Sunday, February 23, 2014

Blue Exorcist on Toonami; 1:30 AM Timeslot

With Blue Exorcist having aired yesterday on popular animation block “Toonami” I figure now would be a good time to talk about this show I’ve come to love so much. I anticipate that many fans are going to be getting into the series just now and I would like to take the time to initiate people who aren’t prepared for what they are going to be watching.

The reason I say this is because Toonami has decided to make a commercial spot prior to the airing of the show that seems to offer promises that the show has no intentions of living up to. While most of the plot remains intact there are several issues that I wish to lay down for anyone who is considering watching this series.

First of all, Blue Exorcist is an action comedy, and the main focus is not fighting demons. This is one of many things that bothered me deeply about the advertisement that was run, as Blue Exorcist has a lot of depth to it that may be missed by someone seeing the trailer. The series is somewhat short and there are no singular battles that last any extended amounts of time. Yes, some arcs take a prolonged time, but that is because the series is telling a story more than it is telling a fight scene.

What Blue Exorcist is is a show about finding one’s place in the world even with the odds stacked against you. While I won’t go too much into detail seeing as only one episode has aired on television so far, I won’t skirt around the issues that have been stated outright either by the trailer or the first episode.

Rin is a half-demon and the son of Satan, the bane of all exorcists. Despite this the first episode shows that he’s not a bad guy. He’s not intelligent, he’s not popular, and he’s a bit of a loser. He gets into fights often and can’t seem to hold down a job for more than a day or two. He has freakish strength, however, and is an earnest and hard worker, as well as an overall nice guy.

The show tries to balance out Rin’s life as both a human and a demon, as he comes to terms with the fact of who he is. He is aware that most people likely would have been happier had he never been born. And yet he decides to power through and make a way for himself in this world that has no need for him. He doesn’t decide to become an exorcist to save his own life or to thin out some upcoming demon invasion as the ad would have you believe. He becomes an exorcist because that is the only way he feels he can move forward with his life.

The fight scenes in the series are good and rather interesting, but that is far from the show. The show centers mainly on its characters and their inner struggles, less on the action adventure demon fighting. Many of the episodes feature no fighting at all and very little in the way of demons, but you’re given a glimpse into the characters and their way of life. You get to know what drives them and what makes them who they are. What insecurities they carry with them and what baggage is hanging on their shoulders.

Of course with only a modest number of episodes to run through the show is far from a completed story, but it serves as a good springboard into the manga which is still going strong. While the anime focuses mainly on Rin and Yukio the manga spares more time for the other characters, dealing with their problems and watching as they struggle to continue moving forward despite them.

I am hoping people enjoyed what they saw on Toonami last night, and I sincerely hope they stick around to see all the potential that this show has.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Katanagatari: Volume One Premium Edition (Blu-ray/DVD Combo) - An appreciation of unusual aesthetics

The Katanagatari: Volume One Premium Edition (Blu-ray/DVD Combo) pack is a beautiful way to appreciate the rather unique yet beautiful animation that the series itself employs. While the style may seem simple at first it carries with it an elegant charm, and the illustrations on the box are rather beautiful and highly stylized.

The box itself is rather large, standing tall enough to hold both DVD/Blu-rays one on top of another instead of one behind the next. It's a rather intimidating box that doesn't fit well on a DVD shelf, which is only natural as the case itself is intended to be displayed. If you're looking just to possess the series itself this likely isn't the way to go, but the extra features are well worth it.

The box itself is rather sturdy cardboard with beautiful illustrations wrapped around it. The front and back feature art from the series, which is modeled after more traditional Japanese art as opposed to the more common digital art style that is prevalent in series these days. It carries an entirely different aesthetic than most anime series. It is a nice display piece even if you find you aren't a fan of the series.

Each of the DVD/Blu-rays is decorated with a more straight-forward piece of art from the series proper. The DVDs and Blu-rays are decorated with a rather simple image of a leaf over the center of the disc. While DVDs recently have featured somewhat extravagant art, the simplicity of the discs fits well with the series proper.

As far as the DVD/Blu-rays themselves are concerned, there isn't much in the way of extras aside from the creditless opening and endings, which is more impressive than it sounds since each episode of the series features a new ending. That brings the total of extra videos to seven, as there are six episodes in the first half of the series. The series itself is only in Japanese with English subtitles, so there's no option for people who dislike reading subtitles. It shouldn't be a problem, however, and the lack of a dub track makes the set cheaper than it would be otherwise. The only real issue is the fact that the Blu-ray discs feature smaller subtitles than the DVD episodes, but it shouldn't be much of a problem.

The series also comes with an artbook which features not only short recaps of the episodes included in the set but also a few illustrations near the back that aren't related to the episodes themselves. The episode recap pages also feature illustrations on the opposite page, giving episode-specific art as well as the unrelated pictures near the end.

The series itself is rather beautiful and features an entertaining cast of characters, and is well worth the money spent to purchase this collection. The lead character is another of your idiot protagonists, but more than just being an idiot he's clueless. He accepts things as they are and easily gives in to his companions' corrections. Even the leading female's insistence that he finish their enemies with a flare is taken to heart almost immediately.

Overall it's a series I would recommend to anyone who is a fan of the arts as well as anime in general. It is visually pleasing in all regards and the story is interesting in its many unusual interpretations of what it is to wield a sword of unusual power.

There are two parts to this set, both of which you can purchase here:

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Weiss Schwarz Trial Decks - Puella Magi Madoka Magica and Fate/Zero

Weiss Schwarz is a card game that has yet to make it into the mainstream circuit, but that doesn't mean that it isn't an enjoyable game in and of itself. Those people who have heard of it likely aren't aware that several of the decks have already been translated into English, although compared to the selection of decks in Japanese the number released to American markets. So far the Puella Magi Madoka Magica, Fate/Zero, and Sword Art Online trial decks are the biggest ones that have been released to the American markets, but translations for other series are available online for those who wish to play the game using their favorite series. Nippon Ichi America has also advertised their Disgaea starter deck in the past, but as I don't personally own it I cannot speak as to whether or not it has been translated into English or not.

The game itself is somewhat difficult to pick up on your own but there are tutorials available on the internet that will make learning much easier. Once you've gotten hang of the game it isn't really too terribly difficult, although learning precise turn order can be a bit of a task. While I'm not going to explain how to play the game in depth I will give the very basics before talking about the decks themselves. Certain terms will be useful to know when it comes to talking about the cards themselves, after all.

The basic point of the game is to force your opponent to level 4. In order to do this you must do 7 points of damage to your opponent over the course of each level, beginning with level 0. However as levels increase more powerful cards can be played, meaning that if you push your opponent to a high level too quickly without taking much damage you may find yourself suddenly overwhelmed by a slew of powerful cards. Cards can only be played once you have reached their level, meaning that a level 2 character can only be placed on the stage once you've reached level 2, although you may also play level 1 and level 0 characters.

In order to play most higher level cards, however, you must pay a tribute from your stock. Your stock is built up by attacking and through various cards throughout the game. It is important to keep a decent balance of stock so that you can summon characters as you level up, but to not have too many so that your deck remains well stocked.

The only other important term is 'climax cards' which act as general power-ups for your characters.

Now that we've gotten the basics out of the way we can review the decks themselves.

The first and probably most important thing to note about these decks is that they are predominantly catered towards those who are fans of the series which they represent. While it isn't impossible to play the game without knowledge of the series proper it is a bit of a deterrent. Thankfully the trial deck for both games manages to skirt the issue of major spoilers. There are bound to be spoilers here and there, of course, but the trial decks at least manage to keep these issues at bay.

Most of the cards themselves are composed of the art, which is not necessarily the standard way for cards to go. Instead of the pictures being relegated to a small section of the card the actions and details are written in a small space that overlaps the bottom of the picture. This is a rather nice change from most card games which follow the format of keeping the art and the play details separate. As the game is intended for fans to play together with their favorite series it is no surprise that showing off the artwork comes as such a priority. The Japanese name of the card is also preserved in both decks, leaving a neat connection to the original card itself.

As I personally have more experience with the Madoka deck I will be reviewing that first.

Puella Magi Madoka Magica:

The deck itself centers itself around Madoka and Homura for the most part, although you'll be surprised to find that most of your powerful cards tend to feature Sayaka. While the level 3 cards included in this deck are those of both Madoka and Homura, up until reaching this critical point you'll mostly be using cards featuring Sayaka. The most powerful climax card in the game is a tossup between one featuring Homura and one featuring Sayaka. While Homura offers a boost in power alongside the extra damage, Sayaka offers two points of extra damage as opposed to one. It is rather hard to remember that this deck isn't supposed to be Sayaka-central.

The art for the cards is typically rather bright and upbeat, making the card look overall much more pleasant and fun to play. The art is rather simple with most of the pictures coming from production art rather than simply from screenshots of the show. This leaves the backgrounds much lighter and less cluttered than other cards and makes for a rather beautiful deck. While there are cards which are simply screenshots (such as 'The Girl From the Dream' and 'Second Year Mitakihara Middle School, Sayaka') there are a great deal that come from promotional art ('Ordinary Girl, Madoka' and 'Smiling Sayaka').

This deck is a rather powerful one, with fairly easy to use cards with low costs coming out early in the game (most cards featuring Sayaka are at least 500 power higher than other cards of the same level). However the deck itself isn't perfect, as the inclusion of 4 level 3 cards leaves you rather hard up for lower level cards.

The deck, however, comes with a promotional Homura card at level 2 which can be used to take the spot of one of the level 3 cards. The promotional card is a level 2 with 8000 power, which in itself isn't much, but carries with it an action that allows you to add 2000 power to her by sacrificing one card in your stock. It isn't game-breaking but it is rather useful.

With the inclusion of this card, at the very least, you have the opportunity to modify the deck without having to buy any booster packs.


The Fate/Zero deck follows all of the basic points mentioned above about card quality. Large illustrations decorate the cards, which feature a selection of prints both from screenshots of the anime and from promotional art. The deck centers itself around Saber, although there is a small selection of her in the beginning stages of play. In the many times I have fought against this deck it seems that early play focuses mainly on Waver and Irisviel, as there are multiple cards featuring these two at level 0. There is a card featuring Saber for each level, at least, meaning that it's possible to use her at all levels. The two level 3 cards included in this deck (there are 2, as opposed to the 4 in the Madoka deck) are both Saber, as well.

The game seems to spread itself rather well across all levels, meaning that you will likely have a card to play at all times if you don't rush through them too quickly. While the cards in the Madoka deck may seem more powerful than those in the Fate/Zero deck it's rather difficult to fill your stage with the unbalanced card numbers. There are very few level 2 cards in the Madoka deck, meaning it is difficult to lay down powerful cards once you and your opponent have reached this level. In the Fate/Zero deck, however, the cards seem to be nicely spread out over all four levels.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Kingdom Hearts 1.5 ReMix Limited Edition (Playstation 3) - Enhanced graphics and an elegant artbook

Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 Remix - Limited Edition is a great addition to the Kingdom Hearts collection that has seen another of its long dry spells. The long wait between numbered games is made tolerable with the scattered releases of side-games, although opinions on them vary from person to person. While Kingdom Hearts 1.5 isn't a new game it is a well-loved re-release.

The limited edition of the game comes together with an artbook complete with original character designs as well as the many different covers the games themselves have gone through. The artbook itself is built into the game case as well, meaning that it is impossible to misplace it even as the years go on. There is no danger of losing what it is that makes this version of the game so special. The case is a hard-cover book with the game held in the back. As well as the artbook the game comes with a special animated theme for your Playstation 3. While the theme isn't anything impressive as far as the graphics are concerned the menu of your system will take on the appearance and the sounds of the menu from the game proper. It's a rather charming addition to the game, in my opinion.

While some people may be disappointed with the fact that this is little more than an updated release of the first two games in the series alongside one of the less-loved side games there's plenty to love about this release even for those who have played the game before. First and foremost is the fact that the version of Kingdom Hearts included in this collection is the much desired "Final Mix" previously only available in Japan. While the multitude of extended story features were the subject of discussion during the original release of the updated game, several game play updates are also included in the 1.5 ReMix collection.

For those people who haven't played the original Kingdom Hearts game in a while, the controls likely won't seem all that new to you as it was remodeled after the second game. Reaction commands take the place of the original menu scrolling system that made things so awkward in the original game, and the camera controls have been shifted to the right analog stick as opposed to the shoulder buttons. It's much easier to swing the camera around with these new controls, but the camera is still pulled in rather close to the action and brings with it its own difficulties.

As well as updating the game controls several new enemies were added to each location, adding a new dimension of difficulty to the stages. While it's rather simple to kill most of the enemies with even a basic strategy all of the new heartless require specific patterns or move sets to kill. Some enemies require specific skills be used against them (such as several of them requiring the 'stop' skills in order to deal any damage). Learning the secrets behind each enemy and finding ways around them is a rather welcome addition to a game many have already played. On top of this, many of the secret heartless are rather difficult to kill. The Powerwild-based enemies in Traverse Town are particularly annoying, as they multiply endlessly as soon as they spot your character. Finding them in town when you aren't prepared is perhaps one of the most irritating occurrences.

The gummi ship system has also been reworked slightly in this edition of the game, adding missions that give the player a reason to actually play them more than once. However these don't have much bearing on the outcome of the game itself so people who still find these mini-games irritating are not forced to play them.

In regards to the Kingdom Hearts Re: Chain of Memories game included in this collection there isn't much that was changed from the original, accepting the addition of several new cards. If you watch the scenes from Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days before playing this game you'll find a large collection of powerful cards previously not available.

In regards to the third game, there really isn't one. For those people who were dissatisfied with the Roxas-themed game 358/2 Days this collection allows the player to view the story without having to deal with the many irritations the game provided. Even better is the fact that each of the secret reports is unlocked after having watched the game, allowing the player to get the whole story without having to overcome the multitude of challenges the game originally required them to overcome.

Overall the game is well worth the money spent, especially considering the price of most Playstation 3 games. For less than most new games players can relive the early days of Kingdom Hearts in a way they haven't before. It is also a good chance for new players to get into the game, as the many issues that plagued the first game have been ironed out and the first two games are included, although it would likely be best if they played the second numbered Kingdom Hearts game before watching the scenes from 358/2 Days.


Thursday, January 2, 2014

Blue Exorcist: The Movie

For those people who have yet to see the Blue Exorcist anime the Blue Exorcist movie is not for you, but for those who have seen the series and enjoyed it I believe this is a wonderful addition to the series as it stands now. There have been those that criticize the movie for being less action-packed than anticipated, but there is no need to be so harsh.

For those people who haven't seen the series (one of my top ten recommendations) Blue Exorcist is a series that combines the daily lives of supernatural teenagers together with the action of their daily training as potential exorcists. Each student has his or her own individual talent that they bring to the classroom, together with their own personal burdens. The series is not solely focused on the physical struggles of the characters but also on their emotional struggles. Those people who expect something different from the movie are deluding themselves and robbing the series of what it is that makes it so great.

The movie itself focuses almost entirely on the struggles of the two main characters, Yukio and Rin Okumura, two people who have always had trouble fitting in. Both are pursuing their own brand of justice, although they have very different ways of looking at the problem. While the two are on a mission together Yukio's no-nonsense plan is ruined by Rin's (and to a lesser extent Shiemi's) emotional reaction to the plight of others. Due to their involvement Yukio's reputation is tainted and the target gets away. While Yukio tries to undo the damage his brother has caused Rin finds himself looking after a young demon he's found injured as a result of his actions.

The movie is far from action-packed but that isn't what fans of the series should go into this movie expecting. While the series is certainly not lacking in action, that has never been the point of the show. Blue Exorcist cares more for the relations between its characters than on the fights that take place between them. At its heart the series isn't about fighting demons, it's about finding acceptance. If you look at it that way the movie is a perfect continuation of what fans have come to love, although those people looking for more excitement may find themselves a little disappointed.

All-in-all I would recommend the movie to anyone who enjoyed the show, although those expecting something more than what they got in the original television run may be disappointed.