TOKYO GHOUL √A: Season 2 Review

The first season of TOKYO GHOUL contained pretty much all one could want in an anime. The story was quickly, but nicely established from that very first episode. We saw a human young man by the name of Kaneki forced into becoming a so-called “monster” and being thrown into crazy scenarios. He was a very reserved person, and with a gentle mindset. That’s why the final episode was the ultimate cliffhanger: he gave into his ghoul side to stop Jason. It’s been quite awhile since then for viewers, and with so much happening Season 2 (or rather √A) was heavily anticipated. Like the first Season, we have 12 episodes. √A continues the dark show well…somewhat. It doesn’t quite reach the greatness of its first Season. This is primarily because of the unfocused writing and questionable second half.

In modern day Tokyo, society lives in fear of Ghouls: mysterious creatures who look exactly like humans — yet hunger insatiably for their flesh. None of this matters to Ken Kaneki, a bookish and ordinary young man, until a dark and violent encounter turns him into the first ever Ghoul-human half breed. Trapped between two worlds, Ken must survive the violent conflicts of warring Ghoul factions, while attempting to learn more about Ghoul society, his newfound powers,  and the fine line between man and monster.

√A picks up directly where the first Season left off. The CCG is battling it out with Aogiri. Kaneki had just finished taking out Jason while Touka is in a deadly battle with her brother. As expected, there’s a great amount of intensity, not only in the fights but in the dialogue as well. Touka’s brother Ayato was established late in Season 1. Somehow a lot of anime can get away with establishing characters late in the game. We only got some lines of dialogue and a flashback to detail the hateful relationship between the two. Some shows take whole arcs to fully cement this kind of relationship. But in a quality show like Ghoul, it only takes an episode. The fight in the first episode here was extremely well done. Obviously not only because of the choreography (though that deserves praise as well) but because of what was established before between the two characters.

tokyo-ghoul-season-2-episode-10

It’s in this episode when were introduced to the Owl. This character looks especially imposing and unique, so hats off to the original designers. There are also a couple of other notable things happening here as well, the biggest being the ending which shapes the status quo for the next eleven episodes. Instead of Kaneki simply going back to Anteiku with his friends, he decides to join Aogiri. Plot developments like this are always shocking, sometimes a good shocking and sometimes not. Given the context and what was happening between the two episodes, Kaneki joining them came out of nowhere. The viewer at first is given no real reason for his joining. When that reason finally presents itself, it still doesn’t make up for this bizarre aspect of the story. (Never mind the fact that a member of their group was literally torturing him to death.) Also Ayato was trying to kill Kaneki; then about 15 minutes later they’re side by side on the same team with no dialogue questioning this. It felt like part of the episode was missing.

After this plot development is when the writing starts to become unfocused. Episodes 2 and 3 took time to show more of the inner workings of the CCG. They also served to introduce Akira, the daughter of the deceased Mado, into the fold. These aren’t bad things in themselves. The problem is that too much focus is on them when the viewer wants to see what’s going on with Kaneki and also Anteiku. The character of Akira isn’t bad, but sadly just reminds the viewer how much more engaging her father was. Amon is a very good character to watch, but that was due in part because he was nicely complemented by the buddy cop duo of him and Mado. The duo of Amon and Akira just isn’t as good. Plus, there’s an unnecessary romance subplot between the two that goes nowhere. The “bonding time” first at the bar then at the apartment was bizarre and just awkward to get through.

With Mado gone, the story puts an emphasis on the next most charismatic member of the CCG: Juuzou. He appeared briefly in Season 1. He was fun, but at the same time it felt like he was quirky just to be quirky. There was no reason why he acted the way he did. Thankfully, Season 2 adds excellent backstory. In just a couple of scenes Juuzou rises to being one of the greatest characters in the whole show. Shinohara of the CCG is also given more to do. He’s a likable character, and the friendship between him and Juuzou is expertly established. If a person only had time to state one thing Tokyo Ghoul has proven pretty consistent of, it’s that it knows how to generate genuine emotion in its scenes.

owl

The fight scenes and the soundtrack complementing them continues to be excellent. Perhaps the biggest highlight was in Episode 4, when Aogiri laid an assault on a top level ghoul prison. Though, one of the biggest plot holes was what happened to Orca. Aogiri wanted him retrieved, so they sent Kaneki. The two get into a big fight, with Orca completely outclassing Kaneki. Then we have another plot development: Kaneki becoming more of an uncontrollable monstrous ghoul. This is good stuff, but the problem is that after the episode makes such a big deal about Orca, he vanishes. I suppose it’s assumed Kaneki destroyed him, but even then it’s just too unclear. Plus, why did Aogiri want Orca? Just for him to join them? The writing unfortunately was very vague here.

Interestingly, Kaneki leaving seems to have affected Touka the most. The two had bonded and became close friends over the course of the first Season. The writing does a fantastic job showing her genuine sadness here. Though, fans might be disappointed that she doesn’t get to fight all that much. At the same time however she’s given development as she starts applying for college. Another returning character of note is Tsukiyama. He was one of the more interesting antagonists of the first Season. The installment there when he captures Kaneki was one of the most intensely written episodes I’ve ever seen in an anime. Sadly, his role in √A was minimal at best. The infamous drug-like scene was too awkward to watch. I know that’s supposed to be the point, but the writing went a little overboard.

Short seasons aren’t a bad thing. In fact, it’s usually the shorter shows which prove to be the best. (Such as the first season of Psycho-Pass and Puella Magi Madoka Magica.) There is however always the chance that things could be rushed or poorly explained. The final four or so episodes of √A is an example of this. There’s a lot of major plot twists, such as with Yoshimura that could have been better developed over the course of more episodes. Things happen way too fast where the viewer is given too much shocking information almost all at once. The revelation of the final boss also comes out of left field. The assault on Anteiku was very well done, but would have been better if there were more episodes building up to it. At the very least, the coffee shop scenes between Yoshimura and Shinohara were very well done and tension filled.

The Season ends with a lot of loose ends. (Such as characters, like the twins, whom seemingly disappear after their major appearance.) Of course, it’s somewhat forgivable assuming a Season 3 is coming. Though, unlike the first Season’s cliffhanger when the viewer thought, “wow that was something, give me Season 2” instead it’s more like, “that’s it?” It was hard to be invested in the final episode with the overload of confusing information and things happening. At the least, the usage of Season’s 1 opening theme as Kaneki walks into the spotlight was an excellent touch.

season 2

Overall, √A isn’t a bad followup to the first Season, though at the same time being something of a disappointment. The animation looks great, and the fight scenes are excellent. The dialogue and backstories are also very well done. Quite a few aspects of the writing however stops it from being called another “great” season. Kaneki’s leaving was handled very abruptly (not to mention that he gets a criminally low amount of screen time) and the final few episodes needed much better developing. Still, if one enjoyed the first Season, he/she should like √A at least a bit.

6.5/10

Advertisements

My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic “Spice Up Your Life” Review

Today’s episode of MLP is a bit on the sad side. It’s not because it’s extra emotional, but that it marks the final one until later in the year. Mid-season breaks are always disappointing, but good in a way as well. (The wait between seasons are shortened.) So today is a farewell installment for now. Interestingly, the story brings back the Friendship Map, which hasn’t been seen since the Season 5 finale.  This time, the Brave and the Bold duo is Rarity and Pinkie Pie. Michael Vogel wrote the superb “A Hearth’s Warming Tail,” so “Spice Up Your Life” was in good hands. This episode was definitely a much better one than what we’ve seen these last few weeks.

Here’s the official description from Discovery Family:

Pinkie Pie and Rarity are called to Canterlot by the map to solve a friendship problem. They discover a father and daughter whose relationship is strained as they struggle to keep their restaurant open.

What’s interesting about the Friendship Map is that it picks two ponies for a specific job. It’s not random; rather it picks them knowing their specific traits will be the best way to help fix a problem. Rarity and Pinkie Pie have never really had the focus on them together, (besides “The Gift of the Maud Pie,” though Maud took away from that focus) so that alone is enough to be extra interested in “Spice.” The two play off each other well throughout. Rarity is more fancy, looking for 3 star review restaurants, while Pinkie doesn’t care about stuff like that and just wants to eat good food, even if the place has no reviews. Vogel has a solid handle on their personalities. The action gets really interesting when they journey into a restaurant on the verge of closing down since there’s no customers. (Sort of reminds me of Babu’s predicament in his debut episode in Seinfeld.)

Pinkie_and_Rarity_singing_in_separate_tandem_S6E12

The last few seasons have done a solid job at introducing fun new side characters. It’s particularly pleasing to hear such an amount of attention to the voice acting, something MLP has always excelled in. Saffron Masala was a fun character to have around. The writing does a solid job showing the intense emotion she has because of the disagreement on the restaurant business with her father, Corlander Cumin. He wasn’t quite as fun, but it’s easy to see what the episode was aiming for: showing a disgruntled store owner. For the most part the story succeeds at doing that. What it falls short in however is the character of Zesty Gourmand. Again, it’s easy to see what the writing was going for: a reviewing snob whom thinks her word is law. She was however just a little too exaggerated to take seriously.

Perhaps the most interesting part was how the disagreement between Rarity and Pinkie came about. People have different opinions on how things should be done. In the episode’s context, Rarity believes that in order for the restaurant to get a good review it should try to mimic the ones which have the full three stars. Pinkie on the other hand believes the opposite: the restaurant needs its own unique flavor. The argument between the two was fun to watch. The resolution seemed pretty fast, but also shows that the two friends can move past a dispute and get back to the issue at hand pretty quickly. The song was fun, though it seems the budget may have ran out since it reuses the same scene three times over.

Overall, “Spice Up Your Life” was a fun team up adventure. At its core, it’s about Pinkie and Rarity helping out a struggling family business. There’s nothing particularity negative about it, other than Zesty. The other new characters, especially Saffron, are good. It’s not a masterpiece, but still a nice watch on a Saturday afternoon. These duo episodes are some of the most entertaining in MLP.

8/10

RAGE OF BAHAMUT: GENESIS Review

RAGE OF BAHAMUT is certainly one of the most captivating titles in recent history. It commands at the very least a second glance when scanning the shelves in search of a new quality anime to check out. Genesis is based on the online card game of the same name, which was recently shut down in the United States. The show combines quite a few different elements. It has the genres of a western, action, fantasy, and a conflict between angels & demons. The first half suffers from a few problems, but picks up greatly during its second half. Because of the first 4-6 episodes, one can’t call it a “fantastic” anime like the first season of Psycho-Pass but the second and final acts are epically engaging enough to still call it a “very good” show.

Two thousand years ago, the black-and-silver-winged dragon, Bahamut, terrorized the magical land of Mistarcia. The humans, god, and demons that inhabited the land united forces against the fiend and sealed its power into a key which was split in two, one half protected by gods and the other protected by demons. Now, Mistarcia is a peaceful realm – until a human woman steals the god’s half of the key. Based on the immensely popular digital card game, Rage of Bahamut: Genesis is an exciting blend of action and fantasy.

The big question of course is what makes the first half of Genesis not particularly that good. The prologue is fantastic and sets the tone. We have a flashback to when the angels, demons, and humans united to seal Bahamut. It’s a Lord of the Rings style epic and the perfect way to engage the viewer. The problem is when we jump to modern day. It seems to be rare that anime/manga starts out with a noble character such as Kenshin. Rather, it appears a majority starts out with them as either a punk or obnoxious person. (Such as in Naruto.) Favaro is the latter. This doesn’t have to be a bad thing, but for the first half he is just too annoying to watch. His ongoing conflict with Kaisar also quickly became an annoyingly comical thing than something to be taken seriously.

1442706256-6ee02200fb671c23d2e36de002a3e9a6

It’s understandable what the show is going for here: Favaro going from carefree bounty hunter to somewhat noble being. To be 100% fair, by the final episode he is certainly better off than 11 episodes earlier. This doesn’t justify the in-your-face writing however. It’s a little disappointing to think how much better the first half could have been if the writing had gone a different direction with him. Now, if you’ve seen the trailers then it’s evident a large amount of the focus is on Amira. She is the driving force of the story. Her arrival sparks a great mystery that the plot slowly unravels. Her story arc might be one of the most emotional I’ve ever seen in an anime.

At the core, her story revolves around one thing: finding her mother. Once the viewer realizes this, the ending theme takes on another dimension. Every time that song played I was reminded how much love and care Amira had for her mother, even though she hadn’t spent much time with her. (The ending theme is also a nice contrast to the rock n’ roll opening.) The fist half of the show has two plot points. We have Favaro taking Amira to Helhiem and the angels attempting to hold Bahamut. At first it seems like the two have nothing to do with one another. By the second half they finally start to intertwine.

Often in this show the side characters are the most interesting. For example, there seems to be dissension in the demon ranks. Beelzebub wants to become ruler of all, negating Lucifer while another demon, Azazel, is left out of the equation. This was fun to watch, and it’s hard not to think why we weren’t seeing more of these characters rather than Favaro being intolerable. Since we’re on the subject of the demonic beings; almost all the named ones were engaging characters. Azazel gets the most screen time, and has some excellent lines. (Especially when he battles Favaro in the castle.) Beelzebub appears far too little, but in every scene he’s in he commands a presence. Lucifer interestingly only appears once. This was shocking since he’s constantly referred to as “Lord Lucifer” yet he does nothing of absolute importance. In fact, he’s completely absent during the final battle. It seems like the writing couldn’t find a way to utilize him.

ovPcT5U

There are quite a few other notable characters and questionable writing. Rita was by far one of the best; every scene she was in she stole. Her debut could have been handled better however. The viewer could see the emotion on Kaisar’s face when he had to stop her from destroying some of the cast. Later we’re shown that she had become a zombie and decided to tag along with him. This happens rather randomly and kind of takes away from the emotional scene earlier. Again, she’s a great character to have around but that scene could have been better so it didn’t have to feel rushed. We also have Bacchus and his duck partner Hamsa. Bacchus’s entire thing is that he drinks a lot. He gets to fight in the final couple of episodes, which is good, but ultimately his trait was more annoying than funny to watch.

Jeanne D’Arc and her loyal devotion to the angels brought a sense of true nobility to the cast. It’s impossible not to like her and it wouldn’t be a stretch to call her the best character. That’s why the viewer is shocked when she is transformed into a demon as she is about to be burned at the stake. It feels like this plot point should have been longer since it’s over in the very next episode. Speaking of plot points, the show late in the second half does a good job at catching the viewer off guard. The realization that Favaro would have to kill Amira after beginning to genuinely help her on her quest made for an unnerving cliffhanger.

The climax doesn’t disappoint. After 11 episodes of hype, we finally get to see Bahamut wreak havoc. The dragon is an awesome focus as we see him annihilate all that stands in his way. He is definitely one of the best antagonists in recent history. The ending before the epilogue is a little anti-climatic however. At the very least, there is some emotion and closure. The epilogue helps cement a finisher to a 12 episode journey. A second season titled “Virgin Soul” is coming, but unlike GARO or Tokyo Ghoul, Season One of Rage is complete. The soundtrack is very good, though the same themes are used frequently. Of course when the themes are that good it’s hard to complain.

1442705478-5e7a1ed79f09b750427c56e97afb5251

Overall, RAGE OF BAHAMUT is a solid anime. The first 4 to 6 episodes are a little jarring to get through, which is mainly due to Favaro’s annoying antics, the un-comical conflict between him & Kaisar, and the two major plots seemingly (at first) having nothing to do with one another. But once we reach that second half the show becomes an excellent watch. We have great (though some unexplored/underused) characters, fun fights, and very good dialogue. There’s an emotional touch to the story as we see Amira at her core is just a little girl at heart in search of her mother. (As stated earlier, the ending theme perfectly portrays this and is a song that truly speaks to the heart.) Bahamut himself lives up to the hype. Even though Genesis ends with closure, I am definitely looking forward to Virgin Soul. 

7.5/10

My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic “Flutter Bruther” Review

“Flutter Brutter” might be the most anticipated episode of the season. Unlike a lot of other episodes, this one was announced way in advance. (It was first announced that we would see Fluttershy’s brother at last years’s MLP panel at Comic Con.) Why does this deserve hype? Interestingly, despite having six seasons, we know very little of the Mane 6’s parents/siblings/relatives. We’ve seen some of them briefly, but the show chooses not to bring them into the fold that much. (We still haven’t seen Rainbow Dash’s parents aside from a brief flashback.) There’s technically nothing wrong with this approach, and for the most part the show has done a solid job showing us bits and pieces of the ponies’ families. This week, we not only meet Fluttershy’s parents, but her younger brother as well. This was definitely a big improvement over the last installment. It’s not as great as it could have been, but still not bad.

Here’s the official description from Discovery Family:

When Fluttershy’s self-absorbed brother starts freeloading off their parents, she encourages him to move out, but he moves in with her instead, forcing Fluttershy to stand up to her brother and help him get over his fear of failure.

Fluttershy has had a criminally minimal presence this season, so another reason why this episode was hotly anticipated was that it would be her first starring role since “Scare Master” in Season 5. She isn’t a challenging character to write. What is challenging is not writing her off as some timid side character in a given story. This episode doesn’t go that route. This time we see another whole side to her: a sisterly side. But not just the nurturing sister, also as a frustrated big sister with her younger brother’s childish behavior. She literally spends almost the entire episode being annoyed. Dave Rapp in just one episode proves he can write a fantastic Fluttershy.

Fluttershy_--always_ends_up_being_your_place--_S6E11

One of the big highlights was when Fluttershy kicked her brother out after seeing he wasn’t going to change his ways. This was powerful. Here we have her brother, family, mooching off of her. As painful as it is to do it, if someone is blatantly taking your space and completely unwilling to work when they could, well, it’s unfortunately goodbye. I was worried the episode would have her brother walk over her before she finally does something. Instead, the episode from early on establishes that Fluttershy has been dealing with this since they were fillies.

One of the problems with the episode is that it attempts to shove all this unseen backstory in less than 10 minutes. It’s similar to how Shining Armor popped up out of nowhere in the Season 2 finale. Putting that to the side, how is the character of Zephyr Breeze? Obviously, he’s written as obnoxious and annoying. Even with that in mind however, he’s a little too unbelievable sometimes. I believe the writing could have found a more realistic way to portray him without going in your face with how awful of a family member he is. Fluttershy’s parents were hard to watch sometimes too. Zephyr throwing away years of Fluttershy’s dad collection out the window, and the latter just rolling with it was too unbelievable.

A song was unexpected, but certainly welcome. Fluttershy has been part of some great songs in the past, and this one (actually her second duet with Rainbow Dash) is no exception. Unlike the last episode, the message isn’t blatantly in your face. In fact, it’s one of the show’s best. The thought of failure can be an immense deterrent to attempting to do something. But ultimately quitting is far worse than giving it your all and not succeeding. Whether it be in a video game, a job, or almost anything really, the fear of failure should be put to the side. I’m happy the episode incorporated this message into the great climax, even if Zephyr was hard to watch for the majority of it.

Fluttershy,_Dash,_and_Zephyr_enter_a_cottage_room_S6E11

Overall, “Flutter Brutter” isn’t the masterpiece Fluttershy adventure I was expecting. That’s not to say it was totally disappointing however. It features one of Fluttershy’s best portrayals, which makes up for her lack of appearing this season. The concept of her having a brother the complete opposite of herself is an engaging concept, but Zephyr could have been handled better. The climax is very good. While this isn’t close to being the best Fluttershy episode, it’s still a pretty solid one.

7.5/10

GODZILLA: OBLIVION #3 Review

It’s been quite awhile since the last issue of Oblivion. It was supposed to come out last week, but for some reason was delayed. Was the extra wait worth it? Let’s dig into the comic.

Here’s the official description from IDW:

A plan to rid our world of King Ghidorah backfires and the Earth faces certain calamity! A small piece of technology from another world may be the only hope of salvation.

686418_godzilla-oblivion-3
 Oblivion has been the definition of an “okay” series. There are some fun concepts but the characters haven’t been that particularly engaging. The artwork also has been more on the mediocre side. Issue Three fixes some of the problems . It opens up with promise: Godzilla shooting a beam at King Ghidorah. What follows is a popcorn fun issue. Sadly, it doesn’t go beyond that and is pretty average in terms of compelling story.

 

A challenge of mini-series is having engaging characters. There’s so little space to introduce backstories, who they are, etc. It’s not impossible however, as seen in previous Godzilla minis. Writer Joshua Hale Fialkov doesn’t give us any reason to care about the characters here. None of them are particularly likable, and there’s very little development between issues. In fact, there’s anti-development in the case of Yamada. Let’s put this in perspective: in this world monsters don’t exist. We have these crazy powerful creatures roaming around for the first time yet Yamada manages to say the line of, “I could use people like you in my company.” How can this be spoken when there are giant monsters destroying the city? The reactions here just aren’t good. Also, the ending features a plot hole because there’s no way they managed to do what they did in such a short amount of time.

686417_godzilla-oblivion-3-subscription-variant

Of course, the primary draw of this issue isn’t the dialogue; it’s the monster fight. People may groan because we’ve seen Godzilla vs. Ghidorah multiple times already, but at least they can admit the fight here is fun. It has excellent usage of beam wars, buildings being used as weapons, and pure fighting. (There’s a really cool panel with Ghidorah literally kicking Godzilla to the ground.) I’m not sure I would call this their best comic book fight, but it was certainly excellent. Brian Churilla’s artwork also improves. It provides a unique  look for the monsters throughout. Godzilla in particular has quite a few standout scenes. The shadowed silhouette near the end also looked really cool. Sadly, once again the humans lacked sufficient detail. There are three covers to pick from this week. The main one by Churilla is certainly unique. Its bright colors are appealing, and the layout is something we haven’t seen before. Cover B by James Stokoe as expected provides awesome detail. Godzilla’s face looks a little off, but nonetheless it’s a great piece. The best one however has to be the RI by Tadd Galusha. We’ve seen covers of the two monsters before, but this might be their best representation yet. One can see the fury in their faces.

Overall, Godzilla Oblivion #3 is a fun issue. It can’t be called great however, which is due to the mediocre characters. The fight is satisfying however, which is enough for a lot of fans. Those hoping to see the story become compelling though are in for a disappointment.

6.5/10