Madoka Magica is a show brought to us by Ken Urobuchi (affectionately referred to by fans as "Urobutcher"), and animated by Shaft (the studio who brought you the Monogatari series). It is a story told over twelve episodes about a group of 14-year old girls, and their attempt to save the world from Witches. The conceit is pretty familiar - perhaps even archetypal. The thing about Madoka is that the show is the very definition of a deconstruction. It takes your expectations for the genre (magical girls) and then proceeds to subvert them completely. Despite its cute exterior, this show is dark, violent, and disturbing. The characters go through absolute hell, and I would not be surprised if, by the end, you shed a few tears.

I would love to talk about the story of Madoka, and I would adore telling you why my favourite character is who she is; but that would be a great disservice to the storytelling and pacing of the show. I hope it is sufficient to say that Madoka tells an amazing story, and that by the end, you will be emotionally invested in every single character (with one standing out). I'd go so far as to say Episode 10 is one of my favourite pieces of fiction anywhere, including books, movies, games, etc. The story is twisty, it is turvy, and I feel strongly that it is 100% worth experiencing.

Beyond its amazing story and characters, Madoka is an artistic feast. Its visuals are exactly what you'd want from a magical girl anime - bright, colourful, adorable, etc; but the action scenes are animated with such care, that you can't help but be drawn in and absorb every second. Not only that, its art style is extraordinarily varied. When the characters are in "labyrinths" (nightmare worlds created by Witches), the style completely changes to, what I would describe as, a "collage." Obviously hand-drawn, sometimes looking like they're made of everyday materials, and often invoking the feeling of stop motion. These moments are creepy, trippy, unsettling, and I think the show is all the better for them.

It isn't just a visual feast, however! It would be criminal for me not to give props to one of the best parts of the show - the music. The soundtrack was composed by the great Yuki Kajiura. If you're already familiar with her work, then you probably have an idea of what to expect. If you have never heard her work before, you are in for a treat. Her music is the perfect depiction of something adorable, but creepy; lighthearted, but terrifying; childish, but dangerous. I still regularly listen to this OST on road trips - it is a wonderful piece of work, and even if you don't watch the show, I believe it stands on its own!

This review is a little more ambiguous than ones I've written in the past. Truth be told, I don't want to spoil any moment of Madoka - it is just so worth experiencing, that I don't want to take anything away from your potential experience. I should also note, the story of the anime is a self-contained story; but if you did not want to watch the series as a whole, it is also available as two movies. Though the movies are great, and boast another pass on the art to make it even more beautiful, it skips over a lot of great character moments, so I feel like the story is a little less impactful for a first viewing. There is also a third movie, which follows the events of the show.

Madoka Magica: Rebellion is perhaps the most polarizing piece of media I have seen in a long time. The first time I sat down and watched it, I was accompanied by two friends who had also seen (and loved) the show. When the credits rolled, I asked my friends what they thought of it. My one friend said she absolutely hated it, my other friend thought it was great, and I loved it. This sentiment can be found online, too - you'll either love it or hate it. It takes the main characters on a very different journey, and there are some significant changes to the universe of Madoka to be found. I personally recommend watching it afterwards, but be warned, it re-contextualizes a lot of the show in a way that you may not adore. Or maybe you'll love it like me, tough to say.

My favourite types of media are the ones that play with your expectations. I love psychological thrillers, I adore deconstruction, and NieR: Automata is the best game of 2017 (if not of all time). If you share in these sentiments, then it is entirely possible that you will adore Madoka Magica. If you do not like dark stories, and come into the show expecting something kiddy and cute, you are in for a shock. Madoka is a very mature, well-told story with a wonderful conclusion (and an interesting movie to follow it up). It is among the shows that I would recommend most to any fans of anime, and especially those who grew up watching older shows like Sailor Moon. This show will beat you up and leave you wondering what just happened.

I rate Madoka Magica: 5/5

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B2112's Anime Reviews - Episode 3: Samurai Champloo

When I write reviews, I tend to give myself one golden rule - don't write a review immediately after having experienced something; but if you do, wait a few days before hitting "submit." By letting the sentiments you felt immediately after watching/experiencing something coagulate, you can avoid the trap of passion. It is very easy to misrepresent your feelings as being too strong in one way or another, and I'd rather avoid that when making a recommendation. I must admit that I started writing this review roughly fifteen minutes after having seen the final credits of Samurai Champloo, and I am knowingly breaking my golden rule. The only reason for this is because I realized my feelings for this show about six episodes in, and my feelings did not change once the reverb of its final notes decayed.

Oh my god. This anime is really, really not for me.

Once you read that spoiler text, you will probably have an idea of what follows.

Where do I start... Samurai Champloo is one of those shows that has a reputation of being an absolute classic - a masterpiece. It is from the creators of Cowboy Bebop (which I also haven't seen, and tbh I likely won't), and I can't deny just how many times I've heard other anime fans approach me and say "have you seen SC?? Oh my god, you have to watch it, it is amazing." It is lauded by fans for its beautiful art, and amazing style. People proclaim it as being among the greatest anime of all time, and I just don't see it. Now, I want to clear something up right off the bat: Samurai Champloo is not a bad show - it is merely okay. The thing is that my expectations were so high going in, that I was beyond let down. If I had gone in with no expectations, I probably wouldn't feel so strongly. Think of it like Giant Bomb's "most disappointing" category in their GOTY awards - those go to the games with the biggest gulf between expectations and experience.

I mentioned that the show is praised for its art and style. You know what? The art is pretty great, and its style (styyyllleeeee) cannot be denied. The creators wear their influences on their sleeves - it combines 19th century Japan with a 90s hip-hop vibe just about as well as you could hope. There are many scenes during which you could pause the show, and it would make a great background to your computer or phone. The art is consistently great, and I would be doing a disservice one of the best parts of the show if I said otherwise.

With that praise being said, I cannot say that the show's style always worked for me. There was a really heavy disconnect between their attempts at accurately portraying (an alternate history) Edo-era Japan complete with Ukiyo-e (wood block paintings), Geisha, Kotos, et cetera; but also having gangsta's wearing coloured bandanas and holding their guns sidways, graffiti, and baseball. There would be moments where I was starting to really immerse myself in the world the show was creating, only to be rudely pulled out by a character beatboxing (complete with record-scratching) diegetically within the world. These moments had me rolling my eyes and audibly groaning, it was so stupid. There is a whole episode based on two brothers competing with each other by literally tagging the city with graffiti. Modern styled graffiti. I mean... Maybe if you're fifteen and a stoner, this comes across as hilarious and badass; but as a late-20s dude who just wants to watch a good story, it seriously pulled me away from any enjoyment I'd been having.

By the way, I don't single out stoners for no reason. There was another episode where the crux of the story was "... then they burned a pot field, all of the bad guys/good guys got super high together, and that's how our heroes managed to overcome this obstacle." It ends with an episode-specific character narrating 30 years later, saying "ahhh do you remember that day where we all danced together? .... Eh, probably not." *THE END* This was maybe the first moment I threw my hands up in the air and said "what the hell, I thought this show was supposed to be great - that was one of the stupidest things I have ever seen."

I think this issue can, in part, be traced back to the format of the show, which is episodic. There are plenty of great shows that are episodic. Pokemon comes to mind! The characters have a general goal (for Pokemon, Ash wants to beat all the gym leaders and be the best trainer around) and each episode is an individual adventure to help them approach that goal. A lot of Western shows are episodic - think Scrubs, or The Office. The format can work, and I can certainly appreciate it; but it really did SC a disservice. The one-off episodes rarely saw the main characters evolving, facing any real adversity, nor coming into the next episode having taken anything away from the experiences of the past episode(s). The writer's way of solving issues often comes back to "hey you know that side character this/these episode(s) focused on? Yeah we're just going to kill them and then the story will move on." Potential love interests, seemingly important people, etc are just murdered, and then the main characters just kinda move on. No reflection, no pathos, just "LET'S GO ON TO THE NEXT ADVENTURE!"

With the above being said, there were a fair number of episodes that were actually pretty decent. I wouldn't go so far as to say they were insightful, nor were they amazing; but they were good enough for me to say "okay, I can see little moments of brilliance here." They are willing to tackle tough issues with relative grace, such as characters being prosecuted for being gay. There are some good fight scenes, moments where it seems like you are actually witnessing a character going through some kind of change, 2 or 3-episode arcs that have an interesting ending.. Those do happen, but I would say they are, ultimately, in the minority.

The characters of the show aren't terrible, to be fair. Fuu, our lead girl, is... Well actually she is kinda frustrating. She is smart, but I'd say roughly half of the episodes are about her getting into trouble, and the others having to rescue her. Anyways, she's the impetus for the whole show - she wants to meet someone known as the "sunflower samurai." She enlists the help of two swordsmen who met after trying to murder one another. The first is Jin, who I actually kind of like. He's a softspoken samurai who is very skilled. He is sensible, sane, and generally a pleasant character. The other is Mugen, who I could take or leave. He's a prototypical bad-guy playing the good-guy role with a history in being a pirate, and is the stereotype of an uneducated ruffian. He has a nice arc overall, but I can't say I like him... I mean he regularly makes awful offhand comments and jokes, such as "I'm going to rape you, girl" when Fuu is unconscious and they're carrying her along. I can't really get behind that.

The music was okay. Nothing great, nothing terrible. There is a decent hip hop track with super distorted synths and guitars in the final episode as a battle takes place, that was the highlight. Everything else has been done before.

I don't really know what else to say about SC. Its overall story was disappointing. Its ending wrapped up way too neatly and was too much of a "super happy ending" to really feel like it was worth the journey. At least 40% of the content was actively bad (don't get me started on the Baseball episode). The characters were just okay. I am glad I watched it, because now I can have an opinion on this show that is considered a masterpiece; but I really, really have no desire to ever see it again. I can't recommend this show, and though it does have moments that make the experience decent overall, and the art is beautiful; it just isn't anything great.

I rate Samurai Champloo: 2/5

B2112's Anime Reviews: Episode 0

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