Yuki Yuna is a Hero

Type: Medoka Magica’s more upbeat little sister

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Synopsis: In the future, the Japanese government asks young girls, around the age of 12-15, to fight monsters from a different dimension in order to protect the magic tree that is protecting humanity. They mainly recruit these girls using phone apps, because kids and their phones these days. The app says you can be a hero, and it even gives you cute fairies as sidekicks for free! Of course, once you get nice and addicted, it ramps up the difficulty of the monsters and that’s when you finally notice the in-app store purchases and start thinking….man, I could really use that power upgrade, and the use of my legs isn’t that big of a price.

Pros: Yuki Yuna is a magical girl anime. Specifically, the subgenre of dark-magical girl anime. This means that the big reveal is the price the characters have to pay for being magical girls. Without spoiling it too much, I’ll just say that I liked the “price” being paid, because it was drastic enough to be meaningful, but not too big to be forgotten. The girls don’t have to give up their lives or anything, and the in some ways, the price is optional. It gave the characters a lot for agency in their decision to use their powers and ultimately made them seem like the “heroes” they aspired to be. This differs from Medoka Magica, the current dark-magical girl measuring stick, because there the price was pretty much an ultimatum done for selfish reasons. Yuki Yuna differs from Medoka in that it’s pretty positive. Yuki Yuna stays pretty light until Ep.8, with everything up till then being pretty typical female slice-of-life stories with good humor, like the new girl becoming friends with everyone, the young girl learning to be more confident, gossiping about love only to discover that none of them have any juicy stories because their in middle school. This is mixed with stellar actions scenes, so you never get bored. Compare this to Medoka, which gets dark at Ep.2. After Yuki Yuna’s Ep.8, things start to spiral, as the truth of the girl’s powers are revealed. What I liked about the reveal is that is was dark, but it didn’t overdo it. It didn’t come off as malicious, and there’s no “evil” organization controlling everything. The girl’s sacrifices are honored and rewarded. If anything, it’s a system whose tragedy lies in it’s necessity.

Cons: For as show called Yuki Yuna is a Hero, the title character is not really present all that much. There is a character named Yuki Yuna, but she isn’t really the protagonist, and she doesn’t act as a audience surrogate. Her only role is being the most “optimal” hero. In fact, Fu Inibozaki is a more likely candidate for main character. But the show really is more of an ensemble story. Speaking of the story, while watching it, I kept waiting for the shoe to drop. Ya know? I knew that this was a dark-magical girl show, so every episode I asked myself, “is this the one where it all goes to hell?” But since this happened so late in the show, fans of this kind of dark twist may be annoyed at the time it takes to get there. Don’t watch this show looking for a tragedy like Medoka, because you won’t find any. This anime strictly adheres to the happy ending troupe. No one dies, no one’s feelings are hurt, and the girl’s sacrifices are even mitigated by the end of the show. I’ll admit, that last part was regrettable as it lessened the impact of the girl’s decisions. I do wonder, however, how people who watch it blind may react to the show. Now let’s talk spoilers: In the show, the girl’s have to sacrifice something to unleash their full power. The people in charge of recruiting don’t tell the girls this because ignorance is bliss or whatever. But, as the show suggest, this leaves tremendous psychological scars on the chosen girls. Worse yet, because the sacrifice is required for an optional second transformation, a power boost if you will, there really is no reason not to tell the girls. A little “hey, you have this secret weapon, but only use it as a last resort because it will cost you something precious. ;)” text would have been sufficient.

Watch it: More upbeat than Medoka (4/5)

MVP: Fu Inubozaki

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Girl Power!

Best Episode: Ep9. “Those Who Know Grief” (that breakdown really got to me)

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Cyborg 009 VS Devilman (OVA)

Type: Dawn of Trends

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Synopsis: I was rooting for Devil Man.

Pros: Cyborg 007 vs Devilman follows the classic superhero vs superhero story points. The two heroes fight one another because of a misunderstanding, it turns out there’s a bigger threat, they work together, hugs and kisses and goodnight. The plot is more Cyborg 009 heavy. After the fight with the Olympian styled cyborgs, the Cyborg 1-9 are alerted to the dangers of a “demons,” run into newer cyborgs, and then have to fight cyborg/demon hybrids. The Cyborg side of the story is more proactive, giving them more presence in the story. On the other side, we have Devilman, who sorta just reacts to the plot. His involvement doesn’t become justified until the halfway through, when his girlfriend(?) is kidnapped to get his devil genes, or something. The crux of the story relies on the fact that both sides find the others existence possible. Having fought god themed cyborgs, Demon Cyborgs aren’t too crazy, and Devilman will mostly fight anything. I actually really found myself liking the Devilman aspects of the show. In a way, it completed its mission of making me curious about one of the franchises. As crossovers go, mushing these two seemingly antithetical franchises made in the 1970’s together worked surprisingly well.

Cons: I’m going to put this out there: I am not a fan of Cyborg 009. And it is for the pettiest reasons. Back in the day, Toonami replaced Rorouni Kenshin with Cyborg 009 on their 6pm slot, moving Kenshin to Saturday Nights. This occurred before the resolution of the Kyoto Arc, meaning I had to stay up late to watch Kenshin, which was now once a week instead of every day. As you can imagine, child-me did not appreciate this. And even since, I’ve been very bitter towards Cyborg 009 (even though I know that it was probably some dumb program managers fault). So naturally I found myself rooting for Devilman in this and resenting the plot heavy Cyborg 009 elements. That being said, this mini-series is very cannon plot heavy. It seems to occur after a big arc for Cyborg 009 and an early arc for Devilman. This was clearly done for the benefit of long time fans, because new viewers will feel lost and confused. In fact, I’d hazard to say that this film is meant to be a cannon occurance instead of a stand alone adventure. Did this make me a fan of Cyborg 009? No. It’s still not for me, and I still find Cyborg 009 and 002’s power redundant (if they both and super speed, we keep both?).

Watch it?: Now I wanna read Devilman (4/5)

MVP: Devilman

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I just think he stands the test of time better

Best Episode: Ep.1 Cyborg 009 vs Devilman (hero fights!)

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Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet

Type: Like Battlestar Galactica, if it was about boats and was more chill

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Synopsis: One culture’s a military based futuristic space alliance, the other culture’s a community based sea faring people. Their the original ideological odd couple!

Pros: This show has really strong first two episodes. The anime opens with the large, if slightly generic, space battle, but quickly transitions to rustic sea based setting. The protagonist, Ledo, is a pilot of a mech who crash lands on a ocean planet. His mech is discovered by the scavengers of a large ship fleet community. When he wakes up, both he and the ship’s authorities are wary of each other. But, in perhaps one of the more mature moments I’ve seen in anime, the chose communication over violence. So the first two episodes are simply each side trying to get a bearing on each other. The commentary on community and social groups presented in this anime is fascinating. One one side you have Ledo, a member of a clearly technologically superior society. But his society is also highly militant, having been in a very long war, so his outlook is very singularly focused. If something does not benefit the community directly, it is useless. This applies to things like fun and games, to things like Families, as families aren’t efficient enough to produce soldiers. On the other side you have Gargantia, another community based society, but one that is more flexible. Instead of efficiency they focus on balance. Both sides have good and bad outcomes. Ledo’s community have little patience for emotion or the weak, but they have made extraordinary advances in technology, while Gargantia’s community clearly have more freedoms, but they also have crime and poverty. The majority of the show is basically Ledo having to integrate into Gargantia’s culture, right down to having to learn their language and trying to apply his specific cultural skills into Gargantia’s. So this show has a secondary immigration theme as well. It is in these aspects that Gargantia is the strongest in.

Cons: While the show has a strong opening, it has a very weak finish. The last 3 episodes turn into a generic action-drama, where the protagonist is met with a person from his past who forces him to reevaluate his beliefs. It falls short of the show’s quality story up to that point, and feels way off based given the show’s slice of life tone. It’s also superfluous, as a revelation in earlier in the plot already made Ledo question his beliefs. In fact, the entire last story arc felt more like it belonged in a second season rather than here. Maybe the writer’s wanted to tie everything up? Ep5 had a similar problem at the opposite spectrum, trying to be the “funny episode” with some fan service and stereotypical transvestite shows.  Hardy har. On a more subjective note, I had a problem with the show’s overall ideological argument. From my perspective, the show strongly argued for cultural assimilation. Everyone always tells Ledo to learn the language, follow their rules, get a job, and adhere to their customs. Which is fine, whatever, their house, their rules. But no one ever asked Ledo about the cultural knowledge he can contribute. The boy is literally a space man with a talking robot! But no one ever asks him what he knows about technology, battle formations, the local solar system. His machine has a unimaginable amount of information, but the people of Gargantia have it move boxes and catch fish. The commander of the fleet doesn’t even meet with him (which is an incredible security lapse if you ask me). The show is not unbiased in comparing Ledo’s society with Gargantia’s. Gargantia is great, and Ledo’s filthy space savages can teach them nothing. Ledo is forced to join the Melting Pot, but a Melting Pot only works if all aspects fuse together. If one aspect overpowers the other, you have a recipe for a bad soup and a bad society.

Watch it: Everything up to Ep.10 (4/5)

MVP: The Setting

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I love a Fleet Communities in Anime. Quarians, the 13 Tribes, etc.

Best Episodes: Ep1&2 “Castaway” and “The Planet of Origin”

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Little Witch Academia

Type: Second Verse, good as the first…wait, what?

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Synopsis: A little girl goes to a magic show and got her parents to sign her up for lessons. But like Karate and Ballet, she’ll probably give up when it gets too hard.

Pros: The Little Witch Academia franchise is an interesting little bit of anime trivia. Backed by Trigger as part of a young creators thingy, the series has gained a dedicated fan base. Why? Because it’s really charming. Being Trigger, the animation is amazing. It has a great all-ages vibe without sacrificing any of the story sophistication. But I’ve said all this before. Watching this part really cleared up some of the things in the sequel. Specifically Akko’s origin. This being a more Akko centric episode, I got a better sense of the character’s standing in the Magical School, while the second gave a better sense of the flaws.

Cons: I still don’t get the deal with the supporting characters. They aren’t especially fleshed out or explored. The problem is that the story starts with Akko already in school with her friend group fully established. Had this been a story of how they met, then great, and I hope the creators get the chance to show that eventually. Don’t get me wrong, this is great, and I want more, but as the “first” part of the franchise, I was expecting a little more.

Watch it: Its 30 minutes of quality programming

MVP: Akko

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Theirs magic in all of us

Best Moment: Akko getting poisoned by her friends (witches, am I right?)

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Inferno Cop

Type: Yeah, this is a weird one.

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Synopsis: Yeah, this is a weird one. I guess Japan finally discovered that they could combine flash animation and the internet together.

Pros: Yeah, this is a weird one. The only reason I’m even reviewing this is because it was made in Japan and is animated, technically making it an “anime.” The premise, if you can call it that, is that a cop with a burning skull for a face is a cop with a burning skull for a face. It’s nonsensical, random, cheap, and dammit, I can’t help but falling in love with it.

Cons: Yeah, this is a weird one. The only reason I’m even reviewing this is because it was made in Japan and is animated, technically making it an “anime.” The premise, if you can call it that, is that a cop with a burning skull for a face is a cop with a burning skull for a face. It’s nonsensical, random, cheap, and dammit, I can’t help but falling in love with it.

Watch it?: Yeah, this is a weird one. (4/5)

MVP: Inferno Cop

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Yeah, this is a weird one.

Best Episode: The one were his head is on fire (yeah, this is a weird one)

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First of the North Star (1986)

Type: You’re already dead

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Synopsis: You blew it up! Damn you! Damn you straight to hel…wait a minute, did that man just blow up another mans head? Huh, did that other man just cut those people in half with his fingers? Wha-is that man’s horse eminating some sort of terrible yet noble aura? Maybe this apocalypse won’t be so bad…

Pros: The First of the North Star movie is based on the Fist of the North Star manga, a very seminal and very bloody manga from the 80’s that influenced a bunch of stuff, most notably Berserk. The story is basically a Martial Arts drama set in a Mad Max world. In fact, if Mad Mas is what’s happening is Australia, then Fist of the North Star is probably happening in Japan. The star of our tale is Kenshiro, the current master of Hokuto Shinken, a pressure point fighting style. Kenshiro’s fiance is kidnapped and Ken is left for dead, only to wake up a few years later to look for her. What follows is Ken going from town to town, helping the survivors of humanity along the way. And by helping, I mean using Hokuto Shinken to make bandit heads blow up real nice. This is a very bloody movie, so much so that the animators actually had a few joke decapitations here and there. The film does capture the spirit of the source material, even if it takes some liberties with story points like Roah showing up way too early). Overall, pretty good.

Cons: It’s not that the animation is old, it’s that some of the special effects used in the movie did not age well. The English Dub could be hit of miss for some people. I found it charming, but purist may not be able to deal with it. And his is very gory. If your not a fan of that, then you won’t be a fan of this.

Watch it?: If you’ve never been exposed to Fist of the North Star, this is a good first look

MVP: Kenshiro’s Beard

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It kills you with its manliness

Best Moment: Kenshiro’s revival (what is he, a monster!?)

 

 

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The Seven Deadly Sins

Type: “A Netflix Original”

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Synopsis: Giant! Fairies! Fan service! This is a tale set in a time before the worlds of human and magic were rend asunder, when Netflix was trying to get into the anime business. Crappy for normals trying to watch anime dubs in one convenient place (cough Funimation cough), but great for corporate petiness. That is the greatest sin!

Pros: Now this is an adventure anime! None of that unwanted preachy message that bogs down some other anime whose name shall not be mentioned (its Magi guys, I’m complaining about Magi). In this charmingly funny anime, a princess is on the run from Holy Knights that have taken over her Kingdom. Her only hope is to find the 7 Deadly Sins. Now, this isn’t a tale of a young woman’s spiral into hedonism (sorry pervs). The title “7 Deadly Sins” refers to 7 legendary warriors who were used as scapegoats by the Knights to take over the Kingdom. We get about 6 of the 7 sins, and the show does the smart thing of not giving them a real challenge until the second half of the season, emphasizing their skills and power. It also states that they aren’t even fighting at full strength due to missing their “sacred relics,” which allows these OP characters the possibility to lose. Th second half gives the Sins more of a challenge, and you get to see the sins fight more as a unit. I loved the whole “get the band back together” vibe of the show, and the writing was good enough that you got a sense of the personal dynamics between the group. And believe it or not, but an anime based on a manga actually ties up its story at the end!

Cons: While I loved the Sins and their fighting scenes, their powers sure do fluctuate for the sake of story convenience! One minute their beating the unbeatable enemy with no sweat, the next minute their near death against some jobber. On the topic of the Sins, the anime does the anime/manga things where the Sins aren’t actually guilty of their “sins.” The only thing they’re guilty of is feeling guilty about what their friends did. But being super cool guys, they take the punishment anyway. In fact, the worst thing they’re guilty of collectively is petty theft. And the show also does that thing where 99% of the bad guys aren’t bad guys at the end, despite killing a bunch of people (and it only really pulls it off for one of them). On a spoiler note: the show also did the thing where none of the good of bad guys died. So while I’d would argue that Magi tried a little too hard to be edgy, this anime tried a little too hard to have a happy ending. (oh! I forgot: quiet a but of groping here. At least at the start).

Watch it: I’d rather watch this on Netflix than that other thing (4/5)

MVP: Diane

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The Friendly Giant

Best Episode: Ep.13 “Apostle of Destruction” (Giant Hammer!)

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Magi: The Labyrinth of Magic

Type: Arabian Nights starring Jake Gyllenhall!?

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Synopsis: In a time long ago before, there was a movie franchise of movie franchises called Aladdin, of Studio Disney. So popular was the story that it sprang forth two direct to video sequels, a cartoon show, and some pretty good video games. It’s also the reason why this wasn’t just called the “Adventures of Aladdin” or something. Copyright is a scary thing. Anyway, this stars a little magician called “Aladdin” with a non-talking Genie and “Alibaba,” a thoroughly not old woodcutter. Oh, and sometimes it also has a slave girl named Morgiana, but according to the show, she’s not super important.

Pros: I’ve said this before, but I always find anime adaptations of non-Japanese stories really fascinating. In this case, the anime borrows heavily from One Thousand and One Nights, one of the definitive bedrocks of modern fiction. Having never read the collected works (It’s on my list), I can’t really speak that much about the allusions the anime uses. What I can say is that the Magi anime itself is pretty good. It sets itself up as an adventure story, but quickly becomes a sociopolitical tale with social inequality as it’s main topic. The villains used in this are often drunk on other own power, either because of owning slaves, or holding titles, or simply being powerful. A lot are simply bullies, which irritated my a lot, meaning that they work as villains (because you’re not suppose to like the villains!). And because most of the story arcs boil down to the harshness of inequality, something that has stayed consistent throughout history, the plots often pack an emotional punch. Just look at Morgiana, a slave from early childhood with the mental scars to prove it. The use of the colorful world was a great juxtaposition with the ugly actions of some of it’s inhabitants, as well as the power source of the true antagonists being hatred and negativity. I should also mention that the openings for this anime are really good. Not artsy, as they mostly use scenes from the upcoming episodes, but they were really fun to watch.

Cons: A story set in the Middle-East, and you couldn’t give one character a tan? For reals!? Hollywood gets a lot of flack for white washing its films (deservedly so), but anime ain’t exactly innocent of this either. Like, why is Morgiana of the “Dark Continent” (cough Old 1800’s Racist English Name for  the continent Africa cough) a pale girl with red hair? Why does Alibaba have Blonde Hair and Blue Eyes? This is almost as bad a Gods of Egypt, which I’m sure will stay a topical reference…Anyway, there are other problems. For a story whose opening sells itself as an adventure series, Aladdin and crew don’t really do a lot of traveling together. And despite all this talk of Dungeons, you only get 2 in the show. A lot of the story arcs just have them hanging out in one city at a time. You never see them hit the road as a group, which would have been fun. Speaking of groups, I feel that Morgiana gets short changed, probably because she’s “the girl.” The anime is more of the Aladdin and Alibaba story. Spefically, Alibaba’s hero’s journey with Aladdin as his wizard advisor. Morgiana’s just there for the ride. Story wise, this is a meaty anime. Some arcs drag, like the Balbadd story. Ultimately, my biggest problem with this anime is that I feel that it sells itself as a fun adventure story, but the levity never arrives outside of a few boob jokes. It’s really more like a disingenuous Fullmetal Alchemist.

Watch it?: Yeeeeah, but do realize it does feel long. (4/5)

MVP: Morgiana

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Always has the best fights

Best Episode: Ep6 “Warrior Tribe Fanalis” (showcase of the anime’s story structure)

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Space Pirate Captain Harlock

Type: Should I count a 3d movie?

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Synopsis: So a bunch of jerks fly around in space being jerks while a bunch of losers rule humanity by being losers. In this movie, the losers send a baby loser to infiltrate the jerks, then the jerks go back home and start fighting with the losers, then the baby loser gives everyone a flower so they’ll stop fighting.

Pros: The 3d animation is gorgeous. I can’t say that modern gaming consoles aren’t catching up, or already there, but the movie is still very pretty. The backgrounds and space ships are the real winners here. The faces, well, let’s keep this positive. Speaking of needing to keep things positive, here’s the thing about the plot: it’s told backwards. By that I mean that the key motivations for the characters are reveled around the middle of the film in flashback. This kind of narrative structure usually works really well in tv and comics, but its a bit trickier in film. Due to the time limitations, keeping information like this hidden seems more forced than in other mediums. In the film, you meet Harlock and Yama before you know their backstories. As such, Harlock comes off as a brooding-egotist, and Yama comes off as whiny. Then you learn their about their past and you like them more because their motivations make sense. But until this information is reveled, it’s hard to like the characters in this film. For example, this review is based on my second attempt at viewing this movie. A few years ago iIn my first attempt, I quit halfway, right before backstory dump, because I could not stand any of the characters. But those backstories are worth it, and I kinda wish they had been the focus of the film. They’re that interesting, particularly Harlock’s. The whole political story involving Earth, Harlock, and the powers that be would have made an awesome origin film.

Cons: I’ve mentioned my problems with the structure of the film. Animations wise, the only real issue is with the faces. One of the reasons why a lot of movies with 3D animations tend to lean more towards the cartoony side is because they can play around with the faces more. But in cases such as Harlock, movies try to mimic humans expressions more realistically, and fail. The faces here are stiff. Not bad, but stiff. I should so mention that for die hard Harlock fans, this is a whole new backstory and set up. Now plot wise, theirs only one big thing I have a problem with. Spoliers ahead. In the film, the big turning point is when Yama discovers a flower on a barren Earth, which cases Harlock to change his plans and fight again. But how did Yama get to Earth? He was on a ship with his brother on board, so he couldn’t have just walked off. He may have stolen a ship, but why go to Earth? What possible motivation did he have? To die? Maybe. But we get no indication. No inner thoughts. In the end, the big deus ex machina revolves around the seemingly random actions of some kid. Like a lot of things with the story, this was really sloopy. (P.s. Does the ending imply that Yama is the Harlock of the old anime? Does that even make sense?)

Watch it?: Pfff….nah.

MVP: Isola

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His motivations were clear from beginning to end.

Best Moment: The final scene between Nami and Isola. (the most emotional moment)

 

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Ghost Hunt

Type: Ghost Facers!

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Synopsis: Based on a Light Novel that ran for 2 years, which inspired a manga that ran for 12 years, is this anime that ran for 25 episodes. Its about, you guessed it, a group of Ghost Hunters. You get a little bit of everything. You get a Paranormal Researcher, a Monk, a Shrine Maiden, a Priest, an Onmyoji, and even a teenage girl for good measure.

Pros: Ghost Hunt is an anime comprised of several different “cases,” each involving some sort of paranormal activity. Some involve Ghost, while others involve Psychics, or Demons, or etc. One thing I really liked was the use of different specialities when dealing with the paranormal. A lot of different cultures and faiths are represented, from Buddhism, Christianity, Shintoism, to  modern technology. It’s a nice representation of the quirky fact that people all over the world have developed different ways to ward off evil spirits. The characters of the show end up using “real world” methods for fighting ghosts. So if your interested in paranormal activity, this is a quick primer. Some of the cases do get good, though they quality fluctuates. I loved the character of Mai, as her often overemotional delivery brought much needed energy into the show.

Cons: Honestly, its a little long. The show covers 8 different cases, and with 25 episodes, that’s about 3-4 episodes per case. And outside of Mai, none of the characters are well executed enough to warrant such attention. The problem is that the support cast are all outside contractors. The main characters are Mai and Naru, the latter running a paranormal research agency. Naru brings in the support characters to help out on cases. Every case in fact. Makes you wonder why he doesn’t just put them on staff. As such, there’s always this distance between the audience and the supporting characters. You pieces of personal history here and there, not that’s not much. Then there’s Naru, whose a really unlikable. He’s the stereotypical “cool” character, whose quite, prideful, and keeps things to himself. To quote Naru himself, he uses “strategic secrets.” Narratively, this is used to create situations that make Naru look evil, only to reveal after the fact that he’s actually super nice you guys! See, he wasn’t going to curse 600 students, that’s crazy talk. He was just going to make it look like he was and not tell anyone his plan, even though he had no reason not to tell the truth. Isn’t he the best and cutest?! Sadly, the brunt of this plot structure comes at the expense of Mai, who is often used to call Naru on his bullshit, only to be proven wrong at the end. Story wise, it has a monster of the week vibe, kinda boring at times, the animation doesn’t hold up, and the Opening, OH MY GOD, that was the laziest thing I’ve ever seen.

Watch it?: Overall, kind of bland. (3/5)

MVP: Mai Taniyama

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The Liveliest Hunter

Best Episodes: Ep18-21 “File 7: The Bloodstained Labyrinth Part 4” (scary, and the first anime I’ve encountered to mention Japan and China’s harsh history)

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