Samurai 7

Type: “I’ll be in the rice!”

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Synopsis: A remake of the legendary Seven Samurai film, Kambei is now a very pretty older man! Katsushiro is pretty much the same! Gorobei is a street performer! Shichiroji is in a healthy relationship! Haihachi is a mechanic! Kyuzo is a silent assassin! And Kikuchiyo is a loudmouth robot! And Shino is replaced my a water maiden named Kirara!

Pros: I’ve always been curious about Samurai 7. It’s an adaptation of one of the most, if not the most, influential Japanese movie in history. The anime mostly follows the plot of the movie, and does included a lot of the key moments (Ex: Kambei testing Gorobei). For those who somehow don’t know, the story is that a poor farming village hires Samurai to protect them from bandits. Only this time, the bandits are Mecha, as this takes place in a quasi-futuristic setting. Flying ships, samurai deflecting lasers, etc. The beauty with this adaptation is that we get more time with the 7 samurai, with each getting more fleshed out by virtue of having 26 episodes instead of 2 hours. For example, in the anime Kambei is younger than in the film, so we get to see him in battle. What I loved was that Kambei was skilled, but not overpowered, and tended to tactics rather than raw skill to hold his own. Another thing worth mentioning is that the actual plot borrowed from the film ends at about Ep19. The plot is then extended to a battle between the Samurai and the Capital. While I have mixed feelings about this, I did like the fact that the fight against the Capital stems from the mistreatment of the farmers, particularly the scores of women that had been abducted over the years. And while not a central focus, I did appreciate that the victimization of females in feudal settings was at least included in the conversation.

Cons: Obviously this isn’t a perfect adaptation of the film. The anime takes liberties to help set it aparts. Some good, some not so good (like Kikuchiyo coming off way more annoying). But still, the show has a definitive beginning, middle, and end (though the ending could have been better). I didn’t really buy the “Emperor” as a credible antagonist. I would have much preferred that the bandits had stayed the main protagonists. Maybe take the opportunity to flesh them out and explore why they abandoned the samurai way. In fact, the show could have easily replaced “The Emperor” with “Bandit Leader.”But that’s the thing about this, even though it had more time than the original, none of the characters are as explored as I would have liked. You do get a better sense of their personalities, but not their backstory. How did Kambei and Shijirochi act in their younger days? What happened with Heihachi’s old troupe? Why does Kyozu want a duel so bad? One or two spotlight episodes would have been appreciated. On the technical side, the animation was all over the place in terms of quality, particularly in the first few episodes where the show actually repeats crowd scenes (maybe the animators were in a rush?). And on a personal note, I hated the love triangle the show was trying to make between Kambei, Katsuchiro, and Kirara. It was mostly there because it was in the movie, but come on. No matter how much anime I watch, I am just never going to root for the teenager(16 in this one) trying to get with an adult, no matter how cool he/she is. Plus, it doesn’t do anything other than give Katsuchiro another area to feel inadequate about. If the show really wanted to explore a love story, how about Shichiroji and his girlfriend Yukiko? At least they have witty banter.

Watch it?: Watch Seven Samurai, and then The Magnificent Seven, and the maybe this (4/5)

MVP: Shichiroji and Yukiko

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The more I think about it, the more I want a side series

Best Episode?: Ep.7 “The Friend” (I can’t help it, I just find them cute)

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Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo

Type: Revenge in Space Paris

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Synopsis: Based on one of the greatest novels to slam the whole “let bygones be bygones” idea, we’re introduced to The Count of Monte Cristo, a vampire-like blue guy who everyone falls in love with. His servants love him. His friend’s wives love him. Even the young male protagonist loves him. Like a lot. Like in an adult way. Which is great for the Count, who may or may not be evil. But to be fair, almost every adult in this is pretty evil, so he fits right in!

Pros: The first thing you notice is the art style. It mixes 2D and 3D effects to give every clothing piece and hair style a distinct look. The whole anime looks visually abnormal, vibrant and static at the same time, which works well with the theme of revenge that the story revolves around. I’d like to think that most people know the story of The Count of Monte Cristo, but I’d rather not spoil anything for the uninitiated. That’s kinda the tricky thing about reviewing a good story. You want to gush over the story and characters with great detail, but risk ruining the experience for the reader. I’ll just say that Gankutsuou does an excellent job at adapting the classic western story, capturing most of the emotional beats and character moments from the original. Particular kudos should be given to the creation of The Count, who came off as so charismatic that even I wasn’t sure what his intentions were until late in the anime. In fact, given the number of characters included and time allowed, this may be one of the best interpretation of The Count of Monte Cristo outside of the novel itself.

Cons: When you think about it, its weird that Albert fall for the Count the moment he meets him. That being said, it is in his character. Albert is portrayed as extremely naive and trusting, and his sometimes childish attitude may irritate viewers. But what bothered me most was the one dimensional characterization of the the Count’s targets for revenge. They all came off as unrepentant villains, even in their home lives. I would have liked a bit more complexity in their portrayals, just so we in the audience could have felt more conflicted about the Count’s quest for vengeance. I would have liked one or two episodes exploring the Count’s past, instead of using flashbacks. Then there’s the art style which, while unique, is  a bit intense. I should also point out that the story is a bit of a slow burn, since the first half of the anime focuses on establishing all the characters and the Count slowly integrating himself in their lives. And a lot of Albert’s friends felt superfluous. Outside of Franz and Euginie, I could have lived without the rest.

Watch it?: Trust me, it’s good. (5/5)

MVP: The Count of Monte Cristo

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Sleep well, sweet Edmund Dantes

Best Episode: Ep17-18 The Confession/The Duel (the turning point of the story)

 

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Hunter X Hunter (1999)

Type: I Hate Gon

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Synopsis: In the world of anime, Shoen exists. Long running series about boys fighting to get stronger and milk merchandising for years. Luckily, this one was only 62 episodes and in English, so it wasn’t so bad. In Hunter X Hunter, which surprisingly isn’t about adorable shipping art on Tunblr, the world revolves around “Hunters,” people who are allowed to hunt and kill most anything as long as they have a license. Then it becomes about auras or something. Then it becomes about revenge. Then it ends, but I hear a new one came out, so I still don’t need to read the manga!

Pros: Hunter X Hunter is one of those big shoen titles I’ve just never gotten around to. I’ve seen pictures of the character, clips, and even played as them in some of my video games. But I’ve never actually read or watched it.  I finally decided to watch the original anime because A) It was in English, B)It was only 62 episodes, and C) I had time and wanted to marathon something. While I had some issued with the main protagonist, Hunter X Hunter did exactly what a good shoen story (and really any story) should do, it go me engrossed in it’s world. By episode 30, I was reading the Wikia to understand the lore and characters better. The animation makes the show very atmospheric, though apparently the story gets even better beyond episode 62 in the manga. I want to see more, and look forward to the reboot dub when I get around to it. My favorite characters were the side characters, particularly Killua and Kurapika, two morally complex characters with very interesting story arcs. Heck, the last 10 episodes of this series are all about Kurapika (and was my favorite arc). Like most shoen, this anime can be split into story arcs. The first 30 episodes are the Hunter Exam arc, which is more of an adventure story. The next about 20 episodes focus on Gon learning Nen, and is more of a fighting tournament. And finally the last arc is Kurapika’s quest for revenge, and takes place in “York New City” (Yeah). Admittedly, things don’t get truly interesting until Nen is introduced, which is this story’s chi/chakra/magic/spiritpressure/ki energy. I should also point out that during fights, the animators did an excellent job and including every bruise and cut a person suffers. It makes the actions look more realistic, as even the top tier guys take visible damage. If anything, Hunter X Hunter’s 1999 anime takes some animation cues from it’s older brother, Yu Yu Kakusho.

Cons: For the first time ever, I found myself personally disliking a shoen character. I can’t stand Gon. This has never happened before. But here we are. At first, I distaste for Gon came from his bland character at the start of the series. He was the textbook straightforward/confident/always positive shoen protagonist. But as the series went on, some of the other stereotypical shoen traits started to become more pronounced, particularly stubborness and a desire for strength. Gon is very stubborn, even getting his arm broken when he absolutely refused to forfeit a fight. He also has a desire to become stronger, with his biggest rival being some clown who showed “pity” on him for being weaker than him. Again, par for the course, but the thing is, none of it ever felt earned. I have no idea why Gon is the way he is. He doesn’t really have a motivating force behind him. He wasn’t raised to be that way. His overall goal of meeting his father doesn’t explain his personality. Goku was raised to be a fighter from birth, which is why he’s always training. Naruto works hard to earn the respect of his village after years of persecution. Luffy wants a life of freedom and adventure. Ichigo needs to become stronger to save whichever of his friends has been kidnapped that week. Without a reason behind his actions, Gon just seems like a little sociopath who refuses to comprimise if things don’t go his way. Hell, some characters in the show even comment on the potential danger this kid is. He’s an extremist. Even his wikia describes his morality as “twisted!” To put it another way, I’d describe him as “soul less,” a being with character traits but no real depth.  But, ah, we should really be taking about the anime, shouldn’t we? The animation might look old by today’s standards (though I liked the gritty look). The show has a few exposition scenes that are annoying, especially during fights. And it really does take a while to get into the story. About 20 episodes in fact. I personally didn’t get invested until episode 23, when Gon suffers his first true defeat and we get some actual characterization out of him (he pees himself, it was hilarious). In fact, I’m almost tempted to recommend skipping to episode 26, since this is when things get truly interesting.

Watch it?: The second half was good, but I can’t ignore the first (3/5)

MVP: Kurapika

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Boy or Girl, Kurapika steals the show at then end.

Best Episode: Ep. 51-62 The York New City Arc (easier to recommend arcs than episodes for shoen)

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Space Dandy (Season 1 & 2)

Type: Anime Futurama

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Synopsis: Meet Space Dandy. He’s a Dandy guy, from space.

Pros: When I watched Space Dandy, I was primarily reminded of two things: Futurama and Abenobashi Shopping Arcade. The series follows “Space Dandy” a pompodour looking fellow and his crew as they hunt for rare aliens. The set up already gives them an excuse to visit strange and varied worlds. Most of the episodes are stand alone, and like Futurama, some delve into deeper sci-fi questions and/or personal stories (luckily, nothing as hard as the dog episode). But like Abenobashi, a lot of episodes are non-sensical, full of cultural references, and some episodes even end with Dandy and his crew dying! So like all great sci-fi comedies, Space Dandy is a silly space romp with pretty deep messages, you just have to watch it to find out. [Season 1 is the one full of crazy deaths, Season 2 is the more philosophical one]

Cons: You know what? I actually can’t think of any negatives. I appreciated this show a lot. The varied episodes and animation really made it clear that a lot of people worked hard on this show. The show made you laugh, it made you think, and it may even have made you cry. I guess the only sad part is that you can’t watch it with everyone given the fan service bits, but you could always get around those with some navigating.

Watch it?: Stay Dandy (5/5)

MVP: Dandy

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I really want his hair

Best Episode: Ep.17 “The Transfer Student is Dandy, Baby” (There are probably better ones, but his is Anime GLEE we’re talking here!)

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Desert Punk

Type: Well, this took a turn

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Synopsis: The world’s sh#$. The people are sh#$. And anyone who points out the fact is especially sh#$. Take the case of Kanta, the “Demon of the Desert” or “Desert Punk.” He’s a horrible person. Perverse, greedy, selfish, cowardly, but ultimately real. He is who he is. A jackass. But in this godforsaken desert world, who isn’t?

Pros: The anime is a post apocalyptic story taking place in a Mad-Max/Trigun like cut-throat desert. Our protagonist is Desert Punk, a mercenary with only one rule: fulfill the contract. And I mean one rule. Outside of this, the Desert Punk has participated in such noble pursuits as: kidnapping, sexual blackmail, murder, human trafficking, etc. The show does an incredibly job at pushing the audience’s tolerance of him. He truly proves the point that a protagonist does not have to be likable (but also why he/she probably should be). Desert Punk is a jerk, so you laugh when he loses. But you also kinda root for him, especially when he deals with other equally hypocritical people. The show also keeps the tone relatively light-hearted, especially in the first half, that nothing comes off a disgusting. In fact, the first 12 episodes are basically a sex-comedy with Desert Punk as the main pervert. I have never head so many penis jokes from an anime. Then it take a more serious turn after, but still keep some of the comedy.

Cons: Well, the intros suck, first of all. The show takes a serious at about episode 13. It’s not bad, but it does change the course of the show. It goes from a few stand alone episode about Desert Punk and his apprentice’s misadventures to a more plot heary story involving a civil war. This turn makes the show lightly more generic. Character wise, the only real constant is Desert Punk, and he does become truly unlikable at times. I noticed with happened more when he had his mask off. Man, I wish his face had never been revealed. His cool helmet is kinda false advertisement, cause he hardly wears it. My least favorite version of him was when he kidnaps the big-boobed Junko and holds her hostage until she agrees to sleep with him. I mean, Junko’s also a bad person, but who does that!? It makes sense why Desert Punk is given a kid sidekick. Some may find her annoying, but she helps soften some of Desert Punk’s actions. Like the ending (ah, spoilers I guess), where Punk “betrays” his friends. But let’s be honest, his “friends” kidnapped him and forced him to help their cause. They don’t like him, and he don’t like them. The only person he offered to help was his apprentice, which is why she’s pivotal to the story (I mean, he still left her to die earlier, and tried to kill her a few scenes before, but like I said, he’s a jackass).

Watch it?: Maybe just the first 12 episodes (4/5)

MVP: Desert Punk

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He is truly dead inside. It’s hilarious.

Best Episode: Ep.1 “Demon and Boobs (The Demon and The Double D’s)” (a no faced pervert, perfect)

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Fatal Fury: The Motion Picture

Type: RISING TACKLE

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Synopsis: Basically, a pizza delivery boy, a ninja, a boxer, and a blonde guy help a mysterious girl fight the god of war.

Pros: Fatal Fury, the movie, is possibly the best film adaptation of a fighting game. Well, aside from the Tekken movie. And the Mortal Kombat movie had its moments. All rights, its like the third best fighting game movie adaptation. Having nothing to do with the actual game story line, this film has Terry Bogart, Andy Bogart, Joe, and Mai fighting non-descript bad guys. The movie does a good job at animating each character’s special moves, and even throws in some camoes from other characters in the game. It’s all pretty dumb, don’t get me wrong, but dumb in that fighting game way, which is pretty cool.

Cons: Oh my god, we get it. Mai is super hot. Do we need that much boob jiggle? Although, I guess that’s game accurate. If you take your attention away from Mai for a minute, which Andy seems to have mastered, you’ll notice blatant animation dips. It was the 90’s. The story is…the story. But the biggest problem with the film is that, unless you have a working familiarity with the Fatal Fury universe, you won’t get a lot of the movie. Why is Terry the main hero? Why is Joe tagging along? Why is Andy not having sex with Mai right now? No, seriously. The lady has the biggest case of blue balls imaginable. But you won’t get that unless you know about the game story line.

Watch it: Yes, but keep in mind that this was made for the fans

MVP: Terry

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POWER GAISA

Best Moment: The whole crew fighting against the bad guy at the end (BURNING!!)

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The Hentai Prince and The Stony Cat

Type: Or simply HenNeko

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Synopsis: DO NOT IMAGE SEARCH FOR THIS

Pros: This show is about a boy and a few girls making wishes to a Cat Statue, and the consequences that follow. With a title like “Hetai Prince,” expect some fan service. The show has a balance between Fan Service, Humor, and light melodrama. The best on-going jokes are: Tsukiko’s stone faced delivery and Tsukushi’s love for the “Younger” Yoto brother. Impressively, the show uses two-episode plot arcs, so a lot of story is packed into 12 episodes. You won’t get anything revolutionary in these stories, but you’ll get some entertaining stories.

Cons: The show has a slow start. It opens with my least favorite arc involving Azusa, an immature blonde classmate with trust issues. But after initial hump, a love triangle (rectangle?) develops between Yoto, Tsukiko, her sister Tsukishi (kinda inderectly), and Azusa. The show doesn’t remake the wheel, and some may find it generic. I found the romantic comedy  in the show really fun. Again, I really loved whenever Tsukiko got jealous, despite her emotionless exterior, and whenever Tsukushi got lovely dovey over “Young” Yoto (despite hating “Older” Yoto, who is the same person). That being said, I wasn’t stoked by Azusa and Tsukishi’s underdeveloped figures, mostly because it just made them seem much younger. We all know what your doing HenNeko. Gross.

Watch it: Just skip the first few episodes (4/5)

MVP: Tsukishi

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Mayonnaise is Justice!

Best Episode: Ep. 6 “Welcome, My Friend” (a good summary of the show)

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Baccano!

Type: You could spend hours talking about this

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Synopsis: Dateline, Anime America. With Immortal toughs running amok, the passengers of the luxurious Flying Pussyfoot find themselves in quiet the pickle! Who will come out on top? The cry baby crime boss? The evening gowned assassin? The murder happy lunatic? Or America’s answer to Bonny and Clyde!? Be sure not the miss the next installment of- “Better than Durarara in every possible way!” [please read in 1930’s accent]

Pros: Ha! Just kidding. Kinda. But you could see why I made the comparison. Baccanno! and Durarara!! are both anime with huge ensemble casts and loosely linked story lines. The comparison is easy to make, and has most likely inspired some not-so-friendly debates from fans of both shows. Baccanno! takes place during Depression Era America, which is a pretty awesome setting for an anime. A large majority of the cast are 30’s mafia member, and the English cast did a fantastic job capturing tone and sound of the era. Every episode tends to skip around time frames and characters, with the first episodes actually starting at the end of the main story. The most common setting is the Flying Pussyfoot, a train caught in the middle of a gang war. Baccanno!’s other gimmick, and a pretty clever at that considering America’s history with prohibition, is the existence of an elixir of life, which make a few of the characters immortal. You learn whose immortal, or at least who survives, in the first episode. The fun come in finding out how they managed it in a story full of suspense, action, humor, and, dare I say, heart?

Cons: Because the show has such a large cast and skips around time lines, it’s sometimes hard to keep track of everything. This may make the first few episode a bit difficult to follow. It’s helpful that the show’s opening names each important character, as well as offering a brief summary of the important events so far. The show veers on being excessively violent at times, though this sometimes helps emphasize setting of the gangster filled America 30’s. I also found the main villain of the elixir plot generically evil. Oh! And don’t forget that even though some streaming sites may list this as a 16 episode show, it’s actually only 13. The other 3 were DVD only episodes that serve more as an epilogue/OVA, but are ultimately skippable.

Watch it?: Only if you’re not a big Palooka (5/5)

MVP: Miria and Isaac

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Just, just Fantastic. Absolutely fantastic.

Best Episode: Honestly, the more I think about it, the more I end up liking the entire series as a whole (but, maybe Ep.7 for subplot purposes).

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Shakugan no Shana: Final [Month of Shana]

Type: Too little, Too late

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Synopsis: Three seasons later and the plot finally arrives! Yuji has teamed up with a snake god to make a new world for the human eating demons he calls “Tomo….something.” The Flame Hazels are real assholes about it and refuse to let the demons have a new world. Shana ends up fighting Yuji, because even though she’s still in love with him, she ain’t ganna let no man tell her what to do. You go girl.

Pros: F#$ing FINALLY! After sloshing through the garbage of the first two season, we finally get to the good part. This season introduces the full forces of both the Flame Hazel and Bal Masque as they fight a world wide war. Where introduced to a lot of cool looking Flame Hazel and Bal Masque Tomogara. It’s basically franchise’s Return of the King. I just wish this had happened sooner. The most interesting part, as always, is the relationship between Shana and Yuji. Graduating from useless to fascinating, Yuji willingly sacrifices everything to create a peaceful world. Shana, to her credit, stays true to her role as a Flame Hazel, opposing Yuji’s plan. I will give the franchise this, they did a great job of making Shana a strong heroine, escaping the trappings that her moe-design suggested. There’s an interesting story here, and maybe in the future, someone will know how to tell it properly.

Cons: This season is good in the way that finding a completely wrapped candy bar in the garbage is good. You’ll eat the candy, but the faint smell of garbage will stay with you. This season did almost everything I’ve wanted the series to do. I did away with the boring high school cast and setting, it introduced ways more about the Flame Hazel, it made Bal Masque interesting, and it make Yuji cooler. But it’s simply not enough. And sadly, you can’t really watch this one without watching the last two season. Even that won’t clear up some of the confusion. The show introduces all these new Flame Hazel that were suppose to care about in one go. But I don’t know these people. I haven’t followed them for three season. Why should I care what a nun and army guy think about?  Who are they to say that the Tomogara can’t have a new home? That’s another thing, the show did a poor job at explaining exactly why the Tomogara getting a new home was such a problem to the Flame Hazel. All I got from it was that the Flame Hazel condescendingly thought they knew better than the Tomogara and didn’t trust them. Very First World vs. Third World. So naturally, I found myself rooting for the Tomogara. Finally, being the last season, I feel that the writers tried to cram as many light novel characters as they could, which never, ever works. They also tried to tie the loose end of Yoshida and Pheles/Johan, three characters I literally hate.

Watch it?: Why is the last one the most interesting???? (3/5)

MVP: Yuji

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Finally worth our time

Best Episode: Ep17 “For Whose Sake?” (ironic, I know)

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Shakugan no Shana-tan [Month of Shana]

Type: Chibi Shana

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Synopsis: Reviewing this instead of Shakigan no Shana S, because CHIBI!!!!

Pros: Shana-tan is basically all the criticisms of the Shakigan no Shana series condensed into 5 minute shorts. These little segments make very self-referencial jokes at it’s own expense, noting the flaws of the parent series. The most obvious example is Shana, who is depicted as an immature chibi character. Another is Kazumi, how here is a two-face character whose actually very snarky in private (a major upgrade in my opinion). Comments are also made about the show’s lackluster supporting cast and confusing terminology. While I personally wise this was the main show instead, I know that’s just a pipe dream and enjoy what I got.

Cons: Aside from this not being the main series, it does have one major flaw. In order for you to enjoy Shana-tan, you will have had to have sat through Shakugan no Shana proper. You will not get the majority of the jokes otherwise. They may also be DVD exclusive, but that’s what the internet is for. (P.S. For those curious, Shakugan no Shana S is an OVA series, 4 episodes, one involves body switching, and the last two are a prequel adventure starring Shana).

Watch it!?: Again, I wish this was the main series (4/5)

MVP: Kazumi

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She went from one of my least favorite characters, to my most favorite

Best Episode: The Entire Series (their, like, 5 minutes each)

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