A Live-Action Pokemon Series?!

Seriously, Netflix? Of all the things you could be doing, you decide to announce that you're making a live-action Pokemon series?! This could either go well like the Detective Pikachu movie did, or really badly. Animation really doesn't work well in live-action. It really doesn't. They really should be doing other things that'll actually work. They're already streaming a lot of the Pokemon anime seasons. Why make a live-action series?!
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Firechick's Anime Reviews: Digimon Xros Wars Version 2

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I give the newest Digimon series...a 58/100.

(This review applies to both this season and Death Generals)

Ah, Digimon. That name rings a lot of bells for people of the late 90's and early 2000's. What comes to mind? A group of kids who pair up with monsters who digivolve and save two worlds from a great evil. Sure it had it's cliche moments, but it really showed kids that anime was unlike anything that the American cartoons showed. For the most part, Digimon was daring, it took a lot of risks, and did a lot of things other shows wouldn't even dare to do, while still staying true to what it was: a great adventure featuring kids and their struggles. I'm definitely a Digimon fan as of right now, and I still remember seeing episodes when I was little. Unfortunately...I feel terrible for saying this, but I have to say it: as of now, Digimon has really fallen from grace. Things started to go a little off track with Digimon Savers (I really liked it), but things REALLY went awry with this new series, Digimon Xros Wars (I'll review Hunters separately).

Our main character is a boy named Kudou Taiki, our typical gogglehead who has a strong desire to help those in need. One day, on an outing with his friends, he hears a voice who claims he's dying, and the world starts to act weird. Taiki and his two friends find the voice, a Digimon named Shoutmon, and all of a sudden, he gets a device called a Xros Loader, a kind of digivice that allows him to fuse Digimon together and make them stronger. He and his friends get pulled into the Digital World, but it's not in the best state. An evil organization called the Bagra Army is trying to take all of the Code Crowns and take over the Digital World. Taiki, Shoutmon, and their friends form their own army called Xros Heart and decide to get the rest of the Code Crowns and defeat Bagramon. But there are other armies to deal with, like Blue Flare and Twilight.

Now where do I begin? Well, for starters, the animation...is kinda funky. One scene, it'll be really crisp and smooth, but other times it'll look like paint and gum arabic got mushed together weirdly. The animation's not the most consistent. Sorry, but Digimon Tamers looked a lot better than this in terms of the animation department, though even that had its errors. The music...by God, why does the OST have to be soooooo GOOD?! I really liked the background music for this, even though I have to admit most of the time it's rather generic. Not only that, most of the insert songs are great. I especially liked We Are Xros Heart and the terribly underused X4B The Guardian. Seriously, that song is BOSS!!! But one thing that really bugs me is that there's no ending theme! Yes, there are opening themes, but no ending themes. Just these dumb segments at the end which I never bothered to watch, and I have to admit, I feel this series uses too many insert songs in one episode. I just feel they were a bit too overused. Seriously, why did the creators use all of their budget on their insert songs and not use it to make an ending theme?! Come on! You can do better than this!

The characters...eh. Typical. You've got the kind but brash and happy-go-lucky gogglehead, the angsty lone wolf who hates everybody, the mysterious beauty, and two of the most useless and bland characters in the entire show, Akari and Zenjirou. Seriously, these two do absolutely nothing to make themselves engaging, nor do they even once contribute to the story (well, until the end, of course, but that's another thing entirely!). All they're used for is comic relief, and not the good kind! Watch the Jungle Zone episodes and you'll see what I mean. I don't like Kiriha, the lone wolf character. His angst is just really stupid and way too over the top, to the point where he just feels like a rip-off of Kaiba from Yu-Gi-Oh. Nene is just Rika but without her more overt bitchiness, and it doesn't help that they're both voiced by the same actress in the English dub. As for the Digimon...yeah, they were bland. Many of them are just there to be fused with Shoutmon whenever the situation calls for it, save for Dorulumon, Ballistamon, and Cutemon, who actually had their stand-out moments. The main character, Taiki, is just...really flat and shallow. His only real personality traits are that he's a good, helpful kid and that he occasionally pushes himself too hard, that's it. He rarely, if ever, has any moments where he grows as a person or makes really hard decisions, and the few times he has to do the latter, everything is made hunky-dory because of some plot contrivance which keeps him from truly changing as a character. He just feels like a mish-mash of other Digimon leads but without any real character flaws to make him feel more three-dimensional. It also doesn't help that at times, the writing is very inconsistent with him. At one point, Taiki will turn his back on someone who needs help because he feels they should do it themselves, but then he'll immediately go back on that and start helping people just because. Consistency, writers! It's not that hard! Shoutmon...I really don't like him. He's like a tiny robot dragon version of Naruto, always yelling and boasting about something constantly. Stereotypical power-hungry villains are stereotypical power-hungry villains.

The story just involves the separate armies trying to get all the code crowns while fighting amongst each other, and the quality of each episode varies wildly. Some arcs are very good (I really liked the Lopmon episodes), others are just flat-out bad, and some of them felt like they weren't even trying. I think where Xros Wars fails is that it tried to play things too safe. It thinks that by rehashing character designs, personalities, storylines, and not even bothering to develop characters who could really use it are enough to appeal to kids, but doing it the way it does just doesn't work. Everything feels too surface-level and lacking in real depth. And from what I've heard, Digimon's fall from grace has only gotten worse over the course of the next decade.

Basically, Digimon Xros Wars is a generic, formulaic kids show that plays it safe but doesn't try to be anything more than a surface-level rehash of what Digimon used to be. But don't even try going near Hunters, it's sequel. That's EVEN WORSE!!!

Firechick's Anime Reviews: Home!



I give this short sci-fi webtoon...a 69/100.

Home! is one of many short one-shot anime created as part of Japan's animator training projects. In the year 2124, a man named Christopher (whose name isn't mentioned in-universe) is on a research expedition in Mars, but comes across a crashed spaceship. Unfortunately, he discovers there are no survivors, only the skeletal remains of those who perished. He decides to take it upon himself to gather the remains of the dead and send them to Earth so their families can have some degree of closure. But when the ghost of a little girl tries to communicate with him, he is understandably freaked out, though the girl continues to try and reach out to him. This anime is only seven minutes long, so you can complete this without much trouble.

But if you're coming here looking for a fun time, this isn't it. Home! is very dark in its atmosphere and imagery. Skeletal remains, including those belonging to children, are shown without censorship, often with hair and clothes still stuck on them. The ghost girl is shown with several body parts missing, another reason why Christopher is so scared of her at first. Granted, it still has a fairly warm and hopeful outlook, as Home! ends on a bittersweet yet optimistic note. I liked the story okay, though I wish it had been explored more, since we don't know anything about what's going on, and the characters aren't even given names, with Christopher's being mentioned in plot summaries and never in-universe. I did find the ghost girl to be a bit annoying, and I don't really get why she never actually spoke. All she did was laugh and pull pranks on Christopher.

The animation was done by Studio Orange, which is responsible for primarily 3DCG anime such as Land of the Lustrous and Beastars. CGI doesn't always work in anime, especially when trying to make an entire anime in that style, but Orange has proven to be one of the few studios that actually cares about trying to make its CGI animation look good and not like weird jerky plastic robots, unlike, say, Polygon Pictures or the animators that worked on the abomination that is Ex-Arm. The human designs here are...okay, but they're kind of generic and don't really stand out in any way. It does help that this anime only has two characters shown on screen, so the mininalist cast does help them stand out to an extent. I don't have much to say on the soundtrack, as I found it kind of bland.

Unfortunately, the characters are where the short suffers. Because Home! is only seven minutes long, it doesn't have much time to develop them, and often times, Christopher seems to change his personality without much rhyme or reason. He starts off calm and rational, but the second he sees the ghost girl, he turns into a spineless screaming wimp, and then goes right back to his original personality when he's out of there. Granted, the reason he does this is understandable, but I feel like had the anime been longer and took more time to develop him, he'd feel more like an organic character. The ghost girl doesn't have this problem, but her only personality traits are being cheerful and mischievous, that's it. Most anime can develop characters and show their personalities through animation, without the need for dialogue, and most of them pull this off well. But Orange's character animation is still rather stiff, and I never really felt like they did much to bring the characters to life.

Eh, Home! isn't really anything special. I like what it tried to do, and it has potential, but in the end, it's just a generic sci-fi anime that doesn't really stand out. But it's a nice watch if you want to kill an extra five minutes.

Firechick's Manga Reviews: Look Back



I give this gripping one-shot manga...an 82/100!

I've started before that I've always had a big respect for Japan's more lax standards when it comes to the type of content they allow creators to make. Unlike, say, America, which has unnecessarily strict or even downright hypocritical rules for what they allow on cartoons (Like, cancelling Infinity Train while allowing Teen Titans Go to continue ad nauseum), Japan's looser rules allows creators of all kinds, whether they be comic artists or animators, to go buck wild with their content without much in the way of blowback from overzealous parents. Granted, Japan has its own issues with its entertainment industry, but that's neither here nor there. One of the most popular manga right now is Chainsaw Man by Tatsuki Fujimoto. I personally have no interest in it, as it doesn't look to be my thing. But the host of a podcast I follow mentioned that they recently published a long one-shot manga called Look Back...and when they mentioned it was based on a real life event, I knew I had to read it. Not only is this one of the longest one-shot manga I've read (It's at a whopping 144 pages. How many other one-shot manga have that many pages?!), it's also a very, very good, well written piece that absolutely deserves more love!

The story centers on a young girl, Kyo Fujino, whose 4-panel manga gets published in her elementary school's newspaper. Everyone loves her art, and they think she can be successful as a mangaka...but one classmate claims her art isn't as good as that of her reclusive classmate, Kyomoto. Angered at the thought of a shut-in being better than her at drawing, she decides to improve her art further by studying as much as she can. When a teacher forces her to go to Kyomoto's house and give them their graduation certificate, an awkward first meeting follows, and Kyomoto confesses that she's actually a huge fan of Fujino and wants to work with her. Touched by her kindness, Fujino lets go of her anger and the two of them make manga together all throughout their years in school. But when college is afoot, the two find themselves drifting apart, with their careers taking them down different paths.

There's no point in hiding this, so I'm just going to get this out of my system: Look Back has a plot point that is deliberately similar to that of the Kyoto Animation arson attack of 2019. If you think this is just a coincidence, there's a lot of evidence supporting this: In-story, an axe murderer kills people at an art school one of the leads attends, with said murderer's motive being that he believes one of the lead characters deliberately plagiarized their work, which was the motive behind Shinji Aoba's attack on KyoAni's Studio 1 building. Furthermore, Look Back was published on the day of the two-year anniversary of the arson. At this point in time, we don't know if Fujimoto has some kind of personal history with the arson attack (Maybe they had a friend who was injured or died in the arson), or if they made this one-shot specifically as tribute to it, or if they just happen to have really strong feelings about it. Whatever the case, Shounen Jump made a good move in letting Fujimoto draw and publish this, as this is a deeply moving story about grief, guilt, regret, and what might have been.

But even without that connotation, how does the one-shot hold up on its own? Surprisingly, really well. I admit I'm not familiar with Fujimoto's other works, nor have I read them, but I must say, the art is fantastic. The character designs are distinct yet realistic, the backgrounds are well drawn and full of detail, if bordering on a bit overcluttered at times, the paneling and page layouts really help the pacing, and since the manga is so short, it's always moving forward and never slows down. Plus, Fujimoto's line etching has a rough, scribble-like look to it, as if it's deliberately unpolished, similar to how A Silent Voice and the She And Her Cat manga look. I think it works here because of the nature of the story, and the manga even contains references to Fujimoto's other works, though more subtle than simply namedropping them.

However, the heart and soul of this manga are the two characters. I admit, I didn't like Fujino when she first appeared because I felt like her hatred for some kind she didn't even know came off as really shallow. Thankfully she grows out of this by the time she and Kyomoto actually become friends and start working together. Both characters, while not entirely fleshed out because of the manga's short page run, do have believable chemistry, and the manga takes great pains to make you care about this eclectic little duo, flaws and all. I do wish the manga offered more of an explanation as to why Kyomoto became a shut-in, as her being afraid of people doesn't hold a lot of weight. Does she have a mental disorder? Was she bullied to the point of refusing to go to school? The manga doesn't really go into detail, but I did like that Kyomoto tried to face her fears once she grew up. One thing that did throw me off was that Kyomoto's design made me think she was a boy at first, though later scenes confirmed that she is, in fact, female. Bottom line, the two main characters are flawed but likeable characters with their own strengths and weaknesses and stray far away from the usual stereotypes we've come to expect.

I guess if I really had to name one flaw, it'd be that this manga, even with having over 140 pages, which is far beyond the scope of most other one-shots, is still rather short and doesn't have time to really flesh out the characters more, along with one sequence near the end that may throw viewers for a loop even though context clues establish that it's a character's fantasy. The story is very simple but uses its simplistic setting and premise to deliver profound characters and messages. If you're not into the characters or prefer fast-paced stories where there's lots of action, this isn't the manga for you. Look Back is a character study first and foremost, and a damn fine one at that. Whatever the reason Fujimoto-sensei created this, I'm glad he did, as this is a damn good manga that everyone needs to read at least once.

Damn Speakers!!

Ugh! I bought new speakers for my computer since the audio jack in one of them stopped recognizing my headphones last year. They've been working, but now they have the same problem again! Why is this happening?!

Firechick's Book Reviews: Voices of a Distant Star



I give this novelization of one of Makoto Shinkai's self-made films...an 83/100!

I admit that I haven't seen a lot of Makoto Shinkai's movies. At this point, I've seen Children Who Chase Lost Voices, Your Name, Garden of Words, and the 5-minute Dareka no Manazashi short. I have, however, read quite a few of the companion novels he penned, such as 5 Centimeters Per Second, Lost Voices, Weathering With You, and the subject of today's review, the Voices of a Distant Star novel, called Words of Love/Across The Stars. Now, from what I learned, this is apparently the second time this particular film was adapted into a book format, but this particular version, the second novelization, is the only one that came out in the US, and fairly recently, at that. I might watch the short film for Voices of a Distant Star in the future, as it's considered Shinkai's first major work...but I have to admit that the art style isn't very appealing to me. I did read the manga before this, though a review of that will come later. I kind of blind-bought this novel, along with two others, on my birthday recently, and honestly, I'm glad I did, because I really like this one, as it expands on a lot of things that the short film doesn't cover.

In the year 2047, humanity is in the midst of a war against mysterious aliens called Tharsians and are in the process of recruiting people to fight them in mecha suits called Tracers. One of those pilots is Mikako Nagamine, a 15-year-old girl who was drafted into one of the space army's special squadrons, and has to search for the Tharsians in space. She leaves behind a friend of hers, Noboru Terao, but they promise to remain in contact as much as possible, usually by texting one another. But as the fleet goes deeper into space, text messages take longer and longer to reach Earth, to the point where years pass, and both Mikako and Noboru come to realize that they care more for each other than they realized, but now may not get the chance to even say so.

One thing about sci-fi that I found doesn't really appeal to be is that most sci-fi stuff I've seen rely on a LOT of technobabble and exposition to explain things, when some things don't necessarily need to be explained, thereby dragging the show down rather than letting things play out naturally. I can understand wanting to make the sci-fi world feel as rich as possible rather than make it into another bog standard sci-fi setting, but too much exposition and explanations just bog things down. Luckily, Voices of a Distant Star doesn't do that. Because the story centers on two kids and focuses entirely on their perspectives, it keeps its focus on the things they see, feel, and experience, rather than try to bite off more than it can chew by making the scale of the story bigger than it should be. Because of this, the sense of scale is smaller, but it feels more intimate and focused on the central conflict of the movie, which is the kids' realization that the farther away Mikako is from Earth, the more impossible it is for them to remain in contact because of the lack of faster-than-light correspondence and the regrets they hold because of not saying what they wanted to say to one another before Mikako leaves for space.

(more to come soon)

Firechick's TV Reviews: A Little Princess (1986 Mini Series)



I give this lovely adaptation of one of my favorite books...a 94/100!

Wait, a live-action series I actually like?! What is this heresy?! And I thought I told myself I wouldn't review live-action shows or movies in-depth! Whelp, looks like I'm making an exception here, as I'm not going to lie, out of all the live-action adaptations of Frances Hodgson Burnett's novel A Little Princess I've seen, this one is, without a doubt, one of the best ones, if not THE best one ever. It's rare for books to get truly faithful adaptations into other mediums, even when it would make sense for them to have such depending on the scale, budget, and capabilities of the mediums involved. Movies are often restricted by short run times, so it make sense for things to be cut in the transition. But this particular adaptation, a 1986 British TV show with only six episodes, was able to not only be faithful to the book, but even add some new things that give it more flavor and nuance, even if it doesn't strictly adhere to the book entirely. I don't know how the staff behind this did it, but they absolutely did a bang-up job in bringing Burnett's book to life in live-action form.

So the story is exactly the same as the book: Sara Crewe is a rich little girl who is very close to her father, British army officer Ralph Crewe. But she is enrolled at a special boarding school in London, and her father has to go away on business. Although Sara misses her father dearly, she makes plenty of friends and is provided with everything she could ever want, even though the headmistress, Miss Minchin, isn't too fond of Sara. However, on her eleventh birthday, Sara receives awful news that changes everything: Her father died from pneumonia, and as a result of a bad investment, she's lost all her money. Miss Minchin is aghast at this turn of events, and now that Sara is unable to pay for her education, Miss Minchin resorts to making her into a servant, subjecting her to all sorts of abuse like starvation and hard labor with barely any reprieve. But Sara refuses to let her circumstances get her down no matter how bad things get, and continues to be as kind and gracious as she can.

(more to come soon)

Summer 2021 Anime Choices, Old and New

Summer heat brings new anime. Let's see which ones I might try out?



New:

Aquatope.jpg
1. Aquatope of White Sand
This one is pretty and good so far! A slice-of-life/supernatural story about an ex-idol and a young high schooler both working at an aquarium and becoming friends. I like what I've seen of the first episode so far, and PA Works has a pretty good pedigree in regards to their original shows. I'm hoping this one will be good. Also, for some reason I thought Aquatope was Aquatrope for the longest time. How did I get that confused?


2. Kageki Shoujo!!
Not to be confused with Shoujo Kageki Revue Starlight. This is a much more normal anime about girls going to a fancy theater school and performing in a Takarazuka Revue-like trope. I read the first manga for this a while ago, and while some elements were kind of...ehh, I liked it well enough. I did really like the first episode, and I'm interested in seeing how the anime covers the manga. Plus, it's a refreshing change of pace after all the ecchi, romcoms, and isekai we've been subjected to almost non-stop.


3. Scarlet Nexus
Eh, this one's okay. Anime adaptations of video games don't normally go over well, because it's impossible to compress a 40+ hour game into a short series. This one already feels kind of...workmanlike. But maybe it'll get better over time.


4. Love Live! Superstar!!
So...after having seen the Love Live Nijigasaki anime and was blown away by its willingness to NOT shoehorn in unfunny sexual humor, I've become curious about this newest addition to the Love Live franchise. Granted, this season is confirmed to have some of the same staff from the first two series here, so for all I know, they might go back to throwing in the skeevier elements that turn me off, but a part of me is praying that this doesn't happen. I'm gonna at least give it a chance and see how it plays out.

Old:


1. Hanamaru Kindergarten
I actually saw this when it first came out, back when I was in high school. I remember liking it well enough, but I didn't find it very memorable, and at that time, I hadn't started my journal nor was my reviewing all that refined yet. I think it's time I changed that. This ought to make for a decent rewatch, and maybe I can get a new perspective on it now that I'm older and not in high school.


2. AKB0048 (Including Next Stage)
I remember watching this when it first came out, and a blogger I followed back in the day really liked it. Since I haven't seen the dub yet, I think maybe I'll rewatch it in English this time around.