Sunday, September 6, 2015

Attack on Titan Season One Anime Review

Attack on Titan Season One
Shingeki no Kyojin
Complete Collection - 8 discs
625 minutes - 25 episodes +
$49.98 (2014) Parts 1-2/ea. DVD/Blu-Ray
$89.98 (2014) Parts 1-2/ea. DVD Blu-Ray Limited Edition
ISBN 704400072611
Japanese/English Audio - English Subtitles
Director - Tetsuro Araki
Studio - Wit Studio/Production I.G

Synopsis: The Titans appeared and humanity was almost wiped out.  Giant, human-like creatures with little intelligence they scoured the world and devoured humans wherever they could find them.  They were utterly relentless and nearly indestructible, pushing humans to the brink of extinction.  Only the construction of a city guarded behind a series of enormous walls could keep the Titans out.  The last remnants of humanity reside behind the safety of their walls as the Titans roam freely through the world.  It has been 100 years since the last time a Titan has been within the walls.
A massive Titan appears outside of Wall Maria, Shinganshina district
The three walls are called Wall Maria, Wall Rose, and Wall Sina.  Those who live in the innermost walls are more wealthy and safer from the Titans.  The army trains and defends against the Titans, but those stationed within the walls act more as police.  Only the Scout Regiment goes outside of the walls and face the Titans to secure supplies from open land.  They typically sustain heavy casualties and can be both revered and hated depending on the success of their missions.  Eren Yaeger and Mikasa Ackermann, his adopted sister, are both watching as the Scout Regiment returns from outside of Wall Maria when a massive Titan appears outside of the wall.
From left: Mikasa, Eren, and Armin
The Titan is skinless and even taller than the massive walls (while most Titans are much smaller than the walls).  It is a terrifying, abnormal Titan and manages to kick open an outer gate allowing the smaller Titans to get inside Wall Maria.  The humans are frozen in fear as they watch the Titans begin devouring people.  It is a massacre as the Titans wreak havoc within the wall and people desperately flee to the inner Wall Rose.  Eren, Mikasa, and their friend Armin somehow manage to survive, but not without witnessing the true horror of the Titans.  Both vow revenge and sign up for the army when they come of age.
The omni-directional gear gives humans the enhanced agility necessary
to battle the Titans
Now the friends are army trainees learning to use special equipment for avoiding the Titans.  These include the omni-directional mobility gear which is a special harness utilizing metal cables, grappling hooks, motors, and compressed air.  It allows soldiers to swing through cities or dense forests quickly to avoid capture by the slower Titans.  The harnesses are difficult to operate and the trainees have their work cut out for them.
Eren joins the army to get revenge on the Titans for eating his mother.  His
singular drive makes him an adept soldier
It is revealed that Titans are vulnerable in the napes of their necks.  Specially designed blades with increased hardness/sharpness are used which can pierce the Titans' thick skin.  The trainees learn to maneuver and operate the harnesses while developing pin-point accuracy with their slashes.  It's incredibly grueling training and a few star trainees rise to the top.  Eren's fervor and enthusiasm for getting revenge on the Titans drives him harder than most recruits.  Mikasa's unnatural skill and calmness make her stand out from the others.  Their greatest opponents will be the abnormal Titans who are different from the more predictable and slow regular Titans.  The Colossal Titan is an abnormal type, but many others exist with less significant differences.  They are the most deadly Titans.
Facing the Titans is truly horrific and many soldiers lose their nerve
The recruits believe themselves to be ready to fight the Titans and are assigned to various groups within the military.  Some selfish recruits want to join the military police behind the safety of the innermost walls.  Other, braver recruits like Eren choose the Scout Regiment at the front lines of this war for humanity's survival.  Will they truly be ready to confront the unbridled horror of the Titans?  How can they possibly stand up to these unnatural, unique Titans like the one that breached Wall Maria years ago?  They will be eaten alive if they fail.
Eren finally gets to confront the Colossal Titan that breached Wall Maria
five years ago, but can he defeat such an abnormal beast?
Pros: Intense story with a lot of twists and turns, Eren is a great protagonist with an indomitable will (even when he's getting chewed on by a Titan), lots of interesting characters among the army troops, Mikasa is a badass, the Titans are simultaneously ridiculous and horrifying, doesn't pull any punches with graphic and violent deaths, omni-directional gear makes for dynamic action sequences, same director as Death Note, can't wait for Season Two!
Another abnormal Titan appears which seems to be attacking the other Titans
Cons: A lot of questions left unanswered at the end of the series, art style can be a little rough (dark black outlines of shapes and feels really sketchy), the omni-directional gear is total impossible in real life, only two expensive Blu-Ray/DVD combo sets are currently available (Funimation's got to milk it), long multi-episode story arcs without much happening, can't wait for Season Two!
The army manages to capture two small Titans for study.  Don't get too close!
Mike Tells It Straight: This series was highly recommended by several friends and it lived up to the hype.  I think Attack on Titan (AoT) is the most popular manga and anime series of this decade.  The anime is based on the ongoing manga series by Hajime Isayama and this first season of the anime covers almost through the eighth volume.  Isayama's art is rough and highly stylized showing his relative inexperience as a professional manga artist (an AoT one-shot was his first official work in 2006).  He's been criticized pretty heavily for having poor artwork (although it's gotten better as the series has progressed), but there's something to be said about how creepy he can draw Titans.
Mikasa ends up being one of the most skilled soldiers against the Titans
The animation style is modeled after the manga with heavy line work, especially around the silhouettes of the figures.  It looks pretty unique among other series and gives a rougher edge to the show.  The creepy Titan faces are replicated splendidly and most of them look ridiculous while perpetrating horrific acts on the hapless humans they catch.  Some may not like the animation style due to the 'rough outlines', but it didn't bother me at all.  Let's get this straight - the omni-directional gear is pure fiction and could never function in real life.  It requires some major suspension of disbelief, but gives us interesting action sequences and some plot elements (like when the group is running low on pressurized air canisters).
The Scout Regiment finds an abnormal female Titan
It's an intense series and the end of the first episode really sets the tone.  Eren watching his mother being eaten by a Titan was utterly monstrous.  We immediately know the stakes are real and losing to the Titans means getting eaten alive.  We're introduced to a cast of characters as Eren, Mikasa, and Armin go through anti-Titan training with the omni-directional gear.  When the series hits the first major story arc (The Struggle for Trost) the stakes are high and the death toll is higher.  Talk about suspense and plot twists!  Probably the best thirteen episodes of an anime series I have seen in a long, long time (coming in second is the first season of Knights of Sidonia).
Many of the Scout Regiments' missions end up like this due to the sheer
power of the Titans and weakness of the omni-directional gear in open land

There are two opening and ending theme songs in this first season and I found the ending themes to be more enjoyable.  The opening themes tried too hard to be 'marching' or 'military' themes, but just weren't very catchy.  Knights of Sidonia does the exact same thing with infinitely better results (thanks to a great artist like Angela and a nice bass line).  The ending themes were both catchy and appropriate.  Hopefully the success of this first series will allow the producers to find better songs for the second season themes!
Eren and Mikasa meet Captain Levi, rumored to be the best anti-Titan soldier
I can't recommend this series enough to friends and anime viewers in general.  It's the anime equivalent to a page-turner novel and keeps the viewers attention throughout.  The plot twists are really good and the stakes are high - any character can die at any time it seems.  The Titans are absurd while completely deadly at the same time.  Sure, the second half of the first season is not as good as the first half, but the story still has lots of gas left to run its course.  I don't recommend this show to younger viewers due to graphic content (I'd say it's okay for teenage viewers at the earliest).  I'm really looking forward to the second season when it comes out.  Let me know your thoughts in the comments section and thanks for reading my review!

Two abnormal Titans fight each other!

TO BUY and Recommendations:

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Freezing Anime Review

Complete Collection - 4 discs
300 mins. - 12 episodes + 6 OVAs
$39.98 (2014) Blu-Ray/DVD
$64.98 (2013) Blu-Ray/DVD
$69.98 (2012) Blu-Ray/DVD
ISBN 704400095177
Japanese/English Audio - English Subtitles
Director - Takashi Watanabe
Studio - ACGT

Synopsis: Humanity is being attacked by powerful alien beings called NOVA and have developed the Pandora program as their best line of defense.  The Pandora are young women implanted with special nodes called Stigmata granting them superhuman abilities of strength, speed, durability, healing, and manifesting objects (like clothing and weapons).  The NOVA usually attack in the form of giant floating statues with massive whip-like tentacles and the ability to generate Freezing fields to immobilize targets.  Despite the Pandoras great powers they are still no match for the NOVA in single combat.  Pandoras are paired with male Limiters who can generate their own Freezing fields to counter those of the NOVA.  The combination of Pandora and Limiter in sync are able to overcome the NOVA.
Kazuya Aoi (right) is a new first year starting at West Genetics Academy
Kazuya Aoi is a freshman at West Genetics Academy, a special school for Pandoras and Limiters, and training to become a Limiter.  His older sister Kazuha was a premier Pandora who gave her life defeating a wave of NOVA and protecting a group of younger Pandoras.  She was one of the greatest Pandoras and very close with Kazuya.  The current top-ranked second year Pandora at West Genetics is named Satellizer el Bridget, also known as "The Untouchable Queen".  She is a ruthless, feared fighter and utterly despises being touched by anyone.
Satellizer el Bridget is the top-ranked second year student at West
Genetics Academy and also known as "The Untouchable Queen"
Much to Satellizer's horror, Kazuya actually gives her a hug on their first meeting.  She normally reacts with extreme violence to any physical contact, but for some reason Kazuya's touch feels different.  Her emotions become conflicted around Kazuya who treats her respectfully and tries to be her friend.  He even defends her when other students (particularly upper-class Pandora) try to violently humiliate her.  West Genetics Academy has a ruthless hierarchy with upper-class students frequently abusing underclass students through brutal duels.
Kazuya's first meeting with Satellizer is more than awkward - he
actually hugs and touches her
Will Satellizer thaw to Kazuya's positive influence or is she too traumatized from her tragic upbringing to let anyone close to her.  A rival appears in the form of Rana Linchen, second-year transfer student from Tibet.  She immediately befriends Kazuya and puts a wedge between he and Satellizer's chances at a partnership.  Kazuya exhibits unusually strong Limiter abilities, but who will he choose?  The cold yet undeniably powerful Satellizer or the hot-blooded and eager Rana?  The NOVA continue their onslaught and time is running out for West Genetics.
The upper-class girls plot to put Satellizer in her place
Pros: Great opening and ending theme songs (OP theme Color by MARiA rocked pretty hard), animation quality is decent with good effects, tons of fan-service for those ecchi perverts, surprisingly violent with actual limbs getting cut off later in the series, heartbreaking origin story for Satellizer validates her character, Rana was a fun character and refreshingly carefree, eyecatches (before/after commercial breaks) were good and focused on different characters each episode, the OVA is totally shameless cheesecake with tons of nudity
Satellizer battles a fellow student who can use Accel Turn for
blindingly fast speed attacks
Cons: Story and plot are pretty bad, NOVA are boring and unexplained foes, most of the girls are really vicious to Satellizer, this series completely objectifies women with repetitive combination of sex and violence, Cathy Lockharte's dream of being a novelist

Satellizer suffers humiliation at the hands of brutally sadistic upper-class
students before Kazuya steps in and helps her turn the tide
Mike Tells It Straight: I didn't know what to expect from Freezing when I first started watching it.  All I could tell from the cover was a beautiful girl was battling and her clothes were ripped in a provocative manner.  I've seen other battle girl shows like Sekirei, Queen's Blade, and Master of Martial Hearts.  I guess my expectations were a little too high and the series kind of let me down.  It was more like Master of Martial Hearts which was a bland series.
It's not a fight at West Genetics unless you get your shirt torn
Satellizer was not a compelling heroine (although her character is justified by her tragic upbringing) and her relationship with Kazuya felt contrived.  It's anime after all and this show fits in the harem genre so expectations can't be too high.  The NOVA were totally unexplained and boring.  The series fell into repetitive fight arcs with Satellizer brutalized by ruthless upperclass girls only to pull out a last minute win.  It got old and the plot never really delivered anything unique.  The OVAs were released with the complete collection (you can find them pretty easily on the internet too) and were unrepentant cheesecake.
New student Rana Linchen immediately becomes Satellizer's
 rival for Kazuya's attention
Kazuya was a decent male protagonist and Rana the transfer student injected a much-needed lightheartedness to the series.  Overall it was violent and sexist, completely objectifying these girls.  The fan-service and nudity were consistent across every episode and definitely caters to juvenile fantasies.  This show was kind of a disappointment and not something I would highly recommend.  Other series do it much better (i.e. more plot and characterization) although Freezing is high up there when it comes to nudity/violence.  There's a second season called Freezing: Vibration and I'll check it out to see if the story actually redeems itself.  Look for the upcoming review and let me know your thoughts on this series!
Rana and Satellizer find themselves battling over Kazuya frequently
TO BUY and Recommendations:

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Sword Art Online Anime Review

Sword Art Online
Sodo Ato Onrain
Complete Collection - 4 discs
625 mins. - 25 episodes
$74.98 (2015) Parts 1-4 Blu-Ray
$112.98 (2013) Parts 1-4 Blu-Ray Limited Edition
$49.98 (2013) Parts 1-4
ISBN 850527003325
Japanese/English Audio - English Subtitles
Director - Tomohiko Ito
Studio - A-1 Pictures

Synopsis: In the year 2022 the Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game (MMORPG) genre has advanced into an amazingly realistic and immersive user experience using cutting edge virtual reality headgear.  Users are able to control their avatars with their minds and sensations are relayed directly to their brains.  Kazuto Kirigaya is your regular high school student who is an avid fan of MMORPGs and spends a lot of time online in his room alone.  His parents died when he was young and he escapes into virtual reality as a way of avoiding the real world.  He's pretty good too and was selected as a beta tester for the hottest new game - Sword Art Online!  There's a special new VR headset called Nerve Gear which is the only way to access the world of SAO.
Kirito meets Klein and shows him the ropes on the first day of SAO
On the official release day of Sword Art Online (SAO) ten thousand users login using the Nerve Gear headsets including Kazuto.  They explore the new world of Aincrad and the beta testers note new additions from the version they played.  Kazuto's username is Kirito in SAO and he spends the day helping a newbie named Klein learn the basics of the game.  At the end of the day a tragic event happens.  The sky goes red and a menacing, robed figure appears above the Town of Beginnings.  It announces itself as Akihiko Kayaba, the creator of SAO.  Kayaba tells all the players they are trapped in the game and cannot logout unless they defeat all 100 floors.  Further, the Nerve Gear headsets are wired so that when a player's health reaches zero in the game they die in real life as well.  Any attempts to remove the headsets in the real world will also cause the player to die (which is learned the hard way by a few hundred players).  SAO has become the ultimate game of death!
Kirito meets a hooded girl named Asuna before the first boss raid
The death toll begins to mount as weaker and inexperienced players fall prey to monsters or bosses.  Many players can't handle being trapped in a virtual reality world and commit suicide.  Other players form guilds to support each other as they continue trying to level up and beat the game.  Beta testers like Kirito are especially despised as they are considered cheaters with unfair secret knowledge.  Kirito decides on a strategy to level up as quickly as he can, but remain a loner without a guild.  He makes friends along the way and learns some difficult life lessons.
Kirito befriends a low-level guild called the Moonlit Black Cats
Some of the players Kirito befriends are:
  • Klein - prefers to work together with people while Kirito remains a solo player.  Despite their different personalities the pair are friends
  • Asuna - meets Kirito before the first floor boss fight and is a powerful warrior.  Kirito befriends her and gives her the advice to join a guild (i.e. not become a solo player like him)
  • Egil - wields a powerful axe in battle, but is a better merchant and shopkeeper.  He and Kirito have a friendship based mostly on Kirito bringing rare items for Egil to buy/sell
  • Lisbeth - Asuna's friend and swordsmith.  Kirito asks her to make him the most powerful sword she can from a rare element.  She develops a crush on him after their adventure
  • The Moonlit Black Cats guild - meet Kirito on a mission and befriend him.  The group are friends from the real world and Kirito admires their camaraderie.  Will the diehard solo player give in and join a guild after all?  
  • Silica - a beast tamer who is getting hassled by her former comrades.  She has a pet dragon that helps her on quests.  Kirito comes to her aid
  • Yui - a lost child that Kirito and Asuna find in the woods.  She has amnesia and doesn't remember the real world.  What is her strange past?
  • Leafa - of the Sylph race and able to fly with fairy wings.  She helps Kirito learn the ropes of flying and politics in Alfheim.  She's got a big secret and is closer to Kirito's offline life than either one of them could truly guess
Asuna is a skilled warrior and known as the Lightning Flash for her speed
Kayaba has developed an incredibly lifelike virtual world.  Some players are too afraid to fight and are able to take up different trades like fishing, gathering resources, cooking, and trading information.  It's even possible to kill another player in the game and an evil murder guild forms to steal the rare items from players.  The towns are neutral territories where players are safe from being killed.    The front line is where players continuously battle to advance the game forward and open up new levels.  Kirito becomes a rare solo player who fights on the front line.
Kirito and Lisbeth go on a quest to find a rare ore to create a powerful sword
His levels are high and he has rare equipment to help him in battle.  He'll need it because Kayaba's SAO world is a virtual prison and impossible to escape.  The greatest challenge lies beyond the virtual world - what has happened to the bodies of the comatose players?  Are virtual relationships as strong as real ones?  Who will survive to see the light of day and who will sacrifice themselves so that others might have a chance?
Kirito takes on a monster in a dungeon
Pros: Great animation - character designs/backgrounds/action, some memorable characters and situations, the love story between Kirito and Asuna is touching, nice soundtrack, first half had a serious feel to it as characters died causing their real world bodies to also die, second half was an adventure, some very mild fan-service
Kirito and Asuna start getting closer even though she's the 2nd in command
of the Knights of the Blood Oath guild and he's a solo player
Cons: First story arc is much more powerful and interesting, final story arc was too cliched with the whole damsel-in-distress thing, relationship between Kazuto and his sister Suguha was a bit questionable, ending seemed a bit too easy (although the series gets dark), as of this review there's no affordable complete collection available which makes this a ridiculously expensive series to own
Kirito takes on Heathcliff, leader of the Knights of the Blood Oath guild
Mike Tells It Straight: Sword Art Online is based on an ongoing series of light novels by Reki Kawahara.  I watched part of an episode of SAO on Cartoon Network's Toonami and it looked interesting.  I didn't know the story coming in, but knew it had something to do with MMORPGs and knew a little bit about those (a friend was heavily into EverQuest at one point).  I was hooked after watching the first episode!  The idea of players trapped in a virtual world where they die for real was awesome.  .hack//Sign had a similar story where the protagonist was unable to log out from a virtual world, but I liked the grand scale and adventure of SAO.  There was a clear and present danger as players were dying on missions, through treachery, and even committing suicide.  The story contains some heavy themes, but is mostly lighthearted in nature.
Kirito asks Asuna to cook a rare meat for him because she has
a high cooking skill level
The first half of the series was entirely dedicated to the 'death game' theme, but the focus slowly shifts to Kirito and Asuna.  They become allies and then something more.  I really liked how SAO explored the question of 'in-game' relationships.  The whole virtual reality thing gets more serious when you can really experience the sensations of your character (there's a pain setting which I have to assume also governs other sensory input like touch).
Asuna and Kirito take on a high level boss raid together
Kirito is a likable protagonist and you can't help rooting for him, but Asuna was pretty darn cool in her own right.  I really think Reki Kawahara missed it with how he handled her - she's strong, but then gets too sappy and sentimental with Kirito and later on Yui.  Her treatment in the second half of the series is totally weak.  Kirito is a lone wolf throughout the series and I liked that about his nature.  Sure, he gets a little help from other players, but at the end of the quest it's him vs. the boss!
Leafa is a Sylph who Kirito helps when she's getting hassled
I think the series would have been more powerful if it didn't veer off the 'death game' theme to focus on Kirito and Asuna (plus Leafa) as much.  It was still a great story and offered some really interesting views of virtual reality gaming.  The battles and action were really awesome in the boss fights and there was a desperate emotional undercurrent throughout.  Kazuto's sister Suguha was a surprisingly good character.  I read a lot of mixed reviews on this series, but suggest you find out for yourself.  It's worth it and there's even a sequel (Sword Art Online II).
Who is this girl being held prisoner?

TO BUY and Recommendations: