Category Archives: Series

Kamen Rider Fourze – Finale (+ Addendum)

First off, sumimasen! Sorry! I screwed up. And in a pretty unforgivable way too. Last post I wrote that I didn’t quite remember everything I had planned to write before all this business with my dad went down and I don’t really apologize for that. It’s a blog, after all, which means I can do whatever I want. That being said, however, I did forget something rather remarkable… something in the bloody title: the movie “Space, Here We Come!”. It’s one thing to forget specific themes you wanted to write about, it’s one thing to forget what monsters to write about… but this was in the title, how the hell could I forget THAT!?

So before I get into my final thoughts on Kamen Rider Fourze to close that particular chapter of this blog, here’s a quick addendum to last post.

Kamen Rider Fourze the Movie: Space, Here we Come!
Kamen Rider Fourze the Movie: Space, Here we Come!

Now, right off the bat I’ll be honest. I liked this movie. But I won’t be going into great details about it, for the most part, like every other tokusatsu movie ever, it’s more or less an extended episode with a slightly bigger budget for effects. The plot is simple, there’s a satellite in orbit equipped with an array of deadly weapons that’s been taken over by terrorists and the Kamen Rider Club are called upon to save the day. But when they come face to face with the terrorists, something appears off and they soon discover that there’s much more to this story than first assumed. Fourze must join forces with unlikely allies in order to save the day but can he befriend them in time?

For the most part, this appears like your typical Kamen Rider movie but there are a few things that it does that sets it apart from the rest. For one, there’s a surprising focus on unmorphed fights, not just for Gentaro and Ryusei but the Kamen Rider Club as a whole. Kengo naturally figured into the plot a fair bit but there’s a surprising amount of focus on Shun and Miu with JK and Yuki playing support. The final act had me surprisingly engaged for a movie like this but the inside of the satellite looks like it’s made out of concrete and pipes… aka, they shot this in a few basements and a garage which is all sorts of disappointing. Better location scouting is definitely called for.

However, none of that is why I like this movie. There’s something about me that you may or may not know… I am such a retro nostalgic it’s insane. I’m not just nostalgic for my own childhood, I devour everyone’s childhood (as long as it’s pre-2000). And this movie has me particularly interested because it features a tokusatsu series from the seventies that… well, I’ll probably never see. Space Ironmen KyodainSpace Ironmen Kyodain… or these guys:

Yeah, yeah, laugh all you want, get it out of your system. My first instinct is to remind you that it’s from the seventies. But something tells me that doesn’t help. But to me, it’s appealing and VERY fascinating and since I’ll probably never see this series myself, just getting a glimpse of what it was like is enough to appease me greatly. They have taken some liberties to make it more modern, though. For one, in the original they were brothers whereas in this movie they’re brother and sister. And secondly… well, let’s just say there’s a big change but revealing it would sort of maybe spoil the plot entirely and we don’t want that because I know you’re all rushing to watch it right now.

However, for those of you expecting them to give them the same treatment as they did Gavan in the Gokaiger movie, perish the thought for this has no connection with the ’76 series other than designs and names and is more simple curiosity than a full blown revival as was the case with Gavan. But perhaps in two years we’ll see the Kyodain 40 year anniversary? Yeah, one may dream, yes?

If you’re really hungry for more Kyodain info than this movie gives you, check out the net movies that accompanied it because it goes a bit more in depth about the series. It’s the “Everyone! Let’s go to Class!” segment for those curious.

So, overall, it was okay. The Kyodain aspect is really what makes it interesting for me but it has above average “most things” for a tokusatsu movie (except for locations) so if you like Fourze, you’ll like this.

Oh, and it’s the first appearance of Wizard… so there’s that too.

So on to the main event. My final thoughts on Kamen Rider Fourze.

Kamen Rider Fourze - Let's Go

I’m guessing the immediate question on everybody’s mind is “Did you like it?” and the answer is a solid yes. I mean, there’s no doubt about that. I genuinely think Fourze is a good show. That’s not to say it’s a flawless one though and the more time spent away from it, the more I come to see what I didn’t particularly like.

For one, while the villains did grow into something interesting, it takes FAR too long for them to get there. Early on there’s a big, big focus on the characters that would eventually end up being the Kamen Rider Club and the monsters were more background noise than anything, there to help Gentaro meet these people. But once that period ends, there’s nothing there to take its place and we’re left with some serious downtime where we’re mostly treading water while waiting for the serious threats to show up. And once they do, it’s pretty much straight down the highway to the ending.

But like I said in my very first Fourze report, I really enjoy the school setting and it’s surprising how well it works since I normally don’t care much for high school drama. However, perhaps it is because I finished university not long ago or some growing sense of nostalgia for school or perhaps it’s just this series in itself, the high school drama was captivating and I could honestly see the talented writing at work here. It really is the supporting cast that carry the series and make it stand out and it doesn’t take long for them to be almost more interesting than the “main characters”, if one can use that term here.

Kamen Rider Fourze Cast
The cast of Kamen Rider Fourze in the Rabbit Hatch. (From left to right: Kengo, Yuki, Shun, Fourze (Gentaro), Miu, Meteor (Ryusei), Ohsugi, JK, Tomoko)

I suppose that’s the biggest complaint otherwise: Gentaro, Kengo and Yuki, the three first, are… quite frankly forgettable in the long run. Gentaro doesn’t develop in the slightest over the series despite there being ample opportunity for it, such as exploring the effect his parents dying had on him. Kengo is the main support for Fourze but doesn’t really do anything plot related until the end and while he ties into the major plot, it is a bit out of left field and not nearly as interesting as it could’ve been. And Yuki… well, she’s Yuki and I don’t like her much. Instead it’s really Shun, Miu, JK and Tomoko that get the most development, all eagerly embracing their stereotypical cliques at first before slowly opening up to reveal their insecurities, dreams and fears. And it’s real shame that Chuta Ohsugi, the teacher that ends up joining the Kamen Rider Club, never really gets to be part of the plot but continues to work as a comic relief.

But I shouldn’t paint the comic relief too poorly because one of the series’ strongest points is exactly that, it’s humor. It’s the one time Sota Fukushi’s, man playing Gentaro Kisaragi, acting hits all the right notes and he is perfect for the role of the naive yet lovable buffoon that he is. Sure, some comic relief works better than other, Yuki… well, I don’t like her or her antics and Chuta Ohsugi, while funny is also… INCREDIBLY creepy and he’s the kind of character you expect to be caught sniffing someone’s chair. But the humor goes hand in hand with the naivety the series clings to and while there are no deep, philosophical jokes to be found the jokes, the pranks and goofy misunderstandings all… well, they just work.

Another thing I wholly liked about this series was the music. Everything from the opening to the licensed songs to the original soundtrack works beautifully and it’s been playing hot on my playlist ever since I got my hands on it. Like much of the show itself, it oozes 80s and 90s Americana with lots of rock and ballads to match the high school theme.

With the cliques, Gentaro’s pompadour, the music and the opening singing about burgers, it’s hard not to get drawn in by their merging of American and Japanese culture. That, coupled with the wonderful supporting cast, might be what saves the show because it otherwise lacks more interesting themes. Yes, I did speak about themes such as “fear of adulthood” and “friendship” but those themes become trite fast. This is a show with 48 episodes to its name so the constant recycling of these themes start to hurt a bit towards the end. Had the big twist of the show come earlier, the second half of the series could’ve easily focused on this instead, but that would require asking the viewer to think a whole bunch about God and the origin of the universe and such fun stuff.

Honestly, the big twist near the end was what ultimately saved the series from ending on a rather dull note since I had since long grown tired of the villains at that point and it felt more like mopping up than wrapping up. It goes on for just a few episodes too long and it really could’ve benefited from being axed a few weeks earlier. This also would’ve forced them to streamline the series considerably and it could’ve avoided a lot of the “monster of the week” episodes that plagues the middle of the series. But then the big twists comes and I’m hooked right in again but it never really goes anywhere. And that amuses me. They’re willing to discuss themes we normally would’ve reserved for shows for teenagers or even adults but then they chicken out in the last minute and goes for a sugar coated ending. Especially on the coattails of OOO that had the biggest, saddest ending ever.

But then again, that might be what ultimately made them go with that ending.

Eiji and Ankh
Homoerotic doesn’t even begin to describe these two

 

Why those two darn boys just didn’t admit they loved each other I will never, ever know. Oh, right… Japan.

But despite all that, I still enjoyed it greatly. Sure, it stumbled and it’s not necessarily the deepest Kamen Rider ever nor will it really figure in my top five but it’s memorable simply because of its delicious setting and its overall comedic tone. It’s very light hearted, to a fault at times, but perhaps it was exactly what the doctor prescribed after the gut-wrencher that was OOO. I plowed through the series relatively quickly and once you picked it up it was almost impossible to put back down again. If you’re willing to let yourself be a kid with no worries again, then it’s a lot of fun.

What’s up next for this blog? Not sure, we’ll see but I’m guessing we might be seeing some Doctor Who on here in a while and maybe some other stuff as well. But first up? Space Sheriff Gavan.

Kamen Rider Fourze – Part 2 (Episode 31 – 48 + Space, Here We Come!)

Editor’s Note: This post was partially written over a month ago before stuff happened so I ask forgiveness for how disjointed it may be. I don’t remember exactly what I wanted to write about so there may be gaps in the first parts of the text and the later. I hope you can overlook this.

 

As I sit here, listening to Kamen Rider Girls sing in their made up language about things that I don’t understand, I’m hit with the realization that I’m invested in a culture that I’ve never actually experienced. And yet at times I find myself thinking “Man, I was so born in the wrong country.” Like when your mail gets sent to the wrong address and nobody ever comes to pick it up so you don’t quite know what to do with it. Is that me? Am I a letter lying on the shelf, waiting to be picked up by its real owner, eventually being forgotten and throw away? Or maybe there’s a Karl in Japan that was meant to be born in Sweden and is now sitting there thinking “Boy, was I ever born in the wrong country desu.” Or maybe he’s thinking “Man, I was totally born in the wrong country… but thank God I ended up here!” What an asshole!

If you’re starting to wonder how this applies to Kamen Rider Fourze, the answer is simple: barely. But I’m fresh off the heels of having finished Kamen Rider Fourze and before I give my final thoughts, I figured I could go over a few things. There’s a few things I want to talk about AGAIN and others that I just find mildly amusing. Then I’ll get to the meaty stuff in the center… or whatever.

First off, I retract my statement about Kamen Rider Meteor. Yes, I still think his base appearance is stupid. Again, I get what they’re going for, comet tail and star maps and what not but I still don’t like it. It feels unfinished and unnecessarily… black. I know that can be taken as a racist statement but it’s merely a judgment on their choice of costume color, nothing else. Just thought I’d get out ahead of that one. On the other hand, I said THIS about the second state:

And let’s not even discuss his upgrade, Meteor Storm.

And I’ve changed my mind. Let’s discuss. Let’s discuss this:

meteor-storm
Kamen Rider Meteor Storm

You know you want to.

I’ll be honest, when I first saw this, I didn’t like it. The first thing that really pissed me off was his weapon. I mean, no, f*** you, that’s a toy. It’s a wind up toy, a spinning top. Is this what we’ve come to, Toei? Beyblade? Urgh.

But that aside, I really grew to adore the costume and its design. First up, it’s way more complete than its base state. See that? There’s two shoulder pads and his helmet is symmetrical. I’m not saying asymmetrical designs don’t work but you need to do more than what they did with Meteor’s base state because it was… empty, lacking. Meteor Storm feels like the real deal. No more gimp suit, this has good colors and an actual armor-look unlike… well, the gimp suit before.

I also weirdly like the color scheme. At first I thought it clashed something horrific but it too grew on me. Sure, if I was a flag waver you could blame my bias on that but it’s… odd, I can’t explain it. You get a real American super hero vibe from it which goes well with its high school setting inspired partly by American stereotypes. It’s a far more vibrant and energetic look which Meteor greatly needed.

Though, its introduction really spelled the end for the Jeet Kune Do stuff since the staff became the primary weapon. He still does the “Wacha!” sounds but it just doesn’t work as well without the kicking and punching.

Now, another thing I wanted to point out was that I actually recognized one of the actors in this series… from ANOTHER Kamen Rider series and it’s a bit embarrassing that it took me this long. It’s actually a Rider, though not a main one, that I’ve talked a bit about on this blog before. Let me give you a hint: It was Garren from Kamen Rider Blade.

KamenRiderGarren
Kamen Rider Garren

I’m not very good at this hint stuff. Anyway, I spoke about Blade’s movie here. It’s just a fun thing that I noticed right around the time when the show itself started making fun of it. Twice, in fact. Once in the net movies that were released when Super Hero Taisen (shameless self promoting for the win) hit theaters and again in the net movies that went up with the show. I highly recommend these net movies, both sets, in particular the one where Gentaro meets previous Riders (like Garren here) and the one where the suit actors give you a brief view of their profession from the other side, as it were. Highly fascinating, that latter one.

And this sort of gives me a nice segway into the next topic I wanted to discuss which is the villains. I didn’t really talk about the villains last time because I didn’t have a good grip on them. 30 episodes in and it was still hard for me to understand what the villains were really after. I knew their goal was to create the twelve Horoscopes which could only be done by finding specific people and giving them a switch.

However, outside of that the series never really spends any time discussing the villains and that really hurt my enjoyment of the series. While I in no way want them to focus solely on the villains or necessarily give them a huge backstory, something resembling reason would’ve been nice. Eventually they do reveal who the big bad is and the further the series progress, the more they reveal of his reasons and I have to say, I enjoyed where they went with it.

But while the revelation of their intent was an interesting one, the end suffers from being rushed. I knew it had to happen, they had twelve Horoscopes to get through and they start introducing them steadily far too late. Despite being a huge obstacle in the past, their power levels seem to be no greater than your average Zodiarts which cheapens them as threats. The last few episodes feel cobbled together from at least twice as many episodes which is unfortunate because it deals with some really heavy stuff. And there’s some really good writing mingled in with the patchwork pacing.

Now, one recurring theme in this series is “secret identities”. The audience knows the identity of not only Kamen Rider Meteor well ahead of the cast but also of several of the Horoscopes. This does create an interesting dynamic in terms of audience experience but it all comes off as moot since very little time is spent on the Horoscopes that really matter. The Horoscope that gets the most attention is Libra but I’m not entirely sure since at one point he’s pretty much forced back into the plot for no other reason than to have him around still. He’s not very interesting as a character and while I enjoyed what they did with him towards the end, especially his finale, it all comes out of nowhere.

The same goes for Leo who is the big bad’s right hand man but despite knowing exactly who he is and who he’s working for well before the main characters, so very little of his face time is actually spent exploring his character. The only Horoscope, other than the big bad, who ends up getting any sort of exploration is Virgo but again, the reveal comes pretty suddenly and it’s wrapped up just as fast which is a huge shame all things considering. There was some interesting gender twists peppered throughout the series and Virgo is perhaps the most interesting twist of them all.

Sagittarius_2
Big Bad Sagittarius

What I’m trying to say is they don’t seem to do anything useful with all their time. Despite having ample time to give us an insight into the villains, it’s mostly spent in dark rooms looking menacing and so little of their characterization shines through. And when it does, you know it spells the end for them.

That being said, however, the final reveal gives the villains something different. While their individual portrayal lacks, their overall goal gives them a unique twist and strangely their ultimate goal can actually be deemed… well, sort of reasonable in the grand scheme of things. It comes down to perspective, a difference in world view between the good and the bad guys despite both sides reaching for the same goal. Basically, different ways of getting there. As such, this really is one of those times where you can say the bad guy was just sort of misguided.

Like with Gokaiger, I’ve decided to write an additional post where I just talk about the series in general and less detailed stuff like design and such.

 

And again, I deeply apologize for the delay of this post (see the top for reason) and I hope to be back on the horse, riding forward at a dashing speed soon. I’ve got at least two tokusatsu posts and where we go from there shall be interesting.

Slayers

So, kiddies. Personal history time… again. In the past I mentioned how much I didn’t watch anime. Like many growing up, my exposure was limited to the few cartoons that were Westernized but the term “anime” wasn’t really in my vocabulary until I was a teenager at which point I pretty much had it all wrong. That’s how little we knew back then, I didn’t know the difference between anime and manga and when I did some research, I got it all wrong, thinking “manga” was pretty much anime produced in Japan while “anime” was just a generic term for stuff that tried to look like manga, aka the real stuff.

Pictured: Source of Confusion?

I don’t know how I came to this conclusion although I suspect that Manga Entertainment had something to do with it.

So I was a fairly dumb kid but I implore you to remember that I was just a kid and that I got better… well, to some degree I suppose.

Anyhow, as I grew older I was exposed to new and wondrous things like more anime. Although I was a fan of shows like “Robotech” or “Sailor Moon” as a kid and saw one or two anime, like “My Neighbor Totoro” on TV I can’t really claim that I was super into it.

Something eventually changed, of course, or I wouldn’t be here. I think it all came back to me with “Akira”. After that I did my best to get back into it though the pickings were scarce to put it mildly. Stores barely had anything to offer let alone a whole section for it like some do today. Most of my options could be found in an obscure little corner shop that carried a variety of nerdy stuff. And my friend who was a great deal more invested in the stuff than I was.

He showed me La Blue Girl, Love Hina, Sakura Wars and many, many other shows. One of them being Slayers Try.

And that’s not what I’m reviewing today. I just felt I should mention that because I went into Slayers, the first series based on the manga, with certain expectations. One being that it would be absolutely hilarious and another that it would be friggin’ awesome. Because Slayers Try caught me immediately and absolutely floored me with its humor. It may not always tell a good story but it has a comedy timing that places it in the top ten of comedy productions, easily up there with comedy legends such as Eddie Izzard or Monty Python.

At least in my book, mileage may vary.

And right off the bat I can say that Slayers only mildly disappointed and I was ready for that. For one, I didn’t expect them to perfect the formula on their first outing, these things can take time. A secondly, I haven’t seen Slayers Try in a good ten years by now and it came after three series (technically two and one OVA but dammit, I’m a reviewer, not a linguist!) and two movies so Slayers was a good bit removed from what I remember.

Slayers tells the story of how the dimwitted yet expert swordsman Gourry Gabriev and the hot headed but incredibly talented mage Lina Inverse, two of the franchise’s leading protagonists, initially met and their first adventures together. Having come together rather by accident the two set out on a journey that eventually leads to them having to shoulder the responsibility for the entire world. Along the way they make some enemies but all the more friends in the form Zelgadis, a warrior cursed with a stone body, Amelia, a clumsy warrior of justice and magician in training, and Sylphiel, a rather oblivious cleric quite taken by the handsome Gourry.

Slayers is the brain child of Hajime Kanzaka and was first seen in light novel form in the eighties but was quickly made into anime and manga after only a few years. Often cited as one of the most popular animes of the nineties, it was probably many people’s introduction to anime comedy in some form or another. Line Inverse and Gourry Gabriev have become synonymous with kooky and quirky humor and parody.

Honestly, it’s a mystery as to why they have yet to be made into live action.

At the core of Slayers then lie the comedy and it’s a safe bet to say that if you never took to Slayers comedy in any of its other incarnations then you’re not going to like it here either. It’s difficult to describe the humor in anything but broad strokes because it covers a lot of ground, everything from parody to one-line gags to referential humor are used and abused at some points in the series. For the most part the show makes fun of high fantasy tropes and clichés, playfully poking fun at other shows in the process with varying degrees of success, but the show doesn’t pull its punches with any medium in any form.

However, glass houses and stones and all that, Slayers at times walk a fine line between poking fun at something and relying on something but saying they’re doing it intentionally. You can’t have your cake and eat it too and there are times where I feel the writing lets down the joke, having openings for something very clever only to take the easy route. It has a wicked tendency to cause mood whiplash when it flits between serious story telling and parody comedy, often missing a beat and leaving the viewer scratching their head.

This is particularly painful during the final episodes when the series can’t seem to decide whether it wants to put epic climax first or the comedy. It’s also rears its ugly head during the first encounter with the big bad only to then go back to a rather run of the mill episodic nature with lots of hijinks.

It’s this writing that often leaves viewers arguing whether the show is actually poking fun of the tropes or whether it simply relies on them knowingly, the two simply not being the same.

And the show is absolutely terrible at characterization. At the end of the series you don’t really know much else about Lina, Gourry or any of the other characters outside of general backstory and motivation than you did at the start. The one who gets the most characterization also happens to be the last one introduced. There’s always hints of more interesting characters hiding underneath the biting satire and slapstick but the show, perhaps rightly so, never digs very deep.

Because at the end of the day, whether you like Slayers or not comes down entirely to whether you like the humor or not, story be damned. If you watch Slayers for the plot then you’re going about it all wrong. Slayers doesn’t really care about the plot and mostly just use it to set up gags. The entire middle of the series is exactly this, one poor excuse after another to set up jokes that could never have been were they to follow something linear and sane.
And really, the same can be said for the characters: make them too deep and it takes the focus away from what’s important here, the comedy. The skits, the jokes, the gags, the laughs. If you start analyzing Gourry and Lina’s actual relationship and try to discuss romance and the entire tapestry threatens to unravel, leaving you with a bunch of threads and incoherent mess. Perhaps the truly brilliant can still surmise the beauty of the complete tapestry from the strings alone but the rest of us can’t, robbing us of a work of art.

Deepu kissu!

So again, whether you like Slayers or not depends entirely on whether you like the humor and the only way to know that is to give it a try. Sure, I could discuss whether the art or sound are up to scratch but if you like this type of humor that won’t matter and if you don’t, well, then the art and sound won’t matter ’cause you won’t like Slayers. And the comedy isn’t always enough. Some episodes are side hurtingly funny while other episodes are utter bores.

I liked it, though. Enough so that I spent an entire weekend blasting through it. And I want more. I did try to watch it with the dub because I’m eternally fascinated by the debate between subs and dubs, personally being a “live and let live” kind of guy with the whole thing. But perhaps because I saw Slayers Try undubbed first, I couldn’t reconcile with the different voices. I won’t outright say the dub is bad but to me it just sounded all kinds of wrong. Some have said I probably listened to the wrong half of the season or whatever but honestly, I just don’t like it here.

Ultimately, I recommend this series if only to try and see if you like the humor. If you do then you have a whole franchise waiting for you and if not, well, then you don’t.

Inazuma Eleven

Stand up! Stand up! Tachiagari yo! Inazuma challengaaaaaaaa!

Hey! *dances*

*cough*

*clear throat*

Hello, and welcome to- oh, who am I kidding, I friggin’ LOVE Inazuma Eleven!

Here’s a viewing project that was years in the making to say the least. I came across this series years ago, I think right after I finished watching Eyeshield 21, ANOTHER viewing project that was years in the making so about… three years ago now. I started watching Eyeshield 21 because someone recommended it to me and ever since I’ve been hooked on sports anime. What can I say, if sports were as exciting in real life as they are in anime, I’d totally play some soccer with you if you could teach me how to manifest a dragon out of thin air to envelop the ball in flames as it shot towards the goal.

Not saying that all sports anime depict powers in the same way. Eyeshield 21, while having special powers, used it to visualize for the viewer what already existed in the game and to make it more fun. In reality you don’t have people running at the speed of light or players creating brick walls but the concept is there with your runners and… linebackers and whatever they’re called. Kuroko’s Basketball on the other hand tend to downplay the powers aspect and ascribe it to people simply being natural basketball players and therefor so much better but it’s always rooted in some kind of realism. There’s no dragons or people running at the speed of light, there’s simply players who are better.

But then there’s Inazuma Eleven. Inazuma Eleven takes a far more liberal approach to soccer than the previously mentioned sports anime. Dragons and fire tornados and shots from space and manifesting giant, glowing hands are commonplace events. Hell, you might even say they’re necessary. And if this is the soccer kids are playing, imagine what FIFA would look like…
I’m sure you could say some of it is made to help us understand soccer but then the further the show progresses, the less rooted in reality it becomes and these sure fire shots, or hissatsu shoot, become more central.

But perhaps I should start with the explaining the show itself.

Endou Mamoru (Mark Evans in EU) is a soccer freak. He has been ever since he found his grandfather’s, who sadly passed away before Endou was born, old stuff in storage. He discovers that his grandfather was sort of a soccer genius and uses his old notebook to train himself to be the ultimate goalkeeper. But despite his enthusiasm, he has trouble convincing the rest of his school of soccer’s greatness and when in second year of middle school, suddenly faces the very real risk of having the club shut down. This is when Gouenji Shuuya joins the school and the club receives a challenge from Teikoku, the currently reigning regional soccer champions. Desperate to face the challenge, Endou scrounges together the smallest number of players allowed and faces off against Teikoku. It doesn’t go well. But then Gouenji, tired of seeing Teikoku bullying the weaker team and inspired by Endou’s courage, steps onto the field. And history is made.

The show, with its whopping 127 episodes around twenty minutes a pop, chronicles the team’s journey from a no-team to pro-team, culminating in their participation in the Football Frontier International tournament, basically the world championship but for kids. And it covers everything from defeating angels and demons, aliens and time traveling military forces with soccer to conspiracies about world domination… through soccer.

And note I say soccer reluctantly, it’s football and that’s that but I’m afraid any American viewers would be highly confused and scared if I didn’t say soccer. And we don’t want that.

So here’s Endou using his prolific God Hand technique. What? Never seen that in soccer?

Another note, I use Endou and Gouenji as names when it’s really their surnames but after 127 episodes of having that repeatedly drilled into my head, calling them Mamoru or Shuuya just doesn’t sit right with me. That’s Japan for you, I guess, it… it influences your mind.

So what’s an anime about soccer really about? It can’t be 127 episodes of just soccer, can it? Well, yes, in some way or another, it is. Every character in this series has their life revolve around soccer and it influences every facet of their life. Suddenly it seems like they never have to study or do tests and the further along the series gets, the less the school seem to influence anything at all. If you joined in at the later stages of the second season or anywhere in the third season, you’d be surprised to learn they’re even in school as they travel the world. And fight aliens and angels with soccer.

There’s also a delicious naiveté and love for the subject matter at hand here, one that seems somewhat ridiculous if compared against the real world. But they’re not entirely wrong either. Wanting soccer to ultimately be fun and not just a job or a duty is something that shouldn’t just be idealistic nonsense. And that is Endou’s ultimate special power, his ability to inspire his fellow players to believe what he believes. That once a match is over, things like team and affiliations stop being important and we’re all united in a common love: soccer. It’s not just about winning or losing but a battle well fought but lost can be just as good as one won if not more so. Coming up against someone stronger and better than you shouldn’t mean you roll over and give up, it should inspire you to become even better.

This is primarily seen through the special powers they each possess. While in the beginning it’s often about discovering a new power, later it’s more about improving on what you’ve already got (it’s also a cheap and effective way to save on animation costs). But the sentiment is still there, if you come up against a new obstacle then you adapt to overcome it, you don’t give up.

Not saying it’s all about soccer or the powers they use, even if that is a big thing, but many of the characters also have some crisis or another they need to overcome, often through the power of friendship and soccer. It’s about learning to trust your friends and let them shoulder some of the weight while at the same time pulling your own weight. There is no ‘I’ in ‘team’ but that door swings both ways. If you’re there for the team then the team will be there for you.

So Inazuma Eleven is idealistic crap about overcoming adversity with friendship, right? Absolutely. But here’s another thing one must keep in mind when watching the anime: it’s for kids. So stop being such a major sourpuss adult and just accept that maybe such idealistic nonsense could be worth listening to every now and then. There’s nothing wrong about what Inazuma Eleven is trying to convey and bears repeating.

There are many flaws in Inazuma Eleven like being padded to a fault and some episodes and storylines stand on the verge of absolute pointlessness, as do some characters. And the characterization isn’t what it could be and perhaps it is a bit too idealistic in its portrayal of soccer and what can be solved through it. And some special powers are repeated a bit too often.

But once I turn off my adult brain and the criticism that comes with it, I found myself having a really good time, feeling the highs and lows together with the team. And I am a bit ashamed that I, from time to time, got perhaps a little too invested in the matches. It’s funny and charming, the characters are lovable and I did find myself shedding a tear or two as the series came to an end and they all moved on with their lives, knowing that the next time they played soccer together, it could very well be on opposite sides. But even knowing that, they knew they’d be friends forever, united in their love for soccer.

Writing that, I know it’s cheesy as hell but as it drudges up my memories of those final episodes, I can’t help but to get all misty eyed again. There’s no denying that Inazuma Eleven left its mark on me. I even bought the first game just because I loved the anime so much and even though I preferred the anime, I’ll still be buying the second game down the line and eventually the third game and… anything else they release here in Europe. Yes, I’m that much of a fan.

So is Inazuma Eleven worth a watch? In all honesty, with 127 episodes to watch, I can’t really recommend it as a leisurely watch. Skipping intros and outros and sneakpeaks at the next episode, the episodes tend to round out at roughly 20 minutes which means you’ve got more than 42 hours waiting for you. And if you’re too lazy to skip all the intros and so forth then you’ve got a few more hours waiting for you.

However, if you’re willing to turn off your adult self and perhaps share the viewing with your child then the chances of greatly enjoying yourself just went up significantly. Just don’t try to plow through it, take it in seasons if you can or just set an arbitrary limit to how much you can watch in succession. Make sure to end on cliffhangers as well for the ultimate effect.

If you get in the zone, much like I did, then I can promise you that Endou, Gouenji, Kidou, Aki and so forth will become your friends and you’ll love soccer just as much as they do.

As for whether I’ll be jumping into Inazuma Eleven GO right away or not… no. I will be taking a short break to clean up some additional shows that I never got around to finishing when I first watched them. So keep an eye on this space for future reviews of Space Adventure Cobra, Appleseed XIII and Danball Senki to mention a few.

And in case you’re curious about what I’m currently watching and what anime I’ve seen, feel free to visit my profile at Anime Planet here. And don’t forget to sign yourself up, always more fun with more people!

Turn A Gundam (series)

So it turns out I’m not just a tokusatsu fan, I also happen to like my fair share of anime. Go figure, right? My foray into anime started when I was just a tadpole in my little pond of a city where I was forced to endure a life of Eastern European children’s show and mascots being generally creepy. If you don’t believe me, check out Björnes Magasin or Bamse and you’ve got yourself a crash course in childhood trauma and what it was like growing up in Europe during the eighties and early nineties. Add a little Ika i Rutan and you’re scarred for life.

Seriously, watch Ika i Rutan if you can and marvel at what Swedish kids had to put with during the eighties. Just LOOK AT IT! I NEED YOU TO UNDERSTAND MY TRAUMA!

I think the general rule was that if it wasn’t scary then kids would start developing sexual urges. As for the whole “stunting their sexual development”… trust me, it just made things a hell of a lot weirder. I still haven’t found a girl that wants to do the naughty version of räserschack with me… prudes.

Oh, and here’s a little snippet from a Swedish puppet show… yes, while you got Sesame Street… we got this. Again, dammit, understand where I’m coming from!

So why did I go off on this rather weird tangent? Well, I wanted to illustrate how I didn’t really grow up with anime. For one, it wasn’t readily available here at the time. What little we got was often secluded to cable, the kind you had to pay for and growing up poor, that just wasn’t an option. The only real exposure I had, believe it or not, was through the Danish channels we could get through the antenna (remember those things) because for some reason, anime was all kinds of popular in Denmark. I watched things like “My Neighbor Totoro” and various other weird things I had no clue what they were but couldn’t stop watching.
My second exposure came through the video rental store but then it was more of a gamble than anything else. We went entirely by the box art and the pictures on the back when judging whether to rent or not. This is how I ended up paying full price for two episodes of the Rambo cartoon… yes, that was a thing. But eventually I stumbled across Robotech and I started to realize that there was a whole other side to children’s television that didn’t necessarily invoke a flight or fight response and a mad dash for safety.

But even then it was years before I got into Gundam, the daddy of all modern mecha tropes. And it wasn’t for a lack of trying. I managed to get a hold of a couple of episodes in my early twenties but to put it charitably, I thought it was completely awful and never watched much beyond that. It wasn’t until maybe three years ago now that I decided to bite the bullet and watch the whole thing. The reasoning then being that if I was going to consider myself a big mecha fan then I was going to have to watch it just to understand the origin.

Luckily I ended up loving it so at least that worked out of the best. And since then I’ve slowly but surely been working my way through Gundam at a steady pace. And had it not been for Unicorn, I’d be closing the book on the Universal Century timeline with Turn A Gundam.

Turn A Gundam

“Turn A Gundam” is sort of a weird cookie in the way that it crumbles… that was tortured but I like it. When it comes to Gundam there’s a few things you need to understand, starting with the fact that there’s like a million of the effin’ things. It comes in just about every kind of flavor imaginable and it’s here to stay. So to make sure they were unhindered by things like “continuity” or “plot” they split the Gundam series into various timelines, basically going “This is Gundam as you remember it but not really.” While it did open up for a lot of different interpretations and directions, it also means you’re unlikely to love Gundam as a whole since it spans such a wide array of themes, characters, styles and plots.

And Turn A Gundam is no different, it takes place in the “Correct Century” timeline and at first appears wholly separate from the rest of the franchise. However, as the series progress you start to recognize various factors from previous series and mobile suits from previous entries in the series start to show up. The Zaku, introduced in the very first Mobile Suit Gundam and a staple of the franchise, show up fairly early on and the Kapool is the Capule from ZZ. And there are many more nods to entries in the series scattered throughout, including using footage from other series as archival footage and the blueprints of many different mobile suits appear at various points.

The official story when it comes to this timeline is that it takes place roughly 3000 years after the Universal Century but there are also many nods to other series that aren’t part of the Universal Century (such as After War X and Wing) so consider the entry more of a meta series, commenting on the whole of Gundam rather than continuing one particular plot.
As such the premise in itself is very interesting, acting as a hodgepodge of Gundam things and this is how the series reels you in. However, outside of potential and some backstory, the series never does much with this setting which is a shame. Obviously the series is incredibly anti-war, all Gundam more or less are, but it could’ve been a golden opportunity to bring mechas of old up to speed, give them perhaps a little retouch then pit them against each other.

Unfortunately, that’s not what we get. Instead we get a plot that is wholly uninteresting and characters pretty much set in their ways even before the show begins. But I now realize I haven’t even given a brief synopsis so before delving further into that, here’s what the show is about.

Loran Cehack is from the moon. He and two of his friends come to Earth as early reconnaissance to judge whether Earth was ready to receive the Moonrace after they went into exile many thousands of years ago. After living on Earth as a servant in the Heim household, Loran concludes that Earth is a great place full of great people and that he can’t wait for the Moonrace to reintroduce themselves to their distant cousins.
Unfortunately he and his friends were unaware that the Moonrace had no plans on doing their introduction in a peaceful way but instead land with a massive military presence, claim a huge portion of land as their own and pretty much just tell Earth’s inhabitants to “deal with it”.
Naturally, knowing humans, this triggers a massive armed response and before long the conflict escalates into full fledged war. Loran, after discovering an ancient mobile suit somehow more advanced than anything the moonrace has, takes to the battlefield in an attempt to stop the war in its tracks but instead becomes wrapped up in political intrigue and ancient history threatening to happen again.

Loran Cehack

This is Loran, our main protagonist and if you look real closely you might realize that it’s actually a dude. Don’t worry if you were strangely attracted to him, though, the show makes a point of his androgynous appearance more than once and is actually one of the more interesting aspects of the show. They go very far to show him as an attractive, sexy young man that appeals to both genders. The sexual undertones are actually really refreshing.

To further my case, this is him as Laura:

Loran as Laura

So if you’re feeling slightly confused, don’t because it’s all part of their ingenious plan to make you gay. And to tell a compelling story about duality in the sense that Loran cares about as much for the Moonrace as he does for Earth’s people and as such he feels split on the issue, never quite being able to decide where to stand.

It’s also a ruse to keep the fact that the one piloting the White Doll, the titular Gundam of the series, is of the moonrace fighting his own kind. This is all a plan of the aristocrat Guin Lineford who actually ends up sort of falling in love with Loran, a subtext I wish they would’ve explored in greater detail. His insistence on calling him Laura even after the disguise has been abandoned whispers of his forbidden love even if the show never dares to talk about it outside of a throwaway comment in the end.

And that’s pretty much this show in a nutshell: great potential but never any good payoff. The show is presented as a pretty much villainless show where both sides are the aggressors and it starts to ask interesting questions but never commits to them.

Do the Moonrace have a claim to the land they possessed before leaving?
Is Evil and Good just two sides of the same coin?
What’s the consequences of a more advanced civilization suddenly making contact with a younger civilization?
Does technology decide the outcome of the war?
Is ultimate power ultimately corrupting?

But then the show sort of forgets about it all, abandons the setting and goes into space and like a famous Internet critic once said, where do you go from space? And despite being a busy series running from place to place, the show is fifty episodes long but doesn’t have enough plot to fill it all. After the initial setup is done the show meanders about heavily and engages in pedestrian drama about romance and silly antics. Every now and again it flirts with serious themes such as the consequences of wars for civilians, love during war and racism but never comes to any satisfying conclusions.
Instead we’re asked to take a lot on blind faith and the show more or less tells us how to feel. Loran Cehack is a boring character that never truly evolves or changes because of the things he sees and experiences. Even when returning to the moon after a long absence it’s kind of muffled and with little impact, Loran telling us he missed it without actually showing signs of it before.

Oh, and the fishermen of the moon ride dolphins… yes, saddle and all. Just keep that in mind. He left that.
If there’s anything in this series that comes out of left field, that’s probably the most surprising one. Not that they ride dolphins on the moon, I’ve always suspected that, but that Loran left that.

And the show pretty much abandons that whole “no real villain” thing towards the end when it introduces Gym Ghingnham, a villain if I ever saw one. He revels in combat, talks about how war is great and glorious and he travels with a sidekick that dresses like a jester equally obsessed with war and laughs even more.
Again there’s hints of something more interesting hiding under the surface, with several comments being made about Merrybell, the jester sidekick, that suggests she’s suffered through a lot but again the show never does much with it. Her past remains a mystery despite easily being the most interesting of Ghingnham’s crew.
There’s also a fat bloke called Sweatson that practically licks his lips at the thought of killing something and repeatedly endangers everything around him for a shot at Turn A Gundam. Just in case you weren’t sure they were villains.

The last ten episodes are practically entirely devoted to this plot twist but the problem is of course that it’s not established very well and Ghingnham is never made into a threatening villain in any way. There’s enough plot here to fuel the series at large yet it’s cast aside for some dull drama that never really goes anywhere. The revelation concerning Turn A and its brother-mecha Turn X are never satisfyingly explored and the ending in particular raises a lot of questions that I wish the show would at least hint at an answer for. But more on the ending later.

There’s also a fair bit of romance permeating the story but the show doesn’t handle it very well at all. One character falls in love with someone who ends up dying yet it’s handled with the weight of a paper clip and leaves no emotional consequences at all. Did they become lovers on the battlefield for fear of dying? Was it true love? Romance of convenience? Did she truly love him or did she just humor him because it made him happy?
And that’s pretty much fifty percent of all the memorable deaths in the series. While other Gundams have a tendency to scatter a few deaths throughout the series to emphasize how shitty war is and priceless life is, Turn A tries to have its cake and eat it too. It’s definitely geared more towards the pre-school demographic as it distances itself from everything dark and heavy but its insistence on being “kid friendly” is also the thing that ultimately dooms it as it doesn’t have the opportunity to show us how horrible war truly is.

Instead the show just kind of expects us to take its word for it. And because of that it feels more preachy than it perhaps really is. If the intention was to just make a light hearted comedy adventure romp then by all means do that. But this goes back to what I said before about the show wanting to have it’s cake and eat it too. It wants to be Gundam but at the same time not at all.
That’s not to say you need to have tons of death to give the show lasting impact. I saw Victory before this and that’s a show that relishes death like no other show so Turn A is very much the opposite of that show. Which only makes sense if you’ve seen both, I suppose.

What surprised me the most about the production of this show was that Mr. Yoshiyuki “Kill’em All” Tomino directed it, the man famous for killing off characters to the left and to the right during his depression. Look no further than Space Runner Ideon and Mobile Suite Victory Gundam for perfect examples of this. Having just come from Victory, it was incredibly jarring in terms of atmosphere and nature that it almost put me off it entirely.

As for the rest of the production, the show has really high standards. The animation is gorgeous and while I don’t personally like the design of Turn A itself, at least it’s thematically sound with its butterfly/moth motif. And if you didn’t see it right away, the special attack being named “Butterfly Wings” and the ending pretty much made it blatant. And it does raise a lot of curious questions about the Gundam but, sing after me, the show doesn’t do a good job at exploring them.
The aesthetics for the rest of the show are really appealing, mixing the old timey west with its steam engines and early motor vehicles with the sleeker, more advance technology of the moonrace people. The only thing I missed would’ve been an early mobile suit built by the Earthlings to combat the moonrace but instead they rely entirely on suits found buried or what they can get off of the invaders themselves.

Same praise can be heaped on the sound. While its hard to put a finger on why the music is so good, something of note is definitely the second ending theme as it’s really beautiful.

As for the sound effects themselves, well, they’re just of really high quality here. More than once I found myself nodding approvingly of some really good sounding explosion that took me by surprise and the sounds of the mobile suits themselves are also of really high quality.

So ultimately I guess I have to sum things up. What did I really think of Turn A Gundam? Well, I’m pretty neutral on the whole thing. It didn’t leave me with a bad taste in my mouth but nor did it really thrill me. The plot itself didn’t speak to me at all nor did I find most the characters or their writing very compelling. But it’s hard to deny that Turn A is a very competently made anime with a lot of good action to get you pumped. The ending left me very cold and unappreciative but the setting alone sold me on the series.
There’s nothing offensively bad about it but there is so much potential buried here under your typically Japanese “cute” stuff that I feel more could’ve been done with just a little more effort. And in some ways squandered potential is far worse than no potential at all.

So it kind of depends on what you want out of your series. It wasn’t what I wanted, that’s for sure, and doesn’t come close to what I consider the best Gundam has ever produced: MS IGLOO and War in the Pocket. But I do leave the series with a pleasant farewell rather than a snide remark and that has to count for something.