Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Anime: So Ra No Wo To

Alright, it's now time for me to review K-on! Army Version. K-on! of Duty is a piece of crap that tried to be a War is Bad story, a slice of life comedy, and a moe anime but failed at all three and was totally mediocre.

Er... wait what? Oh, I'm sorry, I was momentarily possessed by some jackoff who doesn't understand how two or more genres can come together and support a story's theme.

Okay, well, maybe that is a little harsh, but I will get to that.

Sora no Woto, or "The Sound of the Sky", is an episodic anime series about girls in the military in a world that seems to have early 20th century technology. I say seems to because there is more to the setting than that. The setting combines several different cultures, and it may seem silly that people with Japanese and German names are in a Spanish town full of French people who speak Japanese, but it'll make at least a little sense once you're done, I swear.

The story follows Kanata Sorami(MEANINGFUL NAME ALERT), who is a bright and chipper girl who is totally optimistic about everything. At first I thought it was because her parents died and she was overcompensating for that fact by being cheery instead of depressed, but then I rewatched an episode where she gets a letter from her mom. In the aftermath of a battle, she heard an allied soldier perform Amazing Grace with her Bugle, and she decided she wanted to learn to play like that too and joined the military(because in this world, only soldiers can afford to have schoolin'). She joins the 1121st Brigade, stationed at a fort in the small town of Seize(and with a name like that, it's just asking to get attacked). At first, Kanata is terrible, but with the help of her Cool Big Sis, Rio Kazumiya, she'll eventually get better. She makes friends with the other members, Filicia Heidman, Noel Kannagi and Kureha Suminoya, and soon her optimism and energy affect them greatly and a bond between the five is born that cannot be broken.

Sora no Woto is a story about what war does to people and their surroundings, of how it can destroy the peace you have worked so hard to create. It puts forth the ideas that life is meaningless unless you come up with meaning yourself, and also that simply being "the enemy" does not make a person evil or inhuman. The lighthearted slice of life and serious war focused parts of the show may seem to clash, but that is merely the point. The first part sets up the fun aspects, while the second slowly moves toward the serious. It moves toward the peace of our characters nearly being completely shattered.

The characters are also rather good. They deconstruct the typical moe anime lineup, at least a tad, with each character. To tell you any more than that would be to spoil it. Everyone(save for one) has somewhat of a character arc, a change in their character, though it doesn't amount to much really. The most important development is Kanata's getting better at the Bugle, but her character never really changes. The character who doesn't get change at least gets a backstory, a really good one as well. I always find that a backstory can be a good substitute for a character arc, as it lets us know that they have gone through change at least once in their life. All characters get backstory as well, but sadly my favourite one didn't have nearly enough time spent on it. Overall though, they all grow in one way or another, and learn some life lessons. Plus, they're really fun and are like a close family. D'awww.

The music is phenomenal. Every track is good and beautiful; with songs ranging from cheery to sorrowful. My favourite is the insert song, Servante du Feu, which plays partially in the first episode, and fully during the last. It's a hauntingly gorgeous French song sung by an actual Frenchman, and serves to sum up the main themes of the story. Honestly, the series would not have been as great without the soundtrack.

The animation is nice as well, being done by A-1 Pictures. The downside is that, yes, the designs do look similar to K-on!, and they were criticized for it. I didn't mind the designs, I think they contrast well with the darker aspects of the plot, like in Madoka Magica. People didn't complain about them looking like Hidamari Sketch characters, did they? However, I would have preferred the original designs, which you can see on my main blog in my post about this series. They are way better and would have fit the series more, I think. Regardless, the animation is good.

The main problems with the show is it's pacing. The first half mainly introduces the setting and characters, whereas the second tells about the backstory of the characters and gets into serious territory. Because the show is episodic this causes problems. The pace becomes inconsistent, with the first part being slower, and the second being faster. Not to mention, they only get into the main plot on episode 10, with 11 and 12 having the most to do with it. This is sad because 11 and 12 were the best, with interesting events, shocking revelations, and overall feel of importance. It was also heartwarming and emotional, and showed the great willpower and resolve of its characters. It should have been more like 4 episodes for something like this. Really, if it could have been longer, it would have been better. Or, maybe if they skipped some of the parts that, while funny and characteristic, were really not important. Still, in the end this was a really good show with nice story and character, wonderful music, good themes and messages, and it will be a long time before I forget it. It's sort of like something akin to Live-a-Live, it was an interesting experiment, and it was really the first time it had been done like that. It may not have been perfect, but the ideas and concepts were executed well enough for it to be good.

So, without further ado, I will rate this series. Against my better judgement(desu no), which tells me to give it a 4/5 instead, I give it a 5/5. It was a really good show for me. If what I've said here doesn't turn you off to the show, please watch it.

Until next we meet!

EDIT: Oh, I also wanted to say that Sora no Woto ranks up there with some of the most beautiful and heartwarming stories I've ever seen in an anime. It has wonderful melancholic moments, an ending that's bittersweet when you think about it, and is an all around great and heartfelt message to it.

"Someone was saying the world is ending, but I like this world." - Sorami Kanata
"There can't possibly be any meaning in this world. But isn't that wonderful in its own right? Because if there isn't any, we can make our own." - Filicia Heidman
"We don't have a choice, we're soldiers." - Helvetian Soldier

Savour the Harmony of The Sky

Friday, August 2, 2013

Anime: Toaru Kagaku no Railgun

Toaru Kagaku no Railgun, AKA A Certain Scientific Railgun, is one of my favourite sci-fi series ever. That being said, I'm going to try to not just gush all over the place. This is especially because I think the second season is better. Let's go!

Story:
The story is about a group a friends in the technological metropolis of Academy City who must solve the mysterious happenings in School District 7. They are espers, people who can use Psychic Powers. One has the ability to keep the temperature of anything she touches constant, one can teleport, one is an Electromaster, and the last has no powers(though she is revealed to have wind powers if she ever awakens to them). Their powers Rank Level 0, Level 1, Level 4, and Level 5. Odd considering that they are literally opposites in social standing, as your status raises with level. As the story begins, strange occurrences have been happening in which criminal espers are showing power higher than their levels should be capable of. The investigation of which will eventually lead them to the source of a strange urban legend, and against a Mad Scientist intent on continuing unethical research left behind by another.

I love the plot, which manages to be both trope filled yet not cliche at the same time. It has a way of presenting old plots and devices in fairly new and interesting ways. However, it can drag at times and the second arc, which is technically filler, had some problems. Not to mention, the second season is better in terms of story mostly because of the heavier subject matter, which allows for more emotional scenes(which were really the best parts of the story in this season). While some of the episodes in the second half do nothing for the plot, they do add to the characters at least a little(even the fanservice episodes tells you something about the characters!). Not to mention, a certain plot point that was left basically unfinished in the manga, gets resolved as well. So bonus points for that. It should also be mentioned that the story really feels cohesive. Remembering all the things that happen, while not necessary, make the story even more enjoyable. For example, a couple characters could be sitting around talking about something that doesn't seem relevant, but then several episodes later they bring it up again. You probably don't notice it, but this doesn't happen in a most anime, at least not on this level. Well, not the ones I've seen at any rate. On the subject of parts in the second half not contributing to the plot, there is something I kinda half to mention. There is a bit of a structural problem with the second half I suppose. While the first half has a good mix of both plot and simple slice of life in the episodes, the second half has a section that is all slice of life(and minor character development). What happens is the plot kinda stops for 1 episode, continues for 2,  stops for a bunch more, then begins again. I wouldn't call this a pacing problem as it all feels the same pace, and when the plot does move again it's well paced and things feel fleshed out. I think it might have benefited from maybe putting the Big Spider stuff after the slice of life. Overall, while the plot is a bit flawed in some areas, the story itself is rather solid, and the flaws it has are outweighed by the good aspects.

Characters: The characters are probably the best part of the series. No, screw it, they ARE, hands down. Let's go down the list, from "weakest" to "strongest". Saten Ruiko is a girl with long black hair, who is kind of tomboy and is a total Genki Girl. She enjoys flipping her friend's skirt to tease her and loves urban legends. Uiharu Kazari is a girl with short black hair and a hairband of flowers on her head, she is as sweet as the cakes and ice cream she never get's to eat, and is an excellent hacker. She is one of the two of the cast who are members of "Judgement", a student run police-like force. She takes her job fairly seriously but not as much as our next character. Shirai Kuroko is a girl with auburn hair tied into twin tails. She is a member of Judgement and takes her job very seriously, being a kindhearted but harsh woman who believes in Justice. She is also a crazy lesbian with boundary issues whose actions can border on stalker tendencies. She is deeply in love(and lust) with the next girl. Misaka Mikoto, 3rd of the 7 Level 5 espers, an Electromaster whose power is unrivaled amongst her peers and allows her to control electromagnetism as well, leading her to her famous attack, the Railgun for which she is nicknamed. Mikoto is stubborn, brash, reckless, short-temperd, and ill-mannered to those who have pushed her many buttons. However, she is also kind, caring, overprotective, softhearted, and loyal to anyone who has curried her favor(which isn't too hard to do).

These characters make up the main cast and are incredibly charming, funny, and bad ass. They have a lot more depth than the those of A Certain Magical Index, and the characters from there are more fleshed out. Almost all characters, the exception being very minor ones, receive some form of development. Even for those who do not have character growth there is a good deal of backstory, focus, and building of the characters. As the story progresses, you learn more about the characters through the stories of their past, their interactions with other characters, and episodes specifically about them that I mentioned. So in the end, the characters are highly three dimensional, unlike the archetypes plastered onto the script like in Index. They're fun, endearing, and just all around loveable. They feel like they're probably the bestest friends in the whole world, and it's very heartwarming. Endearing is a keyword here, as they are plenty of it. It's to the point that even the most mundane of conversations can be entertaining to watch with them. Really, any problems you have with them will likely be purely subjective. Like Kuroko's... er... wackiness, which I know many don't like and I completely understand(I just disagree).

Animation: The animation is by J.C. Staff, so thus it's good and consistent. It's not spectacular but it's not bad. That's all really. The action scenes are pretty good but could be better, but the last episode is really fantastic, including a back to back badasses moment and an epic car/mecha chase ending in a hyper railgun attack. It also allowed Ruiko to have a great heroic moment that earned her great respect from Kuroko. I should also mention that this is very good adaptation of the manga. The first 12 episodes are adapted from the manga, with the subsequent 12 being original material. While the anime is more "slice-of-lifey" then the manga, it still manages to capture the spirit of it. There were some changes made to the adapted parts, which stemmed from it being set 1 week(or was it a month?) prior to the time the manga is(so it could make room for the original arc). If these things were not changed, it would have conflicted with the timeline and caused the manga/Index fans to be much more angry at the adaptation. Everything that could be put in from the manga without doing that, was. The only thing that's different is that scenes were added, and those actually add to the story. So there. Bleh.

Sound: Voice Acting is AMAZING. All the seiyuu are great and fun. Satou Rina does an excellent job as the short tempered tomboy Mikoto, with the most epic parts being when she is legitimately pissed off at someone(such as arc 2's villain) where she starts off calm and slowly and then ends the line with a wonderful yell. "Don't screw around with me!" indeed. Arai Satomi does amazingly as Kuroko, as she has fantastic range which she uses to its fullest in this role. The best ones being when she suddenly sounds rough and masculine because something caused her to snap. For the life of me I cannot remember the other names, but I know Kazari's was in K-on!. She does great too, bringing that super cuteness of her character to life. Ruiko's voice is also great, able to be cheerful and fun, as well as sad and depressed when need be. The performances add a lot to the anime, whether it be silly or serious scenes. EDIT: Toyasaki Aki and Kanae Ito, respectively.

Music on the other hand isn't great. It's not bad but not amazing, much like the animation. There are a few themes such as the somber sounding piano themes used at serious and sad moments, which are very good, but it's not a jump out at you thing like Kajiura Yuki or Yoko Kanno. The OPs and EDs are great though, but they don't really count. EDIT: I didn't notice some of the better pieces for some reason, but after listening to the OST I like it much more. So nevermind, the music is good.

Final Thoughts: Railgun is a really good show. It has shifting tones and straddles several genres very well, though sometimes this can lead to mood whiplash(sometimes it's done on purpose for laughs). Still, it makes it more real and enjoyable that it isn't simply one tone or genre, as that isn't what life is like. By making the show and characters multifaceted, it makes it more believable and you care more about them and the setting. I won't say that it's perfect, that it puts forth philosophical themes and depth, or that it doesn't have some problems here and there, but it's still great. Not to mention it's pros really outweigh the cons like I said before, as unless you really think about it you won't really notice any problems it may have. Please, give it a try if you haven't. And if you have and didn't like it, try again. If you saw it all and didn't like it even a little, you are not human. I feel like the only people who don't like it are those who just don't want to(this includes just not liking "moeshit" and because it's by JC Staff). Or some other thing I can't fathom, who knows? Whatever, I think it's good.

So, without further ado, I award Toaru Kagaku no Railgun 5/5 Thugs Judo-Flipped by a 13-Year-Old Girl. Why 5/5? Because I said so!

 Have some moe!

Manga: Toaru Kaguku no Railgun

I'm going to review the Railgun manga. Since I plan on reviewing the anime as well, I'll just focus on the art and such for this.

Fuyukawa Motoi's artwork is great. It's got a wonderful style that seems to mix old and new styles of anime/manga together. Some of the drawings look like something from an early 2000s Gainax anime(like FLCL only less silly) and I wish that the anime could have been done by said studio, in a similar style to Gurren Lagann. Well, kinda. If they had it wouldn't have been directed by Tatsuyuki Nagai and a lot of the stuff I really liked that they added probably wouldn't have been added. Or maybe it would have, knowing Gainax... oh, wait, the guys who did TTGL are Trigger now, never mind.

The revamped character designs are great as well. I definitely prefer Motoi's versions to J.C. Staff's and certainly to Kiyotaka Haimura's. The art not only improved over time(comparing one of the early action scenes to the Encounter with Accelerator, the latter is freakin' amazing), but it also shifts into a more detailed form when the tone shifts as well. For example, the scene in which Kuroko fights the thug leader known as "Trick" changes from it's normal style to a more detailed and epic look when it shows a close up of her telling him he's screwed, which makes her look kinda like Asuka from eva I think.

Not to mention, action scenes and anything meant to be intense is better than scenes that are less so. That isn't to say the rest of the time it's bad, it's very good. In fact, the feel and atmosphere the art creates fits perfectly and matches it's "usually lighthearted by serious when shit hits the fan" nature.

It's very enjoyable and detailed. My only problem is that sometimes the backgrounds are very bare. The characters and important objects are very detailed but the backgrounds are not. Sometimes they are left blank even with maybe a few pieces here and there.

All in all it's really good. I give the art  4/5 for being great but having boring backgrounds a lot of the time. I give the manga itself however, a 5/5 and an urge to go buy that shit if you can and read the scanlations if you can't.

EDIT: In retrospect, the backgrounds aren't all that bad compared to other things in it's genre. I'm looking at you Bleach... and hell, probably you too Naruto, but the last time I looked at any pages of that was... uh, I forget, it was a long time ago. It's on about the same level as something like Tegami Bachi which often has very nice detailed backgrounds... but sometimes leaves things blank or with just speed-line things when the focus is on the characters. I'll still give it a 4/5 because I guess my manga art standards are just high or something.

Or maybe it's because this scene is so damn blank, when the anime version of it is just so... beautiful. Go compare it, it's got all this beautiful sunlight and the sky is dyed a purpley colour and wispy clouds! Why didn't you draw a cityscape and some wispy clouds at least Fuyukawa? I mean, that was a fairly important scene man!

No, I won't let it go!