REVIEW: Steins;Gate

*SPOILERS: Don’t read this if you don’t like being spoiled.*

For the past…Oh, I don’t know – 3 years, maybe – I’ve been hearing that Steins;Gate is a masterpiece. Finally, I have sat down and watched the series (including the OVA). Is the hype real? Did it live up to its crazy expectations for me? You bet it did! And it all boils down to one simple thing: execution of character.

Plot Direction:

The plot revolves around Okabe Rintarou and his sudden discovery that his microwave (dubbed the ‘Phone Microwave’) is a time machine that can send text messages to the past following a strange occurrence when he sent a text message to his friend, Hashida Itaru (Daru), that young genius girl Makise Kurisu had been stabbed that results in no one remembering him attending a conference that day, and Makise Kurisu alive. From there, he allows various characters to send “DeLorean Mail” (D-Mail) to themselves to change a facet of their past. Some of the changes are small, and others completely change the city. The more drastic changes cause people’s memories to change, reflecting the change in the past. Okabe, however, retains all of his memories, allowing him to remember what happened before the past was changed, but it prevents him from forming the new memories. At some point, Kurisu develops a way to transmit human memories into the past 48 hours (called ‘time leaping’). These inventions catch the attention of a super science organization, SERN, and it winds up with Mayuri killed by Kiryuu Moeka. This causes Okabe to time leap back to try and save her many, many times, until he finds out that the only way to save Mayuri is to reverse all the D-Mails sent, including one he sent to Daru about Kurisu being stabbed. This leads to a bunch of episodic parts where Okabe tries to convince those who have sent a D-Mail to undo them, including himself.

Okay, with that not brief summary out of the way, this plot is fantastic, and executed perfectly. The way the show explores themes such as what-if scenarios, personal conflicts about someone’s past, how the future can’t be changed sometimes, and the lengths someone will go for a person they love, is indescribable. How they craft each conflict that arises and is resolved was really a sight to behold, how they hook you with the mystery of time and the conflicts that revolve around it – it’s really something. And unfortunately, it’s not something that words can do justice.

The pacing is slow in the beginning, and then ramps up dramatically as the series progresses. I’ve heard criticisms of the anime’s slow start, but I have to disagree with those criticisms; I found the early episodes to be slow, but very gripping. I wanted to know what was going to happen next. What were the characters going to find out? I had to know.

Character:

Speaking of the characters, I could write an entire blog post on some of these characters (which, really, is probably why I enjoyed Steins;Gate so much). I’d go into crazy amounts of detail about each character, but that’d take too long and it’d be a chore to read. Instead, I want to talk about how this entire show is character-driven.

There’s nothing more enticing and satisfying than a show where the characters are the reason the show happens in the first place. While the very beginning where Okabe shifts world lines is kind of an accident, it’s not by some looming power that shifts him to another world line. Rarely does something just happen like in other shows where suddenly something happens and the plot/world changes. And when it does, Okabe investigates with the other characters. They try to figure out the how and the why.

Every D-Mail sent by a character is because they desired things to be different – to change their past, and when Okabe has to undo them, the conflict that arises is surprisingly relatable; who would want to unfix something they’ve been wanting their entire life? It clashes directly with Okabe’s burning desire to save Mayuri, who can only be saved by undoing them. It’s really powerful stuff when an entire plot is driven by a character’s motivation, emotions, and curiosity, especially when most of the conflict arises not with the characters and some greater power, but with the other characters themselves. To see characters so vulnerable and selfish and to resolve things through not so clean conflict all the time – it’s just fantastic. I love it.

Honestly, it doesn’t feel like any character is dead weight. They all bring something to the table, especially since most of them have a history that is explored in at least an episode that helps bring some understanding to who they are and why they act the way they do. Kurisu’s burning desire to seek approval and love from her father again, Okabe’s really annoying “Houhouin Kyouma” persona crafted to ease Mayuri’s pain over the loss of her grandmother and his own loneliness – there’s just so much depth to these characters, and it’s all put on display brilliantly in how they interact. Even a seemingly minor character like Yuugo Tennoji has a very powerful scene near the end of the show.

Animation/Art:

The character designs are great, and the animation is consistent throughout the show. Really, there’s nothing to complain about. I was very impressed with the angles and shots used during some of the more emotional scenes. It was very well-done.

Music:

Usually I enjoy the music, but nothing really grips me. As I’m writing this I’m listening to the Opening theme. I loved both it and the Ending theme, and the music in the show was great. It’s almost on-par with Clannad’s music for me.

——

Steins;Gate is touted as a masterpiece. I’ve read online reviews and a lot of word of mouth from friends telling me that it’s simply one of the best anime they’ve ever seen. Well, I’m here to add to that ever-growing list of fans.

Steins;Gate is a masterpiece.

Animation/Art: 10/10
Music: 10/10
Plot Direction: 10/10
Character: 10/10
Final Score: 10/10

Just sayin’

REVIEW: Ouran High School Host Club

*SPOILERS: Don’t read this if you don’t like being spoiled.*

It’s rare for me to watch two shows in a row that I really enjoy. Luckily, Ouran High School Host Club delivered that second consecutive show experience for me!

Background:

Ouran High School Host Club is a reverse harem (one girl, many guys, for those that don’t know) about a girl named Haruhi who dresses androgynous due to her attitudes on gender that stumbles into the host club at Ouran High School, a club about entertaining girls who have nothing better to do because the boys there have nothing better to do. They mistake Haruhi for a boy, and she’s coerced into being a host to repay the debt she incurs from breaking a very expensive lamp. And then they find out Haruhi’s a girl.

It’s a great premise for a reverse-harem because it explores a lot of different topics that a typical harem (reverse or not) explores. Funny how two comedies in a row are deeper than most dramatic anime I’ve seen thus far.

Plot Direction:

Ouran High School Host Club acts like a typical harem-style show, but completely turns it on its head every episode. There’s the episode for every character, the beach episode, the summer vacation episode, the school festival episode, etc… but it does keep a small overarching plot line.

The plot is not the main focus here, however. The show thrives on poking fun at the typical, and besides the characters, this is probably the best part of the show. It’s one of the funniest shows I’ve seen in a while, and that’s because it’s unabashed in how blunt it is in making fun of everything it comes into contact with. I really enjoy how it deals with stereotypes, especially when it comes to gender and social/economic status. That’s where the comedy really hits its mark.

The show itself ramps up in drama and character near the end. It’s very slapstick and lighthearted in the beginning. It’s pretty impressive to see that pulled off well, but what I think is most impressive is how they play with Protagonist and Main Character.

Character:

Again, the characters are the pinnacle of this show, and the reason why their comedy succeeds so well. I could go on about every character, but I think Haruhi deserves a special mention here. In most harems I’ve seen, the protagonist (generally the guy in a harem, girl in a reverse-harem) are the protagonist and the main character. Sure, the other characters go through some change, but it’s really the guy/girl that go through the biggest arc. Haruhi doesn’t. Her arc goes from being forced to work as a host to enjoying working as a host, but it’s incredibly subtle and not really touched upon until the end; to be honest, it’s not that important. So what’s so great about her?

She’s only a main character. And to be honest, I found it really refreshing.

She’s the one that drives the entire host club into changing, but has no real internal conflict to get through. She’s just a catalyst for everyone to change, and that leads me to my next point – most of the host club members are protagonists. Most of them have some conflict that they need to resolve that Haruhi brings out – the twins have to deal with the fact that they can really open up to someone else besides each other, Tamaki has to deal with his feelings of love for Haruhi and his feelings of keeping the Host Club like a family because he was stripped of his own, Kyoya has to deal with being the third son in his family. Honey and Mori have their own episodes, but they’re pretty set in how they are during the show. Honey changes during flash backs when Tamaki convinces him to join the Host Club, but Mori is very much a main character alongside Haruhi, although I’d put him more as a secondary main character.

This combination of protagonist/main characters and have multiples of each usually falls flat because there’s too much going on and the drama usually kills the comedy, but the show does an amazing job of tying everything together and weaving together the dramatic moments with the comedy. The execution is simply superb.

——

Ouran High School Host Club is a comedy first, but like The Devil is a Part-Timer!, where I think it shines best is its characters. This is the second comedy in a row I’ve watched, and both have been fantastic because there’s a deeper level there than just comedy, but it’s not so dramatic that the lightheartedness is taken away. I think having excellent character execution is why these two comedies were so great. I think this direction for comedy – where there’s some real character growth and well-defined character roles, is amazing, and it lets the funny moments be even funnier while not letting the inevitable dramatic moments get in the way because they’re so craftily executed.

Ouran High School Host Club does this in dazzling form, and I didn’t even talk about its dazzling animation and music. Do yourself a favor and check it out.

Animation/Art: 8/10
Music: 9/10
Plot Direction: 8/10
Character: 10/10
Final Score: 8/10

Just sayin’

REVIEW: The Devil is a Part-Timer

*SPOILERS: Don’t read this if you don’t like being spoiled.*

One night, I was in the mood to watch some anime. I started browsing through Netflix and came across The Devil is a Part-Timer, which said it was a comedy about Satan working part-time at a fast food restaurant. I was intrigued and up for some light-hearted comedy, and it was only 13 episodes, so I gave it a shot.

Man, do I wish it had been longer than 13 episodes!

Background

After being defeated by the Hero in Ente Isla, Satan retreats to Earth, where he winds up in modern-day Tokyo with his most trusted general, Alciel. After realizing that magic doesn’t work, they decide to find a place to live, change their names (to Maou and Ashiya), and bide their time until they can return to Ente Isla and conquer it. Little do they know that the Hero, Emilia (Earth name Emi) has cahsed them down to slay them once and for all and save Ente Isla. It’s a really good premise; simple, to-the-point, and best of all, has amazing potential. But does it deliver?

Plot Direction

Oh yes. Yes it does!

So, this show is a comedy. And it’s a comedy about Satan, an almost omnipotent being, working at a MgRonald’s (yes that is a blatant reference to McDonald’s!). Just thinking about it is pretty chuckle-worthy, and really, the comedy is pulled off great, but what I really want to touch on in this review is where this anime goes in (sadly) only 13 episodes.

There’s a lot of development in character and story in this show, and it does that really nicely, even though almost every single episode feels like a filler episode. What this show is really about, to me, is what if the roles of the Devil and the Hero were (somewhat) reversed? Sure, there’s a lot of stories where the enemy is misunderstood and trying to do something for the greater good, but there’s always something that leaves you wanting them defeated. In this show, Satan is the protagonist, and he’s the protagonist not because this show is about being evil – no, it’s about role reversal.

Emi, the Hero, is actually an anti-hero, as you find out. She has that perfect tragic Hero backstory – she was taken away from her family to be trained as the Hero, she finds out her father dies from a general of Maou’s army, and then swears vengeance on him. This is flipped into being an anti-hero when it’s revealed that there is no “destiny” to slay the Devil King. The church in Ente Isla fooled her as part of an elaborate plot to take over. Unfortunately, this whole backstabbing isn’t explored nearly as much as I would have liked, but that’s because there’s only 13 episodes. If there’s a second season I really hope they go into more detail about this, because it’s something I’d love to see more of.

So the show basically puts you in this weird spot where Emi continues to try and stick to “being the Hero”, even though there was no grand destiny, in order to justify her wanting to kill Maou because his army killed her father, while Maou continues to bewilder her and others who come into the show trying to stop him (because he’s the Devil King) when he does nothing but good, even when he momentarily regains his demonic power due to the negative emotions elicited by people.

Frankly, this is one of the best role reversal plots I’ve experienced. It’s all pretty subtle save for a few episodes, and it’s garnished with a hefty helping of comedic frosting. While I’m sure others can, I can’t find anything I disliked about where the show went or its plot as a whole, and that’s in part due to how well these characters develop.

Character:

This is, hands-down, the best part of this show. In particular, Emi stands out as the pinnacle of a developing character.

Maou develops, but it’s more that he opens up to you like a friend becoming closer to you than him really changing. You find out that he only attacked humans in Ente Isla due to misunderstanding them, and that he actually prefers living on Earth because the people there have been kind to him. It’s this living in modern-day Tokyo that Maou comes to understand, appreciate, and respect humans. It’s weird to see someone who’s supposed to be evil be so kind, especially when it involves Emi.

This isn’t in the anime explicitly, but while looking the show up I came across the light novel (which it started out as), and there’s a scene where Maou tells Emi that she has to keep an eye on him and stop him because he’s going to take over Ente Isla someday, even though both of them know that’s not going to happen. It’s an incredible scene for both of them, with Maou selflessly lying just to appease the distraught Emi. Again, it’s somewhere waaaay down the line in the light novel, but I think it’s worth mentioning because that kind of perfect role-reversal is very subtle throughout the anime, whereas it’s a little more clean-cut in that scene.

Speaking of Emi, she’s probably the most developed character. She goes from the Hero, hell-bent on taking out Maou, to a girl who doesn’t exactly know what she should be doing concerning Maou because her only desire is to exact revenge on him for her father. She bluffs that she needs to take him out because she’s “the Hero”, but she values him as an unlikely friend. She even goes out of her way to talk someone of the church of Ente Isla into holding off on slaying Maou despite all the horrible things he did in Ente Isla, claiming that it was her duty as the Hero.

The rest of the characters all undergo some sort of development, and really, I’d like to write about all of them, but in this review I really wanted to touch on the dramatic role-reversal that’s subtly masked under an anime labeled as a comedy, and how brilliantly it’s executed. Trust me when I say that pretty much every character is enjoyable and undergoes some form of character development. It’s fantastic.

——

The Devil is a Part-Timer was a show I randomly decided to watch on Netflix, and it rocketed into the top 5 for me. This show has it all for me – action, great comedy, character, and plot, and to top it all off, the animation is really good. The only really glaring flaw is that it’s only 13 episodes. Still, If you’re looking for something to marathon through and get way more than you expected out of it, check this anime out!

Animation/Art: 9/10
Music: 7/10
Plot Direction: 10/10
Character: 10/10
Final Score: 9/10

Just sayin’

ACen 2012 Recap

Finally, I have time to write this! It’s a couple days late, but I had homework to do. LOL.

ACen 2012 is over, and school is back in full swing. It sounds like it sucks, but it’s May, which means (hopefully) nicer weather and a month left of school!

While it didn’t go as planned, ACen was an awesome weekend filled with jokes, jokes, and a lot of swag! A small recap of some of the more interesting things I experienced at ACen 2012:

– My friend Jerome paid $60 and got a Saturday pass, so a couple friends and myself went as his backup posses to help him claim his full-weekend pass.

– McCormick and Shmucks (the seafood restaurant, right by the Intercontinental, which we stayed at, is actually called McCormick and Shmicks, but I actually thought there was a u instead of an i).

– My friend Mike drove into a car wash thinking it was the parking lot for Potbelly.

– My friend Arthur brought a real crowbar into the con (real weapons weren’t allowed, so he made it look fake).

– Tournaments at ACen have to be single elimination. I found out the hard way when the Brawl tournament went on for more than three hours. I won’t be entering any tournaments unless they’re single elimination.

– I didn’t go to a single panel, but this turned out to be in my favor because many of the panels were rescheduled or were running late.

– Friday night, I took NyQuil to quell any cold that might try and get to me while I slept on the floor and to drown out any noises I’d hear. It didn’t work. The four kids on the beds proceeded to talk about:

  • Body Pillows
  • How chocolate is made with cow’s blood (and by extension, filling steaks with chocolate) – I don’t even know if the cow blood and chocolate thing is true.
  • Fresh Prince of Bel Air
  • BLONIC
  • Belinda Wanda
  • How they’re in the beds and talking, while the kids on the ground were actually trying to sleep
  • How I say, “swag!” all the time (and by extension, replacing smurf with swag)

We were up until at LEAST 5 AM (one of my friends had to leave the room and attempted to sleep in his car. He ended up going home to sleep).

– My friend Jerome, whom we convinced the Wednesday before ACen to go, thought he’d have nothing to do. Instead of doing nothing, our group didn’t know where he was half the time. Friday, he disappeared into the night, and after trying to call and text him with no answer, he came back at 4 AM. The next day, I encountered him and a few other friends, and I asked Jerome if he had been playing Street Fighter all night. He said he wished he had. I then had a revelation – my friend Arthur and I had been talking about going to Hentai Hell, which, unfortunately, was at 3 AM, so we decided not to go because I wanted to sleep (oh, the irony!). I knew right away what had happened, and here’s how the conversation went:

Me: You went to Hentai Hell, didn’t you, Jerome?

Jerome: No.

Friends: No!

Me: Oh my god, you guys went to Hentai Hell! You fucking went to HENTAI HELL!

And then Jerome proceeded to tell me that it wasn’t actually hentai. It was live-action…I’m so glad I didn’t go!

Seth Rogan and David Spade on Tai Chasers (and starring in Samurai Jack as Seth Rogan and David Spade as his sidekick Seth Rogan as Samurai Jack)

– Galick Blast!

– Spirit Blast!

– Special Beam Blast!

– The laser light show in Yu-gi-Oh!

– Fryception

– Shakeception (offered only at Steak’n’Shake)

– Driving 7 people in a 5-person car to T.G.I Friday’s, both times two different ways of fitting everyone in!

– There was a waiter who only refilled drinks of two of our group. He took my friend Propit’s water as he was drinking it, then two minutes later refilled it again after he had only had a little of it. My other friend, John, had his coke refilled, and when my friend Mike waited 10 minutes for a refill, John switched cups, the waiter refilled the cup, and then John gave it back to Mike!

– Hey, Ryan, you’re taking us to IHOP, right?

– So, we’re going to IHOP, right, Ryan?

– What, we’re going to IHOP?

– The rude waiter at Culver’s (what do you want on your burger?). Yes, the emphasis is there.

– The random people dancing to LMFAO as we blasted it on the way back from Culver’s (raise the roof!).

– The CPU Luigi in Mario Party 2 had 10 stars at the end of the game. How many did the next highest have? 2 stars.

– Mike and I duo-texting Arthur about the Soap Bubble (and him not knowing what a Devil’s Four-Way is).

– The fire alarm at the Hyatt was pulled (and the Pat jokes that followed after).

– Cosplaying as Hoopz Ketchum (Ash hat worn backwards), Slam Dunkum (Ash hat worn forwards), and Ash Barkley (Ash hat worn sideways). Next year I’m gonna go all out and bring a boom box blasting slam remixes!

– Preparing for, but not going to, the Pokémon tournament (I was so confident I would’ve won…and I don’t even know if it actually happened!)

– The obscene amount of money I spent at the Dealer’s Room and Artist’s Alley (so, so worth it. My room looks awesome right now!)

And that’s all I remember. All in all, it was a fantastic con, and I can’t wait for Youmacon this year and next year”s ACen!!

Just sayin’.

REVIEW: Howl’s Moving Castle

This movie is good for ONE REASON ONLY:

Christian Bale Bird Man!

Bird Man - played by Christian Bale

Oh yes, Christian Bale becoming bird man. It’s the only explanation!

I lied, there’s two reasons:

BA scarescrow

The most bad ass scarecrow to have ever existed...

But, seriously – continuing the Miyazaki trend, I recently watched Howl’s Moving Castle. Did you know that Miyazaki throws in sub-themes as casually as strolling into a party where jeans and a t-shirt at a business casual event? Neither did I, and because Arrietty was my first of Miyazaki’s films, I was under the impression his other works would be a little more sensible.

Now, I can take chaos. The movie’s premise of a girl who feels old, ugly, and incompetent and being cursed to reflect her mood is an enchanting premise, and I was really enjoying the movie for a while as we explored Howl’s gigantic moving ‘castle’ and its ability to warp doorways was awesome.

Then came war.

Now, a funny little note here is every single time (and I mean every. Single. Time.) the characters talked about war or we saw war happening, my friend would turn to me and say, “Hey, Kappy, did you know this movie’s about war?”

As annoying as that may seem, it was funny to me because it felt like the concept of war was literally shoved into the movie as a skeleton to the plot being driven by Sophie (I think that’s the spelling) and Howl. Was war really what the movie was about? It shouldn’t have been, but in the end it was.

I applaud Miyazaki for trying to weave a story of two who belittle themselves and are cowardly and, in the end, confront their problems head-on with war being the wrong solution to problems, but was that supposed to be a metaphor for how we as people need to confront our problems head-on with discussion instead of duking it out? Maybe, but if so, it was executed poorly.

We would go from a scene with Sophie to towns and villages being destroyed and Howl just flying around destroying battleships. Um, OK, great. Why? Why was the war even there? How did it start? Why was Howl summoned by both sides?

Let’s move onto something a little more positive: the voice acting and characters. Here’s where this movie really shines. Disregarding any lines about war, the characters develop wonderfully. Being able to actually see Sophie come to terms with her feeling old and weak was incredibly powerful. The supporting cast really helps move things along, and that living scarecrow is easily the greatest character in film history. There, I said it. I loved that scarecrow. It was funny, but really helped Sophie grow, and I thought that was awesome.

Talking of characters, let’s talk about the voice acting. Since I watched it on Netflix, I listened to the english dub, and I was once again impressed by it. Especially Howl, who was voiced by none other than Christian-fucking-Bale. That’s right, Christian Bale voiced Howl in this movie, and damn does he sound good when not talking like Batman!

And how can I forget the gorgeous visuals? The animation and art were, simply put, stunning. Panning across the sky or an open lake was 10-12 seconds of delicious eye candy, and a few of the scenes (specifically when they ‘moved’) were animated really nicely.

All in all, this movie was good. There were some things I think it could have done much better concerning execution and the development of their sub-themes, but other than that, everything was great. I’m excited to watch more of Miyazaki’s work!

Rating: 7 out of 10

Also the concept of Christian Bale turning into a bird man is hilarious.

And credit to the photoshopped photo of Christian Bale goes to my friend Jacob (Xyless)!

Just sayin’.