Millennium Actress Movie Review

I stated in my Tokyo Godfathers review that it was the “best anime movie I’ve seen since Ghost in the Shell“. As such, it was a no-brainer that would watch another Satoshi Kon flick, Millennium Actress, on Kanopy, from a completely different license holder than GKids. Going into it, I was aware that Tokyo Godfathers was a black sheep in Kon’s career, and that this movie was going to be much darker and stranger than I could possibly expect.

In Millennium Actress, two documentarians, Genya Tachibana and Kyouji Ida, are given the opportunity to interview retired actress Chiyoko Fujiwara. The old bird gladly divulges her life story to them, and those two end up along for quite a ride.

And I mean that literally. The movie seems straightforward at first glance, and that’s because it is. Minor spoilers: it doesn’t take long before the men interviewing her are literally IN Chiyoko’s flashbacks along with her past self.

Just when you thought things couldn’t get more meta, here’s a real hum-dinger. The bulk of Chiyoko’s story isn’t just told through flashbacks, but additionally through assorted scenes in her movies. These are seamlessly integrated into the actual plot, which is quite impressive (also, it’s convenient that all of her movies had similar premises). In these sequences, Tachibana ends up inexplicably planted into each given movie as an extra, further adding to the meta aspect.

Unfortunately, the biggest issue with Millennium Actress is Chiyoko’s story itself. The main conflict of the movie involves Chiyoko trying her butt off to find a tall, dark, and handsome guy she met for five minutes when she was, like, twelve. It’s so annoying when a female character gets her heart set aflutter by these idealized bozos. Sure, she was young and dumb, but the guy looks like he’s at least fifteen years older than her, which is kinda weird. Look, I don’t hem and haw over these intentionally controversial old-on-young people romances, like the Monica and Richard thing from Friends, but at least they GOT TO KNOW EACH OTHER FIRST.

This doesn’t help her as a character either. While it’s always fun [for Westerners] to watch someone descend into madness, her issues seem cringey and annoying. At least characters like Citizen Kane had REAL issues, his case being his own mother selling him to the freaking BANK, or Mildred Pierce, whose case I won’t mention because it’s a spoiler. Overall, Chiyoko comes off as a whiny brat throughout the film.

Fortunately, the two reporters are better. They have great chemistry with each other, and add a lot of humor to the movie that very much reminds me of Tokyo Godfathers. Also, they sort of represent the audience in some way. Tachibana comes off as the self-proclaimed intellectual who is totally into whatever the movie throws at him, and Ida acts like the trend-savvy, filthy casual who wouldn’t know REAL art even if it placed his head into its bosom. The fact that I’m not waxing poetic about Kon’s “Schrodinger’s Cat, quantum-reality-warping transcendentalist genius” or whatever means that I’m CLEARLY more like Ida in this case.

When it comes to visuals, despite being only a year or two before Tokyo Godfathers, Millennium Actress looks much more aged. But even then, it still looks better than pretty much every TV anime these days. It also seems that Kon’s movies have a signature face style, similar to that of Ghibli. I hope that I don’t get sick of it if I choose to watch any more Kon movies.

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Final Verdict: 8.85/10

While I didn’t enjoy it as much as Tokyo Godfathers, Millennium Actress was still a great movie, and proof that this Kon guy knew what he was doing. However, when you take away the whole “warping between past, present, and movie scenes” thing, it amounts to little more than a bog-standard tragic love story. This brings up the question of what’s more important in storytelling: The story or the telling? I’m a bit of a weird combination of both, but you’ll need to lean a lot toward the latter in order to enjoy Millennium Actress.

Welcome to the Space Show Movie Review

Hopefully G-Kids will add more anime movies to Kanopy, because the ones I’ve watched have been fifty-fifty. Patema Inverted ended up being an E.T. ripoff on the most superficial, empty level. But conversely, Welcome to the Space Show– today’s topic- ended up being an E.T. ripoff with just the right amount of whimsy to become something with its own identity.

In Welcome to the Space Show, five kids- Natsuki, Amane, Noriko, Kiyoshi, and Koji- go out to search for their missing rabbit when they find an injured dog instead. Of course, this dog is actually a space dog named Pochi. As a reward for saving him, Pochi takes the kids to a massive alien city on the moon. 

To briefly touch on the art style, Space Show has a lot of abstract and bizarre setpieces and scenes. This is where I would normally assume that there’s some pretentious pseudo-symbolism. However, based on the sheer off-the-deep-endness of the movie, that really isn’t the case. The basic theme of Space Show is just weird for the sake of weird, and it doesn’t care if you’re confused.

And it does get confusing. Although there is enough  foreshadowing to have continuity, the way everything all comes together results in a massive “WTF?!” at the end. As expected, the climax is about as absurd and over-the-top as it gets. Saying that they fight a giant cyborg dragon above an autonomous salaryman planet during a livestream being broadcast to the entire universe isn’t even a spoiler, just because describing the plot of Space Show is impossible no matter how hard you try. I could be a critic, and say, “Oh, visual spectacle is technically impressive, but it doesn’t justify the mindless [insert smart-sounding word here] BS”, but I won’t.

It’s because of the main characters that the mindless BS is justified. While these kids aren’t particularly interesting, they are definitely kids at heart. Normally, I’d dislike any “human” protagonists, because of my fierce antisocialness, but kids are an exception. Children, when not tainted by the many adults who seek to manipulate them, are the most pure, innocent, and lovable by far. The other characters aren’t that interesting outside of their designs, and the relationship between Pochi and certain other individuals isn’t entirely clear (i.e. it’s interpretive).

Of course, I can only justify so much. The movie does have some of those eye-roll-worthy tropes that tend to be in a lot of family friendly movies. First off, Kiyoshi has a whole plot line with his dead dad that means absolutely nothing. Plus, there’s the typical “let’s be dejected for fifteen minutes and abruptly bounce back after we say some sappy junk as if we weren’t even drowning in despair in the first place.” It’s kind of something you can’t avoid in these movies, so you’ll just have to deal with it.

Finally, the visuals. Space Show is stunning in every sense of the word. It’s abstract and colorful, with tons of beautiful landscape shots with a myriad of bizarre vistas. The aliens are all kinds of weird shapes (and there are a LOT of kissy lips attached to things). The animation is smooth like water, and all the characters are super expressive. It holds up really well for a decade old movie. Just be wary of anthropomorphic stuff if you’re against furries.

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Final Verdict: 9.15/10

Welcome to the Space Show is a great anime movie, and a great showcase of that childlike wonder that seven billion too many of us lose with age. Seeing it makes me wonder how A-1 Pictures became the mainstream-catering studio that they are generally known as today. I get that anime being by the same studio doesn’t really mean it’s the EXACT same team, but as far as I know, they haven’t made anything as bizarre as this at all in recent years. Well, regardless of the history of A-1 Pictures, Space Show is a fun film, and I recommend it to fans of E.T. and those who want something wiggety-whack.

Children of the Whales (1-6) and Kaiju Girl Caramelise (1-3) First Impressions

Shoujo is by far my least favorite manga genre. It’s basically the manga equivalent of cringey YA romance, which I have very much established as not liking. But one shoujo manga (at least according to MyAnimeList), Children of the Whales (published in English by Viz), actually looks legitimately good! Let’s see if it is…

In Children of the Whales, we follow a group of people who live on a boat, called the Mud Whale, adrift on an endless sea of sand (potential Xenoblade Chronicles 3 idea?). Our main protagonist, Chakuro, who has some serious OCD that makes him document everything in ridiculous detail, participates on a mission to investigate a second, derelict ship that is spotted in the sand. There, he finds a mysterious girl he names Lykos, the first human from outside of his own Mud Whale that has ever been witnessed, and naturally, she single-handedly turns Chakuro’s life on its head.

While it does get a bit exposition-y at the beginning, Children of the Whales wastes no time getting into that good ol’ intrigue. There’s a lot of weird stuff regarding the reason why the Mud Whale is even where it is, and of course, where Lykos came from and what her beef is. Overall, the manga has a very whimsical atmosphere, and regardless of how straightforward the plot is, it always feels like there’s secrets waiting to be revealed.

Unfortunately, it does fall into some typical modern fantasy traps, the worst of all being the Thymia system. Thymia is basically magic, and it cuts people’s life spans short (but since our characters are teens, it’s no problem for them). The only thing explained about it (not counting the blips of lore that come in between chapters) is that it’s powered by raw emotion. This means that the author can go hog wild and we just have to deal with it.

But hey, at least it has interesting worldbuilding to offset that. The in-between chapter blurbs show how much thought the author put into the Mud Whale’s design, and the thing itself does have a memorable look. It’s also really good at building curiosity and anticipation to what the rest of the world is like. 

It’s just too bad that the characters aren’t so great. Chakuro is your basic weak, generic boy who ends up existing just to absorb plot information. Among the people who actually have to do the legwork are Lykos and Ouni. Lykos is your typical “sad girl who needs wuv”, and Ouni is just the super-powerful angsty teen. There are a lot of other characters, but they’re just as unmemorable. This is definitely a story-driven manga, that’s for sure.

Normally, I find shoujo manga to be visually appalling. However, Children of the Whales actually looks beautiful. It definitely embraces some shoujo tropes, such as sparkly eyes, but the author didn’t gouge out the characters’ actual eyes and put diamonds in the sockets. There is also, thankfully, a lack of the knife-chins that most shoujo characters have. The background art is the most appealing aspect of the manga, along with some great abstract imagery. The Thymia also gives characters magical tattoos, and if there’s anything I find sexy, it’s magical tattoos!

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Current Verdict: 7.5/10

Children of the Whales is starting out pretty well, but it looks like it’s going to be one of those slow burns. Fortunately, it does seem to ramp up by around volume 5, so I am curious as to how much better it could get. It’s extremely sparse on romance, so I don’t know why it’s supposedly considered a shoujo manga. As such, I can’t exactly recommend it to shoujo fans. But if you want an ambient, whimsical story, Children of the Whales has got you covered.


Romance is a tough genre to do well (at least for cold-hearted introverts like me). I’ve seen a lot with great potential fall flat on their faces. Let’s see if Kaiju Girl Caramelise, published in English by Yen Press, bites off more than it can chew.

In Kaiju Girl Caramelise, an emotionally unstable girl named Kuroe Akaishi ends up meeting the hot guy in her school, Arata Minami, and hits it off with him. The problem with Kuroe is that she has a rare disease where she grows monster parts whenever her mental state is under duress. And when her emotions rise to a fever pitch, she straight-up turns into Godzilla.

While her inevitable love for Arata seems to come out of nowhere, the manga starts with a flashback of her as a kid getting rejected by an unknown male character. I immediately assumed that this was in fact a young Arata, which explains her initial fervor for him at the beginning. But regardless… her love for him really does appear abruptly. All he does is go out of his way to talk to her and she suddenly has sparkly eyes.

Sadly, the kaiju aspect doesn’t really change the romance aspect at all. To me, it seems very blatantly symbolic of girls when they’re going through their period, since their bodies change due to circumstances outside of their control. The fact that it occurs whenever Arata comes to mind is further symbolism of this. I suppose if you care about stuff like that, then this manga would be fascinating to no end for you.

Anyways, as far as characters are concerned, they’re kind of meh. Arata is a typical Gary Sue, and Kuroe is a typical “imperfect girl who’s special for some reason”. The only saviors of this manga are Kuroe’s hot mom’s dog, Jumbo King, and this girl named Manatsu. The latter is super rich and has a crazy kaiju obsession that I find genuinely enjoyable. 

As for the art, it’s typical shoujo fare. Sparkly eyes, check. Long chins, check. Simple textures, check. It’s not the most nauseating thing to look at compared to, say, Anonymous Noise, but it’s still not my style.

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Current Verdict: 7/10

Kaiju Girl Caramelise is starting off as a… tolerable romance. It’s not pretentious like a number of YA romances I’ve read, so it’s got an advantage there. I’d recommend it if you want to see the underdog get the sexy significant other in the end.

Gravity Falls Full Series Review

The coronavirus of 2020 ended up giving me an opportunity to do something that I didn’t think possible: binge-watch an entire television show. I was going to settle for Avatar: The Last Airbender, but it turned out Netflix didn’t have it (thanks for sucking at having any animated programs as always (oh, and for the record, it wasn’t on Hulu either)). So instead, I chose Disney’s Gravity Falls. From what I know, Gravity Falls has become a modern cult classic; almost unanimous critical acclaim, but ultimately getting overshadowed by Phineas and Ferb and other, more “accessible” Disney IPs (the damn show doesn’t even have Disney Parks merch!). In this review, I see whether or not I made a mistake watching Phineas and Ferb while it aired instead of this.

In Gravity Falls, a pair of twin siblings by the name of Dipper and Mabel Pines are sent to the titular town in scenic Oregon to live with their great uncle, Stanford (known otherwise as Grunkle Stan). They mainly laze around his gift shop of urban legend junk, until Dipper finds some weird book detailing all kinds of strange phenomena in the town. Of course, it’s inevitable that they get involved in said phenomena.

The show follows the typical, episodic formula of any American, Saturday morning cartoon, but with a sense of chronology more befitting of a TV anime. The plot of each episode tends to be stand-alone, but it also lays the groundwork for a bigger story in the process (like when Grunkle Stan enters some secret base at the end of episode 1). They also make nods to earlier episodes throughout the show, further giving it a sense of continuity. One example is a piece of graffiti on the water tower; it’s only brought up once, but its image remains throughout the entire series.

Despite them frequently getting attacked by monsters, ghosts, manly minotaurs, and an evil visual novel that predicted the existence of Doki Doki Literature Club, Gravity Falls maintains a sense of lightheartedness, and I’m thankful for that. Based on the praise I had heard of the show, I thought it was going to be an incredibly pretentious, pseudo-intellectual cartoon with weird symbolism placed just to evoke a sense of deepness when there isn’t any.

But that doesn’t mean there isn’t weird voodoo at all. First off, there are secret codes that appear in the end credits of each episode that apparently either foreshadow later stuff or bark nonsense. There was also a real-life scavenger hunt while the show was airing (or so I was told), but I can’t exactly do that now. I’m glad that this was all the show does in terms of secret hidden lore, instead of rubbing its “genius” in your face like Monogatari. Of course, that will probably not stop series’ fans from calling you (or me) a filthy casual for not “appreciating the genius hidden meeting that makes Gravity Falls transcend modern media and human comprehension” or whatever, but that’s a given with any fandom.

Gravity Falls also has a great sense of humor that’s just about on par with that of Phineas and Ferb. I actually found myself laughing pretty consistently throughout, which was a pleasant surprise. There are also some great humorous details, the most notable of which is the Mystery Shack that they live in. Grunkle Stan’s job is to scam people from within the rundown cottage. The S in “Shack” frequently falls off, which both gets across the fact that the building is old, as well as the fact that Stan is a “Mystery Hack”. I dunno, little things like that are just great to me. Just keep in mind that this show is early 2010s… and that some dialogue is not up to the standards of the new resurgence in feminism. Basically, there’s a lot of gender stereotyping in Gravity Falls. It’s just your usual “boys like punching sh**, girls like boys and shoes”, but hey, I don’t know what sets people off these days.

The characters are also surprisingly solid. Although Dipper only has his frequent sarcastic remarks to save him from being a generic adolescent male, Mabel is Best Girl for sure. Her ditziness and general weirdness make her incredibly entertaining. The issue with them is that they have some “eye-roll-worthy” flaws, such as Dipper’s love for Wendy, one of Stan’s employees, along with Mabel’s annoying ability to fall in love at first sight. There are also cases of sitcom-like melodrama that occur between them, and this is where Gravity Falls feels the most trope-ish (and for the record, such tween drama is the entire reason that the final arc of the series is even instigated in the first place).

Grunkle Stan is also a very entertaining fart with great character development late in the series (even if he single-handedly doubles the length of the final episode for similar drama reasons), along with his other employees, Soos and the aforementioned Wendy. They’re pretty typical “big brother” and “big sister” archetypes, but they’re still likeable and have a lot of memorable lines. 

But hey, Gravity Falls is a town, and that means it has townsfolk. There are a number of very memorable, minor characters who appear at a very consistent rate, and make the area feel more like an actual community instead of an implied community. All these characters have quirky personalities and very distinct character designs, making their company very enjoyable. It’s amazing how much they all, including Toby, warmed up to me.

Unfortunately, the weakest link is in the antagonists. Gravity Falls has two major antagonists, the first of which is lil’ ol’ Gideon. He’s a posh, pompadour-wearing boy who is the Plankton of Grunkle Stan’s Krabs (wait, I think I messed up that analogy… ah, you get what I mean). Underneath his cheruby face is a conniving little turd who seriously wants Stan wiped off the face of the Earth.

Introduced at the end of season 1 is Bill Cipher, an Illuminati symbol with arms and legs. He has some strange motives that don’t come into play until pretty late into the series, well after his introduction. Just by looking at him, I can tell that most of the series’ hidden lore lies within him. I bet that the symbols on his “Illuminati Wheel” can be found in specific frames throughout the entire series, and reveal some sort of secret that will change all of humankind (and not at all mean what it’s intended to mean in the actual story).

Overall, these two are pretty entertaining, but ultimately fall short of beating villains like Heinz Doofenshmirtz from Phineas and Ferb (wow, I just made every fan of Gravity Falls angry). Doof comes off as a mad scientist trope, but becomes the most lovable character in the whole series as you progress through the later seasons. Gideon and Bill are just one-dimensional villains that are basically there out of obligation. Sure, maybe the “hidden lore” gives us more context for Bill than what they tell us, but it also might not at the same time.

The last point to discuss, as always, is the visual presentation. As expected, even for a TV show, Gravity Falls looks incredible. The animation is fluid (even if there are glaring cases of CG), and the color palette makes everything in the show pop. It’s definitely a nice step up from the hyper-budgeted TV anime that I’m used to.

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Final Verdict: 9/10

It might not be quite as good as Phineas and Ferb (“Boo, you filthy casual!” you exclaim. Look, it’s only the musical numbers and the superior antagonist that makes Phineas and Ferb better, okay?), Gravity Falls is definitely a fantastic cartoon. I’m kind of glad I didn’t watch it while it was airing, or I wouldn’t have been able to appreciate it from an adult standpoint. Regardless of if there’s some hidden metaphorical message in it, it’s still fun to enjoy at face value. I highly recommend it to anyone who has Disney Plus (as it’s probably not worth trying to catch it on reruns).

Fantasia Movie Review

I believe that a true classic is something that can still feel fresh and unique to anyone who experiences it, regardless of how many years it’s been since it was first released. And Walt Disney’s 1940 film, Fantasia, is one such classic (yes, I know about 2000, but we don’t talk about that era of sequels). Here’s a surprise: this is a review, and not a retrospective, because this is being written as of the first time I’ve ever seen it in my life, eighty years after its release.

If there’s anything I knew about Fantasia going into it, it’s its premise (wow, take a shot for every time I say “it” in this review). In Fantasia, a live-action man, named Deems Taylor, walks you through some very unconventional visual interpretations of various famous classical music pieces (conducted by Leopold Stokowski). Since it’s structured this way, I’m basically going to discuss my thoughts on each segment per paragraph. As this movie is eighty years old, I believe I have the right to write spoilers without warning (I also had to write down what the songs were because I know nothing about classical music). 

But first, I must discuss the one thing that all the sections have in common: they’re effing GORGEOUS. The visuals in Fantasia were, historically, beyond anything that Walt Disney had ever created at the time, and they still hold up today. These people had no computers, no nothing. Somehow, they managed to create all kinds of beautiful particle effects by themselves, and I honestly have no idea how. I recognized some instances of the multiplane camera, but the ingenuity of most of the film is beyond me. Holy crap.

The movie opens with Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, which is a Bach song (and I was too dumb to write down the composers of any of the other songs besides this one. Oops). It starts by showing the silhouettes of the live action orchestra bathed in various colored backdrops before gradually fading into abstract shapes that vaguely resemble instruments floating in a bright void. This is a great showcase of how easily the human mind can bring itself out of reality, and perfectly sets the tone for what’s to follow.

Next, we have the Nutcracker Suite, entirely bereft of nutcrackers. This one is a showcase of nature… or something. It starts off with a bunch of fairies creating various natural phenomena, and by the way… FULL FRONTAL NUDITY WARNING! “Dude, you’re overreacting,” you say, “they’re just fairies.” Well, congratulations on being open-minded. Yeah, sure, I doubt anyone reading this will have not already seen Fantasia, but I can’t take any chances here. Anyways, this sequence goes through the different seasons of nature. Due to the nature of the whole thing, they employ a lot of different colors and particle effects, making this one of the most beautiful and whimsical parts of the film.

Of course, not even I could’ve avoided not having already seen the most iconic part of Fantasia: the Sorcerer’s Apprentice section. This is the famous debut of what is considered to this day to be the de facto form of Mickey Mouse. We all know what happens: Mickey takes Yen Sid’s hat, uses it, floods the place, and gets spanked in the end. There are a couple of small logical issues, like the fact that Yen Sid was dumb enough to not take his hat to his room, or the fact that the fountain that Mickey was supposed to take the water from somehow contained enough water to fill the entire cave. But hey, it’s magic. Due to the fact that it has an actual narrative, and Mickey Mouse, this is definitely the most accessible segment of the movie, and probably the part that you all fast-forwarded to when you were a kid. Oh, also, epilepsy warning apparently; there are some instances of flashing light effects, and I’m pretty sure that counts as an epilepsy warning, right?

After this is the Rite of Spring, a classical piece originally intended to showcase primitive human life. Of course, Walt Disney took a step ahead- or back, rather- and used it to showcase the origin of life on Earth. In this, you get to see life begin from single-celled organisms to the dinosaurs to the dinosaurs’ mass extinction. This one is brutal to watch. There’s no gore, but it very much shows creatures getting eaten alive left and right. Also, the slow death of the dinosaurs by dehydration is brutally honest and a stark contrast from the Nagito-levels of hope-loving that we understand Disney to be in recent years. If I was a kid, I would be traumatized by this.

According to my notes, the next one is called the Pastoral Symphony, set in Ancient Greece. It’s a fun section that shows various creatures frolicking until Zeus literally rains on their parade (he gets a lot softer once he’s a dad, apparently). Although… based on what I understand about today’s culture, this one is also very controversial. First off, we have these cute centaur girls, who reek of FULL FRONTAL NUDITY. But it doesn’t stop there; they also doll themselves up in order to sell their bodies to male centaurs, which I’m pretty sure is a case of sexism as well. And depending on how old they are… there could also be an instance of minors drinking (thanks Dionysus). But otherwise, this section is very fun and colorful.

The semifinal segment is the Dance of the Hours. It’s a pretty on-the-nose depiction (at least, according to what the live action guy said), where dancers that represent daylight get attacked by dancers represent nighttime. Of course, the dancers this time are animals. They picked the perfect animals to do ballet dancing because you’re not expected to think that hippos and stuff would be good at ballet. Overall, the animation is very fluid and bouncy, but it’s also the least abstract of the sections. There are also more antics in this part than any other part of the movie. Due to how silly it is, this is no doubt the second most accessible section of the movie.

The final section of the movie is a two parter, the first of which is Night on Bald Mountain. This is the other part of Fantasia that I knew about beforehand, where Chernabog makes some ghost people pop up. This part is SCARY if you’re a kid, as it has jumpscares and assorted terrifying imagery. The lighting effects on Chernabog make him hands down one of the scariest Disney villains ever drawn, and the effects on the ghosts are fantastic. Fortunately, the guy spends his time tormenting his own minions (most of which are nude) as opposed to any “living” humans, but it’s still very dark for Disney. But hey, before long, Ave Maria kicks in and shuts Chernabog up real good. After this, the remainder of the movie is a very long procession of nuns before the movie abruptly ends at a gorgeous landscape shot (well, it’s about as landscape as you can get in a 4:3 ratio). This is probably because I’m not a religious person, but Ave Maria was perhaps my least favorite part of the movie, and most likely a part that I would’ve fallen asleep during as a kid.

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Final Verdict: 8.65/10

Man, I really miss this form of Disney. The vast majority of Fantasia would likely alienate people who are more used to the straightforwardness of most Disney films. It’s very experimental and ballsy when compared to the embodiment of mainstream that Disney has become in recent years (well, the live-action Mulan movie is probably their ballsiest project in a long time, but you get what I mean). 

I enjoyed it, but due to its two-hour length, I doubt I’d watch it again. But as far as recommendations go (assuming that you haven’t watched it)… I can’t easily recommend it. Fantasia doesn’t just have a lot of controversial and dark imagery, but it’s entirely devoid of dialogue and an actual defined plot (outside of Sorcerer’s Apprentice), and I can’t imagine any kid who wouldn’t fall asleep within minutes of starting the film. I can only recommend it to adults with a very open-minded palette of tastes, or to diehard Disney fans who want to know everything about the company’s history.

Phantom Tales of the Night First Impressions (Volumes 1-3)

Sometimes, there is a case where a knockoff of a popular series is better than said popular series. Phantom Tales of the Night, published in English by Yen Press, initially comes off as a knockoff of Clamp’s classic manga, xxxHolic. But upon further inspection, it’s something much better.

Phantom Tales of the Night stars the unnamed proprietor of the mysterious Murakumo Inn. He allows anyone to stay at his inn- from humans to monsters. The man asks only one thing from you in return: a secret. You don’t even need to be aware of your secret, such as the case of Tokihito Sasaki, a high school student who’s secretly been dead for quite some time.

This manga mostly contains episodic chapters that slowly contribute to a bigger story. One immediate advantage that Phantom Tales has over xxxHolic is that YOU DON’T NEED TO READ AN ENTIRELY SEPARATE MANGA IN ORDER TO UNDERSTAND WHAT’S GOING ON. As a result, this manga has a much simpler plot. But just because it’s simple, doesn’t mean it’s not intriguing. After all, there’s the question of who the proprietor of Murakumo actually is.

The characters consist of three main protagonists: the proprietor of the inn, who’s merely referred to as Owner, and his two servants, Butterfly and Spider. Owner is, obviously, the Best Boy. He’s a cold, heartless man who doesn’t give a crap about anybody unless they have secrets for him to eat. Yet despite this, he’s a freaking badass, with plenty of epic shots all to himself. His secret is obviously going to be juicier than the Krabby Patty Formula, and I can’t wait to find out what it is!

His buddies are interesting. Butterfly is incredibly handsome, but ditzy, while Spider is the brute force guy. Their personalities clash regularly, and some great comedic scenes result, as out of place as they may be. Each chapter gives you bits and pieces of all three protagonists’ backstories.

There’s also a number of minor characters in Phantom Tales. Some, such as the aforementioned Tokihito, appear multiple times. But most of the time, these minor characters are just one-time visitors to the inn, ranging from regular humans, to assorted yokai, such as yuki-onna. If you’re no stranger to xxxHolic, you’d know that things generally don’t work out too well on their end.

Phantom Tales is one of those manga that relies on its visual presentation the most. It has a vividly detailed style that can go from beautiful to horrific at the turn of a page, and naturally, I love it. This is where the manga is the most similar to xxxHolic, but thankfully, the characters’ limbs aren’t spaghetti.

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Current Verdict: 9.45/10

Phantom Tales of the Night is amazing and underrated. Hopefully it’ll never get an anime adaptation, so it’ll stay perfect and pure forever. If you’re in the mood for a mind trip, then pack up your darkest secrets and stay a night at Murakumo Inn.

Monogatari Series Review, Part 2 of 3

In my review of the previous season of the Monogatari novels, I mostly praised its strange writing and its weird and complex characters, while showing disdain toward its slow-pacing and “smart-sounding” dialogue. But wow, this season is really where the series gets good.


Nekomonogatari: Shiro

I alluded to disliking Hanekawa in my previous review. So, naturally, I was DREADING a volume told from her perspective. Well, it turns out that I like her a lot more now. My problem with her last time wasn’t so much her personality as it was Araragi’s hero worship of her. Even when her tragic backstories and flaws came to light, he would unflinchingly maintain his preconceived image of her as Super Mary Sue 9000, and that made me resent her (and Araragi). But in HER head, we see a more down-to-earth and less pompous person than before. 

She is, in some ways, a better narrator than Araragi. The volume’s shorter chapters provide more places for readers to stop and process plot developments. Plus, her proactiveness makes it so that she tries to solve the volume’s conflict, as opposed to Araragi, who had to wait for Memelord or Kaiki or whoever to exposition dump the issue onto his clueless face.


Kabukimonogatari

Oh boy. Araragi again. Well, fortunately, he at least learned some lessons from Hanekawa. The chapters are still shorter and he didn’t take QUITE as long to get to the actual plot.

It sure jumps the shark by suddenly introducing TIME TRAVEL out of nowhere. And similar to 99.99% of time travel mechanics, it falls into modern fantasy’s “make up random inconsistent crap just for whatever would help the narrative” schtick. Not even NISI can match Steins;Gate.

The biggest issue with this volume is its ending, as it builds up to an epic confrontation that ends almost instantly. However, the suspense and tension of the scenario are enough to make Kabuki arguably one of the best volumes of Monogatari up to this point.


Hanamonogatari

I was told by my friend who’s been lending me this series that this is either their least favorite installment or widely considered to be the worst installment… I don’t quite remember. In fact, I properly remembered incorrectly, because this is not a bad volume at all!

It is, however- in good old NISIOISIN fashion- an unusual volume. Hana is the FINAL volume of the series, chronologically speaking. Starring Kanbaru for the first time, this volume is set after Araragi has graduated high school and moved to college. We get our first deep look at the weirdo as she tackles this volume’s conflict solo.

However, just because it’s not the worst or not bad, doesn’t mean it’s a straight-up masterpiece either. If actually read chronologically, this would’ve been a horrible way to “end” the series. Also, I don’t get the point of this examination of Kanbaru. Unlike with Hanekawa, where I actually started to view her differently as a person, I didn’t feel any differently about Kanbaru. Sure, we learn about an aspect of her past, but unlike with previously established characters, I didn’t understand what aspect of her insecurities was explored via this volume’s conflict. Maybe I brain-farted on this one or something. 

Nonetheless, NISI made a good call publishing the finale when he did, instead of actually publishing it at the end. He saved himself from a lot of salt that way! Unfortunately, Araragi’s presence in this volume gives him plot armor for the rest of the series. Great!


Otorimonogatari

Making her first appearance in what feels like forever, Nadeko takes the helm in the strangest installment in the series thus far. Did she always alternate between referring to herself with a lowercase “i” and her own name in the third person? I feel like I would’ve realized that sooner.

The premise is that she becomes possessed by a strange white snake, which is supposed to represent the guilt of her chopping up snakes back in the first arc. The theme seems to have something to do with how Nadeko is a horrible person who tries to victimize herself or something… I’m not quite sure. But regardless, Otori showcases just how much of a basket case she is!


Onimonogatari

A strange phenomenon threatens to engulf Araragi and the town, and it has something to do with Shinobu. The main appeal of Oni is the telling of Shinobu’s backstory with her previous thrall. 

Unfortunately, her story is kind of boring. It doesn’t really give her any meaningful character development, and the dude doesn’t even have a name. Plus, like the troll that NISI is, no information in the backstory actually contributes to solving the conflict of the volume. This is probably my least favorite volume of the second season.


Koimonogatari

I presume this is originally meant to be the final published volume, for it is set around Araragi and Senjo’s graduation; the date that the final boss is meant to kill them, which is established in a previous volume of this season. It stars Kaiki, of all people, who is hired by Senjo to trick the person into sparing our two lovebirds.

It was a great call making Kaiki the narrator for this one. For one thing, his personality and world views are so eccentric and fresh that it makes him one of the best characters in the series. The other thing is that using him saves this volume from being utter ass. The whole thing is basically Kaiki talking to the final boss over and over again until he can tell them that Araragi and Senjo already died. But at this point, I was no stranger to NISI creating big buildup just to have it culminate in the most anticlimactic way possible.

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Verdict (Average of All 6 Books): 8.45/10

Monogatari is still kicking butt. If all goes well, I should be posting the finale of this review series towards the end of this year or the start of 2021. Peace out!

There Was No Secret Evil-Fighting Organization (srsly?!), So I Made One Myself! Volume 1 Review

Cover of volume 1

There are SO MANY isekais out there, that it can become a reflex to assume that every new light novel is automatically an isekai. I read through the first chapter of There Was No Secret Evil-Fighting Organization (srsly?!), So I Made One Myself!, published in English by J-Novel Club, constantly asking, “So when does this guy get sent to another world?”, just to realize that it’s set in THIS world. Earth? What’s that?

Stuck in our own crap-ass world, Sago Kinemitsu suddenly develops telekinetic powers. But it kind of sucks;  he’s only able to lift a lousy potato chip. However, after several miserable years of his unremarkable life, his abilities get stronger and stronger, but now he’s just a salaryman with “phenomenal cosmic power, an itty-bitty living space,” and no big bads to save the world from. So, he decides to form his own organization to fight an evil menace of his own creation (confusing enough?), and he gets help from the rich and busty Shiori Kaburagi.

So, bizarrely enough, this is a chuunibyou slice-of-life comedy with a rare occurrence of adult main protagonists. However, unlike most chuunibyou, these two actually have powers (well, technically, Shiori gets hers later). As previously discussed, the whole thing is about forming an evil-fighting organization, and then later forming the enemies of said organization, all for the sake of these two living out their own power fantasy, or more specifically, allowing kids to live out their own power fantasy.

With this being a slice-of-life, the main appeal is the cast. Sago, while having a lot of funny dialogue, is kind of a generic mid-life crisis guy. Best Girl Shiori, on the other hand, is great. While she comes off as a hoity-toity, “ara-ara” type, she’s actually a serious chuunibyou, with stacks of research papers on Magical Girls and anime superpowers.

Later in the volume, they gain some recruits. Touka Hasumi is a petite girl who gains fire abilities, but her most interesting trait is that she’s a Buddhism extremist. She’s constantly chanting sutras while also carving the image of Buddha on rocks. It’s pretty good timing that I started reading this while studying Buddhism, among other things. In addition to her is Shouto Takahashi, my least favorite character. He’s the designated cocky brat, who gains ice abilities. Fortunately, Sago at least has his own ways of snapping the kid into shape. Lastly is Ig… whom I won’t say anything about because of spoilers. Just know that she exists.

If there’s any real flaw with Secret Organization, it’s in the exposition-heavy writing. The reason being that there’s a lot of stuff that happens over a ridiculously long course of time. So what’s better, that the author cut out the middleman, or show every single tedious step? 

On a final note, the art has a very manga-looking style. It definitely has a very Clip-Studio-y kind of vibe. However, our girl Shiori is the only one with an interesting enough character design to catch my interest.

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Verdict: 8.5/10

Secret Organization is looking to be an interesting change of pace in the light novel market. The thing that concerns me is that Sago seems to be limited when it comes to the scenarios that he can craft. The volume implies that the CIA will be getting involved, but there’s no telling where it’ll go from here. For now, Secret Organization is a perfectly solid series opener that puts a good twist on the deceptively abundant slice-of-life genre.

Durarara!! Full Series Review

Cover of volume 1

In a world full of isekai stuff, one might forget that THIS WORLD EXISTS TOO. That’s when we turn back to the start of the 21st Century, before the isekai boom. Back in the good ol’ days, we didn’t have “i-SUCK-ais”, we had QUALITY like that there Monogatari series, or better yet, Durarara!!, finally published to completion in English by Yen Press.

It all starts when Mikado Ryugamine moves to Ikebukuro in the hopes of finding excitement (and boy does it pay off in dividends). He meets his friends, Masaomi Kida and Anri Sonohara, and… well, crazy things happen. From fights between gangs like the Dollars and Yellow Scarves, to a creepy sword called Saika that turns the people it cuts into its slaves, to a dullahan that wants to find its head, which has fallen into the hands of a teenage boy who has fallen in love with it in spite of his yandere of an older sister. Told you crazy things happen.

Despite this downright bonkers plot, Durarara!! is a character driven story, so there really isn’t much in the way of an overarching narrative. But not much doesn’t mean not at all. Durarara!! has a ton of different stories going on at once, such as the conflicts revolving around the aforementioned gangs and dullahan, plus a whole slew of other things. All of these different stories happen separately, but always manage to converge in a Seinfeld-level amount of absurd coincidences. You will have to suspend your disbelief for this one (as if the presence of a creature from European mythology wasn’t enough of a sign) in order to be able to enjoy it.

There are two things that are vital to make an episodic, character driven story work. One is great writing skill, and the author, Ryohgo Narita, has it to spare. His nonchalant and satiric writing makes Ikebukuro, Durarara!!‘s setting, seem like a strange and otherworldly place (don’t worry; it’s in the real world. Remember that). He also drives the emotions and motivations of characters home really well. The series is also really good at buildup. Consequently, this makes for some slower volumes; Volumes 10 and 11 don’t really have much in terms of character development or plot progression because they merely establish the final arc. But when that final arc begins… HOOOOOO BOOOY it is amazing!

The other important thing you need to make this type of story work is a great cast. Durarara!! has an amazing cast… depending on who you ask. I find this series easily comparable to NISIOISIN’s Monogatari series, which is also an episodic character driven story. Durarara!! has the antithesis of Monogatari‘s nuanced and deceptively complex characters; Durarara!!‘s cast is 1D and open like a book. There are only a couple of times where characters catch you off guard, but most of those scenes towards the beginning.

So depending on your definition of good character writing, these guys are either amazing or insufferable. I prefer bombastic characters, so I naturally love Durarara!!‘s cast. I can’t go over the main characters- Mikado, Masaomi, and Anri- because of spoilers for volumes 1-3, but Celty Sturluson, the aforementioned dullahan, is the Best Girl. She is just a designated “nonhuman thing that learns how to be human”, but she’s a damn good one! Her relationship with Shinra Kishitani, a black market doctor, is always fun to read through (and makes me wish I was Shinra instead… RRGH). 

Shizuo is the embodiment of the insanely powerful blockhead. His iconic bartender’s outfit makes it incredibly easy to insert him in scenes without using his name, and those scenes where he’s casually throwing vending machines and motorcycles with one hand never get old. His rival, Izaya, is the main antagonist, who wants to cause chaos because he is a literal yandere to all mankind. I love these boys as much as they hate each other!

For the art, the illustrator uses a minimalistic style that I’m not a fan of. It does a good job using extreme shaders, and it has a lot of sharp polygons (ripped straight out of a Persona game’s HUD) that help enforce the weirdness. It works for the series, but I wouldn’t want to read a manga drawn like this.

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Final Verdict: 9.5/10

You can tell if you’ll love Durarara!! just by reading the first volume, so just borrow it from a friend and give it a read, then decide where you’ll go from there. Personally, I think it is one of the best light novel series out there, and now that it’s finally done, I can start Dead Mount Dea– wait, what’s Durarara!! SH?! A sequel?! Well, crap… Ikebukuro just never rests, does it?

Otherside Picnic Volume 1 Review

Cover of volume 1

At first glance, Otherside Picnic– published in English by J-Novel Club- looks like a boring, CGDCT isekai that uses the cover art of cute girls holding guns to lure you into what looks like an edgier version of Laid-Back Camp. In actuality, it’s a surreal sci-fi thriller that doesn’t have time for sissie things like picnics (sorry, Yogi Bear).

This story jumps in so fast, that you’d think that you were reading the start of volume 2 at first. Our main character, Sorawo, is saved from a threatening encounter in the titular Otherside by a cool, tomboyish girl named Toriko (no, she’s not a gourmet hunter). Turns out that Toriko’s looking for a friend who’s been lost in the Otherside, so Sorawo joins her because she’s got nothing better to do. After this abrupt intro, you get context to how Sorawo found her way into the Otherside, and it’s not long before you find that there are multiple entrances into it.

What makes this novel most interesting is how it subverts a lot of modern isekai’s tropes, perhaps moreso than Ascendance of a Bookworm. The characters aren’t overpowered; in fact, they are very vulnerable at all times. Also, the characters freely move between this world and Otherside, a rarity among isekai in general.

Most importantly, the Otherside itself is interesting, and is by far the biggest appeal of the series right out of the gate. It is very bizarre and strange. It seems almost post apocalyptic, as it has ruins scattered throughout. The place is also- as Stan Laurel would say it- infatuated with terrifying creatures. A lot of the weird stuff that happens in Otherside Picnic are based on real Internet ghost stories and urban legends, which gives a sort of Steins;Gate vibe, as that series incorporated real-life conspiracy theories into its story.

The characters, so far, seem to be the weakest aspect. Sorawo is kind of a generic, ditzy girl, while Toriko is a generic badass. They’re brain and brawn, respectively. They obtain interesting powers early on in the story that force them into some interesting scenarios, but their personalities- aside from a couple of weird things that Sorawo says in her monologues- are a bit lacking. However, I at least see room for improvement moving forward.

The art is appealing. As much as I joked about the cover art earlier, the coloring is great, and the illustrations have a lot of cool tones and shades to them. Its much darker than most light novel art is.

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Verdict: 8.85/10

Otherside Picnic is shaping up to be one of the best new isekai. While I don’t like it as much as The Hero is Overpowered But Overly Cautious or Torture Princess, it has merits in that it subverts modern tropes enough to appeal to the critics, while having enough thrills and action to appeal to fans of isekai. I recommend this to anyone who enjoys weird sci-fi thrillers like Steins;Gate.