K – Episode 3

This episode is exactly what I had been waiting for: stuff finally gets explained! Not everything of course, but we get enough information so we’re not completely in the dark. And there’s enough details about the world and the characters left in shadow to keep viewers interested and curious past this point.

The episode starts out by rewinding a bit, putting us back at the beginning of episode 1. We’re finally shown how that epic battle ended! Except… there wasn’t really any battle to speak of.

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I was hoping there would be more explosions.

The leader of HOMRA (redheaded Mikoto) basically turns himself in to the team of blue-clad official looking types. We finally get a name for them too:  SCEPTER4. Their leader (glasses-type Munakata) seems to have some history with Mikoto. Maybe this has something to do with them both being “kings.” Mikoto is the Red King, and Munakata is the Blue King. The world is color-coded for our convenience!

This episode gets around to telling us information in a bit of a stereotypical way from that point on: mostly, it’s Shiro questioning Kuro about this mysterious new world that he’s just discovered, and Kuro explaining things to Shiro (and therefore, the audience) very clearly and conveniently. There could have been a different way of revealing this information within the action of the episode that might have been more dynamic; but the infodump is interspersed with comedic moments and clips of other related things happening in the world, so it doesn’t drag.

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Spoiler: The threat doesn’t hurt Shiro’s appetite at all.

For example, we have Kuro giving Shiro a fair warning that he will be killed as soon as they finish eating. The meal continues in relative comfort for all involved until the end of the episode.

We also get a closer look at a few key characters. Looks like one of SCEPTER4’s  members used to belong to HOMRA. I wonder what the story is behind that?

Then we have this blonde woman that we’ve mostly only seen featured in the OP. She might be a bombshell, but it turns out she has a wicked sadistic side. The fact that her disturbing lines are delivered calmly and professionally at all times just makes it even more off-putting. I like the personality quirk.

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She also seems to have a possibly life-threatening case of Wandering Boob.

Oh, and we can NOT go on without mentioning all the BL fanservice we have going on. Sorry if this isn’t your cup of tea, but it is so very obvious.

I mean, we have this one scene between the captured Mikoto and Munakata early on in the episode. Mikoto basically suggests that Munakata watch him 24/7 (in lieu of killing him, if another method of keeping him controlled isn’t found), along with some… other precautions.

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He really shouldn’t look that happy about it.

It’s clear the two go back a ways. Whether they are frenemies or just old-fashioned hateful rivals isn’t clear yet. Either way though, you have to admit that is some grade-A fangirl baiting there.

Then there’s Shiro and Kuro. Without breaking a sweat, Kuro manages to bring Shiro’s blush count up to three.

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Kuro: 2. Neko: 1. It’s anyone’s game here ladies and gentlemen!

And it’s clear by this episode that Kuro is not as stuffy and by the book as he seemed initially. We get to see him fanboying over a recording of inspirational quotes collected from his late mentor, which is hilarious.

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I’m guessing Master Ichigen didn’t know he was being recorded. That makes this even better.

Overall, strong episode. They managed to do a lot with this one, and still kept it entertaining. Not much has progressed plot-wise, though it’s clear that things are coming to a head. HOMRA and SCEPTER4 are both looking for Shiro, a mysterious and powerful force is shown to have their eye on our white-haired protagonist, and Kuroh has been convinced to hold off on killing Shiro until he can verify with this own eyes that the high school student is really a King gone murderous. All the wheels are turning. We just have to see where we’re going from here.

Watch the episode for yourself over at Viz!

Magi – Episode 1

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Before the Magi anime was released, I kept catching glimpses of manga scans or fanart floating around the internet: and I was both intrigued and confused. What was I looking at? An Arabian Nights retelling? A standard anime plot in an Aladdin-esque fantasy setting? I thought I saw the name Alibaba floating around somewhere.

Well, turns out that the name of the first episode is “Aladdin and Alibaba.” I couldn’t have been too far off!

The story centers around two characters sporting those names: big surprise, right? Aladdin is an adorable little boy of mysterious origins, who carries a magical flute around with him wherever he goes. Turns out the flute houses a spirit named Ugo, to which Aladdin has made some sort of promise.

Alibaba is a blonde boy determined to gather fame and fortune for himself. In order to do that, he has decided to take on something called a dungeon. It’s not talked about what a dungeon actually entails in this episode, but one can only guess it’s full of monsters and other nasties a la your standard video game dungeon. At the end lies treasure and magical items, including a Metal Vessel. Metal Vessels are in high demand, seeing as they seem to house creatures called Djinn… oh hey, isn’t that what Aladdin is carrying around?

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I wonder if the Djinn inside gets tired of the noise.

By the end of the episode these two prolific names have teamed up to take on a dungeon together: for fame, fortune, and beautiful women.

Which they are both very, very fond of. Aladdin especially.

It’s a little weird, I’ll be honest. The sight of a kid who looks like he’s six years old getting THIS excited about breasts is sort of putting me off a little.

There’s a fair amount of breast-service in this first episode, which isn’t uncommon at all in anime. But I just felt like the amount of time spent focusing on Aladdin fondling breasts or thinking about it was a tad bit overdone. And then there’s this scene with a veritable army of faceless women with Gainax-bouncing breasts.

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I genuinely feel a little terrified right now. Is this how the world will end…?

All the breast-service isn’t terrible though. There’s the scene where the two main characters meet, for example: Alibaba is working for a rich merchant named Lord Budel to help fund his dungeon-hunting dreams. This job just happens to be loading and transporting fruit: but when Alibaba goes to check on the merchandise, he finds Aladdin there instead. With most of the fruit gone, and boy’s face covered in watermelon juice.

Naturally, this gets Alibaba in trouble with his portly employer. But it only gets worse when the little boy jumps onto the rich man’s chest and fondles his man-boobs with an overabundance of enthusiasm. I mean, a LOT of enthusiasm.

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ALADDIN, I DON’T THINK YOU UNDERSTAND.

There IS more than just gags and breasts going on in this episode, thankfully. There’s actually a fair amount of character development, especially with regards to Alibaba. Aladdin turns out to be really mature and fearless when it comes to doing what’s right. This can be chalked up to innocence of course, since he doesn’t seem to be from this world necessarily, and he doesn’t understand how everything works. But there is a scene where he and Alibaba come across a slave girl with her feet in chains. Everyone, including Alibaba, looks on sadly but does nothing as she drops the heavy burden she’s toting across town.

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The one person who steps forward and does something is a tiny kid. It’s heartwarming, but makes you realize just what sort of world this is.

But Aladdin steps forward and uses the magic of his flute to break her chains. Then he faces a sword for his trouble at the hand of one of Budel’s minions and doesn’t even flinch. Ero-tendencies and comic relief aside, Aladdin seems to be a solid character.

Then there’s Alibaba. He is all about money and power, but he isn’t driven to cruelty by it. Still, he does have a HUGE character flaw as a result: Alibaba just doesn’t want to do or say anything that could jeopardize his chances at wealth. This includes laughing and agreeing with Budel as he waxes on about slaves and how one can never overcome their station in life, though it’s clear he doesn’t agree with any of this deep down.

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BAM! Character development!

Finally- FINALLY, after watching him be a near insufferable yes-man who does nothing about the world around him the whole episode- Alibaba stands up and risks his life to save the slave girl from earlier in the episode and a slave child from the clutches of a monster, at the expense of Budel’s pricey wine, which happens to soothe the beast.

What a great scene! I love that they built up his character flaw through the episode before giving us a big turning point. The writing in this episode is spotty, but this aspect was well done.

Speaking of the writing, there WERE some things that made me scratch my head. Alibaba takes to Aladdin way too quickly, in my opinion. Aladdin eats all of Alibaba’s food and gets him in serious trouble with a powerful employer, and Alibaba goes straight from angry to giving Aladdin the rundown of his dreams and what a dungeon is. It’s rushed, and it doesn’t feel genuine. At the end of that same scene, Alibaba falls asleep randomly in the middle of talking. Like, just gets exhausted and then plops right over mid-sentence. Unless he has narcolepsy, there had to be a better, smoother transition than that.

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Well, that’s one way to end a conversation.

The quality of the animation isn’t bad… but it isn’t exceptional either. Sometimes, it feels fluid and bright. Other times, it feels halting and bland. The designs overall are pretty basic and cartoon-y without an abundance of detail. It’s cute and it catches your eye though, and that’s something. The clothing and the setting are appropriately styled with an Arabian theme in mind, which I really enjoyed. But I do find it a little strange that none of the characters LOOK particularly Arabian. This sort of whitewashing isn’t out of the ordinary for anime and manga, though, so it’s not surprising.

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It just makes sense that two people with such amazing names would become friends.

Really, I’m pretty torn on this one. Episode one of Magi had its good points (Alibaba overcoming his yes-man personality and following his own heart and will; Aladdin’s bravery and insight into the world around him), and its bad points (weird obsessions with breasts, jerky pacing and scene transition). I’ve heard good things about this manga, so I’m willing to keep going with the anime to see what else it brings to the table.

I watched this episode of Magi on Crunchyroll. Check it out for yourself!

K – Episode 2

The subtitle for this episode is “Kitten,” but I would vote to have it changed to “Kuroh’s Worst Day Ever.” Can we all just agree on that?

I don’t don’t think he could look less amused.

I know Shiro is supposed to be the character we’re sympathetic to, but just look at Kuroh here. That’s the face of defeat.

Episode 1 did a good job of setting us up with the basics of this world. Episode 2 doesn’t build much on top of that foundation as far as general information goes, but it IS extremely entertaining and surprisingly funny. The humor is a little stereotypical of an anime, but it’s less slapstick than it is playing off of our expectations of the characters. For example, Kuroh comes off as a serious and mature character. But throughout this episode we see him humanized in some surprising ways; and from the most unexpected of those ways comes the humor.

Anyway, let’s take this from the beginning.

The episode starts off right where episode 1 ended: Kuroh as a sword to Shiro’s throat and plans to kill him as revenge for the murder that Shiro has supposedly committed.  When it becomes apparent that there is no getting out of this, Shiro seems to give in to his fate. He only has one request: that he gets to write a farewell letter to his sick sister. He’s her only friend, he explains, and he doesn’t want her to think the worst of him if he’s executed for a murder he hasn’t committed. Kuroh is obviously moved by this (even going so far as to compliment the sister’s name), and allows Shiro to write out this heartfelt, sentimental note before he is executed.

But then we learn something very important about Shiro:

There was never a sick sister. What a twist!

He is NOT as helpless as he seems.

Using his bogus story as a distraction, Shiro produces some flash bombs (!?) out of his bag and makes a hasty escape, leaving Kuroh to deal with the fact that he’s just been duped. Turns out the powerful hunter also known as the “Black Dog” has a weakness for sentimentality, and that Shiro is not your average high school student.

Back in the city proper, the street gang (now identified as Homra) puts out a bounty on Shiro’s head- and the amount is nothing to sneeze at. From peoples’ reactions, Homra is a well-known organization. Just how powerful are they?

I am sensing the start of a beautiful rivalry here.

A skateboarding member of Homra who was unlucky enough to get into a scrap (and lose that scrap) with Kuroh in episode 1 reappears for another short brawl with the infamous Black Dog as the hunt for Shiro starts in earnest. This scene almost felt out of place to me actually. The music changes abruptly to an upbeat J-Pop song as the two duke it out, and the fight ends the same way as before with nothing new being brought to the table. I suppose this scene could be setting up a rivalry between The Skateboarder (haven’t caught his name yet) and Kuroh, if nothing else.

Shiro, in the meantime, has made it back to his dormitory with his little white cat in tow. I hadn’t mentioned the cat before. It didn’t seem terribly important, past being cute and adorably clingy to Shiro. Though when Shiro lays down beside it on his bed, then opens his eyes…

Judging by that blush…

Shiro isn’t the only thing that isn’t what he seems, apparently.

… Kuroh is gonna have some competition.

Oh hey, it’s that naked girl from school earlier! The one no one else seems to be able to see. Turns out she and the cat are one and the same. And before Shiro can wrap his head around that, Kuroh catches up to him- and not only can be see the naked, well-endowed girl in Shiro’s room, but he’s so incapacitated by embarrassment that Shiro and his mysterious new friend have time to get away. A chase ensues, which shows us two things: one, that the girl known as just Neko has some serious powers of her own, as she uses them to keep Shiro out of Kuroh’s reach; and also, that Kuroh has an iron will. He gets turned around, confused by illusions, runs into walls, and somehow even gets some unflattering drawings on his face before all three of them end up back in Shiro’s apartment.

Nothing brings people together like being exhausted down to the very depths of their souls.

By now, it’s clear that there is little life-or-death left in this situation. Everyone is too tired- and hungry- to continue the fight anyway. By the time the episode ends,  it’s revealed that Kuroh is a proficient cook. Scene ends with everyone around the table, eating together.

What.

… Yeah, that was NOT how I expected this to go down. But I really loved the drop in tension in this episode. The humor (mostly watching Kuroh fail miserably to take Shiro down before seeming to give up entirely in favor of breakfast) actually helps us learn about who these characters are, and it builds their relationships without it seeming forced or cliche. The quality of the animation is still consistent, lending itself just as well to serious scenes as it does to the funnier ones. There are even some unexpected details, like Shiro’s animated wallpaper. Which needs to be invented for general use immediately. I volunteer my walls for test use.

If in episode 1 the characters seemed a little distant, episode  does a lot to humanize them and get us interested in their personal quirks. But there are still a lot of questions: who was that in the video that looks just like Shiro, and who did he murder? What is Homra, and what is the uniformed group they are at odds with? What’s up with these superpowers anyway? Maybe episode 3 will give us some answers.

See episode two of K for yourself over at Viz!

K – Episode 1

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When I first saw trailers for this series back in the spring, there were two things that really stuck with me: one, that everyone in the show is extremely attractive. Sure, most anime characters err on the side of pretty anyway, but this is a bishounen lover’s anime dream here, no lie.

I’m certainly not complaining.

Second thing: the animation was very shiny. Not only that, but it looked like the animators would be using some unique techniques with their visuals. I took that as a good sign.

Episode one follows up on both these assumptions, and I for one wasn’t disappointed in the results.

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What a beautiful, shiny day!

Immediately, the visuals jump out. It’s not just that everything is almost ridiculously shiny (which it is, and I don’t mind it), but the use of light overall is just done very well. The animation itself is smooth also. I’m glad for it, else the nice character designs wouldn’t have mattered. There IS a muted quality to the colors of everything that takes a moment to get used to. It’s atmospheric, if not a little dark at times. Makes all the shiny ‘pop.’ There are some interesting angles and perspectives used too, my favorite being the fish-eye lens effect about midway into the episode. I’ve never seen this used in anime before. I like it.

As far as the plot goes, this episode does a good job of juggling numerous unrelated things, then bringing them together unexpectedly. It starts off with a psychic square-off between two groups: a sort of rag-tag street gang who may or may not be on the side of good, and an official looking uniformed group. Group 1 is led by ridiculously good-looking redhead Mikoto; Group 2 is led by ridiculously good-looking glasses Munakata.

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A psychic version of West Side Story. Without the snapping or the dancing.

The big fight that builds up in the first few minutes of the show gets cut off, so we don’t know how it ends right away. Whatever happens, there’s some serious psychic and/or magical power being flung around here.

From there, the show jumps into more familiar territory: the Japanese high school. The focus is on a student named Shiro (short for Yashiro), who seems to be the happy-go-lucky type. He’s friendly, but not really close to anyone at school. Things are calm and relatively normal for a futuristic high school setting, save for a couple of things. First, there’s a naked girl bouncing around the school that no one seems to be able to see, excepting the robotic trash collectors. Safe to say, the fanservice in this show is equally kind to both the male and the female viewers.

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Assuming that naked cat-like girls are not the norm in this universe, I’m guessing she’s invisible.

Then there’s a strange premonition that Shiro seems to have while resting atop one of the school buildings: that the country of Japan will soon be meeting its end.

Things don’t get much stranger for Shiro until he’s sent out on a student council errand. The street gang from the first half of the episode makes a reappearance as they hunt Shiro down through the streets of the city. Why? Everyone seems to know Shiro’s face, but Shiro doesn’t seem to have any idea what is happening. He’s saved at the last minute by a mysterious third-party who whisks him away from the fight; but Shiro isn’t out of hot water yet. The stranger (identified as Kuroh Yatogami ) isn’t necessarily friendly towards Shiro either. At the end of the episode, we find out that Kuroh has one goal: to slay the “evil king.” This proclamation is followed up by a video appearing on every video screen all over the city: a quick, remorseless murder.

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Things aren’t looking so great for Shiro right now.

When the camera falls at the end of the scene, it’s clear that the murderer is someone identical to Shiro himself. There’s also the added fact that the murderer was humming a song Shiro was humming when he first appeared in the episode. Things close out on a tense scene, with Kuroh pointing his sword at Shiro, who is unable to deny that it does appear to be him killing a man in this video, which is no doubt the source of his newfound popularity. It’s clear that all the major players of the show have seen the video by this point. We’re even treated to a glimpse of the uniformed team’s HQ, where the redheaded leader of the street gang is being held in a cell. Well, we can guess how that fight at the beginning ended.

So far, this series has my attention. We have numerous things going on in the plot, a large cast of characters that could prove to be interesting, and a solid mystery by the end of the first episode. There’s a little bit for everyone here: action, mystery, some sci-fi/fantasy elements, attractive male and female characters, pretty visuals, and even just a tiny hint of BL attraction between Shiro and Kuroh. It’s slight enough that it shouldn’t bother you if you’re not a BL/yaoi person, but it’s clear enough to delight you if you are.

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Is that a blush I see?

Strong start so far, K. I’ll be watching more.

Check it out for yourself over at Viz!

A Brief Introduction

Hello world!

My name is Saru- and in case you hadn’t guessed it, this is my blog! I know, it’s a shock. Take a moment to get your whits back about you. I’ll wait.

So yes, this is my blog- a blog which will soon be overflowing with anime and manga reviews, news, and other related things. I intend to start with newer fall releases, then move my way into the winter series as they premiere. So if you’re looking for a way to keep up with what’s just coming out, look no further!

I also want to backtrack and watch/rewatch some “older” classics, so there’s going to be plenty of variation.

My main concern when watching anime is streaming it legally, however I might be able to accomplish that. Crunchyroll is a favorite outlet of mine, but I’ll go into detail about where I get my anime as time goes on- and I’ll always provide a link or a source at the end of a review so that you can find it too.

And that’s the bare bones of what this blog is going to be. As for me, there’s not much you need to know! I’m a 20-something anime/manga fan who has been devouring this stuff like candy since Sailor Moon came on cable TV back in the 90’s. It was the start of a long, dark road full of mecha, transformation sequences, and “doughnuts” that look suspiciously like rice balls.

I’ve never looked back.

Hope to see you all come along for the ride!